Sunday, November 11, 2018

Remembering Sacrifice

The armistice signed on this day one hundred years ago ended a conflict that killed more than sixteen million people.

“Seventy million men took up arms, nine million of them never returned home. More than four times that number had been wounded.

“It was supposed to be ‘the war to end all war.’ Instead, the ‘Great War’ began a cycle of violence that would shape the twentieth century, spawn a cold war that would divide the continent of Europe for half a century, and leave echoes that still reverberate in the twenty-first century,” as historian Joseph V. Micallef writes in Understanding World I: A Concise History.

Christians never welcome or glorify war. The Second Vatican Council states eloquently “Peace on earth, born of love for one’s neighbour, is the sign and the effect of the peace of Christ that flows from God the Father.” (Gaudium et Spes, 78)

However, there is an aspect of the tragedy of war that is closely connected to Christian faith: sacrifice. More specifically, self-sacrifice, which the exotic American philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson called the real miracle out of which all others grew.

Let’s look at three aspects of sacrifice this morning. First, the sacrifice of Christ himself, second the Sacrifice of the Mass, and third the daily sacrifice we make of ourselves. And in our reflections we will keep in mind what’s often called “the supreme sacrifice” made in time of war.

Sacrifice jumps off the page of the Lectionary this Remembrance Day Sunday. Our second reading today, from the Letter to the Hebrews, places sacrifice at the heart of Christ’s mission: “he has appeared once for all at the end of the age to remove sin by the sacrifice of himself.”

The letter is contrasting the annual sacrificial offering made by the Jewish High Priest on the Day of Atonement. Obviously the sacrifice is not perfect, for it is repeated year after year. Christ’s sacrifice, by contrast, is perfect and complete.

For the Jewish readers of the Letter to the Hebrews, the importance of this was obvious. They understand the whole notion of sacrifice in a way that we probably do not. The history of the Chosen People is marked by one sacrifice after another—some that pleased God and some that didn’t. In fact, a sacrifice gone wrong was the cause of Cain murdering his brother Abel.

So the notion of a perfect sacrifice was a precious and wonderful thing, as it should be for us. Since the perfect Priest offers the perfect Victim offered specifically for the sins of all, we can have complete confidence that the sacrifice is effective. A few weeks ago our reading from Hebrews underlined this by saying “Let us approach the throne of grace with boldness, that we may receive mercy and find grace in time of need.”

The second aspect of sacrifice we want to look at this morning is its connection to the Eucharist. In the words of the Catechism, we call it “the Holy Sacrifice, because it makes present the one sacrifice of Christ the Savior and includes the Church's offering. The terms holy sacrifice of the Mass, "sacrifice of praise," spiritual sacrifice, pure and holy sacrifice are also used, since it completes and surpasses all the sacrifices of the Old Covenant.” (CCC 1330)

The Mass is “at the same time, and inseparably, the sacrificial memorial in which the sacrifice of the cross is perpetuated and the sacred banquet of communion with the Lord's body and blood. But the celebration of the Eucharistic sacrifice is wholly directed toward the intimate union of the faithful with Christ through communion. To receive communion is to receive Christ himself who has offered himself for us.” (CCC 1382)

To attend Mass without an awareness of its sacrificial dimension is simply inadequate.

On the other hand, we can’t think of the Mass as if Christ is sacrificing himself over and over again.  “The Paschal mystery of Christ is celebrated, not repeated. It is the celebrations that are repeated, and in each celebration there is an outpouring of the Holy Spirit that makes the unique mystery present. Our liturgy not only recalls the events that saved us but makes them present. (CCC 1104)

Finally, we need to think about the sacrifice we are called to make of ourselves. The first reading this morning is the story of a woman whose humble sacrifice of the little she has is accepted by God. But there’s more than charity in the story: the woman of Zarephath is prepared for the supreme sacrifice when she agrees to share the little food on which her life depended.

Today we learn a dual lesson: the need for daily sacrifice, for love of neighbour, and the willingness to sacrifice all, should the need arise.

Christian living is sacrificial living, because we are called to imitate Christ who gave himself up for us, as St. Paul tells the Ephesians (5:2).

