Saturday, November 26, 2022

First Sunday of Advent (Year A): Awake and Prepare for the Lord is Coming





I hope God listens to excuses. Because I have plenty!

When I go to confession, I never say “I was impatient with a parishioner.” I add “but I was in a rush.” I don’t say “I ate too much,” without adding “but that parishioner really can cook!”

So let’s hope God listens.

However, this Sunday’s Gospel clearly tells us there’s one excuse God will not buy on the day of judgement: “I didn’t know.” We Christians will not be able to face him and say, “but you never told me!”

St. Paul calls us to turn away from sin and turn to Christ. Most of us are unlikely to be surprised by his message. We already knew that being debauched and licentious was not a good preparation for Christmas! I’m not making light of the apostle’s catalogue of sins, which include things that aren’t exactly uncommon like quarreling, jealousy, and drinking too much. But it’s no revelation that these are a serious problem on our spiritual journey.

The warning Jesus gives us is more subtle. It probably targets more of us than St. Paul’s. Still, both the Gospel and second reading share a central message. In keeping with my recent resolution to sum up my homilies in a few words, that message is: wake up!

The contrast between the second reading and the Gospel is fascinating. St. Paul warns us that serious sin can put us to sleep—it can anesthetize our consciences. We become people of the flesh and not of the Spirit. Jesus warns us about another risk, which may be a greater problem because it’s so much harder for us to recognize.

That risk is allowing routine activities to distract us from the deepest realities of life. We’re not turning away from God by deliberate sin but losing sight of God because we are so busy, even with good things such as work and family life.

Johann Sebastian Bach even set that message to music in the beautiful cantata Wachet auf. It begins “Awake! the voice calls to us…” The powerful text was written by Philipp Nicolai, who was so good at writing hymns that the Lutheran Church venerates him as a saint.

Wachet auf is not based on St. Paul’s exhortations to wake from sleep; nor is it based on today’s Gospel. The hymn refers to the parable of the wise and foolish virgins which is another of the many passages in the New Testament that warn us to be prepared and ready for the coming of the Lord.

In the text, it’s the voice of watchmen calling the virgins to wake up, pick up their lamps, and welcome the bridegroom. On this First Sunday of Advent, it’s the voice of Jesus himself.

In last week’s homily I shared a vision for our parish—that Christ the Redeemer becomes ‘irresistible’ to parishioner and non-parishioner alike.

That’s a vision specific to our times. No one needed an irresistible parish in 1950—there was so much less competition for our minds and hearts. Today, we need to work twice as hard to awaken people to the vision of our first reading and psalm: becoming a joyful people journeying together to the house of the Lord.

Today’s psalm was sung by pilgrims arriving at the gates of Jerusalem. In the holy city they hear God’s word and praise him in response. And in the final verse, they pray for their family and friends.

What stops the average person in our parish from sharing all the joy and enthusiasm of those Jewish pilgrims? I can put it in one word, busy-ness.

Anyone want to guess what makes prayer difficult for me? When I was in the seminary, I would have said distraction, the universal problem when praying. Today the answer is my iPhone. Heaven forbid I would go into the church without it! I might miss a call.

You all know what keeps you from praying at home or from coming to Water in the Desert, for instance. Driving kids to soccer practice. Early morning and late-night trips to the gym. Binge watching.

These aren’t things we can entirely avoid. But as Advent begins, we can take stock and wake up to unbalanced priorities. We can stay awake, alert to the ways our busy lives may be making us spiritually drowsy. To use a very tired phrase, Advent is a wake-up call.

Effective changes in lifestyle and priorities are almost never radical. We need simple, realistic goals aimed at making some progress in our relationship with Jesus Christ.

Choosing one simple thing can help overcome our spiritual drowsiness during this sacred season and prepare us for a more meaningful celebration of Christmas.

And there’s no shortage of ideas. You’ll find a whole page devoted to Advent on the parish website with wonderful suggestions.

