Sunday, October 15, 2017

Deliver the Invitations! (27.A)



We’ve all heard today’s Gospel story before and we think we know the message:  It’s not a good idea to turn down an invitation.  It’s even a worse idea to kill the guy who delivers it.  But if you do show up, follow the dress code.
Okay.  We probably know more than that.  Indifference to God’s call is a bad thing.  Rejecting God’s call is a worse thing.  And if we don’t want to come to his wedding banquet, God will find others who do.
Those are important lessons, and it would be good to ask ourselves whether we’re the ones who laughed at the invitation, the ones who killed the messengers, or whether we are wearing the wedding robe of obedience to God’s commands or not.  But just for today let’s take a very different look at the parable.
Let’s not focus on the king—we know that’s God our Father—or on his son—we know that’s the Lord Jesus.  Instead let’s take a look at the slaves, the servants who obeyed the king’s command to deliver invitations to this important wedding banquet.
Those servants had a simple enough job at the beginning.  They were first-century couriers.  And yet the task turned dangerous and they ended up dead.
The next batch of slaves faced a far greater challenge.  In the first place, the routine assignment was now perilous.  There was no guarantee they wouldn’t end up like the first group, dead.  But more than that, they now had to recruit guests for the banquet; that’s a much more demanding undertaking.
Can we put ourselves in the shoes—or sandals—of these servants?  Before you answer that, another question: can we see the banquet of the son as much more than a wedding reception?  Might we see it as the feast of rich food prepared by the Lord of Hosts for all peoples, the banquet that celebrates the destruction of death and the end of tears and sorrow?
Because if we believe that the Lord has prepared a table for us—a feast of fellowship here on earth and a wedding banquet in heaven—then the commission to invite others becomes crucial and urgent.
In earlier times, and today in other places, the brothers and sisters we call martyrs were willing to face a murderous response from those they invited to the wedding banquet of the Son of God.  Are we now ready to be sent out to the main streets of North and West Vancouver to extend an invitation to both good and bad, so that the wedding hall will be filled with guests?
I’m not sure why it is quite so difficult to convince Catholics of the urgency of this duty.  It’d be fair to say that the priests of fifty years ago were more successful convincing people they would go to Hell for eating meat on Friday than I am convincing you that sharing the Faith is not just for some but for all—a requirement for every serious Christian.
What I’m doing wrong, I’m not sure.  But I can’t blame the choice of Sunday readings.  Last week Jesus told us “the Kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produces the fruits of the Kingdom.”  He gave this dire warning directly to the chief priests and elders to whom he was speaking, but I think he is giving it to us, to us Catholics, today.
Where do you find a people that produces the fruits of the Kingdom?  You can start by visiting an Evangelical Protestant church.  Well, I’d rather you didn’t do that, to tell you the truth!  But check out their websites and see their focus on evangelizing, on sharing the Gospel with the people they meet in every circumstance.
The website of one of these congregations has the bold statement “We exist to make Jesus known.”  That’s a perfectly good summary of the thousands of words written about the Catholic Church in the documents of Vatican II.  But can we honestly say this is how we feel about our parish?
Yet if we don’t exist to make Jesus known we don’t exist at all.  And if you don’t want to make Jesus known then you don’t know Jesus.  Sorry, but that’s the truth.
We used to have great excuses as Catholics.  We had lots of children, they all came to church, and then they had lots of children, and they all came to church.  What’s more, people thought Catholics were strange so nobody wanted to become a Catholic unless they married one.
Those excuses are all gone and the situation is clear.  Once the current wave of immigrants from Catholic cultures has fully assimilated we will be forced to confront the truth: either we share the Gospel with the countless un-churched people we know, or we prepare for empty pews and—worse yet—live as half-hearted disciples barely worthy of the name.
But the best excuse of all was simply that Catholics didn’t know how to share our faith.  Jehovah’s Witnesses stood on street corners, the Mormons knocked on doors, and the Evangelicals cornered you on a plane.  We sure didn’t want to do that, so what could we do?
Really, that excuse was a good one.  We didn’t know what evangelization meant or how it worked, so how could we do it?
Well, now you know.  Those excuses just don’t fly now that at least three Popes and three Archbishops of Vancouver have called each of us to a missionary identity.
Those excuses don’t fly in a parish where there are three distinct opportunities to share your faith without standing on a single street corner or knocking on a single door.  Three distinct opportunities that are non-threatening, enjoyable, and easy.  Three opportunities in three weeks.
You heard about them last week and the silence was deafening.  Just a handful of enquiries and signups.
I’m not scolding, just reporting because it’s not too late.  There’s two days before the Alpha film series starts on Tuesday night, and the Discovery Faith Study has flexible startup dates beginning this week. 
The Path to Life discipleship retreat will be held on Saturday November 4, so that’s a bit further down the road—however the speaker is so well known that people from outside the parish will snap up every ticket if you don’t purchase your tickets after Mass today.  I say ‘tickets’—meaning one for yourself and one for the friend, family member, or neighbour you’ll invite to join you.
I realize some of us still struggle with the word evangelization.  We really don’t know what it means or demands of us.  Forget about your old ideas.  Forget about knocking on doors.  Forget about asking your golf partner “Are you saved?”  And forget about people on television asking for money.  Evangelization just means sharing the Gospel.  And at Christ the Redeemer Parish on Sunday October 15, 2017 it concretely means inviting someone to one of these programs—or just coming yourself if you think you’re the one who needs evangelizing.  Many Catholics do.
I certainly can’t force anyone to deliver these invitations—I’m not a king and you aren’t slaves!  Although I do have to tell you that one of our young parishioners delivered several hundred invitations to homes in the neighbourhood.  (I was very pleased when he texted me to say that no one had seized, stoned, or beaten him.)
But if you’d like to take the Gospel literally, there’s a box of these leaflets sitting on the information table in the foyer.  You could put some in your apartment foyer or ask your kids to put them through mailboxes on your street, as long as you don’t live in the immediate area of the church, which we’ve covered.
It’s up to you.  But, looking back to last Sunday’s Gospel, if we do nothing the Kingdom of God will be taken away and given to a people that produces the fruits God expects from true disciples.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

