Sunday, November 10, 2019

Things Worth Dying... and Rising...For

War is hell. Who can argue with these famous words of the Civil War general William Tecumseh Sherman? Certainly no one who has seen the photos of soldiers blown apart on a battlefield, or even huddled terrified in foxholes or trenches.

And yet on Remembrance Day the horrors of war, the tragedy of wars, will not be front and center for most people. Why, do you suppose, that is?

Why, for that matter, do we encourage and honour these young members of the Royal Canadian Air Cadets and their officers who are with us this morning, and welcome them to make our parish center the base for their weekly activities?

There are good answers to these questions. Some come from the field of thought called civics, the study of the rights and duties of citizenship. But other answers are specifically Christian and Catholic.

Catholic thinkers have long devoted themselves to the question of war. St Augustine, and later St Thomas Aquinas, provided the foundation for much of the Church’s teaching on the ethics of war.

Augustine taught at length about what’s become known as the just war, teachings further developed by Aquinas. Both saints argue that war is terrible, to be avoided whenever possible, and to be motivated by a desire for peace.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church states plainly “Because of the evils and injustices that all war brings with it, we must do everything reasonably possible to avoid it” (CCC 2327).

And Catholic teaching firmly rejects the saying “all’s fair in love and war”—the moral law remains fully in force in time of war. As the Catechism says, “The Church and human reason assert the permanent validity of the moral law during armed conflicts. Practices deliberately contrary to the law of nations and to its universal principles are crimes” (CCC 2328).

Following these ancient principles, the Second Vatican Council declared that when all efforts at peace have failed defensive war may be just and even necessary. The council also stated that those in the military make a genuine contribution to the establishment of peace when they conduct themselves properly (cf. Gaudium et spes, 79).

Such teachings must guide the Christian conscience in time of war. But what can we learn from war in time of peace?

Today’s first reading offers one central lesson. There are things worth dying for.

Although Christian history is full of martyrs who meet their death sooner than deny the Faith, the Jewish martyrs of the Second Book of Maccabees are the equal of any. We heard only part of their story  today—chapter seven of this powerful Old Testament book records the death of all seven of the brothers.

Most moving of all, it tells how their mother, when given the chance to persuade her sons to give in and save their lives, encourages them forcefully to accept death sooner than violate the Law of Moses.

The virtue of integrity might be enough to justify the courage of the seven sons and their mother, who is herself executed when the last of them is gone. Surely the world is a better place because some people are prepared to resist tyranny even unto death.

But there’s more to the story, and it has great importance to the Christian understanding of war and its sacrifices.

By the time the Second Book of Maccabees was composed, only about a century before the birth of Christ, many Jews had come to believe in the resurrection of the dead. If you read the whole story of the mother and her sons, you’ll find that one of her motives in urging them to resist is her belief in life after death.

“Accept death,” she tells the youngest brother, “so that in God’s mercy I may get you back again together with your brothers” (2 Mac 7: 9).

The young man himself tells the murderous king Antiochus “our brothers after enduring a brief suffering have drunk of overflowing life” (7:36).

In today’s passage we already heard the first brother proclaim his faith in the life to come: “He said to his torturers, ‘One cannot but choose to die at the hands of humans and to cherish the hope God gives of being raised by him” (7:14).

Elsewhere in the part of the story we don’t read today, another brother says with his last breath “you dismiss us from this present life, but the King of the universe will raise us up to an everlasting renewal of life, because we have died for his laws” (7:9).

These Jewish heroes speak words that should resonate in every Christian heart on Remembrance Day. Even as we lament the tragic loss of lives, most of them young, we reflect on the eternal life promised to those who die fighting for truth and justice and freedom.

It’s timely that this civic day of remembering happens during the month of November, when Catholics pray for all the dead. Faith in life everlasting is a cornerstone of our belief and central to our personal relationship with the Lord, who is “God not of the dead, but of the living.”

At 11 tomorrow morning, our voices should be silent, but our hearts should be speaking with God in prayer.

