Saturday, January 25, 2020

St. Francis de Sales: What does it mean to be holy?

Seminarian Joseph McDaniel, a member of an active family in our parish, is studying with the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales in the U.S. Since he's spending a term here, I asked him to speak to the parishioners about the order's noble patron on his feast day this week. His short talk was very well received, and with his kind permission I present it here.

He also drew my attention to two  videos on the saint's life and teaching: St. Francis de Sales: A Biography  and To Be a Christian.

What does it mean to be holy? As a bishop and spiritual director,  St. Francis de Sales was asked this question frequently, by people from all walks of life. In his conversations with them, he noticed that oftentimes our imagined idea of what holiness is about can be far removed from the concrete reality of our lives. 

In the first chapter of his Introduction to the Devout Life, Francis observed, “everyone paints devotion according to his own passions and fancies. A man given to fasting thinks himself very devout if he fasts, although his heart may be filled with hatred…
Another gladly takes a coin out of his purse and gives it to the poor, but he cannot extract kindness from his heart and forgive his enemies.” (IDL Part I, Ch. 1)

In other words, in our picture of holiness, we like to accent those aspects of the Christian life that we happen to already be good at, while ignoring those that challenge us and call us to conversion.

Furthermore, we often project our vision of holiness far into a very much hypothetical future. We preface our idea of holiness with the words, “if” and “when.”

If my classmates, my coworkers, my siblings, my family members weren’t so demanding, challenging, annoying – if they all got their act together – then I could be holy.

When I get to high school, when I get exactly the kind of job I want, the kind of retirement I want, when I no longer have to run around my life putting out other people’s fires (let’s never mind those fires I started myself…) – then I could spend more time with God and be holy.

In response to our excuses, Francis proposes that holiness is not something we wait for, to be attained when all the stars align and when we eventually win the lottery – holiness is to be found right here and right now.

Holiness, which Francis called devotion, has just one, simple criterion, that of charity:  What is the love of God and love of neighbor asking of me right now, in the unique circumstances of my life?

Francis writes, “God commands Christians, the living plants of his Church, to bring forth the fruits of devotion each according to his position and vocation. Devotion must be exercised in different ways by the gentleman, the worker, the servant, the prince, the widow, the young girl and the married woman. Not only is this true, but the practice of devotion must also be adapted to the strength, activities, and duties of each particular person…I ask you, is it fitting for a bishop to want to live a solitary life like a Carthusian [monk]…or for a skilled workman to spend the whole day in church? … No, true devotion does us no harm whatsoever, but instead perfects all things.” (IDL I.3)

In other words, it’s precisely in engaging with the unique, idiosyncratic, aggravating and lovable people and circumstances of our lives that holiness is to be found. In seeing what needs to be done in the here and now, the people that need to be listened to, affirmed, confronted, reconciled with, and doing all of this with love,  not dragging our feet, but as Francis writes, doing so “promptly, actively, diligently” (IDL I.1), offering each of these actions and encounters to God – that’s where and when holiness is to be found.

Having just participated in the Eucharist, which Francis calls the “sun of all spiritual exercises” (IDL II.14), may we ask for God’s grace to perform all of our actions today with him and through love for him, offering to him in advance all the good we shall do and accepting all the difficulty we shall meet, trusting always in the abundance of God’s love. (Spiritual Directory, Article 1)


St. Francis de Sales, Introduction to the Devout Life, trans. John K. Ryan (New York: Image, 2003).

The Spiritual Directory of St. Francis de Sales,

Thomas F. Dailey, OSFS. Live Today Well: St. Francis de Sales’s Simple Approach to Holiness (Manchester, NH: Sophia Institute, 2015).

Sunday, January 19, 2020

Euthanasia: Dark Prophecies Coming True

I can think of only two really famous twentieth-century monsignors. I’m excluding Fulton Sheen since he went on to be a bishop—and I’m too modest to put myself on the list!

The two famous monsignors were both writers and both were received into the Catholic Church from the Church of England. Both of them were the sons of Anglican archbishops, one who was even the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Monsignor Ronald Knox was a brilliant wit and a classical scholar. His one-man translation of the Bible is a beautiful book and just one literary accomplishment among many.

But it’s Monsignor Robert Hugh Benson whom I want to introduce this morning, for a particular reason.

