Sunday, November 22, 2015

Doing as Christ the King Commands

I often wondered how Christ the Redeemer Parish got its name and finally received the answer on the feast day of St. John Paul II last month. Father Craig Scott, who was the assistant pastor to Monsignor Peter Mallon, who began building our church, says the inspiration for the name was the title of Pope John Paul’s first encyclical letter, The Redeemer of Man.

As luck would have it, our founding pastor, Father Tim McCarthy, joined us at Mass today for our parish feast day and confirmed what Father Scott had told me.

So last night I took a look at Redemptor Hominis, a document, which I hadn’t read since I was in the seminary. I found enough to preach a hundred homilies on our parish feast day.

In a nutshell, St. John Paul teaches that the Church’s job is to point humanity towards the mystery of God. In other words, the Church—which is to say, our parish—exists to help people understand Redemption, the gift of healing and hope in Christ Jesus.

So you might say that our parish is all about our Redeemer. But St. John Paul says something more: “at the same time man's deepest sphere is involved—we mean the sphere of human hearts, consciences and events.”

The sphere of humanity—and of human events.

Motivated by our faith in the Redeemer, our parish responds to human hearts. We celebrate the joys and sorrows of births, deaths, and marriages within our community. We help to form the consciences of our parishioners, young and old, through our schools, faith formation programs, spiritual direction and the sacrament of penance.

Beyond our boundaries parishioners meet the needs of the poor on the downtown east side and elsewhere.

But beyond all that, as disciples of the Redeemer of all humanity, we are connected to the sphere of world events—of tsunamis, famines, and earthquakes—and have provided generous support to those affected.

Today, there is one event in the world that overshadows even the worst of natural disasters: the terrorism and war that is tearing people from their homes and creating a tsunami of exiles. This above all demands a redeeming response from God’s people.

Here you can see something of what we have done as a parish community.

And we are about to do it again. What our parish was able to do for the Shaboo family, who joined us at Mass this morning, we are about to repeat for three refugee families, one with very special needs.

I had hoped to be able to announce on the feast of Christ the King all the details about the  families we are going to sponsor, but some last-minute glitches came up last week. The plan will take another week or two.

But for now I can say that the necessary funds and volunteers are now available for us to do this all over again, but in a more daring way.

There's no doubt in my mind that our parish community has heard and is living the words of our Redeemer and King: whatever you do to the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you do it to me.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

'Generous Jimmy' Not the Answer! (Covenant of One III)

BC’s richest man 
lives in our parish. Just up the hill, in fact. And he’s a generous man—in a few weeks his house will be shining with Christmas lights for all to enjoy.

Jimmy Pattison is a serious Christian, but he’s not a Catholic. But think if he was! Our money problems would be solved. The rest of you could close your purses and sit on your wallets. Generous Jimmy could look after all our needs, starting with the latest leaks in the roof. We’d be on easy street at Christ the Redeemer.

Or would we?

Far from being on easy street, we’d be on a path to ruin and within a few years our parish would be spiritually weak, lacking in joy and energy,

Because Christians need to give. We don’t just give to needs, we need to give.

Our Covenant of One is based on solid biblical principles about the Christian life. We need to give our hearts to God in prayer. We need to give our time to others in service. And we need to give a share of our income to the Church and other charities.

Time, talent and treasure—these sum up everything we possess. And everything we have comes from God. On that simple fact rests the whole notion of Christian stewardship. We give what we ourselves received as a gift from God.

This Sunday we wrap up the three Sundays during which we’ve talked about the next steps in our relationship with God—small steps, really, but important ones. Are we ready to offer God a simple covenant of one, a promise of an extra hour of prayer, and extra hour of service and an hour of wages?

And if those three commitments are too much, are we ready to offer one of them? An extra hour of prayer means less than ten minutes a day—but in my first Covenant of One homily, I offered a few ideas for just an extra ten minutes a week, since it’s all about trying rather than just ticking off boxes.

An hour of wages, for a household with an income of $80,000, is a weekly contribution of about $40 That would compare with a devout Protestant’s 10 per cent tithe of $154! The hour’s wages we suggest is something closer to 3 per cent.

Most priests hate to preach about money, and most parishioners hate it when priests preach about money. So maybe I should not preach about money—except that Jesus does it, St. Paul does it, even the Old Testament prophets talk about it.

What Jesus says in today’s Gospel is almost all we need to know about sacrificial giving. God is honoured not by amounts but by attitudes. Whether you are rich or poor, your contribution to the parish should require some sacrifice; giving that has become too much of a routine is spiritually fruitless, even if it does help the parish pay its bills.

The first reading also tells us something that’s truly important: God is not outdone in generosity. The faithfulness of the widow of Zarephath is a model of generosity, and the reward she is given comes to her from God. Like the widow in the Gospel with her famous mite, this woman gives what she has and it pleases God greatly.

The Word of God today presents spiritual truths that are especially wonderful for a parish like ours. These readings put all of us an equal footing—the richest and the poorest, the parishioners and the priests are all equally able to please God by their sacrificial gifts; indeed, the poor have an edge, because no-one is suggesting that the rich should contribute all they have to live on. There’s not enough room for them to move into the rectory, large though it is.