One of the easiest but most powerful things we can do is attending Water in the Desert on Saturday December 17. As it happens, our Advent webpage has a quote from Pope emeritus Benedict where he says that the Church, like Christ, must “lead people out of the desert, towards the place of life, towards friendship with the Son of God, towards the One who gives us life, and life in abundance.” That’s certainly what our evening adoration, music, and testimony can do for people wearied by the pre-Christmas rush.

Every Tuesday in Advent, there’s a wonderful opportunity to awaken our souls. We will have Mass at 7:00 pm followed by adoration and confession at 7:30.

Speaking of confession, it’s the ideal way we can, “put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh,” to use St. Paul’s words. There’s no better way to be ready for the unexpected coming of the Son of Man about which Jesus warns us. We will have many priests celebrating the sacrament at our penitential service on Wednesday December 21. There’s even an online guide on the Advent website to help you prepare if it’s been a while.

Needless to say, we need to be alert not only to our own spiritual needs but to the needs, spiritual and material, of our brothers and sisters. That’s why the website lists no fewer than five opportunities for service and charity in Advent.

I’ll end with my two-word summary of God’s words to us as Advent begins: wake up! Shake off the fog of our overly busy lives for the next four weeks. Be ready for the coming of the Lord, awake and alert as Jesus has commanded, whether that be his final coming or the arrival of the Christ child on December 25.

However important our daily routine, it cannot be allowed to keep us from what matters most. No excuses!



Sunday, November 20, 2022

Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe: Our Parish Feast Day! (34.C)




A friend was driving in the States recently. He spied a church where he thought he might be able to attend Sunday Mass. Sure enough, one was about to start with a priest who introduced himself as a visitor.

He then announced, “Mass this morning will be two hours long.” The congregation was still laughing when he said “No, I’m serious. Mass is going to be two hours long.”

My friend told me that the priest, an imposing African American, preached for one hour and fifteen minutes. I said, “That’s just awful!”

“No!” said my friend; “I didn’t want him to stop.”

Turns out that the priest had quite a story to tell. He’d been a successful accountant who was considering the priesthood. But he couldn’t decide. One day he was sitting in an empty church, and asked God out loud what he should do. An old Black woman sitting some distance away heard him and came over with her walker. 

She said to him, “He’s calling you, boy. You go runnin’!”

So he quit his job to enter the seminary. He went up to his old office to say goodbye to his colleagues. 

Ten days later a plane crashed into that floor of the World Trade Center, and all his co-workers died.

What would it take for parish life to be as compelling as that homily?

That’s the question God is asking each of us on our parish feast day.

And now I’m going to preach for two hours. No, I’m not.

But I could. Because there is a lot to say on this solemn celebration of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe. And there’s a lot to say about our parish as it grows and adapts to meet the challenges of a changed universe.

Today we are given a vision of Christ: the King, the shepherd, the ruler—“the image of the invisible God.”

And from that vision comes a vision of Christ the Redeemer Parish.

Father Zidago and I have just got back from the annual Priests’ Study Week. And what a week it was: speaker after speaker told us, “God is calling, boys: you go runnin’.”

What the speakers were calling us to was a new vision of parish life—a vision of the future of our parish that would hold our attention even better than the most powerful preacher at a two-hour Mass.

What is a vision? A vision is a God-inspired picture of the future that produces passion.

What’s not a vision? A plan to get absent parishioners back to Mass. As one wise pastor said “Bringing people back isn’t vision; moving people forward is.”

From the Cross, where Christ seems weakest, he is calling his people to share a vision of a new world, a kingdom of truth and life, a kingdom of holiness and grace, a kingdom of justice, love, and peace. Those are words from the Preface of today’s Mass, which begins “lift up your hearts.” But to lift up our hearts the vision has to take hold of us; it must inspire passion.