Unlike the more scholarly Monsignor Knox, Benson was a writer of popular fiction, including some ghost and horror stories. Most of what he wrote is now forgotten—except for one book. That book, which he wrote in 1907, is not a horror story but it was the most frightening book I have ever read.

It took me weeks to read Lord of the World,* because I could only manage a few pages at a time. It’s what’s called a dystopian novel—a novel, like Huxley’s Brave New World twenty-five years later, that presents the opposite of utopia: a society of darkness and oppression.

Lord of the World could be called science fiction, but it’s also a work of prophecy and warning. Both Pope Francis and Pope Benedict have said so.

I’m not writing a book review here—although Pope Francis himself apologized to reporters for giving a commercial for the book during an interview.

I’m talking about Lord of the World because it opens a window into the world of euthanasia.

As I said, the book could be called science fiction. One of the most amazing things that appears is air travel. Just four years after the Wright Brothers’ first flight, Benson describes airliners, which he calls volors.

Early in the book, a volor crashes in London.  As you’d expect, medical experts rush to the scene. But not to save life—to end it. Ministers of Euthanasia arrive and begin to finish off the wounded and dying.

That’s not even the most chilling look at euthanasia. Oliver Brand is a senior cabinet minister in the godless Government, and when his wife has his mother is euthanized against her will, screaming for a priest, he is sad but approves.

Later, we see Oliver Brand in great panic when his wife disappears.  In fact, she has checked in to a cozy euthanasia clinic where privacy laws ensure even a cabinet minister cannot find her until she has ended her life.

What’s my point here? Why speak at Mass about a novel instead of today’s Gospel?  Simply this: euthanasia is not just letting other people kill themselves. That’s always been possible. It’s about harnessing the medical and legal apparatus of the state to assist in suicide, as Canada continues to descend the slippery slope.

And when I use the term “slippery slope” in this context, I’m not talking about driving conditions. I first heard of the slippery slope when I was in high school, many years ago. It was in the context of abortion. Many pro-lifers warned that abortion would lead to more and more disrespect of human life. It seemed a bit alarmist. Well, they were right.

The bulletin today follows a message I sent out this week to all of you registered for our Flocknote e-mail and text network. It reminds us that the Government of Canada is conducting an on-line pollabout euthanasia and asking all of us to respond.

Do I think your views on euthanasia really matter to the government? Not really. But I think it matters a great deal if Catholics throw up their hands and step back from the public square. Failing to respond to the on-line questionnaire makes us in a small way part of the problem, part of the moral apathy that allows the state to violate the dignity of human life, especially vulnerable human life.

What’s up for grabs is not “medical assistance in dying,” as it’s called.  We have that already. The issue is moving from suicide to, let’s name it, murder. Because so-called involuntary euthanasia is just that.

The bulletin quotes famous words by Martin Niemoller, a Lutheran pastor in Nazi Germany:

First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—
     Because I was not a socialist.

Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—
     Because I was not a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
     Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

It doesn’t take much imagination to add “the physically handicapped, the mentally challenged, and the elderly” to that.

So let’s speak out. Let’s answer the questionnaire, after reading the guide to it that the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition has on its website

I hope no-one is annoyed that I didn’t talk about this morning’s beautiful Gospel. What we did, though not in so many words, was reflect on what St. John Paul called “the Gospel of Life.”
Lord of the World is available on in various editions. The Wikipedia entry contains a thorough plot summary. Since the novel is in the public domain, free e-books are available in a variety of formats. The American Catholic publisher Baronius Press sells a nice hardcover, although I think the cover (see above) is unattractive (as perhaps it's meant to be!). 

Sunday, January 12, 2020

Class is ON!

This Sunday morning I am meeting with the nine candidates in our current Permanent Diaconate cohort--exhausted from their first canon law classes on Friday and Saturday (taught by me!).

So the appearance of snow tempts me to give them a break and call of today's formation event.

But class is on--for two reasons.  First off, here in West Vancouver, we have nothing but a dusting of snow, quickly melting. Secondly, I am from Toronto, and still can't get my head around the fear of driving in the white stuff that is so common in BC.

Still, there are areas out in the Fraser Valley where snow is much more plentiful and driving much more difficult. The students who prudently decide to turn back after testing the driving conditions will not get any grief from me. But for those who can make it safely, it's business as usual.

As my late father once rhymed:
"Do I love the beautiful snow?

Sunday, January 5, 2020

Epiphany and Stewardship

We’ve all laughed at the many internet jokes about what would have happened if three wise women had arrived in Bethlehem instead of three wise men. 

