Sunday, January 28, 2018

Unbound Retreat (4.B)

A year or so after she joined our parish, my mother said to me “Dear, you really should tell people what you’re doing when you’re away.  Otherwise they’ll think your life is one big holiday.”

Which I’m sure was her way of telling me she’d overheard a parishioner saying my life is one big holiday!

So in the bulletin last Sunday, I was sure to mention why I was away last week.  I said that I was on a priests’ training retreat about ‘Unbound’ ministry, an approach to deliverance and healing prayer based on Neil Lozano’s book by the same name.

I said that Unbound uses five keys to praying for greater spiritual freedom.

But I just took that off the Unbound website!  I didn’t know anything much about Unbound; all I knew was that people I really respected, including a couple of bishops, praised it highly.

I’ve returned from the retreat convinced that virtually all of us need to pray for greater spiritual freedom. And I think that using the five keys of Unbound is a very good way to do that.

There’s no time for me to describe the five keys today, since I want to look first at our Sunday readings: all three of them connect with what I heard and experienced on the retreat. In fact, all the weekday readings last week reinforced what the retreat leaders were presenting—and reminded me that their teaching was solidly rooted in the Bible.

In the first reading today, we learn how God uses prophets. Although Moses was a giant among prophets, the Lord says his ministry will continue. It wasn’t Moses’ voice the people heard, but God’s. And God will raise up prophets and give them the words to speak.

And in the Gospel, we hear a word we don’t usually like to hear: authority! We usually use it in terms of governing authority, even in the Church. But in the healing of the man with the unclean spirit, authority means power—power to command, and power to heal.

We all know that priests have sacred power, the power to administer the sacraments. We all know that the Pope and bishops have authority, the authority to teach and to govern. Rarely do we talk about the power of each baptized person. And yet God has given all of us power and authority; it’s different from that conferred by ordination, but this power and authority are part of God’s plan for us.

Right after Mass I am going to baptize the baby of a young couple I married a couple years ago. Immediately after the baptism, I will anoint the baby and say: “As Christ was anointed Priest, Prophet, and King, so may you live always as a member of his body, sharing everlasting life.”

We’re all called to be prophets—to speak God’s words to others, in his name. And we’re called to be “ kings” who speak with authority—the authority of the Scriptures and the teaching of the Church, mindful always of the solemn warning God gives in the first reading to those who would dare to speak in any other way.

And we’re called in baptism to a common priesthood. It differs from the ministerial priesthood of the ordained, but it still imparts the power to bless in God’s name.

Although I was on a priests’ retreat, trained lay people often pray for others using the Unbound model, because it’s not based on the sacrament of holy orders but on the sacrament of baptism.

The authority and power each of us has can be used to help others find their way to freedom from the bondage of sin. But it can also be used for our own benefit—praying with Unbound helps us claim authority in the name of Jesus over the evils that torment us.

The scene in today’s Gospel is a dramatic one. Nowadays we keep our distance from the idea of unclean spirits. Forty-five years ago I saw The Exorcist, a movie that revolved around demonic possession. It’s taken almost half a century to erase all the misconceptions the movie created.

In fact, the Evil One is too smart to show his hand as clearly as the movie does, except in the very rarest of cases. Yet if we marginalize the role that evil spirits play in leading us to the slavery of sin, we fail to use God’s full authority and power over sin and evil. We fail to use the power of the name of Jesus, even though our Lord said that we can ask anything in his name. (John 14:14)

The Catechism says “By entering into the holy name of the Lord Jesus we can accept, from within, the prayer he teaches us: ‘Our Father!’ His priestly prayer fulfills, from within, the great petitions of the Lord's Prayer: concern for the Father's name; passionate zeal for his kingdom (glory); the accomplishment of the will of the Father, of his plan of salvation; and deliverance from evil.” (CCC 2750)

We’re all pretty good at seeking forgiveness. And God grants it readily. But what about deliverance from the evil that leads us to sin? From the lies we tell ourselves or the lies of Satan that we believe about ourselves?

Jesus wants us to be every bit as free as the man from whom he casts out the unclean spirit.

If all this seems a bit over the top, let’s look at the second reading. Paul is writing about anxiety. While the Gospel story of a man crying out in the voice of an evil spirit may be entirely beyond our experience, which one of us doesn’t experience anxiety?

