posted April 10, 2021
We are Easter People. The great sign of our faith is that Jesus is Risen. Every time we gather for Eucharist we share at the Table of the Lord, the Risen Lord. The most appropriate symbol for this Table is the Risen Lord, for we are an Easter People, not a Good Friday community.
Throughout the season we hear and reflect on a whole series of the stories relating the core of our faith. Easter brings us through the entire history of human salvation. We journey through the accounts of creation, liberation, restoration and resurrection. These are stories of many new beginnings, many experiences of new life. In this journey we leave behind the cross with its suffering and death and we move to the promised liberation and healing of God’s dream for all humanity. The Risen Jesus is the symbol and sign of God’s promise given through Jesus to all – the promise of resurrection, fullness of life.
The season is replete with images and stories of the Risen Jesus appearing to the disciples in various settings. It is full of accounts of the impact of this Risen Jesus on his followers. They marked by both excitement and hope. For them it is a time of renewal and promise. The Gospel of the Sunday following the Easter feast (John 20:19-31) offers us a picture of the liberation and healing that comes with the ongoing gift of the Spirit and the presence of the Risen One.
One of the striking elements of the story in John’s Gospel is something that appears as well in other Gospel stories of appearances. It is the greeting that Jesus offers as he comes among the disciples: Peace be with you. Peace can mean many things – absence of war and conflict, quiet and silence, unity and good relations. In the Gospel stories of the appearances of the Risen Jesus, peace is an indication of the healing and liberation that comes with the gift of the Spirit.
It is no small thing that John describes the disciples as locked in a room and cowering in fear. For them there was a great threat that what happened to Jesus would happen to them. They were mourning, confused and terrified. Their hearts were still at Good Friday. With the vision of the Risen Jesus, they sensed the presence of the Jesus they had lost. His presence and the Spirit stirred them to a new vision.
With the gift of the Spirit, they became Easter People. Gradually they came to realize that the message and the mission that Jesus proclaimed was now theirs.
The peace that came upon them with the presence of Jesus risen, was theirs to take to the world. Filled with that Spirit they were to liberate, to heal, to reconcile the world into which they went.
We are Easter People, bearers and proclaimers of Good News. It is the Good News that the world is God’s created gift and that God will never cease in loving us. From this love comes life, even in the face of death, new life. This is a message and a mission of hope for all. Filled with the Spirit, we are the presence of Jesus to all humanity and all creation. Jesus risen, continues in our world, through all who take up his message and mission of healing, forgiveness and liberation for all. Peace be with you.
posted April 1, 2021
[He] suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried; he descended
into hell; on the third day he rose from the dead.
It should come as no surprise that what we call the Triduum, the three days of Holy Thursday, Good Friday and then through the Easter Vigil to Easter Sunday lies at the center and core of our faith. It is the feast of all feasts for us. With it, we mark the passing of Jesus from death to new life. The words of our Apostles Creed express our faith in the whole Christian story. What we might miss is that it is also the passing of ourselves from death to new life.
The resurrection stories in the Gospel present the disciples and friends of Jesus, the crucified one seeking him at the tomb, among the dead. They do not find him there. Nor would they find him in any place that represents domination, death, violence, greed, oppression and bondage. They would find him in the places of life and light, liberation and peace. This is where the risen one is to be found.
The resurrection sends Jesus back into the world. His resurrection proclaims that there is life after death, there is hope and promise and that the power of evil, oppression and bondage is broken. The world and humanity are given new life.
Our faith tell us that like the risen Jesus, we too are sent back into the world and that we bring the risen one with us. We carry Jesus into our world of families and friends, of commerce, economics and politics. We carry him into the places of oppression, bondage and poverty, of violence and suffering and yes, even into pandemics. As Jesus, we carry the resurrection and its hope. We bring what the risen one brings – PEACE. This is the Good News. We believe in the possibility of new life for all.
The spiritual writer, Carlo Carretto in Blessed Are You Who Believed describes the presence and power of the risen Jesus that we welcome into our lives and that we bear into our world. It is lived faith for us.
When you forgive your enemy
When you feed the hungry
When you defend the weak you believe in the resurrection.
When you have the courage to marry
When you welcome a new-born child
When you make a home together you believe in the resurrection.
When you wake at peace in the morning
When you sing to the rising sun
When you go to work with joy you believe in the resurrection.
The risen life of Jesus takes flesh and comes alive in us. Alleluia!
posted March 27, 2021
This Sunday we enter what we call Holy Week, that sacred season from Passion Sunday to Easter. As we bless the palms and listen to the Passion story once more, we begin a pilgrimage in solidarity with our world. It is a journey of faith which calls us to reflect on the suffering and death of Jesus. Ultimately our trek will take us to Easter and the resurrection of Jesus. From darkness to light.
Our pilgrimage unfolds on three levels. We take this pilgrimage personally, looking inward at our own life. Each of us has our experiences of pain, suffering and encounters with evil. We also embark on this pilgrimage communally, for we journey with the whole Christian community. It too, is often broken and suffering, struggling with the shortcomings and flaws within us.
Beyond this, our journey is also one we share with all of humanity, and the whole of creation. We witness the face of evil and pain and suffering with all the peoples and nations of our world. In every place and every age, this has been our global reality. So often, we are a world of darkness - inequalities, injustice, war, threats of climate change and the dread of a pandemic. We are so often less than we can be or even want to be.
In this season of Holy Week – Easter we are called to reflection, prayer and a movement of heart, mind and action through the experience of evil and death, to new and transformed life. It is season of hope and promise, a pilgrimage through death to new life, from darkness to light.
Our journey begins at a high point with acclamation and celebration, as we hear the story of Jesus` entry into Jerusalem to the cheers and accolades of the crowd (Mark 11:1-10). We end our pilgrimage on another high point - the resurrection of Jesus with Easter, from darkness to light.
As we journey from one high point to the next, however, we must descend into the valley, the darkness of challenge, of struggle, of suffering, of pain, evil. It is a valley where we journey with Jesus through his passion and ultimately his death. This is a valley of darkness. Our human experience reveals it as something we all face in life. We encounter it in ourselves and we encounter it in our world.
Evil poses questions that have challenged reason and religious faith down through the centuries. Despite all efforts to ``explain`` it, evil defies rational explanation. No one has identified the ultimate cause of evil. The principal religious traditions of the world: Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism, Christianity and Islam, have all noted the existence of evil. But why do we face it? Where does it come from?
Religious traditions can identify no ultimate cause, but they do aid us with the challenge. What helps us is how these traditions present the divine. Christianity, Judaism and Islam all present us with an image of God who is above all else, compassionate. We may not know why there is evil, but our Christian faith does offer us a response to it. It is the response of Jesus – to be compassionate as our God is compassionate.
In other words, the challenge of evil is not addressed by discovering who caused it or why we face it. It is addressed by how we respond – by compassion and care, for one another and for our world. This is a week of moving from darkness to light, death to new life. Jesus embodies God’s compassionate love for all humanity.
posted March 20, 2021
What we believe, our faith expresses who we are. It is, in so many ways, written on our hearts. This is what we hear from the prophet Jeremiah (Jer.31:31-34): I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God and they shall be my people. God loves us, all of us, all the time. God believes in us, trusts us. Can we believe in one another? What follows is an expression of belief, a creed from our Catholic sisters and brothers in far off Indonesia.
A Creed from Indonesia (abridged)
We believe in God, Creator of us all, who has given the earth to all people.
We believe in Jesus Christ, who came to encourage us and to heal us, to deliver us from oppression,
to proclaim the peace of God to all humanity.
Christ has given himself to our world, it is amongst all people that the Lord lives – the living God.
We believe in the Spirit of God, who works in every woman, man and child of good will.
We believe in the Church, given as a beacon for all nations, moved by the Spirit to serve all people.
We believe that God shares with us the power and responsibility for the destruction of sin in all of us and that all people will share in God’s everlasting life.
We dare to believe, always and everywhere, in a new humanity, in God’s own dream of a new heaven and a new earth where justice and peace will flourish. Amen.
In his recent encyclical, “Fratelli tutti” (“Sisters and Brothers All”) Pope Francis proclaimed the oneness of all humanity and the solidarity which binds together. He described it this way: “Solidarity means much more than engaging in sporadic acts of generosity. It means thinking and acting in terms of community. It means that the lives of all are prior to the appropriation of good by a few.” It is expressed in service… “[Which] always looks to their faces, touches their flesh, senses their closeness and even in some cases, ‘suffers’” (115)
On this day and all days, may we stand in solidarity with all of our sisters and brother around the world. No matter their creed, colour, culture or circumstances, we hold them in our hearts.
posted March 13, 2021
“Wash your hands.” How many times have we heard our mothers saying this? It seems it takes a long time for things to sink in for us. Now, in the midst of a pandemic, this advice appears to be coming home to us. Over the past year, we have heard it often and we might have noticed that even though Covid-19 continues among us, we have had fewer colds and less of the standard flu. Although it took a long time for us to accept this, I guess Mom was right.
