posted September 30, 2022
Not long ago I had the honour of being part of a wedding. The couple were called upon to express their commitment, their faith in each other. That faith which expressed their relationship was remarkable. It was expressed in the words that every couple declares to each other at their wedding: “I promise to be true to you in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health. I will love you and honour you all the days of my life.” What a declaration of the faith, the trust they have in each other. What a declaration of love!
Faith or trust is relational. It serves as a bond between persons. It is also dynamic. Its beginning is normally limited and tentative. But it has great potential for growth. Experience together, openness to one another, generosity, and readiness to change and adjust for one another, these all allow what begins small to grow, becoming the stuff of dreams. Such faith can become what we refer to as the bond of love.
Faith the size of a mustard seed – what an image Jesus uses as he responds to his disciples! (Luke 17:5-10) They ask him to increase their faith. Faced with what they hear are the demands of discipleship, they feel inadequate, too limited in their ability to respond to his call. His response is to tell them that they do not need more faith. What they need is to recognize the power of small faith and its capacity to grow and become the kingdom. What they are called to is the universal and open reflection of God’s unconditional love. What a declaration of love!
Faith is not about power and the capacity to accomplish great or marvelous deeds. It does not take away our human weaknesses or increase our human strengths. Faith results in the energy and power of God working with our humanness. It is a gift that is unearned, unmerited, and freely given to all. When accepted it can lead to great things as we cooperate with God’s presence. It can lead to discipleship lived.
So often, great faith can be an impediment to discipleship. It can be rigid and domineering. It can blind us to the reality that we live in a messy world, full of paradoxes and unresolved questions, marked by questions and doubts. Life is complex. It is in the midst of this messy world, that faith is expressed in discipleship, with simple care, open concern for the small and the weak. It is in this messy world that we recognize that we fail and fall. It is in this world of contradictions and paradoxes that we so often need to be reconciled and forgiven. As disciples of Jesus, this is what we can offer to others.
The gift of faith with the divine presence that results, allows our weakness to become strength. It allows us to listen, to respond, to reach out in love in the midst of a messy, wounded world. This brings reconciliation and healing to our brokenness. Faith the size of a mustard seed – what a difference it can make! Small is, indeed great.
posted September 23, 2022
Luke’s story in this Sunday’s Gospel (Luke 16:19-31) is a challenge to us. It presents some fundamental elements of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus. The story focuses on a rich man, who is unnamed and a poor man, Lazarus. It challenges us to reflect on how we live our discipleship.
In the story the rich man was not portrayed as consciously oppressing Lazarus. Rather he was oblivious to the poor man at his gate. He did not even notice the person who was right in front of him. And certainly, he did not recognize that he had any responsibility to Lazarus.
This is our challenge in the world today. Often, we are quite ready and willing to offer help in a crisis, whether a handout to someone in need or aid in the case of a natural disaster such as a flood or earthquake. This is all good and certainly responds to a need.
The real challenge however is more demanding. It is the question of social justice in our world. Often the poverty that we encounter locally or globally has a basis in the social structures of our world. Since it is so basic, so much a part of our way of seeing the world that it is harder for us to recognize. Still more difficult is it for us to see that we can do anything about it.
The call to be disciples of Jesus is a call to the message and mission that he revealed. It means we work to build God’s reign where we are. Starting with ourselves, it calls for the transformation of our mentality and that of our world into one where justice and peace reign, where there is equal respect and honouring of every person. Impossible??? Three suggestions: think globally, act locally and pray.
A Disciple’s Prayer
God of all Creation, Your Son Jesus called his disciples and said,
“You did not choose me, I chose you.”
You have chosen me to be today’s disciple in today’s world.
I thank you that you consider me worth to be a disciple of Jesus
Transform me into the image of Jesus.
Make my heart long for you in poverty of spirit.
Make my heart mourn at the misfortune of others.
Make me meek and humble of heart.
Make me hunger and thirst for what is right.
Make me merciful and overflowing with compassion
Make me clean of heart and share in your holiness.
Make my life an instrument of peace and reconciliation.
In justice, may I act on behalf of the oppressed.
In freedom, may I set others free in forgiveness.
In service, may I provide for the needs of your people.
(Prayer: from Fr. Satish Joseph in Be My Disciples Recipe Book, RCL Benziger 2012)
posted September 17, 2022
The Gospels present us with many stories told by Jesus. These parables offer glimpses of what God is like. In Luke’s Gospel (Luke 16:1-13) we catch sight of the generous loving God as revealed by Jesus himself. This parable tells the story of a rich man who had a servant managing his wealth. The manager was accused of “squandering” his wealth and so was fired. Recognizing he was in a tight spot, the manager decided to change the debts owed to his former employer. This he thought would make him new friends at this difficult time. Surprise - the rich man commended the dishonest manager for his shrewdness. What a strange story! What is the point Jesus is making here? Perhaps there are many.
One key point is clearer when we see the location of this story in Luke’s Gospel. It follows directly after a parable which is very familiar to us, the story of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32). Here the younger son of a man demands his share of the family wealth. He goes away and “squanders” his share. In dire straits, he decides to return home to his father. But filled with guilt he determines that he can no longer be regarded as a member of the family, only a slave to his father. Surprise – the father spots the son returning. Overwhelmed with joy, he runs out to gather the wayward one into his arms. No mention of the “squandering”, no mention of the thoughtlessness of the son and his desertion of the family. These two parables shown together are revelations of how God sees us.
As persons, as communities, as a global humanity we are gifted with many resources, much wealth. These are ours to use, in trust from God. How do we use this wealth of resources human, natural, economic?
Sometimes we “squander” what we have been given. The temptation to treat it as held only for our own use or to seize it from others can overtake us, as individuals, communities or nations. In this, like the manager or the younger son, we betray the trust.
The two stories reveal God’s response. It is a surprising one. God’s eyes are ever ready to see beyond the failings. The debts and sins, the hurts and broken trust cannot stand in the way of God’s vision. God’s unconditional love ever recognizes the goodness of each and every person, even if the person themselves may be blind to it.
Luke presents us with these two parables as Jesus’ way of proclaiming a faith in God as ever ready to reconcile and heal. The stories express a faith in a God who challenges us with wealth, gifts and resources, in trust. At the same time, they present a God whose unconditional love can see beyond our failures to live up to this trust. It is a love that can see beyond our failures to the goodness with which God has gifted us.
The two parables express a further point, another challenge. The central characters in the stories, the prodigal son and the manager undergo conversions, changes of view and heart. In their own individual ways, each of them begins to see that their life is threatened and that they must change direction. Both recognized that what they thought was theirs, was in fact not something they held in permanence. The young man needed to reconnect with his family. The manager needed to find a new circle of connection with the debtors.
One might question the routes each character took for this change, but Luke indicates that the very effort to undertake a change of heart and direction does begin a rebuilding of trust and connection.
posted September 10, 2022
Bridges! They are amazing things. What is most remarkable about them is that they allow us to cross divides, to overcome what stands between us and others. Bridges are an essential piece of building communities and nurturing our relationships with one another.
Ivo Andric was a Yugoslavian author of Bosnian origin. In 1961 he was awarded the nobel prize for literature. What is regarded as his greatest work, The Bridge on the Drina is a novel depicting the struggles of the people of Bosnia for the 300 years leading up to World War I.
Andric tells the tale through the story of a bridge over the River Drina. The principal character in the novel is the bridge itself. The story relates what the bridge did for the people of the small town and region of Visegrad. It brought the community together and linked it to the bigger world. Bridges do that, overcoming our separations and divides. They can connect and reconcile us.
In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus in a series of parables (15:1-32) presents us with the core of God’s dream for us – a dream of reconciling and healing love. We discover what Jesus meant when he proclaimed the Reign of God is among us. It is seen when we find ourselves in communities marked by reconciling love, in a world marked by peace. God’s love bridges our divides. We profess this saying: “Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done…. Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”
Recently, we have become more aware of a great divide in our society. For generations Indigenous peoples have suffered a form of cultural genocide. Placing indigenous children in residential schools to erase their culture and language has done lasting damage to families and communities in Canada. The foundation of the schools was something of Europe’s history.
The 15th century saw European trade, sovereignty, culture and religion expand beyond Europe’s borders. Traders and explorers found their way around Africa and eastward to Asia. They also went westward across the Atlantic to the Americas.
This became known as European Expansion. It was a time of conquest and colonization. Given the close connection between rulers and religion, church and state in this period it is no surprise that the church played a part in this expansion. The term “Doctrine of Discovery” expresses this involvement or complicity. It had an impact on indigenous peoples. The “Doctrine” though not a real doctrine, is a term used to describe the way the church played a role in the expansion around the globe.
Several 15thcentury papal documents (“Papal Bulls”) articulated the Vatican support for the expansion first of Portuguese and then of Spanish explorers and conquerors. Later the principles were used to cover other Europeans encountering indigenous peoples. As Pope Francis visited to apologize for the complicity of the church in residential schools there was a call to rescind the “doctrine”. The papal bulls were not doctrinal statements but in some way, the “Doctrine of Discovery” was an affirmation for European conquest and colonization of indigenous peoples in the 15th century. It was also used to justify later attacks or limits on their rights and property.
The church has spoken up frequently against such limitations of human rights. Vatican II, repeatedly asserted freedom of religious rights as well as human rights in general. To reconcile our differences, to heal the wounds that separate us and to be builders of bridges, rather than walls, this is who we are to be. Our communities are communities of bridges, not barriers and walls.
posted September 2, 2022
September is a season of change. The long hazy, even lazy days of summer are coming to an end. The vacations are behind us and the more regular work schedule is resumes. Schools and colleges and universities are opening their new year. The new season in many ways is a new stage in our life journey. For many, whether student or teachers or someone beginning new work, September launches us into unfamiliar territory. It will call us to take up the risks of something new and unfamiliar. September is also a season that demands a willingness to take a risk and make a commitment.
Luke`s Gospel, (Luke 14:25-33) relates a story of Jesus in the midst of a large and enthusiastic crowd. They are would-be disciples. Are they really disciples? Can they be disciples? Are they ready for discipleship? Some are there simply because they are following the crowd. Others are curious, hoping to see one of the miracles or wonders they are told he does. Are they really hearing his message and buying into his mission – accepting the invitation to actively build God`s reign in our world?
Jesus turns to them and expresses the message in radical terms: ``If anyone comes to me without hating his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.`` What an outlandish statement! Who can accept this? But we can assume it gets the attention of those in the crowd.
To be a disciple calls for commitment, deep commitment. Some really want to enter into such discipleship. They hear what Jesus has said. They see what he has done. The message and the mission seem to be what they are searching for. But they do not yet understand all that is involved. They may not be fully convinced or committed, but they are willing to offer a tentative “yes”, to take a chance.
Whether we recognize it or not this is where most, if not all of us are. We are disciples in the making. Our quest in life finds us on a journey with this Jesus and his message. But our “yes” is always less than perfect. Perhaps it will always be this way. We will always be in a state of becoming.
To hear the words we find in Luke’s Gospel can be threatening. Who can make such a commitment? The radical demand that Luke describes is well beyond us and can be daunting and discouraging. What happens if we do not meet this demand of total and complete commitment to the message and mission? What happens if we do not fully respond to the baptismal call we have been given, if our Christian life is less than perfect, if our commitment is not so total? Can I take the risk?
Our Scriptures help us here. They tell the story of a God who loves us, a God of mercy, compassion and forgiveness. This is how God has repeatedly dealt with the chosen people of Israel. Prophet after prophet he sent to them. Throughout the New Testament, this is the God who is revealed in the person of Jesus, the God who has come to share our humanity.
Sure, we are less than perfect disciples. We are on a life journey of striving in our discipleship. We fall short. We often fail. We are ever in a state of becoming. Both as individual disciples and as church, we often discover we can’t quite measure up. But we trust in the Jesus that we see in the Gospels who welcomes all and who reaches out to us when we are at our weakest and most inadequate.