They say the wise women would have asked for directions, brought along a casserole, and given practical gifts like diapers instead of gold, frankincense and myrrh. One joke mentions that at least they’d have wrapped the presents.

Let’s take the tired old joke seriously for a moment and ask why the Magi brought the newborn Saviour such curious gifts?

Saints and scholars have thought about the question over many centuries. You’ve heard their rich answers many times: in the first place, these are gifts fit for a king. Gold is an obvious way to pay homage to a ruler. Frankincense, St. Irenaeus wrote in the second century, was used in worship, so it indicated that Jesus was divine. Myrrh was a more complex symbol: it was used for embalming, so it symbolized that the child was born to die.

That rich symbolism gets the three wise men off the hook for being impractical—and by the way, the Gospel never says there were three of them, only that there were three gifts. Almost as if the gifts were more important to the story than the givers.

But today, I want to defend the wise men from another direction, and see if we can learn something practical from them.

I want to ask how the wise men decided on those three gifts. Did they know Jesus was our King, God come to die for us?  Surely not.

Did they, like the joke suggests, just lack better gift-giving ideas?

The answer, if we accept the powerful meaning of the gold, frankincense and myrrh, is that they were divinely inspired to bring those treasures. Whether they were men of prayer or not, tradition holds that they were pagan astrologers—people who looked for guidance in the stars, people who sought wisdom beyond their human understanding.

It’s not much of stretch to think that God who guided them by a star may have guided their choice of symbolic offerings, or to say that the prophecies they heard from the priests and scribes at Herod’s court opened their minds to the truth about the child they were seeking,

None of that’s really new to anyone who’s already heard a few homilies on the Epiphany. But I said we can learn something practical from this story, which at first seems long ago and far away.

The lesson, it seems to me, is that there are two aspects to our important decisions. The first is looking at the needs. By this standard, the magi would indeed have brought casseroles and some warm baby clothes.

The second is asking God to guide us.  Of course both ways can work together. Discovering the right thing to do usually begins by figuring out what needs to be done.

Most of my own decisions tend to focus on what needs to be done. Maybe you work the same way. But it can mean missing out on God’s guidance, the guidance he offers to disciples who really want to follow the star that leads us to Christ.

It’s been a few years since we talked about stewardship inthe parish. Lately, we’ve been hearing more about discipleship. But stewardship is discipleship. It means striving to put God first in all things and to follow where he leads.

This celebration of the Lord’s Epiphany is a perfect time to think about stewardship and to ask God to guide our decisions, especially our spiritual decisions, as the New Year begins. The bulletin this Sunday offers a planning tool. It can help us move forward in 2020 on the discipleship path.

Most of you will remember the simple formula for Christian stewardship: time, talent and treasure. The bulletin points to the wise men as models of all three forms of sacrificial giving.

Not only did they offer costly and appropriate treasures—they also gave of their time. One source estimates that their journey took about four months and covered over fifteen hundred kilometers. They used their talents—we assume their ability as astrologers helped them to recognize and follow the guiding star.

No less than at the time of Jesus, following God asks us to offer him our three T’s, treasure, time and talent. Not only because we see needs all around us—although that’s important too—but because by reflection and prayer we’ve come to know what God wants of us.

Let me end with a quick word about these three T’s in the context of our parish family—hoping that every one of you will take a bulletin and use it to discover what God’s asking you to do right now.

Time is the most precious commodity in our hectic modern lives. It’s the gift God wants most from us. He’s not asking for all our time—he knows the demands you have to juggle at home, work or school. But he wants—he needs—some of our time. A planned commitment of time to prayer, service and sharing. There are concrete suggestions inside the bulletin, because as I often say, if we fail to plan, we plan to fail.

Talent is a backbone of any community. We don’t all have the same gifts. But in the parish we have all the gifts needed, as long as everyone shares the natural and supernatural gifts God has blessed them with. Christmas at Christ the Redeemer is an absolute showcase of talents—parishioners used their artistic, musical, hospitable, charitable and liturgical talents in wonderful ways. But imagine if everyone did the same, finding ways to become actively involved in the life of the parish?

Treasure tends to come last on the stewardship list, although we notice that gold was the first gift the Magi offered at Bethlehem. Maybe it comes last since our financial offerings can often be the easiest gift to share—although never doubt that there are many parishioners who make real sacrifices to support the parish and other good works.