And a God-given vision must answer the question ‘what’s most important?’ We know the answer: the second reading tells us that Jesus Christ is “the head of the body, the Church.” And it is Jesus Christ who is the head and cornerstone of our parish.

Only he can renew our community, only he can attract new members, only he offers a relationship that answers every longing and heals every wound.

Over the summer, members of the parish core team and others sweated over a vision for Christ the Redeemer Parish. Well, we didn’t actually sweat, since there was air conditioning, but we did suffer from Langley’s mosquitoes. It was hard work, and it took five full days.

At the end of the process, we had a remarkable set of ideas and commitments that I’ll be sharing with you down the road. But it all boiled down to one daring goal: To become an irresistible parish.

Not to become irresistible to increase our numbers or collection, but because Jesus is irresistible. We cannot keep Jesus a secret: we are called to make him known and loved by making people feel loved and known.

We want to be a community of disciples who attract others because of the joy, purpose, and generosity that stems from a personal relationship with Jesus.

Is the idea of an irresistible parish an impossible dream? I asked myself that while writing this homily. But the Holy Spirit answered the question for me. A long-time parishioner almost tackled me in the parking lot yesterday. Out of the blue, she said, with undisguised enthusiasm, “How I love my parish! What a difference it makes in my life, and what a joy it is to serve here.”

And that’s just a quick summary of a conversation that was bursting with passion.

I’m holding here the latest edition of our parish magazine. The table of contents alone is better than any two-hour sermon I could ever preach.

My own contribution shares some thoughts about creating a culture of encounter as a way of navigating our changed world. We want our parish to be a place of encounter—with one another and with Jesus. And we want to meet Jesus in our weakness, like the good thief on the cross, sharing not only our successes but failures as well.

Listen to the titles of some of the other articles: “An antidote to loneliness in a cup of coffee,” The oasis at Water in the Desert,” “Youth Ministry: a safe place to talk about faith.”

Of course, they say a picture is worth a thousand words. I think the joy-filled photographs alone can inspire tremendous hope for the future.

And, no surprise, there’s an article called “Becoming an Irresistible Parish.” It describes what an irresistible parish could look like; but much more important it tells us in three words how we’ll get there: pray, lead, invite.

We must pray because only fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit can bring about this kind of growth. We must lead because we need everyone if we are going to fulfill our God-given vision. You can’t create an irresistible parish without irresistible parishioners.

Thirdly we must invite. “As we begin to build an irresistible parish, others will naturally be attracted to our joy, but first they must be invited.”

When we asked members of the Parish Pastoral Council what they loved about CTR they highlighted connection, belonging, and beauty. When we asked what drives them nuts about the parish they mentioned pedestrians, people who walk in and walk out quickly but don’t engage.

And when we asked them to imagine walking into the parish three years from now, they had a vision of being known as a place where—Catholic or not—you can come and sit in peace, talk to someone if you’re down, and find people who care about you.

Each of you has a vision of what would make this parish as irresistible to you as it is to the buoyant and fulfilled woman who spoke to me in the parking lot.

You’re in church today—something is drawing you here. What is it? Do you want more of it? Do you want to be part of the irresistible parish? Think about it and pray about it this week; come back next week.

You can find the answers in a deeper relationship with Jesus, Christ our King, Christ our Redeemer.

He’s calling us, people! Let’s go running.

Saturday, November 12, 2022

Thirty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time – the Lord is Coming

 


Recently one of my seminary classmates brought me up short when I called to congratulate him on his 65th birthday.

He was the youngest in our class and the most athletic. When I asked how he was doing, he said “Just fine. But thinking a fair bit about death these days.”

He has some health challenges like most people our age, but he’s not dying. Really, all he’s doing is what the Church hopes we’ll all do as the liturgical year winds down.

The readings for today’s Mass aren’t particularly subtle. The Gospel talks about the end of the world, prefigured by the destruction of the temple at Jerusalem. The first reading is a prophecy about the end of the world—the day of the Lord’s wrath.

