Friday, June 22, 2018

Whether we are at home or away... (11B)

Since this is Father’s Day, I find myself thinking about my Dad and the lessons he taught me.  It wasn’t hard to decide the most important of them:  “Do what your Mother tells you!”
And she always tells me “Dear, you have to tell the parishioners where you went when you go away for a weekend.”
I said “What on earth for?  We have two priests here.”
“Because I don’t want to hear any complaints,” my mother replied!
Her advice was good, and not just because it avoids complaints.  It’s good because my absences can help us talk about the Christian attitude to travel and holidays.
This is a good time for that, since in our second reading St. Paul says whether we are at home or away, we seek to please the Lord. 
(Of course his overall message is not about travelling—the Apostle is talking about the trip from earth to Heaven—but his words lead us to a very simple lesson as summer approaches.  Whether we are at home or away we must continue to live the Christian life.)
It’s tempting to see our holidays as total freedom—no obligations, including Sunday Mass—except you can’t go on holiday from something so central to our existence. Some of us have tried taking holidays from exercise, healthy eating, and disciplined sleep, which is nothing but a losing formula.
Pope Benedict was speaking to priests when he said rest, too, is pastoral work. He quotes the words of Jesus "Come away by yourselves to a lonely place, and rest a while" (Mk 6: 31). The Pope even says we priests need to find and to have the humility, the courage to rest.
 All of us can benefit from his wisdom if we understand that it means vacations, restful Sundays, and even daily breaks are part of the healthy human existence that God wills.
We need, wherever possible, not only to find rest in our vacations but also renewal.  Vacations can be a time for a period of daily prayer as a family that may be difficult in ordinary circumstances.  This may be a time to say the Rosary after supper because—for once—all the kids are at the table and none of them has a soccer practice.  Depending where you take a holiday, you may be able to attend daily Mass—especially if there’s a parish nearby where Mass is later in the morning or in the evening.
Reading is an important part of holidays for many people, including me.  I was really shocked by an article in The Globe and Mail recently.  The headline was “I Have Forgotten How to Read.”  It wasn’t by someone with a head injury or other ailment, but a piece by an author who had finally recognized that his lifestyle and the impact of the internet had slowly robbed him of the pleasure of curling up for a few hours with a good book.
Having the right book with you on a vacation is a key part to rediscovering the joys of reading.  Having the right spiritual book can help reignite our faith during our vacation from all the usual distractions of life.  There may be many parishioners—judging from sales in our little book shop, and loans from our library—who have never read a spiritual book.  If you’re one of those I invite you to check out the books in gift shop and the library today.  If you don’t see something that catches your interest, just ask me, and I will suggest something you will truly enjoy beside a lake or on a plane. 
Whenever possible we should look for blessings when we travel—new friends, new ideas, new knowledge.  And that brings us back to my recent travels.  In less than two weeks I was in three dioceses; and in each of them I was reminded that our parish exists within a communion of churches; we are part of something much bigger than ourselves. 
When we holiday outside of Vancouver we get a small taste of this as we discover that things are done differently elsewhere—sometimes better, sometimes worse—but always in the great communion of the Catholic Church.  Parishioners come back with ideas, and sometimes even with a sense of relief!  But we are always strengthened to know that our local community is but a part of the great Church of Christ.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus talks to us about the kingdom of God.  In another place he tells us that the kingdom of God is among us—right here, right at Christ the Redeemer parish. But today he reminds us that the kingdom also thrives and flourishes on a grand scale, offering shade and shelter to all people.
Everything we do, from work to play, is part of our human and spiritual growth, and part of our contribution to building up the Kingdom of God on earth.
And certainly our labours for a better world are a key aspect of this. Every so often you’ll hear in the media about “anti-abortion” groups.  While there may be such groups, I’ve never really met them. Pro-life groups and pro-life people—including those who support today’s second collection—are promoting the culture of life.
Our goal must be greater than ending abortion. As our Prayer for Reverence for Life shows, we praise God for life at every stage, and commit ourselves to its defense.
Few things are more important to the Kingdom than the family, and on Father’s Day we should note that a Kingdom needs citizens; without the family, and the important work of fathers, God’s plan for the world could never succeed.
So whether we are at home, or away, let us make it our aim to please God in all things, and to build a kingdom of truth, justice and love.
Some of the ideas in this homily made their way to the Sunday bulletin the following week. 