Anxiety isn’t a sin.  But a spirit of anxiety comes from the Evil One; anything that binds us from living Christian lives that are joyful and free comes from the Evil One. We need to use the power and authority that Jesus shares with us to unbind ourselves and others from all that oppresses us.

I’m still putting the pieces together from last week’s retreat. I hope that the Lord will make it possible for me to share more about Unbound ministry with the parish and to talk about the five keys. For now, today’s Scriptures get us started in thinking in the right direction: first, are we ready not only to hear but to speak God’s word to others?  Second, do we acknowledge that anxiety—at home and at work—pulls us away from God?  Do we recognize that it can be based on a lie leads us to sin and to doubt?

And finally, are we ready to pray for deliverance, to seek freedom in gentle ways that help and heal within the tradition of the Word of God and Christ’s Church?

If the answers to those questions resonate in your hearts, it may be time to talk more about Unbound ministry in our parish.

Let’s start to pray for the Lord’s guidance.

I gave a second homily on this retreat,  You can read it here.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Speak Lord... Here I am! (2.B)

Our young adults have been among my greatest joys during the ten years I have been pastor at Christ the Redeemer.

The young men and women of this parish inspire me with their desire to know God, their commitment to the faith, and their willingness to bear witness in the hostile environments they encounter at work or school.

No fewer than three young people from our parish have become lay missionaries with Catholic Christian Outreach, while others have had leadership positions with CCO on campus.

But one thing has puzzled me: why have so few pursued the priesthood or religious life? Only one young man from the parish has gone to the seminary, and we’re still waiting for a young woman to enter a convent.

When I talk about this with our single young adults, I find that they are eager to do God’s will. They are completely ready to respond to his call.

Just one problem: deep down, many of them think that God is supposed to call them the same way he called Samuel in our first reading.

All they need is a divine voice in the middle of the night.

Well, I’m teasing a little—and I don’t want to make fun of our serious young people, because quite frankly we’re all a little unclear on how God calls us today.

And God’s call isn’t only about choosing to pursue a vocation to priesthood or the consecrated life. Every baptized person has a personal call—indeed, a series of calls—from God. One of the great challenges of Christian life is listening for those calls.

Like Samuel, we need to recognize God’s voice and open our ears as Samuel did, “Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.”

God wants to speak to every person here in the church today. No exceptions.  Our relationship with him is a continuing conversation, not a one-time encounter.

Hearing God speak should be an everyday thing. Psalm 95 says “O that today you would listen to his voice!”

So how does that work? Most likely, it’s not going to be anything like what happened to Samuel, though it might be like Simon Peter’s encounter with his brother Andrew, where a family member or friend brings us God’s invitation.

But most of the time, we hear God’s voice by means of ordinary events. God spoke to me twice this week, once through the newspaper and once through the internet.

When I read in the National Post that the federal Government will not give summer employment grants unless an organization certifies it is not pro-life, I heard the Lord’s telling me to continue preparing myself and my parishioners for a new way of living as a Christian in Canada—as a citizen of an increasingly-hostile country.

And when I saw the socialmedia backlash against a couple who star in a home improvement show when they announced they were having their fifth child, I heard God asking me to start praying more and harder about how to build a Christian community in this parish with the strength to resist the world and its ways.

This way of hearing God’s voice is nothing new: in chapter 24 of the Gospel of Matthew Jesus tells the disciples to read the signs of the times when he teaches them about the end of the world.
Those who want to follow Christ in today’s world need to know where he’s leading, so we need to know the word he is speaking, Perhaps we should begin each day with the simple prayer Eli taught Samuel: “Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.”

Listening, though, is not the whole story. We’re given another important short prayer in today’s Psalm: “Here I am… I delight to do your will.” When we know what God wants of us, we must be ready to do it—and not as a burden, but as a delight.

Let’s end with a look at the second reading, because it contains two important truths. First, God’s will includes very specific teaching about sexual morality—teaching that is challenged constantly in our secular society. And secondly, following that teaching is not supposed to be a burden but a source of delight.

It’s a big mistake to think Christian moral teaching is all about ‘thou shalt nots.’ St. Paul speaks plainly about the prohibition, of course—you can’t get away from that. But look at what else he says! Christians seek to be pure for a reason: because our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit. Because we belong to God. Because we are a gift from God. That’s something beautiful, not something burdensome or repressive.

The two prayers we’ve heard today can be reduced to five words: speak Lord, here I am. That’s a good formula for discipleship generally, a good help to choosing a vocation, and can lead both young and old to make better moral choices as well.