Sunday, June 18, 2017

Life After Alpha: Corpus Christi 2017

Everyone’s heard about the success of our Alpha Course, which ends this Thursday night. The question now is: what next? What comes after Alpha—both for the guests and the hard-working team?

For the team, it’s an easy answer: a well-deserved rest. They’ve been cooking and cleaning and hosting for months.

But after that, we’ll need to offer opportunities for continued growth in Christ and to explore ways of helping people move from curiosity to discipleship.

And, of course, it’s not just about Alpha. Many of us struggle with that big question “how do I develop the relationship with Christ I keep hearing about?”

Yesterday sixty or so parish leaders spent the entire day trying to answer these questions, for themselves and for our parish family. We were guided by Kathleen Coolidge from Colorado, where she works with Sherry Weddell, author of the book Forming Intentional Disciples.

After nearly eight hours of prayer and reflection, the group reached two simple conclusions. The first is that our parish must begin asking God to show us how to become intentional disciples and how that can make us a parish of missionaries. We need to pray fervently for a harvest both inside and outside of the parish.

The second conclusion is that we need small group faith studies—groups of five or six where we can share and deepen our faith.

You’ll hear lots more about this as our parish plan for evangelization—funded entirely by Project Advance 2017—moves forward in the months to come.

Today, let’s not focus on the future but on the present. I’d like to ask you a really simple question: why are you at Mass today?

It’s a personal question, and everyone will have a different answer. But I suggest that our answers will relate to one or more of these three things: Behaving, Belonging, or Believing.

Some folks come to Mass for what’s called “fire insurance.” They want to stay clear of hell, so they take seriously the Christian obligation of Sunday worship. They’re behaving.

Others aren’t so worried about the next life. They come to Mass because they feel part of a community. They have ties to the parish, or the school, or the neighborhood, and gathering with others feels right or even necessary to them. In a word, they belong.

Thirdly, many people come to Mass because they believe. Their hearts are convinced of the truth we celebrate in today’s feast—that in the Eucharist they receive the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ.

Are you here because you behave, because you belong, or because you believe? Don’t think there’s just one right answer. Our readings on the feast of Corpus Christi cover all three.

In the first reading, Moses reminds the Israelites of the commandments of the Lord. Every school child knows that one of them is to keep the Sabbath day holy. He urges obedience to the law of God, who has shown them his power in so many ways. Moses builds the case for behaving as God commands.

In the second reading, St. Paul says that we are one body, precisely because we share in the one cup and the one loaf that is the Body and Blood of Christ. He is tell Christians in a very powerful way that they belong around the table of the Lord.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus invites us to believe—to believe in something even some in his audience had trouble accepting. It’s not a simple teaching: he says one, he is the living bread; two, that it comes down from heaven; and, three, that those who eat this bread will live forever. For some of his listeners, this was just too much to swallow.

We’ve heard the teaching so often that it’s lost some of its shock value. Don’t forget that in the same conversation there were people who thought Jesus was talking about cannibalism.

This is why we have today’s feast every year—to give us a chance to think about the deepest reasons for gathering at the Lord’s Table every Sunday. We may be here because we want to behave, we may be here because we belong, but surely we want—all of us—to believe, to believe with all our hearts what Jesus says and the Church teaches.

Other than Jesus himself, no one has ever offered a better reason for us to be here than St. Thomas Aquinas. In an antiphon for the first feast of Corpus Christi, almost 800 years ago, he wrote this about the Eucharist: O Sacred Banquet, in which Christ is received, the memory of his Passion is recalled, the soul is filled with grace, and the pledge of future glory is given us.

If you are here to behave, God bless you. We live in a disobedient world, so you’re doing something good and praiseworthy.

If you’re here because you feel you belong, welcome! Our parish will always do its best to be a welcoming and inclusive place, where everyone is treated as family.

But all of us—including behavers and belongers—are called, at our own pace, to become believers who receive the Body and Blood of Christ as the living bread that brings life, now and forever.

And all of us have been called to be here so that we can know how much God loves us. Jesus gave us his Body and Blood because he loves us. We’re here because God loves us.

Our parish has really only two reasons to exist: first, to help us know how much God loves us. Second, to help us tell others how much God loves them.

This Sunday, please join me in praying with thanks to God for the success of Alpha and yesterday’s workshop, with hope for the fruitfulness of what comes next, especially parish faith studies, and with joy on this glorious feast. 

Let’s use words adapted from the American monk and writer Thomas Merton: As we celebrate the Eucharist today, let us feel God’s love so powerfully that we become doors and windows through which that love streams out and pours back into His own house. (cf. Seeds of Contemplation, p. 67).