And the end of the world is the background to the second reading, which doesn’t even mention it. St. Paul is correcting the wrong thinking of those who are convinced that the end is so near that there’s no point working!

Wouldn’t it be nice to know when the world would come to an end? The Apostles are certainly keen to know the timetable for the destruction of the temple.

But elsewhere in the Gospels Jesus makes it clear that this is not information he wants us to have. In St. Matthew’s Gospel he says, But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” (Mt 24:36)

So what’s the point of all the drama in today’s liturgy?

I think the Psalm gives us the key in one sentence: “The Lord is coming, coming to judge the earth.” What does it matter ‘when,’ if the coming is certain?

The opening prayer—or Collect—of today’s Mass tells us how to avoid fearing that day: by serving with constancy the author of all that is good. The first reading promises that even on the last day for those who revere God’s name the sun of righteousness shall rise with  healing in its wings.

Those who revere God’s name, who do their work quietly, and ultimately those who endure persecution, trials and tribulations will stand confidently before the Lord when he appears.

Given the fact that the teaching of today’s scriptures has been shared in the Church for two thousand years and the end of the world hasn’t happened I wondered whether something’s going on here that is more immediate.

It seems to me that the focus on the inevitable end of the world on an unknown day is meant to turn our minds and hearts to the inevitable end of our lives, also on an unknown day. Because the same principles apply: the day is coming, for each of us, and there will be a particular judgement that precedes the general judgement on the last day.

For some death comes gently, while for others it can be harder, but for all the promise is made: for those who revere God’s name the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings.

Two weeks ago, I summarized the message of my homily in four words: pray for the dead. Today I can summarize it in three words: think about death.

On this Sunday next year, the message is quite explicit. St. Paul says that since “the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night…let us not fall asleep as others do, but stay awake and be sober.”

Because what the word of God says about the world’s end applies equally to our own end. Maybe even more. It is easier to picture our own mortality than the fact that the world as we know it is passing away.

Let me end with some practical thoughts. November seems to be my month for important funerals. It began with Arlene Boreham’s, a beautiful celebration of our long-time parishioner. Yesterday morning I attended the funeral of Vito Curalli, the father of Nick, the conductor of our 9:00 am choir. And this coming Saturday I will celebrate the funeral for Connie Zweng, whose hundredth birthday party I attended not long ago.

I think that anyone, Catholic or non-Catholic would have been moved at the faith-filled funerals of Arlene and Vito and I expect the same will be true when Connie’s funeral Mass is celebrated.

The funerals of the righteous are wonderful homilies on the kind of readings we have heard today. They acknowledge the Lord as judge but show him a righteous and just judge ready not only to forgive but to reward. They are inevitably sad but are overlaid with joy and beauty.

I encourage everyone of a certain age to do some funeral planning. Practically, it can assist your loved ones. Spiritually, it can help you prepare and ponder.

And it can even have a certain element of fun. Long before her final illness, my friend and colleague Mary-lynn, Connie Zweng’s daughter, kept her funeral arrangements on her computer at work. If you annoyed her, she would take you off the list of readers or pall bearers. And you stayed off until you were back in her good graces. Not a bad way of dealing with life’s frustrations, all in all.

And also, a reminder that God never takes us off his list. Only we can do that, and we never want to stay off for long because life is short, and no one knows the day or the hour.


Saturday, October 29, 2022

Sunday, October 30, 2022 — Before All Souls

 



The other day, a parishioner whom I like and respect gave me some feedback on my preaching. He likes my homilies, but says I say too many things. Not that I preach too long, but that I preach too much.

He explained that it’s hard to take home one key point to think about.

So today I am following his good advice. Please listen carefully: Pray for the dead.

Four words, but especially important for every Catholic. Pray for your dead.

There are four reasons why we pray for the dead.

