Friday, June 22, 2018

Whether we are at home or away... (11B)

Since this is Father’s Day, I find myself thinking about my Dad and the lessons he taught me.  It wasn’t hard to decide the most important of them:  “Do what your Mother tells you!”
And she always tells me “Dear, you have to tell the parishioners where you went when you go away for a weekend.”
I said “What on earth for?  We have two priests here.”
“Because I don’t want to hear any complaints,” my mother replied!
Her advice was good, and not just because it avoids complaints.  It’s good because my absences can help us talk about the Christian attitude to travel and holidays.
This is a good time for that, since in our second reading St. Paul says whether we are at home or away, we seek to please the Lord. 
(Of course his overall message is not about travelling—the Apostle is talking about the trip from earth to Heaven—but his words lead us to a very simple lesson as summer approaches.  Whether we are at home or away we must continue to live the Christian life.)
It’s tempting to see our holidays as total freedom—no obligations, including Sunday Mass—except you can’t go on holiday from something so central to our existence. Some of us have tried taking holidays from exercise, healthy eating, and disciplined sleep, which is nothing but a losing formula.
Pope Benedict was speaking to priests when he said rest, too, is pastoral work. He quotes the words of Jesus "Come away by yourselves to a lonely place, and rest a while" (Mk 6: 31). The Pope even says we priests need to find and to have the humility, the courage to rest.
 All of us can benefit from his wisdom if we understand that it means vacations, restful Sundays, and even daily breaks are part of the healthy human existence that God wills.
We need, wherever possible, not only to find rest in our vacations but also renewal.  Vacations can be a time for a period of daily prayer as a family that may be difficult in ordinary circumstances.  This may be a time to say the Rosary after supper because—for once—all the kids are at the table and none of them has a soccer practice.  Depending where you take a holiday, you may be able to attend daily Mass—especially if there’s a parish nearby where Mass is later in the morning or in the evening.
Reading is an important part of holidays for many people, including me.  I was really shocked by an article in The Globe and Mail recently.  The headline was “I Have Forgotten How to Read.”  It wasn’t by someone with a head injury or other ailment, but a piece by an author who had finally recognized that his lifestyle and the impact of the internet had slowly robbed him of the pleasure of curling up for a few hours with a good book.
Having the right book with you on a vacation is a key part to rediscovering the joys of reading.  Having the right spiritual book can help reignite our faith during our vacation from all the usual distractions of life.  There may be many parishioners—judging from sales in our little book shop, and loans from our library—who have never read a spiritual book.  If you’re one of those I invite you to check out the books in gift shop and the library today.  If you don’t see something that catches your interest, just ask me, and I will suggest something you will truly enjoy beside a lake or on a plane. 
Whenever possible we should look for blessings when we travel—new friends, new ideas, new knowledge.  And that brings us back to my recent travels.  In less than two weeks I was in three dioceses; and in each of them I was reminded that our parish exists within a communion of churches; we are part of something much bigger than ourselves. 
When we holiday outside of Vancouver we get a small taste of this as we discover that things are done differently elsewhere—sometimes better, sometimes worse—but always in the great communion of the Catholic Church.  Parishioners come back with ideas, and sometimes even with a sense of relief!  But we are always strengthened to know that our local community is but a part of the great Church of Christ.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus talks to us about the kingdom of God.  In another place he tells us that the kingdom of God is among us—right here, right at Christ the Redeemer parish. But today he reminds us that the kingdom also thrives and flourishes on a grand scale, offering shade and shelter to all people.
Everything we do, from work to play, is part of our human and spiritual growth, and part of our contribution to building up the Kingdom of God on earth.
And certainly our labours for a better world are a key aspect of this. Every so often you’ll hear in the media about “anti-abortion” groups.  While there may be such groups, I’ve never really met them. Pro-life groups and pro-life people—including those who support today’s second collection—are promoting the culture of life.
Our goal must be greater than ending abortion. As our Prayer for Reverence for Life shows, we praise God for life at every stage, and commit ourselves to its defense.
Few things are more important to the Kingdom than the family, and on Father’s Day we should note that a Kingdom needs citizens; without the family, and the important work of fathers, God’s plan for the world could never succeed.
So whether we are at home, or away, let us make it our aim to please God in all things, and to build a kingdom of truth, justice and love.
Some of the ideas in this homily made their way to the Sunday bulletin the following week. 