Saturday, November 2, 2019


My mother’s funeral liturgies, both the evening prayer and Mass the next day, will be a central memory of my priestly life, even if I live as long as she did.  My father’s funeral was also exceptional, although of course there were no vigil prayers since his funeral was on Easter Monday.
When our Ontario relatives heard about the evening service for Mom—my brothers and sisters couldn’t stop talking about Father Jeff’s homily—they were a little confused.  The custom there is to have visitation at a funeral home, not prayers at the church the night before.
So, since I come from Ontario, I knew exactly what Cardinal Timothy Dolan was talking about at the Upper Room conference last weekend when he related a conversation he had while standing before an open casket.
A man beside him paying his respects was weeping copiously. So the young priest put his hand on his shoulder and said “you must have cared for him very much.”
Weeping even harder, the man said, “Bob saved my life.”
Cardinal Dolan let the man compose himself before he asked him to explain.  It turns out that the deceased had been a co-worker of the crying man, who was what was sometimes called a hopeless alcoholic.
The man, whose name was Rod, had reached that stage where his life was falling apart in every way.  He turned to Bob, whom he had admired for his good nature, patience, and kindness, and asked how he did it.
“Well,” Bob said after thinking about it for a moment, “I suppose it’s my faith.”  And that began a conversation that led Rod into the Catholic Church—and, as he said, saved his life.
At the end of the story, Cardinal Dolan paused, and said, “Bob was my father.  We were standing at his casket.”
Despite the dramatic ending, the Cardinal’s point was simple.  Every single Catholic has the ability to be a missionary. To be a life saver.
And the point of last weekend’s Upper Room Conference was equally simple.  Every single Catholic has the call to be a missionarya life saver.
Our Upper Room was much bigger than the one in Jerusalem where the Apostles, the Blessed Mother, and other disciples—both men and women—gathered to wait for Pentecost.  More than a thousand people gathered in Vancouver for the launch of the Proclaim movement.
I certainly wasn’t the only one in the Upper Room who felt a lot like those first disciples.  And I didn’t doubt for a moment that this was a kind of Pentecost, something entirely new for the Church in the Lower Mainland, something that was going to make history—something powerfully inspired by the Holy Spirit.
It’s not easy to describe this experience to those who weren’t there, and it’s even more difficult to explain what the Proclaim movement is.  But I’m sure going to try!
Brett Powell, a senior Archdiocesan leader who was one of the conference organizers, offered a short definition: “Proclaim is a new missionary impulse with a strategy and a structure.”  I’m going to repeat that: one, a new missionary impulse; two, with a strategy; three, with a structure.
This new missionary impulse responds directly to a call from Pope Francis.  In his letter “The Joy of the Gospel” he wrote: I dream of … 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 strategy is based on three principles.  I’ve already mentioned the first:  making every baptized Christian a missionary disciple.  The Proclaim movement promises to invite, equip, motivate, and commission lay Catholics to share the Gospel in effective ways.
A second key principle will make it clear that the mission field is right here on our doorstep.  We are called to share the Gospel message with our family members, neighbours, co-workers, and friends.  Archbishop Miller said we won’t find the people we need to evangelize in foreign lands, but on our soccer fields, in our minivans, offices, and at Tim Horton’s.
The third element of this strategy is narrowing our focus for greater impact.  Brett Powell mentioned that there must be a hundred good programs to help Catholics become missionary disciples.  But it’s not possible for the Archdiocese to offer training and support for a hundred programs, or even for ten.
