Sunday, October 25, 2015

God Magnifies Minutes

I didn't use a text for my homily today, so can't post it.  But what I said was fairly simple: we shouldn't be overly concerned with how long we spend in prayer--regularity and frequency trump duration, since God can do wonders even in short periods of contact.Too much focus on the length of time we pray can lead us to forget that God is almighty and can achieve His purposes in His own time.

We find an excellent example of this in today's Gospel reading.  Bartimaeus prays "Son of David, have mercy on me," twice, then adds his petition "My teacher, let me see again."  Start to finish, I timed his prayer as taking fourteen seconds!  But look at the result: "Immediately the man regained his sight and followed Jesus on the way."

To show such prayer is practical, I offer some examples of ways to pray that are brief but powerful:

  Minutes God Will Magnify

Less than a minute

The Jesus Prayer:  “Lord, Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.” (Or “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me, a sinner.”)

Divine Mercy Invocation: “Jesus, I trust in you.”

Aspirations to the Sacred Heart: “Sacred Heart of Jesus, have mercy on me.” (Or “on us.)  “Sacred Heart of Jesus, protect our families.”

A minute and a half

The Angelus (traditionally said morning, noon, and night):

V. The Angel of the Lord declared unto Mary.  R. And she conceived of the Holy Spirit.
    Hail Mary…
V. Behold the handmaid of the Lord.  R. Be it done unto me according to thy word.
    Hail Mary…
V. And the Word was made Flesh.  R. And dwelt among us.
    Hail Mary…
V. Pray for us, O holy Mother of God.
R. That we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.

Let us pray:  Pour forth, we beseech Thee, O Lord, Thy grace into our hearts, that we to whom the Incarnation of Christ Thy Son was made known by the message of an angel, may by His Passion and Cross be brought to the glory of His Resurrection. Through the same Christ Our Lord. Amen.

Two Minutes

Many brief versions of the Examen Prayer of St. Ignatius of Loyola can be found on-line. At its simplest:

    Place yourself in the presence of God, and ask for his help in looking back on the day.
    Examine your day with three “words:”
Thank you: Thank the Lord for the blessings of the day.
          I'm sorry: Acknowledge your faults specifically and directly.
          Please help me more: Ask the Lord for help for tomorrow. Make specific resolutions.

Three Minutes

The Three-Minute Retreat: online at or download the app for Apple or Android at  

Five Minutes

Open your bible and read from the New Testament for five minutes, stopping twice to talk with God. Or Read one of the Mass readings from your misallette or on-line, “responding” to the text with the responsorial psalm.

Ten Minutes

Treasure in Heaven: A 40-day, ten minutes a day prayer guide.  You can print it out, order a booklet by mail from the Companions of the Cross or download to your smartphone, tablet or e-reader at

       And let’s not forget traditional daily prayers like the Morning Offering, Grace before and after meals, and the simplest of all, an Our Father, Hail Mary and Glory be at bedtime…

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Faith Supports Us When We Suffer (29.B)

A parishioner told me a story this week that’s so good I’m going to beg her to tell it to you herself the next chance we have for personal testimonies. But here’s the short version.

The story began with a scene almost every parent knows—a youngster who didn’t want to go to Mass. His family was on holiday with non-Catholic friends, and their children didn’t have to go to Mass so why did he?

But Mom prevailed, and they were getting ready for Mass when the non-Catholic friends announced “Well, since you have a bit of a drive to church, we’ll go to see a movie while you’re gone.”

What do you think the Catholic boy loved more than anything?  Right. Movies. Twenty years later, films are still his passion.

So the boy in the car was not a happy camper, and he let his Mom know it.  Her response—which I am only quoting in part—was as good as any homily I can preach about the readings this morning.

“Johnny,” she told her son, “we go to Mass because we have faith. And even if faith doesn’t matter to you now, some day it will.

“Because everyone has their suffering in life. I haven’t had mine yet and neither have you. But one day suffering will come, and faith will help us deal with it.”

What great wisdom there was in that simple conversation! Of course, faith is about much more than facing suffering, but it sure helps.

One of the things that struck me was that the wise mother never said faith helps us avoid suffering. In the years I’ve spent with suffering people, I’ve found about half of them felt let down by God, since they’d fallen into believing that an untroubled life is the reward that’s due to those who love God.

Even the Catechism of the Catholic Church admits that suffering is one of the experiences that seem to contradict the Good News and can shake our faith and become a temptation against it (CCC 164). I think we can all agree with that—it’s used as a standard argument against Christianity. When the one who suffers is a child, it’s even easier to see the problem.