Sunday, June 3, 2018

The Fulfillment of All Desire (Corpus Christi)

It has been a great joy to have spent the last five days with Ralph Martin.  He was here for our Parish Mission—you can read about it in last week’s bulletin, which also provides biographical information for anyone who is unfamiliar with Ralph and the many blessings he has brought to the Church.
And this weekend he gave the annual retreat to the  members of the permanent diaconate community in the Archdiocese of Vancouver.
I’ve known Ralph for more than twenty years.  I first met him when he came to give a talk in Vancouver, but he first influenced me forty years ago when his book Hungry for God (1974) taught me the priceless lesson that progress in prayer is the result of God’s gift, not my effort.
Nine years later Ralph wrote Crisis of Truth: The Attack on Faith, Morality and Mission in the Catholic Church (1983).  I read it in the seminary and discovered that life in the Church was probably going to be more difficult than I had thought.  The errors he exposed in that book became increasingly evident in the Church over the next twenty years.
Despite the influence and importance of these and many other books I think most people consider his finest work to be The Fulfillment of All Desire (2006).  Subtitled ‘A Guidebook for the Journey to God Based on the Wisdom of the Saints’ it is “destined to be a modern classic on the spiritual life.”  (An excellent accompanying Study Guide [2010] is also available.)
On this Feast of Corpus Christi “the fulfillment of all desire” is a perfect theme for a homily. 
I could easily devote this homily to the word “fulfillment.”  In fact, St. Thomas Aquinas calls the Eucharist “the fulfillment of ancient figures and the greatest of all his miracles.”  Fulfillment is a one-word summary of what the Scriptures tell us today.
The First Reading describes sacrifices—specifically, communion sacrifices—that are intended to solemnize a Covenant: a Covenant sealed in blood.  The blood is first poured on the altar, which represents God.  Then it is splashed on the people, uniting them to the blood on the altar.
In this Exodus account, “a union has been created from this blood relationship” and  “the terms for preserving that relationship are spelled out” (The Collegeville Bible Commentary, p. 105).
Every ten-year-old Christian knows what happens next.  Before Moses is even down the mountain the people have already begun to worship the golden calf.  To say that this Covenant is on shaky ground  is an understatement.
But the Letter to the Hebrews shows us how the Blood of Christ initiates a new and perfect covenant.  If there’s any doubt about that, we have the words of Jesus in the Gospel today “This is my Blood of the Covenant.”
Fulfillment. Pure and simple.
But the word that really inspires my thoughts today is ‘desire.’  It seems to me that the Eucharist must be desired to have its full effect in our lives, and that offers us an opportunity today to ask ourselves whether the Eucharist truly is the fulfillment of our desire. 
Do we long for it?  Do we hunger for it? 
We should. St. Thomas not only calls the Sacrament the fulfillment of ancient figures and the greatest of all Christ’s miracles—in the same sentence he called it a “unique and abiding” consolation.
Priests and deacons have a bird’s eye view on this question.  We ourselves can experience routine and over-familiarity.  And giving Holy Communion to hundreds of people every Sunday we sometimes wonder how many people approaching the altar have any of the feelings that St. Thomas expressed when he wrote “O precious and wonderful banquet that brings us salvation, contains all sweetness.”  Do we experience what Thomas called “spiritual delight, tasted at its very source”?
One of the Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion in the parish told me she sometimes feels sad at the absent-minded expressions on the faces of those who stand before her.  Of course it’s not what’s on our face, but what’s in our heart that matters.  Still it’s easy to wonder why we don’t look a little more enthusiastic, a little more reverent, or even slightly awestruck as we approach the table of the Lord.
In the pews you will find the prayer St. Thomas wrote in preparation for the reception of Holy Communion.  These cards have been in the pews for some weeks now; I’m not sure how many people have used them, but when we finally get the screens up and running I hope to project this prayer at least some of the time—so that it might increase our desire for this saving Sacrament; so that it might help us to hunger for the Bread of Angels; and so that it might help us to receive not only the Sacrament but also its full grace and power.
Thanksgiving after Communion is very important, and St. Thomas wrote a prayer for that too.  But somehow I think we need most to excite desire in our hearts each time we approach the Eucharist.  And so I wonder whether on this great Feast you might join me in the prayer of St. Thomas Aquinas you find in the pew under the heading “Prayer before Mass.”
Almighty and Eternal God, behold I come to the sacrament of Your only-begotten Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.  As one sick I come to the Physician of life; unclean, to the Fountain of mercy; blind, to the Light of eternal splendor; poor and needy to the Lord of heaven and earth.  Therefore, I beg of You, through Your infinite mercy and generosity, heal my weakness, wash my uncleanness, give light to my blindness, enrich my poverty, and clothe my nakedness. May I thus receive the Bread of Angels, the King of Kings, the Lord of Lords, with such reverence and humility, contrition and devotion, purity and faith, purpose and intention, as shall aid my soul’s salvation.
Grant, I beg of You, that I may receive not only the Sacrament of the Body and Blood of our Lord, but also its full grace and power. Give me the grace, most merciful God, to receive the Body of your only Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, born of the Virgin Mary, in such a manner that I may deserve to be intimately united with His mystical Body and to be numbered among His members. Most loving Father, grant that I may behold for all eternity face to face Your beloved Son, whom now, on my pilgrimage, I am about to receive under the sacramental veil, who lives and reigns with You, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God, world without end. Amen.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

