Palm Sunday (Year A)

I was reflecting recently on a situation where someone had fallen behind in making payments involving something that they were in serious need of. The response from the supplier was to threaten to take away what was needed, and they excused themselves with the comment, ‘this isn’t anything personal. It’s just business.’

As we mark the beginning of Holy Week, the most solemn time of year in our Church calendar, we are confronted with what appear to be completely polar opposites in reaction to the presence of Jesus. At the beginning of Mass we read from St. Matthew about Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem, in the midst of the adoring crowds. We follow that up with the same writer’s account of Jesus’ Passion and Death; it shows how fickle people are – a complete and total reversal in public opinion (with a vengeance) in only a matter of days. The people are quite happy when they think the Messiah has come to bring about His Kingdom; but when they learn that much is expected of them in opening their hearts and participating in the building of that same Kingdom, that public adoration quickly degenerates into rejection and animosity.

While we often consider the tremendous sacrifice and meekness of Jesus, accepting both the good and the bad extremes in less than a week, ultimate surrendering all to the Father in atonement for the fallen human race, I think we frequently neglect to see how the actions of people in the gospels are reflected in our own day and in our own lives as followers of Jesus. Perhaps we deliberately avoid reflecting in that way because we don’t like what we might see in our own lives and actions, if we are brutally honest with ourselves.

For example, we may look at the treatment of Jesus by the Roman soldiers during his Passion, and say, ‘how could they be so unkind and cruel?’ or ‘how could they have been so detached while they inflicted such pain on his most holy body?’

But if we put ourselves into their place and time, for the Roman soldiers, this wasn’t ‘something personal’ – it was ‘just business’; it was a matter of routine – this is how foreign enemies of the Empire were dealt with; ‘no big deal’ if you will. They were desensitized to the suffering of those who were obstacles to what their orders were. They didn’t have to be concerned with how their prisoners ‘felt’ or ‘ thought’ because it really didn’t concern them.

This is one example, where we are invited to reflect on the parallel between the treatment of Christ in first century Palestine, and the treatment of His Body in our own time; there are numerous examples throughout the world, where Christ’s Body, the Church, is subjected to cruelty and oppression by secular authorities as a matter of ‘routine business’.

But just as important, we need to reflect on our own lives to see where we too have inflicted harm on the body of Christ – the Church – our brothers and sisters – as a matter of thoughtless or deliberate words, whether through neglect or direct action. It does us no good to simply read the Passion and reflect on it as a historical event, saying ‘poor Lord , how you suffered,’ if we are not willing to honestly contemplate where this event continues to be played out in our own world and in our own lives; if we aren’t willing to see how and where Jesus suffers each and every day, in great ways and small, in those we directly and indirectly encounter.

This most sacred time of year, Holy Week, is an opportunity for each of us to more deeply enter into reflection on the mystery of salvation history and recognize that God did not enter into our humanity solely to reconcile ‘me’ only to Himself. God entered into our humanity in the person of Jesus to reconcile all people to Himself, and in that action, we as members of Christ’s Body are invited and expected to be directly involved in drawing others to God, rather than ignoring them or driving them away.

The gentleness, meekness and surrender to God’s will that Jesus illustrates for each of us, should be the hallmark of our own lives and relationships each and every day; to reach out in love and to help build God’s Kingdom should be our ‘routine’.

Our willingness to follow Jesus’ example of complete self-giving should be , for us, our ‘business’; indeed it should be ‘something personal.’

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Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!

21st Sunday in Ordinary Time

Several years ago I had the tremendous privilege, as their National Spiritual Director, of leading a retreat in Toronto for a number of Lay Missionaries of Charity, an association of lay people who are part of the ‘family’ of religious congregations founded by Blessed Teresa of Calcutta.  As part of our exercises, we participated in periods of Eucharistic Adoration with a small number of Missionary of Charity sisters – they are easily recognizable by the habits that they wear: the white saris with blue trim;