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Most Holy Trinity (2017.A)

Ever since we started talking so much about the Alpha course, people are coming up to me asking what it means to have a “personal relationship” with God.

It’s a good question, since the language of relationship is somewhat new to many Catholics. And for some, even the concept seems new—though of course it isn’t.

Today’s feast of the Most Holy Trinity and the readings we’ve just heard can help us figure out what it means to have a personal relationship with God.

In fact, the first reading gives us a simple summary. First, we must do what God asks us to do, just as Moses did by climbing up Mount Sinai. And of course we must know what God expects of us. Notice that Moses has the Ten Commandments in his hands as he heads up the mountain to meet God. It’s pretty hard to be in a relationship with a parent if we don’t know what the relationship requires and never do what we’re told.

Second, we must know God by name. God tells Moses his name, Yahweh, the Lord. It’s unlikely God will reveal himself to us in a personal conversation, but throughout the Bible he tells us who he is and what he’s called.

Because knowing God by name is shorthand for knowing him. Again, this is revealed in the Scriptures. Even in this short reading from the Old Testament we learn a great deal about the Lord—he is “merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.”

In the New Testament, Jesus calls the Father “Abba” and refers to the Holy Spirit as the Paraclete—the comforter, counselor or advocate.

The second reading points to something crucial for those who want a personal relationship. The Trinity itself is a relationship of persons. Those who want a relationship with God are called also to a relationship with one another—“agree with one another, live in peace,” St. Paul says. We need to put our other relationships in order if we’re to live intimately with the God of love and peace.

One of St. John Paul’s favourite teachings from Vatican II is where the Council says that we are called to live in community precisely because we’re created in the image and likeness of the Trinity. The Council speaks of “a certain similarity between the union of the divine persons and the union of God’s children in truth and love.”

This similarity indicates that human beings… “can only fully find themselves through a sincere gift of themselves.” In other words, we are only ourselves in as much as we give ourselves to others, made as we are in the image of our Trinitarian God. (Gaudium et spes, 24)

That sounds a bit complicated, but it comes down to one thing: you won’t find a relationship with Father, Son and Spirit by living with me, myself and I.

Finally, today’s Gospel tells us that the open door to a personal relationship with God is by faith in Jesus, the Son of God. While our relationship with God is a relationship with all three persons of the Trinity, we find the relationship most readily by knowing Jesus, who has told us that he is the gate for the Father’s sheep. As Jesus tells Philip, “To have seen me is to have seen the Father.”

This personal relationship we’re hearing so much about is not the fruit of years of effort or some special grace. It’s God’s desire for us: “God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son.” He sent the Son on a mission, with a purpose, “that everyone who believes in him… may have eternal life.”

Now what does “eternal life” mean?  Later in John’s Gospel we find it defined as a relationship, when Jesus prays these words to his Father: “And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.”

A personal relationship with Jesus is neither scary nor difficult. It’s what God wills for all those who take the trouble to know him through prayer and the reading of Scripture, who work at obeying his commands and responding to his direction, and live lives of peace and order within his Body, the Church.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

God our Father Keeps His Promises (Ascension.A)

There’s a very sad story on the front page of this morning’s newspaper. In just five years, Nina, Chelsey, Wade, Kelsy and Nadine Saint-Ange have seen their eldest brother murdered and lost both their parents.

Now the siblings are struggling to stay together as a family. They have no other family nearby, and when their father died suddenly on May 8, only one adult turned up to support them.

That adult told The Province “They have nothing. Their father had left a significant amount of debt, there was no will and no plan for the children. Their extended family are all from Montreal, there is no one who can help.”

These are not youngsters—they range in age from 22 to 15. Yet the paper correctly describes them as orphans.

I couldn’t help thinking of the Saint-Ange family when I read the last sentence of this morning’s Gospel text, which also happens to be the last sentence of St. Matthew’s entire Gospel.

Jesus said “And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

His words firm up a promise he made to the disciples at the Last Supper: “I will not leave you orphaned” (John 14:18). And they fulfill the prophetic words of Isaiah in the Old Testament “do not fear, for I am with you” (Isaiah 41:10).

It’s hard to fault Mr. Saint-Ange for not planning for his children—he was just 45 when he died, a long-haul trucker who had nothing much to spare. And even the best financial planning couldn’t have met the deepest needs of his wounded family.

God’s plan for his children, by contrast, is comprehensive life insurance. Perhaps I should say “life assurance.” His plan makes the broken human family whole. His plan, revealed and completed in Christ, brings us into an intimate family relationship.