At Thanksgiving, Share the Blessing of Faith!



My mother hated custard pudding when she was a girl. But that was the dessert my grandmother served at lunch one school day, and Mom wouldn’t touch it.

“You’re not going back to school unless you eat,” my grandmother threatened.

Mom held out until she knew she’d be late, and finally downed the pudding, hating every mouthful. Pleased with this, grandma told her to say grace after meals and get back to school.

After a brief pause, Mom prayed “Almighty God, we give you thanks that the custard didn’t make me sick. Amen.”

That’s a reminder on Thanksgiving weekend that gratitude comes in many forms.

I heard about another grandmother who was so thankful her four grandchildren were coming to stay with her for a week that she put a hundred dollars in the collection on the Sunday before they arrived.

At Mass the next Sunday, after they’d gone home, she put in two hundred.

As I said, there are many different kinds of gratitude.

For some things, our gratitude is immense, for others it may even be lukewarm. We have big blessings and small ones, blessings that are pleasant and even some that are painful. And we have blessings that we realize, and others we don’t even know.

It’s too bad that “count your blessings” has become something of a throwaway line. When the famous composer Irving Berlin was having trouble sleeping, his doctor told him to try counting his blessings. Berlin turned that into the song “Count Your Blessings (Instead of Sheep)” for the movie White Christmas. But counting your blessings is a serious business, not a cure for insomnia.

In fact, counting our blessings is a Christian duty. If we don’t know what we’re thankful for, we’re not really thankful. St. Paul tells us clearly in today’s second reading that prayer and thanksgiving go hand-in-hand. In one phrase, “Do not worry about anything, but by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”

And in case we miss the importance of his advice, the Apostle tells us what will follow this kind of prayer: the peace of God. The peace that every heart seeks and needs.

One of the simplest of all formulas for daily prayer is called the ACTS methods. It’s so simple that I even found it in a book called Christian Prayer for Dummies! ACTS stands for Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving and Supplication. The four letters capture all three of Paul’s directives, and of course adoration—giving God praise and honor for who He is—must be the start of all prayer.

But today let’s focus on thanksgiving, and not only because of the calendar.

Could we spend some time this morning thanking God for something that we might not come to mind when someone asks “what are you thankful for?”

If that question comes up at dinner tonight or tomorrow—as it should—our first answers are usually our family, our friends or even the food, because we can see these blessings as we look around the tale.

How many of us would answer “my faith”? Yet surely faith is a greater blessing even than family, friends and food.

Today’s readings really help us think seriously about this. The prophet Isaiah sings us a love song from God, whose love for us is compared to the owner of a vineyard planted and tended with exquisite care.

Jesus is obviously using the very same image in his parable. A landowner who builds a fenced-in vineyard with its own wine press and watchtower has done all he could possibly do to ensure a great harvest.

How could such loving care lead to ruin and bloodshed? Obviously human sinfulness is at the heart of it, but I suggest a lack of gratitude is the first cause of the failed harvest in the first reading and the murderous actions in the Gospel parable.

How can someone neglect or reject something for which they’re grateful?