A Video on Pentecost? Really?

The readings today are extraordinarily rich. The first reading is the dramatic story of the birthday of the Church. The marvel of the first Pentecost is repeated every day, since the Church continues to speak “in the language of every people.”

The Psalm moved us from that historic and continuing miracle to a personal response. We begged the Lord to send the Spirit on the whole world, but also on us as we meditate and rejoice in the Lord.

Then we heard part of St. Paul’s teaching on gifts. In this short passage, the Apostle uses three different Greek words to discuss the Spirit’s gifts. They get a bit lost in translation, but let’s take a look at each.

He uses the word charismata, which you will recognize from the English words charism or charismatic. These are gifts of grace, which Paul connects with the Holy Spirit. The translation here is simply “gifts.”

He uses the word diakonia, which you will recognize from the English words deacon or diaconate. These are gifts of service, which Paul connects with the Lord. Here the translation is “services.”

Thirdly, St. Paul speaks of energemata. Recognize that one? Of course you do—it gives us our word energy. Translated as “activities.” these are gifts of works. St. Paul connects them with God the Father, the first cause of all things.

Gifts of grace, gifts of service, and gifts of works. All from God, and all from baptism.

Happily, in the divine plan not every Christian is given every gift or called to every work. Each has gifts, though, and each has a call.

At first I was not happy when I realized we’d need to show the Project Advance video on this great feast day. We’ve had technical problems and the new video screens were not ready earlier; even now they’re only temporary. But the campaign is well-underway, and we couldn’t keep putting off the video, which this year is particularly good.

However, when I thought about St. Paul’s teaching on gifts of service and gifts of works, I knew it was meant to be. Gifts don’t exist in a vacuum. They need to bear fruit, to accomplish their purpose. And in our parish and Archdiocese it’s Project Advance that makes these gifts make a difference.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Ascension and Our Call

Many years ago I wrote the story of my vocation for the B.C. Catholic. I showed it to my Mom and asked how she liked it.

