posted June 24, 2022
A couple who are friends of mine have a daughter who runs in marathons around North America. Marathon runners are an interesting or even an amazing lot. A person who enters such events does not do so simply by deciding one day that they would like to run. Running a marathon is a long-term decision. Months of training, careful diet, dedication to the preparation and mental focus are essential for such an undertaking.
Commitment and perseverance lie at the base of marathon running. The person must dedicate their attention, time and energy over a long period of training. Not only that, the day of the event and the race itself will make huge physical and mental demands on the person. Running 42 kilometers up and down hills for 4-5 hours in all kinds of conditions drains a person. A person cannot do this without commitment and perseverance.
In the marathon running of their daughter, my friends discovered another element of such an experience. Though it seems a solitary activity, it is in some sense, amazingly social. Thousands of people come out to witness the event. In the case of their daughter, her marathon plans are always communicated to her family. Her parents could be relied upon to travel great distances to support her in the race. She never runs alone, but with the support of family and friends as well as spectators. Perhaps, in all of this we discover a model for discipleship.
One who would become a disciple of Jesus does so not for the moment, but for the long journey. Discipleship is always a process of becoming and continual dedication. We see this in the Gospels as Jesus call disciples to journey with him. It is not a short-term undertaking and it is full of challenges and unknown twists and turns. The commitment to the journey will call for dedication and perseverance, and it is never carried out alone.
As Luke tells the story of Jesus on his mission of the Kingdom there is a turning point that comes in chapter 9. From this point Jesus is directed to Jerusalem where his mission will be completed with his crucifixion, resurrection and return to the Father. Luke points out the resolution and determination that will mark Jesus on his mission. And he continues to call disciples to join him.
They will need the resolution and determination of Jesus. They will need the perseverance and commitment to purpose of a marathon runner. As disciples, they will accompany Jesus on his journey. In Luke 9:51-62 we hear of three persons willing to set out on the mission. Jesus presents them with the challenging reality that they will face. Their decision will demand commitment. It will mean setting priorities in which they cannot do everything. Some things in life, even good things will have to be given up. In all of this, they will have to “stick with it.” Often the disciple will need to persevere in the face of challenges and the temptation to turn around. Discipleship will have a cost for them, but they will never be alone in their response.
Q/ What is the cost of discipleship in my life? What does it demand? Who is with me?
posted June 18, 2022
Over the past two years we have made many sacrifices in response to the pandemic of Covid-19. Among other things, we have accepted to isolate ourselves from one another, wear masks that make it hard to recognize even our close friends and done our best to self-distance from one another. These sacrifices have been made, not only to protect ourselves from the virus, but also to protect those around us. It is ironic that we have put distance between us and others for the sake of others.
Throughout the pandemic, we been forced to limit our most characteristic gathering – Eucharist. For periods during the last two years, our gathering at the table has been virtual. Streaming of our Sunday Eucharist has led to a virtual experience for many. In some places this has been augmented by drive-through communion. This has been a reasonable response to the threat of the virus. But it is not the full Eucharistic experience.
The full Eucharistic experience is one of presence, in several ways. At the table, we celebrate the real presence of Jesus the Christ and the Paschal Mystery of his life, death and resurrection continuing among us as a community of disciples. In him and through him we recognize God’s saving presence ever among us.
The table of the Eucharist is found in the presence of a gathered community and is an expression of the broader sacramental character of the faith community, the Church. In our tradition, the community initiates its members through three sacraments of initiation: Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist. Eucharist is the final step in our being part of the Christian community. It is celebrated repeatedly, affording us the opportunity to recognize who we are and who we are becoming – disciples of Jesus the Christ, called to live his message and mission.
The Catholic Christian tradition is strongly human in its expression. This is particularly apparent in what we have come to know as our sacraments. These are not dis-embodied symbols or rituals, but human expressions of faith. This gives to our faith a quality that is referred to as “sacramentality”. Our faith needs human presence to come alive. The sacraments provide this. Through them we experience Jesus the Christ among us as the sign of God’s constant loving presence. This is especially present at our Eucharistic table – when the community gathers.
As helpful as our streamed Masses and drive-through opportunities to receive communion were in the midst of the pandemic, they do not represent the full real presence in the Eucharist that is at the center of our celebrations of faith. Eucharist needs real people, in a real place and time in order to make the faith statement of real presence – Jesus the Christ is among us and active in all we do.
In Luke’s Gospel (9:11-17) we hear the story of Jesus feeding the 5000 with five loaves and two fish. No matter how, it is a wonder. Some would read this story literally, and in this way sees Jesus using power to multiply a little available food so that there was enough to feed multitude. Others might read it differently. Perhaps it is a story with even greater meaning.
The story can be seen as what Jesus is able to draw from people. Humanly, when we lack or have little, we often turn inward to protect our own resources, whether that be food or time or energy or whatever. But not always, often we make sacrifices reaching out to others, responding to need. Then, Luke’s story becomes Eucharistic, we become the Eucharistic community we are called to be.
posted June 11, 2022
What? How? Why? Who? So what? Our lives are full of questions. Sometimes, Google or Alexa offers an answer to some questions. But rarely do we find responses to our fundamental human questions, those that we discover in our hearts. What does my life really mean? Why am I here in this time and place? How can I be happy and content? Who are the significant persons in my life? These are our great questions and the answers are neither simple, nor readily clear.
There are certain points in our lives when these questions seem to loom larger and more pressing. For some this time of year is one of those moments. Spring for many is the time of graduation. It is one of those moments when our lives face change and so the questions of our heart are significant. Such moments be frequent in our lives, and the responses will always be fluid, still evolving, now and for the rest of our lives.
Faith addresses many of our questions of meaning. Faith is not about our head, it rests in the heart and it bears on our great questions. One of the big questions, directly addressed in our Christian faith is who or what is this God in whom we place our trust and to whom we are related in faith.
Watch a Mum hug her child. See a Dad hug his daughter. Notice a loving couple holding each other in an embrace. Witness a husband and wife hold each other in a hospital. A hug is a mysterious thing. Without words a hug seems to say it all. It expresses the love between two persons. It will bond, it will heal, it brings life, it offers comfort, it mends. A hug expresses a love that no words can describe. A hug is truly a mystery.
But a mystery is more than just something we cannot explain. A mystery is something the meaning of which can never be exhausted. Such a truth or experience will always be ever new, ever able to bring us to a new place in our lives. Much as we like clear, black and white answers, it is the mysteries of our lives that generate the most life, promise and hope. Hugs and the love they express are just such mysteries. Perhaps they help us recognize our God
Our God is Trinity – Father, Son, Spirit. This is one of the deepest and the earliest beliefs of the Christian Tradition. It is also most expressive of our image of God. To have an image of God that expresses love and harmony, compassion and care, healing and comfort – this is image of the Trinity. We can talk about it, we can provide analogies for it, but we can never explain or exhaust its meaning.
To see God as Mother or Father, a loving, life-giving parent is to see our God as creator, giving life to all that is. This is our God who gives and sustains life in all the universe. More than this, this is the God, who like a parent loves life into existence and supports it with this same inexhaustible love.
This loving, creating God has come among us in Jesus, the incarnation of God. So great is the love held in the heart of our God that it spills out in an overflowing flood as God takes on our humanity in the person of Jesus. God is with us, Emmanuel.
Such love cannot be just for a moment or a time. It is constant and forever. In the Spirit we are given the continuous hug of our God. We cannot win or lose it. It is ever with us, in our joys and sorrows, our good times and our bad. Like the hug of the mother, the embrace of the father, the love of our God, expressed in the Trinity has a warmth and comfort that draws us together. We are held in the heart of God. What an overflowing mystery!