Instead, the Archdiocese of Vancouver has committed to offer first-class training and central support for two proven methods of spreading the Gospel.  And—here is something truly wonderful for our own parish—those two programs are the two we’ve already concentrated on at Christ the Redeemer: Alpha and the Discovery faith studies.
This strategy reminds me of the politician’s wife who slipped him a note half way through a major public statement.  All she wrote, in capital letters, was KISS.  When the politician asked her later why she was so affectionate in the middle of his speech, she said “KISS stood for ‘keep it simple, sweetheart.’”
This raises the question some have already asked about our parish’s focus on Alpha and Discovery: why these two?  Brett Powell explained that Alpha Canada and Catholic Christian Outreach are organizations with good track records, and they will be partners with the Archdiocese who will bring a great deal of support and experience.  He added that their materials, especially Alpha’s, are available in a number of languages.
As for the structure, we’re talking about a carefully-planned cycle.  Brett Powell assured us that the Upper Room was not a “one-off”.  There will be an annual Upper Room conference designed to keep the momentum going and ensure we measure results.  A gifted long-time CCO missionary has been hired full-time to direct our Proclaim movement.
The Archdiocese is going to provide resources galore to help us grow these two activities and use them to make joyful missionary disciples. There will be promotion, training, and coaching, starting right now.
Is this risky?  Sure it is!  We’re shifting the Church’s resources to the folks we’re trying to reach, instead of those we’re trying to keep.  Mission is going to trump maintenance for a while around here.
Is this scary?  Well, it’s scary for me, anyway!  I already hear some people say “Oh, enough about Alpha already.  Let’s talk about something else for a change.”  Brett Powell had an answer for that in his speech at the conference: “Repetition is our friend.”  Most successful movements rely on one or two great ideas repeated endlessly until they become deep-rooted in our hearts.
Just like most Catholics, I’m scared to share my faith with those who don’t believe.  I can preach to you with total comfort, but put me in a situation where I have to talk about Jesus with a stranger and I would much prefer to shift the conversation to the performance of the Canucks.
Yet Archbishop Miller says this is not the time to play it safe.  In fact, he told the conference this is exactly the right time for a new and daring initiative.  He quoted St. John Paul II at World Youth Day in Denver: “This is no time to be ashamed of the Gospel.” I was on the altar with the Pope and heard him speak those words back in 1993.
 What was true then is even truer today.  Scandals, embarrassments, attacks of every kind—nothing can separate us from the love of God made visible in Christ nor cancel our calling to make him known to the world.
Apart from our shy Catholic culture, the big reason we don’t evangelize is because no one ever taught us how.  Proclaim will help us to use Alpha and Discovery as tools with which to share the Gospel.  It will also show us how to deepen our own relationship with Jesus.  Because, as is often said, you can’t give what you ain’t got.
Archbishop Miller seriously challenged every one of the thousand people gathered at the Upper Room. I give the same challenge to each one of you today: “Don’t be afraid to be bold—go out on a limb.”
That’s exactly what we’ve been striving for at Christ the Redeemer during these past months, as we charted the discipleship path. And we intend to stay boldly out on the limb, grateful for the guidance of the Holy Spirit and the leadership of our chief shepherd.
And perhaps, as with Bob Dolan, someday someone will stand weeping before your casket, saying “he or she saved my life.”
Because that’s what we’re called to do—to save lives. “For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.”
Lots to learn on the Proclaim website And check out the Proclaim Podcast here or here