Sunday, June 3, 2018

The Fulfillment of All Desire (Corpus Christi)

It has been a great joy to have spent the last five days with Ralph Martin.  He was here for our Parish Mission—you can read about it in last week’s bulletin, which also provides biographical information for anyone who is unfamiliar with Ralph and the many blessings he has brought to the Church.
And this weekend he gave the annual retreat to the  members of the permanent diaconate community in the Archdiocese of Vancouver.
I’ve known Ralph for more than twenty years.  I first met him when he came to give a talk in Vancouver, but he first influenced me forty years ago when his book Hungry for God (1974) taught me the priceless lesson that progress in prayer is the result of God’s gift, not my effort.
Nine years later Ralph wrote Crisis of Truth: The Attack on Faith, Morality and Mission in the Catholic Church (1983).  I read it in the seminary and discovered that life in the Church was probably going to be more difficult than I had thought.  The errors he exposed in that book became increasingly evident in the Church over the next twenty years.
Despite the influence and importance of these and many other books I think most people consider his finest work to be The Fulfillment of All Desire (2006).  Subtitled ‘A Guidebook for the Journey to God Based on the Wisdom of the Saints’ it is “destined to be a modern classic on the spiritual life.”  (An excellent accompanying Study Guide [2010] is also available.)
On this Feast of Corpus Christi “the fulfillment of all desire” is a perfect theme for a homily. 
I could easily devote this homily to the word “fulfillment.”  In fact, St. Thomas Aquinas calls the Eucharist “the fulfillment of ancient figures and the greatest of all his miracles.”  Fulfillment is a one-word summary of what the Scriptures tell us today.
The First Reading describes sacrifices—specifically, communion sacrifices—that are intended to solemnize a Covenant: a Covenant sealed in blood.  The blood is first poured on the altar, which represents God.  Then it is splashed on the people, uniting them to the blood on the altar.
In this Exodus account, “a union has been created from this blood relationship” and  “the terms for preserving that relationship are spelled out” (The Collegeville Bible Commentary, p. 105).
Every ten-year-old Christian knows what happens next.  Before Moses is even down the mountain the people have already begun to worship the golden calf.  To say that this Covenant is on shaky ground  is an understatement.
But the Letter to the Hebrews shows us how the Blood of Christ initiates a new and perfect covenant.  If there’s any doubt about that, we have the words of Jesus in the Gospel today “This is my Blood of the Covenant.”
Fulfillment. Pure and simple.
But the word that really inspires my thoughts today is ‘desire.’  It seems to me that the Eucharist must be desired to have its full effect in our lives, and that offers us an opportunity today to ask ourselves whether the Eucharist truly is the fulfillment of our desire. 
Do we long for it?  Do we hunger for it? 
We should. St. Thomas not only calls the Sacrament the fulfillment of ancient figures and the greatest of all Christ’s miracles—in the same sentence he called it a “unique and abiding” consolation.
Priests and deacons have a bird’s eye view on this question.  We ourselves can experience routine and over-familiarity.  And giving Holy Communion to hundreds of people every Sunday we sometimes wonder how many people approaching the altar have any of the feelings that St. Thomas expressed when he wrote “O precious and wonderful banquet that brings us salvation, contains all sweetness.”  Do we experience what Thomas called “spiritual delight, tasted at its very source”?
One of the Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion in the parish told me she sometimes feels sad at the absent-minded expressions on the faces of those who stand before her.  Of course it’s not what’s on our face, but what’s in our heart that matters.  Still it’s easy to wonder why we don’t look a little more enthusiastic, a little more reverent, or even slightly awestruck as we approach the table of the Lord.
In the pews you will find the prayer St. Thomas wrote in preparation for the reception of Holy Communion.  These cards have been in the pews for some weeks now; I’m not sure how many people have used them, but when we finally get the screens up and running I hope to project this prayer at least some of the time—so that it might increase our desire for this saving Sacrament; so that it might help us to hunger for the Bread of Angels; and so that it might help us to receive not only the Sacrament but also its full grace and power.
Thanksgiving after Communion is very important, and St. Thomas wrote a prayer for that too.  But somehow I think we need most to excite desire in our hearts each time we approach the Eucharist.  And so I wonder whether on this great Feast you might join me in the prayer of St. Thomas Aquinas you find in the pew under the heading “Prayer before Mass.”
Almighty and Eternal God, behold I come to the sacrament of Your only-begotten Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.  As one sick I come to the Physician of life; unclean, to the Fountain of mercy; blind, to the Light of eternal splendor; poor and needy to the Lord of heaven and earth.  Therefore, I beg of You, through Your infinite mercy and generosity, heal my weakness, wash my uncleanness, give light to my blindness, enrich my poverty, and clothe my nakedness. May I thus receive the Bread of Angels, the King of Kings, the Lord of Lords, with such reverence and humility, contrition and devotion, purity and faith, purpose and intention, as shall aid my soul’s salvation.
Grant, I beg of You, that I may receive not only the Sacrament of the Body and Blood of our Lord, but also its full grace and power. Give me the grace, most merciful God, to receive the Body of your only Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, born of the Virgin Mary, in such a manner that I may deserve to be intimately united with His mystical Body and to be numbered among His members. Most loving Father, grant that I may behold for all eternity face to face Your beloved Son, whom now, on my pilgrimage, I am about to receive under the sacramental veil, who lives and reigns with You, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God, world without end. Amen.