Sunday, November 17, 2019


It was a joy to welcome Ottawa Archbishop Terrence Prendergast--a good friend whom I first met when I was a high school student and he a Jesuit scholastic at nearby Regis College--to celebrate the morning Masses at Christ the Redeemer today. The Archbishop was in Vancouver to speak at the annual Priests' Study Week.

With his kind permission, his homily appears below.    

As we gather for the Eucharist on the Lord’s Day I would like to share with you the theme of our Pastoral Year in which the faithful of the Alexandria-Cornwall and Ottawa dioceses proclaim that, “Christ is everything for us”.

          We so value our relationship with Our Lord and his teaching that we have made our own a challenging Scripture text: “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life” (John 6.68).

We believe that when you let Jesus into your life, when people put Jesus at the centre of their lives, it changes everything and puts joy into their lives. Our big challenge today is to introduce people to Christ so they get to know him. Isn’t this the purpose behind the Archdiocese of Vancouver’s initiative called “Proclaim”?

To fully implement what Archbishop Miller proposes in his recommending of Alpha, of Catholic Christian Outreach’s Discovery series and other such parish encounters means that we have to do so by introducing individuals to Christ one person at a time. We the Catholic community have to appeal to each individual person’s mind and heart.

We know that a lot of young people are looking for community and to belong to something. Our challenge, then is to build trust and to open each person to building a relationship with Our Lord so that together we might all experience the Joy of the Gospel. And that will not be something we keep here in church rather such a relationship with Jesus will push us to share it with his friends, the poor.

          The Home Missions collection is being held today to support the First Nations Catholic missions in your Archdiocese along with the good work done with the seafarers who visit your ports; it is an opportunity to assist them with ongoing prayer and a sharing of our blessings.

          In this way, we express that our experience of Christ Jesus as Lord and Saviour guides us in all that we are and do as we wait in patient hope for his return in glory at the end of time when all will be made right.

          Today's gospel is taken from the final address of Jesus’ public ministry to his apostles then and now to us. Like the speeches found in Mark 13 and Matthew 24-25, this speech in Luke’s gospel is apocalyptic in nature.  It “uncovers” or “reveals” God's designs for the future of his chosen ones, in this case the disciples of Jesus, members of the Church. 

          It is important, however, to realize that, since the future of salvation for the world remains hidden within God's sovereign wisdom, even what is revealed cannot be fully understood by us human beings.  So, we draw from it general advice: don’t be afraid; don’t go after false prophets; allow the Holy Spirit to give you the words you need to defend your faith; hold fast to the end!

          You see, faith in God and trust in his saving designs are called for so that one may correctly interpret what Jesus is telling us of the future.

          Jesus urges his disciples to a patient endurance, rooted in faith, love and hope.  They are not to be frightened or led astray, but are to be assured that in persecution Jesus will give them an eloquence and wisdom that their enemies will be unable to resist or contradict. Finally they are to be confident about what is to come because he is the Lord of History.
                   The closing weeks of one Church year and the opening week of another—the First Sunday of Advent in two weeks’ time—are linked by a focus on the “Parousia”, a word that means the “Presence” or the return of Jesus in glory.  Our Christian reflection today focuses on the third part of the acclamation of faith we say or sing at Mass: “We proclaim your death, O Lord and profess your resurrection, until you come again!”

          “Malachi” means “my messenger” and this Old Testament minor prophet tells of God's promise to send a figure in the end times who would “prepare the way” for God's renewal of Israel's faith life.  The anonymous author of these oracles lived in Judah two generations after the people of God had come back from the Exile in Babylon (about 460 BC).

          Though the Temple had been rebuilt, it was a sorry sight.  The 20,000 returned exiles were poor and without material resources to rebuild the Temple.

          As well, the People of God had grown weary in their religious practice.  Jews divorced the “wives of their youth”, to marry pretty foreign women (Malachi 2.4).  The wealthy not only cheated the poor; they were even selling them into slavery (Malachi 3.5).

          The prophet's oracles are a kind of catechism, laying out convictions about: God's special love for Israel, the sins of the priests, God's opposition to divorce, God's love of justice, criticism of ritual offenses and other signs of religious tepidity.

          Sometimes today we feel a similar discouragement. The evil around us and the difficulties we face—such as the way  members of the Church have suffered through reports of sexual abuse and other faults of our faith community and the pain so many in the church experience—all of it causes us to grumble and grow weary. We need renewal.

                   Malachi's prophecy said that the world could soon confidently look forward to a day when the least shadow of evil would be blotted out.  He used the image of the sun of righteousness shining out with healing in its rays.