But if suffering does contradict the Good News, then we’re in deep trouble. So this is really a question we can’t afford to ignore—because if we’re not suffering now, we’re going to, sooner or later.

So what’s the answer? It seems to me this is a problem only Christ can solve. You can make a pretty good case for the existence of God using your head alone—in other words, with the tools of reason or philosophy. Try to do that with the suffering of children or the torture of innocents, or the maddening experience of unanswered prayer for healing of a loved one. It won’t work. Only Jesus can answer the problem of pain.

I was quite surprised, to tell you the truth, to find how little the Catechism says about human suffering. Then I figured out why: it says little about suffering but lots about Jesus. And he is the answer.

Notice I say that “He is the answer,” not “He has the answer.” Jesus resolves the apparent contradiction between suffering and the Father’s love more by what he does than by what he says.

Who is the suffering servant crushed with pain in our first reading this morning? The Church has always identified him with Jesus. A few verses earlier in the same passage, Isaiah speaks of him as a man of suffering.

It sounds so dark. Yet “Out of his anguish he shall see light,” the prophet tells us, and “he shall see his offspring and prolong his days.”

This is not human reasoning. Anguish is anguish. Being crushed with pain is not a good thing. But this is the way God chose to ransom the world.

And although Jesus has redeemed the world, he has chosen to allow us to share in his work of redemption until the end of time. As St. Paul says, “In my flesh I am completing what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church” (Col. 1:24).

So the first answer Jesus gives to our heartfelt question about why he can allow human suffering is “because it permits us to drink the cup that he drank.” To suffer is to be invited to become a partner in the saving mission of Christ.

Suffering that is offered to God is a work of atonement—for our own sins, the sins of others, and sin in the Church.

Some years back, I asked myself this question: Can we know Jesus without knowing suffering?

I wasn’t entirely sure then and I’m not sure now—it’s a difficult question. But Jesus himself said the disciple is not greater than the master. I think, then, that the second answer to why God permits suffering is “so that we might know Jesus.”

And today’s reading from the Letter to the Hebrews assures us that Jesus cares. We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has in every respect been tested as we are… Jesus was not like the Greek gods on Mount Olympus, unfeeling and immune; he wept, he bled, he grieved. To know his sacred humanity is essential to knowing his divinity.

In other words, Jesus stands beside all who suffer, in complete solidarity. Knowing this is a huge help to knowing him—and to facing the suffering in our lives.

I have used a lot of words to say much less than a crucifix does about Christ’s answer to our questions about suffering.

One final word about unanswered prayer—because that topic often comes up when we’re talking about suffering, especially the suffering of our loved ones.

The foot-in-mouth disease of James and John in today’s Gospel reminds us that we sometimes pray for things without knowing what we’re asking. The two brothers really didn’t have a clue. Perhaps they just wanted to be close to Jesus. They asked for crowns, he gave them the cross. They got what they really needed, not what they asked for.

I will never tell anyone not to pray for miracles, especially for others. But as the years go by, I’m more and more convinced that our first prayer in tough times should be for greater understanding of the mystery of suffering—and for the grace and courage to accept it, united prayerfully with Jesus himself.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Derek and Michelle: Something Beautiful for God

A wedding homily is very different from marriage itself. A marriage should be long and lovely, but a homily should be short and sweet.

I’m afraid there’s not much chance of a short homily at this wedding. Michelle and Derek, you have chosen texts from Scripture that have spoken deeply to your hearts, and I know you want them to do the same in our hearts today.

But before I say a few words about these beautiful readings, I really have to say how happy I am to be here—deeply happy, honoured and delighted. And I know Father Paul feels the same. Father Dennis does not know you as well as we do, but he also shares our joy in witnessing the marriage of two seriously committed Christians.

At first I was a bit concerned about this match—Derek does my taxes and Michelle is paid by my taxes, so I thought there might be a conflict of interest. But when I got my usual refund in April I was reassured.

I am also happy for all of you here, because I know that you’re gathered not as spectators or guests, but as family. Many of you are members of the Gaudet or Mercurio families; many belong to that great extended family of CCO; all of you are part of the network of faith and love that embraces Michelle and Derek today.

I’m sure most of us caught some of the wonderful TV coverage of Pope Francis’ visit to the States last month. My favourite moment was his off-the-cuff remarks on the Saturday night in Philadelphia.

He said “God always knocks at the door of hearts. He likes to do this. It comes from His heart. But do you know what He likes best? To knock on the doors of families and find families that are united, to find families that love each other, to find families that bring up their children and educate them and help them to keep going forward and that create a society of goodness, of truth, and of beauty.”

