posted November 27, 2021
A rainy day and a walk in the park. Streams and rivulets of water wind their way down the sides of the hill through culverts and under bridges. The downhill flow in swollen brooks offers a roaring rush of water and a view of nature in all its power. There is an inevitability in this scene. The downward flow cannot be stopped. The water flows downhill, seeking its end. At the base, it lies in quiet, resting pools.
Our lives are a lot like this rushing water. From the very beginning we seem to be in a search for something - happiness, contentment, fulfillment, peace. We seek rest from the searching, yet our natural state, like the water running downhill, is to seek and search.
Jewish and Christian scriptures offer us something called the “history of salvation”. In our bible the stories and other literature all are part of this “history of salvation”. They tell of God and God’s part in the human story, that story that is ever seeking contentment and peace.
Advent is particularly rich in the fulsome telling of the story of our relationship with God and the part God plays in our human journey. Through the course of this season we encounter a series of persons and experiences that play a significant role in our faith story. They are our faith heritage.
We meet the Old Testament prophet, Isaiah as he seeks to console and reassure God’s People in the midst of their worries, trials and threats. He offers us the image of our God as a loving parent, who gave and continues to sustain and shape our life. In hope, we see that we are the work of God’s hand.
We cross paths with John the Baptist as he announces that a wondrous coming of God among us is happening. God whose hand has shaped us is about to step into the life of humanity in a new way. God’s voice will be heard bringing hope of a world renewed, building a reign of God for all.
Finally, we encounter Mary. We discover the simple, loving and very human way in which God reaches out to touch our humanity, in the birth of a child. Like every other child this birth brings hope, one who seems so fragile yet who offers such promise. Mary is the human instrument of this wonder of Emmanuel, God-with-us.
Every single human being has been loved into life, shaped by a creator God who continues to love us (Is.63:16-17; 64:1-8). St. Paul recognized that Jesus through the mother-love of Mary was born for us, that we might know the loving gaze that God has for us all (1 Cor.1:3-9). Both John the Baptist and then Jesus issue a clarion call to us: “Be awake, be aware”, “Prepare”. The fullness of God’s loving reign is coming, being built among us even now. This is our heritage. All that we see and hear in Advent/Christmas is the wonder of God’s love and the sacredness of the humanity that God has loved into life.
Daniel O’Leary in an article in the British Catholic periodical, The TABLET presented the words of a mother responding to her daughter’s question about her birth and baptism. The mother wrote to her daughter: I believed that you had come to me from the Father [God] who had always known you. To me you were well and truly His child, baptised in my blood, in the pain and effort of giving birth to you and in the wish and longing of my heart... This mother’s words speak for Mary. They also speak for us in this Advent/ Christmas season. It is what God through Mary has revealed to us in the longing of our hearts.
posted November 20, 2021
Sometimes to know where we are, we have to know where we came from. The message and the mission of Jesus is to proclaim the Kingdom, the Reign of God. This is what he lived throughout his life. And it is what he shared with his disciples and the people who surrounded him. As followers of Jesus, this is what we are to reflect. But what does this mean, for us, in our lives, at this time in our own world?
On the Feast of Christ the King last year we listened to a piece from Matthew’s Gospel (Mt.25:31-46). Its focus was on living the reign by reaching out to the needs of the vulnerable among us. Next year, we will hear from Luke, as he tells of Jesus’s sacrifice of his life for all (Lk.23:35-43). This year we turn to John’s Gospel (Jn.18:33-37). Appearing before Pilate, Jesus asserts his life’s mission as a relationship with God and his call to testify to that relationship for the world. It is to announce the Reign of God among us.
This testimony by Jesus is not new in the Gospels. As Mark speaks of Jesus beginning his mission and calling his disciples, Jesus proclaims: The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe the good news (Mk 1:13). Matthew expresses this good news as Jesus speaks to the crowds in the Sermon on the Mount (ch. 5-7). John’s Gospel presents Jesus responding to a Pharisee named Nicodemus (Jn.3:1-21). In the course of the encounter, Jesus reveals the purpose of his mission: For God so loves the world that he gave his only Son so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life (3:16). The reign of God permeates the Gospel message of Jesus.
The Feast of Christ the King comes at the end of the cycle for our church year. Next Sunday, we enter the new year with the Advent season. It seems like the Feast of Christ the King provides us with an opportunity to reflect on what Jesus was all about and what his message and mission was to effect in our world. Jesus the Christ, reveals God’s dream for us, for all creation, God is ever among us.
Jesus’s incarnation is God’s love coming to live among us. In him the reign of God has come near. Calling his disciples to follow him, he gave them a message that called them to share the good news of God’s love universally. It is for all humanity. A message of the heart, like the dream and visions of Daniel in the Old Testament (Dan.7:13-14), it is a message for all ages and all peoples.
This was the message expressed in the last major proclamation of the Second Vatican Council. Vatican II was a pastoral effort to bring the good news to the whole of humanity and creation. If Pope John XXIII saw the council as an opportunity to “open the windows of the church” to the world this document expressed this open vision of God’s reign as the council was ending:
The joy and the hope, the grief and the anguish of the people of our time, especially of
those who are poor or afflicted in any way, are the joy and the hope, the grief and the
anguish of the followers of Christ as well. Nothing that is genuinely human fails to find
an echo in their hearts. For theirs is a community composed of people who, united in
Christ and guided by the Holy Spirit, press onwards towards the kingdom of the Father
and are bearers of a message of salvation intended for all.
(Gaudium et Spes, Preface, 1)
posted November 13, 2021
Change is a challenge. It is also universally necessary. Whether we talk personally or communally, we constantly face changes in our life. The same is true for our church. Change is an ever-present need for us all. And, it always makes demands of us. Thus, it comes as no surprise that we have a tendency to fear, oppose and resist change as we meet it.
Reluctance to accept and work with change is part of the story of our faith community. The idea of our church as “unchanging” and an anchor in our changing world has long been a commonly held view. More than a century ago, in 1910, an Irish priest in Brooklyn NY, Msgr. Edward J. McGolrick, captured this view in a very popular book: The Unchangeable Church.
The perspective was still held by many who resisted the changes of Vatican II, in the 1960s and 70s. At a local retreat in the 1970s, the retreat director, focusing on the changes called for by the Council noted this resistance. He drew attention to a musical work by the Austrian composer Franz Joseph Haydn (1732-1809) called: “The Seven Last Words of Christ”. At the retreat, we were asked if we had ever heard of “The Seven Last Words of the Church”? His response when none indicated they had heard of it – “We Never Did It This Way Before”.
Pope Francis has expressed this same thought in a number of ways when reflecting on the resistance to change which haunts our church. In the first year of his papacy, 2013, Pope Francis issued an apostolic exhortation to the whole church on proclaiming the Gospel to all humanity (The Joy of the Gospel). He called for a whole new energy, changing how we do things. He called on the community “to abandon the complacent attitude that says: ‘We have always done it this way.’ ” (EG 33)
Such attitudes of resistance at all levels of our faith community are blocks to dynamism and openness in the mission we have been given as disciples. Speaking to a community of Jesuits recently Pope Francis commented: “The Catholic Church suffers from a temptation to return to attitudes and practices of the past,… the ideology of going backward”(The New Freeman, Oct.1, 2021). It is an attitude that stems for fear of what we do not know. Any new step poses some risks. We are ever in need of courage to move forward.
The synod process into which we now move is the work of the Spirit as we seek to read the “signs of the times” and to bring the Gospel into our times. Much as we did for Vatican II, the Synod “For a Synodal Church: Communion, Participation and Mission” will demand that we rely on the Spirit and the Gifts of the Spirit to our church. Our church, our faith community will depend on the Spirit’s gifts: Wisdom, Understanding, Counsel, Fortitude(courage), Knowledge, Piety (spirituality), and Fear of the Lord (Awe).
Mark’s Gospel (Mk.13:24-32) expresses the fear that can paralyze us humanly and bring discouragement, despair and inaction in the face of challenge and the need to risk. In response, comes the saving action of Jesus the Christ (Hebrews 10:11-14, 18) and the shining light of God’s love and glory (Daniel 12:1-3). As church and disciples we can trust in Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians (13:13) “Now faith, hope and love abide…, and the greatest of these is love.”
posted November 6, 2021
The Gospels tell many Jesus-stories. They were part of the faith memories of Jesus shared by the earliest Christian communities. In chapter 12:28-34, Mark relates two contrasting stories. The first recounts what Jesus sees in the scribes. The second story tells of a poor widow.
Like all of the stories in the Gospels, these two are lessons on the Kingdom of God, the reign that was at the centre of Jesus’ life and mission. In this sense, the Good News, or the Gospel is a proclamation of who we are as church, as a community of faith. What Jesus calls his disciples to was not either of the two stories, but rather to recognize in ourselves that in a way we are both. The scribes in the first story meticulously followed the law. They sincerely sought to be seen as holy and to be honoured in the Temple as examples of holiness. The widow in the second story had little, but she held a sincere relationship with God and expressed it by her generosity and integrity.
As church, we are both stories. In fact, we are many stories and over the centuries we have had to acknowledge that we are an evolving community of faith. In 1962-65, the Second Vatican Council addressed the question of how open we are to evolving as church in the midst of a changing world.
The Council called our church to take on a prophetic role as it expressed who we sought to be in the late 20th century. Now in the 21st century Pope Francis calls us to a synod of the whole Catholic community. We are being asked once more to be a prophetic church, to be the community of disciples that Jesus the Christ established, a communion of people who despite our variety and differences can take up our call to live and share the Good News.
As a prophetic community, Pope Francis has called us to enter a process of synod. It is intended to involve the whole church in considering who we are and where we are early in the 21st century. The entire church is called to this journey through reflection, discernment and action. This broad synod process has its roots in the Second Vatican Council, which Pope John XXIII saw as an effort to bring about an openness of the church to the world through reflection on “the signs of the time”.
Like John XXIII and Vatican II, Pope Francis is turning to the ancient and traditional assembly or synod to address “the signs of the time” now. The journey began with the opening on October 9 2021, it will continue to a General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, October 2023. The two-year process is intended as an experience of “synodality” for the whole church, helping us to recognize that the Spirit speaks through all members of the People of God.
The Preparatory Document for the Synod captures the aim of the Synod: This journey, which follows in the wake of the Church’s “renewal” proposed by the Second Vatican Council, is both a gift and a task: by journeying together and reflecting together on the journey that has been made, the Church will be able to learn through Her experience which processes can help Her to live communion, to achieve participation, to open Herself to Mission. Our “journeying together” is, in fact, what most effectively enacts and manifests the nature of the Church as the pilgrim and missionary People of God.
posted October 30, 2021
I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy Catholic Church, the communion of saints. These words and what they express are part of the Apostles Creed a gift to us from our earliest ancestors in the Faith. It comes down to the 21st Century from the Christian community of the 1st and 2nd Centuries. Among the things that are central to our faith and that we find in this creed is the testimony of our faith in the communion of saints. Creeds like the Apostles Creed or the Nicene Creed are more intellectual expressions of belief. They are descriptors of who we are and who we are to become.
What is this communion of saints and what does it mean for us today? The early Christians had a deep sense that their relationship with God and with Jesus was something that drew them into a community of faith. To be a disciple of Jesus was to live and work and pray with other disciples. In fact so strong was the bond that drew these believers together that it did not end with death. Their sense of being a community of believers included those who had died and gone before them. In addition, it included those who had not yet been born, but would be future disciples.
It is not unlike what we experience in our families. We fondly remember our grandparents, our uncles and aunts and all those of our family who have gone before us. We have an interest, a curiosity about our roots and the origins of our family. We tell many stories of these roots. At the same time, we are excited and rejoice when a new person enters our family, whether by a birth or a marriage. The basis of our family relationships is a bond of love that draws us together and allows us to identify with one another.
The communion of saints shares a similar bond. It is a community tied together by a shared experience of God who loves us into life, who sustains us in life and who ultimate draws us to an everlasting life of love with God’s own self. We do not know how this all takes place, but we trust in faith that the love of God never dies, never ends and never leaves us.
Mark’s Gospel describes Jesus in a debate with some of the authorities in the Temple (Mark 12:28-34). One of them, a scribe asks Jesus a fundamental question: “Which commandment is the first of all?” This is a basic question for all of us. How do we do what is right and good? How do we live in relationship with God who made and sustains us in life? In response, Jesus tells the scribe that at its heart, our relationship with God is one of love. Our response to God’s love is to love God in return and to do so in how we love one another. This is the bond and the meaning of the communion of saints.
In our tradition, we celebrate two particular feasts - All Saints and All Souls (Nov.1 & 2). These are celebrations of who we are. Our community of believers, past, present and to come is the communion of saints reaching back to the distant generations of God’s beloved people. It regards all of the present beloved people of God and it anticipates all who are yet to come into this community of faith. What we express as our faith in the communion of saints is our belief that God’s love knows no limits. There are no limits even in time. Past, present and future are all within the circle of God’s love.
These two feast days celebrate the communion of saints. Is it any wonder that the day before these two feasts is Halloween (Holy Evening)? Both of these days point to the importance of the communion of saints for our faith. They help us to understand that our faith is not just about a relationship of God and me. It is God’s loving relationship with all humanity, past, present and to come.
posted October 23, 2021
Mark’s Gospel tells a wonderful story of the healing and conversion of Bartimaeus, a blind beggar (Mk.10:46-52). As much as it is one of the many Gospel stories of Jesus healing, this one is very much an account of a conversion. In this, it helps us to recognize our own conversion process. In so many ways, Bartimaeus is all of us, personally and as a church community of faith. Mark’s story relates how Bartimaeus was gradually becoming a disciple of Jesus. Vatican II revealed this vision of a church that is always becoming in a world that is ever-changing.
To capture the impact and the spirit unleashed by Vatican II is a bit like trying to swallow a horse. It is certainly too much for the 600 or so words of a reflection such as this. Perhaps, however, we can sense the Council’s vision and legacy in the opening words of its final declaration Gaudium et spes – The Pastoral Constitution of the Church in the Modern World:
The joy and hope, the grief and anguish of the [people] of our time, especially of those
who are poor or afflicted in any way, are the joy and hope, the grief and anguish of the
followers of Christ as well. Nothing that is genuinely human fails to echo in their hearts.
For theirs is a community composed of men [and women] who united in Christ and guide
by the holy Spirit, press onwards towards the kingdom of the Father and are bearers of
a message of salvation intended for all.... (Gaudium et Spes, 7 Dec 1965)
Vatican II presents us with a vision of church that is open to the world. No part of God’s creation and certainly no member of the human family is outside the concern, the care and the saving vision of the Vatican II church. We are called to show our love and compassion to all corners of the earth. We are all God’s children. No nation, no race, no religion, no culture is beyond God’s loving care.
Vatican II presents us with a vision of church as a community of faith. We are more than an institution. We are the People of God, drawn together by our shared faith. We are energized by the gift of God’s Spirit. We are called together to share this Spirit through service to the whole world.
Vatican II presents us with a vision of church that lives in a communal, collegial relationship. We are co-responsible for responding to our call from God and serving all creation. This vision of church is less hierarchical and more respectful of the common baptism which we all share. We discover that together as God’s People we serve as priests and prophets, bringing God’s Reign to fruition in our world.
Vatican II presents us with a vision of church that accepts God as the God of all for all, a creating, life-giving God who became incarnate in Jesus the Christ. In Jesus, God has reached out to share our humanity. In so doing God expresses the great love in which we are all held. As well, God has called us to share the same love for one another.
What Vatican II initiated was a process of conversion, not just for us as church, but for each of us personally and for all humanity. The vision it offered 59 years ago and continues to offer today is one of gradual conversion, a conversion filled with hope. Rather than being an institution or a series of structures, tenets and rituals, Vatican II call the whole church to become aware that we are a Spirit-filled community marked by love and expressive of relationships based on faith in the person of Jesus the Christ. This, in faith, hope and love, we continue to become.
posted October 15, 2021
Vision is an amazing thing. In some ways it is a bit like dreaming. Always it is about hope. In Mark’s Gospel, there is a story of a new vision that is part of God’s dream expressed by Jesus (Mark 10:35-45). Mark relates how two of the disciples came to Jesus asking him to give them places of honour when he comes in glory. This would be a reasonable expectation in the culture of the time – followers of the leader would be honoured when the kingdom was established.
Jesus offers a new and different vision: “Whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” In every era, our church, our Christian community has been called to this vision. In every age it is a vision that demands looking at ourselves and who we are, in the light of the world of our time. Such visioning offers a dynamic, living view of church. We might call it a prophetic view.
This prophetic view was what was expressed nearly 60 years ago when Pope John XXIII called the whole church to come together in a general or ecumenical council. This was the Second Vatican Council (1962-65). It has often been stated that it takes a century for the full implementation of an ecumenical council. As much as Vatican II took place some 60 years ago, its implementation is still taking place.
Recently, Pope Francis noted in conversation with the Jesuit community in Slovakia that there are times when we seem to be moving backwards. (The New Freeman, October 1, 2021 “Church Suffers Temptation To Go Backward, Pope Tells Jesuits”). He notes that we often long for the security of the past, what we are used to. We fear the new issues and questions of the present and the future. Faced by such issues, we often find it easier to repeat the “tried and true” responses of the previous era.
For Pope Francis, this reluctance to move forward flies in the face of what the Spirit called forth in our church at Vatican II. The council called for a church that was ready to read the signs of the times, that is a dynamic church ready to address the issues of the day. Pope Francis has strong words for resistance to this dynamism: “This is the evil of this moment: namely to seek the path in rigidity and clericalism, which are two perversions.”
Pope John XXIII opened the Second Vatican Council on October 11, 1962. The council that was beginning would offer a new pastoral vision of our church, one that was marked by dynamism and an openness to the world, a church with confidence to move forward. Pope John had a vision full of hope for our church, in words attributed to him: “It is time to throw open the windows of the church so that we can see out and people can see in.” Such openness in our church means that we live not in fear and judgement of our world, but as servants in our world, reaching out with care and compassion to heal and love as Jesus does. Then the blessing of the Incarnation truly can move us and our world.
October 11 was Thanksgiving Day in Canada this year. We undoubtedly celebrated it in some quiet restriction due to the pandemic. Nonetheless, we have much to be thankful for. Not the least of our gratitude should be directed to Pope John and the council he opened on October 11, 59 years ago.
posted October 9. 2021
[A man approached Jesus and asked him]
What must I do to inherit eternal life?... Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor,… then come, follow me.” (Mark 10:17-30)
A standard practice in our lives is to check out the cost of things. Looking at a purchase, we need to know the cost. Before we act, we want to know what we have to do in order to achieve our goal. This is wise human behavior. But perhaps there are sometimes other considerations that may influence our decision-making. For instance, a relationship with another person calls for much more than a consideration of goals and costs. A simple friendship or a decision to marry involves more than an accounting exercise or a campaign plan.
The person who approached Jesus in Mark’s Gospel, is so much like ourselves. He is checking out what it will take to assure eternal life. “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” The man wants to have a clear sense of what he will have to put into this quest for eternal life. Sometimes, it seems that the aim of our faith is to assure ourselves that we have a place in heaven and what that will cost us. Perhaps we are missing the point. Jesus shows us to a different way.