From its earliest days, the Church has honoured and remembered martyrs, men and women who laid down their lives, sacrificially, for the faith. Not all those who die in war are martyrs, but there are many who willingly put themselves in harm’s way for others, in imitation of Christ who said “No-one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (Jn 15:13)

On Remembrance Day, together with all Canadians, we honour and remember the fallen. But as Catholics we go a step further.  We remember and pray for them at Mass today, applying the merits of Christ’s supreme sacrifice to their souls.

I’ll close with a story I have told before. I was walking through the small Commonwealth War Cemetery in Rome, where families were allowed to choose an inscription on the headstone for their loved one who had been killed. Many were touching, like the one that read “Fondly remembered by Mum, Dad, and his little dog Peg.”

But most moving of all was the grave over which was carved the dying words of St. Monica to her son Augustine: “One thing I ask, that you remember me at the altar of the Lord.”

I no longer remember the name of that soldier. But I have prayed for him in the Holy Sacrifice many times since, and will do so again today. 

Sunday, November 4, 2018

Making Disciples: The Rules Changed (31B)

“What did I do wrong?” sad parents ask me and every pastor. “I sent my kids to Catholic schools, brought them to church every Sunday, and now none of them comes to Mass.”

Every priest has talked to these faithful people. Their pain is very deep, matched only by their confusion. What happened?

In his book Divine Renovation, Father James Mallon explains this painful aspect of modern parish life using a simple example.

Imagine that you were playing a game of rugby. (Personally, I can’t imagine that, but stay with me!)  At half-time, without warning, the rugby match becomes a game of soccer. The rules have all changed, but no-one told you. You get penalized, without knowing why.

That’s what happened in our Church and in our families. The rules changed, but nobody told us. Parents raised their children exactly as their own parents had raised them—but with tragically different results.

As you know, I’m less into sports than cooking, so I can offer my own analogy. You can follow your grandmother’s famous cake recipe perfectly, but it will flop completely if you’ve moved to La Paz, or Quito or Bogota. Recipes designed for sea-level baking require significant adjustments to be successful at high altitudes.

We’ve been following our grandmothers’ recipes for raising Catholic kids without noticing that the environment has changed dramatically, and in numerous ways. Father Mallon says that priests share responsibility for this and need to acknowledge our failure to recognize the signs of the times and to sound the alarm.
I don’t need to tell parents how serious this; for years now I have shared their pain. But our first reading today reminds us that forming our young people as disciples of Jesus is the concern of the whole parish and the whole Church.

Moses is preaching to the people of Israel at a time just as crucial as our own—at long last, they are about to be settled in the new land God has given them.

Even the place of his speech is significant. Moses is speaking near Beth-peor, where the Israelites had earlier turned away from the Lord. It was a place that reminded them of their infidelity. On the other hand, Beth-peor is within the borders of the Promised Land, so the setting is also a reminder of God’s fidelity.

Suffice to say this is a very, very important address. And it is, at least in part, about the religious upbringing of children—and its consequences.

Moses teaches the people that God is not only concerned with them, but with their children and grandchildren as well. Following His commandments and laws has tremendous consequences---bringing long life and prosperity. And one law is more important than any other: “love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.”

It’s not just Moses who tells us that this is the first of all commandments: In today’s Gospel Jesus himself cites this verse when he is asked about the greatest commandment of the law.

And if we read just a little farther in this sixth chapter of Deuteronomy we discover that this is not only God’s most central commandment but also the core of religious instruction. A few verses later, Moses says “Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away…”

Parent to child, heart to heart.

The Catholic Church has devoted enormous resources to forming children as disciples. But Father Mallon’s remarkable book points out that we’ve done much, much less to form their parents. Yet it is from the parents’ hearts that God’s words must flow to their children.

Father Mallon says that the Church—and the parish—must change how we minister to adults—and what we expect of them—if we’re to succeed once again in handing on the faith to the young.

We must, in the words of Divine Renovation, “rediscover our [missionary] identity and place the heart of the Lord’s mandate for his Church at the heart of everything we do, so that at the heart of every parish there will be a community of growing, maturing believers who are committed to a lifelong process of disciplined learning, who are discovering their God-given talents, who are prepared to serve and eventually to become apostles.”