By Fr. Monte Peters posted June 4, 2022
Two years is a long time to be separated from family, friends and community. Covid-19 has been a lengthy experience of such separation. With vaccinations, masking and the sense that the virus is more controllable and less threatening, we are beginning to come together once more. But it is not easy. There remains some fear of the virus and two years of being apart leaves us with a gap in our relationships.
The disciples whom Jesus had called to follow him did so over a considerable time. Over the course of being with him, they had drawn close to Jesus. In fact, John’s Gospel remarks on this close bond that has been created between Jesus and his disciples: I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father (Jn.15:15).
The bond between Jesus and his disciples is tested as the disciples are struggling with the crucifixion and their loss of the master who had led them, instructed them and served as their mentor and example. But the disciples came to see that Jesus the Christ continued to be among them. The Gospels offer us several accounts of the disciples witnessing his resurrected presence with them.
These accounts of the disciples’ encounters with the risen Jesus often characterize his presence as bringing peace to the disciples who are fill with dismay and fear from their experience of the crucifixion. We see this near the end of John’s Gospel. The risen one appears among them and declares: Peace be with you (Jn.20:19-23). More than this, Jesus commissions them as his friends and closest collaborators to carry on the mission that he has had – to reconcile and heal the brokenness of the world. His mission becomes their mission. His Spirit is their spirit. By building and sharing the peace that they have received and by loving as he has loved, they will bring the reign of God to their world.
This Spirit, that was to remain with the disciples is the one that Paul refers to in his letter to the Christians in Corinth (1Cor.12:3-7) – Now there are a variety of gifts, but the same Spirit. Filled with this Spirit, they went forth and began to change the world with the message and the mission that they had received.
The Spirit poured out upon the disciples on that first Pentecost gave them new gifts which brought new life, new heart to the variety of their own personal talents and abilities. They became a community of disciples, filled with energy and drive for the message and the mission. The outpouring of the Spirit builds the disciples into a community of believers and missionaries of the message of Jesus. They become Church, focused on hearing the message anew and taking it out to the ends of the earth.
We are Church. We are a Spirit-filled community of disciples of Jesus the Christ. On this Feast of Pentecost, we celebrate the Spirit that we have been given. With this Spirit the variety of gifts that we possess can bring new heart to a world seeking hope and new vision. This is the vision of God’s dream for all creation – of peace, of hope, of healing, of unity.
What are gifts and abilities that I hold? With the Spirit can I share them?
posted May 28, 2022
More than 40 years ago I met Jim and Pauline. Jim was a sergeant with the OPP and Pauline worked in a Catholic school in Barrie. At the time I was working in a parish in the north of Toronto. For about a year the three of us worked together on a number of marriage enrichment projects. Over that time of working together, we became very good friends. Then I left to return to Fredericton.
One of the remarkable things is that the departure did not end the relationship. For more than 40 years we have maintained the friendship through letters and phone calls and more recently through email. There were occasional visits to Toronto for me and to Fredericton for them. It was not always easy to maintain the contact but it did happen. Though we left each other’s physical presence we had not really left one another. Over the years there was a presence that continued. We continued to be with one another in our friendship, but in another way. There was a sense of being apart and together, of “leaving yet remaining” with one another. I think we all have had such relationships.
When the Scriptures speak of the Ascension, it may seem that Jesus is somehow leaving his disciples. But when we look more closely at the Gospel accounts it is evident they speak of leaving and at the time staying. There is a sense of Jesus leaving and yet remaining with his disciples.
Luke’s Gospel (24:44-53) presents Jesus leaving his disciples in what we usually refer to as the Ascension. The way Luke tells the story is by having Jesus recall the many promises and prophesies of God’s saving love in the Old Testament. He connects these with the message and mission he has had with them as the Christ, the promised and anointed one. Then, pointing out that they are to be his witnesses, he calls on them to take the message to the whole of humanity. They are to be the Christ for others, to all nations.
Luke presents us with the disciples’ recognition that while the physical presence of Jesus with whom they had walked and talked in Galilee was now gone, He remains among them in another and more wondrous way. Jesus the Christ risen continues among them and they are themselves the witnesses of this new and real presence.
With this awareness, the disciples who had been so full of fear and foreboding, are filled with the Spirit, and joyfully return to Jerusalem to
share the Good News.
In every Eucharist we hear the words Do this in memory of me. As a community of faith we recall in living fashion Jesus’ whole life, death and resurrection, what we call the Paschal Mystery. Each time we gather around the Table sharing Eucharist, we celebrate together that Jesus who has returned to the Father, continues through the Spirit to be with us. Each time we celebrate together, we remember and enact this “leaving yet remaining” story as disciples of this Risen Jesus. In doing so, like those disciples we see in the Gospel, we commit ourselves to the joyous sharing of the Good News to all nations. The real presence of Jesus is indeed among and is for all nations, all the peoples of the earth.
posted May 21, 2022
Peace I leave you; my peace I give to you…. Do not let your hearts be troubled,
and do not let them be afraid. (John 14:27)
One of the formative experiences of my life and priesthood was several years of involvement in weekend retreats for married couples. At the core of these retreats was the awareness that enrichment of relationships depended on constant communication within couples, from the heart. Deciding to do this as a couple honoured a principle – love is a decision.
Often we think of love as an emotion. To see love as a decision is to require an explicit commitment in any relationship. When such a principle is accepted and acted upon it has the possibility of building a relationship that is marked by peace, harmony and mutual respect. In the long term, such a relationship whether for a couple or a community or our world is what we all long for. It only becomes a reality, when we are able to make the decision to love. And this requires a commitment to the other. It is not a feeling, it is a decision.
Understanding love in this way helps us to grasp and make sense of what Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount: “You have heard that it was said, ’You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven” (Matt.5:43-45). Love that is a decision moves beyond the emotional to conscious efforts to follow the disciple’s path offered by Jesus’ call. It nurtures relationships, building peace and harmony.
As John in his Gospel, tells the story of Jesus and his disciples we discover the significance of relationships for the disciples of Jesus. Before his death and resurrection, Jesus reflects on his departure from them (John 14:23-29). As he does so, Jesus reassures them in two ways. First, his vision is that they not be troubled or fearful. He wants his disciples to be at peace, in their own hearts and with one another.
The second reassurance is his promise that the Father will not leave them alone or abandoned. God will gift them with “the Advocate”. The Spirit of God will be with them always.
With this Spirit, Jesus will continue to be among them, guiding and supporting them as they carry on his message and mission.
In 2015-16 Pope Francis, moved by the Spirit, launched our church on a journey to discover the peace of heart and peace with others that is Jesus’ vision for disciples. The focus Francis took was to lead us away from commands, rules and judgement, to see ourselves as a church of mercy.
One the images he turned to was the church as a “field hospital”. Our church is to be out among the struggles and challenges of our world, responding to the physical, social, economic and moral needs of all humanity. It is to reach out in particular to the lost and the excluded, the outcasts, the suffering, the wounded and the hurting. Such openness and outreach builds the peace for which we all long. It reveals the peace that is Jesus’ blessing for all: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you” (John 14:27). Living such relational faith, is the role of the disciple, building the Reign of God among all humanity.
posted May 13, 2022
I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved
you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are
my disciples, if you have love for one another. (John 13:34-35)
Memory marks us. The people we’ve met, the things we’ve done, the experiences we’ve had, these all help us to recognize who we are and what our lives are about. The Gospels express the memories of the first disciples. First it was orally passed on among the early followers of Jesus. Then after a time, these communities of Christians began to write these memories – those that they felt marked them as disciples and Christians. John’s Gospel is one of these recordings.