We also recognize that God sees the strength that we actually do possess and the desire to make a commitment that we may not fully manage to live up to. That is just the way our God of love is, and for this God and for God’s love we give thanks.
posted August 26, 2022
Eating is important, in fact essential. The obvious reason is that eating sustains the life of our bodies. There are, however other human needs that are fed by eating. Meals are points of meeting others, occasions for sharing with others. They enrich our sense of relationship with one another and offer occasions to gather, acknowledging we do not live solitary lives. Even our faith is fed with a meal.
Among our sacraments, the Eucharistic meal is the point which most fully gathers us. In it we see that as church we are a community of faith and action, sharing common needs, hopes and dreams. It may be so commonplace that we do not notice our Eucharist is where we are most recognizable as a community expressing the love and mercy of our God. It calls us to be open and welcoming to “the other”. It is also where we recognize our failures to be the face of Jesus, open to all without question or limit. This is a failure of our faith. It is what lay at the heart of Pope Francis’s visit to Canada.
Pope Francis came specifically to be among the indigenous peoples of our country. His prime intention was to offer an apology for the mistreatment of their communities, their children and families. His focus was the indigenous residential schools, established by the Canadian government in the 19th and 20th centuries and operated by various Christian churches, most often the Catholic church.
The schools were intended to provide education for these communities, but also to assimilate the children and ultimately their communities into Canadian society. Doing so, meant that the schools would remove the children from their families, place them in residences and work to erase their indigenous language and culture. This experience brought long-term harm to the children, their families and to indigenous communities across the country and it remains with them to this day. The pope’s apology was expressed with sincerity and sensitivity.
Pope Francis apologized for the church’s role in the hurts and harm to indigenous communities and families and he openly stated that this was a form of cultural genocide. He asked for forgiveness, but also recognized that reconciliation is a process of rebuilding a relationship. To do so requires a change of heart. In this instance, for the church, it means honouring the richness of their faith, an openness to the expressions of this faith in their cultures and a readiness to see that we have much to learn from them. It means listening, opening up and reaching out.
Luke’s Gospel account (Luke 14:1, 7-14) presents a story of Jesus accepting a dinner invitation from a leader of the Pharisees. He notes how people seem to be focused on the seating arrangement of the guests and encourages them not seek the highest place at table. However, the real indication of Jesus and his mission comes when he advises his host (and us) “invite the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind,” a challenge to offer openness to all.
Jesus offers an example to us as disciples. His primary concern is the vulnerable ones. Their condition offers them no advantage. His openness, however is explicitly for them. It honours them and it recognizes the wonder that rests in them. This was the face Pope Francis showed with his apologies in Canada. Michael Higgins, writing of the visit in the British periodical The Tablet (6 Aug 22) p.27, expresses this: Francis repeatedly calls for the recognition of the special genius of the Indigenous peoples, their harmony with Creation, the richness of their languages, which we ruthlessly suppressed, and the paramount need to move through truth to reconciliation and forgiveness.
posted August 19, 2022
World Cup Soccer, Major League Baseball or NHL Hockey – It all engage us in competition whether player or fan. It seems we are competitive by nature, by our very humanity. Life sometimes seems all about winning or losing, who’s in and who’s out. Occasionally, in the games of younger players, children, there are coaches who encourage playing for fun. They espouse the recognition that “it is a game and so have fun.”.
Frequently this competitiveness shows up in our faith and relationship with God, both personally and as church. our attitudes and practices sometimes appear marked by a sense of who is “in” and who is “out”. In Luke’s Gospel (Luke 13:22-30) some of Jesus’ followers revealed this sense in the question they posed to their master: “Lord, will only a few be saved?” His response was much broader than they or we are sometimes willing to accept
At the time of Jesus there was a belief among some Jews that in the age to come all the people of Israel, just because they belonged to Israel, would be seated at God’s table in heaven. Prophets like Jeremiah and Isaiah were not quite so sure. Jesus comes from this prophetic tradition. He sees salvation as open to all peoples. There is no limit, no territorial or cultural boundary to God’s saving love. There is no “in” group and there is no “out” group. What is asked of us all, all humanity is that we respond to a loving gift, entering the relationship that is freely offered as an invitation by God.
Put in the context of our own age what this means is that we are not saved by being Christian or Catholic. Nor is anyone damned by not being Christian or Catholic. Salvation means much more than simply being part of the “in” group. It is, as the prophets of the Old Testament proclaimed and as the Incarnation revealed a process of accepting/acknowledging the gift of God’s love for all.
Jesus expresses this process with the words “Strive to enter by the narrow door.” Merely being from an “in” group, a Christian, a Catholic, a member of Israel, does not bring salvation. The whole mission and message of Jesus helps us to see what it is that brings salvation. Will there be many or will there be few saved is not the point. What is important is the process of transformation that brings about a change of heart for us. That change of heart is our response to God’s loving invitation.
Salvation, is not about who we know. It is about who we are. For Christians there needs to be a spiritual link between Jesus and ourselves and a transformation into the person that is in the image of Jesus. But not everyone is a follower of Jesus.
God’s love is broad and all encompassing and there are many routes to such a transformation. Each route is the experience of a love relationship, a bonding. It involves a gradual turning of our heart toward God. But it involves more. Such a transformation means a cooperation with the divine Spirit leading us to love all peoples, for God’s love is for all humanity, not a few. It is God, who in love breathed life into all creation. That breath of the Spirit comes to all.
Humanity’s response to God love is a transformation that takes us through the “narrow door” of centering our heart on the love of God and neighbour. This conversion is a life-long process of striving to love and it touches all aspects of our lives and experience. Salvation ultimately will come with the surrender of our very selves to live as we have discovered in Jesus – fully centered on love of God and all that God has created.
posted August 13, 2022
Fires in Newfoundland, British Columbia, and California, fires in France, Portugal and Spain, this has a been a summer of wild fires around the globe. Fires like these destroy and change the landscape. They can destroy and dislocate, but they also bring about new life and a new reality.
Forest fires, for all their destruction, are often a step in the process of regeneration of the forests, with new growth gradually emerging in the wake of the fire. From the ashes of the old, rise the life and green of the new. In a similar way, fire can create something quite new with metals. It is at the center of many refining processes, removing impurities in steel, copper, aluminum, gold. Often fire can bring together different metals, melting them into one. Something new arises from the melting.
Luke’s Gospel presents Jesus speaking about the fire that burns in his heart and at the core of his message and mission. His call is to set that fire ablaze in our world, in all humanity, among all the peoples of the earth. It is the fire which refines and transforms the world into the Kingdom that is God’s dream for us all. In this, Jesus takes on the role of the prophet.
We have some misconceptions regarding prophets. Perhaps the most significant is that prophets are predictors of the future, that they tell us what is going to happen. In fact, this is not what a prophet does. A prophet is very much in the present and helps us to understand what is going on. What might be regarded as future-focused is that such a person will help us to move into the future with a better sense of how to deal with it and of what we are to become.
In our Christian tradition, Jesus Christ is the Incarnation. Our God so loves us that God takes on our humanity in the person of Jesus. What a prophetic image of God’s love this reveals. In Luke’s Gospel we hear of this prophetic role of Jesus coming to the world: I have come to set the world on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing! There is a baptism with which I must be baptized, and how great is my anguish until it is accomplished! (Luke 12:49-50)
Jesus is filled with the Spirit of God, blazing in his heart. He goes out into the world on the mission of spreading the reign of God. As Luke presents it, he must set the world on fire. This is the prophetic role, spreading God’s dream and message, bringing the transforming fire of God’s love to all.
The fire of the Spirit of God is to refine and transform our world. It will blaze in a way that consumes and destroys the world of division and brokenness, the world of violence and injustice. The fire of the Spirit is the fire of God’s love for us all. It is to refine and mold the world into something new. Such refining means setting aside the past, changing for the future and becoming the world of God’s dream, marked by peace and justice, healing and reconciliation for all.
Every Christian, at baptism is imbued with the fire of the spirit. This gift is confirmed and further acknowledged in the Sacrament of Confirmation. It is celebrated in the setting of community, the gathered disciples of Jesus, in the Sacrament of the Eucharist.
So it is that the words of Jesus are our words, for we are called in baptism to the role of prophets, to be the voice and action of God in our world. Filled with the spirit of God we are, like Jesus to set the world on fire – the fire of God’s love in our words and in every action. Such a fire from the disciples of Jesus has the capacity to change our world, one human step at a time. We can be a prophetic people, a community of prophets for God.
posted August 6, 2022
“I wish I had never said that. If only I could get it back. It has been so hurtful and has broken our relationship. How can I repair what I have done?” We all have said or done things that we later lament. Much as we wish to change our past, we cannot do that. We can however move forward on a new path aimed at healing and reconciling our past hurts and wounds. The whole idea of reconciliation is to heal a wounded relationship with another.
In order to reconcile the first step is to admit our wrong, to say “I am sorry” and to seek forgiveness. In relationships, the longer more significant step is to begin rebuilding trust and the readiness to live and act together. This is the most difficult step in reconciliation. Ultimately, it is what we seek.
In 1971, Canada declared itself a “multicultural” country. We acknowledged that we are a patchwork quilt of peoples, races, cultures, faiths that have come together as Canadian from many different origins. One of the ironies of this experience for our country is that while we express an awareness of our mixed roots, we have to admit that the root or culture that we least acknowledge and honour is the culture that has been in our country the longest. The indigenous peoples of Canada were here long before the rest of us or our ancestors ever thought of this land.
More recently, we have come to realize that we not only have ignored or dismissed these peoples, we have deeply hurt them and their culture. Quite the contrary to the principle of multiculturalism, for a long time Canada sought to assimilate or erase the culture and languages of our indigenous peoples.
Beginning in the last half of the 19th century, Canada began to establish residential schools for indigenous children. By removing children from their families and communities, their culture and language, our country sought to “take the indian out of the child” as several expressed it. The recent reports from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada have referred to the schools as a form of cultural genocide, an effort to erase indigenous culture.
Our Catholic church was called upon and agreed to running a significant number of these residential schools. Thus we became partners in the effort to erase the culture and language of these children – to make them what was deemed to be “Canadian”.
Pope Francis’ visit to Canada in the last week of July has been a “penitential pilgrimage” to say “I am sorry”. In some ways he apologizes for the whole church. But perhaps more importantly, as Jesus would do, Pope Francis presents the face that every Catholic should present – we can all say “I am sorry for what has happened and for the wounding that it has brought upon our indigenous peoples. We bear the scar and pain of what was done in our name to our sisters and brothers in the indigenous communities.
Now it is time for us to accept our responsibility for healing. A good place to begin in every parish and community is with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada: Calls to Action, in particular items #58 - 61 which present steps for reconciliation by the church. It will be a long road and a difficult one. But it is a road to rebuilding our relationship, our trust and our openness to one another. Pope Francis apologized, but more significantly, he was present to them personally. Can we do the same in our own parishes and communities?
posted July 28, 2022
Summer time in Canada brings with it a new appreciation for the beauties of this land. It is important that we acknowledge that we share this land with others. In particular we share it with the indigenous peoples of our country. They are gifted with a spirituality that is especially aware of the sacredness of the land on which we stand. We have much to learn from them. There is a sacredness, a holiness that fills the earth.
Often, we seem to regard “holiness” as being “other worldly”, removed from regular, ordinary life. What we sometimes speak of as “fundamentalism” even has our Christian faith and practice fighting with our world, denying that holiness even has a place in it. Doing so, is to deny our humanity and the wonder of creation with which God has surrounded us.
Real holiness lives in this world. It is marked by gratitude, acknowledging the marvel of our humanity as God’s gift. This is true holiness. In some ways that is the full meaning of what we call the Incarnation, that our God so loves the world that in Jesus, God shares our humanity cf.(John 3:16-17).