This can’t have been easy to accept on the day our Lord ascended into heaven. After the joy of the Resurrection, Jesus is again disappearing from view. In our first reading, after Jesus disappeared from view angels ask the disciples, “Why do you stand looking up to heaven?”  I think I might have answered rather sharply, “Why do you think?”

But it’s surely meant as a rhetorical question, to which no answer’s expected. Why stand here staring when the next chapter is about to unfold? Don’t look up—look around you, and see the plan begin to unfold.

And it’s a question we can ask ourselves on this Ascension Day. Do we look for God in the skies, off in the distance, when he’s right here with us?

John Eldredge, my current favourite among Protestant spiritual writers, tells about meeting an old acquaintance, a man he hadn’t seen for a few years. He noticed right away that the fellow wasn’t half the man he used to be, and wondered whether he’d been ill. But in fact, he’d just been worn down by a series of disappointments and setbacks.

As he walked away from the encounter, Eldredge asked himself “What happened? He held such promise.”

The answer, he decided, had to do with assumptions. The disheartened man had assumed that God, being a loving God, was going to bless his choices, was going to make life good. And he hadn’t, leaving the man dazed and hurt.

When we hear Jesus say “I will not leave you orphans” and “I am with you always,” we can make the same assumptions. Since we believe in his promises, and he keeps his promises, he’s going to give us a happy life. A + B = C, as John Eldredge sums it up. So we feel abandoned and betrayed when life doesn’t work out.

The false assumption is based on the notion that God’s way of staying with us, of being with us, of fathering us is life insurance—material support for our material needs. But I’ve said it’s life assurance, a much more personal thing.

Today Jesus promises us what those bereaved children lost when their father died: an intimate relationship, daily contact and counsel.

If we assume that God is our financial planner, we’re likely to be disappointed. But if we understand that he’s a loving Father, wanting a Father’s relationship with each of his children, we start to see his plan. We find the plan in many places in the Old Testament—I particularly like the words of Jeremiah “I will give them a heart to know that I am the Lord; and they shall be my people and I will be their God”—but it’s completely fulfilled in Christ, who enlightens our hearts to know the hope to which we are called, the richness of our inheritance and the immeasurable greatness of his power.

Contrast that assumption with the A + B = C math that puts God “up there,” and gives him the job of making our plans turn out the way we want them to.

Why stand looking up toward heaven when God wants an intimate conversation with us, right here and right now? Because that's his plan.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Easter Sunday: A Rx and a Referral

A few weeks ago, in the middle of the night, I landed at the emergency entrance to Lions’ Gate hospital. I was alone and in pain. Within a minute I was taken into a treatment area, where my self-diagnosis of a kidney stone was swiftly confirmed.

I wasn’t a happy patient, but I was a grateful one. I am now a big fan of pain medicine! But the most positive element in my ordeal was the compassion and care of the nurses and doctor on duty. Before they sent me home, the kind young doctor gave me a prescription, reassurance and the answers I needed to plan the next step to recovery.

Why am I telling you all this? Because today I want to say “Welcome to the hospital!”

I know. You thought you were in church. But even Pope Francis has said “I see the Church as a field hospital after battle.”

And I love the old saying that the church is not a hotel for saints but a hospital for sinners, though I can’t find out who said it.

Whether you’re a visitor or someone who attends regularly, I want to welcome you to church today in the same way I was welcomed to the emergency department. We don’t offer pain medicine, but we offer pain relief.

This Easter Sunday, I hope you can find whatever reassurance and answers you need in your life—because I think many people in church today can identify with the story of the two disciples trudging along the road to Emmaus.

Cleopas and his unnamed friend represent religious people whose hopes have been dashed. But they also represent non-religious people who just don’t know what to believe. They represent the way almost everyone feels some of the time.

There’s a whole lot of us slogging along, standing still, looking sad. We have more questions than answers and it’s been a long time since we felt reassured or comforted by faith.

Some of our questions can be very basic: we wonder what life is all about. We ask “Is there a higher power? What is our purpose? Why are we here? Is there more to this life?”

We might feel that God is far away from us or that we are far away from God. This can leave us feeling guilty or empty. It can make us fearful or confused.

So why don’t we let those two disciples stand in for all of us, whatever their particular thoughts and feelings were that Easter evening? And let’s take a close look at how their questions and doubts were answered.

The obvious thing is that there was no obvious thing. Jesus performed no miracle, other than vanishing, and gave no special sign. He used the Scriptures—the prophecies about the Messiah—to open their eyes.

The disciples, in turn, did not shout out “Eureka! Now I get it!” All they did was try to continue the conversation. “Stay with us,” they said. Maybe they were just trying to be hospitable to this knowledgeable stranger, but we’ll never really know.