Our parish has many generous stewards of God’s gifts—people who pray, people who serve, and people who donate with great generosity. But the call to stewardship is not for some; it’s for all. Because God’s covenant is offered to each one of us.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

All Saints: An Invitation to All

Every year on Holy Thursday hundreds and hundreds of priests gather with the Holy Father for the Chrism Mass at St. Peter’s. The sight of such a long line of white-robed priests streaming into the Basilica is nothing short of amazing.

But if you think the sight is amazing, imagine what it’s like to be in the procession!

In 2007 I was in Rome on Holy Thursday. I was one of those hundreds of priests processing into St. Peter’s. And I can tell you, being part of the action beats watching from the aisle.

The first reading for today’s great feast of All Saints describes a procession vastly more majestic than anything on earth. The white-robed multitude are not priests, but men and women who now stand before the very throne of the Lamb of God.

There’s no doubt: to join their number is incomparably more wonderful than even the vision given to St. John of their heavenly triumph and glorious worship.

The Solemnity of All Saints, certainly, honours the great heavenly company and gives thanks for the victory of so many of our brothers and sisters in Christ. But this annual festival is also an opportunity for us “to implore the Divine Mercy through this multitude of powerful intercessors” and to make up for any failure or lack in honouring God in His Saints throughout the year. If we’re honest, most of us will admit that we pay too little attention to the individual saints whose feast days occur throughout the year. And so we have this one solemn day, as “an image of that eternal great feast which God continually celebrates in heaven” with all his saints [Butler’s Lives of the Saints, Nov. 1st].

But amidst all these wondrous aspects of today’s feast, one stands out above all. Today we’re called and challenged by the example of the saints—especially those whom we have known and loved. Today we’re called to imitate their virtues so that we might share in their reward.

I’ve already said that it’s far more exciting to be in a procession than to watch it. And though our second reading is less dramatic than the first—instead of triumphant white-robed martyrs John calls us ‘children of God’—surely that’s even more exciting, even more worthy of our deepest longing and serious effort.

And so we come to the question: what do we have to do to join the great multitude in heaven? What do we have to do be called God’s children?

The Gospel today gives two simple answers. First of all, accept your sufferings in poverty of spirit—which is to say in a spirit of surrender, accepting life’s hardships as the pathway to peace.

Secondly, strive for righteousness, show mercy, live purely, make peace, and persevere through persecution.

Two simple answers, but are they all that simple? Two weeks ago I spoke about facing suffering, and a week ago about prayer, an essential ingredient in that process and in obtaining purity of heart. But what does it mean—really mean, in daily life—to strive for righteousness, show mercy, make peace, and persevere through persecution?

Well, it won’t be long before some of us learn how to persevere under persecution as the state increasingly turns its power against the vulnerable and those who defend the vulnerable, especially Christians. But that’s for another day. Let’s just look at righteousness, which is another name for justice, mercy, and peacemaking. How do these virtues help us join the ranks of the heavenly host? How do they form us as children of God?

Today is the second Sunday of the three our parish is devoting to the themes of stewardship as part of our Covenant of One, an extra hour of prayer, service and sacrificial giving offered to God.

Last week we spoke of prayer, a gift of time. This week we turn to talent, the gifts we have received ourselves. An inventory of our talents, and a willingness to share them generously, is the fastest shortcut to the practical answer “what can I give?”

None of us can devote ourselves equally to the battle for social justice, to merciful compassion to the poor or to the making of peace in a world of conflict. But all of us have God-given gifts we can put to work in one or another of the works of mercy that have traditionally defined the Christian’s service to God and neighbour.

What do I have that equips me to be the hands and feet of Christ? With an answer to that question and a generous spirit, I can make a covenant of one hour that will draw me straight into the mystery of the communion of the saints.

Of course, we need to know not only what we have to give, but also what needs to be given. What we have to offer we learn from self-knowledge; but what is needed we learn from reading the signs of times. In the last few weeks, many members of our parish community have responded to the most startling human crisis of recent times, the implosion of civilized life in Syria and other war-torn countries with the consequent exodus of refugees.

Our parishioners have offered time, talent, and treasure; but a significant number have placed their talents at the service of the refugee families we intend to sponsor. Accountants, language-tutors, pickup-truck drivers, dentists, retirees, lawyers, and many others saw the needs and responded to them. One elderly parishioner came to our refugee meeting and said “I’m going to pray!”

As a pastor of this generous community of Christians, it touches my heart to see this response to the refugee crisis; but as a Christian, it moves me even more because some of those we hope to support are precisely those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake. We will be peacemakers and comforters for these brothers and sisters, helping to fulfill the promises God makes to them in the words of Jesus we’ve just heard.

There are, of course, numerous other ways to share your talents for the good of others in a covenant of one extra hour each week, and we will suggest some next Sunday.

But this Sunday we focus on the best reason for making a gift of ourselves—because it is a sure path to holiness of life and an eternal inheritance with all the saints. Our generous service will hold us a place in the great line of saints streaming to the throne of God.