19th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A)

My Father grew up during the Great Depression and like many of his generation, had an expression that he often would use whenever there seemed to be problems looming on the horizon; he used to say ‘Things always have a habit of working out”.  In other words, don’t be consumed by fear.  Often when we are in the midst of a personal crisis, we would give almost anything to be outside of it.  Whether the problem is health, work-related, financial, or in personal relationships, we are sometimes tempted to turn to God and say, “can’t you just make this go away Lord?”  But often, once we have weathered a storm, especially if we rely on God, we find that the crisis is not as bad as we envisioned it at first, and quite often, we find that we have been given a means of helping others, to minister to them in their crisis.

Our current concerns about the pandemic gripping the world, widespread civil unrest and violence, and famine in Africa; it all seems so overwhelming. Add to that the many ways the Church herself has been facing many crises; battered by storms from a selfish and materialistic outside world – battered from within by dissension and scandalous and sinful behaviour by some of her own members; but it is not the first time in the history of the Church that this has been the case. . Today’s Gospel passage gives us a glimpse into one of those earliest moments; and gives a blueprint for dealing with these crises. 

We read today about the disciples waiting in a boat in the Sea of Galilee while Jesus is off praying alone.  A sudden storm springs up and Jesus walks across the water to come to the disciples who are in peril.

The ferocity of this storm is evident in this reading, as we know some of the disciples, particularly Peter were well-experienced sailors and fishermen; and they were afraid; now, in the middle of a raging storm, they see someone walking across the water towards them and they start to panic, and begin to shout in fear ‘it’s a ghost’!

But Jesus continues to come to them, speaking words of comfort in the midst of the wind; he tells them ‘be not afraid’…’it is I”.

There is a difference between worldly wisdom and wisdom of the Holy Spirit; and as in so many other passages we see a mixture of both of these with St. Peter.  First, he exercises prudence, a virtue and shows spiritual wisdom, rather than simply jumping into the sea;  He calls out to Jesus, testing the spirit as it were, and says, Lord if it really is you, command me to come to you – Peter knows he cannot simply get out on his own and walk across the water to Jesus, but he has discerned well enough that if it is really Jesus calling Him, then the power of Jesus will be enough to uphold him on the waves;

Having shown spiritual wisdom, Peter , the experienced fisherman, then throws worldly wisdom completely aside and gets out of a secure boat into a raging storm; AND HE Actually begins to walk on water;

This is where Peter gets himself into trouble though; he feels the wind and the waves and realizes what’s happening; he starts to lose focus on who it was who called him out of the boat and onto the water, and starts focusing on the waves and wind and his own efforts; and as soon as he does that, he begins to sink.

Once again, Peter shows spiritual wisdom; rather than turning for the boat or shouting to the other disciples to throw him a rope, he calls out to Jesus “Lord Save me!” and the gospel says ‘Immediately”  – Immediately Jesus reached out and caught him and saved him;  Jesus brings him back to the boat, they get in, and the storm ceases. And at that point, all the other occupants of the boat, it says ‘worshipped him’.

The occupants of that boat on the Sea of Galilee at that point in history are the Church. And this little Church is in crisis – is being battered from the outside by the storm surrounding the little boat; it’s being battered inside too, as we see the how little trust many of them are showing in Jesus –  They have all met Jesus, walked with Jesus, lived with Jesus; they have witnessed many of his miracles, have heard his teaching about the Kingdom of Heaven; and yet, when the entire Church is beaten about by a storm, the only one who is willing to step out of the boat in trust, because Jesus is calling him, is Peter; and so Jesus saves Him;

But it may seem curious, why did Jesus bring Peter back to the boat?  Why not bring him to shore where it was safe, since Peter was the only one who had the courage to ‘get out of the boat’ in the middle of the storm in the first place?

Because now, Peter is back amongst the other members of the Church, and has a unique and intimate story of the saving power of Christ to share with them; Christ will continue to teach them, through Peter’s experience, through Peter’s WITNESS;  it’s not hard to imagine that as time goes on, after this adventure, the other disciples would approach Peter  with their own questions; Peter has been strengthened by Jesus Himself, and will share this experience and this lesson in faith with them, and from it, they will have the opportunity to grow and develop in their own faith and prayer life.

But all of this would be impossible, without the movement of the Spirit of God, the Holy Spirit, in Peter’s life, and Peter’s willingness to be open to the power and the gifts of faith and hope and trust supplied by God through the Spirit.

God calls each of us to be with Him, to be holy; that is the general vocation of each and every human being on the face of the earth.  Some respond, some do not. But even within this call to holiness, God calls each of us to a more intimate and specific relationship – to a particular role in helping others to grow in grace and faith and in the love of God; to witness to His love for all people; to testify to the strength He gives to each of us to follow Him.

