Our Sacred Stories

Father John Jennings

Patience vs Pushiness in the Reign of God

posted June 15, 2024

Stories! We all seem to love them. We read novels. We watch movies. We follow many a TV series. Jesus told many stories as he walked with his disciples. The Gospels call these stories parables. A parable is a story based on ordinary life – gardens, fishing, working, playing. But parables are about more than ordinary life. Such stories take us to another dimension. They allow us to see the spiritual side of our lives, taking us beyond the ordinary, the material, the social dimension which so often dominates.

Jesus uses parables to tell us what the Reign of God is like, what it means for us. This Sunday we hear two of Jesus’ parables. The ordinary, the material element of the stories focuses on planting seeds. But Jesus tells them for the other element, the spiritual dimension of the Reign of God. As Jesus puts it: The reign of God is as if..... or is like.....

Mark’s Gospel offers us a parable about the person who scatters the seed on the ground and then has to wait patiently for growth to occur. In this story we hear a call to recognize that we cannot control the Reign of God. It comes because of God, not because of us. And it demands patience not pushiness on our behalf. It calls for a willingness to sow the Reign wherever we are and then patiently wait while God works in us, in those around us and in our world.

Some 30 years ago, an archbishop in El Salvador, Oscar Romero became heavily involved in working for the poor and disadvantaged of the country. He was assassinated by some of the powerful people who resisted his efforts for the poor. His words, before he died are a call for us to recognize how we work for the building of the Reign of God. It is God’s Reign, not our own. Our efforts and willingness to commit are important. But what becomes the Reign in the midst of our world will come from God, not from us. Here are Oscar Romero’s words:

This is what we are about. We plant seeds that one day will grow. We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise.
We lay foundations that will need further development. We provide yeast that produces efforts far beyond our capabilities. We cannot do everything and there is a sense of liberation in that.
This enables us to do something and to do it well. It may be incomplete, but it is a Beginning, a step along the way, an opportunity for the Lord’s grace to enter and do the rest. We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the Master Builder and the worker. We are workers, not master builders; ministers not messiahs. We are prophets of a future not our own

Our Christian call demands our efforts, but we do not control the results. Patience not pushiness, commitment, not control builds the Reign of God for all humanity. Are we “seed-planters” in our place and time?

God’s Reign for Humanity and All Creation

posted June 7, 2024

Our God is an awesome God
He reigns from heaven above
With wisdom, power and love
Our God is an awesome God.

This is the beginning of one of the hymns most loved in a parish where I once served, especially in gatherings with youth. In many ways it expressed the faith, trust and hopes of our Christian faith. The reign of God is for all peoples, in all places at all times.

The Gospel writers often present us with the surprising character of Jesus’s message. In Mark’s version, we see that even Jesus’s own family found what he was saying and doing to be a shock (Mark 3:20-35). The message that God’s reign is near and among us seems too much for many to accept, beyond belief.

We live in a world where war, violence, injustice and is a constant presence. We see this presence in the various conflicts in the Middle East, in the local conflicts in various African States, in the ongoing tensions in the Ukraine. Normally, we view war and its impact from a human perspective. We see nation pitted against nation, people fighting people, army against army. The impact of war and conflict reaches far beyond the combatant themselves. It has its impact on all. It is truly a universal tragedy affecting all humanity and all of creation.

Counter to this image of war and violence is the image of the kingdom or the reign of God that we hear Jesus proclaim as he begins his ministry. Mark presents this proclamation:

Jesus went into Galilee. There he proclaimed the Good News from God. “The time has come,” he said “and the reign of God is close at hand.” (Mark 1:14-15)

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

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

At the very beginning of the Old Testament, this sense of God’s presence acting in all creation appears in the stories of creation in the Book of Genesis. Jesus’ proclamation that the reign of God is close at hand grows out of this way of seeing God as present in our history and in all of creation. As Jesus begins his ministry, he announces that God is about to break into our world in a new and powerful way. He announces this reign time and again in his words and actions. It will be this completed, fulfilled reign of God that will bring peace and harmony to humanity and healing and wholeness to creation. Jesus truly proclaims an awesome God. Theologian Dermot Lane writes:

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

The reign of God is ultimately about re-establishing right relationships between God and humanity, between humanity and the individual, between humanity and the whole of creation.
(Lane. Christ at the Centre 21)

The Real Presence of Jesus the Christ

posted May 31, 2024

Every time we come together for Eucharist, we begin our gathering in the same way. First of we make the sign of the cross that represents the faith we share in the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. That is what draws us together as one community. Then the priest/presider will say: The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be/is with you all. In response the gathered community will say: And with you/your spirit. What are we saying?

What the priest is saying is that in the gathered community we see the Real Presence of Christ. The people’s response acknowledges that the same Real Presence of Christ is in the priest/presider as well. As Jesus tells his disciples: Where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among you (Matt 18:20). The Real Presence of Christ is not only under the form of bread and wine. It is in the assembly around us as we celebrate together, walk together, share together and commit ourselves to sharing and sacrificing for each other. We are the Real Presence of Christ for our world.

Sacrifice is often a hard word for us. It presents us with challenges. It forces us to make choices. Yet, sacrifice also brings meaning to our lives and offers us opportunities to make commitments which are both meaningful and the way to fulfillment. We humans are naturally disposed to sacrifice, for it is an expression of one of our most wonderful human traits – we are basically free. We can make choices and even challenging, demanding choices and sacrifices for others. It is often an expression of our love and relationship with others.

Sacrifice is what we hear of in Luke’s Gospel (9:11 -17). There he tells 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 see 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.

Luke’s story can be seen as revealing Jesus’ whole person and message as well as what Jesus is able to draw out of people. Humanly, when we lack or have little, we sometimes draw back into ourselves to protect our own resources, whether that be food or time or energy or whatever. We take care of ourselves. But not always, often we make sacrifices reaching out to others, responding to need.

The 5000 are seated in groups. Jesus takes the bread and fish, says a prayer of blessing, breaks the food up and asks the disciples to set it before the crowd. What has taken place is very much in keeping with what Jesus often causes as he announces the Reign of God. In the Reign, people look after one another. People share what they have with one another. Their care reflects God’s care and compassion.

The sacrifice we witness in our sharing of the Eucharist expresses a basic truth of our faith. Eucharist is more than a sharing of Jesus’ physical body and blood. In following Jesus’ call: “Do this in remembrance of me” (1 Cor.11:24) we imitate him. And what Jesus sacrificed was more than his physical existence. It was his whole person and life. Eucharist is our expression of commitment and willingness to sacrifice for the Reign, to sacrifice for one another. For we are the Real Presence of Christ for one another. It makes us Church, a community drawn together by a shared faith.