What does that mean? More than I can say in one homily.  More than I can say in ten. But as the Parish Pastoral Council and eventually all parish leaders work their way through this amazing book, we will discover how to play by the new rules that confront the Church, seeking the blessings that God promises to each of us, our children, and our children’s children.

Stay tuned—there’s much more to come.

Sunday, October 21, 2018

World Mission Sunday: Rediscovering our Identity!

Yesterday we celebrated the funeral of Mary Bayes, a delightful member of our parish who died suddenly. Mary was very active in community and neighbourhood associations, so despite the fact that it was Election Day a number of local political figures attended the funeral Mass.

Afterwards I chatted with a very pleasant woman who complimented me on the homily and the liturgy as she left the church. But a few minutes later she came back in the door and said “I should have mentioned that my husband is running for council and we would really appreciate your vote.  I’m sorry to approach you like this, but I can tell you he’s a very fine man.”

“Sorry?” I replied. “You wouldn’t be much of a political spouse if you hadn’t. And now your husband has one of my votes.”

And indeed he did—though he lost anyway!

The encounter got me thinking about World Mission Sunday, which we celebrate today, and about mission in general. One Pope after another has told us that the Church is missionary by her very nature, yet few of us have the zeal of that politician’s wife.

The parish staff, the parish council, and the parish finance council are all reading Father James Mallon’s book Divine Renovation. In this remarkable manifesto, Father Mallon argues that many in the Church suffer from spiritual amnesia—we have forgotten what the Church is for.

As anyone who has a family member facing the challenges of Alzheimer’s disease knows all too well, the loss of memory is painful. It leads to confusion and to consequences like leaving a pot on the stove and so on.

It’s the same in the Church. When we forget the true purpose of the Church—making disciples of Jesus—we become confused about why we’re Catholics and what we’re supposed to do.

Father Mallon writes that many in our pews are wearing “invisible suits of armour.” When Christ’s message is preached with full force of—and it isn’t always—it just bounces off.

We will talk more in the weeks and months ahead about the message of Divine Renovation, but on this Mission Sunday I want to quote just one sentence. It boils down the message that we are called to share with our neighbours, our family, our friends, and the farthest corners of the world.

Here’s the key sentence: “We can speak of the truth that we are never alone, that God desires to dwell in us, to consume us, and to have us consume him, but in the end it is possible to simplify the message into one word: Jesus.”

This is the message of our second reading at Mass today, from the Letter to the Hebrews. Jesus himself is the good news of our faith; Jesus makes a difference in our lives; and Jesus understands everything about us.

Who wouldn’t want to know someone who knows and sympathizes with them so completely?

The letter states clearly that Jesus is the Son of God, interceding for us before the throne of the Father.  That alone should inspire confidence. But at the same time, he is fully human—one of us, who has been tempted like us, though without sin.

It’s so easy to dismiss the importance of Christ’s temptations.  After all, he was God; how hard can the testing have been for him?  Yet his temptations were far harder than ours, since “human experience shows that giving in to temptation, even a little, lessens its intensity (even though giving in will lead to further temptations in the long run). Jesus’ temptations were all the more intense precisely because he did not yield to them in the least. [Mary Healy, “Hebrews,” Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture, p. 98]

And there’s still more to unpack from the brief description of our great high priest in Hebrews. “Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness,” the letter says.

Look at three words in that sentence. “Therefore” relates to what we’ve just been talking about—the fact that Jesus sympathizes with our weakness, and understands our temptations.

And the invitation to “approach” suggests that God is nothing less than approachable.  I took the trouble to look up the word. The dictionary definition is “capable of being approached, accessible; and, specifically, easy to meet or deal with.”

Finally, that word “boldness.” Hebrews says that we know more than enough about Jesus to be fully confident in approaching the throne of grace—not just for mercy, but for all the help we need in every circumstance.

What a positive message for weary, wounded, and wondering folks! What good news to share by every possible means, from inviting people to Alpha to supporting the crucial World Mission Sunday collection.

But if the missionary spirit is really to revive in the Church—if we are to share Jesus with our neighbours and to make disciples of all nations, if we are to share the joy that “we are never alone, that God desires to dwell in us, to consume us, and to have us consume him,” then we must know him ourselves.