In Luke’s Gospel (Lk.12:13-21), Jesus tells a story, a parable of a person whose crops thrived and he wondered what to do with this abundance. So great was his crop that he decided to build larger barns in order to store it all for the future. But his future was brief and he could not control it. Great as his crops were, his true richness and happiness rested not in them, but in his openness to God’s abiding presence all around him.
So often we miss the present blessing as we wait for some future one or find ourselves wrapped up in some future goal. Seeing and appreciating the present blessings is what makes life meaningful and brings happiness. Such vision is the stuff of holiness.
Sacred moments, places and perhaps especially persons surround us constantly. At first sight, they are ordinary and common for us. But they are in fact part of the God creative gift of life for us. They represent the constant presence of God in all aspects of life. To have an openness and a growing awareness of this presence is the meaning of holiness in every human heart. Building a spiritual life is the quest for this openness and awareness.
In a piece he published in 2018, Pope Francis reminded us of the spirituality that it all around us: “Very often it is a holiness found in our next-door neighbours, those who, living in our midst, reflect God’s presence. We might call them ‘the middle class of holiness’.” (Gaudete et Exultate March, 2018 7)
Real holiness, for life, is found in our relationships. Such holiness follows the pattern of Jesus. It offers the face of God’s mercy and love. It heals and reconciles others. It feeds the hungry, frees the captives, gives light to those in darkness. We live holiness when we live with love, in word and in action. Holiness is not a future hope, but a present reality – when we come to see it, when we respond to the invitation from God to be present with us where we are.
In his Encyclical Letter, Fratelli tutti (Brothers and Sisters All, Oct 2020) Pope Francis again called all humanity to recognition of the holiness we have through our relationships. We are all “brothers and sisters”. He closes the letter with these word of prayer:
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 July 25, 2022
God, you are my God, I am seeking you, my soul is thirsting for you, my flesh is longing for you,… (Ps.63:1)
Somewhere deep in the human heart there lies an emptiness, a longing. We ask questions about life, about what it all means, about where we are going. Somehow, we and the thousands of generations that have gone before us are incomplete. We find a need that cannot be fulfilled and are ever in a state of “becoming”.
This longing leads to a search for something that completes our life and that is beyond our human experience, and yet it is part of our human experience. The quest to discover and acknowledge the source of this longing is part of every human heart. Each culture in its own way is on this quest and has its own way of expressing it and passing it on to the next generations.
The Catholic spiritual writer, Ron Rolheiser used the term “Holy Longing” to describe the quest. This search for something beyond us is our search for what some call GOD. Who is this God? What is this God like? Where do we find or encounter this God? Like every culture, we can say something about this experience as Christians living in the Catholic Tradition. What we can say comes out of our Scriptures and the spiritual tradition handed down to us. What has been handed on to us is intended to help us in our own “Holy Longing”, our own search.
For us, as Christians it begins with the common prayer given to us by Jesus and handed on to us in the Gospels, the Our Father. (Matt 6:7-13; Lk 11:2-4)
Our God is a life-giving God. This God loves us, and all the peoples of the earth without reservation or condition. No matter what happens, God will never cease loving us. God’s love is a free and unstinting gift, we do not win it and we cannot lose it. Time and again, our Scriptures and our Tradition tell us that this God is the perfect parent, the Father (Matt 6:7), the Mother (Is.49:14-5) who can never abandon or forget their child.
It was Jesus who revealed this God in Himself. To see God taking on our humanity and living in our midst in the person of Jesus is a statement of God’s love beyond words. In fact, all love, every experience of human love is in some way a reflection of God’s love for us. The way our Christian faith tells it, God loves first. We reflect that love in our lives with one another.
It appears to us again and again in our faith story, our Scriptures.
My dear people, let us love one another since love comes from God and everyone who
loves is begotten by God and knows God. Anyone who fails to love can never have
known God, because God is love.
(1 John 4:7-8)
posted July 15, 2022
What does it mean to be a disciple of Jesus the Christ? What does the job description look like? If we read the Gospels with the question “What does this tell me about being a disciple of Jesus” we begin to discover who we are. On a recent Sunday we heard a reading drawn from the Old Testament Book of Deuteronomy (Deut.30:10-14). This passage presents the directions or rules for living as a faithful member of God’s People. There we are told that as a People of God we are to turn to God with all our heart and soul. According to Deuteronomy this will not be difficult, for what we are called to rests within the human heart. It wells up from within us, if we allow it. Being a disciple begins here in a heart that longs for God.
What is demanded of us is the commitment to live with what we discover in our hearts. This is no surprise, for every human friendship we experience is nurtured by the degree or level of our heartfelt engagement with the other person. Friendship is dependent on our willingness to commit time, attention and caring for another person. Discipleship in Jesus the Christ has this demand. For discipleship is essentially a relationship – between Jesus the Christ and each of us.
Our relationship with Jesus the Christ draws us into awareness of our relationship with the divine, with our God. And what a relationship it is! At the center of our Christian faith is the Incarnation. All else in our faith is founded on this great truth: God so loved the world that he gave his only Son,… in order that the world might be saved through him (John 3:16-17).
Luke’s story of Martha and Mary points to the challenge we face in our relationship with God through Jesus the Christ (Luke 10:38-42). So often, we make the task of building and nurturing our relationship something we have to take on by ourselves. As Jesus visits them, each of the women have a different sense of what should take place. Martha goes out to welcome Jesus. She works hard at the being the hospitable hostess. Meanwhile, Mary simply sits and listens to Jesus.
When Martha asks Jesus to tell Mary to help her, Jesus responds with Mary has chosen the better part. I have to confess that I am sometimes a bit disappointed by this response on the part of Jesus. As is so often the case in the Gospel accounts, Jesus presents a different way of seeing things, and that is the challenge.
In fact, we are both Martha and Mary. God has gifted all humanity with both body and spirit. The two elements of life are not separated, but one. Disciples of Jesus live by that Christian tradition of contemplation in action. We do not withdraw from the world, from living and working in the world, from service within humanity. For us, all life is filled with the living presence of God, who gifted us with life and who continues among us always.
The spiritual writer, Ron Rolheiser provides some wisdom for addressing the challenge in all of this in Against an Infinite Horizon: The Finger of God in Our Everyday Lives (Crossroad Publishing 2001). In the preface to this work, he sets the direction that will help us all. To have faith is to see everything against an infinite horizon…. When we have the eyes of faith we see a certain divine glow shimmering within the ordinary, just as we see all that is ordinary against a horizon of the eternal.
posted July 8, 2022
Definitions are convenient. The Concise Oxford Dictionary has a definition of a Christian – [Someone] believing in or professing or belonging to or in harmony with the Christian religion. But is that all we are? Are we not more than this? The Gospels challenge us to see more.
In the Gospel of Luke we hear the parable of the “Good Samaritan” (Luke 10:25-37). It is one of those gospel stories that we could almost tell by heart. Jesus tells the story of an exchange with a lawyer (an expert in Israelite religious law) who asks Jesus: “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus responds: “What’s written in the law?” The lawyer offers the two-fold commandment of love, for God and for neighbor. Jesus indicates, this is correct. Then comes the challenge from the lawyer: “And who is my neighbor?” To that, Jesus responds with the story of the “Good Samaritan”.
A man was on a journey. On the way he encountered some thieves who beat and robbed him, “leaving him half dead” by the side of the road. Several persons walked on by including a priest and a Levite, persons central to the religious practice and rituals of Israel. These two “passed by on the other side”. This comment is important for it reveals that they feared touching a bleeding or dead person as it would make them ritually unclean. For them, to do so would be to break their religious ritual laws.
Finally, a Samaritan came along. He did not pass by but instead showed observance of the ultimate law - mercy, compassion and care. Not only this, he made provision for the wounded man’s continuing care.
It is no small thing that as Jesus tells the story of the man beaten up on the road, those who followed the ritual law meticulously, “passed by”. It was the Samaritan, an unbeliever and an outcast to Israelites, who stopped and using all his resources, offered compassion and care.
Jesus’s mission is one of mercy – for all, by all. That is the message of the Kingdom of God. No one is excluded from this mercy, for God’s loves all, unconditionally. We are facing a world that seems bent on building walls and boundaries, national, cultural, religious. The root of this lies in fear of “the other”, the one who is different from us.
“Jesus Christ is the face of God’s mercy.” As his disciples, we are called to be the face of Jesus, revealing God’s love and mercy. There are no walls or boundaries in this. In a world confronted by hatred and violence, division and war, is this a better definition of a disciple of Jesus?
Compassion and care know no boundaries, no borders. This is the ultimate law for all humanity. It lies at the core of living as a disciple of Jesus. Pope Francis captured this image of what it means to be disciples of Jesus, Christians, when he promulgated his Encyclical Letter Fratelli tutti in October 2020.
Francis began by referring to St. Francis of Assisi (1182-1226). “Fratelli tutti”. With these words, [He] addressed his brothers and sisters and proposed to them a way of life marked by the flavour of the Gospel. Of the counsels Francis offered, I would like to select the one in which he calls for a love that transcends the barriers of geography and distance, and declares blessed all those who love their brothers “as much when he is far away from him as when he is with him”…. St Francis expressed the essence of a fraternal openness that allow us to acknowledge, appreciate and love each person, regardless of physical proximity, regardless of where he or she was born or lives. (Fratelli tutti 1)
posted July 1, 2022
Prophets: Throughout the Old Testament these figures are the voice of God in the midst of God’s People, a sign or sacrament of God’s continual loving presence for Israel. That loving presence continues into the New Testament in the sacrament or sign that is the Church. In the community of disciples that gathers as church, we see how what is referred to as “sacramentality” reveals God’s constant active presence in humanity.
Sacramentality lies at the base of our Catholic tradition and practice. Through it, we identify who we are. Its origins rest in the very beginning of creation and life. The Genesis story of Creation opens with the breath (Spirit) of God sweeping over the “formless void”. (Gen.1:1-2). All life reveals the life-giving love of God. At the center of our New Testament lie the wonders of the Incarnation – “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. (John 3:16)” Jesus the Christ is the sacrament of God among us, bringing the active presence of God among humanity.
It is no small thing that Jesus surrounded himself with a group of disciples, and with them sought to share good news with crowds of people. After his death and resurrection, as the Risen One, he appeared most often to groups of disciples. It was when they gathered to share the faith they had in this Jesus that this community of Jesus’s friends had their hearts opened and were able to “see” that he was risen and remained among them.
These gatherings of the first disciples were the beginnings of what we call “church”. The disciples as they gathered formed the sacrament of Jesus the Christ. The Book of the Acts in the New Testament tells the story of our emergence and awareness of who we are, the sacrament of Jesus continuing among us all, even now.
The Pentecost event tells the story of our beginnings as the Spirit or the breath of God is poured out upon the community of disciples. As church we are touched by this life-giving Spirit.
It is also no small thing that where we are most aware of our faith as disciples of Jesus is when we join together to share our stories, and around the Eucharistic table, break bread and share the cup. Our faith is about the Risen Jesus, not just in “me”, but in all of us. This is the whole point of our tradition and practice of the sacraments. Through them we are truly a community of disciples, a church.
Our Eucharistic gathering is our central sacrament. The other sacraments of our tradition flow from the actions of a Eucharistic community of disciples who recognize the Spirit of Jesus the Christ active in our midst. Thus, gathering at the Table of the Eucharist as church, we discover that we take on the mission of Jesus ourselves – to share Good News. As Jesus came to build the reign of God among us, so we build that reign in the place and time in which we live.
Luke captures this in his telling of the good news. Fundamentally it is a message and task of building peace as an expression of God’s loving dream for all creation. It is to the broken and the suffering, to the sick and wounded, the poor and lost, oppressed and forgotten we go as church declaring as Luke expresses it: “The Kingdom of God has come near to you (Luke 10:9).