But your financial support is a foundation of our efforts to make Christ’s coming known and meaningful—especially to the young and those who have not heard of him. Our efforts at parish renewal simply cannot succeed without your generosity.

This year’s Christmas collection was the largest since I arrived in the parish in 2007. I want to think there’s a reason for that. More and more we are becoming a community of engaged people—parishioners recognize that we are doing great things together. I believe the connection between stewardship and discipleship is becoming clearer: as more and more parishioners share their time and talent, it becomes natural to share generously their treasure as well.

The start of the year is a good time to assess prayerfully the level of your financial support for the parish. Some of us decided years ago on an appropriate Sunday offering, If your financial circumstances have changed, the Lord may be inviting you to increase—or even to decrease—your weekly donation.

Most of you will remember the stewardship challenge offered a few years back by our Covenant of One:  

ONE hour of time spent in prayer each week.

ONE hour of talent each week serving others according to your own gifts.

ONE hour of income each week to God’s work in our church.

The front page of the bulletin connects all this to the great feast we’re celebrating today. It ends with these wonderful words: “Maybe all we need to know about the Magi is that they made themselves available, they followed and they gave. Today, let’s learn from them and maybe we’ll have an epiphany of our own.”

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Cast your cares on Christ, at Christmas!

Dr. Tim Kostamo is an esteemed parishioner, a devoted husband and father of four, and a respected orthopedic surgeon. But he has spent time in jail.

How he landed behind bars has a great deal to teach us.

The year was 1977. Tim had remarkable parents, deeply devout Protestant missionaries from Finland. They were the kind of Christians who knew God was talking directly to them when he said, “Go preach the Gospel to all nations.”

And so, they turned their minds and hearts to a place, not far from Finland, where the Gospel was not preached: the former Soviet Union. They became missionaries to Communist Russia and bravely smuggled Bibles hidden in the floor of their camper.

To avoid suspicion – and perhaps to save on babysitters – their children came along. The Kostamos ran a number of successful missions delivering the Scriptures to Russians hungry for the Word of God.

Until one day, when they were betrayed. The border guards knew just where to look and found the store of hidden Bibles. Immediately, the whole family was locked in a Russian jail.

And the discovery of the Bibles was not the Kostamos’ greatest worry. Tim’s mother was carrying the address list of the Christians and converts to whom they were going to deliver the Scriptures. She knew it would bring great persecution and imprisonment to everyone on the list if it fell into the hands of the Russian authorities.

Aided either by the guidance of the Holy Spirit or the memory of spy movies – or both! – Mrs. Kostamo pretended to be violently ill and dashed to the washroom before the guards could grab her. As they pounded furiously on the locked bathroom door, she ate the list.

Back in the cells, her children were drinking polluted prison water and Tim fell wretchedly ill.

But things were still worse for Mr. Kostamo. He was interrogated for four days without sleep or food. His captors told him he faced a lifetime in the Gulag, the infamous Soviet forced-labour camps. When the questioning finished, his interrogators said he would never see his family again. They offered him one chance to say a quick goodbye.

It was the most desperate situation imaginable. Tim’s father did not know where to turn, even how to pray, in the face of such terror.

Suddenly, Tim’s three-year-old brother piped up. He quoted a verse of Scripture, from the first Letter of St. Peter: “Cast all your cares on him, for he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7).

Such words from the mouth of a little child seem miraculous enough. But what happened next is harder still to explain. Mr. Kostamo went back to the cell and announced to the guards that they had no authority over him.

And they let him go.

That prophetic promise from a three-year-old brings to mind the words of Psalm 8: “Out of the mouths of babes and infants you have drawn a defense against your foes, to silence enemy and avenger” (8:2).

But who among us wants to count on a three-year-old in time of crisis? And is there any family here whose children grew up so steeped in Scripture as did the Kostamos?

Tonight we celebrate the fact that a child has been born for us, a son given to us, and that authority rests upon his shoulders (cf. Isaiah 9:6).

This child does not quote the Word of God; he is the Word of God. And the Word he speaks has authority and power. Power to lift burdens, power to break prison bars of addiction and despair, power to shatter the iron rods of oppression of every kind.

I don’t know about you, but my fine Catholic family did not take missionary trips into the heart of darkness. I didn’t grow up living the faith with such high stakes. So how can we claim a share of the power that delivered a family from prison, restored the health of a very sick youngster, and made sure such a dreadful experience did nothing to dampen the evangelizing zeal of Tarmo and Eila Kostamo, who continue as pastors and missionaries to the present day?