The wife of that unsuccessful candidate persuaded me to vote for her husband in two different ways.  I’ve already mentioned that I was impressed by her boldness. But I was equally convinced by her simple testimony: “I know him,” she said, “and I really think he’d make a great member of council.”

There’s a good model for how we’ll all share our faith with others once we rediscover the true purpose of the Church and “the essential identity of all the baptized to be missionary disciples, called to know Jesus and make him known.”

Sunday, October 14, 2018

What can we do? Pray the Rosary... (28B)

I love to tell my father’s favourite story from his boyhood parish, about a conversation he overheard after Sunday Mass. An elderly parishioner known for her strong opinions was telling the pastor how much she’d enjoyed his homily.

“Thank-you, Mrs. O’Sullivan,” he replied, “but to tell the truth I always feel a bit guilty when I don’t preach on the Gospel.”

“Father,” she said, “when you preach on the Gospel I turns off me hearing aid.”

Last Sunday, I did preach on the Gospel although October 7 was the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary, the patroness of our archdiocese. But today I have allowed myself to touch only lightly on the readings so that I can speak about the Rosary.

There are three reasons for this. The simplest is that thanks to generous donors—from a parish where I’d served before I came here—there’s now a very beautiful statute of Our Lady enshrined in a lovely grotto in front of the church, a serene place to pray the Rosary when the weather permits.

Another reason is that October has traditionally been the “month of the Rosary,” when this wonderful devotion is promoted.

But the main reason is this—‘pray the Rosary’ is an answer to one of the most common questions any of us asks: What can I do?

What can I do about my children? What can I do about my failing health? What can I do about problems in my marriage? What can I do about world crises? What can I do about the scandals in the Church?

What can I do? There’s no one in church today who doesn’t ask that question, some of the time, and some of us ask it all of the time.

In our first reading today, the author prayed, and received understanding: “I called on God, and the spirit of wisdom came to me.”

Back in 2010, Pope Benedict praised and taught Lectio Divina—the prayerful reading of the Word of God, which the second reading reminds us “is living and active.” Certainly this is a form of prayer recommended to all, not just those who’ve studied Scripture.

Recent years have also seen the increasing popularity of methods of prayer associated with Saint Ignatius and the Jesuits.  We’ve had talks on both Lectio Divina and Ignatian prayer here in our parish.

But the fact is that the Rosary remains the most popular and accessible way of praying in our Catholic tradition. The Rosary is making a comeback after a period when it was considered old-fashioned. The late Cardinal Edouard Gagnon told the story of saying his Rosary while he waited in his doctor’s office—this was in the early 1980s—when a fellow patient leaned over to him and said with some excitement “it’s still allowed to pray the Rosary?”

It’s hard to say why the Rosary was eclipsed after Vatican II.  Pope Paul VI, who was canonized today together with the modern martyr St. Oscar Romero, wrote a beautiful document on devotion to Mary that included high praise for the Rosary, but it did not seem to have attracted a great deal of attention.

St. John Paul’s apostolic letter on the Rosary had more impact, in part because it presented the new “luminous” mysteries, the mysteries of light.

In any case, it’s fair to say that the eclipse is over and that a renewed awareness of the Rosary can be seen throughout the Church and certainly in our own parish. A group prays it daily after Mass, while our Friday morning men’s group says the Rosary together at the godly hour of 6 a.m. every week. Young adults are particularly attracted to this prayer, and a number of Rosary groups have sprung up in response.

Already classes from St. Anthony’s School have visited the new grotto to say a decade of the Rosary together.

At the same time, the Rosary is an ideal prayer for the individual, because reflection on the individual mysteries can make it true mental prayer in which deep contemplation takes place. There’s nothing wrong with the Rosary as vocal prayer, but it’s meditation on the mysteries that is most likely to lead to the understanding and wisdom that today’s first reading speaks about.

The Rosary is, of course, a scriptural prayer. Almost all of the 20 mysteries come straight from the Bible; only the Assumption and Coronation are not recounted in Scripture, and even they are richly supported by biblical texts. Within the Rosary are the treasures of the Gospel, fully living and active in the souls of those who pray it devoutly.