Happily, there’s no-one in Church this morning who rejects the landowner’s Son, the Lord. But the scriptures warn us not only against rejecting God’s gift of salvation but also of neglecting it. Neglecting the Kingdom of God can be almost as bad as rejecting it.

Today, we need to put God’s gift of salvation—and the peace it promises—at the top of the list of things for which we’re thankful. But not in the half-hearted way my Mom prayed after her unhappy lunch. If we’re not sure how thankful we are for faith, today’s a day to ask what we can do about that.

If you want to know what you really think and feel about your faith, here’s a simple test: have you shared it lately? Are you willing to share it? Because there’s a natural human instinct to share what we love with those we love.

Notice I’m not asking you—yet!—to share your faith with strangers. We have enough family and friends around us, especially this weekend. Do we have enough gratitude for God’s gifts to share them?

This isn’t one of those rhetorical questions you can hear in a homily and forget about by the time we say the Creed. No, today we’re all of us challenged to answer that question—to test how seriously we thank God for faith—through action.

In the next four weeks, our parish offers three ways to share what you love with those you love.

First, the Alpha Film Series. This immensely-popular program starts on Tuesday, October 17. It offers eleven weeks of great videos and non-judgmental conversation, served up with dessert. Alpha is a basic introduction to Christian faith, suitable for just about everyone from atheists to agnostics to fallen-away Catholics. (Although unless you are one of those, you can’t come alone—bring someone along.)

Second, around the same time, we are launching the Discover Discipleship faith study. It’s suitable for everyone, especially those who have already done Alpha. Many small groups will meet at convenient times. The Discovery faith study comes to us from CCO, which has used it to lead university students—a tough crowd—to know Jesus. Now we’re using it for all ages. And since Discover Discipleship is only a six week-program, it may suit those who can’t find the time for Alpha.

Finally, we are again hosting the Path of Life Retreat. On Saturday November 4, the dynamic Jake Khym will be with us to repeat his wonderful all-day presentation. It was a sell-out last year, so I am hoping that many of you who attended will have the enthusiasm to invite others. Tickets go on sale next week.




I am praying that by the end of Thanksgiving Day, every parishioner will have invited one person to one of these three events.

1-2-3. Check the bulletin or website for all the details. And check your heart for the willingness to replant the vineyard today in gratitude for all that God has done for you.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Xavier Jesudoss Royappan, 1962 - 2017




Nearly 13,000 kilometers from here, in the city of Chennai, stands the beautiful church of St. Joseph. It is a picturesque building of a distinctive design. It was Father Xavier’s pride and joy. Many times he spoke to me with great pride about that church, which he and his parishioners built with more love than money.

We might call St. Joseph’s church Father Xavier’s monument. But we’d be wrong.

If you’re looking for his monument, look around you. Look around you in the church this morning. Look at the parishioners—young and old—of Christ the Redeemer, whose lives he touched with his simplicity and gentleness. Looking at this congregation I can almost feel the beating heart of our parish family.

Look at his fellow Pallottine priests, confreres in the religious community he served as a formator and a promoter of missions. And see the diocesan priests, from the North Shore and elsewhere, who valued his fraternal warmth.

We even welcome representatives from Sacred Heart Parish in Terrace, where his passing has already been commemorated last week at Mass celebrated in a full church by the Bishop of Prince George.

Here is the true monument—the true memorial—of a priest who lived the Beatitudes with grace and conviction. This living monument, of course, of flesh and blood, is earthly while the reward of his labours—as Jesus has just told us in the Gospel—is in heaven.

We hear the Beatitudes read fairly often at funerals, but today they strike us with a particular force. In the first place, although Father Xavier was legitimately proud of his accomplishments both in India and in Canada, he had a purity of heart and a poverty of spirit that always gave the due credit to God.

A priest can preach effectively about virtues like charity or patience but the only homily he can really give on purity of heart and poverty of spirit is the witness of his life.

We also heard Jesus say “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.” Now I suspect there were Pallottine seminarians who didn’t think their prefect was particularly meek, but in his parish ministry he was unfailingly humble and gentle and kind.

And his meekness was the specifically Christian variety, not to be confused with being obsequious or unassertive. One day a large trailer pulled into the parking lot carrying a cow as an educational experience for our students at St. Anthony’s school–a bunch of city kids. Being a city kid myself, I ran back to the rectory and I urged Father Xavier to come over to the school to see the cow.

“A cow? A cow? I’m an —I'm not crossing the parking lot to see a cow!”