“God loves us unconditionally.” This appears to be hard for us to accept, but it is in fact one of the central pieces of our Christian faith. Right from the beginning it has been expressed in many prophet voices and in a variety of ways, but it has not fully sunk in.
In the ancient town of Ephesus), a committed Christian of the 1st century expressed this belief eloquently in the Letter to the Ephesians as part of a summary of Christian faith. The writer declared: “God who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ – for it is by grace that you have been saved.” (Eph.2;4-10) It might help for us to know that “grace” refers to a share in God’s divine life, and that it is a free gift of God. We do not earn or win it. God gives it freely to all.
The same message comes to us in John’s Gospel. Jesus encounters a Pharisee who is marked by both his faith and his questions – a true seeker. In so many ways Nicodemus is us, for true faith involves constant seeking to delve deeper. Faith seeks understanding.
In the conversation with Nicodemus reveals a Jesus assists him in his seeking. The centerpiece of Jesus’s response is the consoling wonder of God’s great, unconditional love for us all: “For God so loved the world that he gave us his only-begotten Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world, to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” (John 3:16-17)
Christians down through the ages have encountered this loving God in their daily lives. The Trappist monk and spiritual writer, Thomas Merton (1915-68) recalled his own experience.
Standing on a busy street corner in Louisville, Kentucky, in the midst of a crowd, he looked around and realized he loved all of them and that they loved him. He recounted this as a vision of God’s love reflected in each and every person: “It was as if I suddenly saw the secret beauty of their hearts, the depths of their hearts where neither sin nor desire nor self-knowledge can reach, the core of their reality, the person that each one is in God’s eyes.” (Thomas Merton, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander 1966)
Pope Francis often expresses this vision of God, calling us to reflect it throughout the world. It is our mission as disciples to do so. Moved by the example of St Francis of Assisi, he shared it in his recent encyclical letter: “[St. Francis] calls for a love that transcends the barriers of geography and distance…. Let us dream, then, as a single human family, as fellow travelers sharing the same flesh, as children of the same earth which is our common home, each of us bringing the richness of his or her beliefs and convictions, each of us with his or her own voice, brother and sisters all.” (“Fratelli tutti” 2020, 1,8)
“Wash your hands” and “God loves us unconditionally” – tough to accept, but wisdom that is significant for us. From Jesus and his disciples to Pope Francis in our own day the message of God’s constant love has been the foundation of our Christian faith. It is a blessing of hope for us all and call for us to share in peace with all we encounter – truly, GOOD NEWS for our world.
posted March 7, 2021
John’s Gospel tells a story of Jesus visiting the Temple in Jerusalem (John 2:13-25). The Gospel relates the story as a lead into seeing our relationship with God in a new light. In Israel, the Temple was the sign and symbol of God’s presence in their midst. As Jesus speaks to the people in the Temple, he redirects their attention from the physical building to himself, as the Temple.
The Gospel account points out that this all came to make sense to the disciples after the Resurrection. Jesus then, becomes the sign of God’s loving presence among us. He represents a new way of seeing our relationship with God. God’s care and love is not dependent on what we offer to God. It is not affected by sacrifices we might present. It is not the result of bargaining with God. Our relationship with God is a free and unconditional gift from God. We do not have to earn or win God’s love and we cannot lose it. It is always there for us. This is a remarkable discovery, a great surprise.
Even in the Old Testament, this is the relationship between God and God’s People, Israel. It was not always apparent to this People, but it was there nonetheless. Israel saw itself in a covenant relationship. God called them as a people to be God’s own. They in return lived according to the law and in doing so, they had a fuller, happier life as special to God and caring for each other.
The relationship we see in the Old Testament appears to be one in which, like all covenants or alliances, each side promised something to the other in exchange for their bond with each other. That is, they appear to be bargaining. But can this happen between two very unequal parties? In this case, the relationship between God and Israel is indeed unequal – between the divine and the human.
The covenant of the Old Testament is in fact unusual. The relationship results from the free gift of God’s love to this People. Over the course of the Old Testament, we learn of this quality of free gift again and again. No matter how many times Israel drifted from God, God continued to reach out in love for them. They could not live this love, nor could they lose it.
The great expression of God’s love comes in the New Testament, with Jesus. Jesus proclaims it a little further on in John’s Gospel as describes Jesus in conversation with a Pharisee named Nicodemus. He says to Nicodemus: “God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son,…” (John 3:16).
The piece we hear today in the Gospel reading comes earlier in the Gospel, but it presents that same core element of our faith. Jesus is the sign of God’s loving presence for us, the new Temple. Our relationship is not based on our doing something for God. It is not dependent on sacrifice or offering. It is not affected by how we keep rules or commands. It is not the result of some arrangement arrived at by bargaining with God. It is in fact a free gift of God’s unconditional love, a love we do not win, and we cannot lose. Our covenant is a gift, a gift we are called to give away to other.
Q/ How might accepting that God loves me unconditionally, affect the way I live?
posted February 27, 2021
Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. There he was transfigured before them....
On the vigil of the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi (3 Oct 2020), Pope Francis published the encyclical “Fratelli tutti” (Brothers and Sisters All). It is a simple, straight forward presentation of the vision of St. Francis, but also of the overall vision of Pope Francis. It is the dream of God expressed at the outset of the Old Testament, in the poetic account of creation: “God saw all that had been made, and indeed it was very good.” (Gen.1:31). It is also the vision related at the end of the final book of our Scriptures, the Book of Revelation: “I saw a new heaven and a new earth;… ‘See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them as their God, they will be God’s people’” (Rev.21:1-3).
The whole message and mission of Jesus words and works is the expression of this vision. Francis of Assisi lived and expressed in the 13th century. The early Christian communities sensed it in their faith in Jesus as the incarnation of God among them. The vision is one of hope, in God’s transforming love for all humanity and all of creation.
Every year on the Second Sunday of Lent we listen to the story of the transfiguration. This year we hear the account as told by the Gospel writer Mark (Mk 9:2-10). Transfiguration is not a common word for us, but it does describe something that is quite often part of our experience. Transfiguration expresses change, transformation. It leads us to see things differently. On that “high mountain apart, by themselves” those three disciples saw Jesus differently. They had a glimpse of who Jesus is.
It is a story of vision in several ways. Peter and James and John have a vision. They glimpse Jesus in radiant light, expressing the presence of God in their midst. He is accompanied by the prophet Elijah and by Moses who led God’s People into covenant with God and brought them from slavery to liberation. These were the twin pillars of the faith of Israel in God – the law and the prophets. The vision of Peter, James and John now brought them to see this faith fulfilled in Jesus.
The transfiguration is not only about Jesus. The vision is also about the disciples and their mission. And it is about us, about how we live and how we stand in hope. It is about our own transformation and becoming. Whether we realize it or not, following in the steps of Jesus and blessed with the Spirit, we are meant to transfigure the earth, all creation. Ours is a call to bring hope to all peoples, to bring life out of suffering and death, liberation out of bondage and injustice, healing out of division and hurt. Such is a world transformed, transfigured.
Pope Francis sees this as the common dream of all humanity. He expresses it this way: “How important it is to dream together… By ourselves, we risk seeing mirages, things that are not there. Dreams, on the other hand, are built together. Let us dream then, as a single human family, as fellow travelers sharing the same flesh, as children of the same earth which is our common home, each of us bringing the richness of [our] beliefs and convictions, each of us with [our] own voice, brothers and sisters all. (“Fratelli tutti” 8)
This Lent, what can I do to build this shared dream in little ways?
posted February 21, 2021
Several years ago, a couple of my friends embarked on the pilgrimage walk from southern France, over the Pyrenees to Santiago de Compostela on the west coast of Spain. They were on a 30-day journey over almost 800 kms of hills and valleys. They encountered many people, fellow pilgrims as well as local folk, and passed through some beautiful countryside and striking scenery. Not surprisingly, they had many experiences and faced some challenges.
Each day they created a blog that they shared with us back here at home. As they did so it became apparent that the Camino was a journey of discovery. It also became clear that the experience was leaving an impact on them. As they began their pilgrimage, the blog said much about the countryside through which they were passing. After about a week, the blog began a gradual turn in its focus. The countryside was still there. But one began to sense how they felt about what they were doing and how they were affected by the trek.
When I was young, Lent was about what I was going to give up – candy, movies. Later it took on something like the New Years resolution – what can I do to become better at something. Certainly, that is an improvement. But perhaps there is more.
Our observance of Lent has its origins in the early Christian church and is associated with the sacraments of Initiation, Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist. These sacraments of welcome generally would take place at Easter. From the earliest of times, Christians developed a process for welcoming new members into the community. When the person was ready to ask for baptism at Easter, there was a final short, more intense period of prayer, fasting and good works. This was Lent – a time of transformation, a conversion.
A scriptural image of this period of intense prayer and fasting and discovery of mission is found in the Gospels. We see it in the desert experience of Jesus. Mark’s version of this is brief (1:12-15). After his baptism, Jesus ventured into the desert. There, he searched for where the Spirit was leading him. He struggled with temptations. In that desert, Jesus found his call as well as his mission. Filled with the Spirit, he came out of the desert proclaiming the Good News of the Kingdom.
