Easter Vigil – Year B

How could anyone attend and participate in this liturgy of the Easter Vigil and not be moved? Not sense some excitement? Not feel the warmth and the joy of this great liturgy, when we celebrate that point in human history when Jesus rose from the dead, defeating death and sin and opening the gates of eternal life with God to each and every man, woman and child on the face of the earth. This is the day that all of creation was waiting for; when in the fullness of time, through the power of the Risen Christ we become what we were meant to be from the beginning; reunited with God for all eternity.

Our Opening Proclamation, the Exsultet, repeatedly calls all of creation to Exult-Rejoice-‘let this building shake with joy”!

There are wondrous moments in life where we have all felt a tremendous sense of joy; and yet, each of these is only a small taste of what God holds out for each of us.

Joy is irrepressible; it can’t be contained.  It’s not like pleasure in an activity, or satisfaction at accomplishing something; when we experience joy, we can’t hide it – we feel compelled or drawn to let it out; to share it with everyone and anyone we come in contact with. Joy is contagious; it can even conquer fear.

Tonight we mark the most incredible cause of joy in the entire history of the human race – the Resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ from the dead.  We celebrate and join with the members of the Church around the world, with the angels and the saints in heaven, in rejoicing at the Truth of God.

From the start of our Liturgy, with the blessing of the new fire; the lighting of the Paschal candle; the spreading of the light into the darkened church building; the incense, the music, the readings, the decorations; everything speaks of the joy in spreading this message that Christ is Risen; that everything that God spoke through the Scriptures, through the prophets; everything in the Gospels is true.

Sometimes we think the people of the past, who weren’t as technologically advanced as we are, were somehow unintelligent.

In our more recent history, I don’t think any of us would consider those who grew up without the internet to be of lesser intelligence than those who have known the ‘web’ for the better part of their lives.  And long before iphones and blackberries, before television and radio, people knew and understood the realities of life and relationship; sometimes I think far better than our culture does today.

The people of first century Palestine, in Jesus day, were not stupid people.  They knew the realities of human existence; of struggles and success, of conflict and peace, of work and rest, and of life and death.  Their practical experience and knowledge taught them that people don’t die and then just come back.

But following that first Easter, that is exactly what the disciples of Jesus were proclaiming.  Jesus had died and had risen!  It was the message that spread throughout the known world, and people believed; many to the point of giving their very lives in defense of the Gospel.  It was the message that through Christ, sin and death were defeated, and the promise of eternal life, being reunited with God as we were all meant to be, was given to all who believed.

Those who heard and accepted the Gospel message did so because of the witness of believers; because of the ‘light of Christ’ which was shining from them and the faith they were granted by God through the working of the Holy Spirit.

It’s interesting to note that while each of the four Gospels contains different insights into the teaching and works and actions of Jesus during his lifetime on earth, there are only a couple of episodes that are recorded in all four;  they all record the passion, death and Resurrection of Jesus- and they all record how St. Mary Magdalene was the first witness to the Truth of the Resurrection;  and even though she first met this truth with fear, that fear would give way to joy;  she in turn would be the one to take this joyful news and share it with the Apostles;  despite all of the turmoil and sorrow and horror that all of Jesus friends and followers and family experienced in the several days leading up to this, here was the message of indescribable joy that simply could not be contained.

He is Risen!

The authorities in Jerusalem could not defeat God’s plan; the power of the Roman Empire could not defeat God’s plan; today, a world and society that seems bent on self-absorption and self-destruction cannot defeat God’s plan.  Even death itself could not defeat God’s plan.  The light of Christ remains.  The Church remains.

In some way, at some time, each of us has been called by God to return to Him; directly or indirectly – perhaps by angels as the message of Christ’s resurrection is told to St. Mary Magdalene; perhaps through others’ words and actions, as St. Mary Magdalene was instructed to tell the news of the resurrection to the other disciples; perhaps by a whisper from God Himself in the very depths of our hearts, whether we recognized it at the time or not.

But God has called each of us into this victory, this relationship of eternal life with him and when we really take the time to consider that, how could we not be filled with joy?  How could we not want to share that with others through our own witness to the goodness of God in our lives or the promise of eternity with God because of Christ’s rising from the dead? How could we not want to share in the sacramental life of the Church?