He was certainly merciful, especially to me. I found it too much to preach on the Sunday before he died, so Father Giovanni gave the homily at all the Masses. We heard the Gospel where Jesus tells Peter to forgive seventy-seven times. Because I was so emotional when I announced his illness at the start of the nine o’clock Mass, Father Giovanni in his homily said “You can see how much Monsignor loves Father Xavier. But living together for so long they must have had their fights.”

I promptly interrupted him from the chair, to exclaim “Father Xavier and I never fought”—which is more than I can say about Father Giovanni!

Although all the Beatitudes fit this peaceful and righteous man, the one he was called to live most fully was “Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted.” The tragic death of his sister Nirmala Maria, a young religious who had just finished her training as a surgeon, was his own moment to join Jesus on the Cross. It was, I believe, the time when he lived Christ’s priesthood most fully.

The most intimate thing Father Xavier ever said to me came one day when we were talking about his sister’s death. “For six months,” he said, “I could barely offer Mass.”

But he did offer Mass. He did find the spiritual strength to believe that those who mourn will be comforted. He did find the courage not to grieve as those who have no hope.

He was able, along with the rest of his heartbroken family, to move through that darkness with faith in the Resurrection of Jesus and in the resurrection of those who have died in Christ.

Of course we are here today to pray for the repose of his soul, but if I can ask one thing of you this morning it is this: do pray especially for his mother, who has had to face two such terrible losses.


Today, as the first reading says, is our time to mourn. But it is also our time to embrace—to embrace one another and to embrace the consoling and encouraging word of God. It is what Father Xavier himself did and it is what he would have us do.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Stewardship = Discipleship



Welcome to Christ the Redeemer’s final Stewardship Sunday! You are also welcome after Mass to our parish’s last-ever Stewardship Fair.

Don’t be alarmed—we haven’t given up on stewardship. Far from it—I just returned from the annual meeting of the International Catholic Stewardship Council and I’m as keen on stewardship as I ever was.

But the more I listened to the committed and talented speakers at the stewardship conference the more convinced I became that stewardship is really just another name for discipleship. 

As our parish intensifies its commitment to forming intentional disciples I think we should remind ourselves that the only goal of our stewardship of time, talent, and treasure is the dedicated following of Jesus Christ.

And so, next year, you can look forward to the first annual Discipleship Fair!

The day our conference ended another took over the hotel. It was for young computer wizards and part of it was what they call a “jobs fair”—a bunch of companies sponsoring booths offering employment opportunities.

Our Stewardship Fair is a lot like that. It’s not advertising the great things we are doing in this parish—it’s inviting you to great things. Today’s Gospel shows how God puts each of us to work at different stages in our lives. One of the most committed volunteers in this parish is almost ninety; another one of the most active and generous parishioners is more than sixty-five years younger.

The amazing generosity of the Lord of the vineyard is something to celebrate—but we mustn’t forget that all the labourers did some work. There’s no parable about God’s generosity to those who do nothing at all.

So do visit the gym after Mass and listen for a voice that says “you also go into the vineyard.”

I need to keep this homily short, but I do want to offer a prayer that I heard at the conference in Atlanta. It’s printed also in the bulletin, but one of the things I learned at the conference was that only half the people take a bulletin and only half of those actually read it!

My parish is composed of people like me. I help make it what it is. It will be friendly, if I am. It will be holy, if I am. Its pews will be filled, if I help fill them. It will do great work, if I work. It will be prayerful, if I pray. It will make generous gifts to many causes, if I am a generous giver. It will bring others into worship, if I invite and bring them in. It will be a place of loyalty and love, of fearlessness and faith, of compassion, charity, and mercy, if I, who make it what it is, am filled with these same things. Therefore, with the help of God, I will dedicate myself to the task of being all the things that I want my parish to be. Amen.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Sunday Wasn't a "Duty" for Lily!


Last week one of the loveliest young women in our parish came to the 5 o’clock Mass looking like one of those photos you see on the internet labelled “plastic surgery gone horribly wrong.” Her eyes were almost swollen shut and her face was so puffy I did not recognize her.

The day before, she’d been enjoying herself at her family’s cabin on a small island when she found out the hard way that she is allergic to bee stings. A helicopter had to rush her off the island for emergency treatment in hospital.

Yet there she was at the five o’clock Mass. Why?

Why would someone who looked so awful—and who must have felt pretty awful, too—show up for Mass? Certainly she knew there was no Sunday obligation in those circumstances.

Can it have been that she needed the experience of community and fellowship? Liked the music? Wanted instruction from the homily?

These are all very good things, but they can’t adequately explain her sitting in the pew last week.

Only one thing, I suggest, could explain that—her belief in what happens at Mass. Specifically, a deep and personal belief that the Church is fulfilling the command of Jesus to “do this in remembrance of me” and that the same thing is happening as happened at the Last Supper: “Christ truly gives himself for us, and we truly gain a share in him” (Youcat 216).