          In the ancient world, one of the principal gods was the sun, who was believed to provide for his devotees warmth, life, light and law.  Malachi employed this symbolism, identifying these qualities with God's saving action towards the remnant in Israel who had remained faithful to God and neighbour in difficult times.

          According to Pope Francis, the fulfilment of this promise is what the Risen Lord Jesus offers us. In his recent apostolic exhortation Christus vivit, Christ is alive, the Holy Father says that the Risen Lord can and does continually revitalize us.

          Francis observes that, “Christ is alive and he wants you to be alive! He is in you, he is with you, and he never abandons you.…When you feel you are growing old out of sorrow, resentment or fear, doubt or failure, he will always be there to restore your strength and your hope.”

          Today's epistle also shares in the teaching about the end-times that colours the liturgy in these closing weeks of the year. Paul’s conviction proclaims a central biblical truth: we can trust Christ because he is steadfast, he is our lord and our friend, he will never let us down.

          Take courage, then in Christ’s closeness to you and strive for ways to make him known to those whom he wishes to draw close to himself, namely your family members, your associates at work and indeed every person you meet.

[Texts: Malachi 3.19-20 [Psalm 98]; 2 Thessalonians 3.7-12; Luke 21.5-19]


Sunday, November 10, 2019

Things Worth Dying... and Rising...For

War is hell. Who can argue with these famous words of the Civil War general William Tecumseh Sherman? Certainly no one who has seen the photos of soldiers blown apart on a battlefield, or even huddled terrified in foxholes or trenches.

And yet on Remembrance Day the horrors of war, the tragedy of wars, will not be front and center for most people. Why, do you suppose, that is?

Why, for that matter, do we encourage and honour these young members of the Royal Canadian Air Cadets and their officers who are with us this morning, and welcome them to make our parish center the base for their weekly activities?

There are good answers to these questions. Some come from the field of thought called civics, the study of the rights and duties of citizenship. But other answers are specifically Christian and Catholic.

Catholic thinkers have long devoted themselves to the question of war. St Augustine, and later St Thomas Aquinas, provided the foundation for much of the Church’s teaching on the ethics of war.

Augustine taught at length about what’s become known as the just war, teachings further developed by Aquinas. Both saints argue that war is terrible, to be avoided whenever possible, and to be motivated by a desire for peace.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church states plainly “Because of the evils and injustices that all war brings with it, we must do everything reasonably possible to avoid it” (CCC 2327).

And Catholic teaching firmly rejects the saying “all’s fair in love and war”—the moral law remains fully in force in time of war. As the Catechism says, “The Church and human reason assert the permanent validity of the moral law during armed conflicts. Practices deliberately contrary to the law of nations and to its universal principles are crimes” (CCC 2328).

Following these ancient principles, the Second Vatican Council declared that when all efforts at peace have failed defensive war may be just and even necessary. The council also stated that those in the military make a genuine contribution to the establishment of peace when they conduct themselves properly (cf. Gaudium et spes, 79).

Such teachings must guide the Christian conscience in time of war. But what can we learn from war in time of peace?

Today’s first reading offers one central lesson. There are things worth dying for.

Although Christian history is full of martyrs who meet their death sooner than deny the Faith, the Jewish martyrs of the Second Book of Maccabees are the equal of any. We heard only part of their story  today—chapter seven of this powerful Old Testament book records the death of all seven of the brothers.

Most moving of all, it tells how their mother, when given the chance to persuade her sons to give in and save their lives, encourages them forcefully to accept death sooner than violate the Law of Moses.

The virtue of integrity might be enough to justify the courage of the seven sons and their mother, who is herself executed when the last of them is gone. Surely the world is a better place because some people are prepared to resist tyranny even unto death.

But there’s more to the story, and it has great importance to the Christian understanding of war and its sacrifices.

By the time the Second Book of Maccabees was composed, only about a century before the birth of Christ, many Jews had come to believe in the resurrection of the dead. If you read the whole story of the mother and her sons, you’ll find that one of her motives in urging them to resist is her belief in life after death.

“Accept death,” she tells the youngest brother, “so that in God’s mercy I may get you back again together with your brothers” (2 Mac 7: 9).

The young man himself tells the murderous king Antiochus “our brothers after enduring a brief suffering have drunk of overflowing life” (7:36).

In today’s passage we already heard the first brother proclaim his faith in the life to come: “He said to his torturers, ‘One cannot but choose to die at the hands of humans and to cherish the hope God gives of being raised by him” (7:14).

