Our Sacred Stories

Father John Jennings

Going to the Mountain – Visions & Dreams

posted February 23, 2024

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....

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. 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 describes someone showing a different side or image of themselves. On that “high mountain apart, by themselves” this is what Mark describes happened for those three disciples. They had a vision of who Jesus is.

But Transfiguration also involves self-discovery. The experience shows the disciples beginning to see who they are. It reveals a transformation in their own lives. Accepting this change is more than taking on something new. It also involves a letting go of who they have been and accepting that their lives have in fact changed. New vision will always have this result and this challenge.

This is a story of vision. 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 prophets 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.

Jesus is the power of God revealed in human flesh. What Mark presents as happening to these disciples on that mountain acknowledges the faith of Christians down through the ages. Jesus reveals the Spirit of God showered upon humanity. It is a vision of God’s dream for us, what we can be.

This Sunday which focuses on the transfiguration is sometimes referred to as the “day of dreams.” As the Gospel writer anticipates the resurrection, God’s dream for creation and for all humanity is revealed in Jesus, the risen one. It is a dream of life and of light, of healing and reconciliation, of liberation and renewal. It is a dream of transformation, shown in the transfiguration that the disciples experienced on the mountain.

The transfiguration is not only about Jesus. The vision is also about the disciples and their mission. And, it is about us and the way of life we are called to imitate. 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 transform and transfigure all creation. In our own time and world, our mission is to transform our relationships, our Church, our community and our world.

This is quite a vision and it has all kinds of risks and challenges for us, as it had for Jesus. But what a dream, what a vision for our world! It is our glory and salvation – A world transformed, transfigured. Getting there will involve many challenges – from taking on something new and also, letting go of what has been our world. We are to bring life out of suffering and death, liberation out of bondage and injustice, healing out of division and hurt for all.

Our Church is currently working to grow as a dynamic, synodal Church. The next session of the Synod will occur in October. Around the world we are all asked to reflect on this question: “HOW can we be a synodal Church in Mission?” In this transformation, are we open to the new and ready to let go of what has been?

Our Desert Journey: Lent 2024

posted February 16, 2024

When I was young, Lent was about what I was going to give up – candy, movies. Later it took on something like the New Year’s 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 member 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, of 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 members of this community of faith affect us and direct our journey, personally and but also as a community? We do this every year. But this year may be especially significant.

This past October, 2023, our Church embarked on a Synod. Representatives from our global church, lay and clerical, women and men, gathered for three weeks in Rome. They engaged in a process of consultation regarding our faith journey as a global church in the midst our world today. This was the first assembly of the Synod. The second will take place in October of this year, 2024. We are now in the middle of our journey. Local churches, i.e. dioceses and their parishes around the world are asked to spend time in prayer, reflection and open conversation on how we can be a synodal church listening to one another and focused on the mission we have been given as a Christian community.

Perhaps, Lent 2024 is a call to each of us and all of us in our parish communities. We are now being called to enter on a journey that recognizes the many voices, questions, issues and views that our faith must encounter in our time. This is the desert experience we have today. Like Jesus’s desert, we are challenged to see where we are called and what our mission is in the 21st century. Like Jesus we are called to take up this mission with prayerful respect, openness and discernment together.

Pope Francis set this course for our Church as he began his journey as bishop of Rome and Pope, in 2013. He issued what is called an Apostolic Exhortation titled: Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel). In doing so, he expressed the fundamental message of the Good News for all – the message of Jesus the Christ.

The Synod in which we are now involved calls us with his words: “I dream of a ‘missionary option’, that is, a missionary impulse capable of transforming everything, so that the Church’s customs, ways of doing things, times and schedules, language and structures can be suitably channeled for the evangelization of today’s world rather than for her self-preservation. The renewal of structures demanded by pastoral conversion can only be understood in this light: as part of an effort to make them more mission-oriented, to make ordinary pastoral activity on every level more inclusive and open, to inspire in pastoral workers a constant desire to go forth and in this way to elicit a positive response from all those whom Jesus summons to friendship with himself. (EG 27) During this Lent, our desert calls us to reflect and discern our ways of becoming true disciples and missionaries of the Good News in 2024.

Jesus: Spirit of Compassion and Inclusion

posted February 9, 2024

Being the outsider is never easy. Being excluded or left out hurts. Throughout our lives we have all experienced occasions of being forgotten or rejected and this can be significant for us. The image of being treated as a leper is often regarded as the image of being rejected or excluded, considered as an outsider. The Old Testament passage from the Book of Leviticus (Lev.13:1-2, 45-46) describes the fate of the leper in the community. Such a person was regarded a danger for their disease could infect the whole community. The response was to drive them out, exclude them from contact with others.

Imagine what this was like for the leper. 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, they had a need to prove they no longer had the disease. In Israel, the physically unclean state that a person was deemed to have as a result of leprosy also gave rise to what was regarded as ritual uncleanness. To prove they were ready to return to the community required an approval from the priests in the Temple.

In Mark’s Gospel, Jesus encounters a leper facing such exclusion (Mk.1:40-45). 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 line of exclusion, both the physical barrier and the ritual one. To reach out and touch was a risk, for crossing these barrier places Jesus in danger of physical contamination and also ritual uncleanness.

The result of the “touch” is healing, physical and ritual. Telling the leper to go and show himself to the priests in the Temple will allow him to return to the community.  The pain of his exclusion and isolation will be ended. He is no longer the outsider.

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, and addictions of any kind.

The “outsiders” may be those who have lost a spouse, those who are of a different race 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?

No one in the Reign of God lives “outside the camp.” To live in the Reign of God is to live where all are included.

Q/ Who are the “outsiders” in our midst? Who do we need to reach out to with healing touch that they may be with us, included, welcomed, healed?

Being a Disciple of Jesus in the Midst of Life

posted February 2, 2024

Busyness – it is truly the character of our lives. The little piece of Mark’s Gospel that we hear this Sunday (Mk.1:29-39) expresses this as part of the life and ministry of Jesus. Jesus has just left the Synagogue where he had been speaking and had healed a person. Now he goes to the house of two of his disciples, Simon and Andrew. Immediately they tell him that Simon’s mother-in-law was ill. He goes directly to her and heals her.

Shortly after that, when Sabbath was over at sunset, they brought a host of others in need of healing. We can imagine the crowd around the door. Jesus healed many again. Early the next morning Jesus went apart to pray. His disciples soon were chasing after him. They reported that everyone was looking for him. Jesus proposed that they moved on to other places and there he continued to proclaim the message of God’s Reign. As elsewhere, he also healed those in need.

All these many instances of reaching out in care and healing people have a meaning attached to them. Jesus not only preaches the nearness of the Reign of God. He also reveals that reign is truly present among us and around us. God’s dream is that all creation be saved from death, evil and sin, that it be restored to wholeness. Each healing represents this movement to wholeness, each in its own way. This is the ministry of Jesus.

The disciples with Jesus are following a call to do as he does. Their lives are a call to listen, to watch, to imitate and to undertake the same mission. Their mission will be busy. It will be filled with demands and will also have moments of prayer and restoration. The mission will not always be following their own plan. Often, like Jesus, they will be responding to the occasions that come to them – at the time unexpectedly and often in unplanned ways.

In the midst of our own busyness, God’s Reign enters our lives and calls us to respond. It will not always be convenient. It will not be when we plan to receive it. It will challenge us and it will fulfill us. It is an invitation to be part of God’s Dream, to help build the Reign as Jesus did. To do so, we work with the busy schedules that we all have. They do not stand in the way. Rather, this is the life in which we are to be disciples. Like Jesus, our busyness will be the place where we work.

Q/ What are the busy things that we must work with to pray, to care, to serve as disciples?

The Reign of God and Crossing Boundaries

posted January 28, 2024

Mark, in his Gospel, 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 action or on occasion, certain people. The man possessed of an unclean spirit was one of these last.

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, for the sake of the Reign of God. Jesus recognizes that, far from being limited by the ritual purity law his mission is to cross over to bring life to those in need. In doing so, he brings the Reign, its liberation and its healing to the man with the unclean spirit.

The result of this encounter of the man with the unclean spirit is healing. Jesus expels the unclean spirit and restores the unfortunate person to wholeness and freedom from the bonds of the unclean spirit. By crossing the boundaries that limited others, Jesus was able to make present the active Reign of God. To enter the Reign of God means crossing such boundaries. It often means taking actions and holding positions that others shy from. Ultimately, it means reaching out to bring others the wholeness and the liberation for which we all long.

All of this is the basis of Catholic Social Teaching. This teaching developed in the Catholic community over the past two hundred years, beginning in the late 19th century when the Industrial Revolution began to impact our world. The event produced massive changes in world economies, social structures and political life. There was a need to read the Gospel in a way that relates to these changes.

Out of this new reading came Catholic Social Teaching. The Church began to reflect on the basic elements of economic and social structures in the light of Jesus’ message and mission. The teaching that comes out of this ongoing reflection continues today and its fundamentals affect the manner in which we view our own global society and its economic, social and political realities.

A number of basic principles form the foundation of Catholic Social Teaching. Such teaching calls for respect for the dignity of the human person, all persons. It is further founded on the priority of the common good in all decision making, political, economic and social. From this foundation flows the Church’s call and advocacy for justice, peace and global respect in our world. Our Canadian Church expresses t his in many ways, globally through The Canadian Organization for Development and Peace and its programs of aid and advocacy for justice, peace and the respect for equality of all.

The Reign of God knows no boundaries – it respects, heals and reconciles all of Creation.

the whole of creation. (Lane. Christ at the Centre 21)

God’s Reign for Humanity and All Creation

posted January 19, 2024

Some ten years ago, a movie with the title, Warhorse came out in theaters. It was a movie that presented a striking approach to the portrayal of World War I. Normally, we view war and its impact from a human perspective. We see nation pitted against nation, people fighting people, army against army. This film in a way that takes us wider. While the battle at the front plays a significant role, the destruction, dislocation and impact presented in Warhorse helps us to see that war reaches much further. It has its impact on the countryside, the animals, people who are combatants and non-combatants – war is truly a universal tragedy affecting humanity and all of creation.

Counter to this image of war and violence is the image of the kingdom or the reign of God that we hear Jesus proclaim as he begins his ministry. Mark presents this proclamation:  Jesus went into Galilee. There he proclaimed the Good News from God. “The time has

 come,” he said “and the reign of God is close at hand.” (Mark 1:14-15)

What is this reign of God all about? What does Jesus proclaim through his message and his mission to the world?

The idea of the reign of God finds its roots in the Old Testament. The Jewish People recognized that their God was personally present and active among them as a People. The God of Israel intervened and acted in their story, their history. Perhaps the best example of this, one which they often recalled, was the Exodus event. They saw this liberation from slavery as a work of God among them through Moses. In addition, the Jewish Scriptures acknowledge that God is also present in all of creation around them. At the very beginning of the Old Testament, this sense of God’s presence acting in all creation appears in the stories of creation in the Book of Genesis.

Jesus’ proclamation that the reign of God is close at hand grows out of this way of seeing God as present in our history, our present, our future and in all of creation. As Jesus begins his ministry he announces that God is about to break into our world in a new and powerful way. He will announce this reign time and again in his words and 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.

Our call as disciples of Jesus is to be part of building this reign. We are to cooperate with God to make this reign more fully present in our midst. We cooperate by our outreach those in need and our care for the creation we share. In God’s own time this reign will reach its fullness. Dermot Lane expresses this future promise of the reign of God:

The future reign of God is about the gathering up by God into a condition of fulfilment nd transformation of all the human efforts in this life which are directed towards the creation of peace and justice in the world around us.... 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)

Advent to Christmas: Hope

posted December 23, 2023

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; Those who lived in a land of deep darkness – on them light has shone.
(Isaiah 9:2)
These words of the Old Testament prophet Isaiah are the first we hear in the readings of the Feast of Christmas. And what words they are. They truly are “for us.” In the midst of winter gloom when darkness comes early and the light of day is short, when winds blow cold and the snow and ice lie on the frigid, frosted ground we long for the warmth and sunlight of summer. But the darkness and cold can often be seen as an image of the great challenges of our lives. War and violence, injustice and oppression, suffering and pain, inequalities and abuse of power - these are experiences of darkness marking our very humanity. They prey on the weaknesses and vulnerability of all humanity. Advent – Christmas issues a cry of hope. The images and stories bring light, promise and hope. They touch more than our winter season. More importantly, they reach out to our heart and soul, the heart and soul of all humanity.

There are times when we and our world are the people who walked in darkness and we certainly seek and hope to become the ones on whom light has shone. This is the promise of Christmas and the Feast of the Incarnation. For it is this feast which speaks to us of Emmanuel, that is, God-is-with-us. Do we really believe this – in our heart and soul?

Our faith story of God’s loving and constant presence runs through our Jewish and Christian scriptures. The Gospel writer, Luke tells a remarkable story of Mary’s role in God’s great act of saving love (Luke 1:26-38). His purpose is to reveal that the Good News is for all. God is continuing what he has done for Israel. In repeated saving interventions, beginning with Moses and continuing through Israel’s prophets and kings, God showed his never-failing love by saving the People of God again and again. Mary is a new Moses opening God’s love for all.

God has always been with us. The People of God, Israel was firm in their faith that God was always with them. The great act of God for them was in the liberation of the People from slavery through the Exodus. But God was with them even before this, even in slavery and captivity, in threat and in exile. Prophets like Isaiah proclaimed this presence of the living God for them again and again. Quite beyond the People of Israel, God’s presence has been witnessed and acknowledged among the many peoples of the earth – in the challenges and the wonders of life and creation. Now, in the Incarnation, we see new hope and promise, a new way of knowing God-is-with-us.

Perhaps there are times when we regard Jesus as someone who was born long ago and who lived for a while and did marvellous things. He was a great teacher, a moral leader, a charismatic person who gathered many followers. And then he was gone. In some way his influence continues in those who see themselves as his followers. All of this is quite true. But really, Incarnation means more than this.

Jesus, the Christ is God sharing in our flesh, joining our humanity, living in our world, not for a brief period of one lifetime, but forever. The moment in Bethlehem, in the meagre circumstances of Jesus’ birth was a moment that revealed God’s very special touch for us. But it was more than a moment. With Bethlehem and the birth of Jesus, God continues to be with us in this incarnational way, sharing our flesh and blood. Beyond the ways in which God has been present from the very beginning, as giver and sustainer of life in all Creation, now God is present as a sharer of the humanity which we have, that all the peoples of the earth share. The great wonder of the Incarnation is that it continues,... NOW.