“It’s very nice, dear,” she replied kindly. “But I notice your father and I aren’t mentioned.”

I never made that mistake again, and certainly won’t make it on Mothers’ Day!  My parents get full credit for laying the foundation for my call to the priesthood.

For teaching me how to be a priest, I give credit to my seminary, the Pontifical Beda College, and to several priests who were wonderful role models for me.

But one thing is sure: I learned how to be a pastor right here. For more than ten years, the parishioners at Christ the Redeemer have been my teachers and role models as I discovered the difference between being a priest and being a pastor.  In the Catholic Church, of course, all pastors are priests—but not all priests are pastors.

I’ll come back to this, but let’s look briefly at the readings.

The scriptures today offer two accounts of the Ascension. In the Gospel, Jesus is taken up to heaven, and the apostles get to work. It’s typical of St. Mark’s concise style.

But in the first reading, from the Acts of the Apostles, we get a neat detail—the Apostles gazing up at the sky after the Lord has ascended. And we read the famous line, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven?” It’s almost comical—as if the angel was a foreman barking at the workers—“what are ya staring at? Get back to work!”

I’ve never had to motivate parishioners who only wanted prayer without action. In fact, it’s the ones who pray who seem to work the hardest.

Before I came, many parishioners had taken part in a program to identify their spiritual gifts, Alpha was launched, and a generous community spirit drove the building of the church and school.

In my years at Christ the Redeemer, these foundations have been strengthened by our emphasis on stewardship and on intentional discipleship.

But the lion’s share of the credit can’t go to any program or concept. Our number one strength is people who truly believe they’ve been called to “proclaim the good news to the whole creation.”  People who don’t think Jesus was talking only to eleven people. Or to priests.

For so long our Catholic missionary culture was about priests, brothers and sisters travelling to foreign lands—and that is an important part of going into all the world to proclaim the good news. But in an age when the majority of our neighbours and co-workers do not believe in Christ, it makes no sense to ignore the mission field next door.

Our parish seems to have a special gift for what St. Paul calls equipping the saints for the work of ministry. Let’s look at this unusual expression. Don’t get confused by the word ‘saints’. All Paul means by saints is holy ones. He’s talking about committed Christians, baptized believers—in other words, all of us. We need to be equipped or made ready if we’re going to proclaim the good news in word and deed.

How do we do this?  First and foremost by inviting people to an active faith and personal friendship with Jesus—what we’ve been calling intentional discipleship. We do this is many ways, particularly by building a worshipping community around the altar.

How can people be sent out as missionaries if the sending community is not strong? We are so blessed to be gathered here as one in hope, in faith, and in baptism. And we bear with one another in love—which is not easy. Family feuds may be great on TV, but they are terrible in church. Our parish has maintained the unity of the Spirit in an exemplary way, avoiding any of the dissension I’ve seen elsewhere.

Even a strong community needs to build up its members.

We do this through the generous service of the countless parishioners who use the gifts God gave them to build up the Body of Christ.

No priest has all the gifts needed to equip his parishioners for the work of ministry, but a parish does. We have prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers, to use St. Paul’s list. We have people willing to lead Bible studies and faith studies—one of the prime ways to prepare missionaries for the world.

We have comforters, debaters, cooks, catechists, flower arrangers, youth leaders, musicians, singers, sacristans, servers, greeters, lectors, and a host of others.

Today we should add mothers and fathers to the list, for they have a primary responsibility to train and evangelize their children. Perhaps their ministry is the most crucial of all, and our schools exist to help them build up the Body of Christ in their homes.

The work of parents is not only crucial, but difficult in this confused world. One lad gave his mother a note for Mothers’ Day that said “Mom, I just wanted to tell you that Mothers’ Day wouldn’t be possible without me.  I’ll be waiting for my present in the living room. Love, Johnny.”