Elsewhere in the part of the story we don’t read today, another brother says with his last breath “you dismiss us from this present life, but the King of the universe will raise us up to an everlasting renewal of life, because we have died for his laws” (7:9).

These Jewish heroes speak words that should resonate in every Christian heart on Remembrance Day. Even as we lament the tragic loss of lives, most of them young, we reflect on the eternal life promised to those who die fighting for truth and justice and freedom.

It’s timely that this civic day of remembering happens during the month of November, when Catholics pray for all the dead. Faith in life everlasting is a cornerstone of our belief and central to our personal relationship with the Lord, who is “God not of the dead, but of the living.”

At 11 tomorrow morning, our voices should be silent, but our hearts should be speaking with God in prayer.

Saturday, November 2, 2019


My mother’s funeral liturgies, both the evening prayer and Mass the next day, will be a central memory of my priestly life, even if I live as long as she did.  My father’s funeral was also exceptional, although of course there were no vigil prayers since his funeral was on Easter Monday.
When our Ontario relatives heard about the evening service for Mom—my brothers and sisters couldn’t stop talking about Father Jeff’s homily—they were a little confused.  The custom there is to have visitation at a funeral home, not prayers at the church the night before.
So, since I come from Ontario, I knew exactly what Cardinal Timothy Dolan was talking about at the Upper Room conference last weekend when he related a conversation he had while standing before an open casket.
A man beside him paying his respects was weeping copiously. So the young priest put his hand on his shoulder and said “you must have cared for him very much.”
Weeping even harder, the man said, “Bob saved my life.”
Cardinal Dolan let the man compose himself before he asked him to explain.  It turns out that the deceased had been a co-worker of the crying man, who was what was sometimes called a hopeless alcoholic.
The man, whose name was Rod, had reached that stage where his life was falling apart in every way.  He turned to Bob, whom he had admired for his good nature, patience, and kindness, and asked how he did it.
“Well,” Bob said after thinking about it for a moment, “I suppose it’s my faith.”  And that began a conversation that led Rod into the Catholic Church—and, as he said, saved his life.
At the end of the story, Cardinal Dolan paused, and said, “Bob was my father.  We were standing at his casket.”
Despite the dramatic ending, the Cardinal’s point was simple.  Every single Catholic has the ability to be a missionary. To be a life saver.
And the point of last weekend’s Upper Room Conference was equally simple.  Every single Catholic has the call to be a missionarya life saver.
Our Upper Room was much bigger than the one in Jerusalem where the Apostles, the Blessed Mother, and other disciples—both men and women—gathered to wait for Pentecost.  More than a thousand people gathered in Vancouver for the launch of the Proclaim movement.
I certainly wasn’t the only one in the Upper Room who felt a lot like those first disciples.  And I didn’t doubt for a moment that this was a kind of Pentecost, something entirely new for the Church in the Lower Mainland, something that was going to make history—something powerfully inspired by the Holy Spirit.
It’s not easy to describe this experience to those who weren’t there, and it’s even more difficult to explain what the Proclaim movement is.  But I’m sure going to try!
Brett Powell, a senior Archdiocesan leader who was one of the conference organizers, offered a short definition: “Proclaim is a new missionary impulse with a strategy and a structure.”  I’m going to repeat that: one, a new missionary impulse; two, with a strategy; three, with a structure.
This new missionary impulse responds directly to a call from Pope Francis.  In his letter “The Joy of the Gospel” he wrote: I dream of … a missionary impulse capable of transforming everything, so that the Church’s customs, ways of doing things, times and schedules, language and structures can be suitably channeled for the evangelization of today’s world rather than for her self-preservation.”
The strategy is based on three principles.  I’ve already mentioned the first:  making every baptized Christian a missionary disciple.  The Proclaim movement promises to invite, equip, motivate, and commission lay Catholics to share the Gospel in effective ways.
