Sunday, October 16, 2016

Our Covenant of One: A Pittance of Time

On the morning of November 11, 1999, a singer and songwriter named Terry Kelly was in a drug store in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia. At 10:55 a.m. an announcement came over the store's PA asking customers  to give two minutes of silence at eleven o'clock.

When eleven o'clock arrived, the announcement was repeated and the customers stopped and showed their respect for those who had made the ultimate sacrifice in war. All but one, that is. One man, accompanied by his young child, tried to get a clerk to serve him during the period of silence.

Terry Kelly is blind, so he couldn't see the man. But he heard him, and it made him angry. From his anger came a song that will, I think, be heard on Remembrance Day for many years to come.

When our school children sing the song "A Pittance of Time" at their Remembrance Day service the anger is gone but the message remains powerful.

Take two minutes, would you mind?

It's a pittance of time,
For the boys and the girls who went over.
In peace may they rest, may we never
Forget why they died.
It's a pittance of time.

Today, our parish renews its annual Covenant of One, three Sundays when we ask ourselves how we have shared our time, talent and treasure with God and with one another.

Today, in particular, we renew our commitment to spending time in prayer.

Jesus points us in the right direction in this morning's Gospel. He reminds us of the power of prayer, and of how constant prayer keeps our hearts strong and grows our faith.

And the first reading is a beautiful example of keeping up our prayer even when we're weary.

But what does Jesus mean when he tells us "to pray always"?  Many of us have enough trouble praying sometimes.

Father Robert Spitzer offers one beautiful answer in his book Five Pillars of the Spiritual Life.  He suggests that we need to have short spontaneous prayers ready at every moment. The first one he proposes is just "Help!" He says that little prayer is enough to bring us a host of graces from the loving heart of God.

His favourite spontaneous prayer is one we've all memorized already: "Thy will be done."  Father Spitzer says "If we give our problems over to God by praying, 'Thy will be done,' He will bring good for us, others, the community, the culture, and His kingdom out of the most bizarre, tragic, desolate, angering, hurtful, fearful, tempting and confusing dimensions of our lives."

Another way to pray always is to develop an awareness that God is working through all the events of our daily life. He is present in good times and bad, always seeking to reveal himself to us.

St. Ignatius of Loyola gave us a simple and effective way to find God in everyday life. It's a process of prayer where we look back on our day, with the help of the Holy Spirit, and find God there, We also recognize those moments when we noticed him and those when we may have turned away.

There are numerous approaches to St. Ignatius's method of examining ourselves and our day, but Matthew Kelly gives us a seven-point version that he's printed on a card small enough for a wallet or shirt pocket. We've bought copies for each of you to take home--on one condition!

The condition is that you're ready to renew your Covenant of One by pledging to the Lord an hour of prayer. Matthew Kelly's prayer process takes less than ten minutes a day; do it daily, and you've fulfilled that pledge.

It's a pittance of time, when you think of it, lest we forget the One whose sacrifice was the greatest of all.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Plant those mustard seeds! (27.C)

When I was in high school I read a novel that I’ve never forgotten. It was the story of a priest who took today’s Gospel seriously. Well, to be more precise, he took seriously the version of today’s Gospel that we read in the Gospels of Matthew and Mark, since they both record Jesus talking about moving mountains rather than mulberry bushes.

The book, written in 1931 (when I was not in high school, just for the record), was called “Father Malachy’s Miracle.” It tells how a humble monk asked God to move a dance hall—the closest thing to a night club in a seaside village—to a barren island off the coast of Scotland. He’d made the prayer after a Protestant minister scoffed at miracles.

The moral of the story was quite simple. The miracle didn’t achieve anything. Poor Father Malachy got in trouble with both the bishop and the dance hall owner. And if my memory serves me right, even the minister was not impressed.

That’s not to say Father Malachy didn’t achieve anything by taking today’s Gospel seriously. In a fictional way, he accomplished something very important: he taught me not to take today’s Gospel seriously.