Lent every year is our desert experience, a time to rediscover our connection with our loving parent God. In the desert of Lent we step back and look at where we are in our journey, our personal Camino. We have been baptized into Christ. What does this really mean for us? How does being a member of this community of Christians affect who we are and how we see others?
In a recent blog, Dr. Michael Higgins quoted an author, Brian Doyle. Just before he died, in 2017, Doyle reflected on his life, especially his core relationships and his Catholic faith in “A Prayer for You and Yours”. Of that faith he says: “I saw for the first time in my life that there were two Catholic Churches, one a noun and the other a verb, one a corporation and the other a wild idea held in the hearts of millions of people who are utterly uninterested in authority and power and rules and regulations, and very interested indeed in finding ways to walk through the bruises of life with grace and humility.” (Quoted by Michael Higgins, President of Corpus Christi-St. Marks at UBC. “Pontifex Minimus Blog: Presidential Reflections on the Catholic Intellectual Tradition”, 12 Feb 2021)
posted February 13, 2021
Isolation is hard. In the midst of the pandemic it has been one of the most difficult challenges. The separation from family and friends, the long periods of being alone, the lack of real and full social contact with one another takes it toll on everyone. It is a necessary step for the common good, but remains a high price to pay. We all long for the time we can fully rejoin one another in all our communities.
Difficult as it is, we isolate in order to protect each other from the virus. We all do it for the common good of our communities and our world. In the case of our current circumstance, everyone is experiencing the exclusion and isolation. But what if we were the only one excluded? The Gospel writer Mark relates a story of how Jesus responds to a person in this condition, someone who is treated as an outsider or an “outcast”. The person is a leper (Mark 1:40-45).
The image of being treated as a leper often means being rejected or excluded. The Old Testament passage from the Book of Leviticus describes the fate of such lepers in the community (Lev.13:1-2, 45-46). The leper was regarded as a threat, for their disease could infect the community. The response was to drive them out, exclude them from contact with others. What was that like?
Such a person was condemned to isolation, cut off from family, from neighbours, from friends. They were doomed to live “outside the camp” by themselves. Only when their disease no longer affected them could they return to be with the community. Hence the need to prove they no longer had the disease. In Israel, the physical disease of the leper also gave rise to a ritual uncleanness. To return to the community required a certification from the priests in the Temple, that they had been healed.
In Mark’s Gospel, Jesus encounters a leper facing such exclusion. The leper asks for healing. Jesus responds with compassion. He reaches out and touches the leper. It is a significant action on Jesus’ part. He crosses the boundary of exclusion, both the physical barrier and the ritual one. To do so was a risk, for crossing these barrier places Jesus in danger of physical contamination and also ritual uncleanness.
We encounter many “outsiders” in our lifetime. Sometimes we may even be “outsiders” ourselves. Perhaps our “outsiders” are those facing burdens – poverty, unemployment, life struggles, addictions of any kind. The “outsiders” may be those who have lost a spouse, those who are of a different race, religion or ethnic group. The “outsider” may be the stranger in our midst, the new person in the neighbourhood or parish. The “outsider” may be the one who is bullied in school, the one who is “different” in whatever way from others. Are we able to reach out with healing inclusion as Jesus did with his touch?
The isolation we all feel in the midst of the corona virus pandemic, is the daily experience of many outcasts among us. The virus will eventually pass, and with it, the isolation that is our response. But among us there are many whose life situation excludes them, without a virus.
To live in the Reign of God is to live where all are included. No one in the Reign of God lives “outside the camp”. As disciples of Jesus, are we able to cross the barriers to all outsiders? Can we build our communities to mirror the open inclusiveness of the God’s reign, where all are welcome?
posted February 5, 2021
The island of Grand Manan NB is situated out in the Bay of Fundy, about 50 kilometers from Black’s Harbour on the mainland. A few years ago, with a small group of friends, we embarked on a cycling tour of the island. On one particular day, we decided to head across the island to Dark Harbour. The final section of the route took us up the Dark Harbour Rd from the east coast to the west of the island, a distance of about 6 kilometers. We really did not know what we were in for.
Turning onto the Dark Harbour Rd, we started up a steep grade. It was not long before we could see the top, and we ground onward. As we came over the top, we realized that there was another long, steep grade. After a brief pause, we laboured onward, pedaling hard. The top was in sight. Or was it? No, after about a kilometer of hard pedaling, we were greeted by, another hill. Pausing, then onward and upward we went. There were two more tops and two more grades before, exhausted and somewhat discouraged we finally reached the end of this grueling climb. Dark Harbour and the coast lay beneath us.
Life often seems to be like this. We think we have reached our goal, and yet discover there is a further challenge, and another, and another. Our current experience of the Covid pandemic encapsulates this challenge upon challenge. The virus is there, we isolate and then move on, to discover it is back. We hear of vaccines and the promise of a defense from the virus. The supply is inadequate or the distribution is so complex or we are told, the virus is mutating. There seems always, another hill to climb.
The Gospels present this as the experience of Jesus (e.g. Mk.1:29-39). His life and ministry is aimed at revealing the Kingdom of God is near and among us. We hear it in what he says and we see it in what he does. He teaches the message of love and life and he shows it again and again through his compassion and readiness to reach out with healing and reconciling – building peace among those he encounters. The mission of Jesus, does not reject the changing world around him. It is an outreach to this world.
What we discover in the Gospels is indeed that Jesus proclaimed in word and in action that the Kingdom is near, among and around us. But it is not complete and fulfilled, for the Kingdom is all about our relationship with God. Like all relationships, it remains ever unfinished. Or put another way, the Kingdom has such potential that it is forever changing and growing. It can always be more.
Disciples are about the continued building of the reign of God in creation, in humanity and in each of us. Such a call requires patient effort. Mark reveals this for Jesus as he journeys with the message and is called upon for more healing, more reconciliation, more liberating. Like all relationships, there will always be more - another challenge, another need, another hill to climb. It is no different for the disciple of Jesus, for we live and work and build the Kingdom, where we are, in a changing world, and there are certainly many hills.
posted January 30, 2021
One of the striking features of rural Ireland is the network of drystone walls that snake up and down the hillsides and valleys. These walls create a patchwork of green and grey over the landscape. The walls serve to divide the field’s one from another. As well, they make good use of the many stones found when clearing the fields. They are practical.
Walls serve many purposes. They protect. They set limits. They provide safety. They hold together. But fundamentally, all walls divide. They all have two sides, in and out. They may be practical, but they so often are an expression of fear and a desire to protect ourselves and our space.
Mark, in his Gospel (Mark 1:21-28), describes Jesus coming into a synagogue (sacred space) on a Sabbath day (a sacred time). While teaching in this place, he encounters a man with an unclean spirit. In Israel such a person was ritually unclean and thus to be avoided. A person was deemed to be holy to the degree they kept away from the unholy, the unclean. Sometimes this was certain foods, certain actions or on occasion, certain people. The man possessed of an unclean spirit was one of these last.
The ritual avoidance of the “unclean” manifests a fear. It could be of a physical threat or one that stems from a spiritual danger. It creates a wall between persons or things. Seeing the man with the unclean spirit places him on the other side from those he encounters. He is seen as a threat.
Jesus knows of this demand for avoidance. He does not allow himself to be bound. Rather he crosses the boundary for the sake of the Kingdom of God. Jesus recognizes that, far from being limited by the ritual purity law his mission is go through the walls to bring life and release to those in need. In doing so, he brings the Kingdom near, with its liberation and its healing.
We live in a world of walls, some useful, but many hurtful and divisive. Often these walls reduce our humanity. They narrow our vision. They make us less than we have the possibility of being. The Kingdom that Jesus proclaims by his words and actions calls us to become the humanity of God’s dream.
Our experience of Covid 19 is one of those moments when we face choices for the Kingdom, choices that can bring life and liberation to ourselves and for our world.
Globally, the good news has been that in less than a year, we have seen the development of vaccines. Now the challenge is to distribute them as broadly as possible.
Pope Francis, in his recent encyclical commented on the promise that has emerged with the pandemic. Like many, both globally and locally, he has seen a sense of “we are in this together”. What we all might have seen is that we have discovered that we cannot address such a global or personal challenge on our own, we need one another. As Francis puts it: Amid this storm, [we begin to gain a] blessed awareness that we are part of one another, that we are brothers and sisters of one another. (Pope Francis. FRATELLI TUTTI, 2020)
This sense of breaking down the walls that divide us and the openness to being one family, one human community, globally and locally, is fragile. It is easy for self-interest and separation to impede its continuance of growth. The walls can so easily be rebuilt.