After the man asks his question, Jesus recalls the commandments to him. In response, the man indicates that he has kept all of them since his youth. Jesus’ response to the man is both interesting and instructive. Mark tells us, “Jesus looking at him, loved him.” Then he goes on to say: “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor.” Here is the core of our Christian faith.
First of all, we need to know that Jesus loves us, always loves us. More than this, the Incarnation is the great sign that God loves us and will always love us, unconditionally. In Jesus, God has come among us and shares our humanity as a sign of this great loving act of God. The Gospel writer John has expressed it: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish, but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)
Mark relates that Jesus says more to the man. The love that we receive from God and that we can see in Jesus is not just for ourselves. It is a love that must always be shared. It has to move outward, especially to those who are the most vulnerable and the most in need. The message we have received from Jesus and that we hold in Christian faith, necessarily leads us outward in compassion, caring and service.
So, what is our faith all about? It is in fact about eternal life but not as something solely future. It is about finding God’s love expressed in the here and now. The way Jesus looked at the man in Mark’s Gospel was with a look of love. The man was called to take that same look of love, expressing it in actions of love to the most vulnerable where he was. He was looking for answers and meaning for his life. Isn’t that us. The answer the man received is the response we all receive. God’s love is unconditional for us. Our love in action is called to reflect the same – for all, everywhere, at all times.
posted October 2, 2021
Chelsea & Alan, Mark & Maureen are two couples who entered the Sacrament of Matrimony in the last month. What an honour to be able to celebrate with them! What a joy to see them together! They are sacraments of God’s dream for all creation – that we be brought together to share the life with which God has blessed us, signs of God’s own life-giving love. In this light Fr. Richard Rohr has remarked: Love… might be called the attraction of all things toward all things…. When we are truly ‘in love,’ we move out of our small, individual selves to unite with another, whether in companionship, simple friendship, marriage, or any other trustful relationship. (Richard Rohr. The Universal Christ: New York, Convergent Books 2021)
It seems that God has poured out the energy of loving attraction from the very outset of creation and that we are made to be with one another by nature. In fact, it almost seems that gravity or attraction is the template for all creation. Our scriptures celebrate this attraction at the very outset of the story they tell in the first two chapters of the Book of Genesis. In chapter 1, there is a poetic tale of the whole creative act of God from the foundations of the earth to the advent of humanity. Our world is all of one piece. Chapter 2 offers a story focused on the human need for companionship. Humanity belongs together in love. Whether regarding all of creation or humanity itself, our scriptures assert a central theme – all of creation exists in attraction, an outreach and expression of God’s love.
In the central part of Mark’s Gospel the writer presents a series of instructions Jesus gave to his disciples. One of the topics was marriage and divorce. The Pharisees ask for his views in order to test him. They are seeking a debate which Jesus avoids by offering a teaching (Mark 10:2-12).
Rather than debating the details of the law in Deuteronomy, Jesus goes back to the core of God’s plan for creation as shown in the accounts of Genesis. He presents marriage as a great sign of the loving relationship which is God’s dream for all humanity and for all creation.
The Pharisees are focused on the issue of marriage and divorce, but the separation and brokenness that can be a part of relationships, are not limited to marriage.
It is much broader and can be seen in the brokenness and separation that mark the whole of human experience. Global divisions, war, violence, inequality, suffering and injustice all reveal this tendency toward separation. The dream is not yet complete for we are not a perfect world, nor an unfailing humanity. But the call Jesus offers his disciples is to build reign of God in all aspects of creation.
Last October, 2020, Pope Francis recognized this call to loving relationships in his encyclical Fratelli tutti (“Brothers & Sister All). As he set out, he entitled his first chapter “Dark Clouds Over a Closed World”. But at the end of this chapter and throughout the letter, he offers a message of hope. Alluding to our experience of Covid-19, he points out that God continues to sow abundant sees of goodness in our human family.” (54) The experience has alerted us to the fact that our lives are interwoven.
Jesus reveals the healing and reconciling love that is God’s presence among us. He reveals it in all he says, but most especially in what he does. This is the Gospel, the Good News for us. All our relationships are sacred and necessary. They are in so many ways the source of our hope.
posted September 24, 2021
As Christians, we have a long history – 2000 years. Those who have given us our Gospels, like the writer of Mark’s Gospel attempted to pass on the faith memories of our earliest ancestors. Writing at least a generation after the crucifixion, the writers depended on the memories of the Christian communities in which they lived, in the first century. They aimed to describe the significance of Jesus, his message and his mission in the light of their own world. Their communities were small, they were a minority and their community of faith was not fully defined. It was evolving as it spread. The message and the mission of Jesus was intended to reach outward, to touch the world in which it was planted. Such evolution was sometimes seen as a threat. We see this in Mark’s Gospel. The disciple, John was alarmed that someone other than them was casting out demons in Jesus’s name. Jesus’s response is significant: “Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. Whoever is not against us is for us.” (Mk.9:38-40) Jesus sees no threat here. There are times when we as a community, view our world as a threat. We see the “secular” as hostile to church and to things spiritual. We may even think we must do battle with the world and the secular. Perhaps it would be better to express the view that Jesus did in Mark’s story.
A few years ago Timothy Radcliffe, the former general superior of the Dominican Order wrote an article entitled “The Shape of the Church to Come.” The article discusses the manner in which our Christian church addresses the reality of living in a world that is secular, a world where faith, religion, church and Christian life might seem unimportant. This is not a threatening world for Radcliffe. Fr. Radcliffe sees our world as the ground on which we work - where we sow the seeds of the Good News. For him, living in a secular society in the 21st century challenges us to see and proclaim the Gospel in a new light. He holds that our sharing of the Good News has much to offer to our secular society, not to correct it, but to build upon it. Radcliffe offers advice on a Christian vision for us.
[As church and society] we need a moral vision that neither locks us in a ghetto nor assimilates us to society.... We need a moral vision that engages us as people of the 21st century and leads to our flourishing. Many Catholics understand morality in a way that reflects an Enlightenment (i.e. 18th century) culture of control, obligation and prohibition. To be a Catholic is to accept the rules, starting with the Ten Commandments.... Commandments have always, obviously, had a role in Catholic morality, but with the Enlightenment they became central, rather than being part of our formation as people who seek our happiness in God....
The renewal of virtue ethics, especially in North America, promises a way beyond a voluntaristic morality. It is not so much about acts as about becoming the sort of person who finds happiness in God. By practicing the cardinal virtues of prudence, courage, temperance and justice, we can become pilgrims on the way to holiness. With the theological virtues of faith, hope and love, we are given a foretaste of the end of the journey. A morality founded on virtues [rather than commandments] is about the transformation of our desires rather than their control. (America 13 April 2009)
posted September 17, 2021
September and every year at this time, the relaxed summer routine is set aside and life grows busier. The rhythm of parish and community life picks up. This year is particularly striking. Our world is now more than 2 years into the Covid-19 pandemic. Our parishes and communities have experienced a time of limited contact and much reduced activity. More recently, thanks to vaccinations as well as the use of masks, tests and contact tracing we are beginning to see a light at the end of this long tunnel.
We now see some resumption of fuller parish activity. This shows up first in Eucharists that welcome more people back. But perhaps, most notable is the resumption of a fuller array of faith formation programs. A lively parish or faith community is more than the Sunday Eucharist. Especially significant is the level of ongoing faith formation for all member of every age.
Nurturing of faith is a concern not just for children or youth. It is in fact part of being a Christian, a disciple of Jesus no matter what our age or circumstances. As has often been said and as our Catholic Church asserts – religious formation is a life-long project for every Christian.
This formation is not the task or the call of a few. It is not limited to priests and pastoral workers. Nor is it only the task of catechists, facilitators or mentors. Sharing our faith is the the call of the whole community. We are in this together and together we take responsibility to assist each other as disciples. It takes a community of faith to nurture and grow disciples for a lifetime.
All this formation for a lifetime – what is it we share? The heart of Christian faith is Jesus Christ. He is the core and center of our faith. Many things are part of our faith and helpful for living it. Among them are our scriptures, a history of doctrines, a body of moral teachings, the sacraments, even the Church itself. These are important, but they are not the core. The heart of our faith is Jesus Christ.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church 426 is very clear about this when it tells us: “At the heart of... [religious formation] we find a Person, the Person of Jesus of Nazareth, the only Son from the Father.”
In that one statement from our Church’s catechism we find an expression of all that lies at the core of our faith. What does this mean for us, seeking to grow a dynamic, life-giving faith?
We believe in Jesus of Nazareth, the historical Jesus that we hear of in the Gospels. We are disciples of this Jesus who was born of Mary and whose message and mission took him throughout Galilee. It was this Jesus who taught his disciples and continues to teach us as his followers today.
His message announced the reign of God and taught that love was more than an emotion. It is what moves His mission and ours – to love all, every single person, no matter who they are. The love that he lived and taught is love in action. It is reaching out to those most vulnerable and in need. It is a reflection of God’s love that is unconditional. It reaches those who cannot reach us, the marginalized, the outcasts, those who have been left out or even excluded. It is a welcoming love for all. This is the Jesus who shows us the Way and that we see so often in the Gospels (e.g. Mk 9:30-37).
We also believe in Jesus, the Christ of faith, Son of God and Second Person of the Trinity. In him we have the promise of fullness of life, eternal life. We are disciples of Jesus Christ and we live in the hope of God’s promise to us all. By living faith we share this promise with all humanity.
posted September 11, 2021
Almost sixty years ago, on 11 October 1962, Pope John XXIII opened the Second Vatican Council. For many of us Vatican II was an experience of our church life through the second half of the 20th century. That is, it was current events. But for many others among us, it is history. It is the past and something that we have only been told about. No matter where we fit in these groups, Vatican II has marked us and affected the church that we know and belong to.
Even if the Second Vatican Council is history to us, it has affected us and the church that we are today in many ways. Our Eucharist is said in English or French or Korean or other modern language, not Latin.
The structure of our liturgies is intended to have full participation of the community. It is not simply the action of the priest. There is an increased involvement of laity in many elements of our church life, in its many ministries. The Council has given us a more open attitude to other Christian denominations, to our Jewish friends and to other faiths across the world. We may not realize it, but all of this and more comes from the experience of Vatican II in the early 1960s.
This Sunday, the 24th in Ordinary Time, we hear from the Old Testament prophet Isaiah (50:5-9) as well as from the Gospel of Mark (8:27-35). Both readings provide us with references to the role of prophets in our midst. Isaiah was a prophet for Israel. In Mark’s Gospel, we hear the disciples of Jesus responding to the question: Who do people say that I am? Their response is to assert among other things that some say that Jesus is one of the prophets.
What is a prophet? It is not someone who predicts the future. Nor is a prophet someone who asserts remarkable things for his or her own benefit. In Jewish and Christian faith, a prophet is someone who looks at our world and sees it in the light of God’s plan. A prophet is God’s way of touching the world of humanity. Both Isaiah and Jesus as seen in Mark remind us that a prophetic voice faces much resistance. But in the midst of the resistance the voice continues to be the touch of God among us.
In many ways, Vatican II might be called a Prophetic Council. It was and has continued to be a way of God touching our world. The mentality, the vision of Vatican II has impact on Catholics globally. It has also had impact and provided hope for peoples beyond the Catholic community. Its open view of the world and its efforts to reach out to all the peoples of the earth have revealed a Church, a community of believers, who understand that God is for all and reaches out to all in caring, compassionate and respectful love.
This prophetic voice comes from a faith that is open, compassionate, healing, caring and moved by love for all. In Mark’s Gospel, Jesus asks his disciples a question: “Who do people say that I am?” The same question could be asked of all of us, disciples of Jesus. We are called to be a faith community, a church marked by what Jesus the Christ has himself expressed. We are to be the voice of a loving, life-giving God for our world.
Quite a challenge! But we are not alone. In the words of Isaiah: “The Lord God helps me.”
posted September 3, 2021
Even a brief glance around our world reveals that it is damaged and broken. It cries out for healing and restoration. Sometimes it can be a natural disaster or threat such as hurricanes, wildfires or pandemics and disease. Other times, we face the challenge of our own human disruptions, war, violence, inequities and injustices. We are disciples of Jesus in the midst of this world. It is here that as disciples we are to reveal the message and mission of Jesus in our own lives. That message and mission is to be our message and mission.
It is possible to see the fundamental message and mission of Jesus. All creation is a result of God’s love and as such God’s plan for it is ever good. The wounds, the weakness, the pain, the suffering, that appears in creation is not God’s dream for us. Jesus the Christ is God’s outreach to us. His message and mission present the dream or plan of God. Healing and reconciliation, wholeness and peace are the dream. If we regard Jesus as savior, it is because he brings the dream to fruition and fulness in both word and action. In him creation is made whole, restored and renewed.
Gospel writers, like Mark presents tell the stories of this good news. One such story is of Jesus healing a man who was deaf and had an impediment of his speech (Mk.7:31-37). Often when Jesus did such healing actions, the crowds were astounded, seeing it as an amazing wonder. As always, like the disciples in the Gospel we are challenged to read such actions as something more amazing – signs of the presence of God’s reign active among us in Jesus the Christ.
The story in Mark leads us to a reflection of how as disciples or followers of Jesus, we bring his Spirit to life in our world. It is a little manual of discipleship for us. Jesus shows us the way to bring God’s dream to our world.
Jesus begins by going beyond his comfort zone. He takes a risk to reach to the Decapolis,
a Greek and Gentile area, outside of his familiar space of synagogue and Jewish communities. Living our discipleship will often be going beyond our normal.
As he reaches out, Jesus encounters a crowd who are expecting a miracle, a wonder to astound them. But Jesus, respecting the man takes him apart, in private, to allow him to receive a cure from within. The disciple will often be “the unsung hero”. God’s dream takes root within a relationship.
Jesus puts his fingers into the ears of the man, taking him further from the outside world and leading him inward to his heart. To do so is to respect the inward strength and dignity of the man himself. Jesus then spat and touched the man`s tongue. He conveyed something of his own heart, his own Spirit to the heart of the man.
Then, Jesus speaks in very simple terms: Be opened. ``Immediately the man`s ears were
opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly.” The man hears and speaks. He is no longer cut off from his world. Receiving the gift of God`s Spirit from Jesus he lives in wholeness, a sign of God`s reign in all its fullness.
Mark’s story of Jesus is the story of every disciple who brings Jesus’ Spirit into the world, respecting the other and conveying something of the Spirit within us to the other. It is how each of us lives as a disciple and a sign of the presence of God’s dream for all. To follow this path is to bring healing, wholeness and reconciliation to a wounded, fractured and divided world.
posted August 28, 2021
In some cities across Canada, until very recently there were city by-laws which demanded that hotels and inns provide stabling facilities for the horses of their guests. In its time, this by-law was a response to the needs of the time, a way of offering hospitality to guests. The by-law remained on the books even though virtually no guest came to the hotel on a horse.
It is a very human trait to resist change or at the very least, be uncomfortable with it. Humanly speaking, change is a challenge for us. The world develops, circumstances change and at times we do not keep up with the change. This is something of what we see Jesus working against with the Pharisees in Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23.
The fundamental call of Jewish faith was quite simple, to love God and to love neighbour. This is the basic tradition of Judaism. As time passed and life evolved, the people of the Old Testament developed other traditions, customs and practices which adapted this basic or fundamental tradition to particular circumstances of life. In this way the many ritual laws and practices of Judaism were developed – e.g. the washing of hands, cups, pots, and bronze kettles as well as many other ritual laws.
As these laws developed they made sense. They had a connection with the core tradition as a way of expressing honour to God and respect for neighbour. But as life and circumstances changed the ritual laws continued even though the connection with the basic or core tradition was not longer evident. The ritual laws took on a life of their own and even obscured the core tradition. Meticulously saying the right words and performing the correct actions appeared as more important than the loving, communal action of the People of God.
This was the challenge faced by Jesus when he encountered the Pharisees – “You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition.” The Pharisees were not bad folk. In fact they were zealous and committed followers of the Law. But in their zeal they forgot the core tradition, or at the very least obscured it. Jesus’ words and actions were a call to return to the core tradition of loving God and neighbour.
The ritual laws got in the way of seeing this fundamental call. Lip service to the Law got in the way of living God’s call from the heart.
Living the core of God’s plan with the heart is what discipleship to Jesus is all about. This is who we are as Church. Being Church, living as disciples is a matter of the heart and the simple double commandment of love God and love neighbour. Here is the challenge - how we love evolves and changes over time as our world and our circumstances change. The laws, rules and rituals are simple ways of responding in particular times and are subject to change. The heart is the constant in discipleship and in being Church.
posted August 21, 2021
Spending time at the beach is a favourite pastime during the summer months. Watching the waves come in and hearing the sounds as the sea flows and ebbs is so regular and relaxing. Sitting on the shoreline wrapped up in quiet thought it is hard to imagine that what we are looking at is so vast and so powerful.
Relaxing on the beach, we do not think much about the bigger picture. The Bay of Fundy can be 52 kilometers across and up to 250 meters deep. The Atlantic Ocean itself in places is almost 8 kilometers deep and 5000 kilometers wide. It covers almost 20% of the earth’s surface. Now that is big.
Often, what we see in our lives is such a small part of the bigger picture. John’s Gospel in chapter 6 poses this problem for the crowds that followed Jesus as well as for his disciples. As John presents the story he begins by telling us that Jesus is being followed by a large crowd of people, “impressed by the signs he gave by curing the sick.” (Jn. 6:2) The Gospel goes on to describe another wonder, as Jesus feeds the large crowd. Struck by this miracle they acclaim him as a prophet and seek to make him king. (Jn.6:14-15) He flees into the hills to escape them, while the disciples set out to row across the lake.
The story does not end there, another wonder. A storm comes up on the lake and they encounter Jesus walking on the water toward them. The next day the crowds find Jesus and his disciples on the other side. They are baffled and overwhelmed by what is happening. Jesus, points out that they may be following him because of the wonders and signs, but there is more to it than this. John then begins to relate Jesus speaking to them with a central truth of his message and mission: “I am the bread of life…” (Jn.6:35-69).
Many in the crowd and even some of the disciples found that the message was too much to accept. They could not accept what Jesus was saying as it was too vast a claim and took them far beyond what their faith tradition would allow them. It was an ocean of meaning. Yet many stayed with him. What was the attraction?
As John closes this chapter, he reveals what the attraction is. Jesus lives in a relationship with a loving, life-giving God and his mission is to proclaim this to others through his life, words and actions. For many this was a challenge. Their vision of God was focused on God’s transcendence, the distance of the divinity. The disciples were discovering in Jesus signs of the immanence of God, the closeness of the divinity – Emmanuel (God with us) is our acclamation.
“Bread” is a simple and common element of life. Yet for the early Christians who speak to us through John’s Gospel the food and feeding symbolizes the core of life in our world. To eat “the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood” is to receive the life, divine life that Jesus offers to humanity. In doing so we recognize the gift of the life-giving love of our God to all. This is the message and mission of Jesus that we have been given as disciples. We are to share this amazing Good News. Being life-giving to one another is how we share it.
posted August 14, 2021
First a disclaimer – I have never been pregnant. Thus, to reflect on Mary and her pregnant visit to Elizabeth in Luke’s Gospel (1:39-56) is in many ways outside my area of knowledge and awareness. However, over the years I have had the honour of baptizing hundreds of newly born children. That privilege has afforded me the gift of observing parents at this blessed moment in their lives, and I am sure a blessing it has been. It has been a time of great joy as well as anticipation and excitement. Often too, the moment includes uncertainty, anxiety and even some fear. But more than anything it is a time of expectancy and hope.