Throughout the Easter Season we hear from John. In particular we focus on the experiences the first disciples had of the Risen Jesus. After Jesus had given himself up to death on the Cross, he continued to be present among these followers. This presence was not a physical presence, but it was just as real and meaningful. It was also a presence that led them to make sense of all that Jesus had passed onto them. They became aware of what we have come to call the Paschal Mystery (the life, death, resurrection and continuing presence of Jesus). It led them to commit themselves to his mission.
The experience of the risen Jesus deeply changed the disciples. Fundamentally, they recognized that Jesus had sacrificed his life for them. Further, they came to see that his sacrifice went beyond them to all of humanity. Thus, they were on fire to proclaim this good news of his message and carry out his mission to the world.
The good news and message that the death and resurrection led them to see was that by laying down his life for them, Jesus revealed God’s great love for all humanity. Jesus’ resurrection and continued presence among them confirmed the disciples’ awareness of the loving God revealed by Jesus while he walked and taught them. Now they knew firmly that God would never leave them, even in death.
What the disciples were now to do was share and proclaim what they had been given. The writer John speaks of a new commandment as the way in which the disciples will proclaim this good news of love.
In another place, in a letter to fellow Christians, it is even more clearly proclaimed that God’s love given to us leads to our loving one another:
This is the love I mean: not our love for God, but God’s love for us when he sent
his Son to be the sacrifice that takes our sin away.... We are to love, then, because
he loved us first. (1 John 4:10, 19)
If we were looking for an expression of what this love of God looks like, we need look no further than Matthew’s Gospel chapters 5-7 and Luke chapters 6-8. The beatitudes or blessings of these Gospels and the actions connected to them present a kind of epitome or summary of how we are to show God’s love. It is a love that brings life to us and to our world. This was the mission of Jesus. Now it is our mission, for we are his disciples.
posted May 5, 2022
Our Easter season began almost a month ago with the three days of the Triduum. On Holy Thursday at the Mass of the Lord’s Supper our faith community gathered to recall Jesus and his circle of disciples coming together for the Passover meal. This Jewish festival meal is an important piece of Jewish faith tradition.
On Passover, Jewish families come together and recall the meal shared by the Israelites as they began their exodus journey. This trek through the desert was a movement out of slavery in Egypt to liberation in their own land. During that Exodus journey, with all its challenges, the Israelites not only came to their promised land, they became formed as a people of God. It was a passage from bondage to freedom, from darkness to new light.
It is no small thing that we Catholic Christians mark this same journey, from the bondage of death to the liberation of new life. Easter is central to who we are. We are Easter People. Now here we are in the midst of the Easter season. In John’s Gospel there is a wonderful passage that parallels the Old Testament Book of Exodus as it describes the community of Israelites journeying from bondage to new life.
John 10:27-30 presents the disciples of Jesus as now formed into a community of friends and ready to follow him. He leads them, filled with trust and faith to new and eternal life. Our Feast of Easter acknowledges and calls us to celebrate together this Good News of God’s life-giving love, for us and for all humanity.
For all Christians this season celebrates the central element of our faith, the Paschal Mystery. Not a common phrase for most of us, the Paschal Mystery refers to the whole life, death and resurrection of Jesus. It is a reminder to us that our key belief as Catholic Christians is our belief that Jesus was raised from the dead. We are not about the Cross but about the resurrection to new life.
From the very beginning of the Christian church, the time of the apostles, the resurrection was the core belief. All else, as the apostle Paul expressed it, is dependent on our belief that Jesus was raised from the dead. Paul put it this way as he wrote to the Christian community in Corinth: If there is no resurrection from the dead, Christ himself cannot have been raised, and if Christ has not been raised then our preaching is in vain and your believing it is useless. (1 Cor.15:14-15)
Jesus’ resurrection from the dead is the foundation of our faith. Our ancestors in the faith expressed this belief that Jesus is risen from the dead in many ways. The earliest symbols and images used by Christians were those that presented the resurrection of Jesus. Only much later, more than 1000 years later, did the cross portraying the suffering Jesus find its way into the Christian church’s images.
We are a people of the Paschal Mystery. The central part of our Eucharist is what is called the Eucharistic prayer. It is a prayer of thanksgiving for the wonder of God’s promise of life for all. The various versions of this prayer all celebrate our faith in the resurrection and its promise for all humanity. We hear words such as this: “O God, as we celebrate the remembrance of the saving passion of your Son, his wondrous Resurrection and Ascension into heaven, and as we look forward to his second coming,…” (Eucharistic Prayer III)
posted April 30, 2022
This weekend is the 3rd Sunday of the Easter season. Two Sunday’s ago we celebrated the Feast of Easter. Last Sunday, a week later the global Orthodox Christians, including those in Ukraine celebrated the Feast of Easter. What our Orthodox cousins were marking was exactly what we celebrated on the previous Sunday.
Easter is the most significant feast in our Christian faith, marking the centrality of the resurrection of Jesus. For all of us, Easter expresses the promise and hope of new life for all humanity and for all creation. At its center is the hope that God’s life-giving love showers upon us. In Ukraine, whether Catholic or Orthodox, Easter has the same meaning and significance. We hold dearly the same faith as disciples of Jesus the Christ.
This Easter, was different for the people of Ukraine. They find themselves plunged into a deadly war, surrounded by death and destruction. In the midst of such circumstances, it is difficult to focus on God’s life-giving love. It is hard to pray with faith and hope. Yet, Easter took place. With all the threatening clouds of the war, Ukrainians welcomed Easter. They marked it with firm faith and striking expressions of hope. The ground of their hope is founded on the very faith on which we, like the first disciples of Jesus the Christ base our own.
Throughout the season of Easter, we Catholic Christians, like our Orthodox sisters and brothers are called to reflect on scriptural accounts of the Risen Jesus. This Sunday, we again hear of an appearance of the Jesus in the Gospel of John (21:1-19). The encounter brings the disciples excitement and reassurance.
Additionally, as so often is the case, the disciples find themselves called to mission, to service and sacrifice for others. In other words, they are to be bearers of the risen Jesus to others.
In John’s account, three time the Risen One asks Peter if he loves him. With each of Peter’s responses, Jesus calls him to care for and look after all of God’s people, to “tend” and “feed” them, just as he has done.
For Jesus, his mission was to proclaim and reveal the kingdom of God among us. Where there is love and openness to one another, where there is life-giving love, then there is the kingdom of God. Jesus revealed this along the roads of Galilee. We walk the roads of our own time and places, as did the disciples of Jesus in their time and place. Here we find the kingdom, the way of heaven, and hope. It is planted in the midst of our lives.
The Franciscan spiritual writer, Richard Rohr spoke of this hope in an Easter season reflection: “Heaven is not about belonging to the right group; it’s not about following the correct rituals. It’s about having the right attitude.” (28 April, 2019). This attitude is one of being life-giving, as Jesus is. Heaven is part of our life journey, not just somewhere out there in the future. Living our present life with love and compassion and service is the indication of heaven already begun among us
posted April 24, 2022
Sometimes it is hard to hope. The conflicts around the world seem endless. As one winds down, another erupts. At this time, the war in Ukraine absorbs much of our attention. It is hard to imagine the pain of a people facing such death and destruction all around them. The images we have and the accounts we hear make no sense to us. How is it possible to live in such a world? Can we ever find meaning in the midst of it?