Whether we’re parents or pastors or any other category of parishioner, it’s not easy to build up the Body of Christ day in, day out.  The task is big. It can seem too big. But look what today’s Gospel says: “the Lord worked with them and confirmed the message.” We’re not working alone!

We’re not alone and we have help. Do you remember the ad for blood donors that said “it’s in you to give?”  In baptism and confirmation we have received the gifts we need bring Christ to the world, according to our particular call.

These truths apply to everyone. St. Paul leaves no wiggle room: “Each of us,” he says, “was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift.” And each of us is called and commissioned, today, by Christ. So let’s listen to the angels. “Why do you stand looking up toward heaven?” What are you staring at? You and your parish have work to do!

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Expecting More (Easter 6.B)

Fortunately for the parish, I’m a fairly cautious pastor. The rather wild
banner we produced for Project Advance this year is about as far as I go when it comes to experimenting.

But if I really let myself daydream, there are two experiments I’d like to try. The first would be two-hour long Masses. Masses as long as the average movie. What do you think would happen? You don’t need to think very long—we all know that St. Anthony’s and Holy Trinity would be totally packed.

The second experiment is even less likely, because first I’d have to get elected Pope. I would make attending Mass optional for a month of Sundays. And what do you think would happen then?

The answer to that is not so obvious. I really don’t know what would happen.

These ideas sound crazy to Catholic ears. Yet there are evangelical Protestant churches where attendance is not an obligation and the services run two hours—and they’re full.

Let’s look at our readings today with my two experiments in mind. Because I think the Word of God has something to say about our attitude to Mass and particularly to what we call the Sunday obligation.

The first reading speaks of the gift of the Holy Spirit. It’s clearly not the same as the Sacrament of Confirmation, since the Spirit comes down on these folks before they’re even baptized. Rather, the Spirit is poured out on them as they hear St. Peter preach.

We find two significant things here: first, the Holy Spirit “fell upon” the people; the Spirit was “poured out” on them. Listen to the language: this is a dramatic moment, something of an eruption of grace.

Second, “the Holy Spirit fell upon all who heard the word.”  God doesn’t even wait for St. Peter to finish. It’s the first time God ever interrupted a homily!

Let’s test our own experience against this story. Have we experienced anything remotely like it? Has we ever felt the Spirit flooding our hearts, falling on us, poured out on us? No need to leap to your feet—I know there are people in church this morning who have had this experience. But I doubt they had it while listening to someone preach!

Okay, maybe it’s the preachers’ fault. But the Acts of the Apostles gives us the rest of Peter’s words—we get only a bit of his sermon today—and it doesn’t sound particularly brilliant. On top of that, we have the fact that the Spirit comes before the sermon is over. It suggests to me that the power is in the message itself, in God’s Word, in the same great truths we hear preached all the time.

Somehow repetition seems to have dulled the power of the Word to open our hearts to the Holy Spirit and to His gifts.

(This is a good time to remind you that Dr. Ralph Martin, a powerful promoter of the Holy Spirit and his gifts, will be giving our parish mission at the end of the month. Here’s what he wrote about the baptism of the Holy Spirit that we encounter today in the first reading: “There is a temptation to build a little shrine around Pentecost and talk about it as a special moment when the Church first began. But Peter is able to tell us NO, NO, NO, don’t do that! This is a permanent reality that the Lord wants to give each new group of Christians. This is something that Jesus wants to do. It wasn’t just for the Apostles.”)

In our second reading we hear three very famous words from St. John: God is love. Love is what connects everything. We love one another, because love is from God. Everyone who loves, knows God.

How does this fit with our personal experience? Does it seem a bit abstract? But the passage has very practical consequences. First, God sent His only Son “so that we might live through him.” That has to mean something, living through Jesus. Certainly enough for another homily.