First, because that’s what Catholics do. When I Googled “Catholic Catechism, prayer for the…” I got seven suggestions from the search, including prayer for the Church, prayer for the sick, and prayer for the day. But the top of the list was prayer for the dead.

Our Catholic faith holds that we can indeed continue to care, help, and express generosity toward people—even after they have died—through prayer. It is a distinctive Catholic belief not shared by all our fellow Christians.

Second, because praying for our deceased loved ones and those who have done good to us is a duty. It’s something we owe our parents, mentors, friends, teachers and—yes, priests—who have left this life.

If they have been a blessing to us, we thank them with the gift of prayer. If they have been a burden to us, we forgive them through our prayers.

Third, because praying for all the faithful departed is part of belonging to the great communion that is the Church. Notice how at every single Mass we pray for the dead. No exceptions. And not only our own dead, but the unknown dead.

In the first Eucharistic prayer we pray to the Lord for his servants who have gone before us with the sign of faith. In the second Eucharistic prayer we remember “our brothers and sisters who have fallen asleep in the hope of the resurrection” and all who have died in God’s mercy.  And so on in all the Eucharistic prayers, not to mention the intercessions or prayers of the faithful each week.

All Souls Day “reminds us that the bonds of Baptism make us one in Christ and are stronger than death.” (S. Joseph Krempa, Daily Homilies: Seasonal and Sanctoral, Vol. 3, p. 211)

Fourth, because if we don’t continue praying for the dead—if we become the first generation of Catholics who no longer take this tradition seriously—who is going to pray for us?

I have some skin in this game, a real personal interest. If those to whom I have ministered stop praying for the dead, I’ll be spending a lot more time in Purgatory than I want to.

As St. Augustine said somewhere, monuments are built for the living; prayer is the best way of helping the dead. I truly do want people praying for me when I’m gone.

Let me return to my one key point. We must pray for the dead.

The point isn’t only important—it’s urgent. As you know, I have been a priest for over 35 years. In my first parish, the church was full every year for multiple Masses on All Souls Day. Here at Christ the Redeemer, we’re lucky to see an extra 75 people even though we offer three Masses every year.

It’s time to reverse the trend and to pray for the dead—not only as a duty but a privilege. What a joy to know we can try to repay the goodness of our departed loved ones, make up for some of our failings toward them in life, and exercise a sacred responsibility as members of the Mystical Body of Christ.

And how simple it is! We have Mass on Wednesday, All Souls Day, at 7:30 in the morning, at 9:00 with the school children, and at 7:00 in the evening. If you’re so busy none of those times work for you, well maybe you’re too busy.

The Church even turbocharges our prayer on All Souls Day with what is called an indulgence—remitting in the eyes of God the temporal punishment (think Purgatory) due to sins whose guilt has been forgiven. A plenary or full indulgence for the souls in Purgatory is offered just for visiting a church on Wednesday, with the prescribed condition of praying the Our Father and the Creed.

The same indulgence for the faithful departed is available all week—from November 1st through the 8th—if you visit a cemetery and pray, even silently, for the dead.

Pray for the dead.

What could be easier? Or perhaps I should ask: what could be more important?


Saturday, October 22, 2022

Whatever Your Personality, Don't Judge (30.C)

 


The New York Times has a feature called “Overlooked,” a series of obituaries about remarkable people whose deaths they failed to report over the years. Recently they told the story of Katharine Cook Briggs and her daughter Isabel Briggs Myers.

Theirs is one of the most interesting stories of modern psychology. Together they created one of the most widely used personality assessment tools in the world, now “standard at hundreds of companies and universities and in government. More than two million people take the Myers-Briggs personality test each year.” 

Before the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator came along, most psychological tests “concluded that each personality category has a positive and a negative: An extrovert is good, an introvert was bad, for instance.”

Rather than build a test that favoured one type of personality over another, Myers and Briggs had the idea to create one that was judgement-free, emphasizing what was right with a person, not what was wrong.