What we do know is that the combination of God’s word, broken open for them by Christ himself, and the breaking of bread that recalls the Eucharist opened their eyes to recognize Jesus.

The end result of this encounter is dramatic. Their hearts are on fire and the two disciples return to Jerusalem, sharing what had happened on the road and what they had seen and heard.

This Easter I want to invite you to that same experience—to that same encounter with Jesus. Sometimes our experience in church is like the waiting room just inside the door of Emergency. We know there’s help to be found, but we’re not sure when it’s coming or how.

Father Paul and I and all our brother priests do our best today and every Sunday to explain the meaning of the Scriptures. But only a personal meeting with Jesus really opens our eyes and sets our hearts on fire.

This Easter we want to invite every single person in church today to a conversation with the Lord that will lead to a personal relationship with him.

He wants to hear you say “Stay with us.” As the Book of Revelation says: “I’m standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me.”

At Easter we encounter the one who took upon himself the consequences of our sins and the sin of the whole human race. We meet Jesus who rose from the dead, brought us new life, and bridged the gap caused by sin.

Don’t start thinking you’ll find the whole story in one sermon. Just like the ER doctor, I’m going to offer you a prescription and a referral. The prescription is found in this little booklet called “The Ultimate Relationship”. It’s tells the story of the consequences of Easter and of what the Resurrection of Jesus promises.

The booklet begins with a question that I want each one of you to think about it right now. The question is “If you could know God personally, would you want to?” It’s a question for atheists and believers, for young and for old. If you could know God personally, would you want to?

Only you can answer that, but I can tell you that God wants to know you personally. He wants this Easter celebration of what we call the Paschal Mystery—the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus—to make a difference in your life, to open your eyes to what’s really happening around you and in you.

A few Sundays back I took the time to study the congregation. At Easter we have many visitors but on an ordinary Sunday I know most of the people in church. I think I expected to feel like the general manager of a hotel for saints—because certainly we have some wonderful, holy, and dedicated people in this parish.

But that’s not what hit me as I thought about the stories of the men and women sitting in front of me. I was truly the duty doctor in the ICU. There was a woman whose husband had left her abruptly and without warning; a few pews back a young man dealing with a recent diagnosis of serious illness.

On the other side of the church, a couple struggling to keep their marriage going; to the right of them a man unemployed after many years with the same company. Five rows back a grieving widow; right behind her someone struggling with addiction.

Real people. Real problems. But real Christians, putting their faith in the power of God to get them through.

You don’t get there in an hour on Sunday or an hour and ten minutes at Easter. You get that kind of practical help from the friendship of Jesus and a living faith in his power to save and to heal.

So there’s a prescription: The Ultimate Relationship booklet is a prescription you can take home with you today. But some of us need a referral. That’s the Alpha course.

Alpha is a series of social evenings where we explore life’s big questions with food, a talk and open discussion. There’s no pressure and no question that’s off-limits.

When the doctor at Lions Gate referred me to a specialist, he made sure I saw him right away. I want to refer you to Alpha with the same urgency—it starts this Thursday night, with dinner at 6:30.

It might just prove to be the kind of meal the disciples shared with Jesus that first Easter night.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Holy Thursday: The Eucharist and Charity

