Sunday, September 18, 2016

Christians Don't Compartmentalize (25.C)

I hesitated about posting today's homily, since it's little more than a rewrite of the words of Father S. Joseph Krempa, from his book "Captured Fire: The Sunday Homilies, Cycle C." Father Krempa is a master homilist and I'm rarely able to improve on what he says or how he says it. Nonetheless, I decided to post these unoriginal thoughts anyway, with my admiration and thanks to him. On, the three-volume set of his homilies is only available for download to Kindle but the books may be purchased in the U.S. on

Channel surfing. It’s something we all do. We use the remote to run through the channels, stopping here and stopping there as this or that holds our attention for a while.

Our life can be like that. It's called compartmentalization. One compartment's our job. Another’s our family life. A third is our Church. Another is our life as citizens and voters. Every day we switch from one channel to another without connecting them.

Putting things in compartments sounds like a pretty good idea; it keeps things tidy. However, psychologists call compartmentalization a defense mechanism. It’s not healthy behavior at all.

Someone whose actions reflect their deepest convictions is an integrated person—from the Latin word for whole. In every aspect of life, the integrated person is guided by one set of values, one set of personal convictions.

By contrast, when we separate parts of ourselves from other parts, acting as if we had separate sets of values, we are disintegrating—moving away from wholeness.

Today, our readings take aim at compartmentalization. They ask us to wrestle with our tendency to keep what we believe in a different box from how we think and act in everyday life.

In the first reading, the Old Testament prophet Amos gives us a snapshot of some merchants, bored to death at the synagogue, waiting for the service to end so they can get back to cheating and shortchanging people. They’re a classic example of compartmentalization, separating their religious duties from their work.

You’ve all heard sermons on this. We know it’s crucial that our faith influences our decisions and behavior at work or school. That’s familiar Christian teaching. Most of us aren’t so compartmentalized that we forget we’re Catholics when we head off to work; most of us have a pretty good idea what our faith demands of us in our various kinds of employment, whether we got it from the Ten Commandments or from the social teaching of the Church.

But the first reading is just a warm-up. The second reading, from St. Paul’s Letter to Timothy, takes us a bit deeper into the subject. Many of us watch politics on a channel that’s far distant from our beliefs.

I can say that because I still remember research I did as a political science student at UBC, more years ago than I care to remember. Catholic voting behavior was largely based on family voting history, not on issues.

Much has changed in Canadian politics since then, but it’s safe to say that issues of great importance to Catholics still do not, by and large, make a great difference to how they vote. “I’m a Liberal,” or “I’m a Conservative,” or “I’m a New Democrat” can be the same as saying “I don’t let my beliefs get in my way at the ballot box.”

Quite rightly, the Church doesn’t tell Catholics who to vote for. But it tells them how to vote—with prayerful consideration of the issues in the light of faith. And St. Paul tells us another way to let faith influence our lives as citizens. He urges us to pray for those who get elected: first, because they need our prayers, and second, because our lives as citizens cannot be in a different compartment from our Christian lives.

Finally, we get to the Gospel. It’s a bit confusing. Is Jesus praising the dishonest manager? If he is, it’s only to get our attention. The manager knows that money used wisely makes a difference, even when it’s used dishonestly.

If Jesus commends the crooked employee’s efforts to secure his future by using someone else’s cash, what might he be saying to us about the way we use our own money?

Before answering the question, let me throw out a few others. Do we put as much thought into planning our spiritual lives as we do when planning our finances? Do we put more effort into taking care of our bodies than in caring for our souls?

Many people think nothing of hitting the gym two or three times a week, but can’t find time for church or personal prayer. Others have read several books about nutrition, investment planning or retirement—but not one about prayer or the spiritual life. Take a moment now and ask yourself the titles of the last three non-fiction books you read.

We attend seminars on real estate trends but never a Bible study.

All of this, for those who believe the message of Jesus and his promise of eternal life, counts as compartmentalization. I’m not saying, of course, that we shouldn’t keep fit, plan for retirement, or eat wisely—far from it. But faith needs to shape everything we do.

This means we must show the same ingenuity, planning and effort in our spiritual lives as we do in other aspects of life. And this includes our finances. The message Jesus gives us in the curious parable today is that we should imitate the dishonest steward not in his dishonesty but in his wise use of money to secure his future.

For the Christian, this means knowing that the soul is the most important investment we make. Sacrificial giving to the Church, other charities, and our community pays an eternal dividend. The same can be true about estate planning. And money spent on Catholic education, which we support today through our second collection, is a perfect example. It’s a spiritual investment in youth—and in our own eternal future.