What has happened to God’s dream for humanity?
There is so much of our lives that is beyond our control, so much to challenge us as we look to the future. Do we cynically, just give up on humanity? Indeed, so often it is hard to hope. Then comes Easter. We face the resurrection. The resurrection was not just about Jesus. With faith, we encounter a new vision, a new creation.
Easter – a season of new life. Celebrating the season of Easter we hear and reflect on a whole series of our faith stories. Easter brings us through the entire history of human salvation, through accounts of creation, liberation, restoration and resurrection. These are stories of many new beginnings, new life, stories of hope.
Through the Easter season, many stories of the Risen Jesus appearing to the disciples are set before us. The Gospel of this Sunday (John 20:19-31) offers us a picture of the liberation and healing that comes with the ongoing gift of the Spirit and the presence of the Risen Jesus.
One of the striking elements of the story in John’s Gospel is something that appears as well in other Gospel stories of appearances. It is the greeting that Jesus offers as he comes among the disciples: Peace be with you. Peace can mean many things – absence of war and conflict, quiet and silence, unity and good relations. In the Gospel stories of the appearances of Jesus peace is an indication of the healing and liberation that comes with the Spirit of the Risen Jesus.
It is no accident that John describes the disciple as locked in a room and cowering in fear. For them there was a great threat that what happened to Jesus would happen to them. They had lost hope, but suddenly they sensed the presence of the Jesus they had lost. His presence and the Spirit stirred in them a new vision. It dispelled fear, freed them from the terror and healed their pain.
With the gift of the Spirit, the disciples came to realize that the message and the mission that Jesus proclaimed was now theirs. The peace that came upon them with the presence of Jesus risen, was theirs to take to the world. Filled with the Spirit they were to liberate, to heal, to bring hope, new hope.
We need Easter’s hope. In his Easter Sunday reflection (April 17, 2022), Franciscan spiritual writer Richard Rohr highlights this need for all humanity: If all is hopeless, we all individually lose hope too. Easter is an announcement of a common hope. When we sing in the Easter hymn that Christ destroyed death, that means death for all of us. It’s not just about Jesus; it’s to humanity that God promises, “Life is not ended, it merely changes,” as we say in the funeral liturgy. That’s what happened in Jesus, and that’s what will happen in us. In the end, everything will be all right.
Sometimes it is hard to hope. Easter offers hope for our world. May the Spirit of the Risen Jesus move us to voice such hope of new life for all humanity. May the blessing of new life and peace come upon us all. In particular, may new peace and new life come upon the people of Ukraine.
posted April 16, 2022
Every year brings its own challenges and setbacks, both personal and global. We may have lost a friend or loved one or perhaps we have had to face health issues or job losses or changes. Globally, this has been a rough year for our world. We face many challenges. Two of the greatest include, the continuing threat posed to many by the covid-19 virus and the war that is taking place in Ukraine. In Canada, we can add the wounded relationship of our church and our indigenous peoples.
The weight of these challenges brings disappointment, discouragement and even despair – a loss of hope. In our faith tradition, these might be referred to as the crosses we carry. Such crosses are the negatives of our lives. How do we move beyond them? Do they define us? Is that what life is really all about? If not, then how do we respond to these crosses?
Easter offers hope. It presents a path for moving beyond. In the Gospels we are presented with the disciples of Jesus as they faced the crucifixion and death of their beloved Jesus. They were confused, discouraged and filled with despairing fear. Then, Easter. In the midst of their despair they discovered the resurrection. In Luke’s story (Lk.24:1-12), several of the women disciples go to the tomb and it is empty. The terrified women find themselves in a question: “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen.” Easter offers a door to hope. But it also presents us with another challenge.
Carlo Carretto (1910-1988) was born in Italy. At the age of 44 he joined the Little Brothers of Jesus, a monastic community in Algeria. Living with this community in the Sahara desert, he became a contemplative spiritual writer. It was a life of prayer, but also one of service to the people in the area around the community. At the core of his spirituality was the realization that holiness rests in the ordinary, everyday existence of every one of us. God touches us in the person of Jesus and journeys with us as the risen one.
Commenting on the meaning of Jesus’s resurrection, theological writer and speaker Megan McKenna turned to Carretto’s words:
When the world seems a defeat for God and you are sick with the disorder, the violence, the terror, the war on the streets; when the earth seems to be chaos, say to yourself, “Jesus died and rose again on purpose to save and his salvation is already with us….”
Every peace treaty is an act of faith in the resurrection.
Every agreed commitment is an act of faith in the resurrection.
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 the newly-born child
When you build your home you believe in the resurrection.
(Carol Carretto. “Blessed Are You Who Believed)
The resurrection takes on full meaning, when we are able to take it out into our world, just as Jesus did. Easter’s meaning rests in the healing, reconciling, caring and liberating of the world in which we find ourselves. Easter brings life and light. Easter is about hope and how we bring it to one another.
posted April 2, 2022
This Sunday is Solidarity Sunday. Each year on the 5th Sunday of Lent, our Canadian Catholic Church reflects on our Christian call to stand in solidarity with the poor, the oppressed, the suffering in our world. It is a reflection on our call to be a people of faith living the Gospel. Filled with the spirit of Jesus, we stand in our world as signs of his presence. Through us, the message and mission of Jesus continues to be proclaimed to all peoples, as Jesus did, in word and in action.
Listening to the Gospel this Sunday (John 8:1-11) we are drawn into the story of Jesus and his encounter with a group of scribes and Pharisees. In an effort to trip him up, they have brought before him a woman caught in adultery. They pose a question to him, asking if he agrees with what the law of Moses demanded – that she must be stoned to death.
Before Jesus is standing one who is unable to defend herself. She is indeed the most threatened and vulnerable. She is without rights and without an advocate. Accused of sin, she finds no forgiveness and is isolated and rejected by the community. She is lost and her life will be taken from her.
Only Jesus stands with her. He stands in solidarity with her. In doing so, Jesus brings to her an immediate salvation. His silent response by a loving reconciling presence brings her forgiveness and restoration to the community. He saves her in so many ways. She is freed from the bondage of injustice. She is forgiven her sin and failings. She is raised to new life possibilities. She is restored to a place in the community of God’s People.
Our faith and our faith tradition call us to be this Jesus acting in our world. John’s telling of this story highlights the wonder of Jesus’ healing, reconciling presence. All of the Gospel healing stories reveal the same Jesus. He feels the pain and the suffering of the threatened and vulnerable. He brings them out of pain and suffering restoring them to wholeness and holiness. He reconciles them, bringing them back into the community. He stands in solidarity with them in their struggle and through his presence, shares their challenge with compassion and with love.
This is the Jesus of our faith. This is who we are called to be. It is our identity as a Christian people. At our baptism, we received the spirit of this Jesus. It made us sharers in the priesthood of Jesus Christ, every one of us. In this priesthood we stand with the poor, the broken, the rejected, the suffering, the oppressed of our world. In particular, this year, we stand with the people of Ukraine. Sinners we are, but we are also healers and reconcilers. As a baptized priesthood we believe and commit ourselves:
- to God, who loves us, all of us unconditionally
- to Jesus, in his life, death and resurrection
- to the Spirit who has gives us and sustains us in life
- to our call as priests of Jesus Christ, in solidarity with all who face poverty, injustice, oppression, violence and sin in our world.