This is what Luke presents in the first two chapters of his Gospel. This section is often referred to as the Infancy narrative. It draws on the faith and memory of the earliest communities of Christians. They were seeking to understand and express the person of Jesus as the Christ as well as his message and mission. Thus, Mary becomes a central figure in the story. She is both a prophet and a disciple as the story unfolds.
Like the prophets of the Old Testament, Mary comes to us as the voice of God embodied. Her life and her experience in Luke represent God’s constant willingness to reach out to touch the beloved creation and humanity that is set before us in the first chapter of the Book of Genesis. There, in poetic form we are told that “God created the heavens and the earth”. Then after six days of work, “God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good.” (Gen.1:31)
The prophets of the Old Testament repeatedly expressed the continuance of God’s love for created humanity. They served as the bearer of God’s loving word to Israel especially in times of challenge and difficulty. Mary appears in this tradition. Her words in response to the blessing spoken to her by Elizabeth are the words of a prophet accepting her call: “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my savior for he has looked upon his lowly servant.” Her proclamation repeatedly sings of God’s loving mercy for all.
In the New Testament, God is again comes to his beloved creation and humanity. Mary’s role is prophesy by action. She becomes the mother of Jesus and the vehicle of God’s incarnation among us, life-giving and
loving. She becomes the bearer of God to our world in a marvelous way. With Mary and like Mary, we may not fully understand God’s ways, but we can certainly be amazed by God’s coming to us.
Jesus gathers many followers, disciples. He forms them and commissions them to bear the same message as he proclaims and reveals in himself. Mary pronounces this message with her proclamation in Luke. It is a message of love and support (“[lifting] up the lowly”), (“[filling] the hungry”); a message of mercy and compassion. In so many ways, Mary is the first of the disciple of Jesus the Christ.
Mary, is the mirror of us all, the bearer of the Christ into our world, the revelation of God among us. In our very selves, we are like Mary, prophets and disciples. So often we struggle to comprehend this vision of ourselves and others. Fr. Richard Rohr referring to the First Letter of John (1 Jn 3:2) reminds of who we all are: “Our inherent ‘likeness to God’ depends upon the objective connection given by God equally to all creatures, each of whom carries the divine DNA in a unique way.” (Richard Rohr. The Universal Christ, New York 2021 60-61.)
posted August 6, 2021
Bread is a very common food and is a staple for many cultures. It comes in a variety of types: whole wheat, banana, white, potato, brown, naan, pita, ciabatta, multigrain and gluten free to name only a few. Of all our foods, bread is perhaps the most common. Like so many other elements of our lives, bread hardly captures any attention. In fact, what is ordinary and common, can be very significant.
Chapter 6 of John’s Gospel contains a long discourse on the relationship between Jesus and the Father. The chapter begins with the account of the feeding of 5000 with loaves and fish. The impact of this event created a great stir and people began to flock to Jesus. They hoped for another sign, not understanding that this was more than a simple feeding with bread.
In the discourse, Jesus moves beyond the physical entity of bread to a significance beyond simple feeding of the body. Jesus expresses this deeper meaning with the statement: “I am the bread of life…. Whoever eats this bread will live forever and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” For John, this allusion to his giving of his life indicates that Jesus will ultimately pour out his life for all of us and will do this as a sign of God’s great love for the whole of creation.
For many this was too much. This was a person they all knew and whose family lived among them. How could someone so common and ordinary make such a claim? As the chapter continues, many who had started to follow him, now began to drift away from him. The sign that had attracted them, ceased to be something they could place their faith in, at least in the way in which they understood it.
Those who remained committed disciples would gradually come to grasp the deeper meaning of the sign that seemed so ordinary. For them, the faith and trust they placed in this Jesus, became more than following a teacher who conveyed knowledge to them or a leader who would help them in momentary struggles. It became a way of life and an awareness of God’s constant and unconditional love for them and all the peoples of the earth.
In letters he wrote for early Christian communities a later disciple, Paul captured this deeper, faith and trust as a way of living. One of these letters was directed to the Christian community at Ephesus. Paul saw in Jesus, a wonderous expression of God’s love for all and a commitment from God who like a parent would never cease loving us.
The way of life for a disciple as Paul expressed it was to imitate Jesus and allow the love showered upon us, to become our way of life with all (Ephesians 4:30 – 5:2). In this letter, Paul has managed to express what giving “life for the world” means in practical, everyday ways: “Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.” This says Paul is the mark of the Spirit among us.
posted July 31, 2021
A curious question indeed. But it is one that we all ask even when we do not realize it. In chapter 6 of John’s Gospel we hear the story of Jesus feeding a great crowd with a few fish and some bread. After this miracle or wonder we hear Jesus in conversation with people who want him to offer another sign that he speaks and acts for God (John 6:24-35). They want another miracle. That is the language they want.
Jesus’ response, however is to indicate that it is not in miracles and wonders that God speaks. Rather it is in the kind of loving care and service that he himself has shown them. He is the word that God speaks to them.
In Catholic theology there is a basic teaching that Jesus is the sacrament of God and that the church is the sacrament of Jesus.
In other words, in Jesus Christ the divine has touched and taken on our humanity, that we might recognize the divine presence in the midst of Creation. God speaks in all Jesus says and does. More than this, we, the People of God, as church speak and act as the continuing presence of Jesus in our world. When we live this fundamental of faith, we recognize the divine presence in all that is around us.
How do each of us, as church, speak Jesus in our world? Pope Francis has offered some direction on this to us. Perhaps in what Francis expresses we might discover that the language that God speaks is what Jesus has shown us, the language of mercy and of love, of openness and inclusion, of awareness that the divine presence is always among us. We need to hear this language especially in moments when we are our weakest and most vulnerable.
Francis focuses on those who struggle with the church and no longer find it meaningful and supportive for them. He does not blame the culture or harangue against “relativism”, “consumerism” and other “isms”. He offers a challenge to us as church to look inward, that we might reach outward to the whole of humanity and all of creation:
We need a church unafraid of going forth into their night. We need a church capable of meeting them on their way. We need a church capable of entering into their conversation. We need a church able to dialogue with those disciples who having left Jerusalem behind, are wandering aimlessly, alone, with their own disappointments, disillusioned by a Christianity now considered barren, fruitless soil, incapable of generating meaning....
Are we still a church capable of warming hearts? A church capable of leading people back to Jerusalem? Of bringing them home? Jerusalem is where our roots are: Scripture, catechesis, sacraments, community, friendship with the Lord, Mary and the apostles... Are we still able to speak of these roots in a way that will revive a sense of wonder at their beauty?
(Some Thoughts from Francis I: Who are we as church? From two addresses he made in Brazil July, 2013. He bases himself on the story of the disciples meeting the risen Jesus on the road to Emmaus. [Luke 24:13-35])
posted July 21, 2021
One of the remarkable aspects of our Covid-19 experience has been the appearance of vaccines to respond to the virus. Normally such scientific developments take years and decades to achieve. The polio vaccine took decades of research and development before it came into use in the 1950s. It was a wonder and a blessing when it did.
The vaccines that have been developed for Covid-19 have been even more wonder-filled. The virus appeared in China near the end of 2019. Within a year, the first of a host of vaccines types for the virus had been developed and were beginning to be used. The speed at which this development took place was without precedent. In so many ways we have witnessed what some might call a miraculous development.
Miracle! The root of this English word is found in the Latin word miraculum, its meaning is a “wonder” or “something amazing”. More commonly, we tend to use the word “miracle” for something that reveals an intervention of God, but in a way that seems a suspension of the normal rules of nature. Perhaps this is too limited an understanding.
It would be better to see miracles as more common, not a suspension of nature, but a heightened awareness of how we are surrounded by a wonder-filled creation, a constant gift of God. In doing so, we begin to recognize that God is very much present and active among us. Every wonder, every amazing aspect of life, every “miracle” speaks to us of God’s constant presence. Beginning with Creation and life itself, we are constantly surrounded with the touch of God, with the miraculous.
The gospel writer John seems well aware of how Jesus, the Christ expresses this wonder of God. He begins chapter 6 by telling the story of how Jesus feeds a large group of people who surround him. The chapter begins with a miracle account (John 6:1-15). Jesus proposes to feed the people that are following him, a large number. Two of his close disciples, Philip and Andrew express some skepticism about this possibility.
As the account unfolds the crowd is fed and with food left over – a miracle. A suspension of nature, perhaps, but perhaps not. Perhaps it was a miracle, a wonder which expressed how the action of God’s love works through us all, naturally. There was a boy in the crowd who had five loaves and two fish. This was the start of the miracle. Jesus blessed the food and the wonder was in the manner in which the crowd shared their food.
The message and the mission of Jesus, the Christ is that the Kingdom of God is near. It is among us. In each one of us is the spirit of this Kingdom, the spirit of Christ. With such a spirit we are driven to share God’s love with all we have and with all we do, especially with the most vulnerable, those among us most in need. To do so, is to share creation, life and love in the way that God has done for all of us. Working such wonders, such miracles is what Jesus preached and what we are called to live as disciples.
May we stand in wonder at the miracles that surround us - the compassion and love expressed in times of need, the care and concern revealed in moments of pain, the works of science and service in humanity’s gifts and talents. Thanks be to our loving God.
posted July 18, 2026
Wearing a mask, maintaining self-distancing, avoiding crowds – these are all part of our lives over the past year and a half. They are ways we respond to Covid-19 in check and keep ourselves safe from the virus. But they come at a price. We are more than discrete individuals. We are part of a human community and we live in communities. We need one another and the relationships that bring us life. Our contacts with each other are where we find ourselves fully alive and fully human. Isolation is hard.
In 2013, as Pope Francis took on his role of leadership for our Catholic church, he began with a clear statement of the nature of our Catholic faith as communal. It is about our relationship with God and with one another. He expressed this in an apostolic exhortation entitled The Joy of the Gospel. Such an exhortation or encouragement is intended to set some direction for us.
Pope Francis sees our church as a missionary community, sharing the Good News, the joy of the Gospel. As he put it: “The Church which ‘goes forth’ is a community of missionary disciples who take the first step, who are involved and supportive….” (Joy of the Gospel 24) It is about reaching out to one another in love and sharing life-giving good news in word and action.
In Mark’s Gospel we see the disciples returning to Jesus from mission and relating all they had done (Mk 6:30-34). Jesus invites them to a “deserted” place, to renew their energies. In the Scriptures, deserted or desert places are often occasions to renew and regain direction and strength.
In the Old Testament book of Exodus, the Israelites escape from Egypt through the desert of Sinai. For them it will be a place of transition from slavery to freedom. It is also in that desert where they discover who they are as a people. They are the beloved People of God, marked by relationships with one another and with their God.
In the Gospels of the New Testament, the desert appears again following Jesus’s baptism by John and the Spirit’s descent upon him (Matt 4:1-11; Mark 1:12-13; Luke 4:1-13). In the desert, the Spirit Jesus to the close relationship he has with God who loves as a parent love a child. With this, he embarks on his mission to share this good news for all.
When Jesus invites his disciples to a deserted place, he is inviting them to come away that they might reflect on who they are and what they are doing. It is what Jesus did in prayer. Taking the space and the occasion for such a step is the purpose of prayer or the desert. Just like the Israelites in the desert or as Jesus himself experienced, so too the disciples have a need for such reflection.
The disciples will come to see that faith is all about nurturing the loving relationship to which they are called, with God and with one another. The experience with Jesus will offer them a faith that is relational. Such faith rests not in the head alone. It is a faith of the heart. From the heart comes a loving bond – with God and with all humanity.
A recent online reflection from Fr. Richard Rohr expressed this vision of living faith: For many Christians, their belief is often just knowledge “on ice,” not experiential, firsthand knowledge “on fire.” Even though we call them both faith, there is a difference between intellectual belief and real trust…. Only the second is biblical faith: when our walk matches our talk. (Richard Rohr, 7 Jul 21, Center for Contemplation and Action)
The faith of a disciple of Jesus is a loving relationship. It reflects our relationship with God who love us unconditionally, like a loving parent. Such a relationship is more in actions than in words.
posted July 10, 2021
The Fundy Trail Parkway is a wonderful experience. It runs from St. Martin’s NB along the coast of the Bay of Fundy towards the Sussex area. The parkway consists of roughly 30kms of road paralleled by trail for hiking and biking. Along the way there are lookouts for vistas of the coast of the bay. A number of years ago, with friends I had the opportunity to cycle part of the trail. It was a challenge, but well worth the effort.
The Fundy Trail Parkway offers amazing views of the headlands ranged along the coast. Climbing hills, rounding turns the scenes are never the same. What an eye-opener! We saw the bay and its coastline as never before. It was a whole change of view for us. We were able to see the bay and its coastline in a whole new light.
Mark’s Gospel (Mark 6:7-13) shows the disciples of Jesus entering into a similar experience. They had been listening and watching Jesus as he proclaimed his message: “The kingdom of heaven has come near.” The experience had an impact on them. It changed them. Now the disciples were being sent out to share this experience. The disciples became apostles, heralds of some very good news. It would not be easy and there would be challenges. But they would not be alone. Their role was to call others to “repent”, to see their world differently, in a whole new light.
We often see the word “repent” as seeking forgiveness, but it is much larger than this. Our scriptures sometimes use the Greek word “metanoia”. This is a conversion or a turning around of life, a change of heart to see things in a new way. Jesus meant this to come from a discovery of love and an awareness of faith as a loving relationship with God and with one another. This change of heart allowed the disciples to discover the “kingdom of heaven” among them and others.
Our nation and our church are being called to a conversion, a “metanoia” at this time. For all of the pain and calls for apologies, necessary as they are, the way forward is to see in a new way, a new light. Recently I was forwarded an email that captures something of a beginning for us. I share it here:
So a friend of mine asked if we should celebrate Canada Day. I think I answered her. But this is just my opinion. So, I’m gonna qualify this by saying I am Mohawk of the Six Nations.
Bow your head in sadness, not shame. You didn’t write the laws that made these places. You didn’t run the churches that made these decisions. Your (mine too) government did. Old dead prime ministers did. Old dead popes, priests, preachers and nuns did.
The country we live in was founded in exploitation, murder, genocide and thievery. But EVERY country in the world is. You didn’t know about these children because the government didn’t want you to know. I’m a conservative minded person, but thank God for liberals.
Now you know about them. You know about us. You are beginning to understand what we have gone and are going through. So stand up. Celebrate Canada Day if you want. But celebrate it because we have been found.
We have been near since Mother Earth bore the first brothers and sisters. We will be here when Grandfather (Moon) puts Mother Earth to sleep. We have always been here. But now you finally see us.
Our country and our church, each and every one of us, are being called at this time to a metanoia, to have a change of heart. May our journey together bring us to see one another in a whole new light. May we be marked by peace and loving hearts open and inclusive of all.
posted July 1, 2021
“Familiarity breeds contempt.” Did you ever notice how we take so much for granted? Whether it is places, routines, or persons, the longer we know or are around them, the less attention we pay to them. In some ways, I wonder if that is something of our country’s malaise, with regard to our indigenous communities. We know they are all around us, in Fredericton area, there are three First Nations communities. But how much do we Canadians really know or pay attention to them?
The history of Canada’s relationship with our First Nations has been a long and painful one. It has involved conquest and colonization. For the most part we pushed them off their ancestral lands and settled ourselves there. Our ancestors aimed at “civilizing” and Christianizing them, which meant that as did so, we ignored and even tried to erase their cultures, their languages and their spiritual traditions. Much of this began when we were part of the French and English colonial empires. When Canada emerged as a nation in 1867, this treatment of the indigenous peoples simply continued. This has been our history.
The story of the residential schools that has now come to light, is a wakeup call to all of us. It cries out to all Canadians to open our eye and our hearts to what our nation has done. In a specific way we Catholic have been forced to confront the part our church has played in this story of conquest and colonization. We were sometimes the vehicle by which the state acted, especially in education. This is a painful time for us all. But it can also be a time of promise and new hope.
If we are open to listen and be transformed in our relationship with First Nations and their culture there can be healing and renewal. Canada has often been referred to as a multicultural nation. What an irony that we say this, but have largely ignored perhaps the most significant culture among, that of our indigenous neighbours who were in this land long before our ancestors arrived. This may be a great challenge for us but it can also be a great blessing.
Our blindness is not unlike what Jesus faced as he entered his own hometown. The Gospel writer Mark tells us the story (Mark 6:1-6). He is a man with a message and he begins to teach in the local synagogue. People are astounded by what he is saying.
They are even more astounded by the fact that it is him who is teaching. They resisted him and his teachings. He was too familiar.
Jesus recognized that like the prophets before him, he was taken for granted, not listened to, even rejected. “Prophets are not without honour, except in their hometown, among their own kin, and in their own house.” Familiarity stood in the way of recognizing the message and the messenger who had come among them. This is the blindness that characterizes us at this time.
The presence of God is all around us always. The spirit of the Risen Jesus is ever present with us. All of this is - too ordinary. Jesus reveals and speaks the message of the Kingdom in every act of love, every experience of compassion, every moment of mercy and care. But it can be just too ordinary and so we cannot see what is right before our eyes.
At this time in the story of our nation, and of our church, we have an opportunity to be transformed. It is time to meet the First Nations of this land again, in a new way, without the conquest and colonization. This is a time for listening and learning from one another. It calls for openness and respect, compassion and love. In this, is healing.
posted June 26, 2021
Now there was a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years. She had endured much..., and she was no better.
She had heard about Jesus, and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, for she said, “If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well.” Immediately her hemorrhage stopped; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. (See: Mark 5:21-43)
Wounds hurt. They sap our strength. They weaken us. Wounds leave us with a certain separation from the whole or from those not wounded. Wounds cry out for healing. A very wise doctor once remarked: “The role of the doctor is not to get in the way of the healing.” The unspoken part of this piece of wisdom is what comes next - the doctor’s role is to accompany the wounded, to be with them in their hurt.
At this time in our collective history, we are a wounded people. First Nations Peoples, Canadians, Catholics, we all carry the wounding of our past. There is much pain and suffering in our wounding. It cries out for healing. The scars remain. They are deep and they are long-lasting. They hurt terribly. Now, when the wound is open and crying out, is the time for the doctor’s wise advice. It is time to stand with the wounded.
We cannot make the wound heal. Its scar will be with us for a long time. Now is the time for us to recognize that we must stand with the wounded. The deepest wound, the greatest scar is borne by our First Nations People. Their healing is crucial.
It will only happen when we who bear the history of how this happened are willing to reach out and accompany them in their pain and suffering. We cannot make the wound heal, but we must stand with them in their pain, in love and compassion.
Mark’s Gospel presents us with the healing Jesus. In the very poignant account of a woman who had suffered for years, we discover the loving touch of God that Jesus brings to us. Having heard of Jesus, she was unable to get close to him, but thought: “If I but touch his clothes.” What faith!
The Gospels are full of stories of Jesus as he heals people. What is this all about? The temptation is to see Jesus as a wonder-worker, a miracle-maker, someone who suspends the rules of the natural order in order to heal.