As a Eucharistic community we are the sacrament of Jesus. He spoke to crowds of people. He gathered a community of disciples. He acted to heal and reconcile relationships. So often he sought to include all, to liberate all, to bring back those who found themselves isolated and left out. Jesus revealed an openness to all, especially the lost, the wounded, the poor and the excluded.
posted June 24, 2022
A couple who are friends of mine have a daughter who runs in marathons around North America. Marathon runners are an interesting or even an amazing lot. A person who enters such events does not do so simply by deciding one day that they would like to run. Running a marathon is a long-term decision. Months of training, careful diet, dedication to the preparation and mental focus are essential for such an undertaking.
Commitment and perseverance lie at the base of marathon running. The person must dedicate their attention, time and energy over a long period of training. Not only that, the day of the event and the race itself will make huge physical and mental demands on the person. Running 42 kilometers up and down hills for 4-5 hours in all kinds of conditions drains a person. A person cannot do this without commitment and perseverance.
In the marathon running of their daughter, my friends discovered another element of such an experience. Though it seems a solitary activity, it is in some sense, amazingly social. Thousands of people come out to witness the event. In the case of their daughter, her marathon plans are always communicated to her family. Her parents could be relied upon to travel great distances to support her in the race. She never runs alone, but with the support of family and friends as well as spectators. Perhaps, in all of this we discover a model for discipleship.
One who would become a disciple of Jesus does so not for the moment, but for the long journey. Discipleship is always a process of becoming and continual dedication. We see this in the Gospels as Jesus call disciples to journey with him. It is not a short-term undertaking and it is full of challenges and unknown twists and turns. The commitment to the journey will call for dedication and perseverance, and it is never carried out alone.
As Luke tells the story of Jesus on his mission of the Kingdom there is a turning point that comes in chapter 9. From this point Jesus is directed to Jerusalem where his mission will be completed with his crucifixion, resurrection and return to the Father. Luke points out the resolution and determination that will mark Jesus on his mission. And he continues to call disciples to join him.
They will need the resolution and determination of Jesus. They will need the perseverance and commitment to purpose of a marathon runner. As disciples, they will accompany Jesus on his journey. In Luke 9:51-62 we hear of three persons willing to set out on the mission. Jesus presents them with the challenging reality that they will face. Their decision will demand commitment. It will mean setting priorities in which they cannot do everything. Some things in life, even good things will have to be given up. In all of this, they will have to “stick with it.” Often the disciple will need to persevere in the face of challenges and the temptation to turn around. Discipleship will have a cost for them, but they will never be alone in their response.
Q/ What is the cost of discipleship in my life? What does it demand? Who is with me?
posted June 18, 2022
Over the past two years we have made many sacrifices in response to the pandemic of Covid-19. Among other things, we have accepted to isolate ourselves from one another, wear masks that make it hard to recognize even our close friends and done our best to self-distance from one another. These sacrifices have been made, not only to protect ourselves from the virus, but also to protect those around us. It is ironic that we have put distance between us and others for the sake of others.
Throughout the pandemic, we been forced to limit our most characteristic gathering – Eucharist. For periods during the last two years, our gathering at the table has been virtual. Streaming of our Sunday Eucharist has led to a virtual experience for many. In some places this has been augmented by drive-through communion. This has been a reasonable response to the threat of the virus. But it is not the full Eucharistic experience.
The full Eucharistic experience is one of presence, in several ways. At the table, we celebrate the real presence of Jesus the Christ and the Paschal Mystery of his life, death and resurrection continuing among us as a community of disciples. In him and through him we recognize God’s saving presence ever among us.
The table of the Eucharist is found in the presence of a gathered community and is an expression of the broader sacramental character of the faith community, the Church. In our tradition, the community initiates its members through three sacraments of initiation: Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist. Eucharist is the final step in our being part of the Christian community. It is celebrated repeatedly, affording us the opportunity to recognize who we are and who we are becoming – disciples of Jesus the Christ, called to live his message and mission.
The Catholic Christian tradition is strongly human in its expression. This is particularly apparent in what we have come to know as our sacraments. These are not dis-embodied symbols or rituals, but human expressions of faith. This gives to our faith a quality that is referred to as “sacramentality”. Our faith needs human presence to come alive. The sacraments provide this. Through them we experience Jesus the Christ among us as the sign of God’s constant loving presence. This is especially present at our Eucharistic table – when the community gathers.
As helpful as our streamed Masses and drive-through opportunities to receive communion were in the midst of the pandemic, they do not represent the full real presence in the Eucharist that is at the center of our celebrations of faith. Eucharist needs real people, in a real place and time in order to make the faith statement of real presence – Jesus the Christ is among us and active in all we do.
In Luke’s Gospel (9:11-17) we hear the story of Jesus feeding the 5000 with five loaves and two fish. No matter how, it is a wonder. Some would read this story literally, and in this way sees Jesus using power to multiply a little available food so that there was enough to feed multitude. Others might read it differently. Perhaps it is a story with even greater meaning.
The story can be seen as what Jesus is able to draw from people. Humanly, when we lack or have little, we often turn inward to protect our own resources, whether that be food or time or energy or whatever. But not always, often we make sacrifices reaching out to others, responding to need. Then, Luke’s story becomes Eucharistic, we become the Eucharistic community we are called to be.
posted June 11, 2022
What? How? Why? Who? So what? Our lives are full of questions. Sometimes, Google or Alexa offers an answer to some questions. But rarely do we find responses to our fundamental human questions, those that we discover in our hearts. What does my life really mean? Why am I here in this time and place? How can I be happy and content? Who are the significant persons in my life? These are our great questions and the answers are neither simple, nor readily clear.
There are certain points in our lives when these questions seem to loom larger and more pressing. For some this time of year is one of those moments. Spring for many is the time of graduation. It is one of those moments when our lives face change and so the questions of our heart are significant. Such moments be frequent in our lives, and the responses will always be fluid, still evolving, now and for the rest of our lives.
Faith addresses many of our questions of meaning. Faith is not about our head, it rests in the heart and it bears on our great questions. One of the big questions, directly addressed in our Christian faith is who or what is this God in whom we place our trust and to whom we are related in faith.
Watch a Mum hug her child. See a Dad hug his daughter. Notice a loving couple holding each other in an embrace. Witness a husband and wife hold each other in a hospital. A hug is a mysterious thing. Without words a hug seems to say it all. It expresses the love between two persons. It will bond, it will heal, it brings life, it offers comfort, it mends. A hug expresses a love that no words can describe. A hug is truly a mystery.
But a mystery is more than just something we cannot explain. A mystery is something the meaning of which can never be exhausted. Such a truth or experience will always be ever new, ever able to bring us to a new place in our lives. Much as we like clear, black and white answers, it is the mysteries of our lives that generate the most life, promise and hope. Hugs and the love they express are just such mysteries. Perhaps they help us recognize our God
Our God is Trinity – Father, Son, Spirit. This is one of the deepest and the earliest beliefs of the Christian Tradition. It is also most expressive of our image of God. To have an image of God that expresses love and harmony, compassion and care, healing and comfort – this is image of the Trinity. We can talk about it, we can provide analogies for it, but we can never explain or exhaust its meaning.
To see God as Mother or Father, a loving, life-giving parent is to see our God as creator, giving life to all that is. This is our God who gives and sustains life in all the universe. More than this, this is the God, who like a parent loves life into existence and supports it with this same inexhaustible love.
This loving, creating God has come among us in Jesus, the incarnation of God. So great is the love held in the heart of our God that it spills out in an overflowing flood as God takes on our humanity in the person of Jesus. God is with us, Emmanuel.
Such love cannot be just for a moment or a time. It is constant and forever. In the Spirit we are given the continuous hug of our God. We cannot win or lose it. It is ever with us, in our joys and sorrows, our good times and our bad. Like the hug of the mother, the embrace of the father, the love of our God, expressed in the Trinity has a warmth and comfort that draws us together. We are held in the heart of God. What an overflowing mystery!
By Fr. Monte Peters posted June 4, 2022
Two years is a long time to be separated from family, friends and community. Covid-19 has been a lengthy experience of such separation. With vaccinations, masking and the sense that the virus is more controllable and less threatening, we are beginning to come together once more. But it is not easy. There remains some fear of the virus and two years of being apart leaves us with a gap in our relationships.
The disciples whom Jesus had called to follow him did so over a considerable time. Over the course of being with him, they had drawn close to Jesus. In fact, John’s Gospel remarks on this close bond that has been created between Jesus and his disciples: I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father (Jn.15:15).
The bond between Jesus and his disciples is tested as the disciples are struggling with the crucifixion and their loss of the master who had led them, instructed them and served as their mentor and example. But the disciples came to see that Jesus the Christ continued to be among them. The Gospels offer us several accounts of the disciples witnessing his resurrected presence with them.
These accounts of the disciples’ encounters with the risen Jesus often characterize his presence as bringing peace to the disciples who are fill with dismay and fear from their experience of the crucifixion. We see this near the end of John’s Gospel. The risen one appears among them and declares: Peace be with you (Jn.20:19-23). More than this, Jesus commissions them as his friends and closest collaborators to carry on the mission that he has had – to reconcile and heal the brokenness of the world. His mission becomes their mission. His Spirit is their spirit. By building and sharing the peace that they have received and by loving as he has loved, they will bring the reign of God to their world.
This Spirit, that was to remain with the disciples is the one that Paul refers to in his letter to the Christians in Corinth (1Cor.12:3-7) – Now there are a variety of gifts, but the same Spirit. Filled with this Spirit, they went forth and began to change the world with the message and the mission that they had received.
The Spirit poured out upon the disciples on that first Pentecost gave them new gifts which brought new life, new heart to the variety of their own personal talents and abilities. They became a community of disciples, filled with energy and drive for the message and the mission. The outpouring of the Spirit builds the disciples into a community of believers and missionaries of the message of Jesus. They become Church, focused on hearing the message anew and taking it out to the ends of the earth.
We are Church. We are a Spirit-filled community of disciples of Jesus the Christ. On this Feast of Pentecost, we celebrate the Spirit that we have been given. With this Spirit the variety of gifts that we possess can bring new heart to a world seeking hope and new vision. This is the vision of God’s dream for all creation – of peace, of hope, of healing, of unity.
What are gifts and abilities that I hold? With the Spirit can I share them?
posted May 28, 2022
More than 40 years ago I met Jim and Pauline. Jim was a sergeant with the OPP and Pauline worked in a Catholic school in Barrie. At the time I was working in a parish in the north of Toronto. For about a year the three of us worked together on a number of marriage enrichment projects. Over that time of working together, we became very good friends. Then I left to return to Fredericton.
One of the remarkable things is that the departure did not end the relationship. For more than 40 years we have maintained the friendship through letters and phone calls and more recently through email. There were occasional visits to Toronto for me and to Fredericton for them. It was not always easy to maintain the contact but it did happen. Though we left each other’s physical presence we had not really left one another. Over the years there was a presence that continued. We continued to be with one another in our friendship, but in another way. There was a sense of being apart and together, of “leaving yet remaining” with one another. I think we all have had such relationships.
When the Scriptures speak of the Ascension, it may seem that Jesus is somehow leaving his disciples. But when we look more closely at the Gospel accounts it is evident they speak of leaving and at the time staying. There is a sense of Jesus leaving and yet remaining with his disciples.
Luke’s Gospel (24:44-53) presents Jesus leaving his disciples in what we usually refer to as the Ascension. The way Luke tells the story is by having Jesus recall the many promises and prophesies of God’s saving love in the Old Testament. He connects these with the message and mission he has had with them as the Christ, the promised and anointed one. Then, pointing out that they are to be his witnesses, he calls on them to take the message to the whole of humanity. They are to be the Christ for others, to all nations.
Luke presents us with the disciples’ recognition that while the physical presence of Jesus with whom they had walked and talked in Galilee was now gone, He remains among them in another and more wondrous way. Jesus the Christ risen continues among them and they are themselves the witnesses of this new and real presence.
With this awareness, the disciples who had been so full of fear and foreboding, are filled with the Spirit, and joyfully return to Jerusalem to
share the Good News.
