Easter – Ascension (Year A)

Sometimes when reading the Sacred Scriptures, we can get caught up in the scene depicted by the writers, and then get bogged down in discussions and reflections on ‘did it happen like this’ or ‘did it appear like that’, when the truly important question to ask is, ‘what is God saying to me through His Word right here, right now?’.

Very often, we also look at the world in which we live and divide everything between the sacred and the secular; and we forget that all of creation comes from God – that God’s glory is manifest in all of His creation, and points to Him; all things proceed from God and all things return to Him, so the division we observe between sacred and secular is one of our own making; it is an artificial boundary, but indicative of our fallen nature.

All of salvation history points to the work of God in drawing humanity back to Him, from the moment of our separation from him by our own actions. It is not just a work of God to bring our spiritual world back to Him, but our physical world as well; all of creation is His.

And our invitation, through baptism as adopted sons and daughters of God in Christ, is to play a part in remedying that ‘rift’, removing that barrier, and drawing others into that relationship with our Creator that we were all intended to have from the beginning.

Two of the passages we hear today, together make that point.

As we mark the feast of the Ascension of the Lord, we read the Acts of the Apostles, and recall the event of Jesus’ Ascension into heaven. It is all too easy to dwell exclusively on the words of St. Luke and concern ourselves with the appearance of Jesus, ascending, being ‘taken from their sight’. If we selectively only concentrate on this one point, we miss so much more, as is the case when we pick and dwell only on small portions of Scripture.

We are also blessed that our Gospel passage today, from another evangelist, St. Matthew, in which Jesus gives his disciples what has been called ,’the great commission,’. While they may be two different passages from two different writers, these two episodes have far more in common than one might think at first glance.

In the story of the Ascension, we are reminded that this is after  Jesus’ Resurrection. He is resurrected bodily, not just in spirit, as the Gospel writers take pains to remind us – he eats with them, touches them, etc. He is returning to the Father completely, in Spirit and in Body – both ‘realms’ of our human existence are reconciled to the Father in Jesus, and the Ascension makes a very graphic statement of this. All things – spiritual and physical – proceed from the Father, and all things return to Him.

But there’s more. At the very end of St. Matthew’s Gospel, this ‘great commission’ to go out and baptize all people , making disciples of all nations, teaching them everything that Jesus commanded, is the means through which His disciples, the Church, participate in that work of reconciling all people to the Father. It is in our physical world that we work to draw others completely to the Father. And in this passage Jesus reminds us that in this, we are not alone, for He will be with us until the end of the age – when all things are completely reconciled to God and His will is made known through all of creation.

That is our commission. That is our calling. That is our invitation to participate directly in Jesus’ work and the Father’s will, the salvation of all souls. We do it with prayer, we do it with study of Christ’s teaching, and we do it with our efforts in caring for our brothers and sisters, for our planet, for all of creation where and when we are able.

It is not ‘working our way’ into heaven. It is rolling up our sleeves and being about the work -spiritual and physical – that our Lord has invited us to do. What a blessing and what a gift!

birds over blowing rocks

Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!

Easter – 6th Sunday (Year A)

We sometimes get lulled into this false sense of what true love is; that it somehow means agreeing with and supporting everything about another person. On a broader scale, in our society, it has somehow come to mean that we not only accept everything that others say and do, but we celebrate it, even if we know that it is completely contrary to the Gospels, to our Faith, or even basic, civilized behaviour. Loving someone does not always mean agreeing with what they say or do; in fact, sometimes real, true love means challenging someone to honestly reflect in their heart of hearts , what their relationship to God really means to them. Sometimes it means pointing out hazards in their chosen paths or errors in their assumptions; at the same time it means to be willing to have those same things pointed out to ourselves.

The point is, love is not a still, quiet emotion or emotional state. It is a way of life; a way of living that can be overwhelming and demanding, yet at the same time powerful and life-giving.

Sometimes we can be lulled into a sense that the love of Christ is benign, tepid and weak, like a ‘greeting card with religion’. We may derive this from the personality we attach to the evangelist St. John who records these words of Jesus for us. We think of St. John as ‘the beloved disciple’ as scholars agree he referred to himself in this gospel, and we leave it at that.