At least not to take it literally—for that is really and truly to miss what Jesus is saying to us.

In the first place, we get sidetracked if we take his words literally. It almost sounds like Jesus is daring his disciples. You can’t uproot trees (or move mountains), therefore your faith must be smaller than a mustard seed.

In St. Luke’s account of Christ’s teaching that we read today, Jesus talks about planting a tree in the sea. Right off the bat this suggests his point isn’t to be taken literally. What on earth’s the good of planting a tree in the sea? It could neither take root nor be sustained by salt water.

Moving mountains has more appeal. Let’s improve things for local skiers and pray Blackcomb Mountain moves to the North Shore. Go ahead—try it.

No luck? Ah, no faith. That’s the way it feels.

But I sure don’t think it’s the message Jesus is giving us.

Let’s look again at the text. The apostles say “Increase our faith!” It’s a sincere and simple a prayer. So often they ask Jesus for the wrong thing, but this time they get it right. Do you think he would answer with a taunt, an impossible proposal, or a silly experiment?

Is that what he says to us today? No miracle, no faith?

Surely not. So what is the message of today’s Gospel?

I suggest it has to do with the mustard seed. And not so much with its size but the mere fact it’s a seed. What do you do with seeds? You plant them. You water them. You give them light. And they grow.

That’s what Jesus is saying. Plant the seed of faith you have—tiny though it may be—and watch it grow. Don’t think about the faith you lack—nurture the faith you have!

The apostles give us a great example; a three-word prayer for an increase in faith. The Bible gives us another great prayer to use: the father of a sick boy says “I believe; help my unbelief.”

Prayer plants, waters and gives light to the seed of faith, but growth also requires nutrients like reflection and study. We want to have more faith—people often speak to me about how they envy the faith of this person or that—but we don’t read the Catechism, subscribe to a magazine like The Word Among Us, or attend a parish faith formation event from one year to the next.

Not one new parishioner showed up at the first two Tuesday evenings of Symbolon, our engaging series on the Catholic faith. We were very happy to welcome back several faithful folk from last year, and delighted that some inquirers had come; but it seems everyone in the parish is comfortable they know what they need to know about the Lord, his teaching and his Church.

For a seed to produce a thriving plant, some weeding may also be necessary. Habits of sin, of course, can block the development of our faith—although, often enough, it’s faith in God’s mercy that permits us to carry on despite our failures. Maybe the weeds we need to uproot are some of the things that make us too busy to pray, to read, or to join with others in the study of our faith.

This is very bad time to face life without strong faith. Just like the prophet Habakkuk in the first reading, we see violence and destruction all around. We see the enemies of God winning battle after battle, despite our prayers and his promises of victory.

St. Paul does a better job than I can of urging us forward in faith. He doesn’t use the image of seeds but of embers—rekindle the gift of God you received in baptism and confirmation. Another translation puts it even better: fan it into a flame!

Sherry Weddell, the author of “Forming Intentional Disciples,” shared some powerful words from St. John Paul’s document on catechesis when she spoke in Vancouver last month. He wrote that there are baptized Catholics without any significant personal attachment to Jesus Christ. They only have the capacity to believe placed within them by Baptism and the presence of the Holy Spirit (cf. Catechesi tradendae, 19).

The bad news is that some of those Catholics may be in Church today. Perhaps their parents didn’t share the faith with them, or perhaps their teachers or priests failed to present Jesus and his message in convincing way.

But the good news is that they do have the capacity to believe, given to them in Baptism and Confirmation. The seed is there! It may be tiny, but it is there, and God put it there!

Wherever we are on the journey of faith, the Word of God tells us today that there are greater things to come—if we will fan those embers into a flame by prayer and study. Not the faith that moves trees and mountains, but the faith that sees us through suffering, fear, grief and every other challenge that we’ll meet through life.