On this Christmas night, I offer a one word answer. Trust. The verse from First Peter, “cast all your cares on him, for he cares for you”, can be translated in several different ways. All of them invite us to trust in the face of our fears, be they great or small. The plainest translation, the Jerusalem Bible, says simply, “unload all your worries unto him, since he is looking after you”.

What better day to put our trust in God than the day he has shown himself to our eyes in the unthreatening form of a child?

Trust is more than the decision of a moment. It’s an attitude to God and his providence that deeply affects our relationship with him. After early childhood, trust is rarely instinctive. We learn to trust. We pray to trust. We practice trust.

In our Christian tradition, trust is linked with faith, and particularly with hope. We may trust confidently, and yet, always, there is still an element of the unknown; otherwise, trust would be the same as utter certainty. It’s not. St. Thomas Aquinas calls trust “a strengthened hope”.

In his Letter to Titus, St. Paul tells us that the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all. He makes it clear, though, that there is more to come, and that we must hope for it. We must wait for it.

And while we wait, we can grow in trust.

Tim Kostamo gave us a great gift by letting me share his family’s story of trust and deliverance with you tonight. The parish would like to give you a small gift that might help you grow in faith as his family did, whatever the challenges you are facing now, or may face in future.

It’s a “Litany of Trust” written by the Sisters of Life, a young religious order who vow to protect and enhance the sacredness of every human life. The prayers on this little card help us to ask Jesus to deliver us from the things that bind us, and to place our trust in his promises. The Litany is simple, but prayed sincerely and often, it has power to change our hearts.

It’s unlikely any of us will get locked up for smuggling Bibles. But most of us are bound by one thing or another. And all of us need to place our trust in God’s promises if we are to have the peace that the Angels proclaim on this holy night.

Sunday, December 15, 2019

Limping Along in Hope (Advent 3A)

Many of you know that we have an orthopedic surgeon in the parish. I’m old enough to find that rather comforting.

After the men’s prayer group on Friday, I told him about some pain I’m having and asked if he had time to give me a new hip before Christmas. He sent me to physio, without even bothering with an X-ray. So much for healing the lame!

I was thinking like a modern man—in a rush, worrying about the worst, looking for results, fast.

And sometimes I think the same way when it comes to my spiritual arthritis. I’d like a quick fix for all that ails me, from my worries to my weariness; I’d like my prayer life to stop limping along.

Isn’t that what Jesus was offering us when he healed the lame and gave sight to the blind. Didn’t he say that anyone who asks, receives?

Well, yes.  And no. The readings for this second-last Sunday in Advent are a crash course in understanding God’s promises and living in the hope they will be fulfilled for us—and in us.

Let’s start with the second reading, from the Letter of James. I can’t seem to get away from the orthopedic angle, because my favourite commentary says the letter shows “a beautiful understanding of the Christian life and provides a strong support for all those limping painfully along the path of perfection.” [Kelly Anderson, “James,” in James, First Second and Third John, Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture, p. 1]

That’s a good summary of all the readings we hear this morning—they’re intended to give strong support to all of us limping along the discipleship path.

James, in particular, gives us practical advice. It’s advice we can take home with us this morning and apply in the real-life situations we’re facing. It starts with just two words: “Be patient.” The advice is simple, but it needs unpacking.

Christians need patience, the patience of a farmer who can’t do a thing about the weather. Mainly, we need the patience that comes from hope—the supernatural virtue that keeps us focused on what God has promised, not how we’re feeling.

This kind of hope is not just a positive attitude but a gift from God himself. The Catechism says it is the Holy Spirit who teaches us to pray in hope. [CCC 2657] And there is no hope greater than the hope of the Lord’s coming—the expectation of Christ's return. James makes that clear: “Strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near.”

When was the last time you took heart in the fact that this world is passing away? But that’s what St. Paul tells us (1 Cor 7:31). Do we confront crises, disappointments, losses, and worries by telling ourselves that the Kingdom of God is near? That’s what Jesus said more than once.

Should we therefore never worry, never acknowledge our pains and losses, and pretend to ourselves that life is always rosy? Of course not. A trial is a trial. Jesus himself told us that in this world we will have troubles. But this world has the last word on nothing, on nothing at all.