These sisters live in an old house in the heart of ‘Parkdale’ in Toronto; an area in the inner city that has considerable poverty, crime, and a large number of residents with emotional and mental challenges.  The sisters provide meals every day for the poor of their neigbourhood from the basement of their modest house; and to give you an idea of how they embrace their vow of personal poverty; the sisters have only two saris each – that’s their entire wardrobe: two, so that they have something to wear when they wash the other: if the sari is ripped or damaged, they have to darn it themselves; they can’t replace it.  The sisters have to make their own pallets and then make mattresses to put on their pallets to sleep on: they don’t have “beds” as we would think of them:  and while all of this is amazing in itself, as I reflected while I was with the sisters and the lay missionaries, I found something even more incredible to consider:

All of the sisters in this house were from India, one of the poorest countries in the world: and yet, they had been sent by their order, to one of the richest countries in the world to help the poor there:  Canada – a country which is consistently rated in various studies as being in the top ten in the world for standard of living, for education, for health care, for quality of life:  and the biggest city in this wealthy country: a city that consistently promotes itself as ‘the economic engine’ that drives this country:  this small group of sisters had come from the poverty of India, not to seek a better life for themselves, but to serve the poor in Toronto.

All I could continually think of was ‘look at these tiny little women’; and yet I was taken with their absolute trust that God would provide what they needed as they continued ministering in this monumental task that they had undertaken in response to the call of God.

This is most certainly not the typical lifestyle that every person would choose: this is most certainly something inspiring, exceptional and rare:  this is not ‘following the crowd’ 

This is entering the narrow door.

Jesus tells us to ‘Strive to enter by the narrow door’

This is not a passive Christianity that Jesus is calling us to – to simply say, “oh yes we know Jesus and we believe in Him,” and that’s good enough.  There is an expectation in the words of the Gospel that Jesus is calling us to an active Christianity ; to go out and do something with our belief in Him; to deepen our relationship with Him in prayer and participating in the Sacraments, yes: but more than that – to get out there and get our hands ‘dirty’ to feed the hungry, to clothe the naked , to shelter the homeless, to uphold and protect the dignity and sacredness of all life: in other words to put the needs of others ahead of our own comforts and desires; to faithfully and fully participate in the life of the Church.

We live in a society that says this type of attitude or lifestyle is foolish: we are constantly bombarded with messages in the media and modern culture to get all that we can, when we can, any way that we can – that our comfort comes before all else – that it’s all about ‘me’ and that I am entitled to have what I want when I want it, and it doesn’t matter how I get it – if it means treating people as a means to an end, so be it.  A society and culture that encourages us to keep gathering ‘things’ as the means to all happiness (if I just get that new car, then I will be happy;  if I get that one more promotion, then I’ll be happy;  if I get another house that’s just a little bigger, then I’ll be happy) – a society that promotes the idea of being entitled to everything and anything we want, to the point that our wants and desires and egos turn into this big bloated mass  that , if it were a person or ‘baggage’ carried by us, could only enter anywhere through a very wide door.

That very wide door that says, it’s okay – get what you want at the expense of others; a very wide door that says – it doesn’t matter how we treat the poor in our midst; a very wide door that even says, I know who Jesus is and I kind of believe in Him, or I’m basically a good person, but I don’t really need to follow or listen to any of His teachings handed down to us;  I’m okay with Jesus but not with His Church.

Jesus is quite clear:  He says ‘strive’ to enter the narrow door. The word in the Greek St. Luke uses for ‘strive’ is the same root word for ‘agony’.  It implies that Jesus is telling us to suffer in order to enter into salvation’s ‘narrow door’. 

This is not about ‘earning’ our way into heaven. Jesus invites us into salvation freely:  but He does say by this that we cannot simply say ‘I’m a believer,’ or,’ I’m a good person’ and sit back and expect that to be enough: 

He talks of those who say ‘we ate and drank with you and you taught in our streets’ but the Lord will say, “I do not know where you come from’.  