Then John says that the big thing is not our love for God but God’s love for us. Let’s be honest, that’s not the way most of us usually think. We’re more concerned with doing a good job in showing God we love him than we are in letting him love us.

The second reading also says that “God sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins.” That has many consequences, eternal ones, but it also points us to the Mass. If we believe that the Sacrifice of the Mass makes present the one sacrifice atoning for our own sins, why do we attend as an obligation rather than a joy?

Which brings us to the Gospel reading, where Jesus offers us joy—his joy, complete joy. Do we get that in church on Sunday?

Every so often we peek through the curtain of obligation and see what Jesus wants us to see.  It happened at First Holy Communion yesterday morning. No-one was there as a duty. No-one was fulfilling and obligation. And the joy wasn’t just about the beautiful children. It was about Jesus. I watched more than one parent holding back tears—tears of joy.

One of the greatest joys that Jesus offers us is friendship with him. Imagine telling a friend you’ll spend one hour visiting, and not a moment more. Or that you’d be fulfilling your obligation to him or her by meeting for lunch on Wednesday.

There’s no danger that I’ll start celebrating two-hour Masses and even less danger that I will be elected Pope. But I think we could start today to rethink some of the attitudes we have to Jesus our friend and to Jesus who is love itself.

What might this involve? In two words, great expectations. Why shouldn’t the Holy Spirit interrupt the homily by falling afresh on those who listen with open ears? If we come to Mass to fulfill an obligation, then we’ll experience the limited rewards of duty. What God wants us to expect is an outpouring of his own Spirit, the joy of knowing the love of God and the God of love.


Sunday, April 29, 2018

Moving from MUST to WANT (Easter 5.B)

When I was a kid, one of the most popular TV game shows was called Truth or Consequences. It was so popular that a small town in the States, previously called “Hot Springs,” changed its name. And so to this day, you can visit Truth or Consequences, New Mexico.

And if that isn’t the weirdest fact you’ve ever heard in a homily, I’d like to know what was.

The reason I had the show on my mind wasn’t weird, though. It was just that today’s Scripture readings got me thinking about truth and consequences.

Truth always has consequences. The greater the truth, the greater the consequences. And surely, there can be no greater truth than the fact that Jesus Christ is risen from the dead.

St. John tells us in our second reading that truth leads to action: belief leads to obedience and discipleship. And obedience and discipleship lead to life in the Spirit.

In the Gospel, Jesus tells us that his disciples will bear fruit, for the glory of God the Father.

Every ounce of that is distilled from the truth of the Resurrection.

Few people in church this morning don’t believe that Jesus rose from the dead. But this belief can be inherited and taken for granted. Or it can be strong and life-changing.

So where are we in our discipleship journey? Are we likely to bear the fruit that will give glory to God?

Let’s try a reality check this morning. I have a three-word, twelve letter test we can take together. The three words represent three stages of Christian discipleship. We are meant to move from the first to the third, but we need to know where we are now.

The first word is MUST. For many Christians, and especially Catholics, the demands of faith are external obligations. The classic, of course, is that we must go to Mass. We hear it from parents, teachers, and priests. There are other ‘musts’, often in the form of ‘must nots’. Sometimes, the ‘musts’ and ‘must nots’ are reinforced with sanctions ranging from the fear of parents, to the fear of Hell. The parents can be even scarier!

The second word is NEED. As we get older, or wiser, or more worried, we begin to internalize the call to faithfulness. At first I didn’t my doctor take very seriously when he said ‘you must exercise’. But as I got tired and stressed, I began to see that I needed exercise. More and more Christians are recognizing that a society without morality has dire consequences both for individuals and the common good.

There’s nothing wrong with doing the right thing because you must, or because you feel the need. But Jesus calls us to more. He invites us to discipleship that’s rooted in love for him. He calls us to WANT to be his disciples, because we want to be his friends.