So what? What does all this mean for me? What difference does it make for our world? God continues to be a light for the darkness, the hope and the promise for all humanity and creation. Once having entered our world by sharing our humanity, God continues to be present in the Body of Christ. This “Body of Christ” is us, you and I, all Christians of all times, all the peoples of the earth who share our humanness and with whom God has shared humanness in Jesus the Christ. Humanity is truly the Body of Christ. We are the ongoing incarnation of God, the flesh and blood through whom God enters our world now. Hope for our world and certainly something which we can share for peace and for hope.

Advent People: A Community of Hope and Joy

posted December 16, 2023

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.

These are the opening words of Vatican II’s Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World. It was promulgated as the final document of the Second Vatican Council on 7 Dec 1965. In some ways this Constitution formed a capstone for Vatican II. It brought together the spirit that motivated the whole Council. From its beginning, Pope John XXIII enunciated two foundational aims for the Council. One was aggiornamento that is, renewal for our Church in the light of the current world. This renewal was linked to ressourcement, a French word which called the Council to honour our sources, our origins.

Vatican II was a new advent for the Catholic Church. Now, with the Synod on Synodality that had its opening session this past October, we are in another advent for our community of faith. When he addressed the delegates at the opening of the Synod on October 7, Pope Francis reflected the aims and hopes of John XXIII:

Let us keep going back to God’s own ‘style’, which is closeness, compassion and tender love…. A Church that does not stand aloof from life, but immerses herself in today’s problems and needs, bandaging wounds and healing broken hearts with the balm of God. Let us not forget God’s style.

In the reading from John`s Gospel (John 1:6-8, 19-28) we hear today, we again meet John the Baptist and are told: He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. This is our model. We are witness for others, called to nurture the faith and hope of our generation and of the next. Our call is to testify to the light and live in a way that is “God’s style”.

Testifying and living “God’s style”, is our way of sharing the Good News, and to reveal it in the words and actions of our lives. The Old Testament prophet Isaiah, whom we hear so often in the Advent season describes his own call as prophet,… and also who we are as witnesses:
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 Advent be a season of many blessings for us, for our community and for our world.

Advent: A Time of Hope & A Change of Heart

posted December 9, 2023

Our humanity carries a host of burdens, whether personal or global. Grudges, past hurts and disappointments, old hatreds, intolerances - they dot the horizons of our lives. It seems our world is constantly mired in these conditions and these conditions are not avenues to life. They are, in fact hindrances. They generate a lack of trust in one another. They reveal a blindness to the good in each other and they wound our relationships. They are hindrances to peace.

Around the world, these barriers to peace are evident, in the disputes, differences and long-standing hatreds. They produce nothing but conflicts and even wars. Such hurdles prevent the emergence of relationships that are life-giving and filled with promise. It is possible to recognize as well that this wounding of relationships and this inability to live in peace is not limited to the global picture, but also appears in our personal and even intimate relationships.

This is not God’s dream, God’s plan for all creation. The story of God’s dream begins in Mark’s Gospel with John the Baptist and his message of “repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” With John’s appearance on the scene, the final act of God’s saving outreach to humanity begins. Jesus would be the center of this loving, life-giving entry of God in our world.

The Old Testament prophets had already prepared the world for such a life-giving dream. Isaiah announces it with full voice: Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God.... Make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain (Is.40:1-4). God will heal and reconcile. God will bring the promise of salvation to the peoples of the earth, a core piece of our faith.

Living faith and the conversion or change of heart it calls for is all about relationships – with God, with neighbour, with all humanity and creation itself. John the Baptist called for a baptism of repentance (Mark 1;1-8). This is more than our personal sins and flaws. It is our whole attitude and way of life. Repentance for us is a change of heart and a redirecting of our lives to bring new life to all our relationships, personal and global. It is a metanoia, a change of heart for our world.

Our community of faith, our church is a global community with many cultures, languages and ways of expressing our faith. For some 2000 years this community has been growing and developing, evolving and changing. Key to our unity and at the core of how we do church is our willingness to work at listening to one another and respecting each other, even or perhaps especially where we are different. To listen deeply and to respect differences in a way that expresses our unity and ability to live together and share faith together in peace is, significant.

The Synod on Synodality, that held its first session in Rome this past October is focused on this blessing of listening. In his opening address to the Synod, Pope Francis emphasized our church’s need for such openness. It comes from our shared baptism. Every voice, he said, needs to speak, to participate. And listening deeply, to every voice is essential.

Francis sees the synod as an opportunity for the whole church, in this year, “to become a listening Church…. To listen to the Spirit…. To listen to our brothers and sisters speak of their hopes and of the crises of faith present in different parts of the world, of the need for a renewed pastoral life.” Being church in this time, calls for a change of heart, a new advent for a listening church for all.

Advent: Be Ready, Be Aware, Be Awake, Be Open

posted December 1, 2023

Here we are on the First Sunday of Advent/Christmas. It seemed to come so quickly. Like the first snow storm of the winter we seem never ready for it. I only just got the snow tires on. Again and again, we hear of the preparations and plans for Christmas. Mark’s Gospel sets the tone for us with his clarion call to be prepared. Ready or not, Advent/Christmas is coming. The season leads us to encounters with a series of persons and experiences that are a significant part of our faith story, our scriptural heritage.

We meet the Old Testament prophet, Isaiah as he seeks to console and reassure God’s People, Israel in the midst of their worries, trials and threats. He offers them the image of their God as a loving parent. It is this God who gave and continues to sustain and shape their life. In hope, they are to see they 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 about to happen. God whose hand has shaped us is about to step into the life of humanity again. 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 us one who is our hope, who seems so fragile yet who offers such promise. Mary is the human instrument of this wonder of Emmanuel, God-with-us.

Each of us and every 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).

How do we greet a God who is always with us, who provides us with the chance of unflagging hope and who allows us to be blessed by a love that is unconditional and can never be lost? How are we able to grasp the good news that God has come to live among us (Jn.1:14)?

It is in Jesus the Christ we discover our call to reflect to one another, to our community of faith and to the whole of humanity the loving presence of God among us all. For both John the Baptist and then Jesus proclaim the challenge for a change of heart - “be aware”, stay awake”. The fullness of God’s loving reign is coming. It is with this in mind that we enter our Advent/Christmas season.

This year, our whole Catholic Christian community is called to experience an “advent”, a transformation. It was set forth by Pope Francis in his opening address to the Synod on Synodality on October 9. He called our times “a season of grace”, a season of blessing. In pointing this out, Francis recognized three promising opportunities that lie before us as a church.

First, we have the opportunity to grow “structurally towards a synodal church” – a community in which the voices of all are heard and all contribute to its life with love.

Second, as a synodal church we are called to become a “listening church”. As a church that listens before all else, we are to listen to the Spirit as well as to one another. Through listening, we are called to respond to the hopes and the hurts, the challenges and dreams faced by our sisters and brothers of all places and cultures in our global church.

Finally, we are offered an opportunity to grow into a church with a bond of closeness to God and with one another. We follow a path marked by God’s own closeness, tender love and compassion.

The Kingdom Near Us, With Us & Among Us

posted November 24, 2023

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.

Today we are at a time in our history that is filled with uncertainty. Perhaps this is always true of the human journey. But at the moment it seems more sharply defined. Two elements seem especially significant for us. The first element is a political one. War and division threaten millions of people around the world, even to the level of war. Most especially, we see this in both Ukraine and in the Middle East. The issues involved are complex and the impact on people around the world even beyond those directly involved is immense.

A second uncertainty is not a violent one, but it is for many, disturbing. The prospect of significant changes taking place within our Christian community or church causes confusion and anxiety for some. This is what we can experience as our Catholic community faces many issues and questions. In attempting to address these challenges, we find ourselves wrestling with how to handle the road ahead. For our church, the manner of doing this now, is by way of a synod that involves all of us who are part of the baptized People of God – lay people and clergy. The Synod on Synodality involves all of us, whether we want to be or not.

In the midst of our human journey, we need to know we are not alone. We journey with the Spirit of God among us, and in company with the whole human community. With this accompaniment comes hope and with hope, a measure of peace and certainly a sense of support from God and from those with whom we are journeying.

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: “Repent, 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 core message of Jesus, the Christ. His work among the poor and the suffering, the sick and the sinner was to heal and renew. This is Good News, the Gospel.

What is also Good News is that Jesus shared not only his message, but 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.

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)

Courage and Building the Kingdom of God

posted November 17, 2023

Throughout the month of October, our global Christian community has experienced a remarkable and crucial event. Following some two years of preliminary consultations in local dioceses and many parishes, representatives of the bishops and clergy as well as lay members, women and men of the community around the world came together for three weeks in Rome.

Calling on the Spirit, on October 9, after a 5 day retreat, Pope Francis opened the first session of a Synod on Synodality. For the next three weeks, almost 400 representatives lay and clergy met in Rome. They listened to each other’s experience of church and spent time in discerning conversation. Those at the synod were called upon to bring and share the many challenges and issues we face in our 21st century church. One might say that we have embarked on carving a course for our Catholic Church, one that is both open and broad.

The Synod on Synodality, as unusual as it might seem, was something that had its roots deep in the history of our church. Such gatherings were common from the very beginning. We find it in the very early church. We see it in the Acts of the Apostles (ch.15), when the apostles determined that the community of Christians was open to both Jews and Gentiles. This mission to all humanity, is the focus of the Synod on Synodality. Ultimately, it is to build the Reign of God in the world. It is a mission based on justice and peace, compassion and love, not for some, but for all.

Matthew in his Gospel (25:14-30) expresses the hope of the coming of the Lord with a parable. The story Jesus tells describes a master entrusting his resources (talents) to his servants. The focus of our attention is not on how much he entrusted to each, but rather what each one did with what was entrusted. What was it that the servants did with what was given them?

As in all the parables, Jesus offers us a challenge. God has blessed each and every person with a share in God’s life. We have a choice as we wait for the coming of the Lord and the final completion of God’s reign. We can, like one of the servants bury the talent (God’s gift of life) entrusted, out of fear or simple reluctance.

Or, we can like the other servants take the risks involved and build on the talents entrusted. Given that the parable is about the Kingdom and using our gifts to share life-giving love with others, what do we do with the resources entrusted to us? The demand placed on us is that we share the blessedness entrusted to us. It is not for us alone.

The Synod offers us a chance to discover how, as church we can share this mission deeply and broadly. At the end of the first three weeks in Rome, the representatives were sent home to their own dioceses around the world. With them they had a synthesis or summary of what arose at the Synod, the questions, the conversations, the issues, the questions and the hopes that were part of their reflection.

More importantly, they have been charged with sharing their experience of synodality. It expresses an openness to differences and diversity. Through prayer, deep listening, reflection, and discernment the Spirit allowed them a sense of unity in the midst of diverse and different views and perspectives.

All of this, we are receiving in our home churches for further listening and discernment with one another. In October of 2024, the second session of the Synod will meet with reflections from around the world. Moved by the Spirit, may we discern with openness and truth.

Seeking & Discovering the Reign of God

posted November 11, 2023

Have you ever found yourself in unfamiliar territory? Perhaps you were hiking in the woods. Or possibly you were driving in a new city or a new province or even a different country. You got lost. I have often had that experience. When it happens, I prefer to think – I’m not lost, I just don’t know where I am. This my opportunity to discover something or someplace new and unplanned.

Such experiences are common to all of us. They seem to be part of being human. We do not know everything and we often face new challenges with many questions. We are born to discover, ask questions, to learn new things and ways. Natural to us all is the drive to go on quests, searches and discoveries. That’s why we like mystery novels, movies and stories. It is why we are attracted to things like puzzles and games which tax our energies and thinking. Even when we are very young children, one of our first instincts seem to be to ask questions. Why? How? What? In fact, every answer we receive seems to generate more questions. Life is one long quest to figure it all out.

Our Gospel this weekend (Matt 25:1-13) is about encounters and discovery. 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.”

One of the striking parts of this story relates to being prepared for the encounter. The “foolish” bridesmaids are not ready when the groom arrives. They do not have enough oil for their lamps, so they want to borrow from the wise bridesmaids. They are told by the wise: “go… and buy some for yourselves.” When the foolish leave to buy, they miss the coming of the groom.

Often in our waiting and searching for how we are to live as disciples of Jesus and as Catholics, we have a tendency to focus on what others have or do – borrow from the wise or buy from the dealers. In our quest, we fail to recognize that perhaps what we seek is already in us and among us. It is a matter of discovering what we already hold and allow our lives to act upon it.

Our baptism has made us part of a community of Christians. We are called to journey with one another. Our church is a global one, encompassing many cultures and languages. In 2021, our community was asked to enter into a process of synod. This past October 2023, after two years of preparation in local communities around the world, the first session of the synod took place in Rome.

The word “synod” has a Greek root which means “to travel together”. As local representatives met in Rome, they took us and what was considered locally in our church with them. We in this way were traveling together with them. Over the next year we will be offered the opportunity to consider further who we are as church – to pray, to listen, to share our hopes and questions as a global church. In October 2024, Session #2 of this synod will consider more deeply who we are to be as church in the 21st Century. Again, we will be “traveling together”, sharing ourselves in the Spirit.

Our Formation to a Listening and Inclusive Church

posted November 3, 2023

Every once in a while, I think of how fortunate I have been for the opportunity to have more than 40 years of university teaching and research. It has been a wonderful, fulfilling career. I had marvelous colleagues, met many great students and continue to hold all of them close as friends and acquaintances. All those years, have been filled with new experiences, discovery and continual learning.

For all its positive impact however, I do have one significant lament. For the first few years of teaching, for which I had little training or preparation. I am a little sorry for those students with whom I was working. Graduate school was great for immersion into the field of Medieval European history, but there was little to prepare us for the classroom in those first years. Experience and shared insights with others, was needed to help develop this aspect of the career. This has been a life-long experience.

In some ways, it is like a pilgrimage – an experience of continual discovery, learning and development. Such a journey can easily be directed to the life of any one of us. We are, like all humanity, on a life journey marked by constant change and growth. We are never perfectly formed and never will be. Ongoing formation and development is a constant of life. And what we can say about our life, we can also say about the faith that we hold.

The Gospel writer, Matthew highlights this need for constant growth as he presents Jesus speaking to the crowds around him, and his disciples (Matt 23:1-12). He points out that their own experts in the Law, the scribes and the Pharisees need to be heard by them, but even they are imperfect. Their imperfection expressed itself in the fact that they, did not live what they taught.