I’ve already mentioned how the Rosary is a big part of the common prayer life of our parish. It is also of great value in the family.

From my own experience, I would have to say that the family Rosary is not exactly a profound contemplative prayer—at least not in a family of five.  When we tried to say the Rosary together in October or May, I found it an ideal opportunity to annoy my sister, and sometimes all the children would become infected by that contagious kind of laughter that only gets worse when you try to suppress it.

Still, the effort to pray has results regardless. It tells children that prayer matters, not only to them as individuals but as members of a family.

And it can lead to powerful opportunities to witness to the faith. Before he met my mother, my Dad dated a girl whose father owned a very successful General Motors dealership—so successful, in fact, that the president of GM came to have dinner at their house.

It was a large Catholic family, and all the children gathered around the table with the important guest. When dessert was finished, their father turned to the CEO and said “And now we will pray the Rosary, as we do this after every meal.”

When Dad told me this story, I was deeply impressed and said “that man was an amazing person.”

“Yes,” he said, “but you still wouldn’t want to buy a car from him.”

Nobody’s perfect! And what I like about the Rosary is that there’s no pressure to pray it perfectly.  When I pray with Scripture, or one of the meditations of St. Ignatius, I tend to evaluate my prayer—to ask whether I prayed well or poorly, depending on my level of attention or devotion.

I don’t do that with the Rosary. Fast or slow, focused or distracted, when I have prayed those five Our Fathers, 50 Hail Marys, and five Glory Be to the Fathers, I’m done. I’m happy. I’ve prayed.

Finally, the Rosary is a wonderful way to pray for the Church, now more than ever. On September 29, the Holy Father invited Catholics around the world to pray the Holy Rosary every day in October, asking Mary and Saint Michael the Archangel to protect the Church from the devil.

Unfortunately, I didn’t notice the Pope’s request until he renewed his invitation last Sunday, so I couldnt promote this earlier.  But we can respond now, and pray a Rosary for the Church each of the remaining days of October.

“What can we do?” about the pain so many are suffering in the Church today, about the pain of victims?  We can pray. We can join ourselves to Christ in the garden, to Mary at the Cross, to the apostles in the Upper Room, and to the joyful disciples on Easter. Our rosaries can be the chain of prayer linking us intimately to those redeeming mysteries of pain, of sorrow, and of hope.

Sunday, October 7, 2018

The Church Must Speak the Whole Truth (27B)

Two kinds of disasters have been in the news lately. The first kind are natural disasters such as the terrible earthquake that threatened the lives and welfare of people in Indonesia.
The second kind are unnatural and closer to home—allegations of abuse and cover-up that just keep sending Catholics reeling, asking ‘what’s next?’
There’s no avoiding the fact that these are difficult and painful days.
The natural disasters will, judging by past experience, have a positive side amidst the terrible human tragedy. Generous people will bring material aid and comfort to the victims, making visible the basic goodness of the world even in the face of suffering.
Moral disasters, however, rarely have an upside. They bring only discouragement and confusion, and when they involve the Church they make it that much more difficult to carry on the saving work of Christ.
The failures of Church leaders lead both believers and non-believers to ask many questions.
Today, I’d like to tackle just one set of questions: Why is the Church so concerned about human sexuality, about the institution of marriage, about what people do in their private lives? 