Trinity and its Mystery

posted May 25, 2024

“It’s a mystery.” Such a statement can mean many things to us. It might mean something that is unsolvable. Or perhaps it means a question for which we do not have an answer. On the other hand, it may be our way to avoid a question we cannot handle. It can even be used to refer to a novel or a movie involving a crime.

When we speak of the “mystery of the Trinity” or some other “mystery of our faith” none of the above descriptions is accurate. “Mystery” in this case is used to speak of something the meaning of which is so great that we can never exhaust the truth of it. All of our seeking and searching, all of our questions will help us with understanding, but there will always be more to discover in such mysteries. This is certainly true of the “mystery of the Trinity.”

In celebrating the Feast of the Trinity we are acknowledging a truth this is at the foundation of who we are as Christians. It expresses our faith in our God who loves us deeply, as a parent. So deeply does this God love us that God came in the person of Jesus to live among, to share the life that we live, even unto death. More than this, Jesus draws us into sharing a loving relationship with God and calls us to share with others, all others, the loving relationship we have with God. This gift of love from God brings us to full and eternal life. All of this and more is expressed in the “mystery of the Trinity.”

Matthew in his Gospel (Matt.28:16-20) opens up the many aspects of this mystery of the Trinity. He does so in relating an experience of the disciples in an encounter with the Risen Jesus. It is significant that they have this experience on a mountain, in fact the mountain on which Jesus presented what we call the Sermon on the Mount. This sermon covers Matthew chapters 5-7. It is a collection of sayings and teachings which capture the core of the message of Jesus and the focus of his whole mission among us. In some ways then, it expresses the meaning of the Trinity for us.

As the disciples encounter Jesus on this mountain, they discover that they are being included in the relationship of love that Jesus has with God as a loving parent. They are adopted children of God. In this relationship Jesus draws them into his mission. He is not “handing on the mission”, but rather he is “including them in his mission.”

Matthew’s account reassures those disciples and us that Jesus will be with us always. The gift of the Spirit expresses this. Thus, we will always live and act in our relationship as children of God who loves us as a parent and shares even divine life with us. The disciples and we are to live in loving relationships with all the peoples of the earth. For all peoples are children of God. This and more is expressed in the “mystery of the Trinity.”

trans. 1997)

    Truly, Good News for all.

Ascension: A Story of Leaving Yet Remaining

posted May 10, 2024

Some 45 years ago I met Jim and Pauline. Jim was with the OPP and Pauline worked in a Catholic school in Barrie. At the time I was on sabbatical researching. I lived and assisted in a parish in the north of Toronto. The three of us worked together in a marriage enrichment program. Over the course of the year we became good friends. Then I left to return to Fredericton.

One of the remarkable things is that the departure did not end the friendship. For more than 45 years we have maintained the friendship through letters, emails and phone calls. It was not always easy to maintain the contact but it did happen. Though we left each other’s physical presence we had not really left one another. Somehow, there was a presence that continued. We continued to be with one another in our friendship. There was a sense of being apart and together, of “leaving yet remaining” with one another.

When the Scriptures speak of the Ascension, it may seem that Jesus is somehow leaving his disciples. But when we look more closely at the Gospel accounts, it is evident they speak of Jesus still being present among them.

The classic image of the ascension of Jesus is captured in the story that we find in the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 1:1-11). The writer of Acts tells the story of the earliest Christian communities after the resurrection of Jesus. Acts begins the story with the account of Jesus leaving the disciples and ascending to heaven, or put another way with the return of Jesus to the Father. It is a story of “leaving yet remaining.”

The disciples have been given two important pieces of their call as followers of Jesus. They have been promised the gift and power Holy Spirit, and they have been told that they are to be witnesses to all that Jesus has proclaimed. In some way, the ascension is the end of the appearances of the risen Jesus. He leaves them yet remains among them through the continuing power of the Spirit that they will receive. Thus, they are to be the ongoing presence of the risen Jesus for our world.

Jesus might have left, but remains among us. The Incarnation continues with us, for we are the face of Jesus for our world. The final verses of Mark’s Gospel present us with this mission. We are called to: “Go out into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation” (Mark 16:15).

With Jesus among us, and marked by the Spirit we are to be people of the Good News.

The last major Constitution of the Second Vatican Council closed the council in December 1965. This was the Constitution on the Church in the Modern World. Its title and opening words declared its principal vision:

The joy and the hope, the grief and the anxiety of the people of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted; this is the joy and hope, the grief and the anxiety, of the followers of Christ. Indeed, nothing genuinely human fails to raise an echo in their hearts. The Christian community is, after all, a community of women and men truly linked with humankind and its history, bearing a message of salvation [good news] intended for all peoples. (Gaudium et Spes, preface 1, Huebsch, trans. 1997)

Truly, Good News for all.

God’s Plan of Love for All Humanity

posted May 4, 2024

As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you: abide in my love.... This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.

Have you ever tossed a rock into the center of a pond? One thing we might notice is the splash as the rock hits the water. More interesting is what happens to the whole pond. As the rock breaks the surface at the center, ripples spread outward from this center and ultimately reach even to the far shoreline.

This Sunday (6th Sunday of Easter) the Gospel shows Jesus leading us to see the loving relationship that is created between God as our loving parent and ourselves. This love of God, in fact brings a whole series of loving relationships into our world. As complex as Christian faith can seem to be, it is in fact founded on a simple revelation: God loves us, all of us.

Our scriptures reveal this relationship again and again. It is expressed in in the story of creation (Genesis), where God brings the gift of life out of chaos. We encounter it in the saving, liberating action of God as Israel is drawn from slavery in Egypt and led to become a People of God in the new land (Exodus). The prophet Jeremiah saw this love as a covenant of love written on the hearts of all peoples (Jer.31:31-34).

In the Incarnation, Jesus’ birth is a signal of Gods expansive love. God reveals this love in Jesus himself (John 3:16-17) and from Jesus this revelation is to reach out through us. Like the rock thrown into the center of the pond, Jesus breaks through the surface creating ripples of God’s love that reach to the far and distant shores of our world.

This is the chain of loving relationships that appears in our reading n this Sunday. (1 John 4:7-10 & John 15:9-17). Jesus received and accepted the Father’s love. He loved his disciples with this same love. As disciples we are to love one another as Jesus has loved us.