I would really like to take a moment to share with you the story of one of my favourite saints, particularly as I think it illustrates the point of ministry in crisis, and his feast day is August 10th, this coming Monday.  He is the patron saint of deacons,the poor, the blind, librarians, archivists, stained glass workers, school children, comedians, cooks, and many more . His name is St. Lawrence.

Lawrence was one of seven deacons of the church in Rome in the middle of the 3rd century.  He was responsible for the common treasury, and took care to distribute funds to the poor of the city as they had need, and supported others in their ministry.  During this time, a persecution broke out against the Church, and the emperor ordered that all bishops, priests and deacons were to be put to death.  On August 7th the bishop of Rome, Pope Sixtus the II was arrested while saying Mass along with some of his deacons and was led away to be executed.  Lawrence, who was following this group, was in tears – he had served Sixtus at the Mass and was grieving because he wanted to follow Christ, with his own bishop, to the very end, denying nothing in his service to Our Lord.  And it appeared that he would not be granted a martyr’s death, would be left behind.

At this point, the prefect of Rome was going to spare Lawrence, in exchange for Lawrence handing over the common funds of the church.  Lawrence, showing his wit which would become one of his trademarks, basically told the prefect, ‘well I don’t have it all with me right now’.   The prefect gave Lawrence three days to bring before him, and turn over to him, the wealth of the church.

Lawrence spent the next three days distributing everything from the treasury to the poor, the lame, the sick, the homeless – he even sold off sacred vessels to increase the amount he could give away.  Then on the third day, again showing the sense of humour for which he would be noted, Lawrence assembled all of the poor and marginalized of the city of Rome in the prefect’s courtyard and announced to him ‘Behold the wealth of the Church!”

The prefect didn’t find Lawrence very amusing, and rather than a quick and merciful execution, he was sentenced to slow torture on a gridiron.  It is said his trust and faith in God were so strong that he even had the strength to joke with his tormentors as the sentence was being carried out.

Because of his example of his passion for serving the poor for Christ during his lifetime, and the courageous example in his martyrdom for Christ, it was said the entire city of Rome at that point was converted to Christianity.  Lawrence would have been spared by turning over the ‘material wealth’ to the Romans; he could have rested on all of the good he had done previously for others in this life before this crisis; but that’s not what God called Lawrence to do; God spared him the initial martyrdom with St. Sixtus – called him out of the boat of the church in crisis – to commission him to return to the crisis and minister further , not only to the poor or members of the young church – but to bear a significant and lasting witness of the selfless love of Christ to the very Empire itself; a witness centered on the desire to serve others for Christ no matter what the personal cost may be.

We may not be called to witness with our own blood for our faith; but there is no one here, man, woman or child, who has not been faced with making a decision, big or small, which calls on us to decide between the wisdom of this world, or the love of God;  the very fact that each of us is here today is a witness to the importance that we each place on our love for God and each other;  and in the middle of our own crises and storms, that’s when we need to look outside the boat and walk towards Jesus; He’s there calling us to step outside of our own crises to bring them to Him; we can trust that He will always be there, reaching out immediately to hold us up if we start to sink; strengthening us, and returning with us into our own little boats ; helping us witness and minister to others, in our journey back to the Father, listening to His words of comfort in the midst of those storms, to ‘be not afraid’.

Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!

17th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A)

Yet again, our Gospel passage from St. Matthew recounts the parables of Jesus concerning the ‘Kingdom of heaven’; this week, we hear Jesus comparing the kingdom to a field with a great treasure concealed in it, or a pearl of tremendous value. Those who discover this treasure or find this pearl ‘sell everything they had’ to buy the field or the pearl. Jesus clearly tells us throughout the gospels that the Kingdom of heaven is not just a far off place that we are able to enter after we pass from this life.  If we focus solely on that, then it is easy to slip into the mindset that God too is far off and impossible to encounter and live with on this side of the veil.

God’s kingdom begins here and now, in this life.  God, the Creator and Lord of all is always present to His creation.  Quite often it is His creatures that are not present to Him.  This becomes quite evident when we see the suffering inflicted on religious and ethnic minorities in Asia; when we hear of the fighting and killing in various regions of Africa; when we witness the violence and civil unrest in our own society.  Perhaps we don’t consider this as evident in our own neighbourhoods or homes or communities; but it is just as apparent in those times and places when we are unkind to each other; when we select the bad over the good because it is ‘popular’ or ‘socially acceptable’ to do so.