The results of the test are sixteen possible personality types, based on four dimensions of personality. I’ve already mentioned the first dimension: introvert or extrovert. But it’s the fourth that really interests me: how a person deals with the outside world, either as a judge or a perceiver.

It really shouldn’t surprise anyone that my Myers-Briggs profile shows me to be an E: an extrovert. But it might make you nervous coming to me for confession when I tell you I am a J: someone who judges.

If we know the positive nature of the test we won’t “confuse Judging with judgmental, in its negative sense about people and events. They are not related.” In fact, those are the words of  Mrs. Myers, who was a J herself.

These observations help us to understand what Jesus meant when he said, “Judge not lest ye be judged” (Mt. 7:1). Christians have struggled with that since the earliest times. Eventually the theologian Tertullian concluded in the second century that the command to “judge not” is a reminder to us that judgement and punishment belong to God, not to us.

Yet even if judgement ultimately resides with God,  Christians still struggle with putting these words into practice, given how naturally judgement comes to us.

Jesus and the Evangelists who recorded his teachings would have known of this problem—which may well explain why we just heard a parable that presents the wrong kind of judgement in such a truly awful light.

“Judge not lest ye be judged” might not be enough to derail our natural tendency to be judgemental, especially if we are Js on the Myers-Briggs scale. However, Jesus gives us, in just a few words, a portrait of the Pharisee that is a wonderful antidote to the poison of judgementalism.

In the first place, we naturally recoil at the self-satisfied words of the Pharisee. Even when we admire someone it’s most uncomfortable to hear them blowing their own horn.

There’s a wonderful story about a businessman known for his ruthlessness telling the American humorist Mark Twain “Before I die, I plan to make a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. I will climb Mount Sinai and read the Ten Commandments out loud at the top.”

 “I have a better idea,” said Twain, “you could stay home and keep them.”

And in the second place, our Gospel today offers clear judgements on the proud Pharisee. St. Luke tips us off at the very beginning of the story, telling us that the parable is about those who think they are righteous but regard others with contempt. Then Jesus himself tells us that it was the tax collector, not the Pharisee, who went home justified.

I owe a lot to the television series called “The Chosen,” even if it is a dramatization not to be confused with the Scripture texts themselves—something like the Netflix show “The Crown.”

High on the list is the figure of Matthew the tax collector. We’ve heard many times about the reputation of tax collectors at the time of Jesus, but it really took the oily and slimy Matthew in “The Chosen” to give me a vivid picture. (Thank Heaven for his conversion!)

Jesus could not have picked a better contrast to make the point of this parable. Despite their bad reputation today, Pharisees were religious men and some of them were very serious about their faith. The Pharisee Nicodemus comes off very well in “The Chosen,” and despite Matthew’s conversion, tax collectors were the bottom of the pile. Even today, my seminary classmate who had worked for the British equivalent of Revenue Canada took a lot of ribbing about his past employment.

When Jesus tells us that the tax collector’s act of contrition brought him into God’s favour—indeed that he was exalted in God’s sight—he tells us almost all we need to know about humility.

And when he tells us that God did not consider the generous Pharisee to be righteous, Jesus lets us see how God judges.

Clearly these are not side issues in Christ’s teaching. In the next chapter, St. Luke tells the story of a real tax collector, Zacchaeus, who receives the same divine judgement as the fictional one in the parable. To him Jesus speaks directly: “Today salvation has come to this house.”

To make progress the world needs every kind of personality, introverts and extroverts and the judges and perceivers. But the Kingdom of God welcomes only the penitent and the humble, because they are those whom Jesus came to save.

If we make no other prayer at Mass today, let it be “God, be merciful to me, a sinner.”

Saturday, October 15, 2022

Not a Fund Raising Homily!

 



Many of my professors were distinguished scholars, but three of them made out particularly well.