God’s plan for all humanity is a plan of love. The love of God is expressed in the gift of Jesus, God’s Son, to us. Jesus expresses this love in word and action and so touches the humanity we share. From this touch comes our call to do what Jesus has done and what God has revealed. We are to love one another. This is the plan of God that comes into our humanity and that is expressed when we, when humanity, loves as Jesus has shown.

What is one practical way in which my life reveals God’s love today?

Spiritual Life: Our Relationship with God

posted April 26, 2024

I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine grower. He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. (John 15:1-2

Outside a local church are a number of rose bushes. Each year they grow to a height of perhaps a meter and a half by Fall. Every spring a very diligent rose bush grower visits them with clippers and cuts them back to about 50 cms, and the cycle begins again. This process is called pruning.

Why would someone do this? Why do we prune these bushes? The diligent rose bush grower embarks on this process every spring in order to nurture and assist the development of strong, healthy, productive rose bushes. To leave the old growth on the bush saps the energy and the health of the rose bush. It is not just rose bushes that are assisted by such a process. Grape vines are similarly aided and nurtured by such pruning.

The Gospel writer John as we hear this Sunday (John 15:1-8) uses this image of pruning the vines to speak about the relationship of the disciple with Jesus. In John`s telling of the Good News Jesus proclaims to his friends: I am the vine, you are the branches. Like all grape vines, the branches call for pruning and the image of this process is how John leads us to reflecting on our spiritual life.

In some ways we all live two lives – biological life which involves all of our anatomy and how it operates, and spiritual life. This latter is more interior but it is significant as it energizes and gives fuller meaning and sense to our biological existence.

It is this spiritual life that involves our relationship with God. But it is not just about our relationship with God. It is also about our connections with one another – with our family and with our friends. And it is about our relationships within community. Our spiritual life is not about US. It is about our relationships with the Other and the others, with God and humanity and all creation.

It is this spiritual life that is the center of the image of pruning described in today`s Gospel. If we were to simply let the rose bushes go on without pruning every spring, they will still grow, but not in so healthy a fashion. We can have life (biological) and yet be lifeless. The desire and effort of developing spiritual life with constant care (pruning) brings a sense of meaning and energy to the person. It opens the path to new life and gives vision and hope. It connects us with the Other and with the lives of others.

Q/What is the condition of my spiritual life? What’s it look like?

Jesus Risen: Present with Us – A Source of Hope

posted April 20, 2024

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

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

During the season of Easter, we often read from the Book of the Act of the Apostles. The stories we find there tell us of our early ancestors in the faith, the first Christians. In Acts 4:7-12 we hear the story of Peter and other disciples who have been arrested after they cured a person in the name of Jesus. Standing before the authorities, the disciples testified that what they had done was act in the name of Jesus the Christ. The healing was to be seen as the outreach of God’s love. In the First Letter of John, we discover such outreach comes from the depths of our relationship with our loving God. The Letter state: See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are 1 John 3:1).

We often see ourselves living in the midst of world that does not express this. War and hatred, inequality and injustice, suffering and pain is evident in our world. The spiritual writer, Richard Rohr describes our life as Christian disciples as a “liminal space”, a kind of border land where we are leaving one state and moving on to a new one. Living in our world and seeking to build the Kingdom we often live between two worlds. We are ever “on the way” to the new.

In the “liminal space” we are to be a people of hope. Like all such challenges, we will pass through it to a new reality. But in the process of this passage, we will be changed. The world will be different from what we have been used to be. In the current “liminal space” we cannot know exactly all that is involved in this new reality.

The Easter experience of the disciples was just such a passage through a “liminal space”. They remembered Jesus as he walked with them.

Now they came to realize that like the shepherd with his flock, he continues to be with them, even though in different new way (cf.(John 10:11-18). They will live a new reality.

As God has traveled with us in the past, so the risen Jesus journeys with us now. Jesus is the gate through our current “liminal space”. He continues with us in a new reality. We may look and act in different ways on the other side, but that is as it has always been. As we continue to build the Kingdom where we happen to be, the Spirit of Jesus is with us and Jesus will continue to be with us, even or perhaps especially, in a new reality, for we are disciples of Jesus. Now that is something to trust in, with hope.

Encountering Jesus in the Breaking of the Bread

posted April 13, 2024

One of the three sacraments of initiation in our Catholic Christian church is Eucharist. In our regular celebration of this sacrament, we are acknowledging we are members of a community of faith. We entered this community through the three sacraments of initiation – Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist. Eucharist is food for our faith journey, sustaining us along the way and strengthening us with companions as we journey on our mission to share the Good News.

Can we live our faith in isolation? Are we able to be believers without a community? There are many who assert that they have a spirituality, but it is so personal that they live it with no community. It is their own and they do not need others to be part of their spiritual life. Christian faith, Christian spirituality is more than personal. It is very much a community experience. The Gospels express this in so many ways, none more significantly than in the accounts of the Risen Jesus appearing to the disciples. In many of these instances, the appearances occur as the disciples are gathered together. Not only are they together, they are together around a table, sharing a meal. Christian spirituality is strongly human.

Did you ever think about how many of our conversations take place over a cup of coffee or at a meal? It seems that the connections we make with others very often lead us to sitting down and sharing food and drink. Developing relationships and sharing a meal together seem so natural to us. Thus, it should come as little surprise that if we searched the Scriptures for the encounters his disciples had with Jesus after his resurrection, they frequently involved a meal. What we hear in this Sunday’s Gospel (Luke 24:35-48) is one of these encounters.

Luke’s account begins with a reference to an encounter that two disciples had with the Risen Jesus as they were walking along the road to Emmaus. What is striking is they noted that: Jesus had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread. These two disciples only recognized Jesus when they broke bread together.

There is something quite significant about this breaking of the bread. It is Eucharistic. The earliest Christians began to gather regularly as communities of believers. When they gathered they did so in a Eucharistic fashion, sharing stories of Jesus, recalling how the Jewish Old Testament Scriptures were fulfilled in him, sharing in the meal of the Eucharist and then noting that they were to be witnesses of all this to all nations.

It is in the gathering of the faith community, around the table of the Eucharist that we most commonly express the faith and Spirit that draws us together. It is here that we experience the presence of the Risen Jesus active in our midst. It is from this assembly of Christians that we go forth to serve as witnesses to the continuing love of God expressed in our world.

What Luke describes of the appearance of the Risen Jesus to the disciples is what we live each time we gather for the Eucharist and go out into the world in care and concern. The encounter with Jesus in the breaking of the bread is at the foundation of who are – disciples of Jesus, gifted with his Spirit, bringing his healing love and care to our world.