 I’m more than a little reluctant to post the following homily, because a great deal of the first part is taken straight from a marvelous sermon by Rev. Fleming Rutledge in her splendid book The Undoing of Death. I wrote in haste, without the time to properly identify all the many quoted or lightly adapted sentences I used. Many were so apt they resisted any attempt at paraphrase, and properly crediting their author would have made my delivery awkward.
         I’m indebted to my sister-in-law Nicole for the gift and discovery of Mrs. Rutledge’s book and to Bishop Robert Barron for introducing me to this remarkable Anglican preacher through his video on her more recent book The Crucifixion.
I complain often enough that almost everyone here tonight knows that I have a second job helping to train permanent deacons.  But many of you may not know that I am the pastor of four parishes.
         I am the pastor of every Catholic soul living in the territory of Christ the Redeemer church, whether or not those souls ever show their faces in church. 
I am the pastor of the wandering sheep who come and go, making their infrequent appearances particularly at Christmas and Easter.
         And I am the pastor of the thousand or so people who form the community at Mass every Sunday.
 But tonight I am pastor of the fourth parish, the parish I might call our family.  This night is one of the three greatest nights of the Christian year, but it attracts well less than half the number who attend Midnight Mass. 
It’s a fair bet that most people who make the effort to come to church on Holy Thursday—that would be you—are members of the parish-within-a-parish formed by the committed.
I was reading a Holy Thursday homily by Fleming Rutledge, an Anglican priest who is an expert on preaching. She said that “tonight the homilist can dispense with crowd-pleasing warmups” and go directly to the heart of the matter.  I thought that was such good advice that I even took out some teasing of Father Paul I had included in my first draft.
Really, there is just no better night to be in church than tonight.  At the Last Supper no one sat at the table with Jesus but his inner circle.  I don’t think it’s wrong for you to think of yourselves as the inner circle tonight—“not because you are more worthy than others, but simply because, in the mystery of his will and purpose, Jesus has called you to be here.”
This is family night.  Jesus had a reason for choosing the Last Supper to declare his love for his disciples; and he has a reason to gather us tonight, each of us drawing near to one another as Jesus draws us near to himself.
At the Last Supper Jesus changed the relationships of the apostles to one another, by making them sharers in the one bread and the one cup, while changing their relationships to him by sharing with them his Body and his Blood.
It is exceptionally difficult to do justice in one homily to the three peak moments of the Last Supper—the institution of the Eucharist, the establishment of the priesthood, and Christ’s example of charity which the Gospel just related.
It is difficult—but during this special family gathering it is possible, because I am not telling most of you anything that you do not already know, or that you haven’t at least begun to grasp in the depths of your heart.
Mrs. Rutledge’s advice about dispensing with crowd-pleasing warmups and going directly to the heart of this mystery was not intended to insult those who come to Mass out of a sense of obligation or even good habit; but the fact is that your ears are open tonight to words of greater depth than a homilist dares to speak on an average Sunday.
Consider these words about the Mass from the fourth century, and ask how they would go over with the crowd on Easter: “When you see the Lord sacrificed, and laid upon the altar, and the priest standing and praying over the victim, and all the worshippers empurpled with that Precious Blood, can you then think that you are still among men, and standing upon the earth?
“Are you not, on the contrary, straightaway translated to heaven?  Oh!  What a marvel!  What love of God to man!  He who sits on high with the Father is held in the hands of all, and gives himself to those who are willing to embrace and grasp him.”
These words of St. John Chrysostom are not the thoughts of most folks who come rushing into Mass at ten after five on a Sunday afternoon.  But they must be our thoughts tonight as we allow the Lord to lead us deeper and deeper into the mystery he instituted that first Holy Thursday night.
The Passover meal that our Lord celebrated with his beloved apostles recalled the first Passover, which began Israel’s Exodus.  Instead of going where their captors demanded, as in the past, Israel became a people on the move at the command of God. 
In the same way, tonight’s sacred meal—like every Mass—makes us a people on the move.  The command to get moving flows directly from the Eucharistic Mystery; when Jesus told the disciples to follow his example of service, he did not intend to separate the humble gesture of foot-washing from the total sacrifice of self he was to make on the Cross.  His noble gesture at the feet of his apostles was not an invitation only to service, but to sacrifice.
I wonder if we are aware in this parish family of the extent to which the Eucharist is fulfilled by the Christian charity of many of the family present tonight?  You all know how difficult it is for me to cope with the emotion involved when I lay bare the gratitude of my heart.  But I must take that risk tonight; this Eucharistic community has examples within it as powerful, really, as Christ’s washing those feet.
I often speak of the work of the St. Vincent de Paul Society, but tonight I have an example even more concentrated, if I can use that word.  Last week a parishioner told me and some others of some great and painful difficulty he experienced a few years back. 
In his candid testimony, he named a parishioner who had been a tremendous support to him in those dark days.  He had no way of knowing that I was aware of two other men who had faced similar or even greater hardships, and who had been guided and supported by that same parishioner.
I’m trying my best to respect privacy but I can say that this man’s wife has been similarly generous to individuals, and has been instrumental of one of the most fruitful but demanding of our parish’s outreach ministries.
From what source has this couple received the spirit of charity, the tireless generosity, and the humility that demands no recognition for these and other works in the parish?  I don’t think I insult them at all in saying he is an ordinary man and she is an ordinary woman, although, in her case an ordinary woman with six times my energy.
But where did it come from?  The answer can only be this Eucharistic celebration, the institution of which we rejoice in tonight.  This link between the Mass and sacrificial service of others is something I studied in the seminary, something I’ve known, but it was only here at Christ the Redeemer that I’ve come to understand it. The parishioners, through their remarkable charity in many forms, have taught me this lesson, and taught it well.
So many of our parish family are, here and now, just what the great servant of God Dorothy Day was in an earlier time. 
Dorothy Day was known for a very progressive vision of social justice and Christian charity.  She worked to change society according to the Church’s social teaching—she was a radical, proposing a radical Christian alternative to the Marxist agenda for the poor and the working class.
And yet she said to all who would join her in the Catholic Worker Movement that the Mass was “the greatest work of the day”, and that all other works must flow from worship.