At the end of his encyclical, Pope Francis offers this prayer for us all:
May our hearts be open to all the peoples and nations of the earth. May we recognize the goodness and beauty that you have sown in each of us, and thus forge bonds of unity, common projects, and shared dreams. Amen.
posted January 23, 2021
Ron Rolheiser begins his book Against an Infinite Horizon: The Finger of God in Our Everyday Lives (Rolheiser, 1995) with the words of theologian Karl Rahner: “In the torment of the insufficiency of everything attainable we come to understand that here, in this life, all symphonies remain unfinished.” Rolheiser goes on to point out that there is a horizon before us that we can never reach in our earthly journey. But there is an attraction or a taste of it that reveals the “finger of God” touching us, accompanying us along the way.
Spiritual writers, poets, creative artists and others have often helped us to recognize that no dream or goal we might set will totally and finally satisfy us. There will always be something beyond or “more” that we seek. We are by nature “seekers”. To be human is to be incomplete in this life. But, at same time, we live in hope and journey in faith that God touches us and will ultimately bring this life to fulfillment.
One of the great themes of western literature (as well as others) is the “Quest”. Some 800 years ago this appeared in literature as the Quest for the Grail. Based on the legends of King Arthur and his Knights, it told the story of the search for the cup used by Christ at the Last Supper. In more recent times the theme has reappeared and can be seen again in J.R.R. Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings” as well as in the “Star Wars” story, among others.
As the stories unfold we see all the elements of our human search for meaning in our lives, our fulfillment. It begins with a dream, a goal. We hear the call to embark on a journey or a quest. In accepting the call there was a commitment to seek. In seeking there will be challenges, but there is also accompaniment. The seeker encounters others, a community that assist in the quest. Ultimately, there is attainment, fulfillment.
In its Christian origins the “Quest” is directed toward our seeking for spiritual union with God, God’s touch and our fulfillment. It is a conversion story of gradual becoming aware of God’s loving presence in all life, all creation and not least in those around us.
In Mark’s Gospel (1:14-20) Jesus, after his baptism in the Jordan, is led by the Spirit to the wilderness. Coming out, he begins to call disciples to follow and share his mission. As Mark tell us: “Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God has come near; repent and believe in the good news.” This repenting or turning around was/is the disciple’s call to conversion. Its further story is setting out on the “Quest” to discover the touch of God in all they encounter and to share this good news.
Jesus’ proclamation that the reign of God is close at hand grows out of the way of seeing God as present in our life story and in all of creation. As Jesus begins his ministry he announces that God’s reign is near. He will reveal it in his actions of healing, reconciling and bringing people together in peace. It will be this completed, fulfilled reign of God that will bring peace and harmony to humanity and healing and wholeness to creation. It is the ultimate goal of the human quest for fulfillment.
The Irish theologian Dermot Lane expresses it this way: The reign of God is ultimately about re-establishing right relationships between God and humanity, between humanity and the individual, between humanity and the whole of creation. (Lane. Christ at the Centre 21)
By John Smith posted July 20, 2016
“Where did you first meet?” This is a good question for a couple planning their marriage. It might have been on a blind date or in a pub or in school or university. More recently, it may have been online. No matter how, such a decision begins with a quest – for a friendship or relationship. The quest is filled with questions, and the questions gradually bring discovery.
Life is full of quests, children play “hide and seek”, we read or watch mysteries, we wonder how or why things happen in the way they do. All learning involves questions. And even when we settle on an answer to a question, we discover something that leads to more questions. This is especially true of our relationships and particularly our closest ones. No matter how close the relationship, we can never know another person fully. There will always be more to discover. This is actually the great blessing of all good friendships. They are living, dynamic and if healthy, they are continually growing. As they do, they are life-giving to us.
This is true of our faith as well. Christian faith is, in fact a relationship with God and with the Jesus who brings us to God. We can see this in the Gospel of John (John 1:35-42). The story relates how the first disciples came to meet Jesus. John the Baptist points out Jesus to several of his own followers. They are curious and begin to follow Jesus. When Jesus sees them, he asks them what they are seeking. They ask a simple question: “Where are you staying?” In response, Jesus answers: “Come and see”.
This amazing little account is the story of us all as disciples. Some how we are placed in an encounter with Jesus. For most of us, it is the result of birth, our parents were Catholic Christians and they set us on this journey of faith. For others, the encounter is the result of many life experiences and the people whom they met over time. Not matter what, the initial encounter over the years will bring many questions and they involve a willingness to “Come and see.” A real and mature faith is constantly growing. It is alive and is life-giving to us. Like those first disciples, ours is a call to ask our questions, seek the meaning of Jesus’s message and mission, and ultimately take on the mission to share Good News with other and our world.
Our baptism, like that of Jesus is more than an isolated event or moment in our lives. It is the beginning of a life-long journey in which we discover the whole meaning of our lives. If it is to accomplish this, it calls for a commitment to live the message that Jesus gave us. He becomes both our brother and our mentor, our leader and our companion along the way. Perhaps most wonderfully, we have received a call to live with love and compassion for all. We do so, in a community of disciples, fellow believers whose aim is to bring peace and justice to the world in which we live.
Who are some of those who invited me to “come and see”. Who might have been invited by me?
posted January 9, 2021
Covid-19, for all its challenges has taught us some lessons. These lessons will hopefully guide us in the days and years ahead. One of these lessons was how much we are dependent on one another to address our challenges. Some 400 years ago, the English poet, John Donne expressed this poetically:
No man is an island entire of itself; every man
is a piece of the continent, a part of the main;
if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe
is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as
well as any manner of thy friends or of thine
own were; any man's death diminishes me,
because I am involved in mankind.
(John Donne, 1572-1631)
Covid-19 has taught us that we are “in this together”. The challenges we face can only be addressed if we are together in our response. We isolate, we self-distance, we wear masks not to protect ourselves, but those around us. The vaccines that have brought us promise that the pandemic will someday end have come from a global effort and the result has been vaccines rolling out faster than any previous experience of them.
I don’t think I realized it at the time, but my mother did. She was right when she offered a constant lesson: “Wash your hands”. Looking back, I am sure we thought it was to protect ourselves from viruses, bacteria and germs. Only now am I beginning to think she said that not just so I would not get sick, but because I could possibly convey the sickness to the rest of our family. She was right, we truly are, “in this together”, none of us “is an island entire of itself”.
All four of our Gospels see Jesus beginning his public ministry, his mission with his baptism by John at the Jordan. What John the Baptist was doing was common ritual of Judaism. It was a cleansing from sin. The Gospel accounts, however reveal, a new dimension is added to this ritual. As Jesus came up from the river, the Spirit descended upon him and he received his mission – to proclaim the Good News of God’s reign. What had been of rite of cleansing from sin, become for the disciples of Jesus and acknowledgement that the Spirit is among us and that we share the mission of Jesus – proclaiming and building God’s reign among us and around us.
If baptism were understood as only a cleansing rite, then this would be the end of it. But in our Catholic tradition, baptism marks not an ending or fulfillment, but a beginning. For Jesus, it was only a beginning. He surrounded himself with a host of disciples. He spoke beyond that circle to the crowds, to the world. He had Good News that needed to be shared with everyone. It was the beginning of his mission. And our baptism is the beginning of a mission for us as well.
Our baptism is often referred to as a sacrament of initiation, a door into a community of faith. That initiation or entry comes with a share of the mission of Jesus. We are disciples who are continually learning what we are about and we are missionaries who cannot but share this good news to others and to our world. We are in this together, a community of faith.
Who nurtures my faith? Whose faith do I nurture?
posted January 2, 2021
Arise, shine, for your light has come,
and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you!
For darkness shall cover the earth,
and thick darkness the peoples
but our God will arise upon you
and the light of our God will appear over you. (Is. 60:1-2)
Covid-19, and the dark challenges and disappointments that touch our lives have been part of the whole Christmas season in this year. As we close the season with the Epiphany story there is a reminder that in midst of it all, there is always hope, and darkness does give way to light. This feast day is all about light and the broadening our horizons. Our readings on this Sunday begin with this piece from Isaiah with his impassioned call to all to see the light of God shine forth for all the peoples of the earth. The readings continue through Paul writing to a little community of Christians in Ephesus (Eph.3:2-6). He tells them that the good news of God’s saving love is not limited to the Israelites but rather, shared with all of humankind and its saving light shines on all. Finally, we hear the story of Matthew which tells of the wise men from the east searching for the wonder which they find in the birth of Jesus (Matt.2:1-12). By following the light of a star, they come to discover this wondrous event for all the world.
The birth of Jesus, Son of God and son of Mary is for all humanity, in all times. It may have taken place in little and distant Bethlehem and at a time long ago. It may have resulted in the growth of disciples who have come to be called Christians. But it was not limited to Bethlehem. Nor was it confined to that moment some 2000 years ago. Nor did it have import only for Christians down through the ages.
This feast day, with its story and its image of light calls us to recognize that what we have been given as good news of God’s love is for all times, and all places and all peoples. We, as disciples are called to share this good news with an openness and love which embraces all creation and all humanity.