‘John, the disciple of love’. A nice, safe, simple picture. No challenges; no confrontation. But reading through the other gospels, and looking carefully at John’s gospel as well, we really see a different picture. John and his brother James are called ‘the Sons of Thunder’ (Mark 3:16) When Jesus is on His way to Jerusalem and certain Samaritans seem hostile to Him, it is John, along with his brother who asks Jesus, “Lord do you want us to call down fire from heaven to consume them ?”(Luke 9:54) – John, the disciple of ‘love’. John, when he writes of Judas Iscariot does not restrict himself to simply calling Judas ‘the one who betrayed’ Jesus as the other evangelists do. John also calls Judas a liar and a thief (John 12:6). John, along with Peter, after the resurrection argues publicly with the religious authorities (Acts 4:1-22), and preaches with conviction and passion.

No St. John is not some smarmy, self-help manual salesman. He is a disciple who struggles, takes correction, and boldly proclaims his love for Jesus by doing exactly what Jesus commanded him and the other Apostles to do – to proclaim the Gospel to all people.

With Jesus, love is not some fluffy, ‘I’m okay, you’re okay’ syrupy sentimentality. It is a love filled with conviction and purpose, with strength and true meaning. It is a love that, although unconditionally given, speaks of an expectation of those who claim that love as their own.
“If you love me, you will keep my commandments”.
In this brief passage from St. John’s gospel, Jesus emphasizes this central point not once, but twice. ‘ The one who has my commandments and keeps them is the one who loves me;”…He doesn’t say, ‘the one who has my commandments and picks and chooses which ones to keep and which ones to discard because they aren’t convenient …’ He means all of His commandments; beginning with complete love of God and complete love of neighbour and moving out from there.

It means to be willing to live out those commandments in their entirety in every aspect of our lives – not just when we gather as a faith community on Sunday, but every day, everywhere and in everything we do. It’s not simply a matter of laying claim to the name of Christian, or carrying a sign as if that in itself is enough, because it’s not.

It means being courageous enough to share that loved commitment, as His disciples, when and where it may cost us the most, in our personal relationships or in our public lives.

It means seriously reflecting on our love for Christ; not only listening to His words, but making them our own and living by them; it means taking His teaching to heart and keeping His commandments, not because we have to, but because we want to.

If we keep His commandments because we desire to, then we know we love Him.


Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!

Easter – 5th Sunday (Year A)

There is, perhaps, nothing more frustrating than stating something plainly when instructing someone, and having them fail to grasp it – particularly if it is simply a refusal to accept it or a refusal to consider that the one teaching may actually know more about something than the one being taught.  Think of practical experiences on the job, in the classroom, even in the home.  Sometimes it calls for almost superhuman patience, in going over and over something and continually hoping the one being shown a task or formula will be open to following instructions.

Recent events have underscored how frustratingly ignorant , on a grand scale, our culture and society have become in terms of our understanding of who Jesus truly is, and what Christianity truly means; or even more specifically what Catholicism is all about.  We have seen how politicians try to square their Catholic faith with party policy, often with the policy being in complete opposition to the teachings of their faith; and yet we hear a response of ‘not wanting to force their beliefs on others’ or ‘well, I AM Catholic, BUT….” Or that tired old song of ‘separation of church and state’. (They often forget that principal was meant to preserve the practice of faith from interference by the state)

Many people, including Catholics, point to other religions and their prime tenets and then back to Catholicism saying, ‘well, their basic teachings are all the same’, and then considering Jesus as simply a wise philosopher and teacher, a good holy man who was accepting of all behaviours and actions.

Such of course, is not the case; and nowhere in Scripture is this more explicit than in this Sunday’s gospel passage from St. John. (14:1-12).  We hear the words of Jesus, speaking to his closest followers, His Apostles, about His true nature, and despite that, the Apostles refuse to open themselves to what He has taught them all along – they look upon Him as a ‘great teacher’ , a ‘good rabbi’ and fail to grasp that He is much, much more.

He tells them about the way to the Father; Thomas says ‘show us the way’ – in other words, teach us some technique or principal; Jesus says, ‘I AM the Way, the Truth and the Life’.  Philip says, ‘show us the Father and we will be satisfied’ – in other words, manifest something outside of yourself to show us that what you teach is true;  Jesus responds, ‘ I Am in the Father and the Father is in me,” , clearly identifying Himself in complete union with God, as God, in God.

The nature of both of these answers is a relationship; He and the Father are one because they are in complete union.  He is the Way to the Father because He and Father are in complete relationship.  But He takes it a step further – He  says, ‘if you know me you will know my Father also,’.  He is straightforward here – that His followers will come to know God because He, Jesus, is God.