St. James’ practical Biblical teaching on patient endurance, rooted in hope, is supported beautifully by our first reading from Isaiah. The prophet paints us a picture—or maybe I should say writes us a poem—that lifts our spirits wonderfully. His words tell us what hope looks like and feels like.

Hope, Isaiah shows us, is something beautiful. And, of particular importance today, something joyful.

Without denying the reality of sorrow and sadness, Isaiah’s vision invites us to live our lives with joy. That joy is rooted in patience and hope, as we’ve seen, but also in trust. The second reading is a prophetic promise that the desserts of our lives will bloom. It’s a promise we need to think about when we’re not struggling, so that we can claim it when times are tough.

We might say that Isaiah is giving us the Technicolor version of my favourite verse from St. Paul, Romans 8:28—“all things work together for good for those who love God.”

St. James tells us to strengthen our hearts.  One of the ways we do this is by reflecting on the Word of God, especially texts like these.

Today’s Gospel is less poetic and less practical than our other readings, but it’s even more important. It ties everything we’ve heard into Christ himself. It’s not just the coming of the Lord that’s near—the Lord is near. His coming is proclaimed by John the Baptist, but also by his deeds of power. The arrival of the messenger signals the coming of the kingdom of heaven; the age of the prophets comes to a close because the final age is here.

Those of us facing illness in our families or in our own selves can look at the healing miracles with envy. Why so many miracles then, and so few now?

We need to answer this question if we’re to live in the hope and joy presented in the liturgy today, and to be patient in the Christian way—not as stoics who deny suffering nor as atheists who deny miracles. Although there’s more than one answer, the heart of the matter is this: the miracles worked by Jesus are part of his preaching: as the Catechism says, they “bear witness that he is the Son of God.” (CCC 548)

The healings reported to John in his prison cell didn’t tell him that Jesus was kind, or helpful, or even powerful. The news told him that the ancient prophecies had been fulfilled; the eyes of blind had been opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped. The news assured him that the desert, where he had begun his preaching, had begun to bloom.

We can accept the same assurance. Not a promise of a miraculous end to all our troubles, but a certain hope of final victory, eternal joy, and a kingdom that has no end. So let’s quit limping and run confidently towards Christmas.

O my God, let me never forget that seasons of consolation are refreshments here, and nothing more; not our abiding state. They will not remain with us except in heaven. Here they are only intended to prepare us for doing and suffering. I pray Thee, O my God, to give them to me from time to time.

Shed over me the sweetness of Thy Presence, lest I faint by the way; lest I find religious service wearisome, through my exceeding infirmity, and give over prayer and meditation; lest I go about my daily work in a dry spirit, or am tempted to take pleasure in it for its own sake, and not for Thee.

Give me Thy Divine consolations from time to time; but let me not rest in them. Let me use them for the purpose for which Thou givest them. Let me not think it grievous, let me not be downcast, if they go. Let them carry me forward to the thought and the desire of heaven.

St. John Henry Newman

Prayers, Verses and Devotions (Ignatius Press, 2019)

Sunday, November 17, 2019


It was a joy to welcome Ottawa Archbishop Terrence Prendergast--a good friend whom I first met when I was a high school student and he a Jesuit scholastic at nearby Regis College--to celebrate the morning Masses at Christ the Redeemer today. The Archbishop was in Vancouver to speak at the annual Priests' Study Week.

With his kind permission, his homily appears below.    

As we gather for the Eucharist on the Lord’s Day I would like to share with you the theme of our Pastoral Year in which the faithful of the Alexandria-Cornwall and Ottawa dioceses proclaim that, “Christ is everything for us”.

          We so value our relationship with Our Lord and his teaching that we have made our own a challenging Scripture text: “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life” (John 6.68).

We believe that when you let Jesus into your life, when people put Jesus at the centre of their lives, it changes everything and puts joy into their lives. Our big challenge today is to introduce people to Christ so they get to know him. Isn’t this the purpose behind the Archdiocese of Vancouver’s initiative called “Proclaim”?

To fully implement what Archbishop Miller proposes in his recommending of Alpha, of Catholic Christian Outreach’s Discovery series and other such parish encounters means that we have to do so by introducing individuals to Christ one person at a time. We the Catholic community have to appeal to each individual person’s mind and heart.

We know that a lot of young people are looking for community and to belong to something. Our challenge, then is to build trust and to open each person to building a relationship with Our Lord so that together we might all experience the Joy of the Gospel. And that will not be something we keep here in church rather such a relationship with Jesus will push us to share it with his friends, the poor.