Easter and Our Journey of Faith Begins

posted April 6, 2024

Journeys are exciting and filled with adventure. Right now, I have a couple of friends who are on a journey and keeping us informed of their trek. They are on a camino in Portugal from Porto to Santiago de Compostella. This is a pilgrimage along coast of Portugal to the Cathedral in Santiago, Spain, a trek of about 270 kms. In all probability it will be a hike of c.10 days. Their first three days have been rainy and windy. Despite the challenges, they are in good spirits and happy about their days. Meeting others on the trail and encountering new experiences and places have been fulfilling. Faith is often described as a life journey. It has its challenges, but likewise it creates new vision and life for us.

Baptism is one of the three sacraments of initiation in our faith community. The other two are Confirmation and Eucharist. With Baptism, the door is opened into a community of faith and we begin our journey of faith life. In the journey, we join with other fellow Christians in a relationship with Jesus Christ. We call this relationship – discipleship. Along with our fellow believers we spend our lives nurturing this relationship, learning what it means for us and growing in our faith. In the end, this is a life-giving adventure which brings meaning to our lives.

In the Gospel of John there is a wonderful story that helps us to see the importance of the faith community in our personal relationship with God through Jesus (Jn.20:19-31). John describes the disciples of Jesus after the crucifixion. They are cowering in a locked room, fearing that they were going to be next on the cross. Gathered together, they experience the presence of the risen Jesus with them in that room. Jesus greets them with “Peace be with you.”

This experience of the presence of the risen Jesus that they had together broke through the isolation and fear that the disciples faced in that locked room. It opened the eyes of faith to see that the Spirit of Jesus continued among them and would bring them peace and strength for their journey. In addition, it opened them to realize that they had a mission, the same mission Jesus had shared with them – the reign of God was building in our world. They now had this mission to share as Good News for all peoples.

One of the disciples, Thomas was not present at the time of their experience. Later when they told him what had taken place, he refused to believe. His journey of faith had not begun. A week later, when the disciples again gathered in that room Thomas was with them. Again, they experienced the presence of the risen Jesus. Thomas’ eyes of faith were opened as he gathered with the other disciples. He immediately believed and joined in the mission they were given to share.

This story is one of Christian faith. Discipleship is a community call. In community, the disciples discovered faith their Risen Lord. Separated from t he community, Thomas was unable to believe. It was only when back with the circle of the disciples that his faith came to recognize this presence of the risen Jesus.

Faith in Jesus, Christian faith while it is personal, is not a private affair. We need a community of faith to assist and support us. We need others to join us in our journey. We need fellow believers with whom we can share our faith. Our mission is always to share the Good News. None of us can do this alone. Baptism is the first step into this community of faith. But it is only the first of many steps that we need to walk with others in this journey. We are baptized to be with others, for sake of all humanity.

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

posted March 30, 2024

 “[He] suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried; he descended into hell; on the third day he rose from the dead.” (Apostles Creed)

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

The resurrection stories in the Gospel present the disciples and friends of Jesus, the crucified one seeking him at the tomb, among the dead. They do not find him there. Nor would they find him in any place that represents domination, death, violence, greed, oppression and bondage. They would find him in the places of life and light, liberation and peace. This is where the risen one is to be found.

The resurrection sends Jesus back into the world. His resurrection proclaims that there is life after death, there is hope and promise. The power of evil, oppression and bondage is broken. The world and humanity are given new life.

What we may not realize is that like the risen Jesus, we too are sent back into the world, again and again. Despite all our many experiences of evil and failure in our own lives, our falling short in our calls to love and cherish one another – these “small deaths of our own do not define us. We are called to rise again, and again. As we do so, we bring the risen one with us. We carry Jesus into our world of families and friends, of commerce, economics and politics. We carry him into the places of oppression, bondage and poverty, of violence and suffering. As Jesus, we carry the resurrection and its hope. We bring what the risen one brings – PEACE. This is the Good News – we believe in the possibility of new life for all.

The spiritual writer, Carlo Carretto in “Blessed Are You Who Believed” describes the presence and power of the risen Jesus that we welcome into our lives and that we bear into our world. It is lived faith for us.

When you forgive your enemy, when you feed the hungry, when you defend the weak, you believe in the resurrection.

When you have the courage to marry, when you welcome a new-born child, when you make a home together, you believe in the resurrection.

When you wake at peace in the morning. When you sing to the rising sun.

When you go to work with joy, you believe in the resurrection.

The resurrection is for all. The promise of new life, of hope and healing, of peace and liberation is for all. The risen life of Jesus can take flesh and come alive in us.

Passion Sunday: God and a Suffering Humanity

posted March 23, 2024

One of the realities of our human existence is the presence of suffering in life. It is the personal suffering we might have in our own lives. It is also what touches us in the suffering of loved ones. Beyond what we experience in our own lives directly, we all know that we live in a global community that is constantly facing the challenge of a suffering in which we feel so helpless. War, poverty, natural disasters, injustice, inequalities, violence, these all bring suffering to our world and its people.

There is a question that is often asked in the light of this constant theme of suffering in our humanity. In the midst of the suffering that we face personally and that we see around us in the global community – where is God?

This weekend is Passion Sunday. As we do every year at the beginning of Holy Week, we listen to Mark’s telling of the story of Jesus’ passion and death. It is here perhaps that we discover something of a response to that question, “Where is God?” In the midst of the suffering we face personally and globally the answer we are seeking is often directed at how God will make things better – how God will intervene and heal our threatening illness or prevent the suffering of a loved one. We are asking why God did not intervene to avoid the destruction and death that came from a hurricane or a flood. We ask why God allows the injustice and the violence and inequalities that seem so prevalent in our world.

Listening to the story of the Passion of Jesus in Mark’s Gospel one of the most poignant images we are given is Jesus, on the cross, looking to heaven and crying out: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  On the cross, Jesus expresses the desolation he experiences through these words from the Old Testament Psalm 22. Of all the suffering that is part of the passion story the most painful is Jesus’ sense of being forsaken by all, by his friends and disciples and even by his Father-God. In the passion story, Jesus faces the suffering totally alone.

Is this isolation the real pain of all of our human suffering? Are we ever really alone in our suffering? Perhaps the fuller story of the Good News of God is that in suffering we are never totally alone. God may not prevent or cure or take away our suffering or that of humanity. But the Incarnation, our faith that God in Jesus joins and shares our humanity, is the response to the question: “Where is God?” On the cross, the Father-God remains with Jesus and the story of the passion reveals this in the resurrection.