In every Eucharist we hear the words Do this in memory of me. As a community of faith we recall in living fashion Jesus’ whole life, death and resurrection, what we call the Paschal Mystery. Each time we gather around the Table sharing Eucharist, we celebrate together that Jesus who has returned to the Father, continues through the Spirit to be with us. Each time we celebrate together, we remember and enact this “leaving yet remaining” story as disciples of this Risen Jesus. In doing so, like those disciples we see in the Gospel, we commit ourselves to the joyous sharing of the Good News to all nations. The real presence of Jesus is indeed among and is for all nations, all the peoples of the earth.
posted May 21, 2022
Peace I leave you; my peace I give to you…. Do not let your hearts be troubled,
and do not let them be afraid. (John 14:27)
One of the formative experiences of my life and priesthood was several years of involvement in weekend retreats for married couples. At the core of these retreats was the awareness that enrichment of relationships depended on constant communication within couples, from the heart. Deciding to do this as a couple honoured a principle – love is a decision.
Often we think of love as an emotion. To see love as a decision is to require an explicit commitment in any relationship. When such a principle is accepted and acted upon it has the possibility of building a relationship that is marked by peace, harmony and mutual respect. In the long term, such a relationship whether for a couple or a community or our world is what we all long for. It only becomes a reality, when we are able to make the decision to love. And this requires a commitment to the other. It is not a feeling, it is a decision.
Understanding love in this way helps us to grasp and make sense of what Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount: “You have heard that it was said, ’You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven” (Matt.5:43-45). Love that is a decision moves beyond the emotional to conscious efforts to follow the disciple’s path offered by Jesus’ call. It nurtures relationships, building peace and harmony.
As John in his Gospel, tells the story of Jesus and his disciples we discover the significance of relationships for the disciples of Jesus. Before his death and resurrection, Jesus reflects on his departure from them (John 14:23-29). As he does so, Jesus reassures them in two ways. First, his vision is that they not be troubled or fearful. He wants his disciples to be at peace, in their own hearts and with one another.
The second reassurance is his promise that the Father will not leave them alone or abandoned. God will gift them with “the Advocate”. The Spirit of God will be with them always.
With this Spirit, Jesus will continue to be among them, guiding and supporting them as they carry on his message and mission.
In 2015-16 Pope Francis, moved by the Spirit, launched our church on a journey to discover the peace of heart and peace with others that is Jesus’ vision for disciples. The focus Francis took was to lead us away from commands, rules and judgement, to see ourselves as a church of mercy.
One the images he turned to was the church as a “field hospital”. Our church is to be out among the struggles and challenges of our world, responding to the physical, social, economic and moral needs of all humanity. It is to reach out in particular to the lost and the excluded, the outcasts, the suffering, the wounded and the hurting. Such openness and outreach builds the peace for which we all long. It reveals the peace that is Jesus’ blessing for all: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you” (John 14:27). Living such relational faith, is the role of the disciple, building the Reign of God among all humanity.
posted May 13, 2022
I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved
you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are
my disciples, if you have love for one another. (John 13:34-35)
Memory marks us. The people we’ve met, the things we’ve done, the experiences we’ve had, these all help us to recognize who we are and what our lives are about. The Gospels express the memories of the first disciples. First it was orally passed on among the early followers of Jesus. Then after a time, these communities of Christians began to write these memories – those that they felt marked them as disciples and Christians. John’s Gospel is one of these recordings.
Throughout the Easter Season we hear from John. In particular we focus on the experiences the first disciples had of the Risen Jesus. After Jesus had given himself up to death on the Cross, he continued to be present among these followers. This presence was not a physical presence, but it was just as real and meaningful. It was also a presence that led them to make sense of all that Jesus had passed onto them. They became aware of what we have come to call the Paschal Mystery (the life, death, resurrection and continuing presence of Jesus). It led them to commit themselves to his mission.
The experience of the risen Jesus deeply changed the disciples. Fundamentally, they recognized that Jesus had sacrificed his life for them. Further, they came to see that his sacrifice went beyond them to all of humanity. Thus, they were on fire to proclaim this good news of his message and carry out his mission to the world.
The good news and message that the death and resurrection led them to see was that by laying down his life for them, Jesus revealed God’s great love for all humanity. Jesus’ resurrection and continued presence among them confirmed the disciples’ awareness of the loving God revealed by Jesus while he walked and taught them. Now they knew firmly that God would never leave them, even in death.
What the disciples were now to do was share and proclaim what they had been given. The writer John speaks of a new commandment as the way in which the disciples will proclaim this good news of love.
In another place, in a letter to fellow Christians, it is even more clearly proclaimed that God’s love given to us leads to our loving one another:
This is the love I mean: not our love for God, but God’s love for us when he sent
his Son to be the sacrifice that takes our sin away.... We are to love, then, because
he loved us first. (1 John 4:10, 19)
If we were looking for an expression of what this love of God looks like, we need look no further than Matthew’s Gospel chapters 5-7 and Luke chapters 6-8. The beatitudes or blessings of these Gospels and the actions connected to them present a kind of epitome or summary of how we are to show God’s love. It is a love that brings life to us and to our world. This was the mission of Jesus. Now it is our mission, for we are his disciples.
posted May 5, 2022
Our Easter season began almost a month ago with the three days of the Triduum. On Holy Thursday at the Mass of the Lord’s Supper our faith community gathered to recall Jesus and his circle of disciples coming together for the Passover meal. This Jewish festival meal is an important piece of Jewish faith tradition.
On Passover, Jewish families come together and recall the meal shared by the Israelites as they began their exodus journey. This trek through the desert was a movement out of slavery in Egypt to liberation in their own land. During that Exodus journey, with all its challenges, the Israelites not only came to their promised land, they became formed as a people of God. It was a passage from bondage to freedom, from darkness to new light.
It is no small thing that we Catholic Christians mark this same journey, from the bondage of death to the liberation of new life. Easter is central to who we are. We are Easter People. Now here we are in the midst of the Easter season. In John’s Gospel there is a wonderful passage that parallels the Old Testament Book of Exodus as it describes the community of Israelites journeying from bondage to new life.
John 10:27-30 presents the disciples of Jesus as now formed into a community of friends and ready to follow him. He leads them, filled with trust and faith to new and eternal life. Our Feast of Easter acknowledges and calls us to celebrate together this Good News of God’s life-giving love, for us and for all humanity.
For all Christians this season celebrates the central element of our faith, the Paschal Mystery. Not a common phrase for most of us, the Paschal Mystery refers to the whole life, death and resurrection of Jesus. It is a reminder to us that our key belief as Catholic Christians is our belief that Jesus was raised from the dead. We are not about the Cross but about the resurrection to new life.
From the very beginning of the Christian church, the time of the apostles, the resurrection was the core belief. All else, as the apostle Paul expressed it, is dependent on our belief that Jesus was raised from the dead. Paul put it this way as he wrote to the Christian community in Corinth: If there is no resurrection from the dead, Christ himself cannot have been raised, and if Christ has not been raised then our preaching is in vain and your believing it is useless. (1 Cor.15:14-15)
Jesus’ resurrection from the dead is the foundation of our faith. Our ancestors in the faith expressed this belief that Jesus is risen from the dead in many ways. The earliest symbols and images used by Christians were those that presented the resurrection of Jesus. Only much later, more than 1000 years later, did the cross portraying the suffering Jesus find its way into the Christian church’s images.
We are a people of the Paschal Mystery. The central part of our Eucharist is what is called the Eucharistic prayer. It is a prayer of thanksgiving for the wonder of God’s promise of life for all. The various versions of this prayer all celebrate our faith in the resurrection and its promise for all humanity. We hear words such as this: “O God, as we celebrate the remembrance of the saving passion of your Son, his wondrous Resurrection and Ascension into heaven, and as we look forward to his second coming,…” (Eucharistic Prayer III)
posted April 30, 2022
This weekend is the 3rd Sunday of the Easter season. Two Sunday’s ago we celebrated the Feast of Easter. Last Sunday, a week later the global Orthodox Christians, including those in Ukraine celebrated the Feast of Easter. What our Orthodox cousins were marking was exactly what we celebrated on the previous Sunday.
Easter is the most significant feast in our Christian faith, marking the centrality of the resurrection of Jesus. For all of us, Easter expresses the promise and hope of new life for all humanity and for all creation. At its center is the hope that God’s life-giving love showers upon us. In Ukraine, whether Catholic or Orthodox, Easter has the same meaning and significance. We hold dearly the same faith as disciples of Jesus the Christ.
This Easter, was different for the people of Ukraine. They find themselves plunged into a deadly war, surrounded by death and destruction. In the midst of such circumstances, it is difficult to focus on God’s life-giving love. It is hard to pray with faith and hope. Yet, Easter took place. With all the threatening clouds of the war, Ukrainians welcomed Easter. They marked it with firm faith and striking expressions of hope. The ground of their hope is founded on the very faith on which we, like the first disciples of Jesus the Christ base our own.
Throughout the season of Easter, we Catholic Christians, like our Orthodox sisters and brothers are called to reflect on scriptural accounts of the Risen Jesus. This Sunday, we again hear of an appearance of the Jesus in the Gospel of John (21:1-19). The encounter brings the disciples excitement and reassurance.
Additionally, as so often is the case, the disciples find themselves called to mission, to service and sacrifice for others. In other words, they are to be bearers of the risen Jesus to others.
In John’s account, three time the Risen One asks Peter if he loves him. With each of Peter’s responses, Jesus calls him to care for and look after all of God’s people, to “tend” and “feed” them, just as he has done.
For Jesus, his mission was to proclaim and reveal the kingdom of God among us. Where there is love and openness to one another, where there is life-giving love, then there is the kingdom of God. Jesus revealed this along the roads of Galilee. We walk the roads of our own time and places, as did the disciples of Jesus in their time and place. Here we find the kingdom, the way of heaven, and hope. It is planted in the midst of our lives.
The Franciscan spiritual writer, Richard Rohr spoke of this hope in an Easter season reflection: “Heaven is not about belonging to the right group; it’s not about following the correct rituals. It’s about having the right attitude.” (28 April, 2019). This attitude is one of being life-giving, as Jesus is. Heaven is part of our life journey, not just somewhere out there in the future. Living our present life with love and compassion and service is the indication of heaven already begun among us
posted April 24, 2022
Sometimes it is hard to hope. The conflicts around the world seem endless. As one winds down, another erupts. At this time, the war in Ukraine absorbs much of our attention. It is hard to imagine the pain of a people facing such death and destruction all around them. The images we have and the accounts we hear make no sense to us. How is it possible to live in such a world? Can we ever find meaning in the midst of it?
What has happened to God’s dream for humanity?
There is so much of our lives that is beyond our control, so much to challenge us as we look to the future. Do we cynically, just give up on humanity? Indeed, so often it is hard to hope. Then comes Easter. We face the resurrection. The resurrection was not just about Jesus. With faith, we encounter a new vision, a new creation.
Easter – a season of new life. Celebrating the season of Easter we hear and reflect on a whole series of our faith stories. Easter brings us through the entire history of human salvation, through accounts of creation, liberation, restoration and resurrection. These are stories of many new beginnings, new life, stories of hope.
Through the Easter season, many stories of the Risen Jesus appearing to the disciples are set before us. The Gospel of this Sunday (John 20:19-31) offers us a picture of the liberation and healing that comes with the ongoing gift of the Spirit and the presence of the Risen Jesus.
One of the striking elements of the story in John’s Gospel is something that appears as well in other Gospel stories of appearances. It is the greeting that Jesus offers as he comes among the disciples: Peace be with you. Peace can mean many things – absence of war and conflict, quiet and silence, unity and good relations. In the Gospel stories of the appearances of Jesus peace is an indication of the healing and liberation that comes with the Spirit of the Risen Jesus.
It is no accident that John describes the disciple as locked in a room and cowering in fear. For them there was a great threat that what happened to Jesus would happen to them. They had lost hope, but suddenly they sensed the presence of the Jesus they had lost. His presence and the Spirit stirred in them a new vision. It dispelled fear, freed them from the terror and healed their pain.