In God’s Kingdom, there is a place for all. One of the wonders and expressions of Good News in the midst of our pandemic is the recognition that we are “in this together” – from our local community to our global community. The light and hope shines on all. We see it shining in the willingness to wear masks for the sake of others and we can note it also in the cooperative world-wide search for and development of vaccines. From the prophet’s cry to see the light arise among us to magi’s quest to follow the star, darkness is being dispelled by light. Such light reveals a universal spirit of God’s love released upon the earth with the incarnation of Jesus the Christ among us. May we be light and love for one another..
posted December 20, 2020
I will sing of your steadfast love, O Lord forever;
I will proclaim your faithfulness to all generations.
How ready, how able am I to bless the Lord God, at all times? Am I able to stand in wonder and awe at the immense love of our God for humanity and all creation? Am I ready to recognize Christmas as a celebration this great love.
Wonder makes everything new. It is the gift of every small child. Watch the eyes of the little ones. Their world is ever new. It is a world of discovery at every moment, in all they encounter. To them, nothing is ordinary or familiar.
Young couples manifest the same. A wedding, for all the busyness and the trappings that surround it, is essentially about a loving couple. They may be nervous, they may be excited, but as they look into each other’s eyes and express their love, nothing else matters. They stand in wonder and awe of each other.
They have embarked on a journey of discovery, standing in a world of wonder with each other. Moved by their love, the awe in which they hold each other causes them to glory in their companionship.
As we move into the Christmas season our gaze turns to Mary (Luke 1:26-38). Her encounter with the Angel Gabriel leaves her in wonder and awe. Everything is new. Nothing can be ordinary or familiar for her. She is now the servant of the Lord as she brings God’s dream to fulfillment in the world. Can we have the spirit of the little child, the sense of discovery of the young lovers, the awe of Mary?
The God of our faith is an awesome God, not because of power, nor of immensity. Our wonder comes from the reality that God has come to us where we are – in what we so often take for granted, God’s love for us all. God touches us in what we see as so familiar and ordinary. We stand in awe of our God who has such love.
Ilia Delio, a Franciscan nun, theologian and scientist expresses how our God is so awesome and why celebrating Christmas is so significant for us: We can read the history of our 13.7-billion-year-old universe as the rising up of Divine Love incarnate, which bursts forth in the person of Jesus, who reveals love’s urge toward wholeness through reconciliation, mercy, peace, and forgiveness. Jesus is the love of God incarnate…. Christian life is a commitment to love, to give birth to God in one’s own life and to become midwives of divinity in this evolving cosmos. We are to be wholemakers (unity builders) of love in a world of change. (Quoted by Richard Rohr, Online Reflection 7 Dec 20)
Somewhere in the midst of the ordinary and familiar of our lives we discover this great gift of awe and wonder. This is what we celebrate in Christmas – Emmanuel, God is with us.
posted December 12, 20206
December… heading into winter. In a few days we will experience the shortest, darkest day of our year. It comes as we find ourselves still facing a Covid-19 pandemic. Darkness and cold, isolation and restrictions, it is a harsh reality.
In the midst of the darkness there is light, there is hope. From our darkest day, our days will slowly begin to lengthen, light will triumph over darkness. News of vaccines has brought light and hope that there is an end to the pandemic. Slowly the darkness will end.
The 3rd Sunday of Advent has traditionally been referred to as “Gaudete Sunday” it issues a call to rejoice, for light and life will prevail. Advent leads to Christmas and the promise of God’s deep love and willingness to stand among us always, in the person of Jesus, the Christ. There is a wonderful English Christmas carol that captures this advent of light in the darkness and hope over despair:
In the bleak mid-winter, Frosty wind made moan;
Earth stood hard as iron, Water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow;
In the bleak mid-winter, long ago.
Our God, heaven cannot hold Him, nor earth sustain,…
In the bleak mid-winter, a stable-place sufficed,
The Lord God Almighty – Jesus Christ.
Words by Christina Rossetti; Music by Gustav Holst)
John`s Gospel (John 1:6-8, 19-28) tells us of John the Baptist and we are told: He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. John the Baptist is our model. We are witnesses for others, called to nurture the faith and hope of our generation and of the next. In the “bleak mid-winter”, ours it is to bring light and hope, support and love to one another and our world.
In the midst of the darkness that sometimes envelops our lives and the challenges we and our world face, there is a fundamental truth of our faith. God recognizes the goodness of every human being and gifts us with a love that can never be lost. So it is, that like the Old Testament prophet we are given the Spirit of our God for a purpose. Isaiah expresses it this way:
The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind-up the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners;.... (Is.61:1)
May we be light in the darkness, hope in discouragement and loving compassion for all
posted December 5, 2020
Dr. Michael Higgins is a former President of St. Thomas University. He is now President of Corpus Christi-St. Marks at UBC. In his regular blog, he commented on a recent interview done by CBC and CTV with noted cellist, Rémy Bélanger de Beaufort, who was attacked and badly injured on Halloween night in Quebec City by a man with a sword. Two other persons died of their injuries.
Mr. Bélanger was interviewed in his hospital room. Bandaged and splinted, he was still in recovery. He bore the signs of the multiple fractures and wounds he suffered, including a near severed finger that had been reattached.
Recalling that night, Mr. Bélanger indicated that he held no anger or hatred towards his attacker. He stated, remarkably to the interviewer: “I was in the ambulance and I had already forgiven him. I told myself, ‘why not try to say I love him’, and I realized I did.”
Dr. Higgins commented on Mr. Bélanger’s statement with: “In other words, Christ-like, he moved beyond a facile forgiveness to a place of deep compassion and non-judgement. Astonishing.” In this perhaps, we discover the full meaning of what we hear in Mark’s Gospel as he introduces John the Baptist and his call for repentance. (Mark 1:1-8) More than this, Jesus as he begins his mission is described by Mark as proclaiming the same call: “Repent and believe the good news.” (Mark 1:15)
Often, we direct this call for repentance to forgiveness of our personal sins and faults Frequently, we find ourselves focused on what we perceive as breaches of God’s law or rules and commandments. This might satisfy our desire for clear, straight forward answers, but repentance is much more than this. Repentance is really an ongoing, lifetime of transformation. Often, we refer to it as a conversion of life or a change of heart.
Living faith and the conversion it calls for is all about relationships – with God, with neighbour, with all humanity and creation itself. These relationships are like a network of friendships. In this context, a mature view of sin is the wounding of these relationships, revealed in the ways we fail to pay full attention to their care and their well-being. Sin then, is not about single acts or neglects, but rather about our whole attitude of life that distances us from others and from God. We wound other, creation and God with our neglect and self-centeredness.
Repentance is a whole change of heart, a redirecting of our lives to bring new life to our relationships.
Undertaking conversion or repentance then, is to begin a new life journey. We see this in the way Mark describes this coming of John the Baptist bearing this message. It is no small thing, that the Gospel writer opens his telling of the story with the words: “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, Son of God.” (Mark 1:1) It is not the end, nor even the middle.
For John the Baptist, the call to repentance is only a first step, just as the call of Jesus to “repent and believe the good news” is only to be seen as the initial piece of a life-long discipleship. Transformations and conversions are life-long pilgrimages. They ultimately are processes of becoming. Rémy Bélanger de Beauport has revealed something of the depths of such a call to turn our lives around with a transformation of our heart. It is life-giving beyond ourselves and has the power to create a whole new world – truly good news for all humanity.
posted November 29, 2020
Here we are at the beginning of the Advent-Christmas season again. The word “advent” comes from two Latin words, “ad” and “venio”. When put them together, the meaning is “come to”. In fact, this is where we are always. Our life is a journey that looks back to remembrance of an advent that has already happened, while looking forward to an advent yet to be. Our present is always between our past and our future. We are ever between two advents, two comings.
As a Christian faith community, the First Advent has us looking back to the birth of Jesus the Christ as one of us. This is God coming to share our humanity and our human condition. It is the Incarnation, God sharing our humanity. It is God walking with us in the challenges and accomplishments, the joys and sorrows that we and our world experience. In the Advent-Christmas season we remember and celebrate this First Advent of God among us.
The Second Advent is yet to come. It is the It is the coming of Christ in Glory. With this we have the fullness of redemption. The reign of God proclaimed by Jesus will come to its fulfillment. With it we become the creation we are meant to be. As we enter the Advent-Christmas season this year, we look forward with expectation and hope to this Second Advent, as yet unfulfilled.
Our life unfolds between these two advents, knowing God journeys among us; and we strive to imitate Jesus’ mission – with him as our model and mentor. We strive to bring creation to what is God’s dream for us. In Mark’s Gospel we hear the clarion call of the prophets: “Keep alert, you do not know when the time will come.” (Mark 13:33-37)
Now we wait and we work to fulfill creation to the wonder it is meant to be, marked by love and peace, mercy and compassion. Our expectation, our hopes and our labours are for all humanity and all creation. This was the vision expressed by the spiritual writer and Trappist monk, Thomas Merton (1915-68). In March, 1958 he was on a busy shopping street in Louisville, Kentucky when he had a tremendous insight of love, a mystical experience.