If we are honest about it, we all face that challenge. Our Christian faith demands much more than we can ever live up to fully and perfectly. Jesus provides us with a model and mentor. As individuals, and as a Christian faith community or church, we never perfectly live up to our model. Often we find ourselves as a church that is ready to express rules and requirements for inclusion, but we overlook or remain silent when it comes to compassion and care, peace and hospitality. We are a community called to conversion, not once, but a life-long process of repenting and conversion.

Last week, our Catholic church completed the first session of the Synod on Synodality. In the first of two sessions, for the first time since the early centuries of our church, clergy and laity, women and men sat down to examine the experience that we have with church in our global community. The second session will take place in October 2024.

This first session was crafted to be a time of listening, especially to our church experience. At the direction of Pope Francis, this listening time was done in isolation from press and media, beyond a bare minimum. The negative side of this approach meant that there was an air secrecy about the meetings. The reason for adopting this mode was to allow people in the session to openly and freely tell their own stories of church, positive and negative. Rather than a discussion of theology or canon law or doctrinal issues, this was an opportunity to experience the global church and its life, as well as its pain.

Between this time and the second session, hopefully our whole global church and many local dioceses and parish communities will have the opportunity to see the report that comes out from session #1. This will lead us to further conversations for broad and open listening and conversation on the changes we must make in response to our pains and failings as a Christian community. We are not a perfect church any more than we are perfect persons, but we are capable of continual conversion.

Life in the Kingdom of God

posted October 27, 2023

Our world can be a dangerous place, but it is the world in which we find ourselves. Currently, we face many challenges. No one can ignore the war centered in Gaza and Israel, but spilling over into other areas of the Middle East. The war facing Ukraine and Russia cannot but affect Eastern Europe and beyond. At the same time, we face an obvious global threat from climate change and its impacts. In fact, no one can stand apart from all these challenges. We are all part of a global community and we all have a fundamental responsibility for one another.

Our vision must be directed beyond our own limited world, 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 breadth of concern is to express what is found in Pope Francis’s 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”.

Recently, Pope Francis expressed this same global vision of humanity in his most recent reflection. Looking back at our global experience of Covid-19, he commented that it was a reminder that our world is one and that what happens in part, affects us all. Then he noted: “This allows me to reiterate two convictions that I repeat over and over again: ‘Everything is connected’ and ‘No one is saved alone.’” (Laudate Deum, 4 Oct 2023)

The fundamental message and mission of Jesus and the Gospels is to proclaim that the Kingdom of God is among us, all of 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).

In any relationship, one of the key elements is that of listening. Over the last three weeks, Rome has witnessed a gathering of bishops, theologians, laity, religious and clergy in a “synod”. The literal meaning of this Greek word is “to travel together”. As we journey together, listening is essential.

Respectful listening has been the character for this first session, Oct 9-25. Following this session there will be a year of discernment and then a second synodal session (Oct 2024) to hear some of the discernment. We are at the beginning of seeing ourselves as a synodal church. We have much to learn. As a global church, learning to listen can open us to see that we can “live unity in diversity”.

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, a kingdom of justice, peace and love in our common home.

Encountering God in our World

posted October 22, 2023

Does God really care? Does God actually enter our human life? Our history? Sometimes this is hard to recognize. Evidence to the contrary may be drawn from the wars and political upsets around the globe, the in equalities and injustices that mark so much of the world’s peoples. Even within our own personal and communal lives there are so many instances where facing health, economic, and relational issues leave many of us wondering about our faith in God’s presence among us and whether in fact, God does care.

Our Jewish ancestors in the Old Testament as well as our Islamic cousins hold the view of Christians that God indeed does care and does speak to us and enter into our story. We can recognize this encounter with God time and again in the stories of our faith, our scriptures.

Many years ago I was fortunate enough to have a very capable and wise scripture professor . He noted a principle that helps us to recognize the manner in which God speaks to us. He stated the principle in this way: If God speaks to humanity, God speaks in human language. If God did not use human language, humanity could not hear God. We hold in faith that God does care and that God does touch our human story. How then, does God speak in human terms?

God speaks or acts in human history by way of created instruments. Just as we know an artist or an author through the works of the artist or the author, so too we come to recognize or hear God through the works of God that are all around us. We sense God in the marvels and wonders of nature and of humanity. Just think of the sense of wonder that comes from looking at the heavens on a clear starry night. Or recall a moment when you were able to gaze on a new-born child. These are wonders of God the Creator, the giver of life. They are ways in which we encounter God-with-us.

The readings of this Sunday help us to see further how 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 human story. In the first reading this Sunday, the prophet Isaiah, himself an instrument of God speaks of the Persian King, Cyrus. As Isaiah describes it, Cyrus, a pagan king becomes the instrument by which God saves the People of Israel from exile and returns them to their land. Cyrus is the means by which God intervenes in the history of God’s People.

In Matthew’s Gospel, we hear one of the stories of Jesus’ discussing with the Pharisees. They try to trap him into denying his Judaism or into speaking against Roman authority. Jesus response to them is to do neither. As we hear this story, however, we are drawn 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. That is, one of the foundations of our faith is 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 belief 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? Do we hear and recognize God in creation, in humanity, in one another? To do so is to know that God really does care and that we can see it all around ourselves.

Joining Together in the Kingdom of God

posted October 13, 2023

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In our first reading this Sunday we hear from the Old Testament prophet Isaiah. Using the image of a banquet, Isaiah proclaims the breadth of God’s dream for all humanity: On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich foods (Is.25:6).

In Matthew’s Gospel, we once more listen to a parable of Jesus, one of those stories that Jesus told as he instructed his disciples about the Kingdom of God. He compared it to a wedding feast to which the King invited many guests. As the story unfolded, we see that those first invited, refused to come. The King then broadened the invitation to all who could be found. Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet. Those servants went out and gathered all whom they found, both good and bad; so the wedding hall was filled with guests (Matt.22:9-10).

Our God is a God of broad and open love. Both the Old Testament prophet and the Gospel writer captured this vision of God. Our faith in such a God presents us with great hope and an immense challenge. The hope and promise of loving openness offers a dream for all humanity. The challenge is our own role in sharing and planting this dream in our hearts and bringing it forth in our world.

This universal view and open invitation to all is what characterizes the church envisioned and hoped for in the Second Vatican Council (1962-65). Time and again in the documents of Vatican II we find the invitation to all to recognize that we are to be full and active members of the Christian community. To be in the community of Christians, the Church means much more than merely being present, being consumers and receivers. We are Church. We are what Vatican II says – the People of God living in our world.

Among the many ways in which such active participation was spoken of in Vatican II we might note the following call to reveal active holiness in our world: “Love God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your understanding, with all your strength. Love one another as Christ loves you.” These commands in Scripture are really an invitation to be holy. By our holy love, we nurture in the world a way of life that is more gentle, more beautiful, more human (Vatican II. “Constitution on the Church 39).

This past week, our Church began Session #1 of a synod, gathering in Rome. The preparations began around the globe in 2021. With this first session and a second session (October 2024) there is intent that a synodal structure for our church will become our way of listening to one another and to all others with openness and respect as the People of God. It involves all of us, not just bishops or only clergy, but women and men, laity and clergy from around the world, actively directing our faith community forward. The course to follow was set out in the

“Instrumentum Laboris” (Working Document) for Session #1.

The Synod will grow a dynamic openness in the entire church, willing to listen as the People of God that we are called to be. As the “Instrumentum Laboris” states: At the root of this process is the acceptance, both personal and communal, of something that is both a gift and a challenge: to be a Church of sisters and brothers in Christ who listen to one another and who, in doing so, are gradually transformed by the Spirit (Il 18). The foundation of what we call a synodal church is our common Baptism. Our Baptism has made us all equally, children of God, sisters and brothers of Jesus the Christ, filled with the one Spirit and called to the same mission of Good News in our world (cf. 1 Cor. 12:1

Synod: A Time of Grace, Building Church Together

posted October 7, 2023

This past week, on October 4 the “Synod on Synodality” opened in Rome. Two years ago (October 2021) Pope Francis launched the preparation for this event. As he did so, he set the course for a journey by our whole church community – a global community, lay and clerical, women and men, from every corner of the world. This past week, our community of faith around the world set out on our synodal journey.

Building on the foundation provided by the Second Vatican Council (1962-65), Pope Francis recalled the experience of that council. In his opening address for the current synod on October 9, 2021, he indicated some of the hopes and dreams, and his confidence in this great journey for our global church: I am certain the Spirit will guide us and give us the grace to move forward together, to listen to one another and to embark on a discernment of the times in which we are living, in solidarity with the struggles and aspirations of all humanity.

The journey we are now experiencing is one that we must make together, confident that the Spirit will be our guide. The word “synod” comes from the Greek word meaning “to travel together”. Pope Francis noted three terms which should characterize our synodal journey as we “travel together” – communion, participation and mission. These were words that marked Vatican II and now it is time to recall them and reassert our commitment to them as Church.

Back in 2021, as he ended his address which began the synod process, Pope Francis referred to it as “a season of grace”. He indicated three hopes that we might have as church. Firstly, that of moving not occasionally but structurally towards a synodal Church, an open square where all can feel at home and participate.

Secondly, that we might become a listening Church, to break out of our routine and pause from our pastoral concerns in order to stop and listen. Thirdly, [the synod] offers us the opportunity to become a Church of closeness. Francis refers to this as God’s own “style” – filled with compassion and love.

One might say that the synod experience for our global church offers all of us the opportunity to recognize our sacred space, for all peoples. Such a space, is not so much a physical space, but an occasion of the heart, a space of life-giving and love for all. In the Old Testament, Israel discovered this in their journey through the desert. It was there they came to see themselves as the “People of God”. The journey was an occasion of the heart for them.

We need our sacred spaces and, whether we realize it or not, we all have our sacred spaces. We are reminded of how important such spaces are by the image we see in the readings of this weekend. The image is of the vineyard. We hear of it in the first reading from the prophet Isaiah (5:1-7). The vineyard is the subject of a love song. We hear of it again, in the psalm response: “The vineyard of the Lord in the house of Israel.” Finally, in Matthew’s Gospel (21:33-43), we hear Jesus telling a story, a parable about the harvest in the vineyard.

For Isaiah, for the psalm and for Matthew, the vineyard is the place of God among us, it is the Reign of God growing in the midst of our world. It is the space that defines us as a People of God. In all the confusion, in all the busyness of our lives, to gather with this people is to gather in a sacred space, a community to which we belong, a life-giving community. How open can we be with our sacred space?

Peace: God’s Dream

posted October 3, 2023

There is a basic human longing that we all share. We 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. Both around us and within us, we are often without peace. Our lives face division, conflict and animosity globally, communally and personally. It is the great challenge for our humanity and indeed for all creation

It is the great challenge to God’s dream. 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. This Reign of God 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. It is 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 lives 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.

As disciples of Jesus, we are called to live in peace with one another, sharing peace with our world. It begins with our own relationships. 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.

St Paul, in his letter to the Christian community in Philippi, sought to encourage this commitment to loving relationships. In his letter, he included what is thought to have been a very early Christian hymn sung at their gatherings (Phil. 2:6-11). He introduced the hymn with an admonition to all of us as disciples. Perhaps it expresses who we disciples are all called to be.

Brothers and sisters: If there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, then make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus (Phil 2:1-5). Can I/we really live this mission, in every place, with everyone, at all times?

Surprised by God: Wonder

posted September 22, 2023

What a wonder-filled gift is the capacity to be surprised. Our lives are filled with such occasions, some awesome, many quiet and simple. Our region faced the wonder of wind, rain and amazing natural power in the tropical storm we experienced last weekend. Sure, there was threat and damage, but there was also wonder in a natural phenomenon that none of us could control.

At the same time, there was the quiet wonder which may have blessed us in the midst of the storm. Shortly after, I talked to mother whose son was married in the midst of the wind and rain. As he walked his mother down the aisle in the midst of the storm, she noticed the tears that were welling up in his eyes, tears of happiness. For all the confusion that surrounded the moment, the occasion was a blessing for the couple and for their families. Wonder comes in power. It also comes in love and in some quiet moments. Both are moments of God’s wonder among 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 wondrous 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’s 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. Truly, our God is an amazing God – a God of wonder.

The Cross: Symbol of Love & Hope

posted September 15, 2023

One of the great symbols that we have in most of our churches and in many other spaces including our homes is the crucifix. This is an image that has the suffering Christ on the Cross. It represents the great sacrifice that Jesus made and the pain of that sacrifice. It says a lot about the Jesus of our faith. But it does not say it all. More importantly it may blind us to an even more important aspect of Jesus the Christ and of what he reveals about our God.

The crucifix only became a significant symbol for Christians quite late in Christian history. The early Christians and for more than the first 1000 years of our history had a different cross as symbol of their faith. It was a glorious cross, representing the resurrection and Jesus’ victory over even death. Often it had no figure on it, frequently it was richly decorated and a stunning sign of the wonder of what God has shown through the risen Christ. This symbol expresses the full story of our salvation. That is, through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. This is what we mean by the Paschal Mystery.

In the Gospels, Jesus reveals the unconditional, total love of God for us. In Jesus’s words and actions, we repeatedly witness this love in real terms. Matthew expresses this (Matt 18:21-35). Peter asks how many times he should forgive a sister or a brother. Would 7 be enough? (In biblical language the number 7 was used to mean totality or completeness.)

Jesus’ response is astounding. “Not seven time, but I tell you seventy-seven times.” We must forgive and reconcile without limit. Our God loves us without limit, the model given us by Jesus is a love that is unceasing and as his disciples, that is our mission. In the name of the unceasing love we receive, we are to express it to others, all others. We are to be the face of God’s love and mercy to our world.

But do we really believe this? Is this really how we see the God of our Christian faith. So often we still think and speak of a God who is primarily a judge, one who stands ever ready to measure and close the gates of heaven to us. To accept that all of us, every single human being is held in the palm of God’s hand and that God will never let go of us, seems so difficult for us.

What our faith is really all about is expressed in two core beliefs, the Incarnation – that in Jesus, God has come and lives among us and the Paschal Mystery of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection – where Jesus expresses how our God is saving and life-giving. Our faith holds to a God of steadfast love.

It may be difficult for us to understand this. It may be hard to accept it in our hearts and lives. It may be a struggle to let go of some of our ingrained images of God. But what the whole life and message of Jesus proclaimed is that God loves all of us unconditionally.