A second key principle will make it clear that the mission field is right here on our doorstep.  We are called to share the Gospel message with our family members, neighbours, co-workers, and friends.  Archbishop Miller said we won’t find the people we need to evangelize in foreign lands, but on our soccer fields, in our minivans, offices, and at Tim Horton’s.
The third element of this strategy is narrowing our focus for greater impact.  Brett Powell mentioned that there must be a hundred good programs to help Catholics become missionary disciples.  But it’s not possible for the Archdiocese to offer training and support for a hundred programs, or even for ten.
Instead, the Archdiocese of Vancouver has committed to offer first-class training and central support for two proven methods of spreading the Gospel.  And—here is something truly wonderful for our own parish—those two programs are the two we’ve already concentrated on at Christ the Redeemer: Alpha and the Discovery faith studies.
This strategy reminds me of the politician’s wife who slipped him a note half way through a major public statement.  All she wrote, in capital letters, was KISS.  When the politician asked her later why she was so affectionate in the middle of his speech, she said “KISS stood for ‘keep it simple, sweetheart.’”
This raises the question some have already asked about our parish’s focus on Alpha and Discovery: why these two?  Brett Powell explained that Alpha Canada and Catholic Christian Outreach are organizations with good track records, and they will be partners with the Archdiocese who will bring a great deal of support and experience.  He added that their materials, especially Alpha’s, are available in a number of languages.
As for the structure, we’re talking about a carefully-planned cycle.  Brett Powell assured us that the Upper Room was not a “one-off”.  There will be an annual Upper Room conference designed to keep the momentum going and ensure we measure results.  A gifted long-time CCO missionary has been hired full-time to direct our Proclaim movement.
The Archdiocese is going to provide resources galore to help us grow these two activities and use them to make joyful missionary disciples. There will be promotion, training, and coaching, starting right now.
Is this risky?  Sure it is!  We’re shifting the Church’s resources to the folks we’re trying to reach, instead of those we’re trying to keep.  Mission is going to trump maintenance for a while around here.
Is this scary?  Well, it’s scary for me, anyway!  I already hear some people say “Oh, enough about Alpha already.  Let’s talk about something else for a change.”  Brett Powell had an answer for that in his speech at the conference: “Repetition is our friend.”  Most successful movements rely on one or two great ideas repeated endlessly until they become deep-rooted in our hearts.
Just like most Catholics, I’m scared to share my faith with those who don’t believe.  I can preach to you with total comfort, but put me in a situation where I have to talk about Jesus with a stranger and I would much prefer to shift the conversation to the performance of the Canucks.
Yet Archbishop Miller says this is not the time to play it safe.  In fact, he told the conference this is exactly the right time for a new and daring initiative.  He quoted St. John Paul II at World Youth Day in Denver: “This is no time to be ashamed of the Gospel.” I was on the altar with the Pope and heard him speak those words back in 1993.
 What was true then is even truer today.  Scandals, embarrassments, attacks of every kind—nothing can separate us from the love of God made visible in Christ nor cancel our calling to make him known to the world.
Apart from our shy Catholic culture, the big reason we don’t evangelize is because no one ever taught us how.  Proclaim will help us to use Alpha and Discovery as tools with which to share the Gospel.  It will also show us how to deepen our own relationship with Jesus.  Because, as is often said, you can’t give what you ain’t got.
Archbishop Miller seriously challenged every one of the thousand people gathered at the Upper Room. I give the same challenge to each one of you today: “Don’t be afraid to be bold—go out on a limb.”
That’s exactly what we’ve been striving for at Christ the Redeemer during these past months, as we charted the discipleship path. And we intend to stay boldly out on the limb, grateful for the guidance of the Holy Spirit and the leadership of our chief shepherd.
And perhaps, as with Bob Dolan, someday someone will stand weeping before your casket, saying “he or she saved my life.”
Because that’s what we’re called to do—to save lives. “For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.”
Lots to learn on the Proclaim website And check out the Proclaim Podcast here or here