That’s the true miracle of faith.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Christians Don't Compartmentalize (25.C)

I hesitated about posting today's homily, since it's little more than a rewrite of the words of Father S. Joseph Krempa, from his book "Captured Fire: The Sunday Homilies, Cycle C." Father Krempa is a master homilist and I'm rarely able to improve on what he says or how he says it. Nonetheless, I decided to post these unoriginal thoughts anyway, with my admiration and thanks to him. On, the three-volume set of his homilies is only available for download to Kindle but the books may be purchased in the U.S. on

Channel surfing. It’s something we all do. We use the remote to run through the channels, stopping here and stopping there as this or that holds our attention for a while.

Our life can be like that. It's called compartmentalization. One compartment's our job. Another’s our family life. A third is our Church. Another is our life as citizens and voters. Every day we switch from one channel to another without connecting them.

Putting things in compartments sounds like a pretty good idea; it keeps things tidy. However, psychologists call compartmentalization a defense mechanism. It’s not healthy behavior at all.

Someone whose actions reflect their deepest convictions is an integrated person—from the Latin word for whole. In every aspect of life, the integrated person is guided by one set of values, one set of personal convictions.

By contrast, when we separate parts of ourselves from other parts, acting as if we had separate sets of values, we are disintegrating—moving away from wholeness.

Today, our readings take aim at compartmentalization. They ask us to wrestle with our tendency to keep what we believe in a different box from how we think and act in everyday life.

In the first reading, the Old Testament prophet Amos gives us a snapshot of some merchants, bored to death at the synagogue, waiting for the service to end so they can get back to cheating and shortchanging people. They’re a classic example of compartmentalization, separating their religious duties from their work.

You’ve all heard sermons on this. We know it’s crucial that our faith influences our decisions and behavior at work or school. That’s familiar Christian teaching. Most of us aren’t so compartmentalized that we forget we’re Catholics when we head off to work; most of us have a pretty good idea what our faith demands of us in our various kinds of employment, whether we got it from the Ten Commandments or from the social teaching of the Church.

But the first reading is just a warm-up. The second reading, from St. Paul’s Letter to Timothy, takes us a bit deeper into the subject. Many of us watch politics on a channel that’s far distant from our beliefs.

I can say that because I still remember research I did as a political science student at UBC, more years ago than I care to remember. Catholic voting behavior was largely based on family voting history, not on issues.

Much has changed in Canadian politics since then, but it’s safe to say that issues of great importance to Catholics still do not, by and large, make a great difference to how they vote. “I’m a Liberal,” or “I’m a Conservative,” or “I’m a New Democrat” can be the same as saying “I don’t let my beliefs get in my way at the ballot box.”

Quite rightly, the Church doesn’t tell Catholics who to vote for. But it tells them how to vote—with prayerful consideration of the issues in the light of faith. And St. Paul tells us another way to let faith influence our lives as citizens. He urges us to pray for those who get elected: first, because they need our prayers, and second, because our lives as citizens cannot be in a different compartment from our Christian lives.

Finally, we get to the Gospel. It’s a bit confusing. Is Jesus praising the dishonest manager? If he is, it’s only to get our attention. The manager knows that money used wisely makes a difference, even when it’s used dishonestly.

If Jesus commends the crooked employee’s efforts to secure his future by using someone else’s cash, what might he be saying to us about the way we use our own money?

Before answering the question, let me throw out a few others. Do we put as much thought into planning our spiritual lives as we do when planning our finances? Do we put more effort into taking care of our bodies than in caring for our souls?

Many people think nothing of hitting the gym two or three times a week, but can’t find time for church or personal prayer. Others have read several books about nutrition, investment planning or retirement—but not one about prayer or the spiritual life. Take a moment now and ask yourself the titles of the last three non-fiction books you read.

We attend seminars on real estate trends but never a Bible study.

All of this, for those who believe the message of Jesus and his promise of eternal life, counts as compartmentalization. I’m not saying, of course, that we shouldn’t keep fit, plan for retirement, or eat wisely—far from it. But faith needs to shape everything we do.