Perhaps we have to take this more seriously. God loves us with our goodness and our badness. God loves us as saints and God loves us as sinners. God loves us long before we commit any sin, and loves us long after we have sinned.

The medieval mystic Julian of Norwich (c.1343-1416) once described heaven like a banquet to which God has invited everyone. God is there in their midst, welcoming everyone, meeting and speaking with everyone and smiling at and with everyone. This is the God of unconditional love – no judging, no condemning. And if there is a big book with many names, it is not the book of judgement. It is the invitation list and it is infinite in its length, for it includes all. Can I live such a faith? Is my God that big?

Our Christian Church: Who Are We?

posted September 11, 2023

Who am I? Who are we? These are good and fundamental questions. Often, this search for identity leads to focusing on how we differ from others. We seek to set borders between us and them. Is it possible that our identity could be found in openness? Rather than in seeking how we differ from others, might it be more life-affirming to discover and take on an identity that sees what we all hold in common. As much as this is the case for us as individuals, it is equally true of communities and as a church.

History has not been kind to us as Christians. For the past 1000 years, the Christian church has had to live through the realities of division. The Greek – Latin schism or split resulted in a Christian a church of the East and of the West. Then, about 500 years ago a whole series of divides affected the West, as we now live with a host of denominations of western Christianity. These were not the only breaks that have affected our Christian church, but they were certainly among the most significant. One might say division has been our identity. Does this have to be? Is there more to our Christian church?

Discovering our identity by emphasizing the differences between us and others limits and restricts us. When our differences are made to loom large, they belie the fact that we share much in common. At our core, we share a common humanity and together inhabit the same earth. We might come to recognize our Christian church by directing our attention to our common roots.

God’s dream for our common humanity is that we live in peace, based on compassion and love. John’s Gospel expresses this dream as he relates Jesus’ prayer for his disciples, his friends. He even broadens this prayer to include the whole world. God’s dream, God’s kingdom is extended to all humanity and all creation. John presents the prayer in this way: “I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one…. That they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you love me. (John17:20, 23)”

This unity of God’s vision expressed through Jesus the Christ is a key to our identity as the church or community of Christians. In all our diversity, like humanity, we remain one. Our unity and identity is founded not on doctrines and practices, but on the expression of love for all, that finds its source in God’s love for all.

In Matthew’s Gospel we again hear Jesus speaking to his disciples (Matt 18:15-20). At the end of the piece Jesus says to his friends: “Where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” Christian faith is a communal faith. It feeds our spirit, but it does so in the context or setting of a community of believer and doers, moved by the love that God pours out upon us. This is who we are.

Earlier this summer (August 1-6), Pope Francis joined with over 600,000 young people for World Youth Days in Lisbon Portugal. In his opening address to them, Francis referred to the coming Synod in our church and asserted its central theme, that we are to be a Church without borders: In the Church, there is room for everyone. Everyone. In the Church, no one is left out or left over. There is room for everyone. Just the way we are. Everyone.

Our Christian Church: Who are we? This is who we aspire to be, who we can be. It is our identity.

The Cost of Being a Disciple of Jesus

posted September 5, 2023

Seeking and research, embarking into territory that is new and unfamiliar can be exciting and absorbing. It is often time-consuming, uncertain and threatening as well. To go where we have never been or into something we have never done might be best described as… “scary”. But whether it is taking up a new job, moving to a new place, entering a new school, studying a new topic or meeting and beginning a new relationship it will be a challenge. It demands risk, effort and commitment. Normally, it also means giving up something old, in order to take on something different and new – change.

Selfless commitment and sacrifice (giving up) play a huge role in human life and happiness, perhaps more than we normally might expect. The new or married couple, each of whom sets aside their own desires and preferences for the sake of the other certainly shows commitment born in love. The parents who give up their own comfort and wants for the good of their children can often be heroic in their sacrifices. Examples such as this, small and great surround our many life experiences. In each of them we can see something of what it means to “pay the price” for what we believe and undertake. Committed love calls for sacrifice.

It is such selfless commitment that is called for in Christian discipleship. It is the cost of discipleship. One cannot live as a disciple of Jesus without making a commitment in love that has demands on our time, talent and energies. It asks much of us to live as a disciple of Jesus whose sacrifice was so great.

In the Gospel of this Sunday (Matt.16:21-27), we hear Jesus tell his disciples that he is to face suffering and death. He also reassures them that he will rise again. But he cannot rise unless he sacrifices and dies. His selfless commitment to sacrifice himself for us will ultimately lead to resurrection. That is, through his commitment he will bring life.

As Matthew relates this story we hear Jesus tell his disciples that they are called to do as he does. They will follow him: If anyone wants to become my follower, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me (Matt.16:24). From a disciple, Jesus demands sacrifice, a willingness to give of ourselves. Like Jesus himself, we disciples are asked to have the same commitment as he showed. In doing so, we, like Jesus have the power to bring life to others and to our world. But it does make demands of us.

Being Christian is not just about receiving. More important is our willingness to give, to offer our own life, time, energy and attention for the Good News.

But isn’t this commitment and dedication what is asked of us in any life-giving relationship. In all our friendships, our marriages, our families and so many other relationships there is a call for commitment and a call for setting myself aside for the sake of the other person or for a cause. It is this self-giving that brings life to our relationships and allows them to continue and grow. As we grow in life, we discover that it is not all about me. Every relationship is richer and more life-filled when we sacrifice for the other or something greater than ourselves. It is the cost of relationship and of life-fulfilling.

If the Gospel, if our faith is to have value for us, it has a cost. The cost is the sacrifice Jesus revealed in his own life. In his commitment, he set himself aside for the sake of others, of us. This is our cost of being disciples – sharing time, energy and gifts for others – that the world may have life and have it abundantly. In this we become the spirit of Jesus in our world and what a difference we can make!

Living with Uncertainties and Discoveries

posted August 24, 2023

In a world filled with uncertainties, facing constant questions, we live with many challenges. Yet… it is from our questions and often doubts, that we come to discovery, to finding new ways and new understandings of our world, our lives and even our faith.

Several years ago, I met a student who had many questions – questions about faith, questions about the Church, questions about our traditions and practices. She thought that she could no longer be Catholic, because she had these questions. She felt she did not believe everything and so was not Catholic.

In fact, to have faith is to have questions, and we all have them, lots of them. To believe is to want to understand and this necessarily raises questions in us. Such faith discovery is not unlike any of our relationships. When we first meet someone, we begin to ask questions. If they are someone with whom we want a relationship, questions arise, maybe even doubts about them, about us, about our relationship. To question is part of human life and part of faith.

To live in the Catholic faith means we are on a life-long journey. As we identify our doubts and ask our questions we are led to changes in our lives and to action. We are living a faith that we are coming to integrate with life. It is not possible to have faith in what God is revealing to us in Jesus, his life and his mission without accepting changes in the way we live. Our Faith starts with knowing, with grasping words and teachings. Then it grows into a “living faith”, that is a relationship, touching not only our head, but our heart. Like all relationships, it is alive, dynamic. It grows over a lifetime.

When Jesus asks his disciples, in Matthew’s Gospel “Who do you say that I am?” there are a variety of responses (Matt 16:13-20). Peter gave a remarkable one, but we can be sure that he did not fully understand what he said. Every expression of our faith is more a beginning than a conclusion. It leads us to more uncertainties and further questions. As well, like a couple in a marriage, the commitment of faith will take us to action and to places that we would not otherwise have gone. When it does, then we can say we have a “living faith”. In doing so, we discover the wonder of building a new world in which we live – the Reign of God takes on a reality for us and for others around us.

What we sometimes refer to as “blind faith”, might also be referred to as “dead faith”. Living faith, faith that is dynamic will be in constant change or growth. It will be the route to discoveries and new ways of acting and living. The challenges, uncertainties and questions open the door to discovering new life. Peter and the other disciples were discovering this in their relationship with the person of Jesus the Christ. We are these disciples.

How wide is our World, How broad is our Vision?

posted August 19, 2023

Every so often I visit the neighbourhood in which I grew up. When I do, I am surprised by how small everything seems to be. The street is now so short. What seemed as a child to be a long, steep hill is now a gentle grade. Those big backyards are tiny now. The bushes we used to hide in are sparse little shrubs. What happened to my big neighbourhood? How did it become so small?

Perhaps nothing happened to it. But a lot happened to me. I grew in both size and in experience. I left my little neighbourhood and moved into the larger world. What was my whole world as a child is now but a tiny piece of my world. As the years passed my world has grown beyond the street and backyards of my childhood. It encompasses many other neighbourhoods, cities, provinces and even countries. As my world grew, so too did my vision. This seems a common human experience. Even my vision of faith and of God and of God’s plan has broadened.

In fact, this broadening of vision is not just limited to you and to me. Over time the way people have related to and spoken of the divine has evolved and changed. The people of the Old Testament like other peoples in the ancient world viewed God in a limited way. Each people had their own gods who looked after them, just as other peoples were cared for by their gods. The Israelites began with such a vision.

Over time for the Israelites this limited view of God began to change. Very gradually, their One God began to be seen as the One God not just for Israel but for all peoples. We find indications of this growing vision of a universal God, caring for all peoples in the Book of the Prophet Isaiah: And the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord,... these I will bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer;... for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all the peoples. (Isaiah 56:6-7)

The growing vision of God’s plan for humanity was a key part of the message and mission of Jesus as the Christ. He began to draw disciples to himself. As he did so the first were Jewish, still seeing the messiah as sent to the Jews. Very gradually, what was expressed by the Old Testament prophet Isaiah began to take root in Jesus’ message and be part of what the disciples came to discover. That is, that God and God’s saving, life-giving plan was for all humanity, all peoples.

Matthew’s gospel helps to recognize that this universal view of God and God’s plan became clearer only gradually, like all broadening of vision. He tells the story of Jesus’ encounter with the Canaanite woman who wanted him to free her daughter from being tormented by a demon. The disciples thought it inappropriate that a foreigner, a Gentile Canaanite woman should expect Jesus to call on the God Israel for her. Even Jesus himself seems reluctant to include her in his mission – I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. (Matt 15:21-28)

Only with her insistent faith does Jesus turn and reach out to her, acknowledging that her faith is great. Hers was a broad vision of the God of Israel. She saw and expressed what Isaiah had proclaimed, that the One God was God for all the peoples, all humanity. In Jesus’ message, the salvation that came from the Jews came for all humanity and all were welcomed into the reign that he was to bring to the world. How wide and welcoming is our faith? How open are we to the “other” - whether culture, colour or creed?

We Are Not Alone

posted August 11, 2023

These are anxious times. Our global community faces a host of challenges. Even a glance at the news, reveals war in Ukraine, shortages and famines in food supplies in many regions, populist extremes and political upheavals in many countries, weather issues and wildfires, the impact of climate change and how to address it effectively. Our world is encountering threats and uncertainty on many fronts. What is the path ahead? How do we handle all these threatening circumstances? Perhaps there is direction and support in our faith and in the community that surrounds us. In the midst of challenges, we find hope and the courage to respond to them.

At the center of our Christian faith is the wonder or mystery of the Incarnation, our belief that God loves us so much that God has come to share our humanness in the person of Jesus the Christ. As the Gospel of John begins to relate the story and meaning of Jesus, the writer proclaims this truth of our faith. He puts it this way: “The Word became flesh and pitched his tent among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14).

As the story unfolds, the Gospel takes us further. Relating the account of Jesus’s encounter with a Pharisee named Nicodemus, Jesus tells him: “God so loved the world that he gave his only 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) Salvation comes in recognizing that God comes among us and shares in our human story, even in the midst of our questions, uncertainties and the unknowns. In these anxious times, we need to know that our “being in this together” includes God who shares our humanity. The Incarnation tells us how we are saved.

To be a disciple of Jesus is to follow him as our master and teacher, to learn who he is and what he is about. It also means that we reflect this Jesus in our own lives and in doing so become the face of our loving God to all. For this we need faith and trust, as well as the courage to let the spirit of Jesus grow within us, to follow him and to be like him. In the situations of our lives, this is not easy. For it means to step out into the unknown. Scary!

Matthew in his Gospel (Matt.14:22-33) captures the disciple Peter facing such a challenge. In so many ways, Peter is us. The Gospel story describes the way Jesus goes up a mountain to pray. The disciples take a boat to the other side of the lake. Caught in a storm, the disciples can’t get the boat to shore. Jesus comes to them on the water. Impetuous Peter shouts to Jesus asking that he be called to join him on the water. Jesus does so and Peter steps out in response. Like any good disciple, Peter sought to do what his master was doing.

As he walks toward Jesus, the Gospel notes that Peter suddenly felt the high winds and he loses his nerve. Filled with fear, he loses faith and begins to sink. Calling out to Jesus, he appeals for help. Jesus reaches out his hand and saves him. Like any good master, Jesus recognizes the challenge that his disciple has in stepping out where he has gone. As any good master as well, Jesus continues to reach out to his disciple. He does not desert Peter, but remains the caring and supportive teacher.

In these anxious times, that outreach of Jesus is the care and support we must have. Our faith in the Incarnation of our God in Jesus the Christ is how we are saved. We are never alone.

Discipleship and Discovery

posted August 4, 2023

A number of years ago a couple of my friends embarked on a hike. This was not your everyday stroll. They set out on a trek that covered some 600km from southern France, over the Pyrenees, to Santiago de Compostela on the north western corner of Spain. They walked along a route that had been traveled by Christian pilgrims for more than 1000 years.

Over the course of several weeks, like the thousands of pilgrims before them, they saw places, met people and had experiences that they would never have had without this journey. Along the way, one of my friends wrote a continuous blog. Writing this blog was a way of sharing the journey with others. What became evident over the days was a movement of focus from the landscapes and people they encounter to what was happening within themselves. It was more than a simple hike, it was a pilgrimage, filled with insights and spiritual growth in many ways.

Those disciples who met and began to follow Jesus gradually discovered that this was not just meeting a person who was quite remarkable. They had met a master and teacher who would change their lives. Following him would effect change in their lives. This was no ordinary teacher or master, but one who would call for life-changes and would, in the end call them to share in his mission.

Matthew’s Gospel points out the discovery the disciples had in the experience of what we call the transfiguration (Matt.17:1-9). Jesus took Peter, James and John and “led them up a high mountain, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them,…” In the scriptures, mountains were often places of a close experience of God with us. In the Old Testament, the mountain of Sinai was where Moses experienced the presence of God (Exod.24:12-18). Through that experience at Sinai, Israel began to discover they were to be one people treasured by God.