Jane Catherine Smith: Archbishop Miller’s Homily

I have already posted my mother's obituary and some thoughts I shared at her funeral Mass.  In this final post, I am pleased to share the homily given at the funeral by Archbishop J. Michael Miller, whom Mom very proudly called my Archbishop.

Dear Bishop Monroe, Monsignor Smith, brother priests and deacons, family of Jane Smith and dear friends in Christ:

At the outset of this Funeral Mass allow me to express my heartfelt condolences to the family of Jane Smith: her children, Gregory, Sheila, Nancy, Stephen and Kevin; and to their spouses, ten grandchildren and two great grandchildren. Non-family members too mourn the loss of a beloved friend, and I humbly but readily include myself in that number. We have all come here to pray with the Church, that our merciful God will lead Jane to her true homeland where she will delight in its everlasting joys.
Even though the event of death is a disquieting enigma, for us believers it is illumined by the “hope of immortality” (Wis 3:4). Death is not merely a biological occurrence but a new birth and a renewed existence offered by the Risen One. Our earthly experience concludes with death, but through death full and definitive life beyond time unfolds for each one of us.
Dying, then, is not just a falling asleep, a descent into the abyss of a silent void, but an intensely human act in which the soul, though separated from the body, remains fully aware, indeed more intensely so than ever before. For the one dying, the true moment of death is not biologically indicated but the blazing encounter with the Lord of merciful judgment. At that moment we become fully alive in him.
While at the end of this life, death certainly deprives us of all that is of the earth, it does not deprive us—and it did not deprive Jane—of that Baptismal grace by which we are forever plunged into the Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. Even as Jane slipped silently from this world, she remained clothed in Christ, prepared to meet him. Her death opened the gates to the fullness of life (cf. Jn 10:10), to what the Apostle Paul described so beautifully in our Second Reading as “the eternal weight of glory beyond all measure” (2 Cor 4:17).
Hidden from our gaze, but experiencing an intensity of life  hitherto unknown, she would surely have been rejoicing and whispered to the Angels who were ushering her to the Lord’s presence, what we all sang as the response to the Responsorial Psalm, “Let us go to the house of the Lord” (Ps 122). Jane would no doubt have been saying: “I can hear him calling to me, ‘Come to me, you who are weary and I will give you rest’ (Mt 11:28).”
 As people of faith, we share the sure conviction that death does not destroy the bonds of love forged in this life. It only places a temporary, if painful, barrier between us. It will be lifted when we are reunited in the heavenly Jerusalem, where the sound of weeping is heard no more (cf. Is 65:19) and the light of the first day of creation is forever undimmed (cf. Gen 1:3‒5).
God blessed Jane with a good and happy and life: a loving husband and family that surrounded her with attention and affection, and many friends who sought her advice and the pleasure of her hearty laugh. She had a keen sense of independence, and an unpretentious and practical piety no doubt forged in the years before her entry into the Church.
In the last few months of Jane’s slow and sometimes difficult journey to the “Father’s house” (Jn 14:2), she remained serene, smiling and, of course, spirited. What St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians became very true for her, as in those last weeks she experienced that her “outer self” was gradually “wasting away” (cf. 2 Cor 4:16).
There comes a time in the life of many people—and it seems that this was the case for Jane—when a person in a situation of compromised health comes to understand, “walking by faith” (cf. 2 Cor 5:7), that they can simply and honestly say to the Lord: “I’m worn out and am waiting for that promised dwelling from God which is in heaven” (cf. 2 Cor 5:1). To paraphrase the words of St. John Henry Newman, such a person might well say: “God has created me to do him some definite service. He committed a work to me which he did not commit to another. I have completed my mission.”[1] My earthly body has done what the Lord intended.
Such a trusting attitude reminds me of the words of the Apostle Paul who wrote, reflecting on his imminent death, as we heard in the Second Reaading this past Sunday, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Tim 4:7).  But they are also like the words of the dying Jesus on the Cross: “It is finished” (Jn 19:30). He accepted his death as the completion of the mission given to him by the Father.
It is a great grace when we can likewise say: “mission accomplished”; “I have finished the race.”
What is particularly striking and, I believe, truly beautiful is the way in which Jane left this world. She had the grace of a happy death, on the dawn of her 87th birthday. She celebrated Thanksgiving with a festive brunch at Amica Lions Gate with her family. On that same evening she was fortified by the Sacraments of the Church: receiving the Body and Blood of her Lord in Holy Communion and the Anointing of the Sick from the hands of her son and pastor, Gregory. On Tuesday afternoon the family again gathered, this time to recite the Church’s Prayers for the Dying, which includes the Commendation with its moving words (to which I inevitably hear the magnificent rendition of Sir Edgar Elgar in his oratorio of Newman’s “Dream of Gerontius”):
Go forth, Christian soul, from this world
in the name of God the almighty Father,
who created you
in the name of Jesus Christ, 
Son of the living God,
who suffered for you,
in the name of the Holy Spirit
who was poured out upon you.
Go forth, faithful Christian.

What was not visible to the naked eye was the presence of Christ by the bedside. He himself was taking Jane home, because he knew the way (cf. Jn 14:6).

Our faith fills us with comfort at the thought that, as it was for the Lord Jesus, and always thanks to him, death no longer has dominion over us (cf. Rom 6:9). For us, “life is changed, not ended.” Its power has been swallowed up in the victory of the Risen One who says to all of us, just as he did to Jane before they met in judgment face to face: “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Mt 11:28‒29).

[1] Cf. St. John Henry Newman, “Meditations on Christian Doctrine,”  “Hope in God – Creator” (7 March 1848) in Meditations and Devotions.

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Thoughts during and after my Mom's funeral Mass

The photo above is a final caress by Mom's great-grandson Asher, not long before her death.

I suppose I am prejudiced in the matter, but my mother's funeral liturgies – both Vespers last night and the funeral Mass this morning – were entirely, absolutely glorious. I am too drained to even start to thank those who attended and planned it, but I thought I'd post my own remarks at the Final Commendation below.

After I use Archbishop Miller's homily as the basis for my own at a small family celebration in Toronto this week (we will lay Mom to rest beside my Dad in the family plot in Hamilton), I will post that as well.

My first assignment after ordination was to St. Patrick’s Parish in Vancouver. I had barely unpacked before I heard about Msgr. Louis Forget, who had been the pastor there for nearly 45 years. He had been dead for more than twenty years, but the people still talked about him often. 