It’s really only this third word that can attract others. Within the family and within the Church, we can talk about what Catholics must do, and what Catholics need to do. But it doesn’t sound very appealing.

On the other hand, what our hearts desire can be shared. Someone who is a branch of the vine who is Jesus Christ has the appeal and magnetism of Christ himself. Those who live their faith as branches of the vine – pruned and cleansed by obedience –are Christians who will truly glorify God by bearing fruit.

I don’t want to startle you by shifting gears, but I have found these three words perfectly fit three categories of donors to Project Advance, our annual Archdiocesan campaign.

We have the reluctant contributors. They feel they MUST give something or the pavement in front of the church will continue to buckle and someone will trip. They know that our regular Sunday revenue is not enough to keep up with roofs and pipes that are almost devilishly prone to leak. Or maybe they must give something so that the hardworking volunteers in the foyer don’t give them a funny look as they walk by the table for the next five Sundays.

There are also those who NEED to give. They have a sense of ownership in the parish, and they’ve experienced the fruits of our successful campaigns. Perhaps they have children or grandchildren at St. Thomas Aquinas and they feel it’s important to support the exciting building project now underway. Maybe they are music lovers who think we need to make sure our aging sound system is kept up to date, as we are planning this year.

But, there’s a third group – not just a group in theory, but individuals I’ve talked with many times.  They are those who WANT to give. People in the first two categories might think I am making this up, because it’s natural to think giving money away is painful. And so it is, except for those who understand Christian stewardship. For them, sacrificial giving is not based on what they ought to do, or even what the parish needs. It is directly connected to their understanding of discipleship.

The members of this group believe that Project Advance helps them bear the fruit God wants. They connect their giving to their call to be disciples. It’s a fact of life that most of us just do not have the confidence and zeal of Ed Zadeiks, who will lean over to someone at the next table at Tim Horton’s and invite them to ALPHA.

So when Project Advance funds the parish’s evangelization efforts, including ALPHA, our donors are responding to their call to fruitfulness. There are those who WANT to be a part of the campaign because they know they can’t evangelize alone.

The theme of our 2018 campaign is “Making Sundays Matter”. We chose it in part because it’s one of Archbishop Miller’s four key priorities for the archdiocese. But we also chose “Making Sundays Matter” because our Sunday Mass is “Easter returning week by week”, as St. John Paul wrote.

Among the many activities of a parish, nothing is as vital or as community-forming as the Sunday celebration of the Lord's Day and his Eucharist.[1] So it wasn’t hard to decide to focus our campaign on aspects of Sunday Mass.

The largest parish project this year may not seem terribly spiritual – replacing the stairs and pavement outside the front doors of the church. But we felt that making sure no one trips on their way to Mass was a very good place to start. We want every worshipper to arrive and leave safely.

Last year’s Project Advance raised funds for a video system. It will be up and running in just a few weeks. Doing it right proved more expensive than we planned, so we’ve earmarked additional money from this year’s campaign. The first thing you’ll see on the screen will be the Project Advance video, which will describe the great things we support with the share of the campaign that goes to the Archdiocese, $69,000 this year. But the projection system exists first and foremost to enhance our prayer on Sunday. We will occasionally use film clips in preaching, but we hope regularly to project the words of some prayers and hymns.

We recognize that Mass has limited value in evangelizing visitors, because they feel lost as the liturgy unfolds. This is true especially at Christmas and Easter. We’re going to use Project Advance contributions to purchase or produce guides to the liturgy for our visitors.

Improvements to the sound system in the choir loft will also enhance Sunday Mass.

But Sunday Mass does not exist in isolation. The Gospel calls us not only to worship, but to work. The tremendously successful parish ministries to prisoners and the poor will also be helped by this year’s campaign.

I hope you will support generously this year’s Project Advance. For our Archdiocese and for our parish in particular, it’s what pays for progress.

But giving sacrificially also helps us meet the deep desire for fruitfulness that is in the heart of each disciple. So I hope and pray that you WANT to be part of the campaign this year.