This means we must show the same ingenuity, planning and effort in our spiritual lives as we do in other aspects of life. And this includes our finances. The message Jesus gives us in the curious parable today is that we should imitate the dishonest steward not in his dishonesty but in his wise use of money to secure his future.

For the Christian, this means knowing that the soul is the most important investment we make. Sacrificial giving to the Church, other charities, and our community pays an eternal dividend. The same can be true about estate planning. And money spent on Catholic education, which we support today through our second collection, is a perfect example. It’s a spiritual investment in youth—and in our own eternal future.

Today’s readings began with the obvious: what you believe must govern what you do—at work, at home, at school. It’s contradictory at best and hypocritical at worst to say “well, that’s how the world works” to justify dishonest practices at work or cheating at school.

But the Gospel takes us to a more demanding challenge—breaking down every compartment so that our spiritual priorities shape our financial ones. That calls for some soul-searching and prayerful thinking.

A few years ago they came up with a dual channel TV. You could watch one program at the same time another one—usually sports—played in a smaller box on the screen. It was marketed as a way of saving marriages!

I’m not sure the gizmo caught on, but it’s a great way to think about the message of today’s Scriptures. Whatever we’re doing, our faith in Christ needs to be on the screen, guiding and shaping even the smallest or most worldly choice or decision.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

It's All About Becoming Disciples!

Why are you here? Why are you in church today?

That's the question I'll be asking at all Masses as the parish holds its annual Stewardship Fair. I might even look directly at some of the faces before me to make it clear it's not a rhetorical question.

Some years back, a young man told me that he asked his parents this question as they drove home from the Protestant church they attended every Sunday, and which he deeply loved even as a seven-year old.

"Why do we go to church?," he asked innocently from the back seat. After an awkward pause, his father said "I don't really know."  And they never went back. For months the lad cried himself to sleep every Saturday night. (Today, he is a devout Catholic.)

So back to the question. Why are you here today?

Our Stewardship Fair can help you find answers--because of the strong community we have here at Christ the Redeemer; because of the fine schools we sponsor; because of our interesting programs of Bible study. 

And they'd all be wrong answers.

But instead of putting anyone on the spot, let me share my answer to the question. I am in church today because "Jesus came into the world to save sinners" and I am one of them.

I know this is the right answer, since I stole it from St. Paul's words to Timothy in our second reading.

And I know that it's the only right answer to the question "why is our parish here and what is it for?"

In the midst of a busy week, I spent seven hours on Friday listening to Sherry Weddell, the author of an amazing book that says it's high time everything we do and say in our parishes comes back to discipleship.  Discipleship is a churchy word, but its meaning is simple: following Jesus.

This remarkable woman helped me to see our annual Stewardship Fair in a new light. This showcase of parish programs and ministries is about ways of following Jesus. Stewardship itself--the way of life that puts our time, talent and treasure at God's disposal--is about following Jesus.

If we try to form stewards who aren't disciples, we won't get far. But if we form disciples in our parish, we will have stewards who will do things we haven't even dreamed of.

We invite you to go directly to the gym after Mass to see what's happening in our parish and to have some pierogis cooked by our World Youth Day pilgrims, now experts after their time in Poland. Take a look at the energy and vitality of this community of faith, and ask where you might get involved, if you're not already.

Some of our parish activities help you just to test the waters of discipleship.  Others help you take the plunge.

But wherever you are on your faith journey, have no doubt about it: everything you'll see in the gym, everything we do at Christ the Redeemer, is connected by a single fact: Jesus came into the world to save sinners. By following him, we hope to have a personal experience of that faith and love St. Paul writes about today and to receive Christ’s overflowing gifts of grace and mercy throughout our lives.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

St. Teresa of Calcutta: What is her call to you?

In 1988, I was cheeky enough to ask Mother Teresa how it felt to be considered a living saint. She said “It makes me worry that no-one will pray for my soul when I die.”

Well, that problem is certainly solved! We pray to saints, not for them.