Merton’s experience captured what is God’s dream for all humanity: In Louisville,… in the center of the shopping district, I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all those people, that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers…. I have the immense joy of being [creature, a person] a member of [humanity] in whom God Himself became incarnate.” (Thomas Merton. Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander (1966))
We might say that what Merton describes is a glimpse of what Jesus has called all of us to. When this fully comes about, it is the complete reign of God, “a kingdom of justice, love and peace” for all humanity. This is the Second Advent, God’s dream. For this we wait, in hope and expectation and we live lives united with Jesus to nurture it in our present world and among all peoples, freely and with great openness and love. For we are all God’s creation. The Old Testament prophet Isaiah speaks for us: O Lord, you are our Parent; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hands. (Isaiah 64:8)
posted November 23, 2020
Beginnings and endings are important. The first looks to the future, our goals, our aims our hopes and dreams. The second is about our arrivals, our fulfillment, our completions and results. In between, there is all the effort, the work, the challenges and struggles, the attempts and the failures, the twists and turns of the journey. Life is just such a journey, in fact, a host of journeys. What we may sometimes not be aware of in the picture is the way in which the Spirit journeys with us, from beginning to end.
Ten months ago, in January we entered into a pandemic with Covid-19. Since then, our world has found itself facing uncertainty and threat. Our lives have been changed by the virus and by the measures taken in response to it. As we pass through this experience, we know we are not alone. We journey with the Spirit of God among us, and in company with the whole human community. We are in this together.
There has been hope and promise. A virus vaccine is on the horizon, but still months away and so we wait in expectation that there is light at the end of the tunnel. Meanwhile, together we work to keep each other safe, and use our talents, gifts and abilities to help our world come to that light. We are in this together.
Our sacred stories in the Scriptures present us with the good news of the Kingdom of God, hopeful news, signs of God’s love and constant presence among us. Matthew’s Gospel begins with telling the story of the beginning – God has come among us, taking on our humanity in Jesus, an expression of God’s love (Matt 1:18-23). This is the Incarnation.
Jesus begins his mission with the great challenge to all humanity: He announced: “I call you to a change of heart, for the Kingdom of heaven has come near.” (Matt 4:17). This was the message we heard ten months ago, in January. We were called to recognize we are not alone in our life journey. “Emmanuel”, God is with us. This is the message.
The core message and mission of Jesus, the Christ was to proclaim the Kingdom of God among us. His work among the poor and the suffering, the sick and the sinner was to heal and reconcile. By word and by work, Jesus made God’s Kingdom present. This is Good News, the Gospel.
What is also Good News is that Jesus shared not only his message with his disciples. He also shared his mission. The Reign of God has begun among us. We are Jesus present here and now.
Like Jesus, in word and in action and gifted with his Spirit, we are to make God’s Kingdom present and alive in our world. This is the mission.
What does this world with the Kingdom look like? How are we to recognize and announce this? The Kingdom is not about the power of dominance, greed and control. It is a Kingdom that reflects the Spirit of Jesus, the face of our loving God. Such a Kingdom is marked by care, compassion and tenderness. It seeks peace and solidarity between individuals and across borders. This is the Kingdom.
Our faith is relational. It is built and expressed in how we live with one another, for we are disciples of Jesus, together called to bring the Kingdom to the world, to all humanity. In that fulfilled and completed Kingdom, Jesus the Christ will say: “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did it to me.” (Matt 25:31-40
posted November 15, 2020
November begins with the Feast of All Saints. I have long seen this feast day as consoling and supportive. Saints so often seem to be larger than life. Sometimes they are the “plaster saint”, a model that really does not relate to our human experience. At other times, they seem to represent a spiritual experience that takes them out of this world and far from our experience. Such models appear removed from the call to evangelize or share the Good News with the world given us as Jesus’s disciples.
The story of Christianity over the centuries has exhibited the same tendency to distance ourselves from the broader world in which it has lived. In his most recent encyclical, Fratelli tutti (Oct 2020). Pope Francis has pushed our church into recognizing our call into the world of our experience. It is there that we discover our relationships are touched in their humanness by the loving hand of God. Disciples are called to pass this message on and to there build God’s loving reign.
Several weeks ago, Fr. Richard Rohr in his daily reflection remarked on how Christianity has tended to focus inward over the centuries. “Christianity, in its first two thousand years, has kept its morality mostly private, interior, and heaven-bound, but with very few direct implications for what is now called our collective economic, social and political life.” (Rohr 1 Nov 2020) By doing so, we lose something of the Incarnation, our faith in God’s love living among us, revealed in the person of Jesus. In him, the divine and the human come together. This is the Good News calling us to build God’s reign.
Rohr turns to the words of a Benedictine sister, Joan Chittister to direct our call as disciples of Jesus beyond ourselves to social justice and the common good for all peoples of the earth. Chittister observes: “Everywhere there are people who, despite finding themselves mired in periods of national [disruption] or personal marginalization refuse to give up the thought of a better future or give in to the allurements of a deteriorating present. They never lose hope that the values they learned in the best of times or the courage it takes to reclaim their world from the worst of times are worth the commitment of their lives. These people, the best of ourselves, are legion and they are everywhere.” (Rohr, 2 Nov 2020) Like the servant in Matthew’s Gospel, they use the gifts they receive well. (Matt 25:14-30)
These are our prophets, our saints among us. In 2014, the world two young prophets/saints received the Nobel Peace Prize. Each of them gave up a great deal and have showed remarkable courage in speaking and working for the common good of us all.
Malala Yousfzai is a young Pakistani Muslim teenager who has actively been speaking out for the rights of girls in Pakistan to have an education. Her voice and her courage resulted in her being shot and seriously wounded by the Taliban. She continues to be a voice for this common good and right.
Kailash Satyarthi is an Indian electrical engineer who at age 26 gave up his career and has been working to promote and provide education possibilities for the children of some of the poorest and most disadvantaged in northern India. Kailash is a Hindu.
These are only two such saints for our time. As Chittister pointed out, such prophetic figures are everywhere, even standing among us and urging us to live our discipleship with an outward vision that changes our world. Our call is to share our gifts, courage and energy for others, building God’s reign.
posted November 7, 2020
Walking down the street, I spot a person coming toward me whom I know I have met before. What is their name? Where did I meet them? Did I teach them? Were they in one of the parishes where I have been? Worse – Did I just meet them recently? Searching through the files of my memory, the name does not come to me. This happens to me often. It happens to us all. Meeting someone like this challenges us. We are often not prepared for such encounters.
Our Gospel this weekend (Matt 25:1-13) is about encounters and being prepared. The ten bridesmaids were waiting for the coming of the groom. He was late arriving and when he did come, some were prepared, some were not. Why does Matthew tell this parable of Jesus?
Like all the parables they are told first for the little communities of Christians to whom the Gospel writers belong. These early Christians of the first generation after resurrection, expected Jesus to return in glory soon, even in their lifetime. As time went by, the return was delayed, like the groom’s coming. Some were discouraged by this delay. Matthew’s parable is to urge Christians to wait patiently and be prepared for the encounter when they would meet their risen Lord: “Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”
As it did to Matthew’s community, this parable speaks to us. Like them, we continue to wait in faith and readiness for the Coming of the Lord Jesus in glory. We wait to enter into a sharing in the risen life of Jesus. We wait for the Coming when all creation will be made whole and the God’s Kingdom will be fulfilled. And we know “neither the day nor the hour.”
We also wait and prepare for our own daily encounters with Jesus. Every day, we meet Jesus personally in the challenges and experiences of our lives. Jesus comes to us in the persons we meet, in the needs of others and the joys of companionship with one another. Jesus comes to us in the wonder of all Creation and in our care and delight with this Creation. We cannot predict when these encounters will come. Nor can we foresee how these meetings with Jesus will take place. But all of these daily encounters with Jesus call forth responses of love and respect, care and compassion.
In the present experience of the corona virus, we recognize how difficult it is to wait. In the midst of our isolation and distancing, in the dislocation of our mask-wearing, we wait for a vaccine. There is no telling when we will have such a vaccine. But when it comes, we must be ready to receive it. Only then can we relax our current situation. We long for it, we wait for it, we are impatient for it.
Our life experience at this moment in time offers us some special opportunities to wait for encounters with Jesus in very practical ways. We wear our masks and social distance not for our own sake, but for the sake of those around us. Our concern for the all people of our world and our nation is a chance to reflect the face of Jesus beyond our own circle. Our readiness as communities to support our public health leadership and those who advise us from the World Health Organization is a response that expresses the global compassion of our loving God for all. How aware, ready and responsive are we when our loving God reaches out to us in the daily experiences of our lives? Are we ready?
Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.
posted October 31, 2020
In the midst of a pandemic, faced with challenges to our climate, concerned about the fragile peace of our world, encountering upset and uncertainty in global social and political life, it is not surprising that we can be anxious. Perhaps we need to consider how God sees us.
If we take a look at the first chapter of the Book of Genesis, we find that the author reflected that at the end of creation God viewed it. The writer says: God saw all that was made, and indeed it was very good(Gen.1:31). There is probably no clearer statement of the goodness of creation, our world and each and every creature on the earth –including ourselves. Genesis is a reminder that God takes delight in all these works that form creation. God does indeed see you and I and every created thing as a blessing.