Isn’t that what God is doing here, right now? He is knocking on Derek and Michelle’s door, and they are throwing it wide open. By their lives of faith and by the sacramental covenant they are about to make, Derek and Michelle are God’s messengers to us all today and witnesses of His love, words we heard at the very beginning of this liturgy.

God is knocking on the door of every family in church this afternoon, and of each individual’s heart. In word and sacrament, he stands at the door and knocks. These scripture readings and the exchange of vows we’re about to witness invite each of us—married and single—to open our hearts to his loving plan.

When God knocks, he gives more than a light tap on the door. Today he’s knocking with divine joy, divine enthusiasm. Again, Pope Francis explains why: “All of the love that God has in Himself, all of the beauty that God has in Himself, all of the truth that God has in Himself, He gives to the family. And a family is truly a family when it is able to open its arms and receive all of this love.” The Holy Father calls the family the most beautiful thing God has made.

Michelle and Derek, you are here proclaiming with your lives the scriptures we have just heard. The first reading proclaims the love of God in Himself—expressed in the act of creation and especially in the creation of man and woman, destined from the very beginning to become one flesh in marriage.

The second reading presents the truth that comes from God—truth that is good, acceptable, and perfect, genuine truth that has the power to confront the counterfeits our society offers. St. Paul paints a picture not only of married love but of Christian love, rooted in our human dignity, both in body and spirit.

The beauty of God, which he manifests in His love and His truth, is at the heart of our responsorial psalm, which gives voice to the deepest of all longings, the longing for God himself. There’s not an ounce of duty in the psalm that Chelsey sang; it’s all beauty. The beauty of God’s face, the magnificence of His holy mountain. Light and truth lead us to the incomparable beauty of God’s dwelling place.

Pope Francis says that God shared all of this love, beauty, and goodness with the family. It boggles the mind, which may be why the Pope was smart enough to anticipate an objection. “Sure,” he said, “one of you could say to me, ‘Holy Father, you speak this way because you’re single.’”

He knows there are difficulties in families. He said “the family is beautiful, but it is costly. It brings problems… we argue; sometimes the plates fly; in families, the children give us headaches.” Husbands fight with wives and they give each other dirty looks, he added. The Pope is a realist, not to mention an Italian Latin American!

And he’s right: we’re not living in the Garden of Eden! But thanks to God’s gift of His Son to the world wounded by sin, God is once again walking with us. The Book of Genesis tells us that God walked in the garden in the cool of the evening; now he walks with us in His Son, true God, true man, member of his own human family and of every human family.

The presence of Jesus in your married life, Derek and Michelle, is not the assurance of an easy life. He will be with you in the power of His resurrection, certainly, but he will also be with you in the power of His cross. That’s why Pope Francis called the family “a factory of hope, of life and of resurrection.”

Walking with the Lord, you will experience both His suffering and His joy, His sorrows and His victory; and your little “factory” will produce hope for the world.

I’d like to end by telling you about my trip to the airport in Vancouver. The weather was nothing special, but as I turned off the highway I saw a spectacular sunrise—brilliant colours stretched across the sky, reflected in the wispy clouds.

Immediately it occurred to me that the sun that produced this wondrous sight rises every morning. The sun hadn’t changed a bit.

But the atmosphere on Friday morning made the sun’s rays more visible, more beautiful, more radiant.

That’s your challenge, dear friends; that’s the exciting opportunity you have in marriage. God is at work in every marriage, but his presence and his plan needs to be visible.

Last night I met the great-grandson of Malcolm Muggeridge, the British writer who helped to bring Mother Teresa to the world’s attention in a BBC documentary and a book he wrote more than forty years ago. The name of the book was “Something Beautiful for God.”

Michelle and Derek, there’s your calling in four words. You’re going to do something beautiful for God. You’re going to do something beautiful for the world. Your married life, your family life, will let His love, His truth, and His beauty shine out for all to see.

For all that, we thank God, and we ask Him to bless you every day of your married life.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Remembering Archbishop Carney

My Homily at the Mass Marking the 25th Anniversary of the death of Archbishop James F. Carney, Celebrated by Most Rev. J. Michael Miller, Holy Rosary Cathedral, October 1, 2015

What stupendous enthusiasm and love greeted Pope Francis in the U.S. last month!

Those of us who remember Pope John Paul’s visit to Vancouver thirty-one years earlier have some idea of how people felt in Washington, New York, and Philadelphia.

But the images of those cheering crowds both here and in the States make it hard to remember that there was a time when many Catholics felt deeply divided from the Pope.

James Francis Carney was ordained a

bishop on the eve of the controversy over Pope Paul VI’s encyclical Humanae vitae. Three years later he became Archbishop of Vancouver at the height of dissension and confusion about the right of the Church to teach and guide.