St. Teresa of Calcutta is one of two saints to have visited our city. Along with St. John Paul II, she blessed Vancouver by her presence and by her words.

And her canonization this morning by Pope Francis makes official what we already knew: her life and mission were a blessing to the whole Church, a blessing that will continue to be fruitful from now until eternity.

When I saw the readings for Mass today, I couldn’t find a connection with the canonization, and I thought I might just “cheat” a little and share some stories of my time with the new saint. Most of them still make me chuckle—like Mother Teresa’s response when Father Dion showed her a microwave in the convent we’d prepared for her Sisters, describing it as “a bachelor’s best friend.”

“Then you take it!” she said decisively.

And there was the moment I found her endorsing a huge pile of cheques, donations to the new foundation of the Missionaries of Charity in Vancouver. “Mother,” I said, “don’t bother with that. I can get a rubber deposit stamp tomorrow.”

“But Father,” she said with a slight smile, “people so like the cancelled cheques.”

However, I was wrong in thinking that these Sunday readings can’t help us ponder the canonization—or that the canonization can’t open our hearts to the message of today’s Scriptures. Because Pope Francis did just that in his homily this morning at St. Peter’s Square, with our own Father Paul joyfully in attendance.

The Holy Father began with the first line of our first reading: “Who can learn the counsel of God?” (Wis 9:13). Although “our life is a mystery and that we do not possess the key to understanding it,” he said that this question tells us what we need to do. We need “to perceive the call of God and then to do his will.”

In his usual practical way, the Pope pointed out that in order to do God’s will, we have to ask ourselves, “What is God’s will in my life?”

That sounds like a very tough question, but “we find the answer in the same passage of the Book of Wisdom [where it says] ‘People were taught what pleases you’ (Wis 9:18).” In order to know what God wants us to do, we need to understand what pleases Him. Fortunately, the Bible tells us what is pleasing to God in countless places.

Pope Francis sums up one key message in the words “I want mercy, not sacrifice,” which we find in the book of the prophet Hosea and on the lips of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew (Hos 6:6; Mt 9:13). We all know very well that “God is pleased by every act of mercy,” because Jesus himself told us that when we help our brothers and sisters, we help Jesus himself (cf. Mt 25:40).

The Holy Father called Mother Teresa “a generous dispenser of divine mercy,” in all aspects of her life. He called us to make her our model of holiness and of volunteer service.

This takes me to the key point of my homily this morning: what does this mean to us, nearly 12,000 kilometers from Calcutta? We have no lepers in our streets, nor people dying with medical care—so how do we respond to the example of the new saint?

In his homily, Pope Francis states clearly that every one of us is called to translate our faith and prayer into concrete acts. “There is no alternative to charity,” he said.

But he explained that the Christian life “is not merely extending a hand in times of need.” Rather, the Lord call us “to charity, in which each of Christ’s disciples puts his or her entire life at his service, so to grow each day in love.”

The canonization of the so-called “saint of the slums” or “apostle of love” is certainly an occasion to celebrate the tremendous concern for the needy that many of our parishioners show by their work with and support for the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. With tireless charity, they feed the poor in a neighborhood that knows a poverty almost worse than in Calcutta, because it is rooted in something worse than material need.

Just yesterday, our SVDP volunteers set out at six in the morning to organize the monthly breakfast they serve at The Door is Open, the archdiocesan drop-in center on Cordova Street. On September 17, they’ll prepare and serve a lunch there, and in between provide emergency lunchboxes distributed on Main Street.

Other parishioners informally organize a street meal for youth and others, served in the lobby of an office building downtown.

It almost goes without saying that the members of our parish family who have reached out to refugees have responded as Mother Teresa would have done.

Joining in these good works is one way to live the call to mercy and charity that St. Teresa’s life reveals to us. But it’s not the only way. She was so much more than her good deeds: she was, as the Pope said, “a generous dispenser of divine mercy, in all aspects of her life.”