Why can’t the Church—and its now-suspect celibate clergy—stick to a “religious” message? Why does it need to make an issue of “political” things, things like the provincial sexual orientation and gender identity curriculum, known as SOGI, or same-sex “marriage” and the like?
Aren't we just setting ourselves up for a fall, for the charge of hypocrisy?
I’ve heard these kind of questions often enough, even from loyal Catholics. So today I want to answer them by speaking about the Church’s mission, calling, duty, and obligation to preach a message about human sexuality and its place in securing the good of both individuals and society.
Of course we all know folks who consider themselves Catholic but disagree with various moral teachings of the Church. I’m not really talking to them today. I want to address those Catholics who don’t see why the Church has to preach a message about the plan of God for marriage and the family.
We do a crummy job of getting this message out. There are sincere Catholics who think that the Gospel message is exclusively — in quotation marks — a “religious” message. They don’t recognize that the Good News of Jesus Christ embraces both those truths we tend to think of as religious — forgiveness of sins or the saving sacrifice of the Mass, for example — and truths which are more broadly speaking natural, indeed pre-Christian.
Much of what the Church teaches about God’s plan for man and woman is found in the Book of Genesis, which we heard in today’s first reading and which Jesus quotes in today’s Gospel.  Certainly the New Testament provides an expanded and enriched understanding of the Genesis teaching. But, foundationally, what is true about the human person, what was true at the moment when God brought man and woman into existence, belongs to the deposit of Faith that the Church must preach in season and out of season.
I can’t stress this enough. The Church is called to preach the whole truth. And the Church is called to preach that truth to the entire world.
Many well-intentioned Catholics think that we should keep our nose out of public debates, and preach to our own. Many Catholics do not realize that the Church has a mission to the world. We do not go out to the world and say, “Jesus Christ is Lord; be baptized so you can come to Mass and receive the Eucharist with us.” We say: “Jesus Christ has come to bring life, and to bring it to the full. To you, in every aspect of your being.”
There’s no such thing as a purely “religious” truth.
Things are true or they are not true. And if they are true, if they bring life, then they are part of what the Church proclaims. The American philosopher William James put it neatly when he said “If a thing is true, it makes a difference.  And if it makes no difference, it’s not true.
Both the first reading and the Gospel at Mass today present the divine plan written into our bodies: the creation account of Genesis reveals the distinct order of nature—man and woman we were created. Man and woman. And man and woman were created that they might be one. One flesh in the divine perfect plan of creation.
The Church must proclaim this. We cannot step back from these truths, for fear of mockery in these difficult times, or for fear of losing government funding for schools or hospitals. The truths about the human person, about marriage and the family are Gospel truths. They come to us from Jesus—how many times have I heard people say that the Catholic Church is against divorce and remarriage. This is not a teaching of the Catholic Church but of Jesus himself, as our Gospel passage today makes clear.
The word Gospel means “good news.” Now if our moral teaching is only rules and regulations, it can’t be understood as good news, surely. Yet many Catholics have never heard a word about this kind of good news, and for that we preachers must apologize.
The teaching on divorce, particularly, and the complex area of annulment is worthy of homily all to itself, but I’m not going to give it today. The Church’s teachings on responsible parenthood and artificial contraception are sometimes rejected by people who really haven’t heard them; no-one’s ever told them the reasons that might help them accept freely and joyfully what the Church proposes.
There’s more I’d like to say at this painful moment for the Church if I had the time. It is painful, certainly. But it’s also a reminder that the times in which we live make it increasingly tough to remain a complacent Catholic.  If we doubt that the Church has a message of truth from the Creator, and if out of embarrassment or sheer frustration over human failures in the Church we want to shrink Catholic truth to things around the altar, we will soon, I think, be dissatisfied with the broader, and indeed, true notion of Church.
Let’s not allow that to happen. As a first step, many of us need to know more about what the Church teaches, and why.
And let’s be glad, not sad, that the Church can proclaim a liberating, holistic, helpful, and healing message… even in her human frailty. It's something to be thankful for.

Sunday, September 30, 2018

A Week of a Wonders (26B)

How easy it would be for a priest, or any Catholic, to get discouraged these days. Reminders of our failures and their consequences seem to be everywhere, including in this morning’s Gospel, where Jesus speaks terrifying words to those who harm children.

And yet during the past week, I have had one experience after another of God renewing the Church.

It started last Sunday, when young adults gathered to hear one of our parishioners talk about his medical missions in Haiti, Ecuador and Indonesia. Except the message they heard from Dr. Tim Kostamo wasn’t really about his work as an orthopedic surgeon; it was about Christ, about living the faith with humility, and courage and joy.

At the end of the evening, I went to bed feeling like someone from Corinth, or Ephesus or Rome, who’d been listening to St. Paul preach.

On Monday, I went to the Door is Open, the drop-in center on the Downtown Eastside, to be with the members of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul as they prepared and served a hotdog supper.