          The Home Missions collection is being held today to support the First Nations Catholic missions in your Archdiocese along with the good work done with the seafarers who visit your ports; it is an opportunity to assist them with ongoing prayer and a sharing of our blessings.

          In this way, we express that our experience of Christ Jesus as Lord and Saviour guides us in all that we are and do as we wait in patient hope for his return in glory at the end of time when all will be made right.

          Today's gospel is taken from the final address of Jesus’ public ministry to his apostles then and now to us. Like the speeches found in Mark 13 and Matthew 24-25, this speech in Luke’s gospel is apocalyptic in nature.  It “uncovers” or “reveals” God's designs for the future of his chosen ones, in this case the disciples of Jesus, members of the Church. 

          It is important, however, to realize that, since the future of salvation for the world remains hidden within God's sovereign wisdom, even what is revealed cannot be fully understood by us human beings.  So, we draw from it general advice: don’t be afraid; don’t go after false prophets; allow the Holy Spirit to give you the words you need to defend your faith; hold fast to the end!

          You see, faith in God and trust in his saving designs are called for so that one may correctly interpret what Jesus is telling us of the future.

          Jesus urges his disciples to a patient endurance, rooted in faith, love and hope.  They are not to be frightened or led astray, but are to be assured that in persecution Jesus will give them an eloquence and wisdom that their enemies will be unable to resist or contradict. Finally they are to be confident about what is to come because he is the Lord of History.
                   The closing weeks of one Church year and the opening week of another—the First Sunday of Advent in two weeks’ time—are linked by a focus on the “Parousia”, a word that means the “Presence” or the return of Jesus in glory.  Our Christian reflection today focuses on the third part of the acclamation of faith we say or sing at Mass: “We proclaim your death, O Lord and profess your resurrection, until you come again!”

          “Malachi” means “my messenger” and this Old Testament minor prophet tells of God's promise to send a figure in the end times who would “prepare the way” for God's renewal of Israel's faith life.  The anonymous author of these oracles lived in Judah two generations after the people of God had come back from the Exile in Babylon (about 460 BC).

          Though the Temple had been rebuilt, it was a sorry sight.  The 20,000 returned exiles were poor and without material resources to rebuild the Temple.

          As well, the People of God had grown weary in their religious practice.  Jews divorced the “wives of their youth”, to marry pretty foreign women (Malachi 2.4).  The wealthy not only cheated the poor; they were even selling them into slavery (Malachi 3.5).

          The prophet's oracles are a kind of catechism, laying out convictions about: God's special love for Israel, the sins of the priests, God's opposition to divorce, God's love of justice, criticism of ritual offenses and other signs of religious tepidity.

          Sometimes today we feel a similar discouragement. The evil around us and the difficulties we face—such as the way  members of the Church have suffered through reports of sexual abuse and other faults of our faith community and the pain so many in the church experience—all of it causes us to grumble and grow weary. We need renewal.

                   Malachi's prophecy said that the world could soon confidently look forward to a day when the least shadow of evil would be blotted out.  He used the image of the sun of righteousness shining out with healing in its rays.

          In the ancient world, one of the principal gods was the sun, who was believed to provide for his devotees warmth, life, light and law.  Malachi employed this symbolism, identifying these qualities with God's saving action towards the remnant in Israel who had remained faithful to God and neighbour in difficult times.

          According to Pope Francis, the fulfilment of this promise is what the Risen Lord Jesus offers us. In his recent apostolic exhortation Christus vivit, Christ is alive, the Holy Father says that the Risen Lord can and does continually revitalize us.

          Francis observes that, “Christ is alive and he wants you to be alive! He is in you, he is with you, and he never abandons you.…When you feel you are growing old out of sorrow, resentment or fear, doubt or failure, he will always be there to restore your strength and your hope.”

          Today's epistle also shares in the teaching about the end-times that colours the liturgy in these closing weeks of the year. Paul’s conviction proclaims a central biblical truth: we can trust Christ because he is steadfast, he is our lord and our friend, he will never let us down.

          Take courage, then in Christ’s closeness to you and strive for ways to make him known to those whom he wishes to draw close to himself, namely your family members, your associates at work and indeed every person you meet.

[Texts: Malachi 3.19-20 [Psalm 98]; 2 Thessalonians 3.7-12; Luke 21.5-19]