Many years ago, traveling in Ireland, I witnessed an expression of blessing. Sitting in a pub for lunch, we noticed a group of truckers at the bar who were finishing off their Guinness. As each one got up and began to leave, the others called out to him, “God bless you now, safe drive.” They knew that God took delight in each of them.
What do we do when we bless someone? Essentially, we are imitating God. We are indicating that like God, we take delight in that person, that this person is special to us. This is what the voice from heaven exclaimed as the Spirit descended on Jesus after us baptism in the Jordan: This is my son, the beloved in whom I delight(Matt.3:17). This delight is an expression of the Father’s favour resting on the Son. It is a blessing. Because we take delight in a person, like God we want the best for them. It is this that calls parents to bless their children, friends to bless their friends, members of a community to bless one another, and yes, truckers to bless their fellow truckers in an Irish pub.
Such delight appears in Matthew’s Gospel as the introduction to what we call the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5:1-12). Jesus begins the Sermon with a series of blessings (Beatitudes). These are blessings conferred on us, all of us in the many experiences of our lives.
God constantly sees the goodness that rests in us and in all creation. Jesus will go on in the Sermon to call us to let this goodness, this “salt” and “light”, shine before our world. But it is important that we first recognize that God blesses us with this goodness –even when we do not feel that goodness.
We need to know that God indeed does take delight in us and in all of creation. Our universe and allthat it contains is the handiwork of God. If God takes delight in it, so too should we. This is the sense of the final words of Pope Francis’s encyclical, Laudato si: On the Care of Our Common Home.He concludes his thoughts with what can be a prayer of us all, as we face the challenges of our time..
God, who calls us to generous commitment and to give him our all, offers us the light and the strength needed to continue on our way. In the heart of this world, the Lord of life, who loves us so much is always present.He does not abandon us, he does not leave us alone,for he has united himself definitively to our earth,and his love constantly impels us to find new ways forward. Praise be to God.
posted October 25, 2020
Covid-19 – this has been our world for the past 7 months. It may be our plight for months to come. No one knows when we might come out of the pandemic. When we do, there will be many things that we will recall about the experience – the community restrictions, the closing of borders, the self-isolation, the masks we wear to protect others. The virus will leave its mark deeply in our experience of this time. This is world in which we live at this time. But our world is larger than this.
We live in Canada. To be a citizen of this country and to live here presents us with expectations. We have a loyalty to this nation and are proud to call ourselves Canadians. It demands that we respect our fellow Canadians and care for the land in which we live. Our citizenship demands that we do what we can for the good of our country, but also that we work to better our world. Our country was founded in 1867 to provide “peace, order and good government” (BNA 1867), but not just for us.
We live in a wider world. The vision is directed beyond our borders, for the common good of all peoples. The peace and well-being of all must be our concern, especially the peace and well-being of the most vulnerable of our world. To have this concern is to express what is found in Pope Francis’s latest encyclical letter, Fratelli tutti (3 Oct 2020). For Francis, we are all sisters and brothers. Everyone is our neighbour. Since we all share a common humanity. We are “Neighbours without borders”.
This can be a stretch for us. But in fact, we are called even further. In another of Pope Francis’s encyclicals, Laudato si (24 May 2015), we are challenged to take up our responsibility for all creation with care for all creatures. The earth, all creation is “Our common home”.
The fundamental message and mission of Jesus and the Gospels is to proclaim that the Kingdom of God is among us. What does it mean? The Good News of Jesus Christ may be stated in this way. As a people of the Kingdom, we see ourselves as living in a loving relationship with God as the community of God’s People, and in love and respect for one another and for all creation. Such loving a relationship with all creation is the fullness of living faith.
It is summarized by the Gospel writer Matthew in two commandments – loving God and loving our neighbour (Matt 22:34-40).
We are a community of disciples, a sign and sacrament of God and God’s Kingdom in the midst of our world. How we live makes the Reign of God come alive. Together, in every Eucharistic gathering, we pray the Our Father and we hear ourselves ask of God “Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” To do so is to pray for the fullness of the Kingdom, among us. Let us pray for our “common home”.
God of love, show us our place in this world as channels of your love
For all the creatures of this earth, for not one of them is forgotten in your sight.
Enlighten those who possess power and resources that they may avoid the sin of indifference,
That they may love the common good, advance the weak,
And care for this world in which we live. The poor and the earth are crying out.
O Lord, seize us width your power and light, help us to protect all life,
To prepare for a better future, for the coming of your Kingdom
Of justice, peace, love and beauty. (Laudato si 246)
posted October 18, 2020
Covid-19 affects everyone. We may or may not catch the virus, or have a loved one who does. But we are all affected. We find ourselves isolated and having to distance ourselves from others. Barriers have been erected between communities and regions. Borders are closed between countries. The virus has divided our world. Until we have more effective treatments and we are able to be protected with vaccines this will be our world. Does God really care? Does God enter our human story?
The readings of this Sunday help us to see that God speaks to us in human terms. In our scriptures, both the Old and New Testament we hear of God using human instruments to enter our story. In the 1st reading, the prophet Isaiah, speaks of the Persian King, Cyrus. As Isaiah describes it, a pagan king becomes the instrument by which God saves the People of Israel from exile and returns them to their land. Through Cyrus, God intervenes in the history of God’s People. (Is.45:1, 4-6)
In Matthew’s Gospel, we hear one of the stories of Jesus’ discussing with the Pharisees. (Matt.22:15-21) They try to trap him into denying his Judaism or into speaking against Roman authority. Jesus response to them is to do neither. The story draws us into a recognition that faith and our relationship with God is lived out in the midst of the secular world. Jesus points out to the Pharisees that they are to give to God what belongs to God and to the Emperor what belongs to him.
We live in a complex world of the secular and the spiritual. Neither denies or excludes the other. The story of Christian faith is founded on what we refer to as the Incarnation. It is one of the foundations of our faith that God enters our human condition in the person of Jesus Christ, God and human. This basic belief is the fullest expression that God speaks to us in human terms. This is a proclamation that all humanity, all human life, all human history is touched by the presence of God.
God truly does speak to us in human terms, in every time and place. God really does stand with us.
Over the centuries, our Catholic faith and tradition has often expressed this incarnational vision of God-with-us. We are a faith that sees God speaking and acting in the context of our human story, i.e. in the times in which we live. Our Church’s 2000year history shows many occasions when we failed to be God’s voice in a way that could be heard by people of particular cultures and times. But it is also replete with a host of times when it reached out to the context, time and cultures in which it lived. As Church and as the presence of God’s People in our own time, this is the gift we can bring to our world.
The Second Vatican Council expressed this vision repeatedly. It spoke explicitly of this vision in the last of its great documents, The Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World (Gaudium et spes). This document takes its title from its beginning words: “The joy and the hope, the grief and the anguish of the people of our time… are the joy and the hope, the grief and the anguish of the followers of Christ as well.”(GS 1) With these words, Vatican II expressed its solidarity with the world and context of its time. It understood that our God speaks and acts in the present world in which we live. In every era, the life and faith of our Church is intended to hear and speak to the culture and people of our time.
How do we as Church listen to our time and culture? How do we reach out with the Good News?
posted October 9, 2020
Thanksgiving! The leaves are changing. The air is growing colder and crisper. The sun sets earlier. It seems like we are finally saying goodbye to our summer. It is a difficult goodbye. Yet it is also a moment to celebrate. In an earlier, more agriculture-centred age, this was the time to offer thanks to God for all the gifts of the earth. We may not be so centred now, but we continue to rely on those who produce our food. Thus, we thank them for their efforts. We continue to thank God for nurturing the soil which produces the harvest.
At the centre of Thanksgiving is a meal. We dine with family and friends. We express our gratitude to God and to others in a gathering around the table. Many of our human celebrations centre on a meal. Dining seems to be a common gathering point for us as human beings. From birthdays to Christmas to a simple visit of friends, our human tendency seems to be to gather for a meal. Around the table we become relaxed, we come to know one another better. Foods are part of our culture and to share our food with others is to share something of ourselves with others. Perhaps that is why in formal and informal gatherings there is invariably a meal in which the participants sit down at the same table.
The Old Testament prophet, Isaiah uses the image of a rich and abundant banquet to describe the fullness of God’s goodness poured out for all the peoples of the earth (Isaiah 25:6-10). Looking to the age of the messiah, the prophet uses a meal, shared by all peoples, as the great sign and symbol that the messiah has come. The reign of God is among us, and all creation is blessed by the presence of God.
Matthew’s Gospel uses the same image for the same reign of God, with twist. He shares one of Jesus’ stories, a parable of the Kingdom about a wedding feast, another banquet (Matt.22:1-10). The parable focuses on the invitation to a meal. The key here is that when the first invited guests refused the invitation, the doors of the banquet were thrown wide open. Servants were sent “into the streets and gathered all whom they found.” Both Isaiah and Matthew proclaim the fullness of God’s goodness for all creation. The table is large and the table is full.