[1] John Paul II, Dies Domini

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Witnesses of These Things (Easter 3B)

Our 'Easter Event' on Thursday night was a great success. The meeting room was packed with an overflow crowd. But what stood out for me was a single failure, if I can call it that.

During the videos and the first of the three personal faith stories shared by parishioners, I noticed one woman who seemed to be doing everything she could to shrink into the corner. She made no effort to turn towards the front, and even from a distance I thought she looked uncomfortable.

Half-way through the evening, she got up and left.  It's possible she just remembered an appointment, but I felt she was distressed by the message she heard.

I was blocked in by extra chairs, or I would have run after her. Later on, I wondered what I would have said if I had caught up to her in the parking lot. I'm not sure, but when I read today's Gospel, I know what I should have said: "Why are you frightened?"

I might have added "it's okay to be frightened--Christ's own disciples were scared silly when he came back from the dead. And they doubted the same truths that made you so uncomfortable a few moments ago."

The testimonies of faith given by ordinary parishioners were enough to shake up most Catholics; I can't imagine their impact on someone who may have just come by for the dessert.

 Look at the reaction of the disciples to the ultimate proof of the Resurrection--the wounded hands and feet of the Risen Lord. St. Luke says "in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering..."

How human and real is that? And how close to the confusion many of us feel when we try to absorb the full meaning of Easter?

We're joyful. Christ has risen. But we're still not altogether sure of what it's all about.

 I read a story about a plumber who sent an email to a government agency announcing a great discovery. He'd found that hydrochloric acid did a terrific job of clearing clogged drains.

In due course he received a reply from Ottawa: "The efficiency of hydrochloric acid is indisputable but the corrosive residue is incompatible with metal permanence." 

The plumber obviously misunderstood, because he promptly wrote back to say he was very glad the government agreed with him.

The federal official, alarmed at this response, sent a second email which said "We wish to emphasize that we must refrain from assuming responsibility for the production of toxic and noxious residue from hydrochloric acid, and consequently, we most emphatically recommend some alternative procedure."

But again the eager plumber misunderstood the official and wrote back saying how pleased he was that the government agreed with him.

Finally, in desperation, the bureaucrat wrote "Don't use hydrochloric acid. It eats the heck out of the pipes!"

If we're honest, a lot of our preaching and teaching sounds more like the first two emails than it does like the last. We can sometimes over-complicate the Gospel to the point of obscuring its message.

Easter offers us a chance to keep it simple and powerful. The two disciples had an awful lot to say to the others when they arrived back in Jerusalem after meeting Jesus on the road to Emmaus. We know part of the story they told—it appears in the earlier verses of this same chapter in Luke, and we read it at the evening Mass of Easter.

But we can guess what they said first: Jesus is alive!  He is not dead! It's all true!

The basic fact of the Resurrection is at the heart of all the apostolic preaching. In today's first reading, St. Peter is bold to the point of rudeness, and for one reason only: God has glorified his servant Jesus, raising him from the dead. It’s all the confidence he needs.

The belief that Jesus is risen is also the reason for the confidence St. John shows in our second reading; Jesus is not only the atoning sacrifice for our sins, but the sacrifice that atones for the sins of the whole word--as proven by the fact that the Father has raised him to life.

I'm not giving up on preaching: a good homily can help to open our minds to understand the important truths and teachings in the Scriptures, and can help us apply them in our lives. But I've become convinced that our personal testimonies of faith hold a key to the renewal and the growth of faith in our day.

"You are witnesses of these things," Jesus says in today's Gospel. But not merely witnesses of the Paschal mystery and the forgiveness of sins as history or theology. We are flesh and blood witnesses of the power of Christian faith in our own lives, called to share our story with others.

Let me end with a challenge: take a minute now and ask yourself, “What would I have said to that woman as she rushed out to the parking lot?”