The first thing I learned was that Msgr. Forget had inspired more than one hundred young men and women to enter seminaries and convents. I resolved then and there to do my best to imitate him by promoting vocations to the priesthood and religious life. Can’t say I’ve been quite as successful – my record is still in single digits (though there’s still time!) 

The second thing was that Msgr. Forget regularly cried from the pulpit. I thought that was really weird – a monsignor crying in public. Can you imagine!

Being unable to speak when I’m emotional is a pretty serious occupational handicap, no more so than today. But like many other handicaps, it has an upside. It justified my imposing on the Archbishop to preach today, in the midst of one of his busiest times. 

Archbishop Michael, I am deeply grateful to you for having presided at the funerals of both my parents. I did preach at Dad’s, but only because – for some unknown reason – he asked me to. Mom didn’t ask, so I didn’t preach.  

I’m also grateful to Father Jeff Thompson for preaching last night. He has only been with us at Christ the Redeemer since July, but my mother liked him immediately. In one of their first conversations, which he related last night, she said brightly, “I hear you like martinis” and he replied, “I certainly do – I live for Friday nights.” To which she responded, “And I live for 4:30.” 

Needless to say, I am deeply touched to see my dear friend Bishop David Monroe and so many brother priests and deacons along with the wives of many of our permanent deacons. 

And thank you all for sharing this beautiful but painful time with our family. I wish I could express my gratitude to all those who have made this liturgy and this church so beautiful today. But if I try, things will go downhill fast. I will try to put some thoughts in writing in due course. 

Speaking of which, I do hope you will look at the few words at the back of your Mass booklet, which include a brief summary of my mother’s final days. I mentioned that I’ve tried to follow Msgr. Forget’s example in promoting vocations, particularly to the priesthood. Well, as most of you know, my life as a priest has been indescribably happy, but had it been entirely miserable, my final 48 hours with my mother would have been more than enough to make these 33 years well worth it. 

I hope every young man in church, and everyone who reads my words on the Internet considers the amazing blessings a priest can bring his family in return for the blessings they have brought to him.

To the mothers and grandmothers in the congregation this morning: Did you like this funeral?  Well, there’s only one way to get one like it! [They got the point—to have a son a priest—and the church rocked with laughter.]

And back to Msgr. Forget’s tendency to weep: no one should, for a moment, interpret my strong emotions today, or those of my siblings, mainly as grief. They are not. It’s gratitude, not grief, that bring our tears. 

My family and I are filled with gratitude – for my mother, for our friends and hers, and for those wonderful doctors, nurses, and caregivers that helped her reach the end of her life with such dignity and comfort. 

As Father Jeff said last night, this glorious Eucharistic liturgy is but a foretaste of what Mom has inherited as a reward of faith and a faithful life. We conclude now with a beautiful Rite of Final Commendation. It draws our attention to powerful symbols, including the Easter Candle at the head of the casket and the baptismal robe that drapes it. We use holy water as a reminder of baptism. And we normally use incense, a symbol of the prayers of God’s people rising before his throne in heaven. 

But not today. Towards the end of her life, I thought Mom might bring up the subject of her funeral. She didn’t. So the only wish I had to honour was a lighthearted promise I made to her many years ago. For some unknown reason, she really disliked incense, which led me to promise more than once that there would be none at her funeral.  I’m keeping that promise today!  

Thursday, October 24, 2019

Jane Catherine Smith 1932 - 2019

Jane was born in Hamilton, Ontario, the third and youngest child of Sheldon and Jessie (née McInnes) Banwell. She had a lifelong love for the city of her birth, to which she returned for some years before moving to British Columbia after the death of her husband Neil McCabe Smith, who died in 2011.

Jane and Neil had five children, Gregory, Sheila, Nancy, Stephen and Kevin, whose marriages brought David, Dennis, Nicole and Erin into the family. They were blessed with ten grandchildren, Jennifer, Geoffrey, Kimberly, Sarah Jane, Jessie, William, Neil, Alix, Adam, and Charlotte. Jen’s marriage to Kevin gave Jane two lovely great-grandchildren, Quinn and Asher.

She was predeceased by her brother Douglas, sister Margaret Rymal, and son-in-law Dennis Webster.