In the midst of suffering, “Where is God? Through the Incarnation God sends the Son to live among us, to share our humanity, to be like us in all things, even our suffering. God does not intervene, but God does stand with us, all of us, in all suffering. We are never alone. God does not abandon us. In the presence of Jesus, even sharing our suffering humanity, God stands in solidarity with every human being. St. Paul grasped this wonder of God’s love constantly with us to comfort and to console. He expressed it to the little community of Christians in the town of Philippi so many centuries ago:

Christ Jesus, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:6-8).

Our Faith: In God and in Us

posted March 16, 2024

Our world is a fractured one in so many areas. The people of Gaza, Ukraine, Sudan, Myanmar, Yemen and many other parts of our world are facing lives disrupted by war and conflict today. In fact, the United Nations reports that conflict is on the rise in the last few years. We long for peace and an end to conflict.

This longing for peace is one of the central dreams of our faith. Repeatedly, Jesus calls upon his disciples to live together in peace. He passes on to them the gift of the Spirit that they may grow more and more to be like him and that they may have peace among them. As John describes Jesus preparing his disciples for his coming death and resurrection, he reassures them with these words: The hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, each one to his home, and you will leave me alone. Yet I am not alone because the Father is with me. I have said this to you, so that in me you may have peace (Jn.16:32). Peace lies at the center of our Christian faith and discipleship.

In Canada, the 5th Sunday of Lent has long focused on our pursuit of peace in our world. The Canadian Organization for Development and Peace partners with Caritas International. It is our faith community’s way of working to build peace around the Globe. Through assisting in local communities, it promotes their economic and social development. The development of strong local communities is seen as a way to promote global peace from the ground up. Such an approach builds a real faith that expresses the bond between God and all creation, one that rests in the heart of every human being.

On this Sunday, we hear the call to recognize this bond and to stand in solidarity with all of humanity holding the same dream for peace among us all and development that supports all.. What we believe, our faith, expresses who we are. It is, in so many ways, written on our hearts. This is what we hear in the words of the prophet Jeremiah (Jer.31:31-34):

I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God and they shall be my people.

God loves us, all of us, all the time.

God believes in us, trusts us. Can we believe in one another? A few years ago, on Solidarity Sunday, we received a creed, expressing this universal faith relationship with God and with all peoples. It came from a Christian community in Indonesia. Their creed is our creed. Their way of living faith, trust and love is our way as well.

We believe in God, Creator of us all, who has given the earth to all people. We believe in Jesus Christ, who came to encourage us and to heal us, to deliver us from oppression, to proclaim the peace of God to all humanity. Christ has given himself to our world, it is amongst all people that the Lord lives – the living God….We dare to believe, always and everywhere, in a new humanity, in God’s own dream of a new heaven and a new earth, where justice and peace will flourish.

Christian Faith: A Human & Divine Encounter

posted March 9, 2024

As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world (John 9:5)

How does Christian faith and an awareness of God enter our lives? There is no single, simple response to this question. But in most cases, it involves others, family, friends, even sometimes, persons we just happen to meet in a community in which we find ourselves. Even when we enter a community of faith as small children, it will be a life-long process of growth as we meet others who present us with a living faith that engages us.

Pope Francis, as he began his papacy in 2013 issued and encyclical letter entitled “The Joy of the Gospel” (Evangelii Gaudium). It emphasized the mission that has been bestowed on every Christian from their very baptism. As he put it: I dream of a ‘missionary option’, that is, a missionary impulse capable of transforming everything, so that the Church’s ways of doing things, times and schedules, language and structures can be suitably channeled for the evangelization of today’s world rather than for her self-preservation (EV 27).

This vision a Christian community of disciples as sharers of the Good News is one of the motivating elements of the current gatherings underway in the Catholic community. The Synod on Synodality, unusual or unfamiliar as the phrase may sound, is really about opening the vision of Church in which all members are active sharers of the faith for the sake of others. Our faith is always a communal faith. We hold Christian faith so that it might be given away to others and that all might gain new life through this Good News.

On this 4th Sunday of Lent there are two options for the Gospel reading. One of them is directed to those just entering our community as newly baptized, but it also speaks to all of us who may have been baptized years ago.

It is the story of person who has an initial encounter with faith and Jesus (John 9:1-41). It relates the gradual and progressive way in which a blind man slowly arrives at sight and light and faith through the encounter.  This is an evangelization story. In many ways it expresses how the faith of any one of us has been planted and nurtured through encounters with others and their faith.

As John relates, Jesus encounters a man who has been blind from birth. He reaches out to the man and heals his blindness, restoring his sight. This is a wondrous act, a miracle. Suddenly, a person who could not see regains sight. But there is a bigger wonder, a greater miracle that is found in this story. The blind man gained his physical sight, but then gradually he came to a new kind of sight as well. He came to see with spiritual vision.

The spiritual sight gained by the blind man in John’s Gospel was very gradual and involved many others, including his neighbours, some Pharisees, as well as another encounter with Jesus, in which the man expresses his faith that Jesus is the Son of Man, the active presence of God among us. It had been a difficult process and one that involved energy, time and a willingness to trust for the man. Spiritual sight was an awareness of God with him in the person of Jesus and a world that had changed with that presence.

A disciple’s faith is like this. It involves a search or quest for understanding. It also involves the examples and engagement with others and a sharing of the faith lived. And, it involves the wonder of grace, God’s life that is ever with us all.

Our Covenant of Love with God

posted March 2, 2024

What is our relationship with God? In ancient times, there was often an attitude of bargaining or exchange with God. This was the attitude which lay behind the practice of offering sacrifice. Such sacrifices of animals, crops or other gifts were a way of dealing with God. In exchange for the offerings, God would care for and protect the one who sacrificed. This was the role of what we see in the Temple in Jerusalem. The Temple was a concrete sign that God dwells among God’s People. It represented the relationship between God and the People of God.

For Israel, this relationship was much like a marriage. It was seen as a covenant relationship in which each expressed its commitment to the other. The Old Testament is filled with many examples of such agreements. But the great covenant for Israel was the one founded on Mount Sinai during the Exodus from Egypt. God who had chosen Israel, liberated and led them from slavery in Egypt, through the desert of Sinai to a new land.

In the course of this journey, Israel became aware of the special relationship that they had with this saving God. They recognized themselves as special, a people saved from bondage by their God and held in a covenant relationship with this God. In response to their liberation, the People’s call is related in the Book of Exodus, more explicitly in Exodus chapter 19 – 20ff on Mount Sinai. This is Israel’s responsibility in their covenant with God.

The awareness of the covenant relationship evolves over time like any relationship, and we see this evolution expressed later in the Old Testament in the words of some of the prophets. Perhaps one of the most significant growths of the covenant relationship comes with Jeremiah, who looks ahead to a new covenant for God’s People. He indicates that it will not be like the covenant made at Sinai on tablets of stone: “This is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel…. I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people (Jer.31:33)”.