 We can’t fool ourselves into thinking God is not present all the time, calling His children to love and serve and care for each other, every day, everywhere.   That is where the Kingdom of heaven, the Reign of God begins; here and now.

And in those times when we truly and deeply experience that encounter with God, it is indeed a tremendous treasure, an incredibly valuable prize – in fact, when anyone has a deep, authentic experience of God’s presence they would rather stay there than anywhere else; they would give everything up in that moment to remain there – to have that ‘treasure’.

While that treasure is something we should always be seeking and willing to sacrifice our own selfish pleasures for, it is not something that we can clutch and grasp and hold all to ourselves.  It is meant to be shared, to be extended to all people.  It is in this way that the Kingdom becomes self-evident in our world.  It is in this way that we make those small steps towards reconciliation in our own day-to-day lives and, just perhaps, extend that sense of love and compassion and reconciliation to others.  God’s Kingdom does not enter into our lives if we don’t seek or desire it.  It doesn’t become the ‘place where we dwell’ if we encounter that ‘treasure’ and decline the movement to possess it. 

May God grant us the grace as individuals and as a people to strive for that treasure, and the generosity of spirit to share it with each other.

Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!

14th Sunday Ordinary Time (Year A)

It seems that we are continually bombarded in the present with complications in our already busy lives.  The current pandemic, which for so many in the world is a burden on its own, aggravates whatever other difficulties each of us may already be facing.  The current political climate, the economic challenges facing so many, social upheaval; all these and more seem like crushing weights for our culture and ourselves to bear.

In today’s gospel, we hear an offer to those who carry a heavy load or a burden, from Jesus.  But Jesus does not have an approach of saying ‘ let me take control of your yoke’; he is also not saying ‘carry my burden with me’; he says ‘take up my yoke and learn from me’

We all have a yoke – we all carry a burden of some kind; the loads that we carry are as varied as the people who carry them.   Sometimes those burdens don’t seem so difficult; other times, they are just too heavy for us to bear. Our burdens might be grief, or sadness or disappointment; they might be stress or worry, fear of loss;  our burdens could be those things which move us away from God and each other; selfishness, ignorance, pride, apathy.  Whatever it might be, we can end up clinging to these heavy loads, these burdens, until they seem to threaten to crush us and drive us to despair; to give up all hope; to give up on people or even give up on God.

But Jesus says ‘come to me’ and ‘take up my yoke’.  He doesn’t ask what our burdens are, or our heavy loads are.  He doesn’t say only those who labour in this way, or set conditions on who can come to Him.  He says, come to me ALL who labour and are heavy-burdened. He says ‘come to me and take up my yoke’.  The point of this example of the yoke, is to really illustrate what Jesus is offering us.

If I am carrying a heavy load, and I come to someone with a similar burden, I cannot take theirs, or carry theirs, unless I let go of mine and put it down.  I have to put my load down in order to take up theirs.

This is precisely what Jesus offers; for us to take up his yoke, we need to release ours, to put it down.  When we weigh ourselves down with the desire for power or possessions; when we wallow in self pity or refuse to try to better our situation in life; when we deliberately neglect those in need, we actually feel weighed down.  We have a burden which is driven by fear; fear of losing that power, or those possessions, fear of having to try again no matter how difficult; fear of having to consider the needs of others before we consider our own comfort or convenience.  This fear moves us further away from others and from God. We have to stop clinging to grief or anger or disappointment – whatever our load consists of; if we want to take up His yoke.

And what could His yoke consist of?  What could be on His burden that would be so easy and light? 

It’s love.   Love of God, and love of neighbour;  these are the two great commandments that Jesus stressed, the burdens on either end of his yoke.  It is a load that is balanced – if we separate them and try to carry only one side, we get nowhere;  if our love is strictly for people to the exclusion of God, it is no more than a kind of social experiment, it is shallow and doesn’t last;  if we give our love only to God and refuse to be charitable to others, we fail to live as Christ commanded.  As St. John the evangelist wrote we cannot claim to love God whom we cannot see if we do not love our neighbour who we can see. 

Jesus doesn’t force us; He doesn’t say, ‘come close and I will take that burden from you and make you take up mine’…it’s an invitation, not an order, offered in love; an invitation worth listening to again and again.

“Come to me all who labour and are carrying heavy burdens and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble of heart; and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

It truly is a yoke that is easy and a burden that is light. It is a yoke that allows us to become completely human, completely holy.

Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!

Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A)

To say that we are very happy to be celebrating as a community once again, would be a gross understatement.  With the world struggling through the current pandemic, with the racial tension and unrest everywhere, and deep economic concerns, it seems almost out of place to be in a celebratory mood.  Yet, for those of us able to once again gather in our churches (although in a limited way), this feeling of joy and relief is welcome.  Not everyone, everywhere is able to return to their parish churches due to serious health concerns and public restrictions, but for our parish family, we who are able to gather, we have a responsibility to pray for each other, for those who cannot join us at this time, and for those who we have lost either directly or indirectly from Covid-19.

In our first reading today from Jeremiah, the prophet bemoans all those who turn on him, on those who seek his downfall; and yet, he affirms that he trusts not in these others, but in the Lord. That the Lord is the almighty, the ultimate authority, and that nothing will prevail against the Lord.

Jesus reinforces this in our gospel passage from St. Matthew; ‘Fear no one; …do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul…” Jesus tells his disciples that God is the ultimate authority; nothing on earth can even come close, and that this One who is the ultimate authority and power intimately loves and cares for each and every one of His children.  He uses common tiny birds – sparrows – as the example; “not one of them falls to the ground without your Father’s knowledge … and you are worth more than many sparrows.”  We should fear nothing – pandemic, civil unrest, changes to established social norms – because these are really nothing in comparison to God and our relationship with Him.  To lose that relationship, for all eternity – that is the one thing that we should truly fear.

He reminds His disciples that they are to live in harmony and solidarity; that they are to be as one, united in His name, and to live accordingly.  We are to acknowledge Him in our words and actions.  Conversely, if we reject Him by our same words and actions, we rupture that unity – not only with each other as church – but with Jesus and ultimately with God.  It is not the actions of Jesus or God that result in us living outside of that harmony – it is our own words and actions.  Neither God nor Jesus sets out to reject us at all (or the entire passion, death and resurrection would have been pointless).  We are the ones who do the rejecting, even the rejection of a God who is always present to and with us  – even in the midst of world and personal crises – who calls us into unity with Himself and with each other.

Let’s follow this call from Jesus to live in peace, harmony, and unity with God.  Let us pray for this same unity within our parish community – for those of us here present and those still living in isolation.  Let us also pray for this harmony within families, asking that God will especially bless Father’s on this Father’s Day, granting them the courage to be living examples of God’s loving concern for each of their children.

To say that we are very happy to be celebrating as a community once again, would be a gross understatement.  With the world struggling through the current pandemic, with the racial tension and unrest everywhere, and deep economic concerns, it seems almost out of place to be in a celebratory mood.  Yet, for those of us able to once again gather in our churches (although in a limited way), this feeling of joy and relief is welcome.  Not everyone, everywhere is able to return to their parish churches due to serious health concerns and public restrictions, but for our parish family, we who are able to gather, we have a responsibility to pray for each other, for those who cannot join us at this time, and for those who we have lost either directly or indirectly from Covid-19.

In our first reading today from Jeremiah, the prophet bemoans all those who turn on him, on those who seek his downfall; and yet, he affirms that he trusts not in these others, but in the Lord. That the Lord is the almighty, the ultimate authority, and that nothing will prevail against the Lord.

Jesus reinforces this in our gospel passage from St. Matthew; ‘Fear no one; …do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul…” Jesus tells his disciples that God is the ultimate authority; nothing on earth can even come close, and that this One who is the ultimate authority and power intimately loves and cares for each and every one of His children.  He uses common tiny birds – sparrows – as the example; “not one of them falls to the ground without your Father’s knowledge … and you are worth more than many sparrows.”  We should fear nothing – pandemic, civil unrest, changes to established social norms – because these are really nothing in comparison to God and our relationship with Him.  To lose that relationship, for all eternity – that is the one thing that we should truly fear.

He reminds His disciples that they are to live in harmony and solidarity; that they are to be as one, united in His name, and to live accordingly.  We are to acknowledge Him in our words and actions.  Conversely, if we reject Him by our same words and actions, we rupture that unity – not only with each other as church – but with Jesus and ultimately with God.  It is not the actions of Jesus or God that result in us living outside of that harmony – it is our own words and actions.  Neither God nor Jesus sets out to reject us at all (or the entire passion, death and resurrection would have been pointless).  We are the ones who do the rejecting, even the rejection of a God who is always present to and with us  – even in the midst of world and personal crises – who calls us into unity with Himself and with each other.

Let’s follow this call from Jesus to live in peace, harmony, and unity with God.  Let us pray for this same unity within our parish community – for those of us here present and those still living in isolation.  Let us also pray for this harmony within families, asking that God will especially bless Father’s on this Father’s Day, granting them the courage to be living examples of God’s loving concern for each of their children.

Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever.

Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity (2020)

The mystery of the Most Holy Trinity – God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit; three persons in one God – has been a mystery deeply explored and contemplated for two millennia by hundreds of saints, scholars, theologian, and people of faith. It is a mystery which defies the limits of human comprehension, and challenges believers to take the time to meditate on what it truly means; each time people bless themselves making the sign of the cross, ” in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit” they are stating – at a minimum – a belief in the Trinity, and calling on the subsequent prayer or action to be an expression of solidarity with God in those three persons; it is a request that God in the Holy Trinity bless and direct or guide that prayer or action.

Gallons of ink and forests of paper have been used to consider and write on this mystery. At its heart is this – that God in three distinct persons – is the example par excellence of relationship. God the Father empties completely His love into the Son, the Son surrenders Himself entirely to the Father’s love, and this complete and total emptying and surrender of love is personified by the Holy Spirit. This relationship, a complete and total relationship of love , is what we are all invited into. This is not simply something reserved to a specific Christian denomination – it is an invitation held out to the entire human race.

A very learned friend of mine once wrote in a dissertation, that the greatest ‘fault’ of humanity, is that we have all forgotten our fundamental nature; that we are all created in the image and likeness of God; and in that we all have infinite value and dignity. Given the events of this past week, centering on issues of racism and accountability, I think this observation is invaluable.

No matter where on the spectrum of this discussion where one sits, there is one thing I think we all can agree on. All people, regardless of how they ‘define’ themselves, are deserving of, and desirous of, being loved. This is not just an emotional attachment, but being loved in all of its true meanings. Being free from discrimination, being free to seek their true potential, being free to raise up and support those for whom they have responsibility, being free to be healthy, happy and secure. This is what cuts to the heart of all racial strife; it’s not enough to simply say,”well on paper you have the same ‘rights’ as me – follow the processes available’,”, when in fact the opportunities, resources and respect are denied entire swaths of the world’s population based on things like skin colour or ethnicity.

God is love. God is in a loving relationship. God is a loving relationship. We know that we participate in this loving relationship if we truly act and speak in a way that reflects this, regardless of our life circumstances. If we truly believe we are God’s children, created in His likeness and image, then we really have no option other than to treat each and every human being as brothers and sisters who truly do deserve and are entitled to be truly loved; to support and defend them; to uphold and uplift them; to honestly and genuinely wish and work for the good for all.

Today’s second reading from second Corinthians, chapter 13 really captures this point:

“Mend your ways, encourage one another, agree with one another, live in peace, and the God of love and peace will be with you.”

I can’t think of a better starting point today than that.

Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever.

Christ the King

Permit me to apologize in advance, for the brevity of this particular post.

Today we celebrate (using the proper liturgical title as listed in the Roman Missal) the “Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, ” or as it is more commonly referred to , the Feast of Christ the King.

That more formal liturgical title perhaps says it all, and very succinctly; King of the Universe. Jesus Christ, the Second Person of the Most Holy Trinity, is the central figure to all of salvation history, reuniting all of creation with its creator, God the Father. To accept Him is to accept that reconciliation, that return to the state for which we all came into being. To deliberately reject Him is likewise, to reject that same reconciliation.

In St. John’s Gospel, we hear Jesus’ reply to Pilate’s question as to Jesus’ royal lineage (‘so you are a king?’)

For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”

God is truth; God is compassion; God is beauty; God is love.

Everyone who belongs to God listens to Jesus’ voice.

It doesn’t get much simpler than that.

Pantokrator_of_Sinai

 

Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!

33rd in Ordinary Time (Year B)

We grieve and pray for those in Paris who died in the terror attacks on Friday, and those in Beirut who died earlier in the week, also from terrorist violence. The events of this past week on the international stage show us that death comes for us all, at some point and some time, and most often, not at a time of our own choosing. Just as certainly as death comes for us, so too will be the judgement we will each face after our departure from this life.

But our culture often wants to approach things like ‘judgement’ in a minimalist sense; what is the minimum ‘passing grade’ or what is the least I must do to achieve the maximum result? It is as if we can wait until just before the moment of death and fulfil whatever the least is that we need to do, so that we can approach the throne of God with our passports stamped, because we did what was ‘necessary’.

Perhaps that is the greatest danger in seeking to know the time of, as St. Mark’s Gospel calls it ,’the end which is to come’. If we know when the end is, then we can live as we please up until that time, thinking that we will always have enough time to avail ourselves of God’s mercy.

The truth is, though, while God’s mercy is limitless, the time we have in this world to receive it, to turn towards it, and to show it to others is limited to our lifetimes. We don’t have unlimited opportunities to live for God as if we really mean it. We need to act, and we need to act in the immediate moment because we simply do not know when the ‘end’ will come, either of our own individual lives, or when the ‘end of the world’ will come.