The sheer scale of the event is awesome—it is extremely well-organized—but what thrilled me most was all the familiar faces from Christ the Redeemer visibly joyful in this simple work of charity.

I was a bit surprised to see one of our parishioners there who is known for all her dedication to prison ministry. How could she do this as well? But when I mentioned that to someone, he pointed to one of the other workers he said—that’s the former prisoner she brought along to help.

As I got into my car, I felt that I’d seen a modern version of Jesus feeding the five thousand—although I was assured that there weren’t that many, since some of the guests get their food and head back into the line for a second or even third time.

I had had a lived experience of this morning’s Gospel, where Jesus calls his disciples to give water to the thirsty in his name, even though the beverage on Monday was iced tea.

On Tuesday, I met with our newly-formed parish core team. It’s the result of some planning and discernment we’ve done that’s aims to increase the effectiveness of ministry at CtR by making it less priest-centered and more collaborative. At these weekly meetings, the most common phrase you hear is, “well, maybe not, Monsignor…”

On Wednesday I preached to the school children in the morning and the Parish Religious Education Program students in the afternoon, sharing my enthusiasm for the Canadian Martyrs who inspired me so much when I was their age. Now I'm inspired by their dedicated teachers, the volunteers assistants, and by the parents who sacrifice much for their Christian education.

Thursday I had an important meeting with some very capable people about starting up the fourth group preparing for the permanent diaconate, then a lunch with the man who started the ball rolling by presenting a motion to the Archdiocesan Synod fifteen years ago.

On Friday, I met with Ed and Shawna Zadeiks, a husband and wife deeply committed to sharing the Gospel. We talked about various ways to do this, including Discovery faith studies and the Wild Goose video series. But most of all, we talked about Alpha, which returns to our parish this Thursday evening.

We talked about how Alpha changes lives. But I won’t go on about that, since we will hear from Ed after Communion this morning. I’ll just say that when Ed and Shawna left, I thought to myself “this is how the Church must change and grow.”

And then came Saturday. Vernon Robertson offered his “Seminar of Hope,” a whole day on how to pray for your sons and daughters—and for your friends, other loved ones, spouses and anyone else the Lord has placed in your life.

I’m at a loss to describe the power of Vernon’s preaching. This retired butcher from Safeway made the Scriptures fly off the pages of written words and into the hearts of everyone listening.

Once again, I found myself not only inspired but challenged.  One of the practical things he said has already caused me to make a small but important change, which you may notice at the Prayers of the Faithful today.  We’ve been praying according to an established formula: for the Church, society, those suffering from natural disasters, the sick and the deceased.

Yet we don’t very often pray for the things people actually bring with them to Mass—for children who’ve left the Church, for those anxious about medical tests, for financial worries, for jobs, for knowing God’s will. That’s partly because we use a standard template when preparing the intercessions; we’ll try not to do that anymore.

So there’s my week. And you are asking—what does that have to do with me? It sure didn’t sound like a homily.

Let me explain by asking you something: as you listened to me talk about those seven days, did you hear me mention a priest? No, every single individual who taught me, inspired me, worked with me, and served alongside of me was a lay member of Christ’s faithful.

There were a few lay professionals, but most of the women and men who filled my week with their great example, wisdom or energy were so-called ordinary Catholics, devoted to the mission of the Church in good times and in bad.

Look again at the first reading. Joshua, the executive assistant to Moses, is shocked that Eldad and Medad are prophesying without a license. He wants them stopped. But Moses knows better. He knows that the Lord’s spirit is poured out freely, and that all his people can proclaim his word.

In a different context, in today’s Gospel Jesus also welcomes the ministry of those who aren’t officially part of the team.

Dear friends, we will always need priests and bishops.  Indeed, without them there can be no Catholic Church. We are richly blessed, here and elsewhere, with many good priests and bishops. But I believe that God will renew and revive his Church mainly through those lay faithful on whom he puts his Spirit, so they can do deeds of power in the name of Christ.

My diploma from UBC is gathering dust somewhere, but on it are the Latin words “Tuum Est,” which can be translated “It’s Up to You”—a motto for every Catholic in these trying times.

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Equipping the Saints for Ministry: Commissioning our Catechists

I've spoken lately about how the Word of God can hit you over the head, making it impossible to ignore a message. It can be painful.