The experience of the disciples was akin to what Moses experienced at Sinai during the Exodus. It was a moment discovery for the disciples. So great was the experience for Peter that he wanted to stay there. This was not possible. The wonder passed, while they came down from the mountain to continue and ultimately accept the mission of sharing Good News.

The story of the transfiguration may seem like the story of Jesus’s connection with God who as a loving parent speaks from the bright cloud over shadowing them: “This is my Son, the Beloved;… Listen to Him.” With this, the disciples who had wanted to build a shrine there, and keep the moment, were now filled with awe and fear, covering their faces. “But Jesus came up and touched them…. ‘Stand up’, he said, ‘do not be afraid’”. A touch of compassion in a moment of fear. Perhaps the transfiguration is more about the growing faith of the disciples than about Jesus the “Beloved Son”. It is a story of transformation for the disciples.

Our own relationship with Jesus the Christ, is much like the disciples on that high mountain. This is the aim of spirituality and for disciples, it is the key to our relationship of faith with Jesus. Spiritual writers such as Ron Rolheiser, Joan Chittister and Richard Rohr express this key to a transforming discipleship. The spirituality they present is one that is marked by balance. It is founded on compassion and on openness. It is marked by prayer as a conversation with God in the midst of action in and for our world. Spirituality has us standing in awe of a God who loves us deeply like a parent and calls us to express the same for one another. The Spirit brings us out of the clouds and into action for humanity.

The Kingdom of God and our Quest in Life

posted July 28, 2023

Harry Potter, The da Vinci Code, Star Wars, the adventures of King Arthur and his knights of the round table, all have a common element in their stories. They are about a quest, a search for something significant to the lives of their characters. All of them as well can be seen as representative of human life, for we all face life as a quest. And although we may not always recognize it, our quest is always much the same. We search for how we can make sense out of life. For our Catholic faith, we find direction in the mission and message of Jesus. In the Gospels, this mission and message is about the Kingdom of God.

In Holy Longing: The Search for a Christian Spirituality (New York, 1999), Fr. Ron Rolheiser treats this search as a longing or a quest that is part of our humanity. As he puts it: Whatever the expression, everyone is ultimately talking about the same thing – an unquenchable fire, a restlessness, a longing, a disquiet, a hunger, a loneliness,… that lies at the center of human experience.(4)

Now that we are in the season of Ordinary Time, every Sunday responds to our quest, our search for the Kingdom of God. It is our effort to find meaning in our life that sets us on this quest. Rolheiser would describe this as our need for a spirituality. The mission of Jesus as we see in the Gospels is to reveal the Kingdom of God among us. It is this revelation in Jesus that will ultimately satisfy our life quest.

This Sunday we listen to Matthew as he recounts in his Gospel several stories or parables of the Kingdom (Matt.13:44-52). These parables focus on very ordinary images of life to express the great values of the Kingdom. Two questions help us to focus on the parables of the Kingdom:

- What do I want or seek in Life?

- What do I set my heart upon?

Matthew points out that the Kingdom is more valued than all else. It is the treasure of great value, the pearl of great price. It is so valuable that we would commit all else to attaining it, for in doing so we find the answer to the two question – this is what I seek, this is what I set my heart on. For Matthew and for us, this becomes clear when we recognize what God offers in the Kingdom: peace, harmony, justice, respect, compassion, love. All of this is in the mission and message of Jesus, for he reveals the Kingdom.

For Matthew, for the little Christian community in which he lived and for us, these are stories which express the mission and message of Jesus – the Kingdom of God is among us. It is to be lived each day in the life of each of us. To recognize the Kingdom in this way is to find the answer to the great questions to which our life quest is directed. Fr. Rolheiser would see this as developing a Christian spirituality. It is prayerful action, in the model of Jesus himself, bringing the world we touch, a spirit of openness, acceptance, compassion love and peace. Such a quest builds the Reign of God in our world.

The Reign of God Among us

posted July 22, 2023

Outside the Beaverbrook Art Gallery in Fredericton NB is a striking piece of art. It creates conversation and questions. For some it is controversial, for others it is striking and full of meaning. From the remnants of automobile tires, artist, Gerald Beaulieu, constructed two gigantic crows (each about 2x1 meters in length and width). At the moment, there is only one crow present, the other is in Charlottetown PEI. The piece is titled: “When the Rubber Hits the Road”. The crows died by the very cars that rode on the tires from which the pieces were constructed.

Often the crows have become objects on which small children, full of life and delight can be seen playing. What a wonderful image of the contrasts that are part of our world. The crows in a courtyard amid a beautiful park of trees and flowers with couples strolling, children playing and people relaxing in the summer sun. It is an image that helps us to look more deeply at the parables of the Reign of God presented in Matthew’s Gospel (Matt.13:1-52).

At the core of Jesus’s message lies the declaration that “the Reign of God is close at hand” (Matt.4:17; Mk.1:15). As he gathered disciples and embarked on his mission in Galilee, this was the message he taught to them and to the crowds that followed them. The parables that Jesus told were stories set in ordinary everyday life. They were intended to bring us beyond concepts and ideas, to see the many facets of what living in the Reign of God really is. The Reign is planted and grows in the midst of the world that we all share

One of the parables in this series tells the story of a landowner who, after planting his wheat was told that weeds were growing up along with his crop. What to do? Many options were presented.  In the end, the landowner decided to let the weeds stay and ultimately harvest the crop, discarding the weeds (Matt.13:24-30).

Our world is mixed soil in which to plant the Reign. The planting is at the initiative of God. In our faith tradition, we see this hand of God expressed, in the beginning of it all. God’s life-giving action planted life in all creation “and indeed, it was very good” (Gen.1:31). But God has called us as partners in this planting. Human freedom will influence how the seed that is planted will grow.

Jesus the Christ is the hand of God inviting us to take up this sowing and tending. Matthew’s telling of the parable of field containing both wheat and weed is a signal to us of the task at hand. Jesus’s proclamation that “the Reign of God is close at hand” draws us to the recognition of this Reign among us. The world is not our enemy, nor is it contrary to God’s plan or dream. It is in fact the field in which God has planted life. Jesus comes among us to announce the good news that our human freedom can work with God for the harvest.

Are we aware of what we pray for so often, rather routinely? Our Father…..thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. This is the work of human freedom tending the field God has given us, even with its weeds – the harvest to be a world marked by justice, love and peace – God’s

The Reign of God: Our Life-long Quest

posted July 15, 2023

Matthew’s gospel recalls much of the message and mission of Jesus in the form of discourses, teaching that connected Jesus with his disciple and with crowd. At the core of his gospel, are a series of these discourses. Chapter 13 of the gospel relates a number of parables, stories told by Jesus, intended to set forth the reign of God and its meaning.

One of the parables is the story of a farmer who sowed seed in his field. (Matt.13:4-9). He did this by broadcasting the seed, i.e. by throwing it about by hand. As the parable unfolds we see that the scattered seed fell on a variety of soils, some good, some not so good, some very poor. The result was as varied as the types of soil.

One of the remarkable things about this story as a parable of the kingdom is that we can read it with a variety of views. We can focus on the seed that is cast. We can pay most attention to the soil on which it falls. We can emphasize the varied result of the sowing or we can read it from the perspective of the sower who broadcasts the seed, rather than choosing where he sows. Each of these readings can be related to the Reign of God in a particular way. Parables are often this way. So what does this story offer us about the Reign of God?

Let’s look first at the sower. The sower casts the seed generously in all directions. He does not choose the ground, but simply throws the seed around indiscriminately. The sower makes no pre-judgment about where the seed might do well or not do well. For the sower, the seed should be in all ground. The Reign of God, like God’s love is unconditionally offered. God does not present it to some and not to others. God gives to all. As the sower, God seeks out each and every person on earth. All are to receive the seed that is offered.

At the same time, we are rather different soils. Our responses may be quite varied, but what is common to all of us is that we are seeking the seed. Part of our very nature is that we are seekers. In common we have some basic needs – air, water, food among others. We also have a basic need for seeking contentment and fulfillment. Human beings seem to quest or search constantly. One of the sources of meaning and fulfillment rests in what we Christians, as well as Jews and Moslems and so many others, call our relationship with God – our spirituality. We crave spirituality, even when we do not use the term. We are seekers by nature.

It seems that God recognizes this. The reign is offered to all, even if we are not well-prepared or the most able of recipients. Able or not, we all are seekers and the quest that we are on is ultimately for the Reign of God that Jesus announced in his message and revealed in the actions of his mission. It is God’s free gift.

The very person of Jesus, human and divine, is God’s way of reaching out to our deep longing, our search or quest to make sense of life. What does it all mean? The beginnings of a response to this basic human question lie for us in the person of Jesus and more fully in the Reign of God that comes close as Jesus proclaims it in word and action. A world in which the Reign of God is planted is a world in which there is life more than death, healing more than hurting, harmony more than division, peace more than war. Ultimately the Reign of God is the grail or the goal of the quest on which every human being embarks in life.

Burdens & Blessings

posted July 15, 2023

Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. (Matt. 11:28)

What relationships are part of our lives? We have many, family, friends, colleagues and neighbours. Even on occasions, we have ever so brief encounters with strangers and passing relationship can affect us. These relationships are life-giving for us. They mark us and make us the persons that we are. We also must admit that they can pose burdens and challenges.

We all bear burdens - challenges and responsibilities that our lives bring us. Perhaps the greatest of our burdens and challenges involve the relationships that are part of our lives. The tensions and fractures of these relationships often weary us and seem to be heavy burdens to carry. Xxx eg leve; It is hard to let such burdens go and be at peace, at rest. To do so might well mean recovering something of what we had as children, the capacity to “take delight”. Children seem to show “delight” with such ease and enthusiasm, even in simple things.

Even in the midst of our burdens, we come to see that there is much that brings “delight”. Often in challenging times we discover the blessings of kindness and caring that come our way. Simple things touch us – the motorists who let us into the traffic line, the kind and thoughtful neighbour who reaches out when someone is in need, the friend who drops by to see how we are.

In the account of creation found in the Book of Genesis, this is how God sees the world and all that is in it – “God saw everything that was made, and indeed it was very good.” (Gen.1:31)

To recognize the good in our world, to see the good in others is to see as God sees. It is to delight as God delights and with the same enthusiasm that the small child can exhibit.

In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus is repeatedly showing his mission to be the revelation of God’s delight in us. At the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount (Matt.5:1-12), Jesus proclaims those famous blessings, the beatitudes. It sets the tone for the whole mission of Jesus. It is a mission of blessing. This is the mission that appears in the words of Matthew’s gospel this Sunday. In the midst of the burdens and challenges of life, we are reminded that God takes delight in our world and in each of us.

The root of the word “bless” lies in the Latin verb benedicere. This verb literally means “to speak well of.” To bless someone is to do what God does, to take delight in that person. The mission of Jesus is to bless and take delight in the world and persons that God has seen as “indeed... very good.” The experiences of kindness and care over the last week are indeed blessings. As we enter the summer season, perhaps it is our opportunity to pause and count our blessings in the midst of those burdens and challenges that we and our world face. Like Jesus, perhaps we have a mission of bringing recognition of the blessings of all creation.


The Challenge of Discipleship
Choosing Jesus: Our Master and Mentor

posted July 1, 2023

This past week, I had a phone call from a friend in western Australia. We had the opportunity to reconnect and share what is happening with each other lately. It was an easy call to make, using WhatsApp and its capacity to make a free phone call via the app on our cellphones. It got me thinking about how things have changed over the years.

Almost 200 years ago when my ancestors came here from Ireland such contact was nowhere near so easy. Leaving Ireland for North America, meant leaving family, friends and the familiar settings of home, probably never to see or hear from them again. At the very best, there might be a letter that took weeks or even months to arrive, if it did. To migrate was a true change in life. To take up living in a new land, meant as well, a leaving behind or letting go of what had been theirs. The decision to migrate was in many ways a conversion in their lives.

Such occasions or conversions in our lives are times when we find ourselves faced with choices as to what we are going to do. The difficult thing about making a choice is that when we choose one direction, we are also choosing not to take the other. We normally do not struggle with choosing between a good and a bad, or an acceptable versus an unacceptable option. The struggle comes when we find ourselves having to choose between one of several goods, or between two options, neither of which is entirely good nor entirely bad.

Little choices are easy, they are quickly made. But we are called upon to make many more crucial one, choices that will that impact us and others deeply. These are life choices. Such significant choices along our road of life require careful thought and discernment. They also require a willingness to be honest in what is best and a readiness to carry out the choice. They demand commitment and courage, a willingness to step out in uncertainty (Matt.10:37-42).

Those disciples who decided to follow Jesus had to make many such choices. As we find in the Gospels the beginning of these choices came with their initial interest in what they heard and saw of Jesus. This led them to a step into what we can call a conversion. While the Gospels often present this step as a sudden change in their lives, it was much more tentative. First, they became curious about Jesus, like Zacchaeus in Luke’s Gospel. He had heard so much about Jesus, that he wanted to meet him. When Jesus came along, Zacchaeus who was quite short found himself at the back of the crowd. Curiosity let him to climb a tree in order to see Jesus (Lk.19:1-10). Thus began his discipleship.

From their first encounter, for all disciples, the route is long, with many steps and stages. There are many choices, decisions which bring about changes in our lives. Through word and action, the disciples come to view Jesus as their master, teacher, and mentor. A disciple’s aim is to become like the master. Like anyone who migrates to a new land, the decision means many subsequent choices and more decisions – accepting and letting go, becoming changed and new. There is never just one conversion, it means on-going conversions throughout life. As we grow in life, so too does our relationship with Jesus.

Real faith in Jesus is a relationship. It is marked by constant growth. It is never the same, day to day and it repeatedly demands choices, “forks” in the road along the way. Perhaps surprisingly for us we discover that faith, our faith is “caught” from others not so much “taught” by others, for it is a faith grounded on a person and that person is Jesus, the Christ. We live in relationship with him.

Confidence in God: A Relationship of
Trust and Never-failing Love

posted June 22, 2023

There are times when watching or listening to the news is a recipe for disappointment and even despair. Conflicts and threats in Ukraine, Sudan, the Middle East, south east Asia and elsewhere have an impact on the rest of the world. Wild fires in Canada and elsewhere affect areas well beyond the flames themselves. In many places, political life seems rife with populism, anger, hatred and extreme views. Addressing the challenge of climate change seem beyond our ability as a global community. The pain of refugees fleeing the threats at home to places often unwilling to welcome them leaves a scar on our world. Is this really part of God’s plan for creation? Are we destined to live in constant peril and fear?