Often groups or people will say they have figured out or calculated or ‘deciphered’ the clues in scripture that give an exact date or time; just as often, these groups and individuals have been proven wrong; the date of ‘the end’ has been predicted by people time and again, and yet here we remain. But Jesus is quite clear when he says ‘about that day or hour no one knows, neither the Angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.”…and the Father isn’t telling anyone. Why not?

Because while God’s kingdom in heaven is something we aspire to, to dwell in eternity, the truth is the Kingdom begins in the here and now; in our present circumstances and lives. Jesus repeatedly told those who would listen, that because He had entered into our humanity, our world, He would say ‘the kingdom of heaven is upon you’ – it isn’t just something we plan to act for down the road; it begins now, – the way we treat others, our actions, our words; the way we live out our faith; our relationships with God and others – whether we act upon all that God has given us to guide and lead us closer to Him now – not later – but right now.

Rather than worrying about when the end will come, so we can get ready to spend eternity with God, we should be concerning ourselves with how we are living for God now, so that when the end does come, we will simply be continuing to live for and with Him; living in His mercy, His justice, and His love.

We may not know when the end of time will be; but we do know when the time to start living for the Kingdom of heaven is – that time is now.

hands

Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!

32nd Sunday Ordinary Time (Year B)

Most often in our Sunday readings from the Lectionary, there is a common thread or link between the first reading the Gospel. On occasion, that link or theme extends through the second reading and binds them together.  This Sunday is one of those times when the thread runs through all three readings; and that thread is trust in God or the virtue of faith in God’s Providence, that God will take care of everything.  This is particularly important for us as Catholics to remember during this month of November as we continue to remember those who have gone before us in faith, and who now, we trust and hope, are in the presence of God.

In the first reading from the first book of Kings, we are presented with an image of the prophet Elijah asking a poor widow for food; she relates how she has so little, only a handful of meal and a little oil, enough for a final meal (or a last supper) for herself and her son, and that after they eat it, they will die; she’s telling Elijah that this is all she and her son have; that once it’s gone, she expects they will starve to death.  But Elijah, speaking with the authority given him by God tells her ‘Do not be afraid’….and after telling her to provide him with some of her last resources for a meal ,he tells her ‘thus says the Lord, the God of Israel’ that the jar of meal and the jug of oil will not be emptied.  So placing her trust in God, she does as Elijah asks, surrendering her last bits of food at the service of a prophet; and what does God do in return? Scripture tells us the jar of meal was not emptied, neither did the jar of oil fail for many days….This widow trusted that if she gave all to God, that God would take care of her as she needed.

It is somewhat easy to see a connection between this passage and our Gospel reading: a poor widow giving all that she has to live on…in this scene from St. Mark’s Gospel we hear Jesus pointing out to his disciples a widow putting in two small coins –leptons which were worth less than a penny each- in the Temple treasury; in essence giving her last resources to live on, over to God; he contrasts this with rich people putting in great sums and says that her contribution is ‘more than all those who are contributing to the treasury’…because they are giving from their abundance, leaving themselves with a great deal left over. This widow, on the other hand, is giving over all she has to live on – she is completely detached from this property, giving it over to God in trust – in faith ; trusting that God will provide for her what she needs just as the widow in the first reading;  Notice Jesus doesn’t condemn those who have much – he simply says that those who give all they have- that those who are detached from wealth –from things –  give the greater contribution because they are not holding anything back from God; that nothing is more important than God or entering into relationship with God.

It is this trust and detachment that is really the ideal approach for all Christians, as we express our relationship with God. The entire purpose of our lives is to be reunited with God, and it is in the life we live and how we practice our faith in our daily lives that we express our own trust in God’s providence;  St. Paul reminds us in his letter to the Hebrews, in today’s second reading when he writes that Christ has entered into heaven itself, once and for all , and appears ‘in the presence of God on our behalf.” This is the ideal of trust that the Church teaches and that we all continue to strive for.  It’s not something that we automatically have or receive;  it’s a trust that we enter into , little by little, fed by the grace of God

There’s a beautiful little prayer said by the deacon, or the priest during the Mass when the wine and water are mixed before the Eucharistic preface: it’s said quietly so only those at the sanctuary really hear it; but it bears being heard by all in this context; ” By the mystery of this water and wine, may we come to share in the divinity of Christ, who humbled Himself to share in our humanity.”