To be sure there may be some instances of physical healing. But if we stop there, we miss the real point of these accounts.
Jesus is the incarnate presence of God – God who is present to us, sharing our humanity. To say this is to say that Jesus reveals the love in which God holds each and every one of us in humanity. He is the touch of God’s love for us all. When we stand with another in the midst of suffering, we express the incarnation. We speak God’s love.
In the midst of the suffering, we witness in our First Nations peoples, how do we stand with them as church, as a people who seek to reveal God’s love? As Canadian Catholics the most direct and straight-forward way, is to take seriously the “Calls to Action” set forth by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, 2012 [Available online], in particular #48-49 and #58-61. Now is the time.
posted June 19, 2021
Over the course of a lifetime we all find ourselves facing challenges. They often make demands on us and are marked by uncertainty. Often, there is no clear path through what is called for although the intention is good and the goal is promising. In fact, the road to the goal is frequently full of twists and turns, the course, unclear.
These are our rough seas, our unsettling, stormy, difficult times. All of us in some way face such challenges, some of our own making, others are circumstances into which we simply fall. Such times call us to make tough decisions, crucial ones that have implications far beyond ourselves.
These challenges are often painful and even threatening, like the loss of a loved one or something affecting our health. We can be challenged by a change in work or our relationships. A whole community can be challenged when called to restructure or to do things differently. Such experiences demand a new way, evolving and changing even how we see ourselves. From all such experiences of life come the ways to growth and strength.
It is really no surprise that the Gospel writer Mark (4:35-41) uses the image of “rough seas” to point out some of the challenges the disciples faced in their faith. Such seas are common to the faith of us all. They come upon us often from the circumstances of our lives and they cause us to doubt, to question our disciple relationship with Jesus and the way we see God in our lives.
In Mark’s story, he points out that Jesus has been teaching widely to many, disciples and others. Now he calls the disciples to cross over to the other side of Sea of Galilee with him. During the crossing, a storm comes up and threatens to swamp the boat. The disciples lose confidence and are overcome with fear. Jesus is asleep in the stern. In their fearfulness, they wake him up.
Why does Mark relate this story? This is a faith story. Discipleship is about relationships. Disciples follow Jesus in order to build their relationship with him. As they listen to what he says and watch what he does, they come to know Jesus better. In doing so, the relationship grows. Spending time with him deepens this. They trust him more and place their faith in him more deeply.
All relationships are about trust and faith. With great trust and deep faith, love emerges and grows. The disciples are growing into the closest of friends with Jesus and with one another. But as always, there will be challenges. Storms will come. The trust will be tested and the faith will be tried.
The Gospels relate the story of the evolving relationship of Jesus with his disciples and beyond. As the Good News evolves there will be times when the disciples show a waning faith. Their lives are not straight lines. There are many twists and turns.
Faith demands doubts. The circumstances of life will lead to questions, always. Blind faith is exactly that - it is blind. Without the questions and the doubts, our faith remains rigid and lifeless. Some 10 centuries ago, St. Anselm of Canterbury expressed this when he spoke of: “faith seeking understanding”. We are always seekers.
On the Sea of Galilee, the disciples faced a storm. Throughout their discipleship as they grew in their faith and relationship with Jesus, there would be many storms. Doubts and denials are part of the journey. Mature, adult faith is growing and evolving faith. There have to be questions and doubts in order that the seeker/disciple might have a faith that is growing and deepening. Faith is like any significant relationship. It will be ever-evolving. It will have its storms and doubts. It will also have its discoveries and growth.
posted June 11, 2021
Most often, the greatest wounds are those that hurt our relationships - with family, with friends and with colleagues. The primary wounds are those that do not honour and acknowledge the goodness and wonder of who they are as persons. We may differ from each other in many ways. But each of us has a goodness and giftedness that is a special gift of God.
As much as we face this reality in our personal lives, we face it as well in our social, cultural, religious and national life. Our Catholic Christian church has a long history, some 2000 years of it. In that long history we can acknowledge that our faith has made significant contributions to the family of humanity. At the same time, our Catholic faith often fails to live up to the catholicity that names our faith community. In some of our story, our faith community has been closed and narrow, even abusive in our relationships, and in how we encounter the many peoples and cultures of the family of humanity.
In meeting other cultures we have not been open to them, not acknowledging that they, like us hold a true and wondrous relationship with God. This has led us to be domineering, demeaning and even violent as we encounter them. We speak as wanting to share our faith with them. But frequently this has taken the form of imposing our faith upon them,… not honouring the good they already hold.
Our Canadian history is part of the broader European colonial story. The expansion of Europe into the Americas is like much of human history. When cultures encounter one another, it is often a story of conquest. Rather than building a mutual relationship which can enrich both, a colonializing power overruns the other and attempts to assimilate the other into its culture. The story reveals an effort to dominate and change the culture into which it has moved.
This has been the story of the residential schools that are part of our Canadian history, an effort to assimilate First Nations into Canadian society of the time. Our Catholic Church joined in this effort, seeing an opportunity to share the faith we held. Unfortunately, beyond a few isolated instances, there has been little recognition, that the peoples of the First Nations already have a deep and rich spiritual tradition and that we can meet in mutual relationship.
Mark’s Gospel reveals Jesus speaking with parables. In Mark 4:26-34, we hear of a farmer planting seed. The contact of the seed with the soil leads to growth. In the story, beyond the sowing of the seed, the sower cannot control the growth. He has to trust in the coming together of the two elements. “Controlling” does not produce growth. Encounter does.
Faith and love are shared through respectful encounter, a meeting in which a life-giving relationship is planted and nurtured. In the shadow of the residential school experience perhaps it is time to discover our encounter of cultures, honouring both, sharing each and respecting all.
Apologies are certainly needed. As a priest in the Catholic community, my own apologies go out to our sisters and brothers in the First Nations for the many hurts we have brought upon you. But more is demanded. Our society needs to let go of control. This is a national conversion/change of heart. We need to learn to “listen” deeply to each other in a relationship that is open, and honours and respects all. We cannot, must not forget the past hurts. But we can, we must grow a more open relationship, sowing seeds of new life together, honouring the cultures we share.
posted June 5, 2021
It is truly amazing to see the sacrifices parents make for their children. They set aside their own wills for the sake of these children. Parents sacrifice their lives, their resources, their wishes, their dreams for their children. And it happens, not just for their children, but also for their grandchildren and down through the generations. There can be only one ultimate reason for such sacrifice…..love.
Instances of this same sacrificial love appear in countries all around the world. We see it in places such as Myanmar and Belarus, in Columbia and Venezuela, in Russia and Hong Kong as people risk life and freedom for the sake of their shared rights and a voice in governance. They speak for the common good with a willingness to sacrifice for one another and the common good.
In the midst of the pandemic, we are all called upon to sacrifice for the common good as well. We need to observe restrictions, limit our on our normal gatherings and accept vaccinations. These are sacrifices for the common good. The measures protect us from the virus. But, more importantly we accept them for the sake of one another and the protection of all.
On many levels, sacrifice is a part of being human. It is an expression of mutual care, concern and love. It takes us into the realization that we are more than individuals. We are always part of a community, many communities, and we live not only for ourselves, but for one another. Thus, to make sacrifices for the common good is to be human. It is to bring promise and hope to all humanity. Whatever sacrifice me make, it has a goal – it expresses love for another.
The Feast of the Body and Blood of Jesus the Christ draws us to find meaning in the sacrifice Jesus made through the cross. Through this we recognize that it was not a one-time event, long ago. Like all sacrifice, it looks to the future and it does so, not with mourning, but with hope. The sacrifice of Jesus cross is an expression of love for all humanity.
In the Old Testament Book of Exodus we are given the story of Israel’s journey of liberation. In faith they discovered this was God’s work for them, God’s gift. They were to know they were a covenant people, a community, special to God. They were drawn together by the shared blood of sacrifice.
The symbolic sacrifice was an expression of their gratitude for the love God had showered upon them (Exodus 24:3-8).
The meal that Jesus shared with his friends at Passover was a meal of gratitude for God’s love. The sacrifice it represented as the bread was broken and the wine was shared spoke of Jesus’s own sharing of not just his physical body and blood, but his whole embodied life. His life was not just for the gathered disciples, but for all humanity, brought together as the People of God in every place and every age. Mark’s Gospel describes this broad covenant with all humanity in the sharing of the cup. As he puts it: “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many” (See: Mark 14:12-16, 22-26).
Our Eucharistic celebration as a community of God`s People today and every Sunday is an expression of our gratitude to the God who loves us constantly. It is both a meal shared by a community of believing Christians and a sacrifice in which we renew our covenant relationship with God and with one another as God`s People. We are in so many ways, the new Israel, trekking as the People of God in our own deserts. Like them we have assurance of God`s continuing presence with us. May we bring love and hope to all humanity.
posted May 29, 2021
Context matters. Awareness of the bigger, fuller picture helps us to understand what we are looking at in the moment. In living with Covid-19 we sometimes wonder why decision-makers so often appear to change the guidelines of our response to the pandemic. Why for instance, can they not tell us how long we will be under restrictions at the border?
One of the realities of our experience at this time is that Covic-19 is a new (novel) virus. We have had many viruses among us, but this one is new. We do not know all the characteristics that mark it. In some measure we will only become more aware of the bigger picture by looking at how it behaves in real time. That is, in the day by day unfolding of our experience. There is no quick and easy response. Only by examining our experience of the virus, over time, can we discover the best responses. In understanding how to respond, context matters. In some ways, it is……… a mystery.
“It’s a mystery.” Such a statement can mean many things to us. It might mean something that is unsolvable. Or perhaps it means a question for which we do not have an answer. On the otherhand it may be our way to avoid a question we do not want. It can even be used to refer to a type of novel or movie.
Our lives are full of “mysteries”. Every relationship is a mystery for us. Every time we enter into a friendship, we have to realize that we will never fully understand this person. The relationship will be in continual evolution. The deeper the relationship, the greater the mystery. When we speak of the “mystery of the Trinity” or some other “mystery” of our faith” this is what we face.
“Mystery” in this case is used to speak of something the meaning of which is so great that we can never exhaust the truth of it. All of our seeking and searching, all of our questions will help us with understanding, but there will always be more to discover in our relationships. This is certainly true of the “mystery of the Trinity.”
Matthew in his Gospel (Matt.28:16-20) opens up the many aspects of this mystery of the Trinity. He does so in relating an experience of the disciples in an encounter with the Risen Jesus.
It is significant that they have this experience on a mountain, in fact the mountain on which Jesus presented what we call the Sermon on the Mount. This sermon covers Matthew chapters 5-7. It is a collection of sayings and teachings which capture the core of the message of Jesus and the focus of his whole mission among us. In some ways then, it expresses the meaning of the Trinity for us.
As the disciples encounter Jesus on this mountain, they discover that they are being included in the relationship of love that Jesus has with God as a loving parent. They are adopted children of God. In this relationship Jesus draws them into his mission. He is not “handing on the mission”, but rather he is “including them in his mission.”
In celebrating the Feast of the Trinity we are acknowledging a truth that is at the foundation of who we are as Christians. It expresses our faith in our God who loves us deeply, as a parent. So deeply does this God love us that God came in the person of Jesus to live among, to share the life that we live, even unto death. More than this, Jesus draws us into sharing a loving relationship with God and calls us to share with others, all others, the loving relationship we have with God. This gift of love from God brings us to full and eternal life. All of this and more is expressed in the “mystery of the Trinity.”
posted May 22, 2021
For more than a year now, our world has faced the challenge of a global pandemic. Covid-19 and its variants has brought a host of threats to human health and life. It has marked us with fear and anxiety. It has brought uncertainty into the whole global community and has led to disruptions in our lives and livelihoods along with our family and community life. The threat to our physical health has also affected our spiritual, social psychological health. We have been wounded in body and spirit of these months.
The rapid development and delivery of vaccines has been a welcome turn of events for us. Not only have they offered a response to the virus, they have also proved to be a light at the end of tunnel. They offer us hope in the midst of darkness. There are many challenges still before our world. At this time the virus continues to be among us. Restrictions remain so that its spread can be slowed or limited. There are limitations in availability of the vaccines. Delivery and vaccinations seem slow. There are some who are reluctant to receive vaccination, either from fear or because of denial. But we cannot lose hope. What we need is “spirit”, “heart”, the drive to use our human gifts and talents given us by God for the good of one another – the common good.
Those disciples who gathered after the crucifixion faced this reality. They had walked and talked with Jesus. They had heard his message. They had seen his actions. They had been his friends and followers. Now they lost heart. They were dogged by a “defeated spirit.” But the appearances of the risen Jesus, like the one we see in John’s Gospel (John 20:19-23) on this Pentecost Sunday draws them back to the power and hope of the Spirit that gives them heart and brings them to a place of peace.
This Spirit, that was to remain with the disciples is the one that Paul refers to in his letter to the Christians in Corinth (1Cor.12:3-7) – Now there are a variety of gifts, but the same Spirit. Filled with this Spirit, the disciples went forth and began to change the world with the message of peace and the mission that they had received.
The Spirit poured out upon the disciples on that first Pentecost gave them new gifts which brought new life, new heart to the variety of their own personal talents and abilities. They became a community filled with energy and drive for the message and the mission. The outpouring of the Spirit inspires believers and missionaries of the message of Jesus. We are a community focused on hearing the message anew and taking it out to the ends of the earth.
This is what it means to be CHURCH. We are a Spirit-filled community of disciples of Jesus. On this Feast of Pentecost, we celebrate the Spirit that we have been given. With this Spirit the variety of gifts that we possess can bring new heart to a world seeking hope and promise and a sense of new life.
posted May 15, 2021
Some 40 years ago I met Jim and Pauline. Jim was with the OPP and Pauline worked in a Catholic school in Barrie. At the time I was on sabbatical researching. I lived and assisted in a parish in the north of Toronto. The three of us worked together in a marriage enrichment program. Over the course of the year we became good friends. Then I left to return to Fredericton.
One of the remarkable things is that the departure did not end the friendship. For the past 40 years we have maintained the friendship through letters, emails and phone calls. It was not always easy to maintain the contact but it did happen. Though we left each other’s physical presence we had not really left one another. Somehow, there was a presence that continued. We continued to be with one another in our friendship. There was a sense of being apart and together, of “leaving yet remaining” with one another.
When the Scriptures speak of the Ascension, it may seem that Jesus is somehow leaving his disciples. But when we look more closely at the Gospel accounts, it is evident they speak of Jesus still being present among them.
The classic image of the ascension of Jesus is captured in the story that we find in the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 1:1-11). The writer of Acts tells the story of the earliest Christian communities after the resurrection of Jesus. Acts begins the story with the account of Jesus leaving the disciples and ascending to heaven, or put another way with the return of Jesus to the Father. It is a story of “leaving yet remaining.”
The disciples have been given two important pieces of their call as followers of Jesus. They have been promised the gift and power Holy Spirit, and they have been told that they are to be witnesses to all that Jesus has proclaimed. In some way, the ascension is the end of the appearances of the risen Jesus. He leaves them yet remains among them through the continuing power of the Spirit that they will receive. Thus, they are to be the ongoing presence of the risen Jesus for our world.
Jesus might have left, but remains among us. The Incarnation continues with us, for we are the face of Jesus for our world. The final verses of Mark’s Gospel present us with this mission. We are called to: “Go out into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation” (Mark 16:15). With Jesus among us, and marked by the Spirit we are to be people of the Good News.
The last major Constitution of the Second Vatican Council closed the council in December 1965. This was the Constitution on the Church in the Modern World. Its title and opening words declared its principal vision:
The joy and the hope, the grief and the anxiety of the people of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted; this is the joy and hope, the grief and the anxiety, of the followers of Christ. Indeed, nothing genuinely human fails to raise an echo in their hearts. The Christian community is, after all, a community of women and men truly linked with humankind and its history, bearing a message of salvation [good news] intended for all peoples. (Gaudium et Spes, preface 1, Huebsch, trans. 1997)
Truly, Good News for all.
posted May 8, 2021
As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you: abide in my love....
This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. (John 15: 9,12)
A short time ago, I was hiking in the woods with some friends. Along the path, we came upon a pond. As we stood and chatted in the peacefulness of this scene in the woods, we quietly tossed a few stones into the center of a pond. Chatting away, we noticed the splash as the rock hit the water. More interesting was what happened to the whole pond. As the rock broke the surface of the water, ripples spread outward from this center and ultimately reached even to the far shoreline.
This Sunday (6th Sunday of Easter) the Gospel shows Jesus leading us to see the loving relationship that is created between God as our loving parent and ourselves. This love of God, in fact brings a whole series of loving relationships into our world. As complex as Christian faith can seem to be, it is in fact founded on a simple revelation: God loves us, all of us. God reveals this love in Jesus himself and from Jesus this revelation is to reach out through us to all. Like the rock thrown into the pond, Jesus breaks through the surface creating ripples of our God’s love that reach to the far and distant shores of our world.
This is the chain of loving relationships that appears in John’s Gospel today (John 15:9-17). Jesus received and accepted the Father’s love. He loved his disciples with this same love. As disciples we are to love one another as Jesus has loved us. And we are to share the ripples of this love to the ends of the earth.
Again and again, the Book of the Acts, show us the earliest Christian communities revealing the outward ripples of this loving relationship. The Spirit of the living God is given freely. It knows no bounds and shows no partiality (Acts 10:25-48) . God’s love is a gift, not earned or merited, not limited or measured, but boundless, open and free for all – a true gift and blessing.
As it happens, this weekend we observe Mother’s Day. What a reflection of God’s love touches us in our mother’s love, in the love of every mother. Such love is more than a simple word. It is, in fact something we can only know by experiencing it. We learn to love by witnessing love in living examples that surround us through life. Our mothers and fathers proclaim the reality of love for us from the very beginning of our lives. Our discipleship, more than anything else is sharing this as Jesus has shown us with the expression of open, caring, compassionate love for all the peoples of the earth.
posted May 1, 2021
Recently I had the honour and pleasure of journeying on a week-long retreat with the Sisters of St. Martha of PEI and their lay associates. It was a marvelous experience of living faith with them. Reflecting on our Scriptures, sharing our faith Tradition and taking time to nurture our spirituality we had the opportunity to grow as disciples and friends. What a wonderful community to be with. They are truly a blessing for which I am thankful. One lament – they were on Prince Edward Island. I was in New Brunswick. We were forced to meet virtually, unable to come together face to face. Covid-19 has been unkind.
For the last year our world has been disrupted. What was our normal no longer is. The retreat experience illustrates the impact of the pandemic. We were separated. Borders could not be crossed and so we found ourselves isolated in our own spaces. Alone as we were, we were not alone in the experience. Right now, the same experience is happening all around our world.
Masks, social distancing, shrinking social gatherings, no hand-shaking or hugging have been our norm. Hospitals, seniors’ homes, schools, neighbourhoods, campuses and churches have been affected. Contact has been through virtual means. For the sake of one another it must be done. To live safely in this pandemic, we must live with separation. It works, but we do lose in the experience.
Relationships are significant for us and we long to be together. Community matters for we are social beings. A streamed retreat or Mass might be necessary and it is certainly better than none, but it is not idea. What is missing is the communal element. The full experience of Eucharist must include the social contact. The danger is that it become only ritual, “going through the motions”. Like so much of our lives, we need the interpersonal element, for this brings us life and allows us to realize we are linked with a bond of humanity and love. We care about each other.