Catholicism, Christianity is not a philosophy or a method to follow to achieve God, or simply a school for improving one’s life.  Ultimately Christianity is a relationship with God, a God who enters into our humanity in the person of Jesus Christ – not a simple teacher or wise man or holy leader – it is a relationship with God Himself in Jesus.  That relationship is, at its very core, how we become what we were meant to be, more than we are; we become united intimately to the Creator, as opposed to living as one of His creatures; we become a sign of His presence to all people.

But the only way we can become a sign of His presence to all people is if we carry that relationship we have with Him and He with the Father into all aspects of our life – not just in church, not just in our homes or rooms, not just in some quiet, silent corner removed from every other facet of our thoughts and words and actions.

We must reflect who we profess Jesus to be – and if we profess Him to be something other than who He said He was Himself, than we are not truly Christians.  We simply adopt some Christian ‘philosophies’, which can be discarded on a whim when they fail to be convenient to us.

By its very nature, that relationship of love we have with Him must be present in everything we do, everywhere we are – whether in private or in the public arena.  It means nothing to treat others in our own social circles or homes as we would like to be treated, if we do not carry that relational attitude into everything we do – including our workplaces, including our schools, including the public and political forums that we find ourselves in.

We can call ourselves ‘friends’ of  Jesus, and follow Him in our private lives; but we cannot call ourselves brothers and sisters of Jesus if we reject Him in our public lives because it is ‘inconvenient’ or might not be ‘how others think’.

Being told to keep our faith to ourselves and then being criticized for  ‘not acting very Christian’ in public is perhaps one of the most oxymoronic statements of our current culture.

It is not a matter of seeking confrontation.  It is a matter of witness – living out our relationship with Our God, the one who invites us into a deeply personal, intimate and lived relationship; a relationship of truth with all of our brothers and sisters; a relationship of love and compassion with Our Lord Jesus Christ.

March for Life 2014 024

Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!

Easter – 4th Sunday (Year A)

On Mother’s Day, I am reminded how any parent with small children (or recalls what it was like to have young children) will be familiar with something we call, ‘the head count’ – when our children were much younger, my wife Kathi and I were continually turning and sometimes audibly counting heads to make sure we had all of our five children with us whenever we were on a trip or outing.

This applies as well to those charged with the care in any way of children – teachers, drivers, resource people, day care providers – and it extends beyond that – parents with a group of children going to a birthday party, to a day at a park or a beach; people with the responsibility of delivering a group of people from one place to another; people with tour groups, sports teams, pilgrims;

We turn around and almost on reflex repeatedly take stock of the numbers of those in our care- we count and re-count several times to make sure we have everyone with us who is supposed to be with us – so that no one becomes lost and no one is left behind. And anyone who has ever experienced the absence of a child – when they lose track of them, even if only for a few moments- experiences that icy terrible dread that we feel right through the depths of our heart when we think, even if only for the briefest of times, that we have lost one of these little ones in our care.

That no one is left behind, abandoned, or forgotten. This is the message of our Gospel today; the message of the Good Shepherd; this beautiful, often-quoted passage from St. John’s Gospel speaks to each of us of the care, concern and deep love that Jesus has for each of His sheep- for those who hear His voice and respond to Him.

Shepherds in Jesus time on earth were really outcasts; their work kept them outside the towns and villages; they were occupied in a dirty trade, and were prevented from participating in day to day social activities, including worship in the synagogues and temples- but it provided them with an income.

Yet here we have the image of Jesus as the Good Shepherd – choosing to set aside His own comforts, His own life; setting himself apart to be in the company of His sheep; not for pay or compensation – but purely out of love. And because He gives up everything for His sheep, the sheep know and trust and follow Him. And He reunites us with God as we were meant to be from the beginning.

In essence, Our Lord describes Himself continually doing the ‘head count’, not wanting a single sheep he has called to be left behind or lost. And as much as we know how we can feel that sense of dread when we fear someone in our care has been ‘left behind’, we can only imagine how God, who loves every one of His children – every member of the entire human race since time began – feels the loss of each and every person who chooses not to be reunited with Him.