The story of salvation history is not just the story of the Jewish people…it’s the story of all people…it is the story of the Church…it is the story of each one of us gathered at Mass; nowhere is that more clearly represented than in RCIA candidates; God has called each of them into relationship with Him, and they have responded.  They have journeyed for months, learning about and deepening their understanding of the faith of the Roman Catholic Church, and have consciously made a decision to say ‘yes’ to accept the gift of relationship that God holds out; committing to receiving that gift from God; becoming adopted children of God; becoming sisters of God’s only Son, Jesus Christ; entering into the family of all of us gathered here.  And they in turn will receive the ‘light of Christ’ through their entry into the Church, and by their own witness, will bring that light to others, sharing the Gospel – their joy – with others.

It has not been easy all the time, and the periods of study and reflection, of gatherings and dismissals has presented its own challenges for each of our candidates; but here again is a sign as a reminder for each of us; during our continuing journey in faith, each of us faces challenges and struggles; but God continually calls us and gives us the help we need to rise above those challenges and open our hearts to this great gift of Himself – His life- that He so desires to give continually to each of us.

That’s love; it’s a love which gives us hope; that is a hope that fills us with joy.

There is always time to consider the trials and tragedies and difficulties of our life on earth.  There is always time to reflect on the inhumane acts perpetrated in various parts of the world by the strong over the weak. There is always time to consider the struggles the Church faces in the world; but this is not the time to reflect on those.  This is a time to celebrate; this is a time for great happiness and gratitude and joy.

This is the Day that the Lord has made; Let us Rejoice and be glad!


Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!

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!

Easter – 2nd Sunday (Year A)

We are so blessed as a Church, to celebrate so many things this weekend! Pride of place, of course, should go to our celebration of the Mass as we bring to a close the Octave or Eight Days of Easter, with this Divine Mercy Sunday. But as a Church, we celebrate also the canonization of not one, but two popes of happy memory; we celebrate the elevation to this honour of St. John XXIII and St. John Paul II. The massive crowds in Rome, estimated at 3 million people are a testament to the joy, the vibrancy and yes, even the relevance of the Church and the communion of saints to huge numbers of people in the 21st century.

It is through their lived example, more than anything else, that these two men are now counted among the Saints in the Canon of the Church. While we may be tempted to think that it was because of their position, or the wide influence of their office, it has more to do with who each man was, grounded in their identities as sons of God and disciples of Jesus. This is the real mark of a saint – not the size of their following, but rather the lengths to which they will go in their own lives in surrendering self to build up the Body of Christ.

One of the things, particularly in our culture, that is most difficult to surrender, is our own ego. Whether it is larger than life or subtle, we all have our own preconceptions, likes and dislikes, biases and fears. In spiritual direction, one of the greatest challenges for anyone is to confront their own ego, and seek ways to diminish it, to surrender it, in growing a more profound and deep relationship with God and, by extension, with others.

For Christians, disciples of Christ, this becomes particularly crucial. We cannot build up Christ’s Body if we cling to our own ways, thoughts, preconceptions, and refuse to be open to the possibility that God works within the confines of our own daily lives, our own circumstances; unless we are open to God moving in the most incredible and strange and even bizarre ways that, at times, can challenge everything we have ever thought about ourselves, others and our place in the world as children of God.

St. Thomas confronts the unimaginable when the disciples on tell him that Jesus has risen from the dead and has appeared to them. He, like the others, has followed Jesus through His public ministry, lived with Him, heard His teaching and watched His miracles – and like the others he ran away and hid when Jesus endured His passion and death.

But it is in this resurrection moment, when the remaining disciples bear witness to the Risen Christ, that Thomas really struggles. That flood of what happened over the course of that first Good Friday crashes into that wave of excited news that the other disciples are sharing with Him, and in that moment, it becomes too much for St. Thomas and he retreats back into himself – into his own terms of reference, of what ‘makes sense’ in his own little world; because to accept what the other disciples are saying means to accept that Jesus is much more than a wise teacher, a healer or a prophet. It means to accept that He is in fact, God Incarnate and with Him, all things are possible. It also means that His disciples are not only called to accept this reality, but to bear witness to it to others.

Thomas would have to weigh in his own mind what this meant – that he would be expected to go out and tell people that this Jesus was Risen from the Dead; so many questions would come into play – how will people react to that message? How will they respond to me? Will they call me a liar, a fanatic, crazy? The temptation to retreat from witnessing to others that message of the first Easter would be incredibly strong, particularly if Thomas was worried about how he would be received. His own ego would scream out against putting himself in that difficult situation.

And so it can be with us. We might say we don’t care what people think of us – if they accept us or not, when we proclaim Christ is risen, when we preach the Gospel; but in all of us, the constant struggle is with our own egos, because at some level we all want to be accepted, part of the ‘crowd’, generally liked. Nothing threatens the ego quite like the demand of the Gospels, particularly the notion of putting God above all else, and loving our neighbours as ourselves, and then being a living witness to the truth of who Jesus really is in our secular world.