During her years in B.C., Jane was an active member of Christ the Redeemer Parish, enjoying many parish activities and the Catholic Women’s League. She joined St. Pius X Parish when she could no longer drive, returning to Christ the Redeemer this year when she moved to Amica Lions Gate just two blocks from the church.

While she would want to be remembered first as a devoted wife and mother, Jane had an amazing capacity for friendship, treasuring long-time relationships and making new dear friends at both Banff Court and Amica.

Her years of physical decline were made much happier and healthier by the dedicated care of Dr. Tim Kostamo, Dr. Klaudia Biskupska, and Dr. Nicole Barre, whose regular visits to Amica were a key source of peace during the last eight months for both Jane and her family members.

The kindness, competence and generosity of the nurses, staff and caregivers at Amica Lions Gate was deeply appreciated by Jane and her family members. She found both physical and emotional security in their 24/7 attention, and her final days were blessed by incomparable tenderness and professional attention. Amica calls its caregivers “Resident Care Partners,” but the family will remember them more as angels in human form.

Jane celebrated Thanksgiving with a large family brunch on Sunday, received Holy Communion and the Anointing of the Sick from her son and pastor that evening, and by the evening of Thanksgiving Day was clearly failing. She had at least one of her children with her from then on. On Tuesday afternoon, they gathered for the recitation of the Church’s prayers for the dying.

During the night on Wednesday, she briefly opened her eyes and managed a slight smile. Jane died on the morning of her 87th birthday, October 16, as her two eldest children stood praying beside her bed.

The funeral Mass will be celebrated at 11 a.m. on Tuesday, October 29, by the Most Reverend J. Michael Miller, Archbishop of Vancouver, with funeral prayers Monday evening at 7:30 p.m., both at Christ the Redeemer Parish, 599 Keith Road, West Vancouver.

Console one another, then, with these words.
1 Thessalonians 4:18

Saturday, September 28, 2019

We Need to be UNcomfortable (26.C)

Today’s Gospel has a winner, Lazarus, and a loser, the rich man. And a clear target: “those… who loved money.”

Our first reading also takes aim at the rich and comfortable. The prophet Amos thunders at those who sleep on elegant beds, eating the best of the flocks and herds, humming along with the harpist, and drinking wine by the bowlful.

Are we getting nervous yet? A scold-the-rich homily seems to be just the thing today.

But that’s not how I see it. Of course we’re being warned about the dangers of riches and the evils of ignoring the poor. But I also hear God speaking a different message in these readings, important to each of us, rich and poor alike.

Let’s start with the parable of Lazarus and the rich man. I said there’s a winner and a loser. But after thinking it over, I’m not so sure. Could both men be winners? Is it possible that the rich man might not have lost his eternal reward?

Take a careful look at the second thing the rich man asks for from Abraham. First, of course, he wants relief for himself; his tongue is parched by the flames. But when this is denied, he doesn’t argue or plead. He makes a second request: that his brothers be warned to avoid his fate.

Amidst the fires of hell, the rich man shows concern for the salvation of his family. He begs Abraham to send Lazarus as a messenger of truth.

I’m no theologian, but I don’t think someone damned for eternity has that much goodness in him. I’m not a biblical scholar either, but I know that the same word was used for hell as we understand it today—the place of eternal punishment for sin—and for the netherworld to which Jesus descended after his crucifixion to set its captives free.

Might not the rich man have been one of those captives? Might his concern that others avoid his own mistakes have been his saving grace?

We’ll never know—it’s just a parable, a story, after all.

The point I’m making is that there’s something to be learned from the rich man and it’s a lot more subtle than not ignoring poor people lying at your gate. Frankly, I don’t think anyone here could be guilty of such callous contempt.

But how many of us have brothers and sisters who need to be warned about the consequences of sin? And how many of us take their spiritual situation half as seriously as the rich man did?

The first reading also takes a surprising turn, if we look closely. Alas for those who lounge on their couches, eat lambs from the flock and calves from the stall, and singing idle songs to the sound of the harp. Amos is describing the 1 per-centers of his day. He’s also nailing us who sit on good furniture, dine on lamb and veal, drinking good wine and listening to whatever we want to on Spotify.

We recognize all those creature comforts from our own lives. So maybe we’re the ones in trouble.

But wait. There was one item on the prophet’s indictment that I skipped over—the last one. Amos ends his list with those who “are not grieved over the ruin of Joseph.”