The duty to attend Mass that we call the Sunday obligation was the farthest thing from the thoughts of that young woman. As Youcat, the Youth Catechism of the Catholic Church puts it, “for a genuine Christian, ‘Sunday duty’ is just as inappropriate as ‘kiss duty’ would be for someone who was truly in love.”

I’m telling this story today because in a couple of minutes I will be mandating, on behalf of the Archbishop, our parish’s Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion—the women and men who assist in the distribution of Communion at Mass and who take the Eucharist to the sick and those in care homes.

I will ask them whether they are resolved to administer the Holy Eucharist with the utmost care and reverence. But it seems appropriate that we ask ourselves whether we are resolved to receive the Eucharist with the utmost care and reverence—with devotion, with respect, and with spiritual preparation.

The opening prayer or Collect this morning asks God to deepen our sense of reverence—not because He needs that but because we do. We prayed that by deepening our sense of reverence, God might nurture in us what is good. And surely the greatest of all goods is our relationship with him, the relationship that is nourished each time we receive Jesus in the Eucharist.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Fear Activates Our Faults (20.A)


Father Emmerich Vogt, the Dominican preacher who visited our parish a few years ago often says “Fear is the chief activator of our faults.”

Although some people think St. Teresa of Avila may have said it first, the line also appears in the wise writings of Alcoholics Anonymous. But wherever it comes from, the idea that fear triggers our defects is undoubtedly true.

Of course not all fear is destructive. Right now the world is gripped by fear of terrorism, particularly the kind that’s linked to Islamic extremism. Given the dreadful events in Spain last week, and in many other places in the past few years, it is an understandable and a reasonable fear.

But fear can be unreasonable. We can lash out without thinking, we can label people without cause, and we can overreact in ways contrary to the Gospel. Here in Canada, where we have seen little Islamic extremism and even less terrorism, we can rush to abandon the openness that is one of the most admirable aspects of our country. 

At the very least, we let fear shut down an intelligent conversation about immigration, security, and interfaith relationships. Fear of what—or whom—we don’t know can lead to an unwelcoming attitude to those who are new to the country, or different from ourselves. We can make others feel unwelcome.

Things weren't much different in our Lord's time.  The Jewish people had a deep sense of their uniqueness, while those around them were distrustful and sometimes hostile.

That's the background to the encounter between the Lord and the Canaanite woman.  At first glance, we're a bit puzzled, because Jesus seems, quite frankly, a bit rude.  In fact, the curious dialogue can be explained precisely by Jesus' desire to draw attention to the barrier between Jew and Gentile; he could not pretend the barrier did not exist: it would exist until he reconciled Jew and Gentile on the cross.

At the same time, this puzzling passage teaches us something about overcoming prejudice and getting along with those of different cultures.  The woman could easily have taken offense at the response Jesus gives her.  His answer was not nearly as offensive then as it sounds now, but it was certainly open to being misunderstood.
But instead of stomping off, the woman persists and engages Jesus in a sort of repartee.  She meets him within the framework of his culture, of his own understanding of his mission.  And the meeting proves very fruitful indeed.

We can find two important lessons in this story.

The first lesson helps us relate to other people: When we’re put off by someone's manner or choice of words, we might well remember the example of the Canaanite woman, and ask ourselves whether we may just need to try a little harder to understand where the person is coming from.  We should avoid judging every encounter by the particular culture in which we've grown up, or by our own personal standards.

The second lesson helps us relate to God:  When God's reply to our prayers seems harsh or puzzling, we may need to imitate the Canaanite woman in her faith and persistence.  Sometimes God’s purposes require that he make a point with us in the same way Jesus had to make a point with the woman.  We may feel he has dismissed us, or not taken our prayer seriously.

We may even wonder whether we are beyond God’s concern, outside of his circle of compassion.

But today’s first reading proclaims God’s “open door” immigration policy.  The “foreigners who join themselves to the Lord”, who love the name of the Lord, he will bring to his holy mountain, he will make “joyful in his house of prayer.”

There are no outsiders in God’s eyes, no strangers.  God excludes no-one from his plan of salvation, except for those who exclude themselves.

Some people feel like outsiders in the Church. Many years ago a non-Catholic friend of my parents, who was married to a Catholic and had attended Mass for years, was talking to a priest, who asked why he’d never joined the Church.  “No-one ever asked,” he said.  Today, God asks; God promises to lead all who come to him up the mountain of his love.