“She was committed to defending life, ceaselessly proclaiming that ‘the unborn are the weakest, the smallest, the most vulnerable’ and … made her voice heard before the powers of this world, so that they might recognize their guilt for the crime of poverty they created.”

“For Mother Teresa, the Holy Father said, “mercy was the ‘salt’ which gave flavour to her work, it was the ‘light’ which shone in the darkness of the many who no longer had tears to shed for their poverty and suffering.”

Every one of us must ask ourselves “What is God’s will in my life?” We must ask God “What pleases you?”

Some of us will be called to mercy in our own homes—we will find Christ in the distressing disguise of troubled or ungrateful family members. Some of us find in St. Teresa a call to a greater effort in defense of the unborn, of the elderly, and of the vulnerable.

People are not dying in the gutters of our city. But death in a hospital with no-one showing they love you is not much better. As the attack on the elderly and depressed through legalized suicide unfolds, more of us may need to become Mother Teresas in care homes and hospital wards.

No-one should be afraid of the challenge our new saint gives us, because we already know what pleases God, and we have the Holy Spirit’s gift of wisdom to help us translate it into specific actions in our own lives.

Let me finish with a story. It makes me smile, because a future saint asked me to pray for her—and I did so for some years! As we were saying goodbye after her Vancouver visit, which I’d helped to organize, Mother Teresa said “Father, please pray for me and my Sisters at Mass when you put the water into the wine of the chalice.”

It was a clever request, because it was easy to remember. But it was also profound, because the moment when the priest puts a drop of water into the chalice is a reminder of our weak humanity sharing in the divinity of Christ.

Our call to mercy is a call to do what Jesus did—not alone, but with his strength and grace.

The top photo shows Mother Teresa with the late Archbishop James Carney during her 1988 visit, during which she opened the house of her Missionaries of Charity at his invitation.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Not Peace, but Division: A Remarkable Homily

I've just returned from my annual visit to Mount Angel Abbey in Oregon.  There are many attractions to this beautiful place, including the Abbey itself, the Alvar Aälto-designed library, and the beautiful surroundings of the Willamette Valley.

This year, an additional joy was seeing a dear friend and gracious mentor presiding with miter and crosier at Mass on the Assumption – Jeremy Driscoll was just elected the 12th Abbot of Mount Angel in March.

We were fortunate to be there for both the solemnity and the preceding Sunday. The homilies at both Masses were sublime, and I was fortunate enough to get a copy of Sunday's, given by Father Pius X Harding, who is both the guestmaster and the Abbey's director of Oblates (of which I am one).

Father Pius's homily is offered below, with his kind permission. It addresses superbly very difficult questions many of us have about the Gospel text (Luke 12:49–53), while giving excellent advice about the right way to witness in charity to the truth.

“Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.” These are very perplexing words from our Blessed Lord. What does he mean? A puzzling contradiction: Jesus is the Prince of Peace! He is our only hope for peace. Why does the Lord speak this way?

Today’s Gospel is rich and varied in its meaning. The Sacred Scriptures urge us to stop thinking in conformity with the world – to challenge our perceptions about what we see and what we are told today in our media driven world.

The peace our Lord brings is one the world cannot easily grasp. Not unlike the disciples themselves, who expected the Messiah to be a worldly king, we too may harbor the desires for a temporal, a practical peace – a world and way of life absent of earthly want or war.

But, what does this have to do with everlasting life? The collect of today's liturgy prays for the “good things which no eye can see,ˮ things that “fill our hearts with loveˮ which attain that divine promise that surpasses “every human desire.ˮ What is this good of which the collect speaks? What is our ultimate desire?

The peace of Jesus Christ is no mere absence of conflict or want. It is self evident that in today’s world, the Word of God “divides three against two, and two against three.ˮ But, one might say: God is true. He is goodness itself, and He is all-beautiful. How can this divide? The Gospel challenge to us is to root out from our hearts all that is opposed to the Word of God, and to reject all that is contrary to truth, goodness and beauty.