Fear can be debilitating. It can enchain us in a way that we lose our freedom and capacity to act. It freezes us. Many years ago, while cycling with a friend, he remarked that he did not like snakes and he hoped we would not see any along the way. Well, we did. My friend literally froze, could not move at all. The snake in fact was not a threat. It would not harm us. But that is not the point. Snakes were feared by my friend, harmless or not. And that is the point, fear takes away our freedom and restricts us.

The Old Testament prophet, Jeremiah found himself threatened as he sought to speak God’s message to Israel (Jer.20:10-13). Even his close friends were rejecting the message he bore and in doing so, they were rejecting him. He cried out: “Terror is all around.” In the midst of this “terror”, however the prophet recognized that he did not stand alone. With him stood the Lord, the God whose message he was proclaiming. In the midst of his rejection and fear, Jeremiah knew he could rely on the Lord, who was a God of “steadfast love”. (Ps.69)

At the core of the gospels is the story of the growing relationship between Jesus and his followers. As they journey together through Galilee, the bond between the teacher and disciples grows. They become friends. John’s Gospel describes this relationship of love as it grows: “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you…. I do not call you servants any longer, but I have called you friends. (Jn.15:12-15)”

This loving bond between Jesus and his disciples is what we see in Matthew’s Gospel as Jesus instructs his followers in the Sermon on Mount (Matt.5-7). The bond that was built among them then led Jesus to pass his mission on them. He called them to become apostles of the good news he had given them. It was not their private preserve. Like all good news, it deserved to be shared with others.

Good news it was. But for some whom they met it seemed a threat. So, the mission the disciples were to undertake was not an easy one, just like Jeremiah. As Jesus sends the disciples out, however, he offers them encouragement, much as Jeremiah found it.

Matthew’s early Christian community faced rejection and levels of persecution and shunning by their local communities. After calling them to share his mission, Jesus urged them not be afraid. He would never leave them alone, rather he would be with them even to his Father in heaven (Matt.10:32). Matthew will have Jesus reasserting this commitment in the final words he says to them: “Know that I am with you always; yes, to the end of time (Matt.28:20). In John’s Gospel, as Jesus enters the Passion, Jesus reassures his friends, promising the Spirit and telling them: “I will not leave you orphaned (Jn.14:18).” The relationship is unbreakable and marked by never-failing love.

Disciple Formation – Now what?

posted June 17, 2023

June – T’is the season. Thousands of graduates and students seek part-time, full-time work and careers. What do I want to do now and how do I craft my application? I have spent a long time in education, formation and training, now what do I do with it? Being a disciple of Jesus is much like this.

Jesus gathered a motley crew of followers around him. The twelve that we hear of in the Gospel, were no shining lights. They were not rabbis or teachers or experts in the law, but people such as fishermen, tax collectors, ordinary women and men from small local communities. They were not especially pious, nor did they have a lot of knowledge of the Jewish Law of Moses. Those who became his disciples were simply curious, wanting to know more about him.

The followers of Jesus began their connection by a simple encounter with the person of Jesus. As they watched and listened, they became friends. Spending time listening and watching, they became more intrigued, growing closer to him.

Matthew’s Gospel describes the manner in which the relationship between Jesus and his disciples grew. There was a basic message that was the foundation of all that Jesus said and did. Matthew relates it early in his telling of the story: “Jesus began his preaching with the message, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is close at hand’” (Matt.4:17). Everything else, all he said and did was the announcing of Gospel, Good News, in word and action.

The disciples of Jesus had encountered someone who was marked by the compassion of God. The central section of Matthew’s Gospel has Jesus teaching his disciples what the kingdom looks. Chapters 5-7 of Matthew presents the Sermon on the Mount. It reveals Jesus going up on a hillside to describe the qualities that express the closeness of the kingdom among them. Those who take on the qualities of the Kingdom, Jesus compares to the builder “who built his house on rock” (Matt. 7:24-25)

The disciples did not receive all this solely for themselves. In fact, it was intended to be a message with a mission. The healing and reconciliation that Jesus brought in action was an expression of compassion. His mission was for the wounded, the broken and the lost of all humanity. God’s dream was life and love, peace and justice for all humanity and intended for the whole of creation. As the poetic creation account in Genesis expressed it: “God saw everything that he had made, and indeed it was very good” (Gen.1:31).

Having instructed and formed his followers as disciples, Jesus called them to take the message on, as a mission. They were formed in order that they might be what the master was for them. The compassion that he revealed to all was to be their mission. “’Proclaim the good news, the kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons (Matt.10:7-8).

In a world much marked by division, violence and injustice, the message and the mission of the community of Christians is one of peace and justice, healing and reconciliation. The pastoral mission of the church is one marked by the compassion shown by Jesus. Its mission is one of openness and welcome to all.

A decade ago, Pope Francis issued an apostolic exhortation, The Joy of the Gospel that set the mandate for his papacy. It was a pastoral mandate in keeping with the compassion Jesus expressed and to which he called all his disciples. “The Church which ‘goes forth’ is a community of missionary disciples who take the first step, who are involved and supportive, who bear fruit and rejoice…. Such a community has an endless desire to show mercy….” (Pope Francis. The Joy of the Gospel 24, 2013).

Sacraments: Signs of God with us, among us and imbedded in Creation

posted June 8, 2023

Perhaps one of the most significant and at the same time, the aspect most taken for granted in our Catholic Christian faith is our sacraments. We use them so often, that we pay little attention to why they are significant for us. They define who we are, yet they often are so routine that we hardly think about them. The sacraments that are part of our Catholic Christian tradition are a proclamation, calling us, in the ordinary elements of our lives and declaring that God is with us and ever active among us.

Our faith tradition as Christians holds that God has a dream. The dream is to share God’s love outward beyond God’s own self. Our faith tells us that God may well be beyond us, but at the same time there is a closeness of our God which touches all of creation. One of the ways in which we speak of this closeness of God to us is by way of sacrament. It is basic to the Christian understanding of our relationship with God. In our Catholic tradition sacrament acknowledges that God is ever close to us, reaching out into the life of creation, all of creation.

Theologian, Thomas Groome of Boston College, points out that central to our Catholic faith is the principle of sacramentality. As he puts it: “The sacramental principle means that God is present to humanity and we respond to God’s grace through the ordinary and everyday of life in the world” (Groome. What Makes Us Catholic, New York HarperCollins, 2002 84).

This broad sacramentality allows us to see that God is experienced in the “stuff” of our human lives and in creation all around us. In fact, we human beings can only experience God as ``embodied``. Think of a time when you sensed the presence of God. It was probably a moment when some place, or some experience so moved you that you became aware that there was something beyond, some divine presence that you were encountering. What happened was that you were sensing God in the midst of our human and created reality. To embody is to allow God to be recognized in such a human, created experience.

In the Christian tradition, there are three principal expressions of this embodiment of God among us. We use the idea of sacrament to speak of these expressions of God`s presence. The fundamental sacrament or expression of God`s presence is the person of Jesus. In the Incarnation, Jesus becomes that tangible and visible presence of God with us. In himself he reveals the loving and liberating God and shows forth God’s dream for all creation.

This Jesus who is the first and fundamental sacrament of God, shared this role with his friends and disciples. In the Resurrection of Jesus the Christ, his disciples were drawn into this role of sacrament. The followers of Jesus are members of the Body of Christ, called to be, themselves the embodiment of the presence of God in the world. In short, the church, the followers of Jesus, is the second level of sacrament, in our Christian tradition. We embody the presence of God, when we like Jesus, live the love and freedom to which we are called as images of God. When we live as that community of disciples, with a love open to all, then we are the sacrament we are called to be.

The sacraments such as Eucharist which this community of disciples shares are the third level of sacrament in our tradition. They are an expression of a community of disciples who live for God and others. Sacraments as we celebrate them with the ordinary elements of creation and life (water, bread, oil, wine) are celebrations of the presence of God active among. They express the love of God for all.

Trinity: The Language of God

posted June 3, 2023

Language is a remarkable thing. We all have it. We all use it. For the human species, language is one of our primary characteristics. The fact that we communicate with each other in such a complex fashion is something that differentiates us from other living creatures. No other species on earth can communicate and relate to one another in the way that we do.

But language can also express how we differ. We know that there are many instances where language is an expression of our differences and can even create divisions among us. Even in Scripture we find a recognition and expression of this negative side of language, for example in the story of the Tower of Babel (Gen.11:1-9). For the most part, however, language is a positive thing. It is how we speak to one another. Language builds our relationships.

As human beings, one of our deepest longings is to know that there is something beyond ourselves. We may not know what this involves, but we do recognize that we are not complete, there must be something more. This quest for “something more, something beyond” is a spiritual quest. It is the search for God and for how we relate to this God. In the Jewish and Christian tradition, we have a faith that while we are in search of God, God is also questing for us. The 19th century English poet, Francis Thompson, captured this in his poem, The Hound of Heaven. As he fled from God, this God of ours was always in pursuit.

This is the image of God that we find throughout our Scriptures, a God of covenant love. The God of Jews, and Christians (and of Islam) is a God that loves us and seeks to establish a relationship with us. What is God’s language? How does God speak to us?

God speaks in the many instances of covenant care and loving outreach that our Scriptures reveal to us.

We see it in the great covenant that God makes with Moses and the Israelites in their escape from Egypt in the Exodus. This is referred to in the first reading today (Ex.34:4-6, 8-9). The prophets of the Old Testament continually sought to have God’s People accept and live by this covenant of love to which God called them.

This covenant of love is renewed in Jesus and the Incarnation. It is a love so strong that God comes into our humanity in the person of Jesus the Christ. What a way to speak to us! What a language to use! The language of God is in the person of Jesus. It is this language of God that draws us into relationship with our God. It creates a bond between us and our God. It speaks to us of what God is. God is Trinity – a loving relationship of three persons in One God.

What is the language of God? It is an expression of God’s own self, the loving relationship of Trinity. It has been expressed in the covenant love shown throughout our Scriptures. It has been revealed in the gift of the Incarnation and Jesus. It continues to be the language of God in our own lives with the gift of the Spirit given to each of us. Trinity has been, is now and will be the language of God’s love for us.

Pentecost and the Spirit Among Us

posted May 26, 2023

Spirit is something we value. We all know persons with lots of spirit. They appear to be full of life, vibrant, confident, happy, outgoing, energetic, ready, and willing to take on anything. We speak of team spirit something that binds together and places a team or a group on a common path to achieve, to accomplish its aims and goals. We sometimes experience family spirit in those moments and occasions when we are together, when we recognize the ways in which we are related and share common family experiences. This is also the case with community spirit – whether in a parish, a neighbourhood, or a city. But can we capture what we mean by spirit, in words? This is more difficult. The best we can do is to describe what the experience of spirit involves, how it affects us.

We have the same challenge when we look to the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of God. Generations of writers, thinkers, philosophers, and theologians have attempted to define or express what this Spirit is. Nothing adequately serves us in this. So we are left with the images we hear of from scripture or from artists: a great wind or tongues of fire or a life-giving breath or a dove. These are only somewhat helpful.

As with spirit in our human experiences, so with Spirit in our experience of God. We are best served by how the Spirit affects us. We can see this in all three readings. John’s Gospel (Jn.20:19-23) describes the disciples, cowering in fear after the crucifixion of Jesus, fearful that the same fate was to be theirs. The risen Jesus appears in their midst and confers the Spirit on them. The effect – they are transformed. The terrified disciples are given peace. They are invited to take part in Jesus’s mission, bringing peace and creating an open, inclusive, and reconciled world.

In the Letter of Paul to the Corinthians (1 Cor.12:3-7,12-13), the little Christian community in Corinth as well as every Christian community down through the ages, is called to recognize not only the variety of gifts, talents, and capacities they have, but also that they are one, united by the Spirit among them. It is an expression of the way in which the Spirit, the presence of God for all humanity unites us, all the peoples of the earth, in all places and all times. In the Spirit – we are one.

The Pentecost event helps us to recognize something remarkable about us, the community of Christians, in all ages. The peace that we have been given is a gift of the Spirit of God and the Spirit unifies us. This is the same life-giving Spirit that hovered over the waters of chaos in the poetic account of creation (Genesis 1:1-3). With God’s loving hand the Spirit was able to bring peace out of the chaos and with that peace came a new creation, with all its wonder and diversity. The Book of Genesis went on to describe the many, diverse aspects of this creation. It is one, united world and at the same time marked by great diversity.

In the piece drawn from the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 2:1-11) that theme of oneness is expressed again. The gift of the Spirit breaks down the barrier of language and indeed all barriers between peoples. It draws us to the recognition that humanity is truly one in God’s eyes, and that God’s Spirit is conferred on all peoples regardless of gender, culture, colour, religion, or place.

May we pray on this day for a renewed experience of Pentecost in each of us, in all Christian communities and in all the peoples of the earth. PEACE BE UPON US.

Ascension Relationship: Apart Yet Present

posted May 23, 2023

May is a time for graduations in colleges and universities. The target that has been ahead of us for so many years has been reached and finally our program has been completed. The grads are recognized and feted by family and friends. It is an occasion for congratulations and applause.

We face many such transitions in our lives, many of them joy-filled, like graduations, wedding, birth of a child. In all of them we face change and letting go of what used to be for the sake of something new. In some way we have to say “goodbye” to the life we had gotten used to, in order to pass to a new life, and we do so joyfully.

Such occasions however can be and often are bitter sweet times. For all the joy of coming to this milestone in our lives, we are moving away from the what has long been the focus of our lives, letting go of what is so much part of us. The relationships and the routines that have been at the center of our lives will not be there. We must let go of what we have known, for something that is new to us.

Saying goodbye is never easy. Over our lifetimes we have many such goodbyes, and many are joyful like graduations or weddings or the birth of a child. They demand that we somehow let go of what has been so significant to us, for the sake of what is obviously a greater, more meaningful life.

There are however some changes, some goodbyes that are painful. The death of a loved one is particularly difficult. In some ways, it leaves a “hole in our heart” and we find ourselves facing a confusing time. What has been our normal life and contentment has been disrupted. There is a sense that we find ourselves in what some have called a “liminal” space, a kind of borderland in life. The loss or the change that is occurring places us in a very unfamiliar and uncomfortable place, saying goodbye to a relationship of deep meaning.