One of them became Prime Minister of Canada and two were named Cardinals. (As far as I know, I had nothing to do with it!)

The future prime minister, Kim Campbell, taught me Russian politics. Sad to say, those lessons have come in handy lately.

One of the future cardinals taught me the theology of canon law, although that’s not really what he taught—the entire course revolved around one single thought.

It certainly made the exam easy! But that’s not why his course was wonderful. The one idea has shaped my understanding of the Church itself, not only canon law.

Here it is: the Church, like the Lord himself, can be seen as both divine and human: Like Christ, true God and true man, the Church is one reality “comprising a human and a divine element.”

Of course, this wasn’t an original thought from the future Cardinal Gianfranco Ghirlanda; it comes from the Second Vatican Council. Vatican II’s document Lumen gentium teaches that the Church can be compared to the mystery of the incarnate Word.

(It’s not a perfect analogy, of course: Christ’s human nature was perfect, and we know well that the Church’s human element is not.)

If we understand the Church properly, inseparably human and divine, we can avoid big mistakes and reap important benefits.

Very simply, if we see the Church as incarnational, we will not try to separate the visible structure from the invisible mystical Body of Christ. We will never think of our parish as a visible assembly and a spiritual community that can be divided in two. The earthly Church and the heavenly Church are one single reality.

If you love the spiritual Church but reject our messy, human, and sinful Church, you aren’t relating to the Church established by Christ on earth.

Believe it or not, I’m sharing all this heavy-duty theology just to introduce my annual homily on Project Advance! Precisely because the Church is incarnational, truly human, and truly divine, some apparently nonspiritual realities matter every bit as much as the more obviously spiritual aspects of parish life.

Just as Jesus, the incarnate Word, took on flesh and blood in order to fulfill his divine mission, so a parish has bricks and mortar, pews and kneelers, statues and stations.

Even more essential, our parish church relies on sound and light as it fulfills its divine mission.

“Sound and Light” is the theme of this year’s Project Advance campaign. Without both, we would struggle to worship together.

Project Advance 2022 will, as in the past, show the parish’s generosity beyond our walls and borders: your donation will allow us to support the good works of Ukrainian refugee relief, Alpha Canada, Domestic Abuse Services, and Good Shepherd Ministry.

But this year’s campaign will also sustain our most important gathering place: the church. It will pay for replacing our obsolete lighting and sound systems. The lights were failing regularly, while the sound has kept working due to the tender loving care of a generous and skilled parishioner who made regular adjustments.

But he has told us that none of the aging components can be repaired or replaced when one fails catastrophically, as is expected after more 30 years.  For many months we would face having no amplified sound from the sanctuary and the choir loft. So we have taken the initiative by starting this lengthy process now. The new system will also improve the quality of the sound.

If this were a fund-raising pitch, I would happily stop now. With or without all the theology, you all understand the need for sound and light. But I don’t believe in fund-raising pitches—at least not since I first read the story of the wealthy farmer who made his kids work in the barns.

When someone asked him why he didn’t just hire others to tend his cows, he replied “I’m not raising cows, I’m raising children.”

Project Advance reminds all of us, me included, that we support the Church financially because we are children of God. There is an unbreakable connection between the material and the spiritual in our parish. While I may talk about giving to meet our needs, that’s much less important than our need to give.

Certainly numbers are important in a financial campaign, and I am very grateful that our parish has already raised over $100,000. But that’s not the most important figure. The number that concerns me is 88—that’s how many households have donated as of last week—just under 14% of our registered households.

This year, right in front of us, we have great reminders of how visible things serve invisible aspects of our parish mission. They just happen to  have been the fruit of last year’s Project Advance, which paid for the beautiful renovations of our meeting spaces.