Some people, even within the Church, feel like outsiders with God.  They compare themselves to the holy folk in the next pew, to the people who have it together, to the people who have never stumbled. Today’s second reading tells them that there are no second-class citizens in God’s eyes. He never takes back his gifts. He never revokes our citizenship.

Today’s Gospel, even if it is a bit odd, brings home the point that Jesus came for everyone—insider, outsider, neighbour, stranger, saint, sinner, you name it.  All we need is the confidence of that Canaanite woman.  If we can just ask for scraps, we’ll get an invitation to sit down at the table.

What a difference God’s promise can make to how we see ourselves in relation to Him—and to how we treat others, knowing they too share also in his glorious plan for all humanity.

A note: Part of the homily is taken from notes on the readings that I wrote down in 2008--before I had a blog and so before I bothered to write down sources--so there may be unattributed material here!


Tuesday, August 15, 2017

The Sound of Silence (19.A)



Back in 1930, the famous economist John Maynard Keynes predicted that advances in technology would mean we’d all end up working just 15 hours a week. The very same year, evolutionary biologist Julian Huxley predicted the two-day work week. Both men warned that someday we would have so much leisure time, we would be bored out of our minds.

In 1965, a subcommittee of the U.S. Senate predicted we would be working 14 hours a week by the year 2000, with at least seven weeks of vacation time.

Wikipedia points out that the only thing they were right about was the consequences of technology: only it’s meant more work, not less.

And more work has meant less time for ourselves, our families, and for God. Many of us carry our work around with us in our pockets, our smart phones dinging and ringing throughout the evening and early morning.

As a false escape, we turn up the volume, wasting time on the internet, reading less and less, and only rarely doing nothing. We expect a measure of entertainment at Mass, or we say we get nothing out of going to church.

I’m not lecturing you—I’m one of you, caught up in the craziness of overwork as I try to balance two ministries, one in the parish and the other at the Permanent Diaconate Office.

But today the Word of God offers us a way out of this mess. The way out is called silence. Obviously we can’t be silent most of the time, but a little of it goes a long way.

Elijah’s problems make ours look tiny. In the first place, he’s on the run, fleeing from an evil queen who’s out to kill him. In the second place, he’s discouraged and feels like a total failure; he even prays to die before he gets to the point where we meet him this morning.

But the Lord doesn’t let him down. He tells Elijah to stand by. And just as we’d expect—just as Elijah expected—the drama starts. A mighty windstorm. But no sign of God. Then an earthquake. Again, God’s not to be found in it. Even a fire. But the Lord’s not there either.

Elijah did not encounter God in these high-energy, loud-volume events. Instead, he recognizes the Lord in the sound of silence.

Don’t get caught up trying to figure out what silence sounds like—the text can also be translated as a whisper. The point is that God chooses to launch this crucial conversation with Elijah in the quiet of his heart, as the prophet listens.

When was the last time you were deliberately silent? When did you last power down your phone, and close the door, or sit alone on a park bench?

I just came back from a five-day retreat; I know that’s not possible for most of you. And it’s hard to find a decent cave in the North Shore. But all of us can listen for the sound of silence in our hearts, finding a place to hide from life’s storms for just five minutes.

Today’s Psalm promises that the Lord will speak, that the Lord will speak a word of peace in our hearts. And he will surely do that if we give him even the slightest chance.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

ALL Things Work for Good (17.A)



There’s been so much going on in the parish—Father Paul leaving, Father Giovanni coming, the delightful visit of Sister Helen—that you probably didn’t notice we’ve been reading from St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans for more than a month. I confess I wasn’t paying attention to that myself.

But this Sunday the second reading jumped right out at me. No surprise there, since it’s my favourite passage in Scripture. I’ll tell you why in a minute or two, but first let’s look back a few weeks, when we heard the Apostle say “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed in us.”

With those words, St. Paul begins one of the most encouraging passages in the entire Bible. He offers three truths to encourage and console the suffering Christian. And since all of us suffer some of the time and some of us suffer much of the time, we need to understand his teaching and how it applies to our lives.

The first ground of encouragement, the one we heard at Mass two weeks ago, is simply that present sufferings aren't worth comparing to the glory that is to come: that is “the great disproportion between the sufferings we endure in this life” and our future reward. Earthly sufferings just don’t compare with heavenly glory. This is a logical conclusion—we think like this all the time when we undergo something painful, whether it’s chemotherapy or surgery or even dieting, because the gain far outweighs the pain.

The second ground of encouragement, which we read last week, is that “the Spirit helps us in our weakness.” We don’t face suffering alone: we have God’s help. We don’t even need to pray by our own power: the Spirit intercedes for us. Even the faith we need to benefit from that first source of encouragement, the hope of heaven, comes more from God than from us.