THIS WE BELIEVE
posted March 26, 2022
This 4th Sunday of Lent we hear one of the most beautiful and moving of Jesus’ parables. (Luke 15:1-3, 11-32) It is a story that touches the heart of every person. It expresses something that is part of the human experience. All our relationships are marked in some way by this story – a story of disappointment with self, of self-righteous resentment and of abundant, healing, unconditional love.
The parable of the “Prodigal Son”, sometimes called the parable of the “Prodigal Parent” is one in which we find ourselves identified. Luke tells it as Jesus’ response to the scribes and the Pharisees who were criticizing him for his willingness to reach out with openness to all, even those who were seen as most undeserving. “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.” For Luke and his community in early Christianity the story focused on the religious elites of their day. For us, perhaps it has an even fuller meaning – both personal and communal as church.
The story of the “Prodigal Son” has three characters, the younger son, the older son and the father. Each of these persons is us. Each of them presents some aspect of our own personal experience and each of them presents to us both a challenge and a consolation. As well each of the persons expresses something very close to our communal or our church experience, with its challenges and consolations. The younger son is us. The older son is us. The loving parent is us.
The younger son, after receiving all of his inheritance from his loving parent, leaves home and squanders what he has received. He wants to return home but he is obsessed by guilt and cannot allow himself to return forgiven. His failures and sin pose a barrier to his home-coming. He is unable to see that his father loves him. The challenge he has is that he cannot “let go” of his past, his sin. It blocks his capacity for full reconciliation and joy. To “let go” of sin and failure means we can remember, without identifying with it. This allows for compassion and joy to be experienced. This son had a struggle.
The older son faced a different challenge. So intent was he on doing the “right thing” that he had come to behave more as a slave of his loving parent than as a son. He kept all the rules, he worked for the father and spent his energies in what he saw as the father’s commands. But he was filled with resentment and this boiled over when the father welcomed home the younger son. This older son could not see the relationship of love that bound the father to both his sons. He could not see that his father’s love was an unconditional gift, not an earned or merited love. His resentment blocked all hope of compassion and joy for him. The older son had a struggle.
The father in this story faced the challenge of freely giving love and compassion in a setting where it was deeply needed. For him compassion and joy was overflowing, but he faced one son who seem incapable or accepting this gift and another son who could not understand it. The father had a struggle.
Jesus’ parable is truly the story of us all – as persons and as church. It is a challenge, but challenge we must face, personally and as church. We have a struggle, but Lent offers us an opportunity to transform.
posted March 20, 2022
I have seen the misery of my people.... I have heard their cry.... I know their suffering,...
and I have come down to deliver them.... (Exodus 3:7-8)
The Book of Exodus in the Old Testament relates the story of God saving his people Israel from slavery in Egypt. It is a story of liberation, of freedom. In the little piece of the Book of Exodus that we hear today, we have the call of Moses, who would be God’s instrument in liberating Israel from its slavery. (Exodus 3:1-8, 13-15)
What we hear today is what we are all about as God’s People, as Church. The message we hear in the Gospels and the Good News we are called upon to share is what Jesus has handed on to us. It is the message of God’s care and compassion for all humanity – a message of liberation for all. In the Gospel of this 3rd Sunday in Lent (Luke 13:1-9) the figure of the gardener reveals this message of compassionate care for the weak and the vulnerable.
The work of the Christian is the work of liberation. We are about freeing those in bondage of injustice and oppression. We are about caring for the wounded and the suffering. We are about showing compassion to the sick and the suffering. We are about lifting the burdens of the poor and the powerless. We are to be a people of the liberation – for all.
The Catholic Christian Church in Canada reaches out to touch our world with the Good News of liberating love in many ways. One of these touches is through the Catholic Organization for Development and Peace and its international partner, Caritas. All over the globe the resources of Development and Peace and Caritas are used to care for those facing the burdens of poverty and injustice. In a few weeks, on the 5th Sunday of Lent, as a Christian community, we will be called upon to stand in solidarity with these most burdened peoples of our world.
This Sunday we focus on God’s call to all of us. The words of The Pastoral Constitution of the Church in the Modern World, from Vatican II speak to our hearts over the next few Sundays of Lent:
We are at a moment in history when the development of economic life could diminish
social inequalities if that development were guided and coordinated in a reasonable
and human way. Yet all too often it serves only to intensify the inequalities. In some
places it even results in a decline of the social status of the weak and in contempt for
the poor. While an enormous mass of people lack the absolute necessities of life, some,
even in less advanced countries, live with great wealth. Luxury and misery rub shoulders.
Like Moses, we are called to bring the message of freedom, justice and peace to all God’s people. Like Jesus, we are to follow the caring gardener we hear of in Luke’s Gospel. He diligently tends the garden, that it might be nurtured to bear much fruit. This is the message of the care and compassion of God’s reign among us. It is a message this Lent that sees us called to reach out to the people of Ukraine, facing the hardships and burdens of war. May they be blessed with peace.
posted March 12, 2022
The Second Sunday of Lent each year takes us to an episode in the Gospels that is referred to as the transfiguration. Peter, James and John go up on a mountain (or a hill) with Jesus. There, Jesus is transfigured before them. This story appears in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke. This year we hear Luke’s version. (Luke 9:28-36) What is this all about?
The story of the transfiguration is one of those Gospel accounts that recognizes Jesus’ relationship with the Father and the mission he has been given. It is an expression of how the disciples saw Jesus after the resurrection. The Gospel writers tell it at this point as a foreshadowing of the faith of the post-resurrection Christian communities. In short, it was seeing through the eyes of faith.
Christian faith calls us to see ourselves through the eyes of faith. At our baptism we are given the promise of eternal and risen life. At the same time we are called to be disciples of Jesus and to share the mission that Jesus had to build the Reign of God in the midst of our world.
As we listen to the Gospel story of the transfiguration we might note two elements of Luke’s account. First of all, we can notice Peter’s immediate response to the event. He wants to remain on that mountain. The experience is so satisfying that he does not want it to end. But it must, he and the other disciples have a mission. What the experience, what they see through the eyes of faith, is not just for them. They must share the Good News. This can only happen if they come down from the mountain with Jesus in order to build the Reign of God in the world.
The second element focuses their eyes of faith on Jesus himself. They must recognize the special relationship that Jesus has with the Father. They must see him as the Son, the chosen one. As they do this they then must listen to him. In listening, truly listening in faith, they will grasp the message of the Good News.
It is a message of love and hope for all humanity and it is in sharing this that they will be disciples of Jesus.
These eyes of faith are our own. They allow us to do as the disciples were called to on that mountain. Like them we have a call to discipleship. With our eyes of faith we begin to see that we have a special relationship with Jesus and through Jesus to the Father. We are truly God’s People, the adopted daughters and sons of God, beloved and cherished by our God who is parent to us.
As God’s beloved people, we have a call to our world and all humanity. The Good News that we recognize through the eyes of faith is the message we take to our world. All humanity is seen as God’s holy people. All of our world is God’s sacred gift and we are called to cherish and care for this creation we have been given. As Jesus was transfigured to reveal the glory of God present to the disciples, so we are to reflect this same glory of God in ourselves and to see it in all creation.
posted March 3. 2022
Here we are – Lent again. Our season began with our experience of Ash Wednesday. The ashes we used came from fire. Whatever their source, these ashes came from a burning process, a way of transformation. They represent the change that is brought about, when we let the finger God touch our lives and open ourselves to God’s plan for all life. The season is one of discovery and conversion, and one we share with the community in which we live and believe.