This image is repeated, with the same message every time we gather around our Table for Eucharist. Theologian Eugene LaVerdiere focuses on the Eucharist as it is presented in the Gospel of Luke. The title of his book is Dining in the Kingdom of God. We may seldom think in this way, but that is in fact what we do when we gather around our Eucharistic table. We dine in the Kingdom of God. And we dine with a meal of thanksgiving.
Eucharist, literally, means thanksgiving. Whether it is around this Table of Eucharist or at the tables at which we gather with family and friends, we proclaim our gratitude – to God and to one another for the presence of goodness with which we are blessed in God and in one another. St. Paul, writing to the Philippians gives us a wonderful prayer to acknowledge both God and one another in this way – seeing both our lacks and our gifts. (Phil.4:12-14, 19-20).
Even now, in the midst of a pandemic, our Eucharist remains a celebration of God’s goodness and the openness of God’s reign to all. We may find ourselves with some limits in how we gather around The Table, but The Table must still be a celebration of God’s openness to all peoples. Somehow, with all our current limitations, we must express a welcome to all, for we are “dining in the Kingdom of God.”
posted October 2, 2020
Took a hike, recently through some of the trails of Mactaquac Provincial Park. The trails wind through forests and around beaver ponds. The forests in the fall are a collage of green, and yellow and red. The ponds are places showing the work of the beavers, the energy of the squirrels and presence of deer and moose. The ponds and the forests are filled with a host of different birds. Over it all there is a wonderful sense of calm and peace. This is, indeed, a sacred space. Walking through it one can sense the presence of the Spirit.
We have a long history of finding such sites as places where we experience the presence of God among us. The Ancients, Celts found this in springs, wells and other water sources. These were the places where life was supported for them, signs of the divine presence for them. Here they knew that God touches their human experience in real ways.
In our Scriptures the image of sacred spaces appears frequently. In the New Testament we see it in Matthew’s Gospel, 21:33-46, where Jesus employs the image of a vineyard for his message of God’s reign among us. This image is an echo of what we can find in the Old Testament. In Psalm 80, it represents the whole People of God. In the Prophet Isaiah (5:1-7), God’s People are the object of a love song. For Isaiah, for the psalm and for Matthew, “the vineyard” is the place where we center on God.
Wade Davis is a Canadian anthropologist. He holds the position of Explorer-in-Residence for National Geographic. In November 2009, he delivered the CBC Massey Lectures as part of the Ideas programs on CBC. The series was entitled The Wayfinders: Why Ancient Wisdom Matters in the Modern World. One of the lectures was “Sacred Geography.”
Davis’ lecture focused on a number of places around the world, northern B.C., the Andes in for usSouth America and the desert of central Australia. There he found places which over the centuries have been deemed sacred by the indigenous peoples who live there. They are places which long have been seen as sources of life for them.
We still need these spaces to bring meaning to our own lives. We have many personal ones.
They may include a room in our home where we tend to go to be at peace. The site may be our local church or a community gathering place. Sometimes there is a particular place or path in the woods where we enjoy a sense of “getting it all together”. Whether we realize it or not, we all have our sacred spaces. And we need them.
Often, we do not recognize that everyone of us has a “natural spirituality”. Whoever we are and wherever we are we have a spiritual centre. There we discover something that offers peace and brings meaning to our lives. Such spirituality is life-giving to every human being on earth. Fr. Richard Rohr noticed this in the writings of an English Benedictine monk, Bede Griffith.
Rohr quotes Bede’s insight: “According to the Letter to the Colossians, in Christ ‘all things were created, in heaven and on earth… all were created through him and for him’ [Col. 1:16]. This is truly a cosmic vision embracing the whole created world, which we now know to be an integrated whole,… which is capable of embracing all humanity.”(from: Rohr. Reflections 25 Sept 2020)
Where do I find my sacred spaces? How do I nurture my own spiritual life?
Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus (Phil 2:5)
posted September 27, 2020
Whether we acknowledge it or not, we all want peace. We want it for our world, we want it for our communities, for our families and we even desire an interior peace for ourselves. To live in peace with one another is a key to healthy relationships. If we look around us and even within ourselves we can see we are often without peace.
Our world and is divided in so many ways, nations, political views, races and religious beliefs, cultural variations and linguistic divisions. How often these divides and differences imperil our relationships and the peace for which we long. They often lead to violence and war, domination and exploitation. They threaten life and well-being for us all.
This is not what God’s dream is for our creation and life. God’s Reign is not intended to be this way. The Reign of God is to be marked by peace and reconciliation, by mercy, love and compassion for all. We are one humanity under God’s heaven and we share a creation that is entirely a gift of God’s love. That this Reign of God is among is central to Jesus’s mission and message. As disciples of Jesus our call is to hold this message and share it as our mission as well.
The message and mission are not always held firmly in our hearts and actions. We know what we want and hope, but our actions reveal our inabilities and lack of will. The Gospel writer, Matthew relates a story, a parable of Jesus. It tells of a man who had two sons. One he asked to go work in the vineyard. This son said he would go, but did not. A second son, when told to go, said he would not, but he had a change of heart and in fact did go. (Matt 21:28-32) This is a story of discipleship and commitment, of willingness to accept the call and carry it into action.
The story expresses the reality of our life as disciples. Often, we commit, but do not carry it further. We need to know that even if we reject the call or fail in the commitment, we can have a change of heart. God’s Reign is never beyond our reach, for God is a God of love, compassion and mercy. God never gives up on us, nor should we. Hope is eternal, in God’s Reign.
If there is a contribution we as a Christian community can bring to our world, it is the gift of peace for all. As disciples of Jesus, we are called to be this gift for one another, for our communities and for our world. The earliest Christian communities were recognized by some for how they lived with one another. Almost 2000 years ago, a Christian writer, Tertulian (c.160-220), noted the way non-Christians around his community regarded the Christians. As he wrote, they said: “See . . . how they love one another and how they are ready to die for each other.” It is how we live that speaks to our world.
During the Jubilee Year called by Pope Francis in 2015-16, he highlighted a single virtue, MERCY. This virtue forms the basis of peace and reconciliation in all relationships. It must mark us as a Church and individually as disciples of Jesus. Mercy allows us to be open to people where they are. It helps us to be non-judgemental as Church and as persons. It calls us to be ready to heal the wounds and hurts of our world. Mercy is to be the face that every community of Christians presents.
Mercy is the key to living like Jesus whose disciples we are. Above all, it leads us to a living faith that brings compassion and peace for all of humanity. This is the message and the mission of Jesus.
“Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.” (Phil. 2:5)
posted Septembet 17, 2020
Visiting a new mom as she cradles her new-born in the maternity ward. Watching the eyes of new parents as they gaze on their new child. On the street, hearing a mom speak to her 10-month old in a stroller. Seeing parents in a park as they see their 3-year old running in a circle. Observing a dad as he listens to the many “what is…; why are… and how does…” questions from his 5-year old. Later, experiencing the patience of a parent as they watch what their 13-year old does. Parents at their daughter’s wedding. Grandparents as they first hold their grandchild. Wonderful images of real love, in life-changing ways. Reflections of God’s generous love for us.
God is hard to describe in human language. The efforts we make to do so always fall short. About the best we can do is to describe God with the human qualities we have, just more of them. None of this, however, is satisfying. God is not us, not human. God does not judge, like we do. God does not demand our attention, like we do. God does not wait until we ask, like we do. God does not limit love, like we do, and so on, and so on.
God does, however, speak to us. The language of God is often best seen in what we experience, in the images that are all around us. The wonder of the universe, the amazing harmony that we sometimes see in Creation these are expressions of God’s loving presence among us. The same we can notice in something so close to us as our own humanity. The evolution of humanity and the other creatures that surround us speak to us of the life-giving love of our God.
As well, God has spoken to us in the person of Jesus. This is one of the principal lessons from what we call the Incarnation. Our Scriptures repeatedly point out the significance of this wonderous act of God, as a sign of generous love. The Gospel of John has Jesus expressing this to Nicodemus, a leader of the community: “God so loved the world that he gave us his only Son so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)
At the center of Jesus message is the image of our God whose love is abundant, who gives generously. Take a careful look at the parable of Jesus in Matthew’s Gospel.(Matt.20:1-16) Jesus relates the story of a landowner who goes out at various times throughout the day in order to hire workers. At the end of the day, no matter what time they started work, all of them receive the same daily wage. It comes as a surprise to all and those who worked from the very start of the day complain that it was unjust. The response of the landowner is to point out his generosity.
This is a parable about the Kingdom of God. There is no limit or demand that God sets to enter the reign of God. It is all generosity and gift. This is our God. Any Christian community is called to reflect this reign of God. All are invited, all are to be welcomed with the same warmth into the Kingdom and into the community, even those who have drifted or turned away. Such a reign of God is a revelation of God’s unconditional love.
There is no limit or restriction on God’s love. There are no locked gates for the Kingdom of God. It is always a gift, given out of love. A Christian community is called to reflect and express this open and inclusive love. As communities of Christians, this is who we are – reflections of our God, a loving parent.
- As a member of this Christian community do I express open and inclusive love to all?