That is what Jesus has taught us tonight, that is what is happening in our midst in this parish community, and that is what each of us must recommit ourselves to as tonight we eat his Body and drink his Blood.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

His Passion Has Purpose

We've just heard a chapter of the greatest story ever told. If it were the last chapter it would be the saddest story ever told.

But of course it's not; there's a triumphant final chapter waiting to be read next Sunday.

Still, the Church wants us to pause at this point in the story and take a long hard look at the suffering and death of Jesus. What does his Passion say to each of us this morning?

A single verse from the Prophet Isaiah has an answer: “He was wounded for our transgressions... upon him was the punishment that made us whole, and by his bruises we are healed.”

Let me read you the same verse from the Jerusalem Bible, a less literal but more elegant translation: “Ours were the sufferings he bore, ours the sorrow he carried… On him lies a punishment that brings us peace, and through his wounds we are healed.”  (Is. 53:4-5, JB)

Isaiah’s prophecy tells us that the sufferings of Christ were for a purpose. In the first place, to atone for our sins: he took on himself the punishment that we deserved.

In the second place, to give us peace: he took away the fears that we sinners carry around with us, namely the fear of condemnation and hopelessness.

And finally, to bring us healing: healing of the ancient wound of sin, healing of the modern wound of despair.

Listening to the Passion this morning with no sense of its purpose would really make this a sad story. We live in a world that’s horrified by waste. Throw out a half-eaten apple in any cafeteria and see how many dirty looks you get.

Yet we can “waste” Christ's sufferings, so to speak, by failing to apply their blessings to our lives. The purpose of the Passion is not accomplished fully without our involvement— without our own acceptance of the gift.

So let’s prepare for Easter by taking Christ’s Passion personally. Let's make sure we don’t waste—another word for taking for granted—a moment of his suffering or a drop of his saving blood.

The Lord has ransomed us, restored us, and healed us. We should walk through Holy Week with the gratitude that our awareness of such gifts demands.

In the face of his generous love, the least we can do is make a confession of our sins, and celebrate prayerfully the three liturgies that bring the paschal mystery to life—Holy Thursday, Good Friday and the Easter Vigil.

Today’s bulletin contains a brochure that offers simple ways to walk with Jesus in Holy Week. I guarantee they can make this your best Easter ever.

More important, your walk with the Lord this week will help you find the true peace and healing that will make his Passion your hope.  

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Unbind Him! (Lent 5A)

Today’s Gospel is a drama in three acts. First, there is the illness of Lazarus—during which Jesus seems unwilling to respond. Then there is his death, followed by Martha’s encounter with Jesus. The drama concludes with the raising of Lazarus.

At every point the dialogue is gripping. Jesus declares that his friend’s illness will not lead to death, something his disciples must have struggled with when they found Lazarus was already in the tomb. There are the pained but faith-filled words of Martha when Jesus makes finally his appearance. And of course we hear Jesus praying directly to his Father as he stands at the entrance to the tomb.

We could reflect and pray for hours on any one phrase from this magnificent Gospel passage. Certainly the Church intends us to think about the Resurrection of Jesus, to which the raising of Lazarus is obviously connected, especially as Easter draws near.

But I would like to preach on just two words from St. John’s powerful text. The two words are “unbind him.”

Unbound is the title of a book by the Catholic layman Neal Lozano, who helps people struggling with evil in their lives. He and his wife speak internationally about the Gospel message of deliverance from sin, promoting five keys to freedom.

I believe there’s a need for this ministry in many lives, but there’s no time to talk about it today. But the first of the five keys described in Unbound is the essential one: repentance and faith.

Jesus is speaking to the Church when he says “unbind him.” The Church is called to free us from the sins that bind and encumber us—the sin that clings to us and restricts us, as the Letter to the Hebrews says (12:1).

But we are not passive, like Lazarus; we must repent personally of wearing the burial shrouds of sin, and have faith in Christ’s ability to restore us to life by his merciful forgiveness.

This is the time in our Lenten journey when we decide whether we’re going to make the effort to go to confession. The first of our two penitential services is this Thursday, at Holy Trinity parish, and the second is next Tuesday, here at Christ the Redeemer. Do we hear the Lord calling us to come out from the cave and into the light?

We all have our reasons for avoiding confession. Too busy. Too good. Too bad. But the worst reason is feeling that I’m not ready.