In the person of Jesus, we have this new covenant represented. It is a covenant that creates an open relationship with God. Jesus’s death and resurrection is the sacrifice of the new covenant, replacing the sacrifices of the Temple. These sacrifices were like prices and costs constantly having to be paid as a sign that the people’s relationship with God was a part of a bargain.

In John’s Gospel (Jn.2:13-25) we find the story of Jesus’ cleansing the Temple. It is a story that sometimes surprises us as we see Jesus expressing upset at what he finds there. John tells the story as a lead into seeing our relationship with God in a new light. For Israel, the Temple was the sign and symbol of God’s presence in their midst. It was the place of sacrifice to God. As Jesus speaks to the people in the Temple, he redirects their attention from the physical Temple building to himself as the Temple. The Gospel account points out that this all came to make sense to the disciples after the Resurrection.

Jesus then, becomes the sign of God’s presence among us. He represents a new way of seeing our relationship with God. God’s care and love is not dependent on what we offer to God. It is not affected by sacrifices we might present. It is not the result of bargaining with God. Our relationship with God is a free and unconditional gift from God. We do not have to bargain or win God’s love and we cannot lose it. It is always there for us. The response is to accept this love in all its expressions and to honour the giver of all life.

Pope Francis has expressed this sentiment in many ways. Not the least of these is in his encyclical Laudato Si. Encyclical on Climate Change & Inequality (2015). As he begins this appeal “On the Care of Our Common Home”, he emphasizes that the earth is our indeed our “common home” and we have a shared interest and responsibility for it and for all creatures with whom we share this “home”. Further, he points out that we are not left to our own devices in this. He holds that God who created all out of love, continues to love what he has created. He points out: “The Creator does not abandon us; he never forsakes his loving plan or repents of having created us. Humanity still has the ability to work together in building our common home (LS. 13).” We are Temple of God’s making, the object of God’s love. We open to the new and ready to let go of what has been?

Going to the Mountain – Visions & Dreams

posted February 23, 2024

Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. There he was transfigured before them....

Every year on the Second Sunday of Lent we listen to the story of the transfiguration. This year we hear the account as told by the Gospel writer Mark. Transfiguration is not a common word for us, but it does describe something that is quite often part of our experience. Transfiguration expresses change, transformation. It describes someone showing a different side or image of themselves. On that “high mountain apart, by themselves” this is what Mark describes happened for those three disciples. They had a vision of who Jesus is.

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

This is a story of vision. Peter and James and John have a vision. They glimpse Jesus in radiant light, expressing the presence of God in their midst. He is accompanied by the prophets Elijah and by Moses who led God’s People into covenant with God and brought them from slavery to liberation. These were the twin pillars of the faith of Israel in God – the law and the prophets. The vision of Peter, James and John now brought them to see this faith fulfilled in Jesus.

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

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

The transfiguration is not only about Jesus. The vision is also about the disciples and their mission. And, it is about us and the way of life we are called to imitate. It is about our own transformation and becoming. Whether we realize it or not, following in the steps of Jesus and blessed

with the Spirit, we are meant to transform and transfigure all creation. In our own time and world, our mission is to transform our relationships, our Church, our community and our world.

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

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

Our Desert Journey: Lent 2024

posted February 16, 2024

When I was young, Lent was about what I was going to give up – candy, movies. Later it took on something like the New Year’s resolution – what can I do to become better at something. Certainly, that is an improvement. But perhaps there is more.

Our observance of Lent has its origins in the early Christian church and is associated with the sacraments of Initiation, Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist. These sacraments of welcome generally would take place at Easter. From the earliest of times, Christians developed a process for welcoming new member into the community. When the person was ready to ask for baptism at Easter, there was a final short, more intense period of prayer, fasting and good works. This was Lent – a time of transformation, of conversion.

A scriptural image of this period of intense prayer and fasting and discovery of mission is found in the Gospels. We see it in the desert experience of Jesus. Mark’s version of this is brief (1:12-15). After his baptism, Jesus ventured into the desert. There, he searched for where the Spirit was leading him. He struggled with temptations. In that desert, Jesus found his call as well as his mission. Filled with the Spirit, he came out of the desert proclaiming the Good News of the Kingdom.

Lent every year is our desert experience, a time to rediscover our connection with our loving parent God. In the desert of Lent we step back and look at where we are in our journey, our personal Camino. We have been baptized into Christ. What does this really mean for us? How does being members of this community of faith affect us and direct our journey, personally and but also as a community? We do this every year. But this year may be especially significant.

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

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

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

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

Jesus: Spirit of Compassion and Inclusion

posted February 9, 2024

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

Imagine what this was like for the leper. Such a person was condemned to isolation, cut off from family, from neighbours, from friends. They were doomed to live “outside the camp” by themselves. Only when their disease no longer affected them could they return to be with the community. Hence, they had a need to prove they no longer had the disease. In Israel, the physically unclean state that a person was deemed to have as a result of leprosy also gave rise to what was regarded as ritual uncleanness. To prove they were ready to return to the community required an approval from the priests in the Temple.

In Mark’s Gospel, Jesus encounters a leper facing such exclusion (Mk.1:40-45). The leper asks for healing. Jesus responds with compassion. He reaches out and touches the leper. It is a significant action on Jesus’ part. He crosses the boundary line of exclusion, both the physical barrier and the ritual one. To reach out and touch was a risk, for crossing these barrier places Jesus in danger of physical contamination and also ritual uncleanness.

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

We encounter many “outsiders” in our lifetime. Sometimes we may even be “outsiders” ourselves. Perhaps our “outsiders” are those facing burdens – poverty, unemployment, life struggles, and addictions of any kind.

The “outsiders” may be those who have lost a spouse, those who are of a different race or ethnic group. The “outsider” may be the stranger in our midst, the new person in the neighbourhood or parish. The “outsider” may be the one who is bullied in school, the one who is “different” in whatever way from others. Are we able to reach out with healing inclusion as Jesus did with his touch?

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

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

Being a Disciple of Jesus in the Midst of Life

posted February 2, 2024

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Reign of God and Crossing Boundaries

posted January 28, 2024

Mark, in his Gospel, describes Jesus coming into a synagogue (sacred space) on a Sabbath day (a sacred time). While teaching in this place, he encounters a man with an unclean spirit. In Israel such a person was ritually unclean and thus to be avoided. A person was deemed to be holy to the degree they kept away from the unholy, the unclean. Sometimes this was certain foods, certain action or on occasion, certain people. The man possessed of an unclean spirit was one of these last.