In other words, simply being a casual acquaintance of Jesus is not enough to enter God’s Kingdom;  Jesus tells us that to enter the Kingdom we have to be Christ-like: that we are to be servants of God and servants of others:    He says ‘strive’ and He means it:  He’s saying to each of us that we have to ‘put an effort’ into living as a child of God, one of the baptized , in responding to his free gift of salvation:     that we can’t be caught up in the comforts and desires of this world, overburdened with them:  that we have to have a spirit of love for God and others, a detachment from the things of this world so that we can enter that narrow door into God’s Kingdom;

But we have to make a choice:  we have to choose to enter by the narrow door or go off through the wide door: He doesn’t force us through either door: He leaves that choice up to us, and we cannot blame God for the choices we make.

Our participation in the Mass is a good start – but it is just that, a start.  Passively sitting in the pews is not enough; occasionally receiving the Sacraments is not enough.  If we would truly follow where Christ leads, we need to make an effort to put the love of Christ into everything we do, everywhere we go, and with everyone we meet, each and every day.

We need to strive to enter that narrow door whenever it opens.

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Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!

19th Sunday Ordinary Time

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

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

While this is one way of considering this passage, there is another, equally valid way we can reflect on these words. We can consider these words applying to our meeting Jesus at the moment of our own death –and- we can consider these words applying to our meeting Jesus every day in every person we encounter.

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

This particular Sunday is preceded by the feast day of two saints whose lives and deaths were very intertwined: Pope St. Sixtus II whose feast is August 7th, and St. Lawrence, whose feast is August 11th .

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

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

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

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

While we may not live in a country or culture where we are called to be ready to die a martyr’s death for our Catholic faith, we are called to be ready to be a witness to our faith in a culture that is hostile to it. We are called to be ready to meet Jesus in the poor and the suffering, the lonely and the lost; we are also called to be ready to witness to our faith – in our choice of entertainment; in the products that we buy, having a social conscience for how this impacts the environment and the poor of this world; in our social circumstances, when people and society tell us that everything is relative and that the Church’s teaching on marriage or contraception is out of date or out of touch: we witness in faithfulness to the teaching of Christ and the Church on the sanctity of marriage and the sacredness of human life from conception to its natural end.

Saint Sixtus was ready to meet Jesus for eternity and was willing to publicly profess his faith, knowing it would cost his life.

Saint Lawrence was ready to meet Jesus for eternity by meeting Jesus daily in those whom he served, the Church and the poor.

Blessed Teresa of Calcutta was ready to meet Jesus daily in dedicating her whole life to serving Jesus in the distressing disguise of the poor.

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

Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!

15th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To be sure, today’s Gospel passage from St. Luke would seem to point out what we might consider ‘extraordinary’ actions.  Jesus relates the story that we have come to call the parable of the Good Samaritan; in the context of his audience, and the way the story unfolds, the actions of the ‘hero’ of the story, a Samaritan, seem well outside what would be expected.  At the time of Jesus, Samaritans and Jews despised each other; the way Jesus tells the story it would seem the man who became a victim of robbers was Jewish, since he was travelling from Jerusalem to Jericho.  And yet, it is not members of the man’s own community who come to his aid, but rather someone from the culture that was at odds with, or even the ‘enemies’ of his own culture. Truly, Jesus’ audience would think, this Samaritan in helping a Jew was doing an incredible thing.

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

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

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

Two of the most popular saints of modern times in their own ways emphasized how natural and simple the act of loving God by loving our neighbour can be.  The Little Flower, or St. Therese of Lisieux, and Blessed Teresa of Calcutta both lived out examples of doing ordinary things with extraordinary love.  For the Little Flower, it involved her little way, performing what others would see as small, menial tasks in the convent and offering them up continually in gratitude to God.  Whether it was serving a meal, dusting the chapel, cleaning a floor; spending time to help one of the sisters to a meal- befriending one who was difficult for the others to develop a closeness to – in all of these things, Therese showed that in helping others, it was not in the task itself, but the attitude of the heart with which the task was performed that determined the ‘greatness’ of the work.

Blessed Teresa of Calcutta started with individuals; the poor starving and dying in the streets of Calcutta; it didn’t matter whether the person was Catholic, Christian, Hindu or Moslem; the fact that they were a human being created in the image and likeness of God was what determined whether they had a claim to the mercy and compassion shown by Blessed Teresa.  But she also stressed that this charity had to be an attitude – a hallmark of everyone who takes the name Christian, and it was to be shown to the poorest of the poor in our society wherever and whenever we find them. But it also starts with small actions and grows from there.