Yet in that struggle, we have the calming words of Jesus, recorded for us in this gospel passage from St. John, when he greets those disciples who are amazed, confused and even fearful with the words, “peace be with you”. Those words are not only for the disciples two thousand years ago; they are for us here, now, trying to make sense of our own struggles and trials as we continue our own journeys of faith. Through the intercession of St. John XXIII and St. John Paul II, may we all be graced with that peace of Christ in our own hearts, as we all strive to enter more deeply into that profound and deep mystery of love and mercy that God invites us into each day.


Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!

Easter – Pentecost

So often when we look at today’s passage from the Acts of the Apostles, with its description of tongues of fire and the sound of something like a whirlwind, we expect that this is the hallmark of the movement of the Holy Spirit.  We look to see God’s activity in the world as monumental or spectacular.  It’s as if we are saying, ‘if the Holy Spirit is active in my life, surely that would be accompanied by sights and sounds and actions that are certain to amaze and impress.’  The logical conclusion to this would be, of course, that in the little things, the ‘ordinariness’ of our lives, that the Holy Spirit of God is not active or moving through us.

But nothing could be further from the truth.  Of course God can move and inspire us to great heights, and throughout salvation history, God performed great signs and wonders – we can think of things like the parting of the Red Sea during the Exodus of the Israelites when they left Egypt; or Jesus calming the stormy sea with a word – but more often, God’s presence and the action of the Holy Spirit appear in less dramatic fashion – think of the prophet Elijah and God’s revealing of self to him in the still, small breeze; or perhaps the resurrected Jesus walking quietly beside the disciples on the road to Emmaus as an unknown stranger.                 

We should never confuse the outward flash and show of something with its importance.  We have two accounts today in our readings of the Holy Spirit being received by the Apostles – the first from the Acts, with the whirlwinds and fire and the result of the Apostles being filled with courage and conviction; going out and preaching to the crowds in Jerusalem; no longer afraid and remaining in hiding, but boldly proclaiming the resurrected Jesus.

Contrast that account with the passage from St. John’s Gospel – Jesus appearing to his disciples in the upper room where they are still hiding, and breathing on them, saying ‘receive the Holy Spirit’;  here we have God in the person of Jesus, the Son, imparting the Holy Spirit in a quiet, calm and intimate way;  quite apparently unspectacular.

 But the results are most certainly spectacular; here this small group will take this Gospel – this Good News of Salvation through Jesus – and spread it throughout the Roman Empire and beyond in a few short decades.

And all because they are moved, inspired, empowered by the Holy Spirit of God which has been given to them.

We might see these examples from Scripture, though, and whether we look at the ‘big production’ of Pentecost in Acts, or the low-key handing on of the Spirit in St. John, we might be tempted to think that the movement of the Spirit is restricted only to historic figures that had a physical encounter with Jesus, or perhaps the great saints in the history of the Church who undertook and performed great works.

We might think that the movement of the Spirit is something outside our experience or our own ‘reach’ because, quite honestly, our lives are ordinary, or unspectacular. 

Don’t sell yourselves or the Holy Spirit short.  In the first letter to the Corinthians, our second reading today, the Apostle tells us, “No one can say, ’Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit.’

In other words, just the urge to pray aloud or affirm that we believe Jesus is God, is a movement of the Holy Spirit within.  It may not seem spectacular, or feel particularly exciting immediately, but it is a movement of the Spirit just the same.

There’s perhaps something that we need to understand at this point as well.  As rational, practical beings, humans are given to thought and analysis and problem-solving through a whole process.  In a strictly rational, practical existence, it would make absolutely no sense to pray. 

And yet, we do.  Often times we feel moved to have that conversation with our Creator God – and this conversation, this is what prayer is; and it is this prayer that is certainly not a rational exercise. 

We feel a need or desire to converse with the One who loved us into existence; and it is this very desire which in and of itself, is a movement within us of the Holy Spirit.  And when we surrender to this movement, the deeper we feel invited into this relationship; and the deeper we are drawn into this relationship, the more we show outwardly our inner journey with God – the more we are inclined to show in our actions and our words that ‘Jesus is Lord’ – a claim that we can make only through the power of the Holy Spirit.

And while we may not immediately see some spectacular or dazzling result in our circumstances from this movement, there will most definitely be an influence on others around us – and it is in that influence that the Spirit continues to move outward, reaching out through us, drawing us and others closer to God the Father, the Son and Holy Spirit.  That is indeed something spectacular and amazing.