In our tradition, Lent is a time of penance and giving up – but also a time of idealism and promise. It is about setting aside those elements of our lives which impede the goodness of God’s dream for us. Lent is about turning away from the temptations, the “stuff” that is hurtful, wasteful and dehumanizing in our lives and in our world. It calls us to let go of some aspects of our lives which get in the way of being the person and the world that God intends us to be. More specifically we might say that it is about giving up – many things, many habits and many behaviors which do not nurture and bring life to others or to ourselves.
Lent is also about becoming. It is about turning around to be the person and the world of God’s plan for us. It is about turning away from self-centeredness and selfishness, turning towards God and to those many “others” who are part of our lives. It is about using our time and our energy in life-giving ways – that we may become the person that God has intended and called us to be. The season reminds us of the goodness that lies within each and every one of us. It proclaims to us and to our world the message of promise and hope that reveals God’s love for all creation.
On this First Sunday of the Lenten season, we hear Luke’s account of Jesus’ own discovery of God’s dream. Having been baptised by John and filled with the Holy Spirit, he embarks on the mission he has been given by the Father. The first step for Jesus is to go out into the desert, “the wilderness”. There he is tempted to reject the mission. His resistance to the temptations is a sign of his interior conversion and his willingness to accept the call he has been given (Luke 1-13).
The story in Luke tells the story of Jesus acceptance of mission. It is also our own story. We are called to mission by our faith. Like Jesus we are challenged to live and proclaim the goodness of God’s reign in our own lives, in the midst of our world. Doing so, demands that we undergo transformation. This is a continual and constant process of conversion. Only with transformation of our own humanity can we transform our world into God’s dream.
Conversion is about more than leaving behind what we have been. It is about becoming someone renewed. It is changing ourselves bit by bit so that we may be life-giving to our world and to others. In other words, how can you and I be the face of God’s love where we are?
posted February 25, 2022
This coming Wednesday is Ash Wednesday. We begin the Lenten season once more. Lent is all about conversion. It can be about the conversion process embarked upon by a new adult member of the Christian community. Lent is the period leading up to the sacraments of initiation into the church through baptism, confirmation and eucharist, at the Easter Vigil. For these new members, lent is looked at as a time of more intense preparation through prayer, fasting and good works. This, in fact is the early Church origins of the Lenten season for all Christians.
For those of us who were baptized as infants or at another time, lent is important as well. For the whole Christian community, it is the opportunity to reflect on our place in the community and how we live in our world as Christians. The prayer, fasting and good works that we express in lent are to be a lifestyle that marks every day of our lives. The conversion experience that leads to the sacraments of initiation for our new members, is our continuing conversion experience. Being Christian is a life-time process. Lent helps us to revisit and renew who we are and how we express our Christian faith in action.
Luke 6:39-45 tells us a story of invitation. Jesus in the story describes the kind of change that we are called upon to make when we accept the invitation that comes with our baptism, to be disciples. Becoming disciples of Jesus demands a conversion or a turning around of our heart. It is a life-long process of becoming the face of Jesus alive in our world. Our call to mission might seem to focus on things outside ourselves, tasks and actions we carry out in our world. But it is founded on the interior, the heart – this is where conversion truly takes place.
Conversion, is really a call that reaches within. It is a turning around of our heart. There is an initial call from outside ourselves – setting out to discover the meaning of Jesus the Christ and the face of God that Jesus reveals. It is often through persons we have met, or communities that have welcomed us. With that sense of support and inclusion that we all need we gain the desire to be part of what we have experienced.
We may not use this term, but we begin a quest or search for what we have discovered. This search is not quick, nor is it just for a moment. We discover that life is full of this searching or questing. Sometimes there are moments of sensing discovery, others we seem to just grind along. Our journey is a faith journey and it is filled with seeking, questioning, wondering and searching, always with much uncertainty. Then somehow, we become more firmly convinced that this is our own. We discover we are disciples of Jesus the Christ and ready to live this in the ordinary routine of our lives, and there is peace in this. This is really only the planting of a seed, a new beginning.
Conversion needs to go always deeper. It is a continual process for a lifetime. It is in fact, a continual turning of our hearts. As Luke puts it: Out of the good treasure of heart, the good person produces good (Luke 6:45). God plants the seed through the many encounters beyond ourselves, but the seed grows from within us. Every year, this is the blessing and gift of Lent
What might I do this Lent, to nurture the seed God has planted in my heart?
posted February 19, 2022
Sometimes we struggle with what it means to be holy. It often appears to be something “other worldly” or at least removed from the world in which we ordinarily live. Over the course of history, holiness seemed to be confused with distancing ourselves from our everyday life. In some cases, the world around us has been perceived as a threat or an “enemy” to holiness. This poses some problems for us. How can we live our lives in a way that is holy while finding ourselves in the world of our experience?
Our Christian faith is incarnational. Central to who we are is Jesus the Christ, the sign and sacrament of God’s love for all humanity and indeed for our created world. Holiness is not about denying our humanity or the wonder of creation. It is about honouring, respecting and valuing the whole of creation as a blessing, a beatitude of God’s presence among us.
Luke’s Gospel presents us with the disciples’ call to recognize the blessedness around us, even in the midst of hardships and challenges – poverty, hunger, sorrow and rejection (Lk.6:20-22). He then goes on to describe how disciples can bring out and express this holiness, acknowledging the blessing of God’s love alive in the times and places of our lives (Lk.6:27-38). Living as blessings for one another makes faith in Jesus the Christ come alive. Doing so, we sow the seeds of the reign of God around us and with it, hope of peace and justice, compassion and healing, love and respect.
Pope Francis captured some of this in his Apostolic Exhortation On the Call to Holiness in Today’s World (19 March 2018). He offered a wonderful description of the holiness for which we strive as disciples: I like to contemplate the holiness present in the patience of God’s people: in those parents who raise their children with immense love, in those men and women who work hard to support their families, in the sick, in elderly religious who never lose their smile…. Very often it is a holiness found in our next-door neighbours, those who, living in our midst, reflect God’s presence. We might call them “the middle class of holiness”. (7)
In his exhortation, Francis echoed the “universal call to holiness” presented by the Second Vatican Council in 1964. Holiness in the midst of our lives offers the power of transforming the activities and events of everyday life into holy moments (Vatican II, The Constitution on the Church 40). Both the Gospels of Luke and Matthew speak in terms of blessings which make a difference in life. Such blessings are placed at the center of Jesus’ call to his disciples (Luke ch.6; Matthew ch.5).
We are all about holiness, but not piety or removal from the joy and challenges of ordinary life. Rather we recognize and live our holiness in the very events and times of everyday. We see it in the wonder of all creation. We celebrate it in our relationships with one another. We marvel at it in the simple witness of a child’s smile, in the loving hug of a mother, in the caring compassion of a father. We experience it in the bond that unites a community and in the openness that welcomes the stranger.
Beatitudes or blessing surround us. Our holiness is the expression of the blessing we hold within and that we share with others. In this we are the face of God’s love and the expression of the indwelling Spirit to our world.
What are some blessings I am seeing in my life today?
posted February 11, 2022
Life can be pretty complicated, even confusing. It is hard to see where we fit or how we make sense of it all. Sometimes we hope to find the simple and direct answer to our questions. We look for someone or something who has the ultimate truth that we can apply to all our questions and to every confusing and unsettling experience in which we find ourselves.
This is where we find ourselves turning to faith. Not the faith of pat answers and definitive responses. These might be comforting in their ease, but for a complicated life journey we need something more, something that helps us even when it seems we are lost. We hunger for a faith that guides in the midst of the messiness of our lives.