I admit that I had no idea how much these renovations and furnishings would make people feel valued at Christ the Redeemer. Let me give you one excellent example of the power of combining welcoming spaces with welcoming faces. It came in an e-mail I got last week:

“If the ‘Lost and Found Coffeehouse’ is able to make a difference for just one person, it has succeeded. I have been lost and slowly I have been found with my beautiful parishioners whom I have been able to visit and share with. This open space in the Parish to come and go, knowing that there is always someone there on certain days is just what I needed. I know that there are plenty more that feel the same. Thank you for this.”

Not much more I can say about that, so please listen to the mastermind behind Lost and Found in this video produced by the Archdiocese to highlight for all parishes the wonderful things that Project Advance can do.

 

Sunday, October 9, 2022

Thanksgiving (28.C)

 


When I studied English literature, I always had trouble with the word ‘irony,’ which I could never quite define.

However, I know it when I see it.

And I see it—or rather, hear it—in today’s Gospel, when Jesus says “Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they?”

If that’s not irony, then it might be sarcasm. Whatever it is, this story of Jesus and the lepers shows both his humanity and his divinity. As God, he heals them; as a human being he’s pained by the nine ungrateful lepers.

None of us has ever healed a leper, but haven’t we all felt what Jesus did when he asks, “Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?”

I hope our family life is less complicated than a Shakespeare play, but we can understand what King Lear meant when he called ingratitude a “marble-hearted fiend.” Ingratitude hurts.

Now we can’t literally hurt God, whom St. Paul tells us is “immortal and lives in unapproachable light.” But when we are ungrateful, we hurt ourselves by damaging our relationship with him, the giver of all good gifts.

It’s almost ironic! When we fail to be grateful to God, we’re the losers. Jesus is just helping us to understand that by showing his consternation with respect to the nine no-show lepers.

I once did a series of enormous favours for a young man I was mentoring. To my amazement, he failed to thank me for any of them. Although I did feel some personal pain, it was mostly on his account that I was disappointed; he missed out on an important life lesson by failing to express his gratitude, even if he may have felt it inside.

(We talked about it many years later, when he had grown as a disciple, and he was deeply sorry; by then he had learned well the importance of saying thanks to others and to God.)

Happily, the liturgy this Sunday gives us Naaman the Syrian, a great example of a thankful man. He’s so thankful that he almost annoys his benefactor, the Prophet Elisha, by insisting on giving him an offering.

It’s a great story because, of course, it shows that there’s nothing we can give to God in return for all his blessings. Just our thanks.

It’s worth noting that neither of the two fine examples of thanksgiving we meet today are Christians. Indeed, both are religious outsiders—Naaman a foreigner and the grateful leper a Samaritan.

But God has given Christians the perfect way to express our gratitude to him, a means not available to the leper, to Naaman, or even the Prophet Elisha—the Mass.

The psalmist was prophesying about the Eucharistic sacrifice when he prayed: “How can I repay the Lord for all his goodness to me? The cup of salvation I will raise; I will call on the name of the Lord.”  (Ps. 116)

Do we come before the Lord every Sunday with that attitude of gratitude? It’s easy to place our complaints or petitions on the altar, and we are allowed to do that. But arriving in church with thanksgiving—not just a general feeling but specifically aware of the graces we receive every day—can transform our experience of the weekly Eucharist.

There is a great blessing if we come before the Lord with gratitude. It changes our approach to life; even more important, it changes our relationship with God. I mentioned how we feel bad when someone fails to thank us; we can feel even worse when someone takes us for granted.

When we take God for granted, our relationship with him suffers. One author has asked “How many are the graces we receive from the morning sun, the smile of a friend, a comfortable bed at night? How bountifully have we received from the Lord: knowledge of Jesus Christ, the community of faith, and the sacraments that keep us strong in the Lord’s love?”*

Our celebration of Thanksgiving this weekend is an ideal time to say thanks to our family and friends. But most of all, it is a time to thank the One who is the giver of all good gifts.

 

* Rev. William F. Maestri, A Word in Season, page 136.