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

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

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

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

Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!

10th Sunday Ordinary Time

“Members of the Church are out of touch with the real world.”

How often have we heard that?  It is usually in response to the Church’s teaching, handed down through Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition, with regards to such things as abortion or marriage.  Those who use that remark often forget, or are perhaps unaware, that the Church is made up of members who live in ‘the real world’, and who strive to remain true to her deposit of faith, to the Gospels and to being authentic disciples of Jesus; while at the same time, trying to balance their own needs and  the needs of those who depend on them with their abilities, resources and talents.

But as that ‘accusation’ is casually tossed about, it also implies that the One who is at the heart of the Church, who is at the centre of the lives of truly authentic disciples – Jesus – is also ‘out of touch with the real world’. His teachings are too hard. He is too demanding.  He is too far removed from our reality.

Sometimes recounting the depictions of Jesus in the Gospels, we might see Him as distant, maybe even somewhat aloof when relating to the sufferings and sorrows of the people He encounters.  We may recall phrases like, ’let the dead bury the dead’ or ‘you give them something to eat’ in instances where people approached Jesus, looking for miracles or affirmation of their actions.

This particular passage from St. Luke’s Gospel that we read today, the healing of the son of a widow of Nain, certainly takes away any illusion that Jesus was distant –or worse ‘disconnected’- from the troubles and trials of people in the ‘real world’.  In this story we hear how Jesus, His disciples, and the crowds that have begun to grow around Him approach this small town; they are met by a funeral procession coming out, in the opposite direction.  This is the funeral of a young man; we are told he is the only son of his mother, who also happens to be a widow. This is a scene of sorrow, of hopelessness, of death.

It’s important to note that in that culture, at that time, a widow had no means of support – her husband is gone, and so she has to rely and trust that her sons, if she has any, will continue to ‘take care of her’; to support her and provide for her. However, as her only son, this young man is the only means of support she has, and so in several senses she has lost ‘everything’; she has previously lost her husband, she has lost her only son, and now she has no means to sustain her in the material world.  She is now ‘on her own’ both literally and figuratively.

Perhaps it is because He can identify personally with her situation (our Tradition tells us Jesus was Mary’s only son, and perhaps Mary too was a widow at this point in Jesus’ life); perhaps it is because He is moved by the mourning of the crowd; for whatever reason, Jesus takes it upon Himself to approach – to ‘go out’ – to this widow.  No one asks Him to help her; no one suggests He do something for her; she doesn’t cry out to Him for help; none of the mourners demand a miracle.

Jesus, it says, ‘had compassion for her’; He reaches out to her.  He tells her not to weep. Then he touches the funeral pallet carrying the young man, and tells him to ‘rise’. Jesus in a very gentle and loving gesture, then ‘gives’ the young man back to his mother.

This is not the action of a God who is distant, cold and unfeeling; this is the action of a God who knows the needs of his children, even when they don’t ask for them, and provides for them.

But as with all of the movements, actions and teachings of Jesus in the Gospels, there is an expectation placed on all of us, if we would honestly and authentically call ourselves His disciples – His Church; we are to go out and do the same. We are to go out and provide for those who are in need – those who have lost everything, those who have nothing – without being asked or solicited.  We are to be instruments of healing in situations of sorrow, helping restore life when families or communities are torn apart,  ‘giving’ children back to their families.

For us to participate in the Sacramental life of the Church, we must also participate in this world as Jesus Himself did; in living out compassion, love, healing and mercy. It’s not enough for us to attend Mass a few times a month and confine our care for the weak and vulnerable to a collection or some occasional mission or petition ‘campaign’.  We need to apply the life we receive through the Church and the Sacraments, to the life we share with our fellow human beings in the world. 

We cannot remain distant or apathetic to the plight of those who suffer poverty and loss in our midst (whether that poverty be material, social, spiritual, etc.); we cannot always wait to be told where the need is greatest. 