The motto he chose, Servare Unitatem—To Preserve Unity—prophesied both a difficult mission and a path of suffering. His first decade as Archbishop was fraught with opposition, misunderstanding, and criticism—all of which he felt keenly, since he was far more sensitive to what people thought of him than he appeared.

After that stormy decade, the pontificate of St. John Paul brought a kind of vindication, capped by the papal visit of 1984.

Yet the story does not end there, but with a final illness that made enormous demands on Archbishop Carney spiritually, psychologically, and physically.

During the year and a half before his death, the Archbishop had to surrender his independence to others and to make his own the words of St. Paul to Timothy that we have just heard. A man of action permitted himself to be transformed, slowly, to one who could pray “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”

His final days were edifying. He was attended at the end by a trusted Basilian priest, Fr. Robert Madden,
Robert Madden, CSB
who generously had traveled from Toronto and elsewhere several times during the course of the Archbishop’s illness to provide him with spiritual comfort and strength at his request.

Throughout his sickness, it seemed to me that Archbishop Carney—much like St. John Paul
some fifteen years later—was conscious of the connection between his suffering and his ministry. Like St. Paul, he was offering his sufferings to God as a prayer for his people.

The Psalm we have sung today, which recounts the joy of leading the assembly to the house of God, recalls the late Archbishop’s great love for this Cathedral church,
in which he was ordained a priest and bishop and where he so often presided at the Eucharist. Indeed, it brings to mind his love for the Eucharist itself, nourished in his youth at Blessed Sacrament—later Corpus Christi—Parish, which remained close to his heart throughout his life, and where he served as pastor during what were doubtless his happiest years.

The Gospel passage is our Lord’s own prayer at the end of his earthly life. It is called his priestly prayer, and in a sense it is also a prayer for priests. Jesus prays to his heavenly Father that his ministry on earth will prove fruitful, but he prays in a special way for those who have walked most closely with him, the apostles and other disciples.

Archbishop Carney had great regard for his faithful lay collaborators—some of whom are in church this afternoon—and prayed earnestly for all those entrusted to him by the Father. But he had a special love for his priests—those who shared with him most closely the mission of leading souls to heaven, the men who had stood by him in his trials, in the words that Jesus used on Holy Thursday.

Shortly before his 75th birthday, when bishops are expected to offer their resignation to the Holy Father, Archbishop Carney called me into his chapel. He prayed aloud, “Heavenly Father, you have given the diocese to me; I now return it to you” and prayed in gratitude for his time as Archbishop.

He then dictated his letter of resignation, which he signed on the chapel’s altar on the morning of his birthday.

The Archbishop wrote:

“Most Holy Father,

“Today I celebrate my seventy-fifth birthday, and, in conformity with canon 401:1 of the Code of Canon Law, I offer to Your Holiness my resignation from the See of Vancouver, Canada. In submitting my resignation I am moved by an additional motive: my health is not good; I can no longer work as I have worked and the way a bishop must work to keep his diocese a strong community of Catholic faith and Christian love.

“I thank Almighty God for the gift of the priesthood, and for calling me to serve him as archbishop of the city of my birth, the city I have loved with a natural and a supernatural love. I thank the Holy See for naming me to that office, and for the trust and goodwill always shown me.

“As I write this letter, there are many memories flooding my mind and heart, chief among them Your Holiness’ visit to our diocese in 1984. Never did I think that I would have the privilege of welcoming to Vancouver the Vicar of Christ, the visible head of the Church on earth.

“Your pontificate has been a fulfillment of the special responsibility given to Peter: ‘Et tu, aliquando conversus, confirma fratres tuos.’

(The text, translated as “when you have turned again, strengthen your brethren,” is part of the Lord’s prayer for St. Peter on Holy Thursday.)

The letter continues:

“For this, Holy Father, and for your strong leadership that has been a gift of God to His Church and the world, I thank you.

“From the first day of my life as a bishop it has been my purpose to keep the faithful of this diocese united to the Holy Father in mind and heart: I am pleased to say that I think this quality of loyalty and obedience is a characteristic of our priests and people. They love you.”

Closing with a renewed pledge of his loyalty, Archbishop Carney assured the Pope of his prayers, and asked for prayers in return,

I have applied three texts of Scripture—an apostle’s farewell, the psalmist’s thirst for God, and Christ’s prayer for the salvation of those given to him by the Father—to the life and death of the eighth Archbishop of Vancouver. But they apply equally to all of us, who are called to face life’s challenges with faith and courage, strengthened by our hope and longing for the Kingdom, united in Christ’s Church.