With the gift of the Spirit, the disciples came to realize that the message and the mission that Jesus proclaimed was now theirs. The peace that came upon them with the presence of Jesus risen, was theirs to take to the world. Filled with the Spirit they were to liberate, to heal, to bring hope, new hope.
We need Easter’s hope. In his Easter Sunday reflection (April 17, 2022), Franciscan spiritual writer Richard Rohr highlights this need for all humanity: If all is hopeless, we all individually lose hope too. Easter is an announcement of a common hope. When we sing in the Easter hymn that Christ destroyed death, that means death for all of us. It’s not just about Jesus; it’s to humanity that God promises, “Life is not ended, it merely changes,” as we say in the funeral liturgy. That’s what happened in Jesus, and that’s what will happen in us. In the end, everything will be all right.
Sometimes it is hard to hope. Easter offers hope for our world. May the Spirit of the Risen Jesus move us to voice such hope of new life for all humanity. May the blessing of new life and peace come upon us all. In particular, may new peace and new life come upon the people of Ukraine.
posted April 16, 2022
Every year brings its own challenges and setbacks, both personal and global. We may have lost a friend or loved one or perhaps we have had to face health issues or job losses or changes. Globally, this has been a rough year for our world. We face many challenges. Two of the greatest include, the continuing threat posed to many by the covid-19 virus and the war that is taking place in Ukraine. In Canada, we can add the wounded relationship of our church and our indigenous peoples.
The weight of these challenges brings disappointment, discouragement and even despair – a loss of hope. In our faith tradition, these might be referred to as the crosses we carry. Such crosses are the negatives of our lives. How do we move beyond them? Do they define us? Is that what life is really all about? If not, then how do we respond to these crosses?
Easter offers hope. It presents a path for moving beyond. In the Gospels we are presented with the disciples of Jesus as they faced the crucifixion and death of their beloved Jesus. They were confused, discouraged and filled with despairing fear. Then, Easter. In the midst of their despair they discovered the resurrection. In Luke’s story (Lk.24:1-12), several of the women disciples go to the tomb and it is empty. The terrified women find themselves in a question: “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen.” Easter offers a door to hope. But it also presents us with another challenge.
Carlo Carretto (1910-1988) was born in Italy. At the age of 44 he joined the Little Brothers of Jesus, a monastic community in Algeria. Living with this community in the Sahara desert, he became a contemplative spiritual writer. It was a life of prayer, but also one of service to the people in the area around the community. At the core of his spirituality was the realization that holiness rests in the ordinary, everyday existence of every one of us. God touches us in the person of Jesus and journeys with us as the risen one.
Commenting on the meaning of Jesus’s resurrection, theological writer and speaker Megan McKenna turned to Carretto’s words:
When the world seems a defeat for God and you are sick with the disorder, the violence, the terror, the war on the streets; when the earth seems to be chaos, say to yourself, “Jesus died and rose again on purpose to save and his salvation is already with us….”
Every peace treaty is an act of faith in the resurrection.
Every agreed commitment is an act of faith in the resurrection.
When you forgive your enemy
When you feed the hungry
When you defend the weak you believe in the resurrection.
When you have the courage to marry When you welcome the newly-born child
When you build your home you believe in the resurrection.
(Carol Carretto. “Blessed Are You Who Believed)
The resurrection takes on full meaning, when we are able to take it out into our world, just as Jesus did. Easter’s meaning rests in the healing, reconciling, caring and liberating of the world in which we find ourselves. Easter brings life and light. Easter is about hope and how we bring it to one another.
posted April 2, 2022
This Sunday is Solidarity Sunday. Each year on the 5th Sunday of Lent, our Canadian Catholic Church reflects on our Christian call to stand in solidarity with the poor, the oppressed, the suffering in our world. It is a reflection on our call to be a people of faith living the Gospel. Filled with the spirit of Jesus, we stand in our world as signs of his presence. Through us, the message and mission of Jesus continues to be proclaimed to all peoples, as Jesus did, in word and in action.
Listening to the Gospel this Sunday (John 8:1-11) we are drawn into the story of Jesus and his encounter with a group of scribes and Pharisees. In an effort to trip him up, they have brought before him a woman caught in adultery. They pose a question to him, asking if he agrees with what the law of Moses demanded – that she must be stoned to death.
Before Jesus is standing one who is unable to defend herself. She is indeed the most threatened and vulnerable. She is without rights and without an advocate. Accused of sin, she finds no forgiveness and is isolated and rejected by the community. She is lost and her life will be taken from her.
Only Jesus stands with her. He stands in solidarity with her. In doing so, Jesus brings to her an immediate salvation. His silent response by a loving reconciling presence brings her forgiveness and restoration to the community. He saves her in so many ways. She is freed from the bondage of injustice. She is forgiven her sin and failings. She is raised to new life possibilities. She is restored to a place in the community of God’s People.
Our faith and our faith tradition call us to be this Jesus acting in our world. John’s telling of this story highlights the wonder of Jesus’ healing, reconciling presence. All of the Gospel healing stories reveal the same Jesus. He feels the pain and the suffering of the threatened and vulnerable. He brings them out of pain and suffering restoring them to wholeness and holiness. He reconciles them, bringing them back into the community. He stands in solidarity with them in their struggle and through his presence, shares their challenge with compassion and with love.
This is the Jesus of our faith. This is who we are called to be. It is our identity as a Christian people. At our baptism, we received the spirit of this Jesus. It made us sharers in the priesthood of Jesus Christ, every one of us. In this priesthood we stand with the poor, the broken, the rejected, the suffering, the oppressed of our world. In particular, this year, we stand with the people of Ukraine. Sinners we are, but we are also healers and reconcilers. As a baptized priesthood we believe and commit ourselves:
- to God, who loves us, all of us unconditionally
- to Jesus, in his life, death and resurrection
- to the Spirit who has gives us and sustains us in life
- to our call as priests of Jesus Christ, in solidarity with all who face poverty, injustice, oppression, violence and sin in our world.
THIS WE BELIEVE
posted March 26, 2022
This 4th Sunday of Lent we hear one of the most beautiful and moving of Jesus’ parables. (Luke 15:1-3, 11-32) It is a story that touches the heart of every person. It expresses something that is part of the human experience. All our relationships are marked in some way by this story – a story of disappointment with self, of self-righteous resentment and of abundant, healing, unconditional love.
The parable of the “Prodigal Son”, sometimes called the parable of the “Prodigal Parent” is one in which we find ourselves identified. Luke tells it as Jesus’ response to the scribes and the Pharisees who were criticizing him for his willingness to reach out with openness to all, even those who were seen as most undeserving. “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.” For Luke and his community in early Christianity the story focused on the religious elites of their day. For us, perhaps it has an even fuller meaning – both personal and communal as church.
The story of the “Prodigal Son” has three characters, the younger son, the older son and the father. Each of these persons is us. Each of them presents some aspect of our own personal experience and each of them presents to us both a challenge and a consolation. As well each of the persons expresses something very close to our communal or our church experience, with its challenges and consolations. The younger son is us. The older son is us. The loving parent is us.
The younger son, after receiving all of his inheritance from his loving parent, leaves home and squanders what he has received. He wants to return home but he is obsessed by guilt and cannot allow himself to return forgiven. His failures and sin pose a barrier to his home-coming. He is unable to see that his father loves him. The challenge he has is that he cannot “let go” of his past, his sin. It blocks his capacity for full reconciliation and joy. To “let go” of sin and failure means we can remember, without identifying with it. This allows for compassion and joy to be experienced. This son had a struggle.
The older son faced a different challenge. So intent was he on doing the “right thing” that he had come to behave more as a slave of his loving parent than as a son. He kept all the rules, he worked for the father and spent his energies in what he saw as the father’s commands. But he was filled with resentment and this boiled over when the father welcomed home the younger son. This older son could not see the relationship of love that bound the father to both his sons. He could not see that his father’s love was an unconditional gift, not an earned or merited love. His resentment blocked all hope of compassion and joy for him. The older son had a struggle.
The father in this story faced the challenge of freely giving love and compassion in a setting where it was deeply needed. For him compassion and joy was overflowing, but he faced one son who seem incapable or accepting this gift and another son who could not understand it. The father had a struggle.
Jesus’ parable is truly the story of us all – as persons and as church. It is a challenge, but challenge we must face, personally and as church. We have a struggle, but Lent offers us an opportunity to transform.
posted March 20, 2022
I have seen the misery of my people.... I have heard their cry.... I know their suffering,...
and I have come down to deliver them.... (Exodus 3:7-8)
The Book of Exodus in the Old Testament relates the story of God saving his people Israel from slavery in Egypt. It is a story of liberation, of freedom. In the little piece of the Book of Exodus that we hear today, we have the call of Moses, who would be God’s instrument in liberating Israel from its slavery. (Exodus 3:1-8, 13-15)
What we hear today is what we are all about as God’s People, as Church. The message we hear in the Gospels and the Good News we are called upon to share is what Jesus has handed on to us. It is the message of God’s care and compassion for all humanity – a message of liberation for all. In the Gospel of this 3rd Sunday in Lent (Luke 13:1-9) the figure of the gardener reveals this message of compassionate care for the weak and the vulnerable.
The work of the Christian is the work of liberation. We are about freeing those in bondage of injustice and oppression. We are about caring for the wounded and the suffering. We are about showing compassion to the sick and the suffering. We are about lifting the burdens of the poor and the powerless. We are to be a people of the liberation – for all.
The Catholic Christian Church in Canada reaches out to touch our world with the Good News of liberating love in many ways. One of these touches is through the Catholic Organization for Development and Peace and its international partner, Caritas. All over the globe the resources of Development and Peace and Caritas are used to care for those facing the burdens of poverty and injustice. In a few weeks, on the 5th Sunday of Lent, as a Christian community, we will be called upon to stand in solidarity with these most burdened peoples of our world.
This Sunday we focus on God’s call to all of us. The words of The Pastoral Constitution of the Church in the Modern World, from Vatican II speak to our hearts over the next few Sundays of Lent:
We are at a moment in history when the development of economic life could diminish
social inequalities if that development were guided and coordinated in a reasonable
and human way. Yet all too often it serves only to intensify the inequalities. In some
places it even results in a decline of the social status of the weak and in contempt for
the poor. While an enormous mass of people lack the absolute necessities of life, some,
even in less advanced countries, live with great wealth. Luxury and misery rub shoulders.
Like Moses, we are called to bring the message of freedom, justice and peace to all God’s people. Like Jesus, we are to follow the caring gardener we hear of in Luke’s Gospel. He diligently tends the garden, that it might be nurtured to bear much fruit. This is the message of the care and compassion of God’s reign among us. It is a message this Lent that sees us called to reach out to the people of Ukraine, facing the hardships and burdens of war. May they be blessed with peace.
posted March 12, 2022
The Second Sunday of Lent each year takes us to an episode in the Gospels that is referred to as the transfiguration. Peter, James and John go up on a mountain (or a hill) with Jesus. There, Jesus is transfigured before them. This story appears in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke. This year we hear Luke’s version. (Luke 9:28-36) What is this all about?
The story of the transfiguration is one of those Gospel accounts that recognizes Jesus’ relationship with the Father and the mission he has been given. It is an expression of how the disciples saw Jesus after the resurrection. The Gospel writers tell it at this point as a foreshadowing of the faith of the post-resurrection Christian communities. In short, it was seeing through the eyes of faith.
Christian faith calls us to see ourselves through the eyes of faith. At our baptism we are given the promise of eternal and risen life. At the same time we are called to be disciples of Jesus and to share the mission that Jesus had to build the Reign of God in the midst of our world.
As we listen to the Gospel story of the transfiguration we might note two elements of Luke’s account. First of all, we can notice Peter’s immediate response to the event. He wants to remain on that mountain. The experience is so satisfying that he does not want it to end. But it must, he and the other disciples have a mission. What the experience, what they see through the eyes of faith, is not just for them. They must share the Good News. This can only happen if they come down from the mountain with Jesus in order to build the Reign of God in the world.