As it did in this Gospel passage, the needs of the suffering will always present themselves to us – in the real world – in our midst.  As members of Christ’s body, the Church, may we have the grace, the compassion and the strength to bring life and hope where there is none, just as Jesus did and continues to do, in the ‘real world.’


Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!

Third Sunday Ordinary Time

One of the greatest shortcomings of the human race, is that we have a very short attention span when it comes to extraordinary events: whether it be something wonderful or something tragic; our society’s attention generally to specific events or needs is somewhat fleeting.

Three years ago this month, Haiti experienced a massive earthquake with a death toll of over 200,000 people. Within days it went from the top story in most news casts, dropping down in ‘priority’ behind the economy, politics and celebrity news.  It is all but forgotten on the main world stage again.

But the troubles and struggles and grief and tragedy in that poor little country have been continuing for generations, and will continue for generations without the ongoing help and support of a caring world community.

There are dozens of examples of under-developed and developing countries all over the world, where this is the case; that the struggles and poverty; the conflicts and starvation; the complete neglect and abuse of the poor have been going on for years; and only when an extraordinary event occurs on a massive scale, does the entire world community sit up and take notice and offer to help.  The poverty in Africa, Asia, and Central America continues; persecutions of Christians are still occurring in parts of Africa and India and Pakistan; the children of North Korea are still hungry; suffering and want on a massive scale has become ‘ordinary’ in our world.

The extraordinary becomes ordinary, and loses our attention: but this is nothing new or modern.  This trend goes back to the earliest periods of human history:  we have an example from the period almost 500 years before Jesus was born, to the time of our first reading from the book of Nehemiah:

The Jewish people have returned from the exile in Babylon; returned to rebuild Jerusalem. Once the walls are rebuilt they gather to hear the Word of God.

Prior to the exile in Babylon, the children of Israel had God’s Word, God’s Law…it was a gift to them, given by God through Moses and the prophets…but over time, it became ‘taken for granted’. Iit became ‘ordinary’ and eventually became ignored.

Yet after the disaster of the conquering of Israel and destruction of their country – their enslavement in Babylon – their release and return to their homeland generations later:  God’s Word is again ‘Extraordinary’.  We hear, from daybreak to midday it is read – proclaimed to them.

If we read the complete passage in the book of Nehemiah it shows the people’s reactions to hearing the Word of God proclaimed: they stand in respect – they bow in reverence – the lie prostrate on the ground in adoration – they weep for joy, listening for hours on end.

And yet, as history shows, over time in their lives the Word would become something ordinary again.  This ‘ordinariness’ of the Word to the nation becomes evident as later prophets try to bring Israel back to the heart of the Word of God: a Law of ‘mercy and compassion’; a call which seems to fall on deaf ears, right up to the time of Jesus: and this brings us to today’s Gospel passage from St. Luke.

Jesus teaches in the synagogues around the region – the gospel of Luke says, ‘he was praised by everyone”; His teaching inspired people – His teaching impressed them. He was extraordinary to these other synagogues in the region. But when He returns to his home town and goes to the synagogue ‘as was his custom’ – to his local community, His presence is something ordinary: He regularly and continually practices his faith and customs; and yet, the most extraordinary thing of all is often overlooked in this passage: Here we have God the Son, the Living WORD of God – the Word made flesh – proclaiming and teaching the Word.  Who better to teach and explain God’s Word, than the living Word of God Himself?

In quoting this particular passage from Isaiah, Jesus is not just speaking to the people of the synagogue in Nazareth at a specific historical point in time; He is speaking to all people of all times; yes, he is identifying Himself to those hearing Him in the synagogue as the Messiah, prophesied by Isaiah; but He is saying much, much more.

‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because He has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free”

This, Jesus is saying, is the hallmark of His Kingdom – of his Messiah-ship; the good news proclaimed to the poor, the good news of salvation, of mercy, of healing; and as we explore and read further in St. Luke’s gospel during this year, we will hear Jesus tell us that the hallmark of His true disciples – His followers – is that they will imitate the Master;

That this concern for the poor; this living out of a Gospel of mercy and compassion is not a ‘one off’ exercise reserved for ‘extraordinary’ events;

This, rather, is to be the constant attitude of all who identify themselves as Christians, as followers of Christ.