And today St. Paul presents the third ground of encouragement for those facing trials or sufferings: the fact that all things work together for our good.

Think hard about what he means by “all things.” Not some things, and not only good things. Many things that happen in our lives and in our world are evil things. “It is the marvel of God’s wisdom and grace” that he makes even the worst things work for good.

Not one single thing “works ultimately for evil to the people of God.” The end result of the greatest misfortune is good for those who love God. *

Obviously, the three words “those who love God” are the key that unlocks this wonderful promise. We’ll come back to that later.

I told you this was my favourite passage in the Bible. Let me explain why.

Some years ago I went to the doctor and he asked me a question. “If I could write you one prescription that would lower your blood pressure, help you cope with stress, ward off Alzheimer’s, diabetes, heart disease, and many cancers, would you take it?”

“You bet,” I said with real enthusiasm.

“Then exercise every day,” he said.

I never filled the prescription, sad to say.

But I’ve had more success with Romans 8:28, where St. Paul promises even more than the doctor did. This is the verse of Scripture that I've used constantly to make sense of my life and lives of others; it’s the number one truth I use to understand the world and history; and it’s my antidote to discouragement of every sort.

There’s something important in how Paul begins this verse. He says “We know that all things work together for good…” He’s speaking from experience—not just his, but that of the Christians to whom he’s writing.

That God turns everything to the ultimate good of his people is not something to take entirely on faith, something we’ll see proved only in heaven. Like St. Paul, I can stand before you this morning and say we know this. We know from experience God’s plan and power to transform bad things to our ultimate good.

To respect the privacy of people, I can’t tell you detailed stories of individuals and families; and to avoid embarrassment, I won’t tell you detailed stories about me! But you know these stories—the troubled marriages that have been strengthened by misfortunes, the characters that have been built by financial or other hardships, the spiritual growth that’s come in times of illness, and so on. Throughout history, and throughout my ten years in this parish I have seen moral failures transformed into victory and growth by the power of God.

I like the simple example of the Canadian TV and movie star Michael J. Fox, who called himself “a lucky man” because Parkinson’s disease interrupted a life of complete selfishness. The misfortune was, in a sense, his salvation.

Personally, the fact that God works for good in all things helps me face my fears, even of things that are highly unlikely to happen. I am convinced that if I was falsely accused or imprisoned, paralyzed by illness, or facing a premature death God would use these great evils to give me spiritual goods vastly greater than the evils themselves.

Knowing God defeats evil—even our sins—can be a way of knowing God better. What makes his majesty and his sovereignty clearer than his power over even the greatest evil? It’s easier to accept God’s dominion over death when we understand his dominion over sin.

People often ask me about unanswered prayers. That’s based on an understandable and common human assumption, that we know what is best for ourselves and those we love. But when we believe God is always at work for our ultimate good, we may be more inclined to accept that things don’t always work out as we planned—since we know they’ll work out as he plans.

And God works for good not only in the lives of individuals. He works for good—if we let him—even using the sins and failures of society and the Church. For instance, you all know how many Catholics, especially young ones, have left the practice of the faith. The Catholic culture that filled churches has evaporated, creating what looks like a crisis.

But such is God’s power and providence that the crisis is already proving to be an opportunity. Pope emeritus Benedict, while still a cardinal, said “Maybe we are facing a new and different kind of epoch in the Church's history, where Christianity will again be characterized more by the mustard seed, where it will exist in small, seemingly insignificant groups that nonetheless live an intense struggle against evil and bring good into the world...”

What will happen remains to be seen. But we already know that the collapse of cultural Catholicism has given rise to what we’re calling intentional disciples—men and women who come to church not out of duty or social pressure but because they want to meet Jesus in Word and Sacrament and a community of fellow believers.

Clearly God is at work drawing good from the present situation, distressing as it is—because, of course, there were many blessings to be found in the Christian Catholic culture that’s now all but disappeared in Canada.

God works for good in all things—I rely on those words, and quote them often to myself and others. But they’re not a cure-all or a magic potion. We have to let St. Paul finish his thought: All things work together for good for those who love God. And he says “all things work together,” because the promise operates within the framework of discipleship and of faith; it’s not automatic.

And therefore, it’s one more reason we are striving as a parish community to love God more by knowing Jesus better and following him more closely.

I hope we all leave church this morning feeling stronger than we came in, assured that God rewards us with heavenly glory, that he gives us the help of the Holy Spirit, and that he turns all things to our ultimate good. These three encouraging promises give us practical confidence and consolation in our daily struggles and in every suffering we face in our own lives or in our families.