Jesus knows of this demand for avoidance. He does not allow himself to be bound. Rather he crosses the boundary for the sake of the Kingdom, for the sake of the Reign of God. Jesus recognizes that, far from being limited by the ritual purity law his mission is to cross over to bring life to those in need. In doing so, he brings the Reign, its liberation and its healing to the man with the unclean spirit.

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

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

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

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

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

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

God’s Reign for Humanity and All Creation

posted January 19, 2024

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

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

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

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

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

Jesus’ proclamation that the reign of God is close at hand grows out of this way of seeing God as present in our history, our present, our future and in all of creation. As Jesus begins his ministry he announces that God is about to break into our world in a new and powerful way. He will announce this reign time and again in his words and he will reveal it in his actions of healing, reconciling and bringing people together in peace. It will be this completed, fulfilled reign of God that will bring peace and harmony to humanity and healing and wholeness to creation.

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

The future reign of God is about the gathering up by God into a condition of fulfilment nd transformation of all the human efforts in this life which are directed towards the creation of peace and justice in the world around us.... The reign of God is ultimately about re-establishing right relationships between God and humanity, between humanity and the individual, between humanity and the whole of creation. (Lane. Christ at the Centre 21)

Advent to Christmas: Hope

posted December 23, 2023

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Advent People: A Community of Hope and Joy

posted December 16, 2023

The joy and the hope, the grief and the anguish of the people of our time, especially of those who are poor or afflicted in any way, are the joy and the hope, the grief and the anguish of the followers of Christ as well.

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

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

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

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

Testifying and living “God’s style”, is our way of sharing the Good News, and to reveal it in the words and actions of our lives. The Old Testament prophet Isaiah, whom we hear so often in the Advent season describes his own call as prophet,… and also who we are as witnesses:
The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; He has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind-up the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; (Is.61:1)

May Advent be a season of many blessings for us, for our community and for our world.

Advent: A Time of Hope & A Change of Heart

posted December 9, 2023

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

posted December 1, 2023

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

We meet the Old Testament prophet, Isaiah as he seeks to console and reassure God’s People, Israel in the midst of their worries, trials and threats. He offers them the image of their God as a loving parent. It is this God who gave and continues to sustain and shape their life. In hope, they are to see they are the work of God’s hand.

We cross paths with John the Baptist as he announces that a wondrous coming of God among us is about to happen. God whose hand has shaped us is about to step into the life of humanity again. God’s voice will be heard bringing hope of a world renewed, building a reign of God for all.

Finally, we encounter Mary. We discover the simple, loving and very human way in which God reaches out to touch our humanity, in the birth of a child. Like every other child this birth brings us one who is our hope, who seems so fragile yet who offers such promise. Mary is the human instrument of this wonder of Emmanuel, God-with-us.

Each of us and every human being has been loved into life, shaped by a creator God who continues to love us (Is.63:16-17; 64:1-8). St. Paul recognized that Jesus through the mother-love of Mary was born for us, that we might know the loving gaze that God has for us all (1 Cor.1:3-9).

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Kingdom Near Us, With Us & Among Us

posted November 24, 2023

Beginnings and endings are important. The first looks to the future, our goals, our aims our hopes and dreams. The second is about our arrivals, our fulfillment, our completions and results. In between, there is all the effort, the work, the challenges and struggles, the attempts and the failures, the twists and turns of the journey. Life is just such a journey, in fact, a host of journeys. What we may sometimes not be aware of in the picture is the way in which the Spirit journeys with us, from beginning to end.

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

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

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

Our sacred stories in the Scriptures present us with the good news of the Kingdom of God, hopeful news, signs of God’s love and constant presence among us. Matthew’s Gospel begins with telling the story of the beginning – God has come among us, taking on our humanity in Jesus, an expression of God’s love (Matt 1:18-23). This is the Incarnation.

Jesus begins his mission with the great challenge to all humanity: He announced: “Repent, for the Kingdom of heaven has come near.” (Matt 4:17). This was the message we heard ten months ago, in January. We were called to recognize we are not alone in our life journey.

“Emmanuel”, God is with us. This is the core message of Jesus, the Christ. His work among the poor and the suffering, the sick and the sinner was to heal and renew. This is Good News, the Gospel.

What is also Good News is that Jesus shared not only his message, but also shared his mission. The Reign of God has begun among us. We are Jesus present here and now. Like Jesus, in word and in action and gifted with his Spirit, we are to make God’s Kingdom present and alive in our world.

Our faith is relational. It is built and expressed in how we live with one another, for we are disciples of Jesus, together called to bring the Kingdom to the world, to all humanity. In that fulfilled and completed Kingdom, Jesus the Christ will say: “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did it to me.” (Matt 25:31-40)

Courage and Building the Kingdom of God

posted November 17, 2023

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Seeking & Discovering the Reign of God

posted November 11, 2023

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

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

Our Gospel this weekend (Matt 25:1-13) is about encounters and discovery. The ten bridesmaids were waiting for the coming of the groom. He was late arriving and when he did come, some were prepared, some were not. Why does Matthew tell this parable of Jesus?

Like all the parables they are told first for the little communities of Christians to whom the Gospel writers belong. These early Christians of the first generation after resurrection, expected Jesus to return in glory soon, even in their lifetime. As time went by, the return was delayed, like the groom’s coming. Some were discouraged by this delay. Matthew’s parable is to urge Christians to wait patiently and be prepared for the encounter when they would meet their risen Lord: “Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”

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

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

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

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

Our Formation to a Listening and Inclusive Church

posted November 3, 2023

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Life in the Kingdom of God

posted October 27, 2023

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

Our vision must be directed beyond our own limited world, for the common good of all peoples. The peace and well-being of all must be our concern, especially the peace and well-being of the most vulnerable of our world. To have this breadth of concern is to express what is found in Pope Francis’s encyclical letter, Fratelli tutti (3 Oct 2020). For Francis, we are all sisters and brothers. Everyone is our neighbour. Since we all share a common humanity. We are “Neighbours without borders”.

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

The fundamental message and mission of Jesus and the Gospels is to proclaim that the Kingdom of God is among us, all of us. What does it mean? The Good News of Jesus Christ may be stated in this way. As a people of the Kingdom, we see ourselves as living in a loving relationship with God as the community of God’s People, and in love and respect for one another and for all creation. Such loving a relationship with all creation is the fullness of living faith. It is summarized by the Gospel writer Matthew in two commandments – loving God and loving our neighbour (Matt 22:34-40).