That our life and lifestyle is to be marked by our treatment of those around us all the time; the poor in our midst – yes of course those in places around the world or our own country devastated by disaster and poverty – but those much nearer too; the neglected in our own communities, our own workplaces; our own schools; our own parish or even our own homes and families.

It is not about a single social program; it is more about a social attitude; and this ‘attitude’ is motivated and marked by a love for God and a desire to be His instrument in everything we do and with everyone we meet.

Jesus came into the midst of those in the synagogue at Nazareth as one of their community; someone apparently very ordinary – and yet, here was the living proof of the most Extraordinary event in the history of the human race; the Incarnation of God – the entering of God into our humanity as one of us in the person of Jesus –

Have we become so used to this extraordinary truth that it is now ordinary to us?  If so, there is something wonderful for us to consider.

Even if the Word has become ‘ordinary’ to us in the casual sense, it can indeed become Extraordinary to us again; it is simply a matter of being open to receive God’s Word –proclaimed for us at Mass – and opening our hearts and minds to The Spirit’s gift of understanding when we read Sacred Scripture; to understand where in our own lives we have been already been witnesses of The Word to others, and to build on that action with the help of God;

So that we too can once again become extraordinary for Christ.


Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!

…change and hope and prayer

I’m not sure about where you live, but the weather in my locale has been anything but consistent!  Why, just over a week ago, in mid-January, we were basking in weather that was more springlike, with a temperature of plus 15 celsius (that’s about 55 F.), a couple of days of rain after that, then temperatures and windchills that hit minus 26 C (or – 15 F), and as I look out my window now, snowsqualls. 

This brings with it the expected comments regarding climate change, and what we are doing to stop it (or at least minimize it).  There seems to be a train of thought amongst some folks, that if we were to change everything that humans do, right now, everywhere on the planet, then we could stop or reverse the changes immediately.

This is not meant to be morose, but the expectation, that we could get everyone, everywhere to change their behaviours for the good of the planet, and subsequently the good of all, while perhaps noble, might seem sadly unrealistic.  Whether for cultural, economic, social reasons, there doesn’t seem to be a complete desire on the part of all nations and all peoples to resolve this issue, one way or the other.  And even if we could, the changes in weather patterns and the resulting influence on the planet will not just ‘go away’ overnight. It will take time to return to ‘normal’ (whatever normal really is!) We may never see the benefit of such a return in our lifetimes, or even our children’s lifetimes, if at all.

Yet, we hope.

We hope that world leaders will cooperate with each other, for the good of all people. That they will seek ways to share the earth’s resources equally, so that there is enough fairly distributed for all; that poverty, war and disease become long distant memories of the past. We hope that nations will change.

But if there is to be any change in the attitudes of nations, the hearts of the people who make up those nations must change first; authentically, sincerely, genuinely.

This sense of change, of conversion is so often reflected in the Sacred Scriptures.  The point of the creation stories in Genesis is that we were given the planet (and each other) to care for, to nurture, to share.  That point is made over and over throughout the Old and New Testaments.  Everything and everyone is a gift from God, given freely to us.  Perhaps if we had more of a sense of gratitude rather than entitlement, we might find within our own hearts reasons to change our lifestyles, our habits, our routines – not only in terms of the environment, but  in terms of how we treat each other, locally, nationally and internationally.

What will occur in terms of our world climate, God only knows.  But I do believe there is a lesson in all of this.

We can hope.

Regardless of current conditions, we can hope.  We can hope for something better – not just for ourselves, but for all of our brothers and sisters; that we can share the best of what we have and what we are with each other to work towards that goal; that the hearts of people will be touched to change so that there is genuine compassion and charity for all.

But before we can act, we have to have hope.

That hope is the result of prayer.

Prayer is born from love. 

Love of God, love of all of God’s creation, and love of neighbour. 

So as I sit and watch the snowfall become heavier, I will offer up a prayer of hope, for you , for our children, and for our planet. 

And if you have a moment, you could do the same.


Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!