Archbishop Fulton Sheen wrote that our modern world of instant communications, instant food, instant diets and instant-beauty aids often makes us think of repentance as instantaneous transformation: “We are rotten one moment, pure the next.”

He says this is bad psychology, “because it leads us to think God accepts us only after and because we have reformed. It leads also to discouragement because we soon see how quickly we fail after we had repented.”

But Archbishop Sheen, one of the great preachers of the 20th century, reminds us that the Prodigal Son did not say to himself: “I know what I will do. I will work myself back up by my own bootstraps, make myself acceptable again and then I will return to my father.”

“No, he went back a repentant, but not yet fully reformed, prodigal. We must think of repentance as a beginning rather than an ending, as a change of heart that only gradually leads to a change of ways. Repentant sinners are still sinners, but the difference is, they no longer want to be sinners.”

Doesn’t that make it seem easier to approach the sacrament of reconciliation?

During these final weeks of Lent, the Church hears the Lord’s call to unbind and untie her members from sin. Each of us should hear him call “Come out!” Even though our bodies are dead because of sin, as we read in the second reading, we know that God’s spirit will give us life.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

The Path of Life (3.A)

Pope Francis tells the story of a great Spanish preacher who gave a powerful and well-prepared sermon. Afterwards, the priest was approached by a man—a great public sinner—who asked, with tears flowing down his face, to go to confession.

He confessed a long list of serious sins. The confessor knew about the man, so he was amazed that his sermon had been so effective.

“Tell me,” he asked the penitent man, “when did you feel God touch your heart? At what point in the sermon?”

The man replied “When you said, ‘let’s move on to another subject.’”

I’m not sure about the moral of the story, other than the fact that it’s good for a homilist to be humble! The Pope pointed out that sometimes it’s the simplest words that help us, while at other times it
s the most complicated: “the Lord gives the right word to each of us.”

Today’s Gospel speaks to all of us—but the message will be simple for some, complicated for others.

The words are St. Peter’s: “Lord, it is good for us to be here.” You can’t find a simpler prayer than this. Peter couldn’t begin to express his awe and wonder—and perhaps confusion—so he affirms the goodness of the moment.

It’s a prayer any of us could make every time we recognize that Jesus is with us. It’s good to be around the dinner table saying grace. It’s good to look out at the top of a ski lift and to know God holds such beauty in His hands. It’s good to be here at Mass.

Of course, not all of us here at Mass are ready to pray “Lord it is good to be here.” Some of us would rather be somewhere else. We’re here because our parents dragged us, or because we know God expects to see us. Still, I think most of us in church today are willing to pray those words with Peter.

But what do we say next? “Lord, it is good to be here… and… uh…” There we run out of steam. What are the deepest reasons why it good to be at Mass today?

Put on the spot, we might say what we think God wants to hear, just like Peter did. It is good to be here because we receive Christ’s Body and Blood. It is good to be here with friends or family, with a community of faith.

For some of us, these answers come from the heart. But for others they come from the head.

In our amazing parish mission yesterday, Jake Khym asked us the question Jesus asked Martha after the death of Lazarus: Do you believe this? Only those who make the effort to answer this question will fully share the awe and the wonder and the joy that Peter felt on the mountain of transfiguration. Because the Mass is our celebration of the whole story of Jesus—the story of His suffering, death, resurrection and ascension, the story we call the Paschal Mystery.

What a simple but complex question: do you believe this?

Jake asked us an easier question, though I didn’t know the answer. What were the two top songs of all time? Anyone guess one of them? The answer is the Beatle’s “Yesterday” and the Rolling Stones’ “Satisfaction.”

Both songs resonate in people’s hearts because they are about longing for better times, longing for something that’s beyond our reach. That longing, of course, is for heaven.

Most fairy tales and most of our favourite movies end “and they lived happily ever after.” Why is this? Because, as St. Augustine wrote, God made us for Himself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in Him.

Do we bring that restlessness to Mass? Does our time in church allow space for our longing for heaven? Can we pray, “Lord it is good to be here—because it’s bringing me closer to the deepest desire of my heart?

I wish every parishioner could have shared the amazing experience we had at the mission yesterday. Many times I prayed “Lord, it is so good to be here.” But God is generous, and anyone who will take the time to join the disciples at the feet of Jesus will also be richly blessed.

The practical directions to receive the grace we need next are given right in today’s Gospel. First, acknowledge Jesus as the beloved Son of the Father, and “listen to Him.”

Second, “do not be afraid.” Do not draw back from the Paschal Mystery and all that it means and promises and demands of you.