This deep desire that no one be abandoned or left behind; this is a desire – this is a responsibility that is taken up by every person who seeks to minister to others in the name of Christ; we think of the obvious examples of good shepherds in our own day, and usually we come to think of the Pope; we think of our bishops with their croziers or staffs, shaped sometimes like a shepherd’s crook – leading and guiding us towards a deeper relationship that God calls each of us to. We think of our pastors who lead us on a parish level – we might think of deacons who assist in guiding and teaching in ministries of charity, or those who lead in the many and varied lay ministries within our parish or diocese.

 In addition to ‘Good Shepherd Sunday’ and Mother’s Day, this is also the World Day of Prayer for Vocations; and while we are experiencing a shortage of priests in this diocese, there are other locations where there is a major crisis, where the chance to even attend Mass is in jeopardy because there simply aren’t enough priests. It is a time to remind us that we should ask God, as St. Therese of Lisieux called Him ‘ The Lord of the Harvest’ ‘ to send more labourers into His harvest.’ It is a time for those who are perhaps considering a vocation to the priesthood, diaconate or religious life, to seriously listen to that voice whispering in their ear.

But there is so much to be done in leading and guiding the people of God – every baptized Christian has a role to play in bringing others into this wonderful reunion with God – from those who teach about our faith – to parents, to grandparents, even children – whether we lead others as clergy; as religious; as teachers, in public service, as supervisors in a workplace; as mentors to those less experienced in our trades, wherever and whenever we are in a position of trust and responsibility for others, we are all shepherds and as Catholics we are all responsible for taking up our roles of guiding others , by our word and example, to come to know Christ and enter into a deeper relationship with God.

But Jesus warned us that there would be thieves and bandits who would try to guide us away from Him, from His love – who would try to lure us away from living out our baptismal call to holiness as children of God – and we see so many examples of that in our own society; voices that place individual comfort and gain ahead of everything else; voices that tell us God is irrelevant- that the Church is out of touch with our lives; voices that tell us that rather than give people the dignity they deserve, they are to be used as a means to an end for profit or pleasure; that caring for the sick, feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless are, at best, someone else’s problem; or worse – a burden on society.

And just like with the head count of children there is a double-edged sword here; I speak for myself, but this is true of all who deeply love God and want to share that love with everyone; Sometimes we have to remind our sisters and brothers – and be reminded ourselves- of teachings and guidance that some of us would rather not hear – much the same as parents and teachers who have to make some unpopular decisions at times – but when we do this, it is done out of love and charity, following the example of the Good Shepherd, so that none may be lost.

And while there is a tremendous sense of joy when God uses us to draw someone into the faith, or uses us to help someone return to Him or come closer to Him – there is just as tremendous a sense of personal loss each time we witness someone separate themselves or distance themselves from the faith; the departure of so many from the Church – from attendance at Mass – from putting their faith into practice in their daily lives – this really is a tragedy of immense proportions; it is a huge loss and it is something that we all mourn and we grieve over.

I am quite confident that every person reading this knows at least one Catholic who has not been to Mass in a long time, or no longer receives the Sacraments. It is in imitation of our Good Shepherd that each of us is expected to encourage, in charity, these brothers and sisters of ours to ‘come home’; to offer in all sincerity an atmosphere of welcome to them on behalf of Our Lord. It is up to each of us to give voice to Christ’s invitation to each of them to return to celebrate and worship with us; What kind of a response will we get? Look at our first reading from the Acts of the Apostles- the people would not have received baptism if they had not been invited by St. Peter at Pentecost – while not everyone in Jerusalem responded to that invitation, the scripture says 3000 were added to their number that day. We may think, well, if I ask someone to come back to church, they’ll probably say no- but they won’t say ‘yes’ if we don’t invite them.

We can all serve as reminders that no matter how many times we may wander away from God’s will; that how many times we become lost, that Our Lord never abandons us; that He is always calling and guiding us, if only we will respond to His Call; to His voice.

And yet, we know, that Our Lord never abandons us; that He is always calling and guiding us, if only we will respond to His call; to His voice.

So again I ask you – no I beg you – for those who feel a calling to follow God, particularly in the consecrated life as sisters or brothers, as priests or deacons – please take the time to prayerfully and seriously consider following the Good Shepherd’s voice… Join in the harvest – help with the ‘head count’ – For those who do not feel that particular calling, please pray for those who serve you and God, and pray for more vocations – that God will give us, His people, true and holy shepherds to lead and guide and protect us, so that none will be left behind; that none will be lost.

gospel procession day 4

Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!