In John’s Gospel, Jesus speaks of the vine and the branches (John 15:1-8). What a wonderful image of our Christian faith. We are interconnected, dependent on one another for life both physically and spiritually.
It is no small thing that Jesus gathered his disciples around himself and invited them to follow as he led them through Galilee. Not only did they learn from him, they built a bond that joined them together as branches of the same vine.
Chapter 15 of John’s Gospel is set in the Passover meal that Jesus shares with his friends. It is their last. At the end (ch.17) Jesus will offer his farewell prayer for them, but here in chapter 15 he expresses the deep bond that has grown among them. They are together like the vine and the branches. No branch will live without the connection with the vine and the vine itself will grow and share life through the branches. As Jesus puts it: “Abide in me as I abide in you” (15:4). Discipleship is a communal experience.
Christian faith is relational. Our sacramental tradition expresses this. It shows especially in what we call the Sacraments of Initiation or entry into the community of Christians (Baptism, Confirmation & Eucharist). All three draw us to grow as disciples. They offer a relationship with the person of Jesus, the Christ. In this way, we have a bond with our God. Like a loving parent this God of ours offers life and loving compassion. As disciples, we too are to reflect this life and love around us.
posted April 24, 2021
Even beyond the Feast of Easter, we are an “Easter People” living an incarnational faith in the midst of our world. At the center or core of our faith lie two great mysteries: the Incarnation and the Resurrection. These two great truths stand at the center of our creeds:
I believe…. In Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary,… was crucified, died and was buried; he descended into hell; on the third day he rose again from the dead; he ascended into heaven… (Apostles’ Creed).
Two particular passages of our Christian scriptures capture these two key tenets of our faith. The significance of the Incarnation is proclaimed in the Gospel of John: “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life” (Jn.3:16). Fundamental to our Christian faith is that God loves us. Right from the very beginning, from the very act of creation, God has expressed this love in life-giving (Genesis ch.1). The Incarnation is a wonderous proclamation of God’s continuous and unconditional love. God has entered into our humanity sharing life with us in the person of Jesus the Christ. The community of love we see in the Trinity has overflowed into our humanity.
The centrality of the Resurrection is expressed in Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians: “If Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation [of the Gospel] has been in vain and your faith has been in vain…. If Christ has not be raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins” (1 Cor.15:14, 17). To believe in the Resurrection is to believe in the unconditional love of our God. The Risen Jesus, is the full expression of God’s compassionate love. Even death cannot erase, hinder or halt it.
It is not without significance that John’s Gospel for this Sunday in the Easter season focuses on the image of the Good Shepherd (Jn.10:11-18). Like the disciples who witnessed to the Resurrection, it draws us into the relationship or communion we share with the Jesus of our faith. Like the disciples too, the image of the Good Shepherd reveals the close bond we hold with this Jesus.
While many of our churches, our gathering places, are dominated by the crucifix behind the altar, occasionally we come upon a few which express the meaning of the sacrifice on the Cross, that is the sign of God’s constant, life-giving love in the Resurrection.
In the Easter event of the resurrection, there is an assertion that this steadfast love of God has a capacity to do something remarkable. The disciples came to recognize that Jesus who has laid down his life for them has been raised to new life. Such is the love that God has for us, that it has the capacity to transform death into life. The risen Jesus becomes of the revelation of this life-giving love in the midst of all humanity.
It is no accident that the earliest Christian artistic representations of Jesus were as the Good Shepherd. John’s Gospel reveals how wide is this compassionate love of God:
I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice.
As Jesus lays down his life for his disciples, it is for a much broader circle – for all humanity. The life-giving love of God is to reach to the ends of the earth. This is truly Good News for all, for we all share the bond of God’s love as Easter People..
posted April 17, 2021
Can we live our faith in isolation? Are we able to be believers without a community? There are many who assert that they have a spirituality, but it is so personal that they live it with no community. It is their own and they do not need others to be part of their spiritual life. Christian faith, Christian spirituality is more than personal. It is very much a community experience. The Gospels express this in so many ways, none more significant than the accounts of the Risen Jesus appearing to the disciples. In many of these instances, the experiences occur as the disciples are gathered together. Not only are they together, they are together around a table, sharing a meal. In this, Christian spirituality is strongly human.
Did you ever think about how much of our conversations take place over a cup of coffee or at a meal? It seems that the connections we make with others very often lead us to sitting down and sharing food and drink. Developing relationships and sharing a meal together seem so natural to us. Thus, it should come as little surprise that if we searched the Scriptures for the encounters his disciples had with Jesus after his resurrection they frequently involved a meal. What we hear in this Sunday’s Gospel (Luke 24:35-48) is one of these occasions.
Luke’s account begins with a reference to an encounter that two disciples had with the Risen Jesus as they were walking along the road to Emmaus. What is striking is that the Gospel noted that: Jesus had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread. These two disciples only recognized Jesus when they broke bread together.
There is something quite significant about this breaking of the bread. It is Eucharistic. The earliest Christians began to gather regularly as communities of believers. When they gathered they did so in a Eucharistic fashion, sharing stories of Jesus, recalling how the Jewish Old Testament Scriptures were fulfilled in him, sharing in the meal of the Eucharist and then noting that they were to be witnesses of all this to all nations.
It is in the gathering of the faith community, around the table of the Eucharist that we most commonly express the faith and Spirit that draws us together. It is here we experience the presence of the Risen Jesus active in our midst. It is from this assembly of Christians that we go forth to serve as witnesses to the continuing love of God expressed in our world.
What Luke describes of the appearance of the Risen Jesus to the disciples is what we live each time we gather for the Eucharist and go out into the world in care and concern. The encounter with Jesus in the breaking of the bread is at the base of who are – disciples of Jesus, gifted with his Spirit, bringing his healing care to our world.
posted April 10, 2021
We are Easter People. The great sign of our faith is that Jesus is Risen. Every time we gather for Eucharist we share at the Table of the Lord, the Risen Lord. The most appropriate symbol for this Table is the Risen Lord, for we are an Easter People, not a Good Friday community.
Throughout the season we hear and reflect on a whole series of the stories relating the core of our faith. Easter brings us through the entire history of human salvation. We journey through the accounts of creation, liberation, restoration and resurrection. These are stories of many new beginnings, many experiences of new life. In this journey we leave behind the cross with its suffering and death and we move to the promised liberation and healing of God’s dream for all humanity. The Risen Jesus is the symbol and sign of God’s promise given through Jesus to all – the promise of resurrection, fullness of life.
The season is replete with images and stories of the Risen Jesus appearing to the disciples in various settings. It is full of accounts of the impact of this Risen Jesus on his followers. They marked by both excitement and hope. For them it is a time of renewal and promise. The Gospel of the Sunday following the Easter feast (John 20:19-31) offers us a picture of the liberation and healing that comes with the ongoing gift of the Spirit and the presence of the Risen One.
One of the striking elements of the story in John’s Gospel is something that appears as well in other Gospel stories of appearances. It is the greeting that Jesus offers as he comes among the disciples: Peace be with you. Peace can mean many things – absence of war and conflict, quiet and silence, unity and good relations. In the Gospel stories of the appearances of the Risen Jesus, peace is an indication of the healing and liberation that comes with the gift of the Spirit.
It is no small thing that John describes the disciples as locked in a room and cowering in fear. For them there was a great threat that what happened to Jesus would happen to them. They were mourning, confused and terrified. Their hearts were still at Good Friday. With the vision of the Risen Jesus, they sensed the presence of the Jesus they had lost. His presence and the Spirit stirred them to a new vision.
With the gift of the Spirit, they became Easter People. Gradually they came to realize that the message and the mission that Jesus proclaimed was now theirs.
The peace that came upon them with the presence of Jesus risen, was theirs to take to the world. Filled with that Spirit they were to liberate, to heal, to reconcile the world into which they went.
We are Easter People, bearers and proclaimers of Good News. It is the Good News that the world is God’s created gift and that God will never cease in loving us. From this love comes life, even in the face of death, new life. This is a message and a mission of hope for all. Filled with the Spirit, we are the presence of Jesus to all humanity and all creation. Jesus risen, continues in our world, through all who take up his message and mission of healing, forgiveness and liberation for all. Peace be with you.
posted April 1, 2021
[He] suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried; he descended
into hell; on the third day he rose from the dead.
It should come as no surprise that what we call the Triduum, the three days of Holy Thursday, Good Friday and then through the Easter Vigil to Easter Sunday lies at the center and core of our faith. It is the feast of all feasts for us. With it, we mark the passing of Jesus from death to new life. The words of our Apostles Creed express our faith in the whole Christian story. What we might miss is that it is also the passing of ourselves from death to new life.
The resurrection stories in the Gospel present the disciples and friends of Jesus, the crucified one seeking him at the tomb, among the dead. They do not find him there. Nor would they find him in any place that represents domination, death, violence, greed, oppression and bondage. They would find him in the places of life and light, liberation and peace. This is where the risen one is to be found.
The resurrection sends Jesus back into the world. His resurrection proclaims that there is life after death, there is hope and promise and that the power of evil, oppression and bondage is broken. The world and humanity are given new life.
Our faith tell us that like the risen Jesus, we too are sent back into the world and that we bring the risen one with us. We carry Jesus into our world of families and friends, of commerce, economics and politics. We carry him into the places of oppression, bondage and poverty, of violence and suffering and yes, even into pandemics. As Jesus, we carry the resurrection and its hope. We bring what the risen one brings – PEACE. This is the Good News. We believe in the possibility of new life for all.
The spiritual writer, Carlo Carretto in Blessed Are You Who Believed describes the presence and power of the risen Jesus that we welcome into our lives and that we bear into our world. It is lived faith for us.
When you forgive your enemy
When you feed the hungry
When you defend the weak you believe in the resurrection.
When you have the courage to marry
When you welcome a new-born child
When you make a home together you believe in the resurrection.
When you wake at peace in the morning
When you sing to the rising sun
When you go to work with joy you believe in the resurrection.
The risen life of Jesus takes flesh and comes alive in us. Alleluia!
posted March 27, 2021
This Sunday we enter what we call Holy Week, that sacred season from Passion Sunday to Easter. As we bless the palms and listen to the Passion story once more, we begin a pilgrimage in solidarity with our world. It is a journey of faith which calls us to reflect on the suffering and death of Jesus. Ultimately our trek will take us to Easter and the resurrection of Jesus. From darkness to light.
Our pilgrimage unfolds on three levels. We take this pilgrimage personally, looking inward at our own life. Each of us has our experiences of pain, suffering and encounters with evil. We also embark on this pilgrimage communally, for we journey with the whole Christian community. It too, is often broken and suffering, struggling with the shortcomings and flaws within us.
Beyond this, our journey is also one we share with all of humanity, and the whole of creation. We witness the face of evil and pain and suffering with all the peoples and nations of our world. In every place and every age, this has been our global reality. So often, we are a world of darkness - inequalities, injustice, war, threats of climate change and the dread of a pandemic. We are so often less than we can be or even want to be.
In this season of Holy Week – Easter we are called to reflection, prayer and a movement of heart, mind and action through the experience of evil and death, to new and transformed life. It is season of hope and promise, a pilgrimage through death to new life, from darkness to light.
Our journey begins at a high point with acclamation and celebration, as we hear the story of Jesus` entry into Jerusalem to the cheers and accolades of the crowd (Mark 11:1-10). We end our pilgrimage on another high point - the resurrection of Jesus with Easter, from darkness to light.
As we journey from one high point to the next, however, we must descend into the valley, the darkness of challenge, of struggle, of suffering, of pain, evil. It is a valley where we journey with Jesus through his passion and ultimately his death. This is a valley of darkness. Our human experience reveals it as something we all face in life. We encounter it in ourselves and we encounter it in our world.
Evil poses questions that have challenged reason and religious faith down through the centuries. Despite all efforts to ``explain`` it, evil defies rational explanation. No one has identified the ultimate cause of evil. The principal religious traditions of the world: Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism, Christianity and Islam, have all noted the existence of evil. But why do we face it? Where does it come from?
Religious traditions can identify no ultimate cause, but they do aid us with the challenge. What helps us is how these traditions present the divine. Christianity, Judaism and Islam all present us with an image of God who is above all else, compassionate. We may not know why there is evil, but our Christian faith does offer us a response to it. It is the response of Jesus – to be compassionate as our God is compassionate.
In other words, the challenge of evil is not addressed by discovering who caused it or why we face it. It is addressed by how we respond – by compassion and care, for one another and for our world. This is a week of moving from darkness to light, death to new life. Jesus embodies God’s compassionate love for all humanity.
posted March 20, 2021
What we believe, our faith expresses who we are. It is, in so many ways, written on our hearts. This is what we hear from the prophet Jeremiah (Jer.31:31-34): I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God and they shall be my people. God loves us, all of us, all the time. God believes in us, trusts us. Can we believe in one another? What follows is an expression of belief, a creed from our Catholic sisters and brothers in far off Indonesia.
A Creed from Indonesia (abridged)
We believe in God, Creator of us all, who has given the earth to all people.
We believe in Jesus Christ, who came to encourage us and to heal us, to deliver us from oppression,
to proclaim the peace of God to all humanity.
Christ has given himself to our world, it is amongst all people that the Lord lives – the living God.
We believe in the Spirit of God, who works in every woman, man and child of good will.
We believe in the Church, given as a beacon for all nations, moved by the Spirit to serve all people.
We believe that God shares with us the power and responsibility for the destruction of sin in all of us and that all people will share in God’s everlasting life.
We dare to believe, always and everywhere, in a new humanity, in God’s own dream of a new heaven and a new earth where justice and peace will flourish. Amen.
In his recent encyclical, “Fratelli tutti” (“Sisters and Brothers All”) Pope Francis proclaimed the oneness of all humanity and the solidarity which binds together. He described it this way: “Solidarity means much more than engaging in sporadic acts of generosity. It means thinking and acting in terms of community. It means that the lives of all are prior to the appropriation of good by a few.” It is expressed in service… “[Which] always looks to their faces, touches their flesh, senses their closeness and even in some cases, ‘suffers’” (115)
On this day and all days, may we stand in solidarity with all of our sisters and brother around the world. No matter their creed, colour, culture or circumstances, we hold them in our hearts.
posted March 13, 2021
“Wash your hands.” How many times have we heard our mothers saying this? It seems it takes a long time for things to sink in for us. Now, in the midst of a pandemic, this advice appears to be coming home to us. Over the past year, we have heard it often and we might have noticed that even though Covid-19 continues among us, we have had fewer colds and less of the standard flu. Although it took a long time for us to accept this, I guess Mom was right.
“God loves us unconditionally.” This appears to be hard for us to accept, but it is in fact one of the central pieces of our Christian faith. Right from the beginning it has been expressed in many prophet voices and in a variety of ways, but it has not fully sunk in.
In the ancient town of Ephesus), a committed Christian of the 1st century expressed this belief eloquently in the Letter to the Ephesians as part of a summary of Christian faith. The writer declared: “God who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ – for it is by grace that you have been saved.” (Eph.2;4-10) It might help for us to know that “grace” refers to a share in God’s divine life, and that it is a free gift of God. We do not earn or win it. God gives it freely to all.
The same message comes to us in John’s Gospel. Jesus encounters a Pharisee who is marked by both his faith and his questions – a true seeker. In so many ways Nicodemus is us, for true faith involves constant seeking to delve deeper. Faith seeks understanding.
In the conversation with Nicodemus reveals a Jesus assists him in his seeking. The centerpiece of Jesus’s response is the consoling wonder of God’s great, unconditional love for us all: “For God so loved the world that he gave us his only-begotten Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world, to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” (John 3:16-17)
Christians down through the ages have encountered this loving God in their daily lives. The Trappist monk and spiritual writer, Thomas Merton (1915-68) recalled his own experience.
Standing on a busy street corner in Louisville, Kentucky, in the midst of a crowd, he looked around and realized he loved all of them and that they loved him. He recounted this as a vision of God’s love reflected in each and every person: “It was as if I suddenly saw the secret beauty of their hearts, the depths of their hearts where neither sin nor desire nor self-knowledge can reach, the core of their reality, the person that each one is in God’s eyes.” (Thomas Merton, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander 1966)
Pope Francis often expresses this vision of God, calling us to reflect it throughout the world. It is our mission as disciples to do so. Moved by the example of St Francis of Assisi, he shared it in his recent encyclical letter: “[St. Francis] calls for a love that transcends the barriers of geography and distance…. Let us dream, then, as a single human family, as fellow travelers sharing the same flesh, as children of the same earth which is our common home, each of us bringing the richness of his or her beliefs and convictions, each of us with his or her own voice, brother and sisters all.” (“Fratelli tutti” 2020, 1,8)
“Wash your hands” and “God loves us unconditionally” – tough to accept, but wisdom that is significant for us. From Jesus and his disciples to Pope Francis in our own day the message of God’s constant love has been the foundation of our Christian faith. It is a blessing of hope for us all and call for us to share in peace with all we encounter – truly, GOOD NEWS for our world.
posted March 7, 2021
John’s Gospel tells a story of Jesus visiting the Temple in Jerusalem (John 2:13-25). The Gospel relates the story as a lead into seeing our relationship with God in a new light. In Israel, the Temple was the sign and symbol of God’s presence in their midst. As Jesus speaks to the people in the Temple, he redirects their attention from the physical building to himself, as the Temple.
The Gospel account points out that this all came to make sense to the disciples after the Resurrection. Jesus then, becomes the sign of God’s loving presence among us. He represents a new way of seeing our relationship with God. God’s care and love is not dependent on what we offer to God. It is not affected by sacrifices we might present. It is not the result of bargaining with God. Our relationship with God is a free and unconditional gift from God. We do not have to earn or win God’s love and we cannot lose it. It is always there for us. This is a remarkable discovery, a great surprise.
Even in the Old Testament, this is the relationship between God and God’s People, Israel. It was not always apparent to this People, but it was there nonetheless. Israel saw itself in a covenant relationship. God called them as a people to be God’s own. They in return lived according to the law and in doing so, they had a fuller, happier life as special to God and caring for each other.
The relationship we see in the Old Testament appears to be one in which, like all covenants or alliances, each side promised something to the other in exchange for their bond with each other. That is, they appear to be bargaining. But can this happen between two very unequal parties? In this case, the relationship between God and Israel is indeed unequal – between the divine and the human.
The covenant of the Old Testament is in fact unusual. The relationship results from the free gift of God’s love to this People. Over the course of the Old Testament, we learn of this quality of free gift again and again. No matter how many times Israel drifted from God, God continued to reach out in love for them. They could not live this love, nor could they lose it.
The great expression of God’s love comes in the New Testament, with Jesus. Jesus proclaims it a little further on in John’s Gospel as describes Jesus in conversation with a Pharisee named Nicodemus. He says to Nicodemus: “God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son,…” (John 3:16).
The piece we hear today in the Gospel reading comes earlier in the Gospel, but it presents that same core element of our faith. Jesus is the sign of God’s loving presence for us, the new Temple. Our relationship is not based on our doing something for God. It is not dependent on sacrifice or offering. It is not affected by how we keep rules or commands. It is not the result of some arrangement arrived at by bargaining with God. It is in fact a free gift of God’s unconditional love, a love we do not win, and we cannot lose. Our covenant is a gift, a gift we are called to give away to other.