The Ascension was just such an experience of loss for the disciples. They found themselves in a liminal space not knowing how to respond. As 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 that they speak of leaving and at the time staying. There is a sense of Jesus leaving and yet remaining with his disciples, in a new way.

The classic image of the ascension of Jesus is captured in the story that we find in the Acts of the Apostles. The writer of the 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. But it is a story of “leaving yet remaining.” (Acts 1:1-11)

Acts shows the disciples in a “liminal space”. The physical Jesus with whom they walked and talked is gone. They are confused and uncertain. Some even doubt. But their emerging faith in the resurrection reveals a new relationship with the Spirit of the Risen One. The Gospel writer, Matthew reveals the impact of this new relationship. (Matt.28:16-20)

The Spirit of Jesus leads the disciples to discover their role: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations.” Filled with that Spirit, they are to share it, to proclaim as Jesus did, in word and action the Good News for all humanity, all Creation. And as they move through that “liminal space” into a new world, Jesus offers them reassurance: “Remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Jesus Among Us – Living Together with Love

posted May 12, 2023

If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever... I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you.... The one who hasmy commandments and keeps them is the one who love me; and the one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them. (John 14:15-21)

A few years ago, I went to Mass in the little church of Sao Lourenco in Almancil, Portugal. What was most striking about this experience was the vibrant hospitality of the community when entering church. There was a buzz of conversation going on as people greeted old friends and shared the past week with one another. What was even more striking was the openness of the welcome we received as strangers in their midst. No one who came through the doors was left out, all were welcomed warmly. Even though we could not speak their language, we were greeted by many with smiles and gestures, even to standing up and offering their seats to us.

Such an experience of hospitality, inclusiveness and love is a revelation of the Spirit. It might appear to be natural and easy, but it demands commitment and attentiveness from a whole community. When it is present, we see the presence of the Spirit that John’s Gospel speaks of today. In such experiences we can recognize the wondrous relationship into which God invites us. To love one another, to live this love in relationships with one another is to recognize the Spirit of the risen Jesus among us.

Not long ago, our experience with the pandemic forced us into isolation. We lost our connection with the community and found ourselves very much alone, in solitude. While we often benefit from and appreciate quiet and time for ourselves, most of us need social contacts. Such lengthy isolation is not healthy for most. Certainly, our faith community suffered from the limiting of the communal gathering so important for us. We are only now slowly recovering what we lost in not gathering for Eucharist and other occasions. As the visit for Mass in Almancil illustrated, the table of the Eucharist is a community experience.

I think we often limit ourselves to seeing the Eucharist as our personal prayer time, linking us to Jesus and thus tend to seek peace, silence and our personal time with God. It is in fact, a celebration of thanksgiving by our whole community of faith. Such an occasion deserves the acknowledgement of one another with the hospitality and inclusiveness that was evident at Almancil. It is broader than personal prayer and seeks to join us with our whole community.

John 14:15-21 is part of the farewell discourses that Jesus spoke to his disciples at the Last Supper. He reached out and reassured them that although he was soon to leave them, they were not to be left alone. He asked that the Father give them another Advocate, the Spirit. Through this Spirit, Jesus remains with us, only waiting to find expression in the practical love that moves and enlivens any community – family, friendships, parish community. To be open, welcoming, inclusive is to reveal the Advocate, the Spirit among us.

The Unlimited Discovery of Our/My God

posted May 5, 2023

In one of the final chapters of his book, How Big is Your God? Loyola Press, 2007, ch.47, Jesuit priest Fr. Paul Coutinho relates the story of a 4-year-old named Neil. Fr. Paul met Neil and his parents after Mass one day. He had been talking about the “breath of God” being in all persons and things, noting that all we need is the eyes and ears of faith to experience its presence. Neil revealed this capacity when he climbed onto his Mom knee, held her face in his hands and looking into her eyes, proclaimed: “Mom, I can see God in you, and she is a girl.”

In John’s Gospel, the last section (chaps. 13-20) is often called “The Book of Glory”. It relates the final steps of Jesus’ path to crucifixion and then resurrection. Before the glory of new life, there will be a dying and darkness. Jesus will challenge his disciples as they enter this dark experience. He will also encourage and support them, providing the consolation of hope in a new life.

John 14:1-12 is part of a discourse set at the table of the Last Supper. It shows Jesus as he prepares his disciples for the darkness of his crucifixion. He reassures them he will return to be with them as the way to the kingdom. They need not be troubled or fearful. They are called to trust in God and trust in Jesus himself who showed them the way.

John’s Gospel is the latest of the four gospels. The first level of meaning tells of the darkness and anxiety among the disciples who had walked with Jesus. But the Gospel was written more than a generation after Jesus’ death and resurrection for the new disciples of the writer’s own time. This offers a second level of meaning. John wrote for these later disciples of his own age who faced the rejection of their own communities. He called for them to have faith and to live in hope. There is as well, a third level, our own present experience.

We face many challenges in life. Often, they take us into darkness and anxiety. Some of these challenges are personal, others are global, affecting humanity more broadly. In the midst of the problems facing our own times, we quite rightly seek to find solutions that respond to them or lessen their impact. The darkness comes when we are unable to solve them or at least to solve them quickly. We are left sometimes with uncertainty and doubt and discouragement.

This is where the disciples were in John’s Gospel. At the table of the Last Supper, as Jesus tells them he is leaving them, they find themselves overwhelmed by such darkness. As he seeks to reassure them, they are filled with questions. Peter asks: “Lord, where are you going?... Why can’t I follow?”  Thomas exclaims: “Lord, we do not know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”

Jesus tells them that through him, they have come to know the Father. Still, they fear losing him. Philip appeals to him: “Lord, let us see the Father and then we shall be satisfied.” Jesus has urged his disciples: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me.” The spiritual writer John Shea comments: “I think our hearts become troubled by death and loss because we believe in too small a God. We need an understanding of God that blows our mind.” (The Spiritual Wisdom of the Gospels for Christian Preachers and Teachers Year A 185)

In other words, we should see God as mystery, something that is so great that we can never exhaust its truth. No matter how much we try to capture the full meaning of God, it evades us. We will ever be discovering newness and more in God. Shea turns to St. Anselm, a Benedictine monk and archbishop of Canterbury (1093-1109) in all this. While we quite naturally want to “know-for-sure”, the greatest consolation when we face challenges is in living with a relationship of trust. With trust we rest in hope, even without the certitude we crave.

It is no small thing that this Gospel also reveals a call to action, the result of such trust, hope and love: “I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do (John 14:12).” Truly, Good News in this time.

Jesus Risen: A New Vision
He is risen, He is with us

posted April 28, 2023

Stained glass windows are common in churches. They can be moving images. Sometimes they even serve as instruments of teaching. Frequently they present images drawn from the Scriptures, stories of God’s relationship with God’s People. Most often these images are drawn from past eras. They speak in a language of another time.

Not far from Canada’s Wonderland northwest of Toronto is the church of St. David. It is a relatively new building. Like many of our churches it has some stained glass. One of these is quite striking. Its center point is as one would expect the good news of God’s presence among us. What is unusual is how this is expressed. The images used to show the message are contemporary. The Sky Dome, the CN Tower, a baseball player, a hockey player, a soccer player, scenes of Toronto life are used to express the message of Jesus. There is a recognition, that Jesus is among us, now, in the midst of our own world, culture and traditions.

This is not a new step. Artists for centuries have presented Jesus and his disciples in the settings and the garb of their own times and cultures. Often, they have shown them walking and living in the streets and buildings of their own towns and cities. It is a recognition that our faith in Jesus the Christ is for all peoples, in all places and in every era. The life-giving love of God is not limited to one culture or one language or to a single image or format of prayer. It is for all.

In John’s Gospel (10:1-10), the gospel writer presents Jesus in two images, the shepherd, and the gate to the sheepfold. Both images portray a sense of openness and nurturing. Using these images, Jesus tells his disciples: “I came that you may have life, and have it abundantly

What immediately precedes this part of John’s Gospel is the account Jesus’s healing of the man who had been blind from birth. (9:1-41). In this long story, the blind man receives his sight. As he gained his physical sight, his eyes were opened in another way. Through the eyes of faith, he came to recognize the prophetic role of Jesus.

When Luke, in his Gospel tells of the disciples on the road to Emmaus, he relates how Jesus blessed and broke the bread and then gave it to them – “then their eyes were opened” (Luke 24:13-35). The story described a conversion experience for the two disciples.  They recognized the risen one who until that time had only been a stranger they had met on the road. For the blind man as well as for the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, this was a conversion experience, with an awareness of who Jesus is and of his significance. Conversion is an opening of eyes, seeing in a new and wonderous way.

Such a conversion, such a new vision is both a consolation and a challenge. The blind man and the disciples were crossing to a new life, letting go of what had been for what is now. They were beginning to recognize Jesus as more than their teacher and rabbi. The risen Jesus was not leaving but would continue to be with them in a new way. This was a consolation in their grief and loss. It was also a challenge. The risen Jesus was more than a memory, more than a figure of their past. He remained among them and they were to continue to change and reveal him in their own lives.

Our Challenge is more than recalling Jesus and what he did. It is to have the commitment and courage to live the presence of Jesus in our own time and place – not as a figure of our past, but a spirit and presence here and now. “I came that you may have life, and have it abundantly.” What a hope!

Gathered at the Table of the Lord

posted April 21, 2023

There is an old saying: Some eat to live others live to eat. It appears to stem from the 17th century French playwright Moliere. Its sense is that some people eat because it sustains us in life. It is how we nourish our bodies. Others, love to eat as a way of experiencing many wonderful tastes of the food consumed. Perhaps however there is another reason for a meal. It is a social experience, gathering us together in an effective way. It unites us and allows us to relate to one another. A meal is a community building experience, a way of acknowledging our common experiences.

Over the past few years I have met several people who have walked the Camino trail in northern Spain. This is a pilgrimage route of about 800kms, from southern France, across northern Spain to Santiago di Compostela. The route has seen pilgrims, Christian and non-Christian, for more than 1000 years. In conversations with some who have done the pilgrimage, they often note that along the way they met and shared their stories with others. Very often, this sharing of their stories takes place at the end of the day, when they sit down at a table and share their evening meal with other pilgrims.

This experience of shared stories is what we see in Luke 24:13-35. The Gospel writer relates the story of two disciples of Jesus after the crucifixion. They are on their way from Jerusalem to Emmaus. The journey is a kind of pilgrimage for them. And like all pilgrimages it will be life-changing for them, a conversion.

As they walk along the road, the disciples are talking about what has taken place in Jerusalem. Luke tells of how Jesus approaches them. As Luke puts it: “Their eyes were kept from recognizing him.” So often, in these stories of the resurrection appearances, the disciples at first, do not recognize the risen one when he appears among them.

In the Emmaus story, it is obvious that the disciples are disillusioned by the events they are discussing. Then they meet a stranger on the road who asks them about what they are discussing. They relate what has taken place with sadness. In the crucifixion their hopes had been dashed.

The stranger then recounts the prophet stories from the scriptures, still they do not recognize him. When they are about to stop their trek, the stranger seems about to continue along the road.  Something about him and what he related urges them to ask that he stay with them.

As they sat at the table and began their evening meal, the stranger “took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them.” Then their eyes were opened.” The disciples recognized the risen one in their midst at the breaking of the bread. This was the very action of Jesus did with his disciples at the Last Supper, asking them to “do this in remembrance of me. (Luke 22:19).” Now, at the table as they share the meal, they recognize the risen Jesus with them. They have a conversion. The stories they shared on the road and the stories the stranger related to them from the scriptures found meaning for the disciples at the table, at the breaking of the bread. Now they see, and believe

Every Sunday, at every Eucharist, our Christian communities come together. We carry with us what has happened around us, and in our world. We share our experiences and stories of the past week or month. Then we listen to our sacred stories from the scriptures. At the Table, we celebrate the Eucharist with each other and we do so in remembrance of Jesus, to be with one another at the “breaking of the bread.” This Eucharistic event is our own Emmaus story. It is a moment of conversion for us, a time to recognize the risen Jesus active and present among us in our own pilgrimage of life.

Easter and the Touch of Hope

posted April 14, 2023

Sometimes it is hard to hope. The conflicts around the world seem endless, as one winds down another erupts. Political extremes seem increasingly sharp and any idea of compromise or mutual respect for difference appears impossible. Global warming has raised issues of human survival that are new to our horizon. Many face the specter of serious and debilitating illness. Others struggle with relationships that are wounded and limping. There is so much of our lives that is beyond our control, so much to challenge us as we look to the future. Whether globally or personally, indeed, often it is hard to hope.

Then we come to the Easter season and we hear the stories of the resurrection. We see how this risen Jesus changed the vision of his disciples. The resurrection was not just about Jesus himself. It was an earth-shaking event which changed the whole story of humanity. With the raising of Jesus there was a new creation. The vision of the disciples sees a world made new.

The Easter season lasts for 50 days, beginning with the Easter Vigil. It is significant that as we begin the season, we focus on readings from the Old Testament. Even more significant is the fact that the first reading we hear from our scriptures is drawn from the very beginning of Old Testament. The Book of Genesis in its opening chapter presents us with a poetic description of Creation (Gen.1:1-2:2), announcing: In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while the spirit of God swept over the waters. Then God said, ‘Let there be light, and there was light.’

From the very beginning, God is a life-giving God. Easter is a testimony, that the spirit of God continues to be life-giving and that the great sign of this is in the person of Jesus the Christ and in his resurrection. Easter is the celebration of the continuing creative spirit of God among us.

In the gospel reading of this Sunday (John 20:19-31) the risen Jesus appears to his disciples, locked in a room, cowering in fear after the crucifixion. He greets them with “Peace be with you.” In fact, this is more than a simple greeting. It is a call given to them. For immediately, Jesus tells them that his mission is now their mission and he breathes on them the Spirit. This is the Spirit of God that the creation story in the Book of Genesis points to as the origin of life. Now there will be a new creation and the disciples of Jesus are sent to bring it into existence down to our own day.

How are we to bring a new creation into existence? The Spirit the first disciples received is the Spirit of the risen Jesus and it is this same Spirit that is given to the generations of disciples even to our day. This new creation is to be marked by peace and by the unity of humanity. This was Jesus’ mission. It is now our mission. We are called to heal the wounded, reconcile the divided and mend the broken of our world. To do so is the path to the peace that is God’s dream for all creation.