Just as the widow’s gave up all they had in trust in God, so God, entering into our humanity as Jesus, gives up everything – His very life – to show us by example the result of complete trust in God; living in the presence of God for all eternity; entering into His divinity.

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Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!

Feast of All Saints (Year B)

I had an acquaintance who once used to say, ‘our job as Catholics is to get to heaven, and to take as many people with us as we can’. I think this would be a fair definition of the baptismal calling that we all have; and that fundamental call is to holiness, to sanctity. Each one of us, by our very baptism, is called to be holy, to be a saint.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church (2683) begins to define saints as, ‘the witnesses who have preceded us into the kingdom, especially those whom the Church recognizes as saints’. Yet the church also says there are many who have lived lives of heroic virtue who are with God, known to Him, yet remain unknown to most of humanity. It is not to receive honours and praise from people that we strive to live a holy life, to be saints – it is so that we can be part of that great multitude that we read about in our first reading at Mass from the Book of Revelation – the great multitude from every nation that stands before the throne of God. This is the great gift of salvation that we receive through Jesus Christ, a gift we enter into through the sacrament of baptism, and become part of the communion of saints.

To often we give a kind of ‘caricature’ representation to saints; we consider them after their ‘conversion experiences’ and stories about them after their deaths and canonizations, and we forget they were real people with real concerns; often they were people who struggled much as we do with their own human weakness, and yet, through their prayer and faith and the grace of God, they grew to deepen their relationship and love of God in their day-to-day circumstances; we think of St. Augustine as a great doctor of the church, and forget that his youth was spent in a life of self-gratification; we think of St. Jerome translating the sacred scriptures and forget he was notorious for having a quick and violent temper; we speak of St. Francis of Assisi hugging the leper and forget he was petty and self-indulgent as a young man.

But through the gift of baptism, we become adopted children of God, and through the continuous gifts He gives us– as long as we are open to receiving them – we grow deeper in that relationship. As St. John says in his first letter, when God is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is, and as long as we have this hope in God, we purify ourselves. This is where we run into conflict with the ‘world’ because we see ‘purifying’ ourselves for God meaning to ‘give up’ things, to do without all the world offers – and our human nature tends to push back against this. This though, is a distorted mindset, because to grow deeper in love and closer to God is not to ‘lose’ anything; it is gaining everything – to be part of that great multitude seeing God as He is because we have become like Him.’ How could any worldly experience top that?

Jesus gives us a ‘blueprint’ if you will, for deepening this relationship, this love – it is recounted for us in today’s gospel account of the Beatitudes from St. Matthew -we learn that we are blessed, becoming more holy, more sanctified when we deepen these virtues; being poor in spirit, being meek, being merciful, being pure in heart… yet Jesus also states the result of our being more ‘blessed’ in God’s eyes; when choosing God’s ways over the world’s ways, we are reviled and persecuted, and ridiculed. We see that repeatedly in our own culture – in popular entertainment, in politics, and even sadly amongst those who claim to be people of faith.

Jesus doesn’t say being a saint is easy; in fact he says it can be the opposite – but if we truly desire to spend eternity with God, we need to begin living like we mean it in the here and now, starting today, in this moment, rather than waiting until some point in the distant future when we have had our fill of ‘the world’ and realize there is something more than the gratification of our senses in this life. We receive strength and glimpses of this eternity in the Sacraments, which is why the Church constantly reminds us to receive them, particularly Reconciliation and the Eucharist.

We need to be concerned about our own sanctity, to pray for the grace to live a life of virtue, and for others to be strengthened with this same grace; we need to ask others to pray for us, particularly the saints who have gone before us,, ‘the witnesses who have preceded us into the kingdom’.

There is a story that Pope St. John Paul II, in the midst of his pastoral travels that took him all over the world, fell ill between two of these trips. Doctors ordered him to rest in bed, but he was insistent that God had entrusted him with the mission to shepherd the people of this world to a closer union with God. When he decided to get up and resume his travels – which many thought was too soon – one of the nursing sisters entrusted with his medical care protested that he should set aside this mission and return to bed; she explained her concern saying, “I am worried about Your Holiness”, to which he replied, “I too, am worried about my holiness.”

On this feast of All Saints, may we too be as worried about our own holiness and the holiness of those we hold dear.

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Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!

30th Sunday Ordinary Time (Year B)

Imagine living in a world where everytime you recognize the need for something crucial in your life, and you ask for it, people around you suggest you don’t know what you’re asking for, shout you down, or tell you to ‘be quiet’.

Try imagining that you have a serious problem; you’re in a crowd, and you need help. You know someone in authority is near,and you call to them to help you; the people in the crowd tell you to stop shouting and making a fuss.