Q/ How might accepting that God loves me unconditionally, affect the way I live?
posted February 27, 2021
Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. There he was transfigured before them....
On the vigil of the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi (3 Oct 2020), Pope Francis published the encyclical “Fratelli tutti” (Brothers and Sisters All). It is a simple, straight forward presentation of the vision of St. Francis, but also of the overall vision of Pope Francis. It is the dream of God expressed at the outset of the Old Testament, in the poetic account of creation: “God saw all that had been made, and indeed it was very good.” (Gen.1:31). It is also the vision related at the end of the final book of our Scriptures, the Book of Revelation: “I saw a new heaven and a new earth;… ‘See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them as their God, they will be God’s people’” (Rev.21:1-3).
The whole message and mission of Jesus words and works is the expression of this vision. Francis of Assisi lived and expressed in the 13th century. The early Christian communities sensed it in their faith in Jesus as the incarnation of God among them. The vision is one of hope, in God’s transforming love for all humanity and all of creation.
Every year on the Second Sunday of Lent we listen to the story of the transfiguration. This year we hear the account as told by the Gospel writer Mark (Mk 9:2-10). Transfiguration is not a common word for us, but it does describe something that is quite often part of our experience. Transfiguration expresses change, transformation. It leads us to see things differently. On that “high mountain apart, by themselves” those three disciples saw Jesus differently. They had a glimpse of who Jesus is.
It is a story of vision in several ways. Peter and James and John have a vision. They glimpse Jesus in radiant light, expressing the presence of God in their midst. He is accompanied by the prophet Elijah and by Moses who led God’s People into covenant with God and brought them from slavery to liberation. These were the twin pillars of the faith of Israel in God – the law and the prophets. The vision of Peter, James and John now brought them to see this faith fulfilled in Jesus.
The transfiguration is not only about Jesus. The vision is also about the disciples and their mission. And it is about us, about how we live and how we stand in hope. It is about our own transformation and becoming. Whether we realize it or not, following in the steps of Jesus and blessed with the Spirit, we are meant to transfigure the earth, all creation. Ours is a call to bring hope to all peoples, to bring life out of suffering and death, liberation out of bondage and injustice, healing out of division and hurt. Such is a world transformed, transfigured.
Pope Francis sees this as the common dream of all humanity. He expresses it this way: “How important it is to dream together… By ourselves, we risk seeing mirages, things that are not there. Dreams, on the other hand, are built together. Let us dream then, as a single human family, as fellow travelers sharing the same flesh, as children of the same earth which is our common home, each of us bringing the richness of [our] beliefs and convictions, each of us with [our] own voice, brothers and sisters all. (“Fratelli tutti” 8)
This Lent, what can I do to build this shared dream in little ways?
posted February 21, 2021
Several years ago, a couple of my friends embarked on the pilgrimage walk from southern France, over the Pyrenees to Santiago de Compostela on the west coast of Spain. They were on a 30-day journey over almost 800 kms of hills and valleys. They encountered many people, fellow pilgrims as well as local folk, and passed through some beautiful countryside and striking scenery. Not surprisingly, they had many experiences and faced some challenges.
Each day they created a blog that they shared with us back here at home. As they did so it became apparent that the Camino was a journey of discovery. It also became clear that the experience was leaving an impact on them. As they began their pilgrimage, the blog said much about the countryside through which they were passing. After about a week, the blog began a gradual turn in its focus. The countryside was still there. But one began to sense how they felt about what they were doing and how they were affected by the trek.
When I was young, Lent was about what I was going to give up – candy, movies. Later it took on something like the New Years resolution – what can I do to become better at something. Certainly, that is an improvement. But perhaps there is more.
Our observance of Lent has its origins in the early Christian church and is associated with the sacraments of Initiation, Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist. These sacraments of welcome generally would take place at Easter. From the earliest of times, Christians developed a process for welcoming new members into the community. When the person was ready to ask for baptism at Easter, there was a final short, more intense period of prayer, fasting and good works. This was Lent – a time of transformation, a conversion.
A scriptural image of this period of intense prayer and fasting and discovery of mission is found in the Gospels. We see it in the desert experience of Jesus. Mark’s version of this is brief (1:12-15). After his baptism, Jesus ventured into the desert. There, he searched for where the Spirit was leading him. He struggled with temptations. In that desert, Jesus found his call as well as his mission. Filled with the Spirit, he came out of the desert proclaiming the Good News of the Kingdom.
Lent every year is our desert experience, a time to rediscover our connection with our loving parent God. In the desert of Lent we step back and look at where we are in our journey, our personal Camino. We have been baptized into Christ. What does this really mean for us? How does being a member of this community of Christians affect who we are and how we see others?
In a recent blog, Dr. Michael Higgins quoted an author, Brian Doyle. Just before he died, in 2017, Doyle reflected on his life, especially his core relationships and his Catholic faith in “A Prayer for You and Yours”. Of that faith he says: “I saw for the first time in my life that there were two Catholic Churches, one a noun and the other a verb, one a corporation and the other a wild idea held in the hearts of millions of people who are utterly uninterested in authority and power and rules and regulations, and very interested indeed in finding ways to walk through the bruises of life with grace and humility.” (Quoted by Michael Higgins, President of Corpus Christi-St. Marks at UBC. “Pontifex Minimus Blog: Presidential Reflections on the Catholic Intellectual Tradition”, 12 Feb 2021)
posted February 13, 2021
Isolation is hard. In the midst of the pandemic it has been one of the most difficult challenges. The separation from family and friends, the long periods of being alone, the lack of real and full social contact with one another takes it toll on everyone. It is a necessary step for the common good, but remains a high price to pay. We all long for the time we can fully rejoin one another in all our communities.
Difficult as it is, we isolate in order to protect each other from the virus. We all do it for the common good of our communities and our world. In the case of our current circumstance, everyone is experiencing the exclusion and isolation. But what if we were the only one excluded? The Gospel writer Mark relates a story of how Jesus responds to a person in this condition, someone who is treated as an outsider or an “outcast”. The person is a leper (Mark 1:40-45).
The image of being treated as a leper often means being rejected or excluded. The Old Testament passage from the Book of Leviticus describes the fate of such lepers in the community (Lev.13:1-2, 45-46). The leper was regarded as a threat, for their disease could infect the community. The response was to drive them out, exclude them from contact with others. What was that like?
Such a person was condemned to isolation, cut off from family, from neighbours, from friends. They were doomed to live “outside the camp” by themselves. Only when their disease no longer affected them could they return to be with the community. Hence the need to prove they no longer had the disease. In Israel, the physical disease of the leper also gave rise to a ritual uncleanness. To return to the community required a certification from the priests in the Temple, that they had been healed.
In Mark’s Gospel, Jesus encounters a leper facing such exclusion. The leper asks for healing. Jesus responds with compassion. He reaches out and touches the leper. It is a significant action on Jesus’ part. He crosses the boundary of exclusion, both the physical barrier and the ritual one. To do so was a risk, for crossing these barrier places Jesus in danger of physical contamination and also ritual uncleanness.
We encounter many “outsiders” in our lifetime. Sometimes we may even be “outsiders” ourselves. Perhaps our “outsiders” are those facing burdens – poverty, unemployment, life struggles, addictions of any kind. The “outsiders” may be those who have lost a spouse, those who are of a different race, religion or ethnic group. The “outsider” may be the stranger in our midst, the new person in the neighbourhood or parish. The “outsider” may be the one who is bullied in school, the one who is “different” in whatever way from others. Are we able to reach out with healing inclusion as Jesus did with his touch?
The isolation we all feel in the midst of the corona virus pandemic, is the daily experience of many outcasts among us. The virus will eventually pass, and with it, the isolation that is our response. But among us there are many whose life situation excludes them, without a virus.
To live in the Reign of God is to live where all are included. No one in the Reign of God lives “outside the camp”. As disciples of Jesus, are we able to cross the barriers to all outsiders? Can we build our communities to mirror the open inclusiveness of the God’s reign, where all are welcome?
posted February 5, 2021
The island of Grand Manan NB is situated out in the Bay of Fundy, about 50 kilometers from Black’s Harbour on the mainland. A few years ago, with a small group of friends, we embarked on a cycling tour of the island. On one particular day, we decided to head across the island to Dark Harbour. The final section of the route took us up the Dark Harbour Rd from the east coast to the west of the island, a distance of about 6 kilometers. We really did not know what we were in for.
Turning onto the Dark Harbour Rd, we started up a steep grade. It was not long before we could see the top, and we ground onward. As we came over the top, we realized that there was another long, steep grade. After a brief pause, we laboured onward, pedaling hard. The top was in sight. Or was it? No, after about a kilometer of hard pedaling, we were greeted by, another hill. Pausing, then onward and upward we went. There were two more tops and two more grades before, exhausted and somewhat discouraged we finally reached the end of this grueling climb. Dark Harbour and the coast lay beneath us.
Life often seems to be like this. We think we have reached our goal, and yet discover there is a further challenge, and another, and another. Our current experience of the Covid pandemic encapsulates this challenge upon challenge. The virus is there, we isolate and then move on, to discover it is back. We hear of vaccines and the promise of a defense from the virus. The supply is inadequate or the distribution is so complex or we are told, the virus is mutating. There seems always, another hill to climb.
The Gospels present this as the experience of Jesus (e.g. Mk.1:29-39). His life and ministry is aimed at revealing the Kingdom of God is near and among us. We hear it in what he says and we see it in what he does. He teaches the message of love and life and he shows it again and again through his compassion and readiness to reach out with healing and reconciling – building peace among those he encounters. The mission of Jesus, does not reject the changing world around him. It is an outreach to this world.
What we discover in the Gospels is indeed that Jesus proclaimed in word and in action that the Kingdom is near, among and around us. But it is not complete and fulfilled, for the Kingdom is all about our relationship with God. Like all relationships, it remains ever unfinished. Or put another way, the Kingdom has such potential that it is forever changing and growing. It can always be more.
Disciples are about the continued building of the reign of God in creation, in humanity and in each of us. Such a call requires patient effort. Mark reveals this for Jesus as he journeys with the message and is called upon for more healing, more reconciliation, more liberating. Like all relationships, there will always be more - another challenge, another need, another hill to climb. It is no different for the disciple of Jesus, for we live and work and build the Kingdom, where we are, in a changing world, and there are certainly many hills.
posted January 30, 2021
One of the striking features of rural Ireland is the network of drystone walls that snake up and down the hillsides and valleys. These walls create a patchwork of green and grey over the landscape. The walls serve to divide the field’s one from another. As well, they make good use of the many stones found when clearing the fields. They are practical.
Walls serve many purposes. They protect. They set limits. They provide safety. They hold together. But fundamentally, all walls divide. They all have two sides, in and out. They may be practical, but they so often are an expression of fear and a desire to protect ourselves and our space.
Mark, in his Gospel (Mark 1:21-28), describes Jesus coming into a synagogue (sacred space) on a Sabbath day (a sacred time). While teaching in this place, he encounters a man with an unclean spirit. In Israel such a person was ritually unclean and thus to be avoided. A person was deemed to be holy to the degree they kept away from the unholy, the unclean. Sometimes this was certain foods, certain actions or on occasion, certain people. The man possessed of an unclean spirit was one of these last.
The ritual avoidance of the “unclean” manifests a fear. It could be of a physical threat or one that stems from a spiritual danger. It creates a wall between persons or things. Seeing the man with the unclean spirit places him on the other side from those he encounters. He is seen as a threat.
Jesus knows of this demand for avoidance. He does not allow himself to be bound. Rather he crosses the boundary for the sake of the Kingdom of God. Jesus recognizes that, far from being limited by the ritual purity law his mission is go through the walls to bring life and release to those in need. In doing so, he brings the Kingdom near, with its liberation and its healing.
We live in a world of walls, some useful, but many hurtful and divisive. Often these walls reduce our humanity. They narrow our vision. They make us less than we have the possibility of being. The Kingdom that Jesus proclaims by his words and actions calls us to become the humanity of God’s dream.
Our experience of Covid 19 is one of those moments when we face choices for the Kingdom, choices that can bring life and liberation to ourselves and for our world.
Globally, the good news has been that in less than a year, we have seen the development of vaccines. Now the challenge is to distribute them as broadly as possible.
Pope Francis, in his recent encyclical commented on the promise that has emerged with the pandemic. Like many, both globally and locally, he has seen a sense of “we are in this together”. What we all might have seen is that we have discovered that we cannot address such a global or personal challenge on our own, we need one another. As Francis puts it: Amid this storm, [we begin to gain a] blessed awareness that we are part of one another, that we are brothers and sisters of one another. (Pope Francis. FRATELLI TUTTI, 2020)
This sense of breaking down the walls that divide us and the openness to being one family, one human community, globally and locally, is fragile. It is easy for self-interest and separation to impede its continuance of growth. The walls can so easily be rebuilt.
At the end of his encyclical, Pope Francis offers this prayer for us all:
May our hearts be open to all the peoples and nations of the earth. May we recognize the goodness and beauty that you have sown in each of us, and thus forge bonds of unity, common projects, and shared dreams. Amen.
posted January 23, 2021
Ron Rolheiser begins his book Against an Infinite Horizon: The Finger of God in Our Everyday Lives (Rolheiser, 1995) with the words of theologian Karl Rahner: “In the torment of the insufficiency of everything attainable we come to understand that here, in this life, all symphonies remain unfinished.” Rolheiser goes on to point out that there is a horizon before us that we can never reach in our earthly journey. But there is an attraction or a taste of it that reveals the “finger of God” touching us, accompanying us along the way.
Spiritual writers, poets, creative artists and others have often helped us to recognize that no dream or goal we might set will totally and finally satisfy us. There will always be something beyond or “more” that we seek. We are by nature “seekers”. To be human is to be incomplete in this life. But, at same time, we live in hope and journey in faith that God touches us and will ultimately bring this life to fulfillment.
One of the great themes of western literature (as well as others) is the “Quest”. Some 800 years ago this appeared in literature as the Quest for the Grail. Based on the legends of King Arthur and his Knights, it told the story of the search for the cup used by Christ at the Last Supper. In more recent times the theme has reappeared and can be seen again in J.R.R. Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings” as well as in the “Star Wars” story, among others.
As the stories unfold we see all the elements of our human search for meaning in our lives, our fulfillment. It begins with a dream, a goal. We hear the call to embark on a journey or a quest. In accepting the call there was a commitment to seek. In seeking there will be challenges, but there is also accompaniment. The seeker encounters others, a community that assist in the quest. Ultimately, there is attainment, fulfillment.
In its Christian origins the “Quest” is directed toward our seeking for spiritual union with God, God’s touch and our fulfillment. It is a conversion story of gradual becoming aware of God’s loving presence in all life, all creation and not least in those around us.
In Mark’s Gospel (1:14-20) Jesus, after his baptism in the Jordan, is led by the Spirit to the wilderness. Coming out, he begins to call disciples to follow and share his mission. As Mark tell us: “Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God has come near; repent and believe in the good news.” This repenting or turning around was/is the disciple’s call to conversion. Its further story is setting out on the “Quest” to discover the touch of God in all they encounter and to share this good news.
Jesus’ proclamation that the reign of God is close at hand grows out of the way of seeing God as present in our life story and in all of creation. As Jesus begins his ministry he announces that God’s reign is near. He will reveal it in his actions of healing, reconciling and bringing people together in peace. It will be this completed, fulfilled reign of God that will bring peace and harmony to humanity and healing and wholeness to creation. It is the ultimate goal of the human quest for fulfillment.
The Irish theologian Dermot Lane expresses it this way: The reign of God is ultimately about re-establishing right relationships between God and humanity, between humanity and the individual, between humanity and the whole of creation. (Lane. Christ at the Centre 21)
By John Smith posted July 20, 2016
“Where did you first meet?” This is a good question for a couple planning their marriage. It might have been on a blind date or in a pub or in school or university. More recently, it may have been online. No matter how, such a decision begins with a quest – for a friendship or relationship. The quest is filled with questions, and the questions gradually bring discovery.
Life is full of quests, children play “hide and seek”, we read or watch mysteries, we wonder how or why things happen in the way they do. All learning involves questions. And even when we settle on an answer to a question, we discover something that leads to more questions. This is especially true of our relationships and particularly our closest ones. No matter how close the relationship, we can never know another person fully. There will always be more to discover. This is actually the great blessing of all good friendships. They are living, dynamic and if healthy, they are continually growing. As they do, they are life-giving to us.
This is true of our faith as well. Christian faith is, in fact a relationship with God and with the Jesus who brings us to God. We can see this in the Gospel of John (John 1:35-42). The story relates how the first disciples came to meet Jesus. John the Baptist points out Jesus to several of his own followers. They are curious and begin to follow Jesus. When Jesus sees them, he asks them what they are seeking. They ask a simple question: “Where are you staying?” In response, Jesus answers: “Come and see”.
This amazing little account is the story of us all as disciples. Some how we are placed in an encounter with Jesus. For most of us, it is the result of birth, our parents were Catholic Christians and they set us on this journey of faith. For others, the encounter is the result of many life experiences and the people whom they met over time. Not matter what, the initial encounter over the years will bring many questions and they involve a willingness to “Come and see.” A real and mature faith is constantly growing. It is alive and is life-giving to us. Like those first disciples, ours is a call to ask our questions, seek the meaning of Jesus’s message and mission, and ultimately take on the mission to share Good News with other and our world.
Our baptism, like that of Jesus is more than an isolated event or moment in our lives. It is the beginning of a life-long journey in which we discover the whole meaning of our lives. If it is to accomplish this, it calls for a commitment to live the message that Jesus gave us. He becomes both our brother and our mentor, our leader and our companion along the way. Perhaps most wonderfully, we have received a call to live with love and compassion for all. We do so, in a community of disciples, fellow believers whose aim is to bring peace and justice to the world in which we live.
Who are some of those who invited me to “come and see”. Who might have been invited by me?
posted January 9, 2021
Covid-19, for all its challenges has taught us some lessons. These lessons will hopefully guide us in the days and years ahead. One of these lessons was how much we are dependent on one another to address our challenges. Some 400 years ago, the English poet, John Donne expressed this poetically:
No man is an island entire of itself; every man
is a piece of the continent, a part of the main;
if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe
is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as
well as any manner of thy friends or of thine
own were; any man's death diminishes me,
because I am involved in mankind.
(John Donne, 1572-1631)
Covid-19 has taught us that we are “in this together”. The challenges we face can only be addressed if we are together in our response. We isolate, we self-distance, we wear masks not to protect ourselves, but those around us. The vaccines that have brought us promise that the pandemic will someday end have come from a global effort and the result has been vaccines rolling out faster than any previous experience of them.
I don’t think I realized it at the time, but my mother did. She was right when she offered a constant lesson: “Wash your hands”. Looking back, I am sure we thought it was to protect ourselves from viruses, bacteria and germs. Only now am I beginning to think she said that not just so I would not get sick, but because I could possibly convey the sickness to the rest of our family. She was right, we truly are, “in this together”, none of us “is an island entire of itself”.