I'll end with a line I stumbled across on the internet: “Sometimes when things are falling apart, they may actually be falling into place.”
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* My source for this and other thoughts in today's homily is the commentary by Prof. John Murray in The Epistle to the Romans in The New International Commentary on Sacred Scripture, pp. 300-315.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

A Wordless Homily: Sponsoring A Fourth Refugee Family

We welcomed the two Dayekh families, Syrian refugees whom the parish sponsored, to the 11 a.m. Mass today, along with many of our volunteers and donors, and Liz Boppart-Carter from neighboring Capilano Christian Community, our partner in this great effort.
 There were touching tributes to Father Paul after both morning Masses last Sunday as we prepared for his departure.  There were also a few jokes at his expense and even one or two poking fun at me! 
The speakers highlighted Father Paul’s many gifts and listed the splendid things he’s accomplished in just two years.  Even I was impressed.
But I was also a little bit jealous.  It’s been six years since my twenty-fifth ordination anniversary, which was the last time anyone listed my accomplishments.  I thought I should get equal time, just to be fair, so I decided to list my recent accomplishments for you this morning.
My recent accomplishments are… uh… just let me think… there must be something.
How about Alpha?  Nope.  That was a dedicated team of parish volunteers, not me. I just showed up to eat.
Oh—speaking of eatingmonth after month hundreds of people in the Downtown East Side enjoy great breakfasts and lunches at the Door is Open.  Ooops!  It's the parish St. Vincent de Paul Society who do that.
Maybe Project Advance?  The campaign almost reached its goal in record time.  But that’s not me either, it’s you, not to mention our dedicated campaign chair and his volunteers.  I’m really just another donor.
There must be something for which I can claim some credit.  Ah—our refugee sponsorship!  First the Shaboo family from Iraq then the two Dayekh families from Syria.  Surely I can take credit for that?
I wish I could!  But let me tell you—the pride I do take in your generosity beats any sense of personal accomplishment I could feel.  I marvel at the leadership shown by the members of our settlement teams, and at the incredible hard work of the numerous volunteers who have helped these wonderful families find shelter, furniture, educational opportunities, and so much more.
This Canada Day weekend we formally declare the independence of the two Dayekh families, who are now self-supporting.  We rejoice in their courage and hard work.  And although our formal commitment to them has been fulfilled, we remain their friends and, most of all, their brothers and sisters in Christ. [The congregation broke into applause.]
Now, the success of the Dayekhs in establishing themselves in Canada, combined with the excellent stewardship of our team leaders and the generosity of our donors, allows me to make a remarkable announcement to you today.
The parish is now preparing to make a commitment to sponsor a family of nine who fled the genocidal conflict in Rwanda many years ago but have waited ever since for a permanent home. 
Living as refugees in Kenya, the Gatare family—a husband and wife and seven children—have posed a great challenge to our archdiocesan refugee office.  This large family has waited so long to find a sponsor that five of the seven children are now classed as adults—meaning they require individual financial guarantees that are beyond the resources of most parishes.
At the same time time, the refugee office informed me that the Iraqi family we had agreed to sponsor—which was stalled by the government moratorium on non-Syrian refugees—has now found a home in the US.
After we heard that news, together with the new request, our accountant went to work.  She added up the donated funds remaining after our fulfilled commitments to the Shaboo and Dayekh families, plus the $20,000 earmarked from Project Advance during the Year of Mercy.  The total?  Almost exactly the sum required.
There are some formalities to be completed, but I look forward to announcing the signing of the sponsorship agreements and soon thereafter the arrival of Joseph and Agnes Gatare together with their children Simon-Pierre, Zacharie, Sarah, Jean-Paul, Jolie-Josephine, Bella-Louise, and Jordan.
 When the family arrives, we hope that our dear friends the Dayekhs will have the chance to welcome them warmly.
All in all, we have pretty good reasons to celebrate this Canada Day—not to mention a homily without words on the Gospel today. 

Monday, June 26, 2017

Intentional Disciples: Have No Fear!


The always-amazing Father Paul Goo chose to give our parish a gift on the Sunday when we celebrated his farewell.  (He leaves us after two years for studies in spirituality at the Gregorian University in Rome.) 

In his homily yesterday, he presented a clear summary of what it means to be an intentional disciple.  Since forming intentional disciples is currently our parish focus and goal, his words will be echoing well after he's unpacked his bags in the Eternal City.

Read his splendid homily here in his Facebook post.

A parishioner also shared this blog post from her brother in Prince George.  It's also an excellent summary of what intentional discipleship means and of the fine work of Sherry Weddell and the Catherine of Sienna institute.

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.
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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.