We can’t let the notion take hold, that we are not participating in the mission of the Church, brought into being by Christ who is the head of the Church, unless we are doing something huge and impressive. 

Blessed Teresa of Calcutta thought of herself as anything but “big or impressive”.  But she understood that each of us, surrendering in our own ordinary lives to the power of the Holy Spirit, had the potential to do great things for God; and that great things for God were not determined by numbers of converts or monumental buildings or statues; one of her more famous quotes was ‘We can do no great things; only small things with great love.”

But one of her lesser known quotes was this; ‘Little things are indeed little; but to be faithful in little things is a great thing.”

Every time we participate in the Mass; any time we spend in prayer; each time we reach out to help a neighbour- to feed the hungry; to shelter those who have no place to live; to comfort someone in sorrow; to support those suffering emotional or physical illness – each time we do any of these things, we are responding to the movement of the Holy Spirit within us.

We are living out the inheritance that was first given to the disciples by the very breath of Jesus as He breathed on them –  this breath of Christ is the breath of God; the same breath of God that gave life ‘in the beginning’ ;the same breath which gives life as the Church is born on that feast of Pentecost;  that breath is the Holy Spirit and continues to move – to breathe -through the Church and all of her members – through you and me, urging us to proclaim ‘Jesus is Lord’ in so many ways – and every one of these ways is extraordinary, because they are inspired by God; and in that, in each of us,  there is greatness in the Holy Spirit.

Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!

Easter – Ascension

One of the most typical reactions we have to a deeply moving experience is to hang on to it; to cling to it. This is especially true in the spiritual or interior life.  When we have a particularly insightful moment or an awareness of God, we might be tempted to cling tightly to that insight. Often we want to revisit these experiences, sometimes even trying to escape from thinking about certain trials or struggles we go through by ‘summoning up’ a previous happy ‘moment’.

There is something to beware in this, though, especially in the spiritual life.  There is a real temptation to want to ‘re-live’ or ‘re-create’ the event that brought about a particular experience – it may have been a real sense of the power of the Holy Spirit, or an insight into the unconditional love of God, or a deeply felt awareness in our own hearts of the presence of Christ in others.  Rather than simply accepting this insight or experience as a grace moment, or a gift from God, we cling to it and try to duplicate the conditions so that we can have this experience again, and again, and again.  The fact is, when we are deep in prayer, and if we are blessed enough to have one of these insights, if we try to ‘figure out’ how we got to that point, the moment of that experience begins to slip away from us.

The danger in this, particularly if this involves our prayer life and spirituality, is that we have become focussed on a gift, and have forgotten about the Giver; we are hoping for the ‘high’ that we felt in that momentary experience – rather than simply accepting a gift with a sense of gratitude.  We try to cling to that grace as if it is something private and meant only for us, and we become defensive if anyone should ‘intrude’ into that grace.  We forget that God gives us these grace moments to draw us deeper into a relationship with Him, and subsequently to draw others into that relationship.

Jesus did not teach his disciples to seek the kingdom of God solely for their own benefit.  Time after time he reminds them, and us, of the responsibility to be witnesses to the kingdom, to invite others into the kingdom – to make the love of God and the mercy of Christ known to everyone.  The whole point is to go out and bring others into that loving companionship of Jesus – and not simply by quoting a few catch-phrases or nice-sounding slogans; we are to do so by a lived example; by being visible signs, by being witnesses to the very real and precious love of God moving through our own lives.

The disciples had numerous deep and moving experiences and an intimate knowledge of the power and the presence of Jesus in their own lives.  The Acts of the Apostles, in our first reading on this Ascension Sunday, tells us how after his resurrection, Jesus spends an additional forty days with his friends; teaching them, comforting them, sharing with them.  To say that they have had a deeply spiritual experience in the presence of Jesus, who they have seen raised from the dead, would be an understatement.  But here they are, on the outskirts of Jerusalem, and 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)

But while they are ‘caught up’ in this experience, standing in awe and not moving, two strangers in white robes (we’re given the impression they are angels) say to the disciples, “Men of Galilee why do you stand looking up toward heaven?  This Jesus who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go to heaven.”

In other words, the angels seem to be reminding the disciples; you’ve had a wonderful experience. Now instead of standing here and clinging to it, do something with it!