But sometimes God, like a good teacher, makes sure I'm listening just by repeating himself. That happened last week..

Friday was the feast of St. Matthew, apostle and evangelist. It was no surprise that the first reading at Mass was from the Letter to the Ephesians, where St. Paul writes “The gifts Christ gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ...”

But before the day was out, the scripture readings in the breviary repeated the same text two more times, at which point I began to think the Lord was trying to tell me something. Whether he was or wasn't, the triple dose of Ephesians 4 sure made it easy to preach today, the Sunday when we bless the women and men who teach the faith as catechists in our parish.

“The gifts Christ gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ...” That tells us two key things about our catechists: first, that they are a gift, and second, that they have a purpose.

Usually, when we speak about God's gifts, we're speaking of the graces he gives us. We all know that when God calls someone to a particular work, he grants the grace or gifts they need.

But in the passage we’re discussing, St. Paul is calling people ‘gifts’. Another translation says “he gave some as apostles, some prophets” and so on. Our teachers and evangelists are a gift from God. 

The purpose of their calling also comes from God. It is “to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ...”

The meaning of that is lost if we think Paul is talking about the saints in heaven, who certainly don't need to be equipped for ministry or anything else, for that matter.

Again, another translation explains things.  In this context, the word “saints” means holy ones—simply the members of the Church. All the baptized need to be prepared for service, for ministry, and every service has the same goal, building up the body of Christ.

But even though every one of us needs to be taught and equipped, there is one group of saints, of holy ones, that needs special attention: our children. Although our catechists serve many adults, particularly through R.C.I.A. and Bible studies, the majority of them labour in the parish religious education program, the liturgy of the word for children program, and in our schools. (We will commission the school teachers at a school Mass during the week.)

These dedicated volunteers welcome our children as they would welcome Christ himself. In today's Gospel, as elsewhere, Jesus shows how much he loves children. He identifies himself with the child whom he takes in his arms and he calls his disciples to treat little ones as they would treat the Lord himself.

(No wonder that on another occasion Jesus says that anyone who harms a child would be better off tied to a rock and dropped into the ocean. Sadly, we have all too many opportunities lately to reflect on those words.)

Delighted as I am to acknowledge our catechists today, I want to speak briefly about two other groups as well. 

The first is evangelists. We’re comfortable finding pastors and teachers on Paul's list of servants of Christ's Church. We know what a pastor does and what a teacher does. 

But evangelists? We don’t expect to find one of those in the next pew. Not so many years ago, all the evangelists were priests, some specially gifted ones like Fulton Sheen. One of the most wonderful blessings that’s come to the Church in recent decades are lay evangelists, men and women who are exactly the people St. Paul is talking about. I hope before long there will be a special blessing to commission evangelists. But today we will include them alongside our catechists as they prepare for the launch of Alpha—our parish’s number one evangelization effort—in less than two weeks.

The second group, of course, is parents. They don't need to be commissioned to the work of preparing their children to serve Christ and his Church. They've already taken their children in their arms, welcoming them as God's gift.

What parents may not have thought about is how their generosity is blessed by Jesus in today's Gospel. We all recall his promises of an eternal reward to anyone who visits prisoners or the sick, or who offer a cup of cold water in his name. Today Jesus extends the promise further, telling parents that they have welcomed not only a child but their Lord. 

Parents should think carefully about that. Jesus says that whoever welcomes a child in his name, welcomes him. That promise is huge. But with the calling comes a responsibility. Welcoming children in the name of Christ—indeed, welcoming children as Christ—takes more than bundling them into your arms.

Among many other sacrifices, it requires prayer. Which is why I am going to conclude with a brief word about this Saturday's Seminar of Hope, subtitled “How to Pray for Your Sons and Daughters.” 

The seminar, which runs from 9:00 to 4:30, is given by a man who is definitely one of those gifts St. Paul has listed for us; specifically, Vernon Robertson is an evangelist. He will reshape any parent or grandparent's understanding of praying for children, whether they are young or old, doing well or faring poorly. He will offer a clear path to embracing even the most troubled son or daughters in the name of Jesus.

More information here and a video here.