All four of our Gospels see Jesus beginning his public ministry, his mission with his baptism by John at the Jordan. What John the Baptist was doing was common ritual of Judaism. It was a cleansing from sin. The Gospel accounts, however reveal, a new dimension is added to this ritual. As Jesus came up from the river, the Spirit descended upon him and he received his mission – to proclaim the Good News of God’s reign. What had been of rite of cleansing from sin, become for the disciples of Jesus and acknowledgement that the Spirit is among us and that we share the mission of Jesus – proclaiming and building God’s reign among us and around us.
If baptism were understood as only a cleansing rite, then this would be the end of it. But in our Catholic tradition, baptism marks not an ending or fulfillment, but a beginning. For Jesus, it was only a beginning. He surrounded himself with a host of disciples. He spoke beyond that circle to the crowds, to the world. He had Good News that needed to be shared with everyone. It was the beginning of his mission. And our baptism is the beginning of a mission for us as well.
Our baptism is often referred to as a sacrament of initiation, a door into a community of faith. That initiation or entry comes with a share of the mission of Jesus. We are disciples who are continually learning what we are about and we are missionaries who cannot but share this good news to others and to our world. We are in this together, a community of faith.
Who nurtures my faith? Whose faith do I nurture?
posted January 2, 2021
Arise, shine, for your light has come,
and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you!
For darkness shall cover the earth,
and thick darkness the peoples
but our God will arise upon you
and the light of our God will appear over you. (Is. 60:1-2)
Covid-19, and the dark challenges and disappointments that touch our lives have been part of the whole Christmas season in this year. As we close the season with the Epiphany story there is a reminder that in midst of it all, there is always hope, and darkness does give way to light. This feast day is all about light and the broadening our horizons. Our readings on this Sunday begin with this piece from Isaiah with his impassioned call to all to see the light of God shine forth for all the peoples of the earth. The readings continue through Paul writing to a little community of Christians in Ephesus (Eph.3:2-6). He tells them that the good news of God’s saving love is not limited to the Israelites but rather, shared with all of humankind and its saving light shines on all. Finally, we hear the story of Matthew which tells of the wise men from the east searching for the wonder which they find in the birth of Jesus (Matt.2:1-12). By following the light of a star, they come to discover this wondrous event for all the world.
The birth of Jesus, Son of God and son of Mary is for all humanity, in all times. It may have taken place in little and distant Bethlehem and at a time long ago. It may have resulted in the growth of disciples who have come to be called Christians. But it was not limited to Bethlehem. Nor was it confined to that moment some 2000 years ago. Nor did it have import only for Christians down through the ages.
This feast day, with its story and its image of light calls us to recognize that what we have been given as good news of God’s love is for all times, and all places and all peoples. We, as disciples are called to share this good news with an openness and love which embraces all creation and all humanity.
In God’s Kingdom, there is a place for all. One of the wonders and expressions of Good News in the midst of our pandemic is the recognition that we are “in this together” – from our local community to our global community. The light and hope shines on all. We see it shining in the willingness to wear masks for the sake of others and we can note it also in the cooperative world-wide search for and development of vaccines. From the prophet’s cry to see the light arise among us to magi’s quest to follow the star, darkness is being dispelled by light. Such light reveals a universal spirit of God’s love released upon the earth with the incarnation of Jesus the Christ among us. May we be light and love for one another..
posted December 20, 2020
I will sing of your steadfast love, O Lord forever;
I will proclaim your faithfulness to all generations.
How ready, how able am I to bless the Lord God, at all times? Am I able to stand in wonder and awe at the immense love of our God for humanity and all creation? Am I ready to recognize Christmas as a celebration this great love.
Wonder makes everything new. It is the gift of every small child. Watch the eyes of the little ones. Their world is ever new. It is a world of discovery at every moment, in all they encounter. To them, nothing is ordinary or familiar.
Young couples manifest the same. A wedding, for all the busyness and the trappings that surround it, is essentially about a loving couple. They may be nervous, they may be excited, but as they look into each other’s eyes and express their love, nothing else matters. They stand in wonder and awe of each other.
They have embarked on a journey of discovery, standing in a world of wonder with each other. Moved by their love, the awe in which they hold each other causes them to glory in their companionship.
As we move into the Christmas season our gaze turns to Mary (Luke 1:26-38). Her encounter with the Angel Gabriel leaves her in wonder and awe. Everything is new. Nothing can be ordinary or familiar for her. She is now the servant of the Lord as she brings God’s dream to fulfillment in the world. Can we have the spirit of the little child, the sense of discovery of the young lovers, the awe of Mary?
The God of our faith is an awesome God, not because of power, nor of immensity. Our wonder comes from the reality that God has come to us where we are – in what we so often take for granted, God’s love for us all. God touches us in what we see as so familiar and ordinary. We stand in awe of our God who has such love.
Ilia Delio, a Franciscan nun, theologian and scientist expresses how our God is so awesome and why celebrating Christmas is so significant for us: We can read the history of our 13.7-billion-year-old universe as the rising up of Divine Love incarnate, which bursts forth in the person of Jesus, who reveals love’s urge toward wholeness through reconciliation, mercy, peace, and forgiveness. Jesus is the love of God incarnate…. Christian life is a commitment to love, to give birth to God in one’s own life and to become midwives of divinity in this evolving cosmos. We are to be wholemakers (unity builders) of love in a world of change. (Quoted by Richard Rohr, Online Reflection 7 Dec 20)
Somewhere in the midst of the ordinary and familiar of our lives we discover this great gift of awe and wonder. This is what we celebrate in Christmas – Emmanuel, God is with us.
posted December 12, 20206
December… heading into winter. In a few days we will experience the shortest, darkest day of our year. It comes as we find ourselves still facing a Covid-19 pandemic. Darkness and cold, isolation and restrictions, it is a harsh reality.
In the midst of the darkness there is light, there is hope. From our darkest day, our days will slowly begin to lengthen, light will triumph over darkness. News of vaccines has brought light and hope that there is an end to the pandemic. Slowly the darkness will end.
The 3rd Sunday of Advent has traditionally been referred to as “Gaudete Sunday” it issues a call to rejoice, for light and life will prevail. Advent leads to Christmas and the promise of God’s deep love and willingness to stand among us always, in the person of Jesus, the Christ. There is a wonderful English Christmas carol that captures this advent of light in the darkness and hope over despair:
In the bleak mid-winter, Frosty wind made moan;
Earth stood hard as iron, Water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow;
In the bleak mid-winter, long ago.
Our God, heaven cannot hold Him, nor earth sustain,…
In the bleak mid-winter, a stable-place sufficed,
The Lord God Almighty – Jesus Christ.
Words by Christina Rossetti; Music by Gustav Holst)
John`s Gospel (John 1:6-8, 19-28) tells us of John the Baptist and we are told: He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. John the Baptist is our model. We are witnesses for others, called to nurture the faith and hope of our generation and of the next. In the “bleak mid-winter”, ours it is to bring light and hope, support and love to one another and our world.
In the midst of the darkness that sometimes envelops our lives and the challenges we and our world face, there is a fundamental truth of our faith. God recognizes the goodness of every human being and gifts us with a love that can never be lost. So it is, that like the Old Testament prophet we are given the Spirit of our God for a purpose. Isaiah expresses it this way:
The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind-up the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners;.... (Is.61:1)
May we be light in the darkness, hope in discouragement and loving compassion for all
posted December 5, 2020
Dr. Michael Higgins is a former President of St. Thomas University. He is now President of Corpus Christi-St. Marks at UBC. In his regular blog, he commented on a recent interview done by CBC and CTV with noted cellist, Rémy Bélanger de Beaufort, who was attacked and badly injured on Halloween night in Quebec City by a man with a sword. Two other persons died of their injuries.
Mr. Bélanger was interviewed in his hospital room. Bandaged and splinted, he was still in recovery. He bore the signs of the multiple fractures and wounds he suffered, including a near severed finger that had been reattached.
Recalling that night, Mr. Bélanger indicated that he held no anger or hatred towards his attacker. He stated, remarkably to the interviewer: “I was in the ambulance and I had already forgiven him. I told myself, ‘why not try to say I love him’, and I realized I did.”
Dr. Higgins commented on Mr. Bélanger’s statement with: “In other words, Christ-like, he moved beyond a facile forgiveness to a place of deep compassion and non-judgement. Astonishing.” In this perhaps, we discover the full meaning of what we hear in Mark’s Gospel as he introduces John the Baptist and his call for repentance. (Mark 1:1-8) More than this, Jesus as he begins his mission is described by Mark as proclaiming the same call: “Repent and believe the good news.” (Mark 1:15)
Often, we direct this call for repentance to forgiveness of our personal sins and faults Frequently, we find ourselves focused on what we perceive as breaches of God’s law or rules and commandments. This might satisfy our desire for clear, straight forward answers, but repentance is much more than this. Repentance is really an ongoing, lifetime of transformation. Often, we refer to it as a conversion of life or a change of heart.
Living faith and the conversion it calls for is all about relationships – with God, with neighbour, with all humanity and creation itself. These relationships are like a network of friendships. In this context, a mature view of sin is the wounding of these relationships, revealed in the ways we fail to pay full attention to their care and their well-being. Sin then, is not about single acts or neglects, but rather about our whole attitude of life that distances us from others and from God. We wound other, creation and God with our neglect and self-centeredness.
Repentance is a whole change of heart, a redirecting of our lives to bring new life to our relationships.
Undertaking conversion or repentance then, is to begin a new life journey. We see this in the way Mark describes this coming of John the Baptist bearing this message. It is no small thing, that the Gospel writer opens his telling of the story with the words: “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, Son of God.” (Mark 1:1) It is not the end, nor even the middle.
For John the Baptist, the call to repentance is only a first step, just as the call of Jesus to “repent and believe the good news” is only to be seen as the initial piece of a life-long discipleship. Transformations and conversions are life-long pilgrimages. They ultimately are processes of becoming. Rémy Bélanger de Beauport has revealed something of the depths of such a call to turn our lives around with a transformation of our heart. It is life-giving beyond ourselves and has the power to create a whole new world – truly good news for all humanity.
posted November 29, 2020
Here we are at the beginning of the Advent-Christmas season again. The word “advent” comes from two Latin words, “ad” and “venio”. When put them together, the meaning is “come to”. In fact, this is where we are always. Our life is a journey that looks back to remembrance of an advent that has already happened, while looking forward to an advent yet to be. Our present is always between our past and our future. We are ever between two advents, two comings.
As a Christian faith community, the First Advent has us looking back to the birth of Jesus the Christ as one of us. This is God coming to share our humanity and our human condition. It is the Incarnation, God sharing our humanity. It is God walking with us in the challenges and accomplishments, the joys and sorrows that we and our world experience. In the Advent-Christmas season we remember and celebrate this First Advent of God among us.
The Second Advent is yet to come. It is the It is the coming of Christ in Glory. With this we have the fullness of redemption. The reign of God proclaimed by Jesus will come to its fulfillment. With it we become the creation we are meant to be. As we enter the Advent-Christmas season this year, we look forward with expectation and hope to this Second Advent, as yet unfulfilled.
Our life unfolds between these two advents, knowing God journeys among us; and we strive to imitate Jesus’ mission – with him as our model and mentor. We strive to bring creation to what is God’s dream for us. In Mark’s Gospel we hear the clarion call of the prophets: “Keep alert, you do not know when the time will come.” (Mark 13:33-37)
Now we wait and we work to fulfill creation to the wonder it is meant to be, marked by love and peace, mercy and compassion. Our expectation, our hopes and our labours are for all humanity and all creation. This was the vision expressed by the spiritual writer and Trappist monk, Thomas Merton (1915-68). In March, 1958 he was on a busy shopping street in Louisville, Kentucky when he had a tremendous insight of love, a mystical experience.
Merton’s experience captured what is God’s dream for all humanity: In Louisville,… in the center of the shopping district, I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all those people, that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers…. I have the immense joy of being [creature, a person] a member of [humanity] in whom God Himself became incarnate.” (Thomas Merton. Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander (1966))
We might say that what Merton describes is a glimpse of what Jesus has called all of us to. When this fully comes about, it is the complete reign of God, “a kingdom of justice, love and peace” for all humanity. This is the Second Advent, God’s dream. For this we wait, in hope and expectation and we live lives united with Jesus to nurture it in our present world and among all peoples, freely and with great openness and love. For we are all God’s creation. The Old Testament prophet Isaiah speaks for us: O Lord, you are our Parent; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hands. (Isaiah 64:8)
posted November 23, 2020
Beginnings and endings are important. The first looks to the future, our goals, our aims our hopes and dreams. The second is about our arrivals, our fulfillment, our completions and results. In between, there is all the effort, the work, the challenges and struggles, the attempts and the failures, the twists and turns of the journey. Life is just such a journey, in fact, a host of journeys. What we may sometimes not be aware of in the picture is the way in which the Spirit journeys with us, from beginning to end.
Ten months ago, in January we entered into a pandemic with Covid-19. Since then, our world has found itself facing uncertainty and threat. Our lives have been changed by the virus and by the measures taken in response to it. As we pass through this experience, we know we are not alone. We journey with the Spirit of God among us, and in company with the whole human community. We are in this together.
There has been hope and promise. A virus vaccine is on the horizon, but still months away and so we wait in expectation that there is light at the end of the tunnel. Meanwhile, together we work to keep each other safe, and use our talents, gifts and abilities to help our world come to that light. We are in this together.
Our sacred stories in the Scriptures present us with the good news of the Kingdom of God, hopeful news, signs of God’s love and constant presence among us. Matthew’s Gospel begins with telling the story of the beginning – God has come among us, taking on our humanity in Jesus, an expression of God’s love (Matt 1:18-23). This is the Incarnation.
Jesus begins his mission with the great challenge to all humanity: He announced: “I call you to a change of heart, for the Kingdom of heaven has come near.” (Matt 4:17). This was the message we heard ten months ago, in January. We were called to recognize we are not alone in our life journey. “Emmanuel”, God is with us. This is the message.
The core message and mission of Jesus, the Christ was to proclaim the Kingdom of God among us. His work among the poor and the suffering, the sick and the sinner was to heal and reconcile. By word and by work, Jesus made God’s Kingdom present. This is Good News, the Gospel.
What is also Good News is that Jesus shared not only his message with his disciples. He also shared his mission. The Reign of God has begun among us. We are Jesus present here and now.
Like Jesus, in word and in action and gifted with his Spirit, we are to make God’s Kingdom present and alive in our world. This is the mission.
What does this world with the Kingdom look like? How are we to recognize and announce this? The Kingdom is not about the power of dominance, greed and control. It is a Kingdom that reflects the Spirit of Jesus, the face of our loving God. Such a Kingdom is marked by care, compassion and tenderness. It seeks peace and solidarity between individuals and across borders. This is the Kingdom.
Our faith is relational. It is built and expressed in how we live with one another, for we are disciples of Jesus, together called to bring the Kingdom to the world, to all humanity. In that fulfilled and completed Kingdom, Jesus the Christ will say: “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did it to me.” (Matt 25:31-40
posted November 15, 2020
November begins with the Feast of All Saints. I have long seen this feast day as consoling and supportive. Saints so often seem to be larger than life. Sometimes they are the “plaster saint”, a model that really does not relate to our human experience. At other times, they seem to represent a spiritual experience that takes them out of this world and far from our experience. Such models appear removed from the call to evangelize or share the Good News with the world given us as Jesus’s disciples.
The story of Christianity over the centuries has exhibited the same tendency to distance ourselves from the broader world in which it has lived. In his most recent encyclical, Fratelli tutti (Oct 2020). Pope Francis has pushed our church into recognizing our call into the world of our experience. It is there that we discover our relationships are touched in their humanness by the loving hand of God. Disciples are called to pass this message on and to there build God’s loving reign.
Several weeks ago, Fr. Richard Rohr in his daily reflection remarked on how Christianity has tended to focus inward over the centuries. “Christianity, in its first two thousand years, has kept its morality mostly private, interior, and heaven-bound, but with very few direct implications for what is now called our collective economic, social and political life.” (Rohr 1 Nov 2020) By doing so, we lose something of the Incarnation, our faith in God’s love living among us, revealed in the person of Jesus. In him, the divine and the human come together. This is the Good News calling us to build God’s reign.
Rohr turns to the words of a Benedictine sister, Joan Chittister to direct our call as disciples of Jesus beyond ourselves to social justice and the common good for all peoples of the earth. Chittister observes: “Everywhere there are people who, despite finding themselves mired in periods of national [disruption] or personal marginalization refuse to give up the thought of a better future or give in to the allurements of a deteriorating present. They never lose hope that the values they learned in the best of times or the courage it takes to reclaim their world from the worst of times are worth the commitment of their lives. These people, the best of ourselves, are legion and they are everywhere.” (Rohr, 2 Nov 2020) Like the servant in Matthew’s Gospel, they use the gifts they receive well. (Matt 25:14-30)
These are our prophets, our saints among us. In 2014, the world two young prophets/saints received the Nobel Peace Prize. Each of them gave up a great deal and have showed remarkable courage in speaking and working for the common good of us all.
Malala Yousfzai is a young Pakistani Muslim teenager who has actively been speaking out for the rights of girls in Pakistan to have an education. Her voice and her courage resulted in her being shot and seriously wounded by the Taliban. She continues to be a voice for this common good and right.
Kailash Satyarthi is an Indian electrical engineer who at age 26 gave up his career and has been working to promote and provide education possibilities for the children of some of the poorest and most disadvantaged in northern India. Kailash is a Hindu.
These are only two such saints for our time. As Chittister pointed out, such prophetic figures are everywhere, even standing among us and urging us to live our discipleship with an outward vision that changes our world. Our call is to share our gifts, courage and energy for others, building God’s reign.
posted November 7, 2020
Walking down the street, I spot a person coming toward me whom I know I have met before. What is their name? Where did I meet them? Did I teach them? Were they in one of the parishes where I have been? Worse – Did I just meet them recently? Searching through the files of my memory, the name does not come to me. This happens to me often. It happens to us all. Meeting someone like this challenges us. We are often not prepared for such encounters.
Our Gospel this weekend (Matt 25:1-13) is about encounters and being prepared. The ten bridesmaids were waiting for the coming of the groom. He was late arriving and when he did come, some were prepared, some were not. Why does Matthew tell this parable of Jesus?
Like all the parables they are told first for the little communities of Christians to whom the Gospel writers belong. These early Christians of the first generation after resurrection, expected Jesus to return in glory soon, even in their lifetime. As time went by, the return was delayed, like the groom’s coming. Some were discouraged by this delay. Matthew’s parable is to urge Christians to wait patiently and be prepared for the encounter when they would meet their risen Lord: “Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”
As it did to Matthew’s community, this parable speaks to us. Like them, we continue to wait in faith and readiness for the Coming of the Lord Jesus in glory. We wait to enter into a sharing in the risen life of Jesus. We wait for the Coming when all creation will be made whole and the God’s Kingdom will be fulfilled. And we know “neither the day nor the hour.”
We also wait and prepare for our own daily encounters with Jesus. Every day, we meet Jesus personally in the challenges and experiences of our lives. Jesus comes to us in the persons we meet, in the needs of others and the joys of companionship with one another. Jesus comes to us in the wonder of all Creation and in our care and delight with this Creation. We cannot predict when these encounters will come. Nor can we foresee how these meetings with Jesus will take place. But all of these daily encounters with Jesus call forth responses of love and respect, care and compassion.