In his book, Against an Infinite Horizon: The Finger of God in Our Everyday Lives, the spiritual writer, Ron Rolheiser offers some thoughts on the kind of faith for which we all long. For Rolheiser it is a matter of how we view our lives through the eyes of faith. He frames the task in the preface of his work: When we have the eyes of faith we see a certain divine glow shimmering within the ordinary, just as we see all that is ordinary against a horizon of the eternal…. Traditional religion calls it ‘the finger of God in our lives,’ this book will call it ‘seeing against an infinite horizon.’
Fr. Rolheiser issues a call to espouse faith as a way of sorting through the contradictions and complications that the messiness of our lives throws at us. Life is indeed a complex mess. To make sense of it will take us on a journey in which we see all against the infinite horizon of what we might call God’s dream for all creation. Such vision does not offer quick and simple answers. The vision is much broader and fuller than that. It is the vision of Jesus the Christ as we find it in his message and mission that the reign of God is among us, in the midst of our very lives.
The stories of the Good News offer us this vision in many and various ways. In chapter 6 of Luke’s Gospel we see Jesus identifying a number of his disciples as apostles who will be particularly charged with receiving and then passing on this dream of God for all. Luke’s way of telling this story is quite striking. Jesus goes to spend the night on a mountain in prayer with his disciples. Then from his disciples he calls twelve of them to be apostles of the message of God’s dream. The message is captured as he begins to teach his disciples in Luke 6:17, 20-26.
Luke’s story looks much as we find in Matthew’s Gospel (Matt.5:1-12) with a series of blessings or beatitudes. Luke however follows the blessings with a series of woes. How are we to read this? Perhaps the temptation is to start by looking at the individual blessings and woes. Better might be to see the piece in Luke’s story as a whole. Blessings and woes are part of any life journey.
Faith offers a vision that sees life “against an infinite horizon”. This horizon allows us to recognize a life-giving God who loves us always unconditionally and who never leaves us. This is the broader picture. In the Gospels this is the good news. No matter what, the reign of God is among us.
In Luke, Jesus announced this through the words of the prophet, Isaiah: The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour (Luke 4:18-19). Seeing “against an infinite horizon” is God’s new vision.
posted February 5, 2022
Most of my adult life, some 46 years has been spent teaching. Like most teachers, I willingly admit that I learned more than my students ever did. Looking back, there is one very significant piece of wisdom that I picked up along the way. Early in my career another more senior person shared something that is crucial for no matter what we do: “A good teacher, teaches themselves.” Looking back, I can see that no matter what we do in life, the most significant element will always be the relationships we discover, build and nurture.
That piece of wisdom should be kept in mind when we spend time with our Judeo-Christian scriptures. Too often we read and use these scriptures as “proof texts”. We look at them to find doctrinal teachings or moral teachings for our lives as Christians. Perhaps as we do so, we fail to see the fundamental purpose and truth that in fact these scriptures are meant to present.
Our Bible is a collection of books, a kind of library for us. This collection presents us with a whole series of stories that open the door to what we might call our “Great Story”. It recounts how all creation, including our humanity is a wondrous expression of God’s love. Our origin is in God’s love and our destiny is to return to the fullness of God’s love. What we find unfolding in the books of our Jewish and Christian scriptures presents and celebrates a fundamental truth of our faith. Our life and all creation exist because of God’s love. We are in relationship with our God, and God with us.
The stories of Jesus and his disciple in the New Testament - gospels, letters, historical accounts, they all need to be read in the light of this relationship of love by which we bond with our God, through Jesus the Christ. Like all the Gospel writers, Luke provides us with stories of how Jesus begins to build his circle of disciples. He calls them and challenges them where they are.
We can see this in Luke 5:1-11. Jesus gathers all kinds of people around him. In order to deal with the crowd, Jesus makes use of the setting and the situation in order to reach out to them. It is in a fishing area and so Jesus makes use of one of the fishing boats from which to teach. When he finishes speaking to the crowds, he asks the boat`s owner, Simon to go fishing with him. Simon resists at first but agrees to go and is shocked by the number of fish they catch.
Luke closes this story with Jesus issuing an explicit invitation to Simon and his partners to join him in his mission. Like the fish, they are caught. Like the fish, they are brought on board with Jesus. Having been brought on board, they leave what they have been about and follow Jesus as disciples and ultimately as partners, sharing the mission.
This is a story of an encounter leading to a relationship. Jesus will teach these disciples. He will also build and nurture a friendship with them. Over time and with many shared experiences, this circle will grow close. The unfolding of this relationship is the key to understanding the Good News. If read in this way, it can be the story of our own relationship with Jesus the Christ and with our fellow disciples in our own community of faith.
In John’s Gospel, 15:15-17 we see a proclamation of this encounter leading to relationship. It begins with these words: I do not call you servants any longer,… I have called you friends. These three verses in John can help us recognize who we are in the stories of the Gospels.
Can I read our Scriptures with this perspective of love and hope?
posted January 29, 2022
In 2007, Sister Elizabeth A. Johnson published a wonderful book entitled Quest for the Living God: Mapping Frontiers in the Theology of God. Its title might in some ways be intimidating. But its aim and what Sr. Johnson presents is really quite timely and very readable. It speaks to everyone’s shared need to figure out who we are and how we relate to all that is around us.
Many years ago, I dropped in on a soccer game in which one of my nephews was playing. After trying to spot Andrew, I finally found him with some of his team mates. They were off the field, crouched on the opposite sidelines examining an anthill. These 6 year-olds were intrigued by what they had discovered. At every stage in our lives, from the smallest child to the wise elderly, we find ourselves trying to “figure it out”. We are “seekers” by nature.
For the person of faith, whether we are firm or struggling in that faith – and let’s be honest, we are all a little bit of both, our search to find God among us is part of our life journey. The Gospels are replete with stories of such seekers, trying to “figure it out”.
As Luke describes Jesus beginning his mission, he tells the story of Jesus going to his hometown of Nazareth and entering the synagogue (Luke 4:21-30). The people listen as he reads from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah (Is. 61:1-2). As he speaks about the passage, they find what he says difficult and get upset. Jesus especially challenges them with his comment that what Isaiah proclaimed is in fact now being fulfilled. Finding God among them is a challenge. As much as they honoured the prophets like Isaiah, they often struggled with what the prophets proclaimed. They could not handle seeing God so closely among them. It is no easy task to recognize how God relates to us and how we relate to God.
In our current world the great tendency is to see God at the peak of a triangle, the authority, the judge, the all-powerful one who is far from our humanity and our circumstances. This is a concept of God that developed in the 17th & 18th century and gave what is termed “modern theism”. Such a God is above us and beyond us in the created universe. This is a God who is far from us. Our quest is to find the God who is close and relatable and lives among us.
This relatable God lies at the core of our Christian faith. The writer of the first letter of John captures this: Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God…. So we have known and believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and those who live in love live in God and God lives in them. (1 John 4:7, 16)
In our Catholic tradition we often begin our communal and our personal prayer with a blessing: In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. This is not just an empty expression or a meaningless rote ritual. In fact, it is an expression of our relationship with our God who is love. Out of love God gave and gives us life. Out of love God reached out and came among us in the person of Jesus the Christ. And out of love God continues to be among us in the power of the Spirit.
This is the Good News that Jesus preached in his mission. It is the mission that he has passed on to every disciple and it is the center of our scriptures, our creeds and our life of prayer and action. Paul, writing to the Christian community in Corinth expresses the aim of our quest, who we really are, around the world: Now faith, hope and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love (1 Cor.13:13).