Today’s readings began with the obvious: what you believe must govern what you do—at work, at home, at school. It’s contradictory at best and hypocritical at worst to say “well, that’s how the world works” to justify dishonest practices at work or cheating at school.

But the Gospel takes us to a more demanding challenge—breaking down every compartment so that our spiritual priorities shape our financial ones. That calls for some soul-searching and prayerful thinking.

A few years ago they came up with a dual channel TV. You could watch one program at the same time another one—usually sports—played in a smaller box on the screen. It was marketed as a way of saving marriages!

I’m not sure the gizmo caught on, but it’s a great way to think about the message of today’s Scriptures. Whatever we’re doing, our faith in Christ needs to be on the screen, guiding and shaping even the smallest or most worldly choice or decision.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

It's All About Becoming Disciples!

Why are you here? Why are you in church today?

That's the question I'll be asking at all Masses as the parish holds its annual Stewardship Fair. I might even look directly at some of the faces before me to make it clear it's not a rhetorical question.

Some years back, a young man told me that he asked his parents this question as they drove home from the Protestant church they attended every Sunday, and which he deeply loved even as a seven-year old.

"Why do we go to church?," he asked innocently from the back seat. After an awkward pause, his father said "I don't really know."  And they never went back. For months the lad cried himself to sleep every Saturday night. (Today, he is a devout Catholic.)

So back to the question. Why are you here today?

Our Stewardship Fair can help you find answers--because of the strong community we have here at Christ the Redeemer; because of the fine schools we sponsor; because of our interesting programs of Bible study. 

And they'd all be wrong answers.

But instead of putting anyone on the spot, let me share my answer to the question. I am in church today because "Jesus came into the world to save sinners" and I am one of them.

I know this is the right answer, since I stole it from St. Paul's words to Timothy in our second reading.

And I know that it's the only right answer to the question "why is our parish here and what is it for?"

In the midst of a busy week, I spent seven hours on Friday listening to Sherry Weddell, the author of an amazing book that says it's high time everything we do and say in our parishes comes back to discipleship.  Discipleship is a churchy word, but its meaning is simple: following Jesus.

This remarkable woman helped me to see our annual Stewardship Fair in a new light. This showcase of parish programs and ministries is about ways of following Jesus. Stewardship itself--the way of life that puts our time, talent and treasure at God's disposal--is about following Jesus.

If we try to form stewards who aren't disciples, we won't get far. But if we form disciples in our parish, we will have stewards who will do things we haven't even dreamed of.

We invite you to go directly to the gym after Mass to see what's happening in our parish and to have some pierogis cooked by our World Youth Day pilgrims, now experts after their time in Poland. Take a look at the energy and vitality of this community of faith, and ask where you might get involved, if you're not already.

Some of our parish activities help you just to test the waters of discipleship.  Others help you take the plunge.

But wherever you are on your faith journey, have no doubt about it: everything you'll see in the gym, everything we do at Christ the Redeemer, is connected by a single fact: Jesus came into the world to save sinners. By following him, we hope to have a personal experience of that faith and love St. Paul writes about today and to receive Christ’s overflowing gifts of grace and mercy throughout our lives.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

St. Teresa of Calcutta: What is her call to you?

In 1988, I was cheeky enough to ask Mother Teresa how it felt to be considered a living saint. She said “It makes me worry that no-one will pray for my soul when I die.”

Well, that problem is certainly solved! We pray to saints, not for them.

St. Teresa of Calcutta is one of two saints to have visited our city. Along with St. John Paul II, she blessed Vancouver by her presence and by her words.

And her canonization this morning by Pope Francis makes official what we already knew: her life and mission were a blessing to the whole Church, a blessing that will continue to be fruitful from now until eternity.

When I saw the readings for Mass today, I couldn’t find a connection with the canonization, and I thought I might just “cheat” a little and share some stories of my time with the new saint. Most of them still make me chuckle—like Mother Teresa’s response when Father Dion showed her a microwave in the convent we’d prepared for her Sisters, describing it as “a bachelor’s best friend.”

“Then you take it!” she said decisively.

And there was the moment I found her endorsing a huge pile of cheques, donations to the new foundation of the Missionaries of Charity in Vancouver. “Mother,” I said, “don’t bother with that. I can get a rubber deposit stamp tomorrow.”

“But Father,” she said with a slight smile, “people so like the cancelled cheques.”

However, I was wrong in thinking that these Sunday readings can’t help us ponder the canonization—or that the canonization can’t open our hearts to the message of today’s Scriptures. Because Pope Francis did just that in his homily this morning at St. Peter’s Square, with our own Father Paul joyfully in attendance.

