How easy it would be for a priest, or any Catholic, to get discouraged these days. Reminders of our failures and their consequences seem to be everywhere, including in this morning’s Gospel, where Jesus speaks terrifying words to those who harm children.
And yet during the past week, I have had one experience after another of God renewing the Church.
It started last Sunday, when young adults gathered to hear one of our parishioners talk about his medical missions in Haiti, Ecuador and Indonesia. Except the message they heard from Dr. Tim Kostamo wasn’t really about his work as an orthopedic surgeon; it was about Christ, about living the faith with humility, and courage and joy.
At the end of the evening, I went to bed feeling like someone from Corinth, or Ephesus or Rome, who’d been listening to St. Paul preach.
On Monday, I went to the Door is Open, the drop-in center on the Downtown Eastside, to be with the members of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul as they prepared and served a hotdog supper.
The sheer scale of the event is awesome—it is extremely well-organized—but what thrilled me most was all the familiar faces from Christ the Redeemer visibly joyful in this simple work of charity.
I was a bit surprised to see one of our parishioners there who is known for all her dedication to prison ministry. How could she do this as well? But when I mentioned that to someone, he pointed to one of the other workers he said—that’s the former prisoner she brought along to help.
As I got into my car, I felt that I’d seen a modern version of Jesus feeding the five thousand—although I was assured that there weren’t that many, since some of the guests get their food and head back into the line for a second or even third time.
I had had a lived experience of this morning’s Gospel, where Jesus calls his disciples to give water to the thirsty in his name, even though the beverage on Monday was iced tea.
On Tuesday, I met with our newly-formed parish core team. It’s the result of some planning and discernment we’ve done that’s aims to increase the effectiveness of ministry at CtR by making it less priest-centered and more collaborative. At these weekly meetings, the most common phrase you hear is, “well, maybe not, Monsignor…”
On Wednesday I preached to the school children in the morning and the Parish Religious Education Program students in the afternoon, sharing my enthusiasm for the Canadian Martyrs who inspired me so much when I was their age. Now I'm inspired by their dedicated teachers, the volunteers assistants, and by the parents who sacrifice much for their Christian education.
Thursday I had an important meeting with some very capable people about starting up the fourth group preparing for the permanent diaconate, then a lunch with the man who started the ball rolling by presenting a motion to the Archdiocesan Synod fifteen years ago.
On Friday, I met with Ed and Shawna Zadeiks, a husband and wife deeply committed to sharing the Gospel. We talked about various ways to do this, including Discovery faith studies and the Wild Goose video series. But most of all, we talked about Alpha, which returns to our parish this Thursday evening.
We talked about how Alpha changes lives. But I won’t go on about that, since we will hear from Ed after Communion this morning. I’ll just say that when Ed and Shawna left, I thought to myself “this is how the Church must change and grow.”
And then came Saturday. Vernon Robertson offered his “Seminar of Hope,” a whole day on how to pray for your sons and daughters—and for your friends, other loved ones, spouses and anyone else the Lord has placed in your life.
I’m at a loss to describe the power of Vernon’s preaching. This retired butcher from Safeway made the Scriptures fly off the pages of written words and into the hearts of everyone listening.
Yet we don’t very often pray for the things people actually bring with them to Mass—for children who’ve left the Church, for those anxious about medical tests, for financial worries, for jobs, for knowing God’s will. That’s partly because we use a standard template when preparing the intercessions; we’ll try not to do that anymore.
So there’s my week. And you are asking—what does that have to do with me? It sure didn’t sound like a homily.
Let me explain by asking you something: as you listened to me talk about those seven days, did you hear me mention a priest? No, every single individual who taught me, inspired me, worked with me, and served alongside of me was a lay member of Christ’s faithful.
There were a few lay professionals, but most of the women and men who filled my week with their great example, wisdom or energy were so-called ordinary Catholics, devoted to the mission of the Church in good times and in bad.
Look again at the first reading. Joshua, the executive assistant to Moses, is shocked that Eldad and Medad are prophesying without a license. He wants them stopped. But Moses knows better. He knows that the Lord’s spirit is poured out freely, and that all his people can proclaim his word.
In a different context, in today’s Gospel Jesus also welcomes the ministry of those who aren’t officially part of the team.
Dear friends, we will always need priests and bishops. Indeed, without them there can be no Catholic Church. We are richly blessed, here and elsewhere, with many good priests and bishops. But I believe that God will renew and revive his Church mainly through those lay faithful on whom he puts his Spirit, so they can do deeds of power in the name of Christ.
My diploma from UBC is gathering dust somewhere, but on it are the Latin words “Tuum Est,” which can be translated “It’s Up to You”—a motto for every Catholic in these trying times.