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

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

We are a community of disciples, a sign and sacrament of God and God’s Kingdom in the midst of our world. How we live makes the Reign of God come alive. Together, in every Eucharistic gathering, we pray the Our Father and we hear ourselves ask of God “Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” To do so is to pray for the fullness of the kingdom, among us, a kingdom of justice, peace and love in our common home.

Encountering God in our World

posted October 22, 2023

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

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

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

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

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

In Matthew’s Gospel, we hear one of the stories of Jesus’ discussing with the Pharisees. They try to trap him into denying his Judaism or into speaking against Roman authority. Jesus response to them is to do neither. As we hear this story, however, we are drawn into a recognition that faith and our relationship with God is lived out in the midst of the secular world. Jesus points out to the Pharisees that they are to give to God what belongs to God and to the emperor what belongs to him.

We live in a complex world of the secular and the spiritual. Neither denies or excludes the other. The story of Christian faith is founded on what we refer to as the Incarnation. That is, one of the foundations of our faith is that God enters our human condition in the person of Jesus Christ, God and human. This basic belief is the fullest expression that God speaks to us in human terms. This belief is a proclamation that all humanity, all human life, all human history is touched by the presence of God. God truly does speak to us in human terms? Do we hear and recognize God in creation, in humanity, in one another? To do so is to know that God really does care and that we can see it all around ourselves.

Joining Together in the Kingdom of God

posted October 13, 2023

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Synod: A Time of Grace, Building Church Together

posted October 7, 2023

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Peace: God’s Dream

posted October 3, 2023

There is a basic human longing that we all share. We want peace. We want it for our world, we want it for our communities, for our families and we even desire an interior peace for ourselves. To live in peace with one another is a key to healthy relationships. Both around us and within us, we are often without peace. Our lives face division, conflict and animosity globally, communally and personally. It is the great challenge for our humanity and indeed for all creation

It is the great challenge to God’s dream. God’s Reign is not intended to be this way. The Reign of God is to be marked by peace and reconciliation, by mercy, love and compassion for all. We are one humanity under God’s heaven and we share a creation that is entirely a gift of God’s love. This Reign of God is central to Jesus’s mission and message. As disciples of Jesus our call is to hold this message and share it as our mission as well.

The message and mission are not always held firmly in our hearts and actions. It is what we want and hope, but our actions reveal our inabilities and lack of will. The Gospel writer, Matthew relates a story, a parable of Jesus. It tells of a man who had two sons. One he asked to go work in the vineyard. This son said he would go, but did not. A second son, when told to go, said he would not, but he had a change of heart and in fact did go (Matt 21:28-32). This is a story of discipleship and commitment, of willingness to accept the call and carry it into action.

The story expresses the reality of our lives as disciples. Often, we commit, but do not carry it further. We need to know that even if we reject the call or fail in the commitment, we can have a change of heart. God’s Reign is never beyond our reach, for God is a God of love, compassion and mercy. God never gives up on us, nor should we. Hope is eternal, in God’s Reign.

As disciples of Jesus, we are called to live in peace with one another, sharing peace with our world. It begins with our own relationships. The earliest Christian communities were recognized by some for how they lived with one another. Almost 2000 years ago, a Christian writer, Tertulian (c.160-220), noted the way non-Christians around his community regarded the Christians. As he wrote, they said: “See . . . how they love one another and how they are ready to die for each other.” It is how we live that speaks to our world.

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

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

Surprised by God: Wonder

posted September 22, 2023

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

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

God is hard to describe in human language. The efforts we make to do so always fall short. About the best we can do is to describe God with the human qualities we have, just more of them. None of this, however, is satisfying. God is not us, not human. God does not judge, like we do. God does not demand our attention, like we do. God does not wait until we ask, like we do. God does not limit love, like we do, and so on, and so on.

God does, however, speak to us. The language of God is often best seen in what we experience, in the images that are all around us. The wonder of the universe, the amazing harmony that we sometimes see in Creation these are expressions of God’s loving presence among us. The same we can notice in something so close to us as our own humanity. The evolution of humanity and the other creatures that surround us speak to us of the life-giving love of our God.

As well, God has spoken to us in the person of Jesus. This is one of the principal lessons from what we call the Incarnation. Our Scriptures repeatedly point out the significance of this wondrous act of God, as a sign of generous love. The Gospel of John has Jesus expressing this to Nicodemus, a leader of the community: “God so loved the world that he gave us his only Son so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)

At the center of Jesus’s message is the image of our God whose love is abundant, who gives generously. Take a careful look at the parable of Jesus in Matthew’s Gospel.(Matt.20:1-16). Jesus relates the story of a landowner who goes out at various times throughout the day in order to hire workers. At the end of the day, no matter what time they started work, all of them receive the same daily wage. It comes as a surprise to all and those who worked from the very start of the day complain that it was unjust. The response of the landowner is to point out his generosity.

This is a parable about the Kingdom of God. There is no limit or demand that God sets to enter the reign of God. It is all generosity and gift. This is our God. Any Christian community is called to reflect this reign of God. All are invited, all are to be welcomed with the same warmth into the Kingdom and into the community, even those who have drifted or turned away. Such a reign of God is a revelation of God’s unconditional love. Truly, our God is an amazing God – a God of wonder.

The Cross: Symbol of Love & Hope

posted September 15, 2023

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Our Christian Church: Who Are We?

posted September 11, 2023

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Cost of Being a Disciple of Jesus

posted September 5, 2023

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Living with Uncertainties and Discoveries

posted August 24, 2023

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

posted August 19, 2023

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We Are Not Alone

posted August 11, 2023

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

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

As the story unfolds, the Gospel takes us further. Relating the account of Jesus’s encounter with a Pharisee named Nicodemus, Jesus tells him: “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”(John 3:16-17) Salvation comes in recognizing that God comes among us and shares in our human story, even in the midst of our questions, uncertainties and the unknowns. In these anxious times, we need to know that our “being in this together” includes God who shares our humanity. The Incarnation tells us how we are saved.

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

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

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

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

Discipleship and Discovery

posted August 4, 2023

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Kingdom of God and our Quest in Life

posted July 28, 2023

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

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

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

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

- What do I want or seek in Life?

- What do I set my heart upon?

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

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

The Reign of God Among us

posted July 22, 2023

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Reign of God: Our Life-long Quest

posted July 15, 2023

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Burdens & Blessings

posted July 15, 2023

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


The Challenge of Discipleship
Choosing Jesus: Our Master and Mentor

posted July 1, 2023

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

posted June 22, 2023

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Disciple Formation – Now what?

posted June 17, 2023

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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