4th Sunday of Advent

It’s easy, if we are watching and listening to any of the mass media – internet, radio, television – to get drawn into this sense that Christmas has been occurring for the last three weeks!  It’s as if we get caught up in the lights and parties and gift exchanges as the definition of Christmas itself, and skip completely over Advent, over this time of preparation and waiting for the Lord to make Himself known.  But children, they sense and know that we aren’t quite there yet.  There are packages to open – things that are hidden – that in some way signal that the time has arrived.

Now I don’t want to give the impression that the opening of gifts on Christmas Day is the principle point of the celebration; but the image of the concealed or hidden gift is helpful in considering today’s passage from St. Luke’s Gospel.

Reflecting on the infancy narrative in St. Luke, it becomes apparent how often it is through the ‘unseen’ that the influence of the Holy Spirit is most often felt, and how often it is through the little and hidden that the message of God’s great love is communicated.

When Mary has her encounter with the angel Gabriel, it does not say anywhere that she ‘saw’ the angel – only that she heard his message.  Imagine being in Mary’s situation; very young yet faithful, being presented with this news of her imminent pregnancy, and how it will fit in with God’s plan of salvation for all people – and only hearing a voice!  And yet, she is ‘full of grace’ and responds without hesitation, ‘be it done to me according to your word’! What great trust!

Later, when Mary visits Elizabeth, as we heard today, it is the unseen, unborn St. John the Baptist who leaps for joy in the presence of the unseen, unborn Jesus! This ‘leap’ signals the Holy Spirit’s inspiration of Elizabeth who announces Mary as the ‘Mother of my Lord’!  Such bold courage to proclaim such a thing, with no visible evidence!

As Christians, we are to be present to that same Jesus who is also unseen – hidden in the eyes of the world; yet visible to those who look with eyes of faith, charity and compassion. (Some of you know of my connection to the Lay Missionaries of Charity in Canada as their National Spiritual Director – they are part of the family of the Missionaries of Charity founded by Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta)  Blessed Teresa had an expression she used often, referring to Jesus as being present in the ‘distressing disguise of the poor’ ;  she meant that Jesus was truly present in all of the poor – materially, socially, spiritually – the poorest of the poor, wherever they may be. But it was a disguise – a ‘being hidden’ unless we looked with eyes of love and trust to truly recognize His presence among us.

It is that same trust and bold courage instilled by the Holy Spirit, and illustrated by the Blessed Virgin Mary and St. Elizabeth in the gospel, that moves each of us to find Christ in that ‘distressing disguise’.  Most importantly though, it is through the grace of that same good God, that we are given the strength to trust and boldly proclaim Him in our actions and our words.  That is the real gift – the gift of Jesus – that is the true gift this time of year.

The commercial message of this season, while sometimes entertaining, is quite clear; the happiness of the one receiving a gift is dependent on that particular gift.  We have to be careful here; careful that we don’t slip into believing this message in our own hearts, that somehow happiness – ours or another’s depends on something or someone; on temporary circumstances, opportunities, privileges or even power.  We ‘buy into’ the big yet subtle lie, that happiness comes from temporary things; but even our rational minds tell us temporary things can only bring temporary happiness, and then we need to endlessly search for more, and better and bigger things to bring us more temporary happiness.

The message of our Faith is equally clear though; the only way we can receive permanent, lasting happiness, is with the One who is permanent and lasting – and the only One who is permanent and lasting, is God.  The same God who created everything from nothing, and whose great love we celebrate with the approaching feast of Christmas – this great love that has the Lord of all things setting aside all of this greatness and splendor to enter into our existence in the most humble and helpless way – as a baby born in poverty in a small insignificant village; ‘hidden’ like a special, longed-for gift.

An unopened or hidden gift can cause excitement, even in the anticipation of opening it; hopefully as we await the celebration of the ‘hidden gift’ that is God-among-us, Emmanuel, we will all be open to that same Gift-Jesus- being revealed to us each day in the needs of those around us; and that understanding this ‘hidden gift’ is in our midst, we will be filled with just as much excitement and anticipation as we approach Him in our daily lives.


Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!