Amos began by warning “those who are at ease in Zion,” and laments the good life of prosperous Israelites. But it’s not their prosperity that’s the problem: it’s their lack of concern for the fate of the nation. Comfort and ease have dulled their thinking, and they don’t much care that the northern Kingdom of Israel, called the sons or the house of Joseph, is being ruined by infidelity and weakness.

The great sin that Amos is attacking is not living in luxury: it’s failing to notice what’s going on around you. The complacent and well-fed are not grieved over the deterioration of the nation; they’re comfortable enough to ignore what would make right-thinking people feel sick—which is how the New American Bible translates the phrase.

Let’s look at ourselves. Does easy living blind us to the decay of our society? Do our comfortable lives lead us to spiritual isolationism, where we live and let live, neither grieving nor acting to change the way things are in our newly godless environment?

Amos isn’t laying guilt trips. Neither is Jesus. They are giving us warnings. And like the rich man in the parable, we need to want with all our hearts to warn others. The night is advancing around us, and we are called and chosen to oppose the darkness with righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness, as St. Paul says.

So what can we do to make sure that our rack of lamb and glass of wine does not blind us to reality or lull us into inaction?

The first thing we must do, is to wake up from the false security that comes from comfort. We need first to understand what’s going on around us—the good and the bad. We need to know what we are called to do in the face of collapsing social systems, values and virtues.

You can find that out this coming Saturday. The parish is hosting a day-long video conference called the New Evangelization Summit. You’ll hear speakers who are leaders in the New Evangelization, the Church’s response to the falling away of countless Christians in Western countries including our own.

The Summit won’t just tell us what we need to do in this time of crisis; it will also tell us how. The day will inspire you, encourage you, and provide training, practical wisdom and resources on how to evangelize effectively at home and at work—without turning people off.

But, as the saying goes, you can’t give what you ain’t got. We ourselves need to be better evangelized—to have a living and active relationship with God and his Word. This is where the Discovery faith studies come in. The Discovery series gives us a chance to grow in the experience of our faith, together with others who want to walk with us on the discipleship path.

These small group studies take just six weeks each. Details are on the front page of this week’s bulletin. They’ve already been a great success in the parish, and I’ve not met anyone who didn’t find them to be interesting and challenging. Our Friday morning men’s group ran the studies last year and the reaction was extremely positive.

We invite you to sign up for a study after Mass today. If you took Discovery last year, there are other studies waiting for you to experience.

All this activity may make you wonder if Christ the Redeemer Parish is going a bit overboard. To answer that, I say please check out the Priorities and Goals of the Archdiocese on its website. I’m not the chief pastor of this parish; Archbishop Miller is. I’m not a successor of the Apostles, but he is. 

As our senior shepherd, the Archbishop has challenged the local Church to focus on four things. We’ve already tackled two of them head on: “Get Closer to Jesus” and “Develop Parish Leadership and Support.”

Getting closer to Jesus is exactly what the Discovery faith studies are all about—not religious education, but growth in friendship with the Lord. And Alpha has that very same goal.

The Archbishop is well aware of how seriously we’re taking his priorities and goals. In August he formally acknowledged our efforts to develop parish leadership and support by approving a new structure for the parish pastoral council, including a parish core team. 

The core team is a specific responds directly to a challenge in the Archdiocesan priorities and goals document, which states that “parishes thrive and experience renewal when pastors are enabled to delegate spiritual and administrative leadership roles to a talented and evangelized team of parishioners.”

The fruit of all this—growth in holiness, a new spirit of commitment to sharing the Gospel with others, and a laser focus in what we do as a parish—does not depend on the Archbishop, or on Fr. Jeff and me, or on the parish pastoral council, or on the members of the core team.

It depends on you. Each of you. So-called “ordinary” Catholics called to do things differently in a different world than the one in which we grew up.

Let’s not be grieved over the ruins of a Christian society. Let’s rebuild it together, and tell everyone the truth that the rich man was unable to share. 

Let us convince others, especially by inviting them to the Alpha film series, that Someone has indeed risen from the dead—and that He makes all the difference.

Sunday, September 15, 2019

The Discipleship Path (24.C)

In the Christian classic The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis takes us into the classrooms of hell where a senior devil is instructing his nephew on how to destroy the spiritual life of a young Christian.

Lewis had the brilliant idea that, by seeing things from the perspective of our enemy, we can understand his tricks and not be fooled by them.