The second element focuses their eyes of faith on Jesus himself. They must recognize the special relationship that Jesus has with the Father. They must see him as the Son, the chosen one. As they do this they then must listen to him. In listening, truly listening in faith, they will grasp the message of the Good News.
It is a message of love and hope for all humanity and it is in sharing this that they will be disciples of Jesus.
These eyes of faith are our own. They allow us to do as the disciples were called to on that mountain. Like them we have a call to discipleship. With our eyes of faith we begin to see that we have a special relationship with Jesus and through Jesus to the Father. We are truly God’s People, the adopted daughters and sons of God, beloved and cherished by our God who is parent to us.
As God’s beloved people, we have a call to our world and all humanity. The Good News that we recognize through the eyes of faith is the message we take to our world. All humanity is seen as God’s holy people. All of our world is God’s sacred gift and we are called to cherish and care for this creation we have been given. As Jesus was transfigured to reveal the glory of God present to the disciples, so we are to reflect this same glory of God in ourselves and to see it in all creation.
posted March 3. 2022
Here we are – Lent again. Our season began with our experience of Ash Wednesday. The ashes we used came from fire. Whatever their source, these ashes came from a burning process, a way of transformation. They represent the change that is brought about, when we let the finger God touch our lives and open ourselves to God’s plan for all life. The season is one of discovery and conversion, and one we share with the community in which we live and believe.
In our tradition, Lent is a time of penance and giving up – but also a time of idealism and promise. It is about setting aside those elements of our lives which impede the goodness of God’s dream for us. Lent is about turning away from the temptations, the “stuff” that is hurtful, wasteful and dehumanizing in our lives and in our world. It calls us to let go of some aspects of our lives which get in the way of being the person and the world that God intends us to be. More specifically we might say that it is about giving up – many things, many habits and many behaviors which do not nurture and bring life to others or to ourselves.
Lent is also about becoming. It is about turning around to be the person and the world of God’s plan for us. It is about turning away from self-centeredness and selfishness, turning towards God and to those many “others” who are part of our lives. It is about using our time and our energy in life-giving ways – that we may become the person that God has intended and called us to be. The season reminds us of the goodness that lies within each and every one of us. It proclaims to us and to our world the message of promise and hope that reveals God’s love for all creation.
On this First Sunday of the Lenten season, we hear Luke’s account of Jesus’ own discovery of God’s dream. Having been baptised by John and filled with the Holy Spirit, he embarks on the mission he has been given by the Father. The first step for Jesus is to go out into the desert, “the wilderness”. There he is tempted to reject the mission. His resistance to the temptations is a sign of his interior conversion and his willingness to accept the call he has been given (Luke 1-13).
The story in Luke tells the story of Jesus acceptance of mission. It is also our own story. We are called to mission by our faith. Like Jesus we are challenged to live and proclaim the goodness of God’s reign in our own lives, in the midst of our world. Doing so, demands that we undergo transformation. This is a continual and constant process of conversion. Only with transformation of our own humanity can we transform our world into God’s dream.
Conversion is about more than leaving behind what we have been. It is about becoming someone renewed. It is changing ourselves bit by bit so that we may be life-giving to our world and to others. In other words, how can you and I be the face of God’s love where we are?
posted February 25, 2022
This coming Wednesday is Ash Wednesday. We begin the Lenten season once more. Lent is all about conversion. It can be about the conversion process embarked upon by a new adult member of the Christian community. Lent is the period leading up to the sacraments of initiation into the church through baptism, confirmation and eucharist, at the Easter Vigil. For these new members, lent is looked at as a time of more intense preparation through prayer, fasting and good works. This, in fact is the early Church origins of the Lenten season for all Christians.
For those of us who were baptized as infants or at another time, lent is important as well. For the whole Christian community, it is the opportunity to reflect on our place in the community and how we live in our world as Christians. The prayer, fasting and good works that we express in lent are to be a lifestyle that marks every day of our lives. The conversion experience that leads to the sacraments of initiation for our new members, is our continuing conversion experience. Being Christian is a life-time process. Lent helps us to revisit and renew who we are and how we express our Christian faith in action.
Luke 6:39-45 tells us a story of invitation. Jesus in the story describes the kind of change that we are called upon to make when we accept the invitation that comes with our baptism, to be disciples. Becoming disciples of Jesus demands a conversion or a turning around of our heart. It is a life-long process of becoming the face of Jesus alive in our world. Our call to mission might seem to focus on things outside ourselves, tasks and actions we carry out in our world. But it is founded on the interior, the heart – this is where conversion truly takes place.
Conversion, is really a call that reaches within. It is a turning around of our heart. There is an initial call from outside ourselves – setting out to discover the meaning of Jesus the Christ and the face of God that Jesus reveals. It is often through persons we have met, or communities that have welcomed us. With that sense of support and inclusion that we all need we gain the desire to be part of what we have experienced.
We may not use this term, but we begin a quest or search for what we have discovered. This search is not quick, nor is it just for a moment. We discover that life is full of this searching or questing. Sometimes there are moments of sensing discovery, others we seem to just grind along. Our journey is a faith journey and it is filled with seeking, questioning, wondering and searching, always with much uncertainty. Then somehow, we become more firmly convinced that this is our own. We discover we are disciples of Jesus the Christ and ready to live this in the ordinary routine of our lives, and there is peace in this. This is really only the planting of a seed, a new beginning.
Conversion needs to go always deeper. It is a continual process for a lifetime. It is in fact, a continual turning of our hearts. As Luke puts it: Out of the good treasure of heart, the good person produces good (Luke 6:45). God plants the seed through the many encounters beyond ourselves, but the seed grows from within us. Every year, this is the blessing and gift of Lent
What might I do this Lent, to nurture the seed God has planted in my heart?
posted February 19, 2022
Sometimes we struggle with what it means to be holy. It often appears to be something “other worldly” or at least removed from the world in which we ordinarily live. Over the course of history, holiness seemed to be confused with distancing ourselves from our everyday life. In some cases, the world around us has been perceived as a threat or an “enemy” to holiness. This poses some problems for us. How can we live our lives in a way that is holy while finding ourselves in the world of our experience?
Our Christian faith is incarnational. Central to who we are is Jesus the Christ, the sign and sacrament of God’s love for all humanity and indeed for our created world. Holiness is not about denying our humanity or the wonder of creation. It is about honouring, respecting and valuing the whole of creation as a blessing, a beatitude of God’s presence among us.
Luke’s Gospel presents us with the disciples’ call to recognize the blessedness around us, even in the midst of hardships and challenges – poverty, hunger, sorrow and rejection (Lk.6:20-22). He then goes on to describe how disciples can bring out and express this holiness, acknowledging the blessing of God’s love alive in the times and places of our lives (Lk.6:27-38). Living as blessings for one another makes faith in Jesus the Christ come alive. Doing so, we sow the seeds of the reign of God around us and with it, hope of peace and justice, compassion and healing, love and respect.
Pope Francis captured some of this in his Apostolic Exhortation On the Call to Holiness in Today’s World (19 March 2018). He offered a wonderful description of the holiness for which we strive as disciples: I like to contemplate the holiness present in the patience of God’s people: in those parents who raise their children with immense love, in those men and women who work hard to support their families, in the sick, in elderly religious who never lose their smile…. Very often it is a holiness found in our next-door neighbours, those who, living in our midst, reflect God’s presence. We might call them “the middle class of holiness”. (7)
In his exhortation, Francis echoed the “universal call to holiness” presented by the Second Vatican Council in 1964. Holiness in the midst of our lives offers the power of transforming the activities and events of everyday life into holy moments (Vatican II, The Constitution on the Church 40). Both the Gospels of Luke and Matthew speak in terms of blessings which make a difference in life. Such blessings are placed at the center of Jesus’ call to his disciples (Luke ch.6; Matthew ch.5).
We are all about holiness, but not piety or removal from the joy and challenges of ordinary life. Rather we recognize and live our holiness in the very events and times of everyday. We see it in the wonder of all creation. We celebrate it in our relationships with one another. We marvel at it in the simple witness of a child’s smile, in the loving hug of a mother, in the caring compassion of a father. We experience it in the bond that unites a community and in the openness that welcomes the stranger.
Beatitudes or blessing surround us. Our holiness is the expression of the blessing we hold within and that we share with others. In this we are the face of God’s love and the expression of the indwelling Spirit to our world.
What are some blessings I am seeing in my life today?
posted February 11, 2022
Life can be pretty complicated, even confusing. It is hard to see where we fit or how we make sense of it all. Sometimes we hope to find the simple and direct answer to our questions. We look for someone or something who has the ultimate truth that we can apply to all our questions and to every confusing and unsettling experience in which we find ourselves.
This is where we find ourselves turning to faith. Not the faith of pat answers and definitive responses. These might be comforting in their ease, but for a complicated life journey we need something more, something that helps us even when it seems we are lost. We hunger for a faith that guides in the midst of the messiness of our lives.
In his book, Against an Infinite Horizon: The Finger of God in Our Everyday Lives, the spiritual writer, Ron Rolheiser offers some thoughts on the kind of faith for which we all long. For Rolheiser it is a matter of how we view our lives through the eyes of faith. He frames the task in the preface of his work: When we have the eyes of faith we see a certain divine glow shimmering within the ordinary, just as we see all that is ordinary against a horizon of the eternal…. Traditional religion calls it ‘the finger of God in our lives,’ this book will call it ‘seeing against an infinite horizon.’
Fr. Rolheiser issues a call to espouse faith as a way of sorting through the contradictions and complications that the messiness of our lives throws at us. Life is indeed a complex mess. To make sense of it will take us on a journey in which we see all against the infinite horizon of what we might call God’s dream for all creation. Such vision does not offer quick and simple answers. The vision is much broader and fuller than that. It is the vision of Jesus the Christ as we find it in his message and mission that the reign of God is among us, in the midst of our very lives.
The stories of the Good News offer us this vision in many and various ways. In chapter 6 of Luke’s Gospel we see Jesus identifying a number of his disciples as apostles who will be particularly charged with receiving and then passing on this dream of God for all. Luke’s way of telling this story is quite striking. Jesus goes to spend the night on a mountain in prayer with his disciples. Then from his disciples he calls twelve of them to be apostles of the message of God’s dream. The message is captured as he begins to teach his disciples in Luke 6:17, 20-26.
Luke’s story looks much as we find in Matthew’s Gospel (Matt.5:1-12) with a series of blessings or beatitudes. Luke however follows the blessings with a series of woes. How are we to read this? Perhaps the temptation is to start by looking at the individual blessings and woes. Better might be to see the piece in Luke’s story as a whole. Blessings and woes are part of any life journey.
Faith offers a vision that sees life “against an infinite horizon”. This horizon allows us to recognize a life-giving God who loves us always unconditionally and who never leaves us. This is the broader picture. In the Gospels this is the good news. No matter what, the reign of God is among us.
In Luke, Jesus announced this through the words of the prophet, Isaiah: The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour (Luke 4:18-19). Seeing “against an infinite horizon” is God’s new vision.
posted February 5, 2022
Most of my adult life, some 46 years has been spent teaching. Like most teachers, I willingly admit that I learned more than my students ever did. Looking back, there is one very significant piece of wisdom that I picked up along the way. Early in my career another more senior person shared something that is crucial for no matter what we do: “A good teacher, teaches themselves.” Looking back, I can see that no matter what we do in life, the most significant element will always be the relationships we discover, build and nurture.
That piece of wisdom should be kept in mind when we spend time with our Judeo-Christian scriptures. Too often we read and use these scriptures as “proof texts”. We look at them to find doctrinal teachings or moral teachings for our lives as Christians. Perhaps as we do so, we fail to see the fundamental purpose and truth that in fact these scriptures are meant to present.