The reality of the love of God in our own lives is not restricted to single experiences or grace moments; the love of God is something that moves and lives and breathes in and around and through us every day, all the time, if only we have eyes to see it.  The Holy Spirit, who Jesus promises to his disciples at His Ascension, teaches us how to receive the most precious gift of all, the love of God, so that we can do something wonderful with it.

Perhaps in this particular liturgy we may have one of those grace moments; a sense of the wonder and beauty and nearness of God.  If that happens thank God for it, and rather than clinging to  it tightly as a private possession, release it with an open hand and open heart; to see how God will use this experience to draw us and others closer to himself.  That is, after all, why we were created, and why Jesus entered into our humanity in the first place.

birds over blowing rocks

Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!

Easter – 6th Sunday

I was recently on my annual retreat – a silent retreat, spending five days in prayer and silence, trying to focus exclusively on listening to God and discerning where and how God is at work in my life, and how and where my life can be a faithful and loving reflection of Jesus, to the praise and glory of God.

As is usually the case, I spent a lot of time walking, which in this case was easy because there were many footpaths and hiking trails around this particular retreat centre; it was an opportunity to explore the beauty and goodness of God reflected in His created world.  One beautiful, sunny morning in particular, I was beside a cultivated field which hadn’t been planted yet.  Spaced along the field were posts, about six feet tall, and atop these posts were small bird houses- and most of these had been occupied by barn swallows.  These swallows were beautiful little birds, with dark blue wings, heads and tails, and white chests.  There were two to each house, and it was obvious they had been nesting and there were either young or eggs in the nests.

Whenever I paused on my walk, within ten or twenty feet of these nests though, the adult swallows would begin flying, and swoop down at me, trying to drive me away from their nest.  Now these birds are not very big, and it would have been simple enough to swat them out of the air; but the experience left me with something to reflect on.  These little birds, surely would know that they were no match for any large predator that would come near their nest; yet here they were, throwing themselves completely  in harm’s way for no other reason than to protect their nest – to drive away a threat at the cost of their own safety, maybe even their own lives.  The preservation of their young, the continuation of their species, takes over where common sense ends; these swallows were prepared to sacrifice everything to prevent the loss of that one necessary thing to their species’ survival – their young.

In our Gospel passage today from St. John, we continue hearing the words of Jesus at the Last Supper; that He is going to suffer and die, and rise again; that He is returning to the Father; that He and the Father will send them the Holy Spirit to guide, direct and strengthen them.  This is a promise He gives to them, to the Church, that the Holy Spirit, the Advocate will come to them and remind them of all that He has taught.

But just as in last week’s passage, Jesus gives another example of how the world will know that we are His disciples.  This time He says, “whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come and make our home with him.”  He explains that the Holy Spirit will come and remind His disciples all that He taught them; and it is through this promise that He confers the teaching authority of the Church, guided by the Holy Spirit.

Keeping Jesus’ word, following His teaching as handed down, is not always an easy thing.  In fact, given the world we live in, it is rarely an easy thing.  His word says that we are to love God above all else with our whole being, and love our neighbor as ourselves.  His word says that we are to care for the poor, the marginalized, the weak because He is present to us in them.  His word says we are to support and strengthen each other in prayer, and in concrete ways; His word says we are to live and preach the Gospel without compromising it or watering it down.

Keeping, believing, and living His word is really that one thing necessary for our survival as Church, as the Body of Christ; it is the one thing necessary to ensure that we pass on the truth of the Gospel to our children, and the world around us; it is the one thing necessary to enable us to draw others closer to God – to allow us to play a small part in salvation history!

We should be willing to defend that one thing necessary – to prevent it from being harmed by all of the temptations, worries and threats to it that this world has to offer; as disciples of Christ we should be fearless in holding fast to His teaching, in standing up and defending our faith both in the public forum and in more private settings.

He tells us not to be afraid, because He gives His disciples -those who keep His word- His peace. This is not a temporary worldly sense of ‘peace’ meaning no current conflict in our lives. That ‘peace’ is as temporary as worldly trends, opinions and conditions allow it to be. His peace is not a peace meaning there will be no difficulties, struggles or threats in this world; but it is a peace at the core of our being; a peace that helps keep us in the knowledge that we belong to Him, and that He will not abandon His own, regardless of how the world treats us; that ultimately we will live in and with God and all will ultimately be well.

He doesn’t ask us to do anything that He wasn’t prepared to do first.  He may ask us to be like those swallows, doing everything we can to protect our relationship with Him from the temptations and threats of this world; but we should remember – like those swallows,  protecting their own young He spared nothing ,not even His own life, to protect us – His children – for eternity.

barn swallow

Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!