In the present experience of the corona virus, we recognize how difficult it is to wait. In the midst of our isolation and distancing, in the dislocation of our mask-wearing, we wait for a vaccine. There is no telling when we will have such a vaccine. But when it comes, we must be ready to receive it. Only then can we relax our current situation. We long for it, we wait for it, we are impatient for it.
Our life experience at this moment in time offers us some special opportunities to wait for encounters with Jesus in very practical ways. We wear our masks and social distance not for our own sake, but for the sake of those around us. Our concern for the all people of our world and our nation is a chance to reflect the face of Jesus beyond our own circle. Our readiness as communities to support our public health leadership and those who advise us from the World Health Organization is a response that expresses the global compassion of our loving God for all. How aware, ready and responsive are we when our loving God reaches out to us in the daily experiences of our lives? Are we ready?
Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.
posted October 31, 2020
In the midst of a pandemic, faced with challenges to our climate, concerned about the fragile peace of our world, encountering upset and uncertainty in global social and political life, it is not surprising that we can be anxious. Perhaps we need to consider how God sees us.
If we take a look at the first chapter of the Book of Genesis, we find that the author reflected that at the end of creation God viewed it. The writer says: God saw all that was made, and indeed it was very good(Gen.1:31). There is probably no clearer statement of the goodness of creation, our world and each and every creature on the earth –including ourselves. Genesis is a reminder that God takes delight in all these works that form creation. God does indeed see you and I and every created thing as a blessing.
Many years ago, traveling in Ireland, I witnessed an expression of blessing. Sitting in a pub for lunch, we noticed a group of truckers at the bar who were finishing off their Guinness. As each one got up and began to leave, the others called out to him, “God bless you now, safe drive.” They knew that God took delight in each of them.
What do we do when we bless someone? Essentially, we are imitating God. We are indicating that like God, we take delight in that person, that this person is special to us. This is what the voice from heaven exclaimed as the Spirit descended on Jesus after us baptism in the Jordan: This is my son, the beloved in whom I delight(Matt.3:17). This delight is an expression of the Father’s favour resting on the Son. It is a blessing. Because we take delight in a person, like God we want the best for them. It is this that calls parents to bless their children, friends to bless their friends, members of a community to bless one another, and yes, truckers to bless their fellow truckers in an Irish pub.
Such delight appears in Matthew’s Gospel as the introduction to what we call the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5:1-12). Jesus begins the Sermon with a series of blessings (Beatitudes). These are blessings conferred on us, all of us in the many experiences of our lives.
God constantly sees the goodness that rests in us and in all creation. Jesus will go on in the Sermon to call us to let this goodness, this “salt” and “light”, shine before our world. But it is important that we first recognize that God blesses us with this goodness –even when we do not feel that goodness.
We need to know that God indeed does take delight in us and in all of creation. Our universe and allthat it contains is the handiwork of God. If God takes delight in it, so too should we. This is the sense of the final words of Pope Francis’s encyclical, Laudato si: On the Care of Our Common Home.He concludes his thoughts with what can be a prayer of us all, as we face the challenges of our time..
God, who calls us to generous commitment and to give him our all, offers us the light and the strength needed to continue on our way. In the heart of this world, the Lord of life, who loves us so much is always present.He does not abandon us, he does not leave us alone,for he has united himself definitively to our earth,and his love constantly impels us to find new ways forward. Praise be to God.
posted October 25, 2020
Covid-19 – this has been our world for the past 7 months. It may be our plight for months to come. No one knows when we might come out of the pandemic. When we do, there will be many things that we will recall about the experience – the community restrictions, the closing of borders, the self-isolation, the masks we wear to protect others. The virus will leave its mark deeply in our experience of this time. This is world in which we live at this time. But our world is larger than this.
We live in Canada. To be a citizen of this country and to live here presents us with expectations. We have a loyalty to this nation and are proud to call ourselves Canadians. It demands that we respect our fellow Canadians and care for the land in which we live. Our citizenship demands that we do what we can for the good of our country, but also that we work to better our world. Our country was founded in 1867 to provide “peace, order and good government” (BNA 1867), but not just for us.
We live in a wider world. The vision is directed beyond our borders, for the common good of all peoples. The peace and well-being of all must be our concern, especially the peace and well-being of the most vulnerable of our world. To have this concern is to express what is found in Pope Francis’s latest encyclical letter, Fratelli tutti (3 Oct 2020). For Francis, we are all sisters and brothers. Everyone is our neighbour. Since we all share a common humanity. We are “Neighbours without borders”.
This can be a stretch for us. But in fact, we are called even further. In another of Pope Francis’s encyclicals, Laudato si (24 May 2015), we are challenged to take up our responsibility for all creation with care for all creatures. The earth, all creation is “Our common home”.
The fundamental message and mission of Jesus and the Gospels is to proclaim that the Kingdom of God is among us. What does it mean? The Good News of Jesus Christ may be stated in this way. As a people of the Kingdom, we see ourselves as living in a loving relationship with God as the community of God’s People, and in love and respect for one another and for all creation. Such loving a relationship with all creation is the fullness of living faith.
It is summarized by the Gospel writer Matthew in two commandments – loving God and loving our neighbour (Matt 22:34-40).
We are a community of disciples, a sign and sacrament of God and God’s Kingdom in the midst of our world. How we live makes the Reign of God come alive. Together, in every Eucharistic gathering, we pray the Our Father and we hear ourselves ask of God “Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” To do so is to pray for the fullness of the Kingdom, among us. Let us pray for our “common home”.
God of love, show us our place in this world as channels of your love
For all the creatures of this earth, for not one of them is forgotten in your sight.
Enlighten those who possess power and resources that they may avoid the sin of indifference,
That they may love the common good, advance the weak,
And care for this world in which we live. The poor and the earth are crying out.
O Lord, seize us width your power and light, help us to protect all life,
To prepare for a better future, for the coming of your Kingdom
Of justice, peace, love and beauty. (Laudato si 246)
posted October 18, 2020
Covid-19 affects everyone. We may or may not catch the virus, or have a loved one who does. But we are all affected. We find ourselves isolated and having to distance ourselves from others. Barriers have been erected between communities and regions. Borders are closed between countries. The virus has divided our world. Until we have more effective treatments and we are able to be protected with vaccines this will be our world. Does God really care? Does God enter our human story?
The readings of this Sunday help us to see that God speaks to us in human terms. In our scriptures, both the Old and New Testament we hear of God using human instruments to enter our story. In the 1st reading, the prophet Isaiah, speaks of the Persian King, Cyrus. As Isaiah describes it, a pagan king becomes the instrument by which God saves the People of Israel from exile and returns them to their land. Through Cyrus, God intervenes in the history of God’s People. (Is.45:1, 4-6)
In Matthew’s Gospel, we hear one of the stories of Jesus’ discussing with the Pharisees. (Matt.22:15-21) They try to trap him into denying his Judaism or into speaking against Roman authority. Jesus response to them is to do neither. The story draws us into a recognition that faith and our relationship with God is lived out in the midst of the secular world. Jesus points out to the Pharisees that they are to give to God what belongs to God and to the Emperor what belongs to him.
We live in a complex world of the secular and the spiritual. Neither denies or excludes the other. The story of Christian faith is founded on what we refer to as the Incarnation. It is one of the foundations of our faith that God enters our human condition in the person of Jesus Christ, God and human. This basic belief is the fullest expression that God speaks to us in human terms. This is a proclamation that all humanity, all human life, all human history is touched by the presence of God.
God truly does speak to us in human terms, in every time and place. God really does stand with us.
Over the centuries, our Catholic faith and tradition has often expressed this incarnational vision of God-with-us. We are a faith that sees God speaking and acting in the context of our human story, i.e. in the times in which we live. Our Church’s 2000year history shows many occasions when we failed to be God’s voice in a way that could be heard by people of particular cultures and times. But it is also replete with a host of times when it reached out to the context, time and cultures in which it lived. As Church and as the presence of God’s People in our own time, this is the gift we can bring to our world.
The Second Vatican Council expressed this vision repeatedly. It spoke explicitly of this vision in the last of its great documents, The Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World (Gaudium et spes). This document takes its title from its beginning words: “The joy and the hope, the grief and the anguish of the people of our time… are the joy and the hope, the grief and the anguish of the followers of Christ as well.”(GS 1) With these words, Vatican II expressed its solidarity with the world and context of its time. It understood that our God speaks and acts in the present world in which we live. In every era, the life and faith of our Church is intended to hear and speak to the culture and people of our time.
How do we as Church listen to our time and culture? How do we reach out with the Good News?
posted October 9, 2020
Thanksgiving! The leaves are changing. The air is growing colder and crisper. The sun sets earlier. It seems like we are finally saying goodbye to our summer. It is a difficult goodbye. Yet it is also a moment to celebrate. In an earlier, more agriculture-centred age, this was the time to offer thanks to God for all the gifts of the earth. We may not be so centred now, but we continue to rely on those who produce our food. Thus, we thank them for their efforts. We continue to thank God for nurturing the soil which produces the harvest.
At the centre of Thanksgiving is a meal. We dine with family and friends. We express our gratitude to God and to others in a gathering around the table. Many of our human celebrations centre on a meal. Dining seems to be a common gathering point for us as human beings. From birthdays to Christmas to a simple visit of friends, our human tendency seems to be to gather for a meal. Around the table we become relaxed, we come to know one another better. Foods are part of our culture and to share our food with others is to share something of ourselves with others. Perhaps that is why in formal and informal gatherings there is invariably a meal in which the participants sit down at the same table.
The Old Testament prophet, Isaiah uses the image of a rich and abundant banquet to describe the fullness of God’s goodness poured out for all the peoples of the earth (Isaiah 25:6-10). Looking to the age of the messiah, the prophet uses a meal, shared by all peoples, as the great sign and symbol that the messiah has come. The reign of God is among us, and all creation is blessed by the presence of God.
Matthew’s Gospel uses the same image for the same reign of God, with twist. He shares one of Jesus’ stories, a parable of the Kingdom about a wedding feast, another banquet (Matt.22:1-10). The parable focuses on the invitation to a meal. The key here is that when the first invited guests refused the invitation, the doors of the banquet were thrown wide open. Servants were sent “into the streets and gathered all whom they found.” Both Isaiah and Matthew proclaim the fullness of God’s goodness for all creation. The table is large and the table is full.
This image is repeated, with the same message every time we gather around our Table for Eucharist. Theologian Eugene LaVerdiere focuses on the Eucharist as it is presented in the Gospel of Luke. The title of his book is Dining in the Kingdom of God. We may seldom think in this way, but that is in fact what we do when we gather around our Eucharistic table. We dine in the Kingdom of God. And we dine with a meal of thanksgiving.
Eucharist, literally, means thanksgiving. Whether it is around this Table of Eucharist or at the tables at which we gather with family and friends, we proclaim our gratitude – to God and to one another for the presence of goodness with which we are blessed in God and in one another. St. Paul, writing to the Philippians gives us a wonderful prayer to acknowledge both God and one another in this way – seeing both our lacks and our gifts. (Phil.4:12-14, 19-20).
Even now, in the midst of a pandemic, our Eucharist remains a celebration of God’s goodness and the openness of God’s reign to all. We may find ourselves with some limits in how we gather around The Table, but The Table must still be a celebration of God’s openness to all peoples. Somehow, with all our current limitations, we must express a welcome to all, for we are “dining in the Kingdom of God.”
posted October 2, 2020
Took a hike, recently through some of the trails of Mactaquac Provincial Park. The trails wind through forests and around beaver ponds. The forests in the fall are a collage of green, and yellow and red. The ponds are places showing the work of the beavers, the energy of the squirrels and presence of deer and moose. The ponds and the forests are filled with a host of different birds. Over it all there is a wonderful sense of calm and peace. This is, indeed, a sacred space. Walking through it one can sense the presence of the Spirit.
We have a long history of finding such sites as places where we experience the presence of God among us. The Ancients, Celts found this in springs, wells and other water sources. These were the places where life was supported for them, signs of the divine presence for them. Here they knew that God touches their human experience in real ways.
In our Scriptures the image of sacred spaces appears frequently. In the New Testament we see it in Matthew’s Gospel, 21:33-46, where Jesus employs the image of a vineyard for his message of God’s reign among us. This image is an echo of what we can find in the Old Testament. In Psalm 80, it represents the whole People of God. In the Prophet Isaiah (5:1-7), God’s People are the object of a love song. For Isaiah, for the psalm and for Matthew, “the vineyard” is the place where we center on God.
Wade Davis is a Canadian anthropologist. He holds the position of Explorer-in-Residence for National Geographic. In November 2009, he delivered the CBC Massey Lectures as part of the Ideas programs on CBC. The series was entitled The Wayfinders: Why Ancient Wisdom Matters in the Modern World. One of the lectures was “Sacred Geography.”
Davis’ lecture focused on a number of places around the world, northern B.C., the Andes in for usSouth America and the desert of central Australia. There he found places which over the centuries have been deemed sacred by the indigenous peoples who live there. They are places which long have been seen as sources of life for them.
We still need these spaces to bring meaning to our own lives. We have many personal ones.
They may include a room in our home where we tend to go to be at peace. The site may be our local church or a community gathering place. Sometimes there is a particular place or path in the woods where we enjoy a sense of “getting it all together”. Whether we realize it or not, we all have our sacred spaces. And we need them.
Often, we do not recognize that everyone of us has a “natural spirituality”. Whoever we are and wherever we are we have a spiritual centre. There we discover something that offers peace and brings meaning to our lives. Such spirituality is life-giving to every human being on earth. Fr. Richard Rohr noticed this in the writings of an English Benedictine monk, Bede Griffith.
Rohr quotes Bede’s insight: “According to the Letter to the Colossians, in Christ ‘all things were created, in heaven and on earth… all were created through him and for him’ [Col. 1:16]. This is truly a cosmic vision embracing the whole created world, which we now know to be an integrated whole,… which is capable of embracing all humanity.”(from: Rohr. Reflections 25 Sept 2020)
Where do I find my sacred spaces? How do I nurture my own spiritual life?
Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus (Phil 2:5)
posted September 27, 2020
Whether we acknowledge it or not, we all want peace. We want it for our world, we want it for our communities, for our families and we even desire an interior peace for ourselves. To live in peace with one another is a key to healthy relationships. If we look around us and even within ourselves we can see we are often without peace.
Our world and is divided in so many ways, nations, political views, races and religious beliefs, cultural variations and linguistic divisions. How often these divides and differences imperil our relationships and the peace for which we long. They often lead to violence and war, domination and exploitation. They threaten life and well-being for us all.
This is not what God’s dream is for our creation and life. God’s Reign is not intended to be this way. The Reign of God is to be marked by peace and reconciliation, by mercy, love and compassion for all. We are one humanity under God’s heaven and we share a creation that is entirely a gift of God’s love. That this Reign of God is among is central to Jesus’s mission and message. As disciples of Jesus our call is to hold this message and share it as our mission as well.
The message and mission are not always held firmly in our hearts and actions. We know what we want and hope, but our actions reveal our inabilities and lack of will. The Gospel writer, Matthew relates a story, a parable of Jesus. It tells of a man who had two sons. One he asked to go work in the vineyard. This son said he would go, but did not. A second son, when told to go, said he would not, but he had a change of heart and in fact did go. (Matt 21:28-32) This is a story of discipleship and commitment, of willingness to accept the call and carry it into action.
The story expresses the reality of our life as disciples. Often, we commit, but do not carry it further. We need to know that even if we reject the call or fail in the commitment, we can have a change of heart. God’s Reign is never beyond our reach, for God is a God of love, compassion and mercy. God never gives up on us, nor should we. Hope is eternal, in God’s Reign.
If there is a contribution we as a Christian community can bring to our world, it is the gift of peace for all. As disciples of Jesus, we are called to be this gift for one another, for our communities and for our world. The earliest Christian communities were recognized by some for how they lived with one another. Almost 2000 years ago, a Christian writer, Tertulian (c.160-220), noted the way non-Christians around his community regarded the Christians. As he wrote, they said: “See . . . how they love one another and how they are ready to die for each other.” It is how we live that speaks to our world.
During the Jubilee Year called by Pope Francis in 2015-16, he highlighted a single virtue, MERCY. This virtue forms the basis of peace and reconciliation in all relationships. It must mark us as a Church and individually as disciples of Jesus. Mercy allows us to be open to people where they are. It helps us to be non-judgemental as Church and as persons. It calls us to be ready to heal the wounds and hurts of our world. Mercy is to be the face that every community of Christians presents.
Mercy is the key to living like Jesus whose disciples we are. Above all, it leads us to a living faith that brings compassion and peace for all of humanity. This is the message and the mission of Jesus.
“Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.” (Phil. 2:5)
posted Septembet 17, 2020
Visiting a new mom as she cradles her new-born in the maternity ward. Watching the eyes of new parents as they gaze on their new child. On the street, hearing a mom speak to her 10-month old in a stroller. Seeing parents in a park as they see their 3-year old running in a circle. Observing a dad as he listens to the many “what is…; why are… and how does…” questions from his 5-year old. Later, experiencing the patience of a parent as they watch what their 13-year old does. Parents at their daughter’s wedding. Grandparents as they first hold their grandchild. Wonderful images of real love, in life-changing ways. Reflections of God’s generous love for us.
God is hard to describe in human language. The efforts we make to do so always fall short. About the best we can do is to describe God with the human qualities we have, just more of them. None of this, however, is satisfying. God is not us, not human. God does not judge, like we do. God does not demand our attention, like we do. God does not wait until we ask, like we do. God does not limit love, like we do, and so on, and so on.
God does, however, speak to us. The language of God is often best seen in what we experience, in the images that are all around us. The wonder of the universe, the amazing harmony that we sometimes see in Creation these are expressions of God’s loving presence among us. The same we can notice in something so close to us as our own humanity. The evolution of humanity and the other creatures that surround us speak to us of the life-giving love of our God.
As well, God has spoken to us in the person of Jesus. This is one of the principal lessons from what we call the Incarnation. Our Scriptures repeatedly point out the significance of this wonderous act of God, as a sign of generous love. The Gospel of John has Jesus expressing this to Nicodemus, a leader of the community: “God so loved the world that he gave us his only Son so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)
At the center of Jesus message is the image of our God whose love is abundant, who gives generously. Take a careful look at the parable of Jesus in Matthew’s Gospel.(Matt.20:1-16) Jesus relates the story of a landowner who goes out at various times throughout the day in order to hire workers. At the end of the day, no matter what time they started work, all of them receive the same daily wage. It comes as a surprise to all and those who worked from the very start of the day complain that it was unjust. The response of the landowner is to point out his generosity.
This is a parable about the Kingdom of God. There is no limit or demand that God sets to enter the reign of God. It is all generosity and gift. This is our God. Any Christian community is called to reflect this reign of God. All are invited, all are to be welcomed with the same warmth into the Kingdom and into the community, even those who have drifted or turned away. Such a reign of God is a revelation of God’s unconditional love.
There is no limit or restriction on God’s love. There are no locked gates for the Kingdom of God. It is always a gift, given out of love. A Christian community is called to reflect and express this open and inclusive love. As communities of Christians, this is who we are – reflections of our God, a loving parent.
- As a member of this Christian community do I express open and inclusive love to all?