We believers cannot settle for an apparent worldly peace, which often is nothing more than an attitude of complacency with mere existence. Our calling is higher – as high as Heaven itself. The peace we receive from our Saviour is one that was purchased for us, and at a great price.

No one is saved unto eternal life except through the Sacrifice of Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of the Father, Who was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Blessed Virgin Mary for just this purpose of restoring us to union with our Father, the Maker of all things.

This is the truth that causes such division in the world: that Jesus is its unique Saviour – there is no other. We live in a society and in an age when many would just rather pretend that all are in agreement. I’m ok, you’re ok – can’t we just get a long. Well, maybe we can just get along, but is that all to which we are called by the Holy Gospel? No, we are called to a “glorious exchange,ˮ we hear in today’s liturgy. We are destined in the heart of God to communion – a peace with one another made possible by our union with the God who made us and loves us – loves us enough to redeem us and call us by grace to real life – eternal life – true life in Christ Jesus, the only Prince of Peace. There can be no peace where there is no love, and there is no love, were truth does not matter.

Does this mean that we all have to go out on a campaign to stamp out everything contrary to Christ’s truth? Perhaps we do have a campaign before us, but it is a campaign fought not with physical battles or rude argumentation, rather, it is one fought with personal mortification and courageous witness to the God who is Love, giving eloquent testimony through lives of charity, that God gave His life for us. This is a truth worth fighting for.

We are asked today to discern just what kind of zeal resides in our hearts. Our Blessed Lord came to set a fire on the earth – a fire of charity, fanned by the Holy Spirit, a fire He wills should burn within our hearts – a charity that compels us to act.

Jesus expresses this desire in the Holy Gospel when He says: “I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing.” If the fire of God’s love is not already blazing in our hearts, today is the day to ignite it, and the Holy Eucharist is the Sacrament of just such a fire.

Love for God’s truth, justice and righteousness burns in the Christian heart, and enables us to reject the world’s way of acting, with its tolerance of falsehood, offences against life and family, and its denial of the necessity of the individual’s personal gift of self to the Creator of all things, visible and invisible.

The Gospel we are to proclaim is the Gospel of truth and life, but its most effective proclamation is in the practice of charity. Lives exemplifying justice and love offer to our world a glimpse of the real peace of which Our Blessed Lord speaks.

The communion antiphon, taken from the Gospel of Saint John, proclaims that central truth which we believers hold so dear: “I am the living bread come down from heaven, says the Lord. Whoever eats this bread will live forever.ˮ The bread He offers is His true flesh and the wine He offers is His Blood given up for us, and unless we eat His flesh and drink His Blood we shall not have life within us.

This is the truth we encounter here today. Most of the world rejects the truth of God giving Himself to man sacramentally. Even in our Lord’s time, many of His disciples up and left His company because of this teaching.  “These are hard words, who can accept them?” Will we accept them? Will we live by them? Will we confess this truth to an unbelieving world – yet to a world so very much loved by the God it so often rather flippantly rejects.

The truth of Jesus Christ is worth fighting for – worth putting ourselves in the awkward position of being socially and politically unacceptable according to the world’s accounting of things.

A fire burns within a Christian’s heart, an ardent love, which compels us to defend the rights of God in our world. Division is not bad when it is the line between truth and falsity, or when it is the refusal to cooperate in the world’s rebellion against its Creator and Redeemer, or the Spirit of Wisdom, which they send to guide us.

Our Blessed Lord predicted that there would be troubles, even division within families over the gravest of issues, because these are the issues of salvation and eternal life.

Some things, as personal opinions, subjective likes and dislikes, are often not worth fighting for, and it can be a vice to do so, but others things – the things of God – deserve our utmost attention and devotion. Truth is truth in any age. The truth of Jesus Christ is objective and eternal.