Jane Catherine Smith: Archbishop Miller’s Homily

I have already posted my mother's obituary and some thoughts I shared at her funeral Mass.  In this final post, I am pleased to share the homily given at the funeral by Archbishop J. Michael Miller, whom Mom very proudly called my Archbishop.

Dear Bishop Monroe, Monsignor Smith, brother priests and deacons, family of Jane Smith and dear friends in Christ:

At the outset of this Funeral Mass allow me to express my heartfelt condolences to the family of Jane Smith: her children, Gregory, Sheila, Nancy, Stephen and Kevin; and to their spouses, ten grandchildren and two great grandchildren. Non-family members too mourn the loss of a beloved friend, and I humbly but readily include myself in that number. We have all come here to pray with the Church, that our merciful God will lead Jane to her true homeland where she will delight in its everlasting joys.
Even though the event of death is a disquieting enigma, for us believers it is illumined by the “hope of immortality” (Wis 3:4). Death is not merely a biological occurrence but a new birth and a renewed existence offered by the Risen One. Our earthly experience concludes with death, but through death full and definitive life beyond time unfolds for each one of us.
Dying, then, is not just a falling asleep, a descent into the abyss of a silent void, but an intensely human act in which the soul, though separated from the body, remains fully aware, indeed more intensely so than ever before. For the one dying, the true moment of death is not biologically indicated but the blazing encounter with the Lord of merciful judgment. At that moment we become fully alive in him.
While at the end of this life, death certainly deprives us of all that is of the earth, it does not deprive us—and it did not deprive Jane—of that Baptismal grace by which we are forever plunged into the Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. Even as Jane slipped silently from this world, she remained clothed in Christ, prepared to meet him. Her death opened the gates to the fullness of life (cf. Jn 10:10), to what the Apostle Paul described so beautifully in our Second Reading as “the eternal weight of glory beyond all measure” (2 Cor 4:17).
Hidden from our gaze, but experiencing an intensity of life  hitherto unknown, she would surely have been rejoicing and whispered to the Angels who were ushering her to the Lord’s presence, what we all sang as the response to the Responsorial Psalm, “Let us go to the house of the Lord” (Ps 122). Jane would no doubt have been saying: “I can hear him calling to me, ‘Come to me, you who are weary and I will give you rest’ (Mt 11:28).”
 As people of faith, we share the sure conviction that death does not destroy the bonds of love forged in this life. It only places a temporary, if painful, barrier between us. It will be lifted when we are reunited in the heavenly Jerusalem, where the sound of weeping is heard no more (cf. Is 65:19) and the light of the first day of creation is forever undimmed (cf. Gen 1:3‒5).
God blessed Jane with a good and happy and life: a loving husband and family that surrounded her with attention and affection, and many friends who sought her advice and the pleasure of her hearty laugh. She had a keen sense of independence, and an unpretentious and practical piety no doubt forged in the years before her entry into the Church.
In the last few months of Jane’s slow and sometimes difficult journey to the “Father’s house” (Jn 14:2), she remained serene, smiling and, of course, spirited. What St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians became very true for her, as in those last weeks she experienced that her “outer self” was gradually “wasting away” (cf. 2 Cor 4:16).
There comes a time in the life of many people—and it seems that this was the case for Jane—when a person in a situation of compromised health comes to understand, “walking by faith” (cf. 2 Cor 5:7), that they can simply and honestly say to the Lord: “I’m worn out and am waiting for that promised dwelling from God which is in heaven” (cf. 2 Cor 5:1). To paraphrase the words of St. John Henry Newman, such a person might well say: “God has created me to do him some definite service. He committed a work to me which he did not commit to another. I have completed my mission.”[1] My earthly body has done what the Lord intended.
Such a trusting attitude reminds me of the words of the Apostle Paul who wrote, reflecting on his imminent death, as we heard in the Second Reaading this past Sunday, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Tim 4:7).  But they are also like the words of the dying Jesus on the Cross: “It is finished” (Jn 19:30). He accepted his death as the completion of the mission given to him by the Father.
It is a great grace when we can likewise say: “mission accomplished”; “I have finished the race.”
What is particularly striking and, I believe, truly beautiful is the way in which Jane left this world. She had the grace of a happy death, on the dawn of her 87th birthday. She celebrated Thanksgiving with a festive brunch at Amica Lions Gate with her family. On that same evening she was fortified by the Sacraments of the Church: receiving the Body and Blood of her Lord in Holy Communion and the Anointing of the Sick from the hands of her son and pastor, Gregory. On Tuesday afternoon the family again gathered, this time to recite the Church’s Prayers for the Dying, which includes the Commendation with its moving words (to which I inevitably hear the magnificent rendition of Sir Edgar Elgar in his oratorio of Newman’s “Dream of Gerontius”):
Go forth, Christian soul, from this world
in the name of God the almighty Father,
who created you
in the name of Jesus Christ, 
Son of the living God,
who suffered for you,
in the name of the Holy Spirit
who was poured out upon you.
Go forth, faithful Christian.

What was not visible to the naked eye was the presence of Christ by the bedside. He himself was taking Jane home, because he knew the way (cf. Jn 14:6).

Our faith fills us with comfort at the thought that, as it was for the Lord Jesus, and always thanks to him, death no longer has dominion over us (cf. Rom 6:9). For us, “life is changed, not ended.” Its power has been swallowed up in the victory of the Risen One who says to all of us, just as he did to Jane before they met in judgment face to face: “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Mt 11:28‒29).

[1] Cf. St. John Henry Newman, “Meditations on Christian Doctrine,”  “Hope in God – Creator” (7 March 1848) in Meditations and Devotions.