How am I doing with my quest for the living God in my life?
posted January 22, 2022
The writer of the Gospel of Luke is a visionary. He presents the story of Jesus the Christ as an expression of the Spirit of God incarnate in the person of Jesus. Luke’s faith is that of a Gentile (non-Jewish) Christian about two generations after the death and resurrection of Jesus, i.e. about 70-90AD. Tapping into his community’s oral memory, as well as that of Mark’s Gospel, Luke sees Jesus as a gift of God’s love for all who share a common humanity and a common home in creation. For Luke this happens through the sharing of the same Spirit among all.
Luke begins the story of Jesus setting out on mission after his baptism by John in the Jordan and his time in the desert (Lk.3:21-22; 4:1-13). The focus and direction of the mission is described by Luke as the work of the Spirit and power of God (Lk.4:14-21). The rest of the Gospel will be centered on this universal gift of God’s Spirit shared by Jesus with his disciples and then through them, with that same Spirit to the ends of the earth.
The sequel to this Gospel, the Book of the Acts of the Apostles, will express this ultimate goal of the Spirit spreading to all humanity. We can find it proclaimed by Peter early in the Acts as a way of great promise.
He uses the words of the Old Testament prophet, Joel:
I will pour out my spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions.
Even on the male and female slaves, in those days, I will pour out my spirit.
(Joel 2:28-29, cf. Acts 2:17-18)
In the early days of the Christianity, St. Paul traveled from one little community of believers to another. As he did so he seemed acutely aware that these early communities were families of believers.
Though made up of many very different persons, they shared a common Spirit and were called to live in love, supporting one another. They were one body, unified by the Spirit and called to the same mission. He expressed this vision to a community in Corinth:
Brothers and sisters: Just as the body is one and has many members,
and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is
with Christ. For the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body –
Jews or Greeks, slaves or free – and we were all made to drink of one
Spirit. (1 Cor. 12:12-13)
To be baptized is to be in the Body of Christ, a Spirit-filled community that we call Church. This Body of Christ, this Church can be regarded as an organized institution with its beliefs and practices. For most of us, however, what offers us life is the community of persons that surround us. They welcome us, support us, accompany us and nurture us in our journey of faith together. One might say that for most us, Church, the Body of Christ has a face, or faces. These faces are Church for us. There we find the Spirit of the Living God.
Who are some of the faces who have been part of your faith journey?
posted January 15, 2022
In the Gospel of John (2:1-11) we hear the story of what John calls the first of Jesus` signs. It takes place at a wedding in Cana. The first part of John`s Gospel, (chapters 1-12) is often referred to as the Book of Signs. Through the wonders and miracles that John describes in this section we are give a whole series of signs which show forth the action of God amongst on the part of Jesus. They express God`s care and love through the touch of Jesus, divine and human.
Cana presents Jesus in action for the first time. He is launching his mission to make the Reign of God present and active in the world. The Good News is announced in the great sign – Jesus himself, but also, for John in a series of signs that reveal the divine presence amongst us in a saving and life-giving way. Is it possible that perhaps such signs are ever present in our lives? To recognize such signs around us is important.
The story begins with Mary at the wedding turning to her son and calling on him for help. She says something to Jesus that might seem a mere observation an expression of concern. Mary remarks: They have no wine. What a sensitive and caring appeal on Mary`s part. In John`s telling of the story, it is the Good News unfolding and it takes on much more significant meaning.
They have no wine expresses something is missing. The couple, the wedding, lacks something. Mary, in the account, speaks for all humanity.
In this first of Jesus` signs, she declares a fundamental reality of human existence – we lack. We are not, in the end, self-sufficient. Our fulfillment will only come when we allow God to act in our life and in our world.
This sign at Cana becomes an expression of the God`s great sign – God`s touch of humanity in Jesus. At the wedding, Jesus` action fills the lack in the occasion. The story of Cana in this Gospel takes us to something deep within us.
As much as we desire fulfillment, as much as we want to understand what life means for us, as much as we seek happiness and contentment – we cannot gain this on our own. They have no wine speaks to us of our human insufficiency.
We have many lacks. The lack of peace and harmony in our world and in our own relationships, our inability to communicate fully with one another, our incapacity to respect and care abundantly for each other, these are all expressions of our human insufficiency. Our great human lack lies in our loss of union with God and with one another.
The story at Cana is the first indication in the Gospel, that Jesus comes to fulfill God’s dream for humanity and all creation. His presence, active among us bring the dream to life among us. In fact the image in the action of Jesus is beyond what Mary could ever have imagined.
The abundance that Jesus brings in response to Mary’s comment is revealed in the marvelous volume of wine that Jesus
provides. What a sign of God`s love poured out on all. This is God`s reign among us. With this Reign comes the transformation of our world into a communion both with God and with one another. By ourselves we lack the means to be what God dreams for us. But then, it is not beyond God. The beginning for any of us is to recognize that the glory of God in Jesus and in one another is always present among us.
posted January 8, 2022
Recently I had the honour of gathering at the parish church with several families and welcoming into the Christian community a new member. Ferguson “Fergus” is a little over 4 years of age. Surrounded by family and friends as well as by members of the parish community, Fergus seemed to both tolerate and often enjoy the attention paid to him. Certainly, his parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins were in a happy space. Fergus’s baptism was something for everyone to celebrate.
Over the years, in a variety of communities I would estimate I have celebrated the baptisms of 1500 or more new Christians. Some of those we welcomed were adults, most have been children, many infants. Each time it is both a thrill and a joy to welcome these new Christians into the community. Often, we have done this in the setting of a Sunday Eucharist where the whole community welcomes their newest member. Always the welcome is a gift of the whole community.
For Fergus, his baptism was a beginning of his life as a disciple of Jesus. Like the disciples we hear of in the Gospels, or the crowd that surrounded John the Baptist and Jesus at the River Jordan (Luke 3:15-16, 21-22), Fergus was beginning a journey of faith that would be life-long. As he began this journey, the Spirit was poured out upon him as it was upon Jesus. With the Spirit, like Jesus and the disciples who have gone before us, Fergus has been acknowledged as a beloved of God.
Baptism is part of our sacramental tradition. This +tradition acknowledges the wonder of all created reality. This created universe, including our humanity is an expression of God’s overwhelming love. We do not easily grasp this. As well, all of the sacraments, including baptism, are part of life journey in a community of faith. Neither Fergus nor any of us make this journey alone.
The baptism of Fergus was a beginning of a communal journey. Many were involved. First of all parents, grandparents and others of his family gathered around him. This family want to share many things with him. Among the gifts they want to share is the faith tradition they have. They wish their child to be surrounded by the same loving faith community that they themselves have had. They want their child to be part of their own journey.
Our faith community wants the same for him. We want him to join us on our own journey, to be part of us. And so we welcome him and express our commitment to share our faith, our love and our support for him in the years to come. We also speak for the whole of the Catholic community of faith. We are a family of faith to which we have now gathered a newly welcomed member.
If we look for it, we will find it. We are a communal faith. Our Christian Scriptures are gifts for this community. Whether gospels or letters or prophetic proclamations, they are for communities of faith. Paul writing to the community in Ephesus is clear about our communal character: “There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all.” (Ephesians 4:4-5)
Baptism, like all of our sacramental tradition, is about relationships – with God, with the community of faith and with one another. Our Catholic tradition is not about individual seekers. It begins with the old initiating the younger into the tradition. It continues through life always in the context of community, with each of us being carried and carrying one another.
Who has carried you on your faith journey?