We, of course, cannot not force people to believe, nor can we force them to love. Faith, hope and charity are by the gracious invitation of God. The love of Christ, which is given to us most excellently here in the Holy Eucharist, is the source of the wisdom and courage required to live valiant Christian lives in the midst of a world, which can be, in turn violent and indifferent. Both are challenges to the Christian, but we can make Our Lord’s desire come to be, His desire that the fire of His love should sweep the earth, if only we will allow that fire to begin here, to flare up within our hearts today.
– Father Pius X. Harding, OSB
   August 14, 2016

Sunday, August 21, 2016

A Survivor--Sent (21.C)

Refugees have been a big part of parish life at Christ the Redeemer. Your generosity to them has brought tears to my eyes more than once.

But the Shaboo and Dayekh families weren’t my first experience of refugees, nor the first time I met people persecuted for their Catholic faith. Almost thirty years ago there was a young refugee who sat at the back of St. Patrick’s parish where I was the assistant pastor.

He didn’t speak English, and made no attempt to communicate with me until some years later, when I learned the story I’m sharing with you today. The young man had been a seminarian, where he had been sent to prison twice for teaching catechism by the Communist victors in the Vietnam War.

Burning with the desire for freedom and the practice of his faith, he escaped from the prison, only to be driven back from the sea by a storm. Recaptured, he was abused and beaten.

But he escaped a second time, successfully, and after being rescued by a passing ship landed in a refugee camp in the Philippines. There he went to work organizing children into a sort of Catholic boy scouts, patiently waiting for a new home.

And then—he was in a car accident outside the camp and suffered serious head injuries from which he took a long time to recover.

Finally he came to Canada, where he lived with his nephew and younger brother, who also wanted to be a priest.  Since it seemed financially impossible for both to go to the seminary, the older brother decided to abandon his own hopes and send the younger brother, washing dishes to support them.

On Christmas Eve, the nephew died. For some reason, I find this the saddest part of the story.

But it’s not, ultimately, a sad story. It’s a fulfillment of the prophecy of Isaiah in today’s first reading. Because the young man wasn’t so much a refugee as a missionary—a survivor sent “to the nations,” “to the coastlands far away” that had not heard of the Lord or seen his glory.

As Isaiah promised to the Jewish people, there would be some exiles whom the Lord would call as his priests. And so it happened here, as dozens of Vietnamese exiles became priests to serve the Church in Canada. Among them were the two brothers, for even the older one managed at last to return to the seminary.

That exile, Joseph Phuong Nguyen, becomes the Bishop of Kamloops on Thursday afternoon.

His story makes me squirm when I read today’s Gospel. In some ways, my life as a Christian has been easy. Like the people to whom Jesus speaks these harsh words, I have had good times as a disciple—I have ate and drank with him, and listened to him teach without a whole lot of personal cost.

And without doubt, I’ve been influenced by the theologians of the past fifty years who’ve tried to flip the words of Jesus around—treating the door to hell as the narrow door, and the path to heaven as broad and easy.

Call it what you will—Christianity lite, cafeteria Catholicism, or universal salvation—it’s an attractive sort of faith. We’re all going to be saved, so let’s not worry too much about it

It’s just that Jesus said the exact opposite.

Jesus tells you and me the same thing that kept the new Bishop of Kamloops afloat on a sea of suffering: unless we pick up our cross and follow Christ, we cannot be his disciples.

If you think Jesus is a bit harsh in today’s Gospel, consider his words in St. Matthew’s version: “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it.  For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it.”

Where do we go with that? I’ll conclude with two answers from our readings today.

First, we don’t lose hope—because we do know that God wills us to be saved. Just as he called back Israel’s exiles, he calls us to himself in countless ways. The Church is our ark, protecting us against the waves and even against the pirates who so often attacked the helpless Vietnamese boat people.

Second, we know that all things work for our good, as St. Paul tells the Romans. Whether our sufferings are dramatic and terrible, like those of Joseph Phuong Nguyen, or just everyday troubles, our loving Father uses them to train us for his kingdom. Prosperity and good fortune are poor guides to heaven, but the patient acceptance of suffering can be a straight path.