Our Bible is a collection of books, a kind of library for us. This collection presents us with a whole series of stories that open the door to what we might call our “Great Story”. It recounts how all creation, including our humanity is a wondrous expression of God’s love. Our origin is in God’s love and our destiny is to return to the fullness of God’s love. What we find unfolding in the books of our Jewish and Christian scriptures presents and celebrates a fundamental truth of our faith. Our life and all creation exist because of God’s love. We are in relationship with our God, and God with us.
The stories of Jesus and his disciple in the New Testament - gospels, letters, historical accounts, they all need to be read in the light of this relationship of love by which we bond with our God, through Jesus the Christ. Like all the Gospel writers, Luke provides us with stories of how Jesus begins to build his circle of disciples. He calls them and challenges them where they are.
We can see this in Luke 5:1-11. Jesus gathers all kinds of people around him. In order to deal with the crowd, Jesus makes use of the setting and the situation in order to reach out to them. It is in a fishing area and so Jesus makes use of one of the fishing boats from which to teach. When he finishes speaking to the crowds, he asks the boat`s owner, Simon to go fishing with him. Simon resists at first but agrees to go and is shocked by the number of fish they catch.
Luke closes this story with Jesus issuing an explicit invitation to Simon and his partners to join him in his mission. Like the fish, they are caught. Like the fish, they are brought on board with Jesus. Having been brought on board, they leave what they have been about and follow Jesus as disciples and ultimately as partners, sharing the mission.
This is a story of an encounter leading to a relationship. Jesus will teach these disciples. He will also build and nurture a friendship with them. Over time and with many shared experiences, this circle will grow close. The unfolding of this relationship is the key to understanding the Good News. If read in this way, it can be the story of our own relationship with Jesus the Christ and with our fellow disciples in our own community of faith.
In John’s Gospel, 15:15-17 we see a proclamation of this encounter leading to relationship. It begins with these words: I do not call you servants any longer,… I have called you friends. These three verses in John can help us recognize who we are in the stories of the Gospels.
Can I read our Scriptures with this perspective of love and hope?
posted January 29, 2022
In 2007, Sister Elizabeth A. Johnson published a wonderful book entitled Quest for the Living God: Mapping Frontiers in the Theology of God. Its title might in some ways be intimidating. But its aim and what Sr. Johnson presents is really quite timely and very readable. It speaks to everyone’s shared need to figure out who we are and how we relate to all that is around us.
Many years ago, I dropped in on a soccer game in which one of my nephews was playing. After trying to spot Andrew, I finally found him with some of his team mates. They were off the field, crouched on the opposite sidelines examining an anthill. These 6 year-olds were intrigued by what they had discovered. At every stage in our lives, from the smallest child to the wise elderly, we find ourselves trying to “figure it out”. We are “seekers” by nature.
For the person of faith, whether we are firm or struggling in that faith – and let’s be honest, we are all a little bit of both, our search to find God among us is part of our life journey. The Gospels are replete with stories of such seekers, trying to “figure it out”.
As Luke describes Jesus beginning his mission, he tells the story of Jesus going to his hometown of Nazareth and entering the synagogue (Luke 4:21-30). The people listen as he reads from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah (Is. 61:1-2). As he speaks about the passage, they find what he says difficult and get upset. Jesus especially challenges them with his comment that what Isaiah proclaimed is in fact now being fulfilled. Finding God among them is a challenge. As much as they honoured the prophets like Isaiah, they often struggled with what the prophets proclaimed. They could not handle seeing God so closely among them. It is no easy task to recognize how God relates to us and how we relate to God.
In our current world the great tendency is to see God at the peak of a triangle, the authority, the judge, the all-powerful one who is far from our humanity and our circumstances. This is a concept of God that developed in the 17th & 18th century and gave what is termed “modern theism”. Such a God is above us and beyond us in the created universe. This is a God who is far from us. Our quest is to find the God who is close and relatable and lives among us.
This relatable God lies at the core of our Christian faith. The writer of the first letter of John captures this: Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God…. So we have known and believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and those who live in love live in God and God lives in them. (1 John 4:7, 16)
In our Catholic tradition we often begin our communal and our personal prayer with a blessing: In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. This is not just an empty expression or a meaningless rote ritual. In fact, it is an expression of our relationship with our God who is love. Out of love God gave and gives us life. Out of love God reached out and came among us in the person of Jesus the Christ. And out of love God continues to be among us in the power of the Spirit.
This is the Good News that Jesus preached in his mission. It is the mission that he has passed on to every disciple and it is the center of our scriptures, our creeds and our life of prayer and action. Paul, writing to the Christian community in Corinth expresses the aim of our quest, who we really are, around the world: Now faith, hope and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love (1 Cor.13:13).
How am I doing with my quest for the living God in my life?
posted January 22, 2022
The writer of the Gospel of Luke is a visionary. He presents the story of Jesus the Christ as an expression of the Spirit of God incarnate in the person of Jesus. Luke’s faith is that of a Gentile (non-Jewish) Christian about two generations after the death and resurrection of Jesus, i.e. about 70-90AD. Tapping into his community’s oral memory, as well as that of Mark’s Gospel, Luke sees Jesus as a gift of God’s love for all who share a common humanity and a common home in creation. For Luke this happens through the sharing of the same Spirit among all.
Luke begins the story of Jesus setting out on mission after his baptism by John in the Jordan and his time in the desert (Lk.3:21-22; 4:1-13). The focus and direction of the mission is described by Luke as the work of the Spirit and power of God (Lk.4:14-21). The rest of the Gospel will be centered on this universal gift of God’s Spirit shared by Jesus with his disciples and then through them, with that same Spirit to the ends of the earth.
The sequel to this Gospel, the Book of the Acts of the Apostles, will express this ultimate goal of the Spirit spreading to all humanity. We can find it proclaimed by Peter early in the Acts as a way of great promise.
He uses the words of the Old Testament prophet, Joel:
I will pour out my spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions.
Even on the male and female slaves, in those days, I will pour out my spirit.
(Joel 2:28-29, cf. Acts 2:17-18)
In the early days of the Christianity, St. Paul traveled from one little community of believers to another. As he did so he seemed acutely aware that these early communities were families of believers.
Though made up of many very different persons, they shared a common Spirit and were called to live in love, supporting one another. They were one body, unified by the Spirit and called to the same mission. He expressed this vision to a community in Corinth:
Brothers and sisters: Just as the body is one and has many members,
and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is
with Christ. For the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body –
Jews or Greeks, slaves or free – and we were all made to drink of one
Spirit. (1 Cor. 12:12-13)
To be baptized is to be in the Body of Christ, a Spirit-filled community that we call Church. This Body of Christ, this Church can be regarded as an organized institution with its beliefs and practices. For most of us, however, what offers us life is the community of persons that surround us. They welcome us, support us, accompany us and nurture us in our journey of faith together. One might say that for most us, Church, the Body of Christ has a face, or faces. These faces are Church for us. There we find the Spirit of the Living God.
Who are some of the faces who have been part of your faith journey?
posted January 15, 2022
In the Gospel of John (2:1-11) we hear the story of what John calls the first of Jesus` signs. It takes place at a wedding in Cana. The first part of John`s Gospel, (chapters 1-12) is often referred to as the Book of Signs. Through the wonders and miracles that John describes in this section we are give a whole series of signs which show forth the action of God amongst on the part of Jesus. They express God`s care and love through the touch of Jesus, divine and human.
Cana presents Jesus in action for the first time. He is launching his mission to make the Reign of God present and active in the world. The Good News is announced in the great sign – Jesus himself, but also, for John in a series of signs that reveal the divine presence amongst us in a saving and life-giving way. Is it possible that perhaps such signs are ever present in our lives? To recognize such signs around us is important.
The story begins with Mary at the wedding turning to her son and calling on him for help. She says something to Jesus that might seem a mere observation an expression of concern. Mary remarks: They have no wine. What a sensitive and caring appeal on Mary`s part. In John`s telling of the story, it is the Good News unfolding and it takes on much more significant meaning.
They have no wine expresses something is missing. The couple, the wedding, lacks something. Mary, in the account, speaks for all humanity.
In this first of Jesus` signs, she declares a fundamental reality of human existence – we lack. We are not, in the end, self-sufficient. Our fulfillment will only come when we allow God to act in our life and in our world.
This sign at Cana becomes an expression of the God`s great sign – God`s touch of humanity in Jesus. At the wedding, Jesus` action fills the lack in the occasion. The story of Cana in this Gospel takes us to something deep within us.
As much as we desire fulfillment, as much as we want to understand what life means for us, as much as we seek happiness and contentment – we cannot gain this on our own. They have no wine speaks to us of our human insufficiency.
We have many lacks. The lack of peace and harmony in our world and in our own relationships, our inability to communicate fully with one another, our incapacity to respect and care abundantly for each other, these are all expressions of our human insufficiency. Our great human lack lies in our loss of union with God and with one another.
The story at Cana is the first indication in the Gospel, that Jesus comes to fulfill God’s dream for humanity and all creation. His presence, active among us bring the dream to life among us. In fact the image in the action of Jesus is beyond what Mary could ever have imagined.
The abundance that Jesus brings in response to Mary’s comment is revealed in the marvelous volume of wine that Jesus
provides. What a sign of God`s love poured out on all. This is God`s reign among us. With this Reign comes the transformation of our world into a communion both with God and with one another. By ourselves we lack the means to be what God dreams for us. But then, it is not beyond God. The beginning for any of us is to recognize that the glory of God in Jesus and in one another is always present among us.
posted January 8, 2022
Recently I had the honour of gathering at the parish church with several families and welcoming into the Christian community a new member. Ferguson “Fergus” is a little over 4 years of age. Surrounded by family and friends as well as by members of the parish community, Fergus seemed to both tolerate and often enjoy the attention paid to him. Certainly, his parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins were in a happy space. Fergus’s baptism was something for everyone to celebrate.
Over the years, in a variety of communities I would estimate I have celebrated the baptisms of 1500 or more new Christians. Some of those we welcomed were adults, most have been children, many infants. Each time it is both a thrill and a joy to welcome these new Christians into the community. Often, we have done this in the setting of a Sunday Eucharist where the whole community welcomes their newest member. Always the welcome is a gift of the whole community.
For Fergus, his baptism was a beginning of his life as a disciple of Jesus. Like the disciples we hear of in the Gospels, or the crowd that surrounded John the Baptist and Jesus at the River Jordan (Luke 3:15-16, 21-22), Fergus was beginning a journey of faith that would be life-long. As he began this journey, the Spirit was poured out upon him as it was upon Jesus. With the Spirit, like Jesus and the disciples who have gone before us, Fergus has been acknowledged as a beloved of God.
Baptism is part of our sacramental tradition. This +tradition acknowledges the wonder of all created reality. This created universe, including our humanity is an expression of God’s overwhelming love. We do not easily grasp this. As well, all of the sacraments, including baptism, are part of life journey in a community of faith. Neither Fergus nor any of us make this journey alone.
The baptism of Fergus was a beginning of a communal journey. Many were involved. First of all parents, grandparents and others of his family gathered around him. This family want to share many things with him. Among the gifts they want to share is the faith tradition they have. They wish their child to be surrounded by the same loving faith community that they themselves have had. They want their child to be part of their own journey.
Our faith community wants the same for him. We want him to join us on our own journey, to be part of us. And so we welcome him and express our commitment to share our faith, our love and our support for him in the years to come. We also speak for the whole of the Catholic community of faith. We are a family of faith to which we have now gathered a newly welcomed member.
If we look for it, we will find it. We are a communal faith. Our Christian Scriptures are gifts for this community. Whether gospels or letters or prophetic proclamations, they are for communities of faith. Paul writing to the community in Ephesus is clear about our communal character: “There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all.” (Ephesians 4:4-5)
Baptism, like all of our sacramental tradition, is about relationships – with God, with the community of faith and with one another. Our Catholic tradition is not about individual seekers. It begins with the old initiating the younger into the tradition. It continues through life always in the context of community, with each of us being carried and carrying one another.
Who has carried you on your faith journey?