The Holy Father began with the first line of our first reading: “Who can learn the counsel of God?” (Wis 9:13). Although “our life is a mystery and that we do not possess the key to understanding it,” he said that this question tells us what we need to do. We need “to perceive the call of God and then to do his will.”

In his usual practical way, the Pope pointed out that in order to do God’s will, we have to ask ourselves, “What is God’s will in my life?”

That sounds like a very tough question, but “we find the answer in the same passage of the Book of Wisdom [where it says] ‘People were taught what pleases you’ (Wis 9:18).” In order to know what God wants us to do, we need to understand what pleases Him. Fortunately, the Bible tells us what is pleasing to God in countless places.

Pope Francis sums up one key message in the words “I want mercy, not sacrifice,” which we find in the book of the prophet Hosea and on the lips of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew (Hos 6:6; Mt 9:13). We all know very well that “God is pleased by every act of mercy,” because Jesus himself told us that when we help our brothers and sisters, we help Jesus himself (cf. Mt 25:40).

The Holy Father called Mother Teresa “a generous dispenser of divine mercy,” in all aspects of her life. He called us to make her our model of holiness and of volunteer service.

This takes me to the key point of my homily this morning: what does this mean to us, nearly 12,000 kilometers from Calcutta? We have no lepers in our streets, nor people dying with medical care—so how do we respond to the example of the new saint?

In his homily, Pope Francis states clearly that every one of us is called to translate our faith and prayer into concrete acts. “There is no alternative to charity,” he said.

But he explained that the Christian life “is not merely extending a hand in times of need.” Rather, the Lord call us “to charity, in which each of Christ’s disciples puts his or her entire life at his service, so to grow each day in love.”

The canonization of the so-called “saint of the slums” or “apostle of love” is certainly an occasion to celebrate the tremendous concern for the needy that many of our parishioners show by their work with and support for the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. With tireless charity, they feed the poor in a neighborhood that knows a poverty almost worse than in Calcutta, because it is rooted in something worse than material need.

Just yesterday, our SVDP volunteers set out at six in the morning to organize the monthly breakfast they serve at The Door is Open, the archdiocesan drop-in center on Cordova Street. On September 17, they’ll prepare and serve a lunch there, and in between provide emergency lunchboxes distributed on Main Street.

Other parishioners informally organize a street meal for youth and others, served in the lobby of an office building downtown.

It almost goes without saying that the members of our parish family who have reached out to refugees have responded as Mother Teresa would have done.

Joining in these good works is one way to live the call to mercy and charity that St. Teresa’s life reveals to us. But it’s not the only way. She was so much more than her good deeds: she was, as the Pope said, “a generous dispenser of divine mercy, in all aspects of her life.”

“She was committed to defending life, ceaselessly proclaiming that ‘the unborn are the weakest, the smallest, the most vulnerable’ and … made her voice heard before the powers of this world, so that they might recognize their guilt for the crime of poverty they created.”

“For Mother Teresa, the Holy Father said, “mercy was the ‘salt’ which gave flavour to her work, it was the ‘light’ which shone in the darkness of the many who no longer had tears to shed for their poverty and suffering.”

Every one of us must ask ourselves “What is God’s will in my life?” We must ask God “What pleases you?”

Some of us will be called to mercy in our own homes—we will find Christ in the distressing disguise of troubled or ungrateful family members. Some of us find in St. Teresa a call to a greater effort in defense of the unborn, of the elderly, and of the vulnerable.

People are not dying in the gutters of our city. But death in a hospital with no-one showing they love you is not much better. As the attack on the elderly and depressed through legalized suicide unfolds, more of us may need to become Mother Teresas in care homes and hospital wards.

No-one should be afraid of the challenge our new saint gives us, because we already know what pleases God, and we have the Holy Spirit’s gift of wisdom to help us translate it into specific actions in our own lives.

Let me finish with a story. It makes me smile, because a future saint asked me to pray for her—and I did so for some years! As we were saying goodbye after her Vancouver visit, which I’d helped to organize, Mother Teresa said “Father, please pray for me and my Sisters at Mass when you put the water into the wine of the chalice.”

It was a clever request, because it was easy to remember. But it was also profound, because the moment when the priest puts a drop of water into the chalice is a reminder of our weak humanity sharing in the divinity of Christ.

Our call to mercy is a call to do what Jesus did—not alone, but with his strength and grace.

The top photo shows Mother Teresa with the late Archbishop James Carney during her 1988 visit, during which she opened the house of her Missionaries of Charity at his invitation.