We heard was so much powerful preaching and teaching and testimony yesterday, but the Path of Life might well be summarized in those seven simple words: listen to Him, and do not be afraid.

As Pope Francis said, the Lord will give the right word to each of us.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Take it to the Lord! (8.A)

I came across a book this week, just in time for my homily on today’s Gospel.  It’s called How to Handle Worry: A Catholic Approach. 
I’m a worrier, so my first thought was “I’ll bet the book is out of print!” Well, it was, but its available as an e-book, so I had it in my hand as I prepared this homily.
The author, a professor named Marshall Cook, got my attention with the table of contents.  Among the chapter titles are “Why Worry is Inevitable”, “Why Worry Hurts Us”, and “Don’t Get Mad. Don’t Get Even. Get Peaceful”.
Any of those chapters would be well worth a homily, but I think the one called “Naming and Defeating Five Varieties of Worry” came closest to how Our Lord might have expanded on His beautiful words in today’s Gospel. 
Because I’m not sure that the people listening to Jesus preach were half as worried as we are today.  Jesus focused on material needs—food, drink, and clothing.  Those were the worries of his rural audience in the first century.
You and I have little fear of nakedness or hunger.  Our basic needs are met.  But I think we can easily identify with the kinds of worry that Marshall Cook deals with.  He lists such modern anxieties as info-ignorance, which is the state of knowing more and understanding less; we have more information than we can handle and it leaves us anxious and confused.
In the Gospel today Jesus tells us not to worry and tells us why we shouldn’t worry.  His examples are excellent and His teaching is forceful.  What Our Lord doesn’t tell us in this brief passage is how not to worry.  We find that a few chapters later in Saint Matthew’s Gospel:  “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.”
Although each kind of worry calls for a different kind of response or approach, those words of Jesus must be our starting point.  As Marshall Cook says, “take it to the Lord.”
“Tell him the problem.  Alone, you may not be able to solve it, but with Jesus at your side all things are possible.”
The book gives some practical ways of dealing with anxiety and worry—we all know that God helps those who help themselves.  For instance, Saint Ignatius teaches us to seek divine help when making decisions, but he tells us first to weigh up the pros and cons in a common sense way.
But Cook points out that in a certain sense if you make a decision with God, you can’t make a “wrong” decision.  He’s not saying you’ll always make the “right” decision: what he means is that if you trust in God’s guidance and His love for you, there’s nothing that will take you from His abiding love.
The reason for this is found in my favourite Scripture verse:  “We know all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to His purpose” (Rom. 8:28).
The deeper we go with God and the closer we come to Him, the less we are anxious and alone.  Notice to whom Jesus is speaking to in today’s Gospel: his disciples, the men and women who are following Him, who are close to Him.  He didn’t give this sermon in a market square or to thousands gathered on the hillside.  This is teaching for His friends… “those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.

Lent, which begins on Wednesday, is quite properly seen as a time to do penance and to repent for sin.  But it is also the time to deepen our bond of friendship with Jesus. And if we do that His promises become real—they become antidotes to the many fears that rob us of peace and joy.
This Lent our parish offers each of you a remarkable opportunity, one that can make a true difference in your life.  Two weeks from now, we will hold our parish mission, called “The Path of Life.” It will be given by Mr. Jake Khym, a wonderfully gifted speaker, clinical counsellor, and teacher.
This one-day Saturday retreat assumes that we all want life, happiness, and peace, but aren’t always sure where to find it or how to keep it. It offers the answer that Jesus gives: The Path of Life, a road less traveled that leads to endless joy.
Why would anyone stay stuck in anxiety and worry when the road out of those miseries is available—when your own parish presents the roadmap with a knowledgeable and engaging guide like Jake Khym?
I can only think of one good reason to miss this event, and that’s being out of town on a non-refundable air ticket.  As you heard last week, Father Paul will be on a mission trip to the Philippines—I even asked him whether he couldn’t fly back for the day.  (He said no.)
But if you are truly unable to spend Saturday March 11th listening and praying, there are always other ways of finding God’s help with the worries of our complicated modern lives. They’re almost full, but we have retreats coming up at Westminster Abbey for men and for women—the men’s is next weekend, while the women’s is the first weekend in April.
A large group of men meet to pray together in the church every Friday morning at 6 a.m.  They follow the advice in St. Peter’s First Letter: “Cast all your anxiety on [God], because he care for you.” You’ll hear a bit more about that later.
The bulletin has a simple tool to plan your Lenten journey, which should begin for all of us with Mass on Ash Wednesday. But don’t think of it only as the road to Easter—it’s the road to peace.