Easter – 3rd Sunday (Year A)

When I was a little kid in school, in the third or fourth grade, I wasn’t particularly gifted as an athlete. When it came time to play team sports, I was always picked last. When playing a game like softball, I would often endure taunts from classmates who would make jokes about my lack of ability. That was difficult to endure for an eight or nine year old. Sometimes a well-meaning teacher would insist that the pitcher move closer and almost roll the ball along the ground slowly so I could hit it – that supposed ‘favour’ was worse than the taunts from kids because it meant that even the grownups didn’t think I could ‘play the game’. Even though one action was intended to be hurtful and the other was meant to be helpful, the end result was the same. I always felt like just giving up and walking away. The two responses were really opposite sides of the same coin.

The story of the road to Emmaus recounted in this Sunday’s gospel provides us with the other side of the same coin of the Passion – where the people are asking Jesus to do something because that’s what they think He should do!

Before we look at Cleopas and the other disciple’s encounter on that road on that first Easter Sunday, I want to take you back to Good Friday, and the voices from the crowd at Calvary. When we read any of the gospel accounts we hear how the crowd jeers at Jesus, mocking and demanding that He come down from the cross to ‘prove’ Himself. Even those crucified with him demand He prove He is the Messiah by saving Himself from the cross.

This would make perfect sense, I suppose, in our own mortal limited minds. Why go through all this pain and suffering when, as God, He could just skip it all? Why not take this opportunity to perform a really outstanding miracle in the sight of the authorities? Perhaps even the disciples who stood watching from afar were half-expecting Jesus to , in fact, come down from the cross. After those in the crowd speak the words, there is, it seems, a pause when they all wait to see if He actually will save Himself. But He doesn’t. He surrenders Himself up to death.

Fast-forward now to the road to Emmaus. These two disciples are so overcome with grief at what happened only three days before, that they don’t even recognize Jesus as He walks along with them. In fact, when He approaches them and asks them what they are discussing, Cleopas responds rather rudely,”Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?”

When Jesus asks them for a summary of these happenings, again, these disciples offer a litany of disappointment; they talk about what they had hoped Jesus would be and how those hopes were dashed; “we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.” He didn’t deliver what they expected in the way they expected it – and again, we see what people expected, was not what God delivered; and because it wasn’t delivered how they wanted, where they wanted and when they wanted, this was somehow proof that God was not at work here.

The fact that they are on the road to Emmaus, leaving the other disciples in Jerusalem, tells us that they were giving up and going home. After three years of living with, travelling with, listening to, and witnessing the miracles of Jesus, they’ve given up and are leaving because in their grief, they no longer grasp what was given to them over the three years of Jesus’ public ministry.

But here they are walking along; Jesus is with them the whole time, and they don’t recognize Him. Even when He is opening the Scriptures to them, explaining yet again how all that was written through Moses and the Prophets would be fulfilled in Him, they still fail to recognize Him (although there is a ‘burning in their hearts’). He explains to them how salvation history didn’t occur because God was bound to perform according to the demands and conditions people placed on Him. Salvation history occurred because God was willing to empty Himself, entering our humanity, to surrender everything, even His divinity to the point of death, to atone for our breaking of the relationship of the human race with God.

Sometimes in our faith lives we can become like those disciples and the crowd at the crucifixion – we ask Jesus for something, and then maybe we pause for a few moments, and wait to have that ‘something’ delivered; when it doesn’t happen or appear when and where and how we have asked, we think God is not listening or Jesus isn’t present to us.

Sometimes in our faith life we can be like the disciples on the road; God didn’t deliver what we wanted when, where and how we expected, so we complain about it and give up praying – not even bothering to look up and see Jesus travelling along with us in that moment, as He did with Cleopas and the other disciple. Even when they were in the darkness of doubt and despair, He was with them, encouraging them, reaching out to them, journeying alongside them.

The story of Emmaus is a story of hope and encouragement; it is a reminder that even in our own times of loss and doubt, when we feel as if we have been abandoned, Jesus is travelling with us, even if we don’t recognize Him at the time. Even if we feel like giving up and walking away, He is there with us, always reaching out to remind us of His patience, His compassion, and His love for us.

(and in case you were wondering, eventually I learned to play to game, and after the first time I put one over the left field fence, I decided hockey was a better sport for me; must have been from hitting all those softballs that rolled across the ground)


Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!