What if we take an imaginary tour into the same classroom today, not to study Satan’s strategy for ruining Christians, but rather his tactics for taking down the Church.

What would be the enemy’s most effective means of blocking the mission Jesus gave to his disciples?

In Communist times, the best strategy was to keep the Church poor. In the Renaissance, what worked was making the Church rich.

But what would the devil do today if he wanted to make sure the Gospel was no longer shared in an effective way? How could he make sure that faith in Christ would wither for a generation?

A full-out attack rarely works. Some of his harshest strategies – like torture and martyrdom – didn’t work at all. Persecution often makes Christians stronger. Stripping the church of her worldly goods can lead to a sort of purification.

So what would a present day Screwtape tell his nephew Wormwood if the object of their evil attention was the Church itself?

In particular, what would be their diabolical strategy for Christ the Redeemer Parish at this very moment? I’ve been thinking this over a lot. There are wonderful opportunities ahead of us, but great risks also. So where does danger lie?

After prayer and reflection and discussion, and in the spirit of the Screwtape Letters, I offer to you the devil’s best shot at making sure we fail in the mission Christ has given our parish.

Business as usual.

Not by dungeon, fire and sword, as the hymn goes. The Church today and our parish in particular is threatened by business as usual.

It’s an insidious threat, because business as usual feels good. With business as usual we’re doing something that worked well in the past.

With business as usual we aren’t being stretched or prodded or challenged. We park ourselves in one of the waiting rooms of hell – the comfort zone.

Christ the Redeemer has arrived at a decisive time, a critical time, in its history. It’s time to abandon business as usual and respond afresh to Jesus who said “I am making all things new.”

This about-face from business as usual may seem startling, but it’s been more than two years in the making. In June 2017 a large number of parish leaders gathered for a workshop. After nearly eight hours of prayer and reflection, the group reached two simple conclusions. The first was that our parish needed to ask God to show us how to become disciples and missionaries.

The second conclusion was that we needed small group faith studies—groups of five or six where we can share and deepen our faith.

Those two ideas have already been bearing fruit. Alpha has developed and grown, and become ever more a part of our parish culture. And the Discovery faith studies have helped numerous parishioners and some converts to discover discipleship more deeply.
Now it’s time for the next phase of God’s work in our parish family.

It’s time to make sure that the mission is front and center of everything we do at Christ the Redeemer.  It’s time to focus our time, talent and treasure on finding the lost sheep, on sharing the Gospel not only among ourselves but boldly and intentionally with our brothers and sisters who do not know Jesus.

Carey Nieuwhof, who leads one of the most successful evangelical churches in Canada, tells Christian leaders “Every day there’s a battle for focus. Stay focused on the ministry and mission.”

They say if you fail to plan, you plan to fail.  And so we have planned. The Parish Pastoral Council has been capably guided in a lengthy process of discernment that has led us to identify our core purpose: to become a parish of missionary disciples.

Yesterday some five dozen parishioners gathered in prayer to prepare for new leadership roles that will help us do what God calls us to do—sharing his Good News to a wounded world.

We looked at new methods for accomplishing our mission, including how to share our own faith stories with others and how to pray with and for others.

Of course becoming a missionary disciple requires first that we discover discipleship—specifically, what we’re calling “intentional discipleship.”

We’re all somewhere on the discipleship path, but now each of us needs to discover exactly where we are—because then we can, with God’s help, figure out the next forward step.

The front page of the bulletin today is a roadmap of the discipleship path. It’s meant to challenge every single member of the parish, from the most uncertain to the most committed.

Where are you on that path? It doesn’t matter where, as long as you’re ready to take the next step.

Perhaps, after years of coming to Mass, you can say you’re still seeking. You’re a seeker. Then come to Alpha and see if God has more to share with you.

Maybe you can say that you’ve decided to follow Jesus and to change your life.  You’re willing to do whatever he asks.  You’ve become an intentional disciple. Then make a decision to move towards missionary discipleship by making a plan to ask a friend or family member—or two or three—to Alpha next week.

In the months ahead, we will offer many opportunities for those who want to walk on the discipleship path, recognizing that we’re all at different points on our journey.

This week, just take the next step. Take a good look at the roadmap in the bulletin. Ask God where you are and where he wants you to go.

Because the road to hell is not paved with good intentions. It’s paved with no intentions.