Easter and the resurrection of Jesus is not the end of a story. Rather it is a beginning, a new beginning, truly the advent of a new creation. The mission given us is to bring this new creation to its completion, its fulfillment in our own time.

Sometimes it is hard to hope. But Easter allows hope to spring into our world. May the Spirit of the risen Jesus move us all to be the voice of such hope to all humanity. May we accept our mission as healers, reconcilers and peace-makers for a new creation, a touch of hope for our world.

Easter: Season of New Life and Rebirth for Jesus....and for Us

posted April 8, 2023

He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried; he descended into hell;
on the third day he rose again from the dead; he ascended into heaven…

Easter takes us through an entire season of rebirth and new life. Beginning with Good Friday and lasting until the Feast of Pentecost our Christian community celebrates the core of our faith, the Paschal Mystery. It is the feast expressing the passage of Jesus from death to new life. The words of our Apostles Creed express our faith in this part of the 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 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.

In Matthew’s Gospel (20:1-18) we find ourselves facing the grieving and loss that is the common human experience of death. The disciples have lost their teacher and mentor. The dismay at this loss is expressed by Mary Magdalene as she cannot find him even in the tomb. She weeps at the loss of Jesus.

Then, in an insight of faith, Mary moves beyond the physical sight of Jesus to the spiritual recognition of the Risen One. She realizes in faith that this awareness is not just for her. It is Good News to be shared. Immediately, Mary rushes to tell the other disciples, as Matthew puts it: I have seen the Lord. And so, the new life of the Risen One begins to permeate the face of the earth.

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.

What we may not realize is 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. 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.

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 resurrection is for all. The promise of new life, hope and healing, peace and liberation is for all.

Going to Hell and Back

posted April 1, 2023

Whenever I watch the TV News there seems to be much pain in our world. Wars, disasters, failures of our institutions and the pain that is visited on both individuals and communities seem to dominate. Life might often appear to have a taste of hell on earth. Every one of us, on any given day, might find ourselves going to hell and back repeatedly in what we face.

This Sunday is Passion Sunday. The Gospel we hear is Matthew’s version of the passion narrative (Matt.26:14-27:66). Later this week on Good Friday we will hear the story again in the version from John’s Gospel (John 18:1-19:42). Both versions tell the story of the suffering and death of Jesus. In both versions we are taken to something that we Christians find expressed in our Apostles Creed: “He descended into hell.”

What are we to make of this statement in our creed? What is the meaning of this statement? Why is it so important that we include it in our creed as a basic element of our community faith?

Both the stories of Jesus’ suffering and death on the cross and the creed statement: “He descended into hell” speak to the same truth of our faith. Our God loves us unconditionally, and loves us so much that God cannot leave us in the hells that mark our human existence. The Incarnation, the birth of Jesus, Son of God taking on our humanity, his suffering and death, his descent into hell and his resurrection are all expressive of God’s dream for the beloved. Every single human being that has ever lived, now lives and will live can never be beyond the love that God has for us, even or perhaps especially when we face our hells.

Do we really believe this? There are times when each of us finds ourselves in our own private hells. Times when no one seems capable of bringing us out of it. We can be filled with fear, disillusionment, vulnerability and pain. Our world can be full of violence, injustice, conflict and suffering and there seems no way to bring it to an end. Sometimes it all seems too much – we can lose hope and promise.

All of this is where we hear the stories of Holy Week and the faith expressed in our creed and are reminded of what is at the heart of our God. To do so is to recover hope. Jesus as savior means that God has a heart that reaches into our hells and the hells of all humanity. “He descended into hell” so that he might bring unconditional love even to the deepest depths, bringing light and life where there is darkness and death.

This is often hard for us to accept. In our own private hells of pain and discouragement, woundedness and alienation it can seem that no one can help. But God’s love is always unconditional and God will not give up. The great step in growing faith is the one that takes us to acceptance that such unconditional love is possible. Basic to our faith is the statement: He descended into hell.” In our creed it is followed by “On the third day he rose again from the dead.”

Can we accept that hell is not part of God’s dream for us personally or as a world? Will our faith allow us to grasp the hope and promise that Jesus’ descent into hell reveals. That God’s caring, compassionate love goes everywhere and brings new life to all? To accept this and reflect it to those around us and throughout our world is a call to every disciple of Jesus and a consolation to the suffering.

May you be blessed with the life-giving experience of a Holy Week filled with much love.

Comfort the Mourning, Heal the Suffering, Care for the Poor – Stand in Solidarity

posted March 25, 2023

Death is a reality of our life. Often it is a time of both pain and confusion. It comes as such a shock. With it come waves of questions. Why is it happening to me, to us? To whom shall I turn? Grief and loss hurts. We feel so alone and isolated. It carries a pain and confusion that strikes at the very core of our lives. It is part of our lives. Whether the experience is physical death and the loss of a loved one or an experience of another form of death, deep loss – of home, of country or freedom we face it. Whatever its form, death brings the pain, confusion and dislocation of grief.

Death, however can also bring forth great love. The love expressed among family, the love revealed in friends and the community that can surround and support us is huge. So too is the support and love expressed across borders of race and colour, faith and culture. Many tears are shed. But at the same time, many stories are told and much gratitude expressed. The experience of death draws us into grief. But it also draws us into the power of healing and life-giving love.

John’s gospel offers us a story of death, grief, pain and tears (John 11:1-45). But it is also a story of life-giving love. Lazarus and his two sisters, Martha and Mary are friends of Jesus. The two sisters send word that their brother is sick and call on Jesus to come. By the time he arrives, Lazarus has died. The sisters are grieving. It is a painful time for them and for many others, including Jesus. But it is also a time of healing and love. For Martha, Mary and Jesus, their tears of grief were also tears of love.

For three Sundays in Lent (3rd, 4th & 5th) we hear stories in John’s Gospel, of people who encounter Jesus. The first is a Samaritan woman at a well, then a blind man. Finally on the 5th Sunday it’s the story of the raising of Lazarus. All three of the stories are of someone who faces a barrier, a kind of death that excludes them from the fulness of life-giving relationship. Their encounters with Jesus are expressions of God’s love that breaks down barriers and brings life and full communion.

Whenever we face loss or lack of full capacity, it is in some way a taste of death, and so we grieve. When we lose a family member or a friend, we grieve. When our freedom is eroded by oppression, injustice, economic exploitation or poverty we grieve in isolation. All of these are loss for us, a taste of death. And so we grieve, personally and as a world community.

Such grief is a sign of love, of connection, of relationship. To stand with someone in loss or separation from full community is to express our love for them. The experience may be physical death and the loss of a loved one or another form of deep loss, barrier or separation – from home, from country or capacity for relationship. To stand with them in grief is to honour the loving relationship among us especially in the confusion and dislocation of separation.

This Sunday our church marks what we call “Solidarity Sunday”. We are asked to recognize that all around our world there are many who stand in the grief of poverty, injustice, oppression, violence and economic exploitation. As Jesus stood with Mary, Martha and Lazarus in their experience of loss, so we stand, sharing our love with all humanity in its experiences of death and loss.

We are a human community of many races, colours, cultures and creeds. We are a wounded world. We suffer from war, hardship, poverty, injustice and oppression. The deaths that we experience are our common burden. May our sharing of gifts, talents and resources to ease the suffering be a sign that we are one human community and that we stand in solidarity with all for healing and reconciliation.

Living Faith: Where does it come from?

posted March 11, 2023

The Gospel for this 3rd Sunday of Lent comes from the Good News according to John (John 4:5-42). It is the rather long account (John tends to be long-winded) of Jesus’ encounter with a Samaritan woman at a well. The story describes the manner in which the woman gradually comes to an awareness and a faith in who Jesus is. First he is a Jewish man seeking water from a well. Then, through their encounter, the woman comes to see much more and it changes her and others. She sees him as a prophet, then messiah, then as the presence of God. But such faith is not just for the woman. It leads her out from being learner or disciple to being a witness. She takes her faith to others and they come to the same awareness and faith.

This is a story of how faith is a dynamic, growing and living experience, not a static body of doctrine. It is an experience of life that is constantly evolving and changing. The woman’s experience revealed this as did the experience of the other Samaritans of the town. In addition, it reveals something of faith as the result of an encounter or rather, a series of encounters. First there is the woman’s meeting of Jesus at the well. This is a totally unexpected meeting. To have Jesus, a Jewish man meet and speak to a Samaritan woman would be unheard of in the society of the time. The woman realizes this. Even the disciples question it.

The woman then encounters some others from her town and shares her experience and her bewilderment with them. This encounter apparently intrigues the townspeople. Their curiosity leads them to go to meet Jesus themselves and this encounter brings them an experience of faith in Jesus that is even more than what the woman expressed. They come to faith in Jesus as the Savior of the world.

Where does such living faith come from? It comes first as a gift of God. But God seems always to work through created and human instruments. Our living faith has resulted from many encounters over the years – our parents, our children, our teachers, our priests, our friends. It grows with every experience we have. This process of growth is a story like John’s Gospel, for our recognition of Jesus and how we relate to Jesus (and God) is never constant. Like any relationship, the experiences of our lives, down through the years, will change that relationship. As children that relationship will have a child’s character. As youths then as adults that relationship will change and perhaps challenge us.

Living and adult faith is not the faith of a child. It has many more questions, many more demands for us. It is like all other relationships, it is more grey than black and white, often more challenging than comforting, frequently will have more questions than answers. And such faith ultimately will lead us to reaching out in service to others.

The Samaritan woman’s encounter with Jesus at that well turned her life upside down. It also spilled over into the people of her town. Living an adult faith has a capacity to do this. It should never be boring and it should never be static. It will call us to change every day and to see that we cannot keep it to ourselves. It is for others as much as it is for ourselves.

Some Thoughts to Reflect on this Week

 Q/ Who has helped my faith to grow over the years? Who have I helped by sharing my faith?

 Q/ How adult is my own faith?

A Trip to the Mountain

posted March 4, 2023

Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves. (Matt.17:1)

A number of years ago, I had the opportunity to work in a parish that sent a number of high school students and leaders on a service-learning trip to the Dominican Republic. There they worked in an orphanage, a school, a pregnancy clinic and on a housing project. They encountered a new and different culture from our own. It was they reported an amazing experience. They had to leave the Dominican and return to us. But they brought their experience back with them. It was and hopefully will continue to affect how they see things in their own lives and in lives of others for years to come.

Our lives are full of many experiences, many personalities, many challenges and many blessings. Some of these are very attractive, others, we would rather not have. To have a full life, however, we need them all. They affect who we are and what we do in life. Such life-affecting experiences are what we mean when we speak about grace. Grace is the free gift of God’s spirit and love touching our lives. This gift is with us always, but often unnoticed. From time to time though, we will become especially aware of such grace. It touches us in the persons, places and events we encounter. But we need to recognize the ordinary grace that comes our way.

On this 2nd Sunday of Lent, our Gospel comes from Matthew. We hear the story of Jesus taking some of his disciples up a high mountain and there they experience the fullness of God in their presence (Matt.17:1-9). Jesus is transfigured before them and appears with two of the great Old Testament figures, Moses and Elijah. For that brief moment, the disciples have a glimpse of who Jesus is. It moves and affects them deeply. They wanted to remain there in this time of grace.

Remaining on the mountain, in the experience is not possible. The moment passes and they must return down the mountain to continue their journey with all its demands. But they are affected deeply and the grace of the experience, the spirit it offered will change them. From disciples they will become witnesses and will themselves be bearers of the Good News they have encountered in their journey with Jesus. They will bear this grace to others.

What happened to those high school students in the Dominican was a period of obvious grace. They and we may not have called it that at the time. But the people they met there, the experiences they were part of and the young people themselves, all were touches of God’s love and presence for them in a very special way. Such moments are life-affecting. But they are also moments which call us beyond ourselves, for grace, that touch of God is always a call to serve and care and show compassion for others.

We experience such ordinary grace often in our lives – persons, places, challenges, blessings. Perhaps Lent offers us an opportunity to recognize the ordinary grace that touches us everyday. Where does it lead us to sharing God’s love with others?

Lent: A Desert Journey of Change and Discovery

posted February 25, 2023

After Jesus’ baptism by John in the Jordan River the Spirit descended upon him and led him to begin his mission. The first step Jesus takes in this mission is to go out into the wilderness, the desert. There he faced the temptations that stood in front of this mission (Matt.4:1-11).

Lent for us, is always a step into the desert. A desert is a place of different environment, a place where we must wrestle with those things that threaten the fullness of our lives. The desert is the place where we can be lost, where we see the temptations and the possibilities that can draw us off track in our life journey. The desert can be a place of challenge. But it can also be a place of discovery. Often it is the place where we discover who we are and what our mission and direction is in life, even for a brief time.

For God’s People in the Old Testament, the desert of Sinai was the place of discovery. Leaving Egypt and escaping their slavery, they trekked through the wasteland toward the land promised them by God. After much struggle, they came to the place of God’s promise and recognized that they were the beloved ones of God. Through their desert journey, Israel was more and more formed into the people they were called to be.

Lent presents us with a desert journey. It is an opportunity to develop the spirituality that we long for, providing direction and focus for our lives. We can make it a time of reflection and of prayer, an opportunity to be formed into the people of God’s dream. In moments of reflection we may discover our faults and flaws. But we can also discover that they do not matter, for in God’s eyes we are the beloved, the loved.

Through the desert of prayer and reflection, we can begin to set aside those things that reduce and diminish our lives. We begin to see that God calls us to action, to mission. It is not an impossible mission but one which we share with a whole community – to reveal to the whole world, and to ourselves - that God loves us unconditionally.

Here are some suggestions for our desert journey during Lent 2023:

• Take advantage of opportunities for quiet reflection and prayer
• Examine how we use resources, talents and gifts for all, especially others in need
• Gather with your community and acknowledge how much they mean to you
• Look at your relationships and how they might be enriched and improved

Franciscan priest and spiritual writer, Richard Rohr in his daily online reflection a few years ago had this to say about how we might live our lives with a spirituality of both contemplation and action. “In order to become truly prophetic people,… we have to teach and learn ways to integrate needed activism with a truly contemplative mind and heart….Once you see things contemplatively, you’ll begin to seek the bias toward the bottom [i.e. the most in need and forgotten in society and the world].” He goes on to assert: “You’ll be free to embrace your shadow, and you can live at peace with those who are different. From a contemplative stance, you’ll know what action is yours to do almost naturally. And what you do not need to do at all!”