We see that scenario played out in our Gospel passage this week from St. Mark, where Jesus encounters Bartimaeus, the blind man. Jesus is ministering and moving about, generating a lot of interest and crowds. People are coming to see him, to touch him, to hear what he has to say. And in the midst of this, we are told, a blind man is aware of Jesus moving by and shouts ‘Son of David, have mercy on me.’

Something profound is happening here. Bartimaeus, living in his blindness, recognizes that someone in authority, with great power, is nearby. He doesn’t simply shout out ‘Jesus help me’ or ‘Jesus son of Joseph heal me’ – he utters the messianic ‘Son of David’ cry; even in his physical blindness, Bartimaeus recognizes Jesus as the fulfilment of the prophecies of the Old Testament prophets, of the coming of a messiah in the line of David. He acknowledges (perhaps in a limited way) that Jesus is more than ‘just’ another prophet. He acknowledges Jesus is the completion of God’s promise to Israel; a promise of a deliverer – and even in his blindness he can see that Jesus is there to deliver from darkness. But the crowd around Bartimaeus tells him to be quiet.

No one takes up the cry of ‘Son of David’. No one offers to help draw Jesus’ attention to Bartimaeus, or to help Bartimaeus move closer to Jesus. No one affirms him in his desire to have Jesus’ healing touch free him from his darkness.

They tell him to be quiet.

Thankfully, Bartimaeus is made of stronger stuff, and he calls out again to Jesus, and this time, Jesus tells the bystanders, ‘bring him to me.’

That one line could be taken as a command to his disciples; as a command to all who hear and claim to be followers of Jesus; ‘bring him to me’

Isn’t that what we are all called to do, through our own baptism? Are we not all invited to live a life in union with God and with each other? Are we not called to bring others to come to know, love and serve God?

Of course when Bartimaeus is ‘brought’ to Jesus, there is a verbal exchange, in which Bartimaeus confirms his belief that Jesus can indeed heal him; the fact that he repeated his cry ‘Son of David have mercy on me’ when those around him tried to stifle him, shows determination and perseverance in his faith in Jesus on some level.

And it is because of that faith, that Jesus heals Bartimaeus; and the gospel says Bartimaeus followed Him.

This particular passage gives us a very clear example of the choices we can make in our own lives in bringing about the Kingdom of God. This is what the ‘New Evangelization’ that we hear so much about means – reaching out and drawing others into this deep friendship of healing, of mercy, of compassion and love with Christ.

There are two groups of people presented here: on one hand, those who, when they hear Bartimaeus seeking healing, crying out to Jesus in his need, tell him to ‘be quiet’; on the other hand are those who obey when Jesus says, ‘bring him to me’.

It’s quite easy to see our own modern world reflected in this Gospel story. When those who recognize the emptiness of their own lives; those who suffer; those who are isolated; those who know that material wealth and power and privilege can never totally satisfy – when they cry out to Jesus, society tells them to ‘be quiet’ .

When others recognize the downward spiral in our culture, that abortion and euthanasia are intrinsically evil and speak out against these evils for the love of God, they are told to ‘be quiet’.

When still others suggest that all people should be treated with the respect and dignity that is theirs simply because they were created in the image and likeness of God, they are told to ‘be quiet’.

That’s the voice of the crowd that does not recognize the strength and power of hope, of faith and of trust in God. That demand to ‘be quiet’ is spoken by those who are truly blind to the beauty and love of God all around them.

On the other hand, we can thank God that we still have in our own modern society, those who respond to Jesus’ command to ‘bring him to me’; ‘bring to me’ those who are in need of healing; ‘bring to me’ those who have lost hope; ‘bring to me’ those who suffer, who are isolated, who know that relying on things and wealth and prestige will only leave you empty and alone. ‘Bring them all to me…’

The challenge for each one of us then, is to reflect on this passage and honestly ask ourselves which group we find ourselves in – the crowd that says ‘be quiet’ or those who respond when Jesus says ‘bring him to me’

The truth is, we don’t really have a choice which group we belong to – if we really and truly call ourselves disciples of Christ. It should be readily apparent that we must belong to the second group, the group that evangelizes, the group that, by a lived example, draws others to the healing love of Jesus.

Is it easy? Of course not – nobody ever said it would be; but we can always ask for perseverance in our faith, even in the face of a hostile world, as Bartimaeus had in the hostile crowd; supported in our baptismal calling, we can bring others to Christ as he commands; blessed by the Sacraments, we can always reach out and rely on the healing touch of Christ, crying out in our own darkness, if only to hear those merciful, healing words of Jesus, ‘your faith has made you well’ .

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Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!