Saturday, May 13, 2023

Put out into the deep... (Easter 6.A)


Every Saturday morning a good friend and I go walking in Coal Harbour—from the foot of Denman Street to Canada Place and back.

On our way we pass two large marinas at which beautiful boats of every shape, size, and description are moored.

But we’ve noticed something. We never see a single craft leave its berth. Not one boat heading out into the sunshine, even on glorious days like today.

This morning it hit me: could we in the Church be a bit like that? We are blessed with something beautiful and powerful—our Catholic faith. And we’re in the boat, which is a word often used to describe the Church. We’re on board.

But might we be like those boat owners who just can’t get out of their comfort zone to start the engine or run up the sails—to push off from the dock?

Because you need to set sail to really experience the excitement of a sunny day on the water, the joy of riding the waves, the natural splendour all around.

So, there’s my question for everyone here today. Has life in the Church been exhilarating for you? Have you ever had an experience that compared to feeling the wind in your hair as you skimmed over the waves, with sun and blue sky overhead?

Well, those are only analogies, so let me be more direct. Do the words of today’s Gospel resonate in your hearts? Have you experienced God abiding with you and in you?

What if I asked young people why they stopped attending Mass in the years immediately after their Confirmation? I’m almost sure that many would answer “because it didn’t make any difference.”

Pope Francis has said “There are Christians whose lives seem like Lent without Easter.” Which makes me ask: Are there Christians whose lives are like Easter without Pentecost?

But let me come back to the owners of those berthed boats. Should they ever ask me to preach on the dock, I’m ready with a Scripture text: the words of Jesus to St. Peter in the Gospel of Luke, “put out into the deep” (5:4).

That’s what Christ the Redeemer parish is inviting you to do next weekend and beyond—to put out into the deep so that you can find a richer Christian life, what you may have been missing while sitting on the dock. We’re offering you what those believers in Samaria experienced when Peter and John laid their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.

Now let’s take a time out for a moment of sacramental theology. “The apostles’ practice of laying hands on new believers to impart the Holy Spirit,” as we heard in today’s first reading from Acts, “is regarded by Catholic tradition as the origin of the sacrament of confirmation, which completes baptism and ‘in a certain way perpetuates the grace of Pentecost in the Church’” as the Catechism says (Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture, Acts of the Apostles, 143).

We’re not inviting you to be confirmed—most of you already are. (Of course, if you aren’t, do let me know and we can talk about that.)

But what we are offering is the experience of what you’ve already received in Baptism and Confirmation. Call it a new Pentecost—an opportunity to realize the effects of these sacraments. Every one of us calls God our Father when we say the Lord’s Prayer; but all too often we live like orphans.

Jesus promises that the Father will send us the Spirit. He calls the Spirit “another Advocate,” because Jesus is an Advocate also, who pleads our cause and intercedes for us. He says the Spirit will not only remain with us but be in us. We will not only know the Father’s love, but also experience it.

Certainly, in Confirmation we were given the grace the Lord promises. But many Catholics never experienced that grace at an affective and effective level.

What do we do about that?

In recent years the Church has come to understand what is usually called the Baptism in the Holy Spirit as something distinct from the Sacrament of Confirmation.

Cardinal Raniero Cantalamessa, the Preacher to the Papal Household explains it like this:

The Baptism in the Spirit is not a sacrament, but it is related to a sacrament, to several sacraments in fact—to the sacraments of Christian initiation. The Baptism in the Spirit makes real and, in a way, renews Christian initiation.

Another Cardinal, Paul Jozef Cordes, points out that while the term “Baptism in the Holy Spirit is common in English, French and Italian speakers refer to “Outpouring of the Spirit.” Whatever it is called, he says it is “a concrete experience of the ‘Grace of Pentecost,’ in which the working of the Holy Spirit becomes an experienced reality in the life of the individual and the community.”

He says that this experience is the certain and sometimes overwhelming ‘realization’ of the loving nearness of God proclaimed in the Church’s message and encountered in the individual act of faith.

How can this be? How can a sacrament received so many years ago come back to life with explosive energy, as often happens through the Baptism in the Holy Spirit? Cardinal Cantalamessa refers to Catholic sacramental theology which teaches that the fruit of a sacrament can be “tied”—the sacraments are not magical rituals that act without the person’s knowledge or response.

They bear fruit when human freedom cooperates with the divine grace. As St. Augustine said, “The one who created you without your cooperation, will not save without your cooperation.”

I’m not trying to explain all this today. But the truth is that many of us know that our Christian lives should be much more of an adventure than they are. Deep down, we want to experience, and not just believe, the promises Jesus makes in today’s Gospel of the life-changing gift of the Spirit.

My one sentence summary is just a question: Do you want more? Because there’s more on the way—in just a week the dynamic Bishop Scott McCaig will be here to preach our Holy Spirit Mission. The Mission begins Saturday afternoon at 2:00, ending with the Saturday 5:00 Mass celebrated by the bishop.

By the time the mission is over you’ll be able to decide for yourself whether you’re ready to “put out into the deep.” The parish team will make sure the boat’s ready for you two days later. Our first-ever Life in the Spirit Seminar, which is a preparation for the Baptism in the Holy Spirit, begins on Tuesday May 23 at 7:00 pm.

This dramatic moment in the history of our parish may, for some, feel like boating on a choppy sea. After all, no one ever got seasick on a boat that’s tied up. But as I’ve said, they missed out on the excitement—and there’s nothing more exciting than what God has in store for those who love him.

So join us and find out what he has for you.


Thursday, May 11, 2023

First Words at Holy Name of Jesus Parish


Although I will not become pastor until mid-July, I visited my new parish this weekend to celebrate First Holy Communion with eight children. I preached a special homily for them, of course, but at the other Masses I gave the homily below. I will be back to celebrate Confirmation at Pentecost, but otherwise generous replacement priests will hold the fort in the meantime.

Catholics in Toronto have something in common with the members of Holy Name of Jesus Parish in Vancouver—they are both welcoming new shepherds. Of course, the new pastor in Toronto is a bishop! But that’s not the only difference. Archbishop Frank Leo is 24 years younger than his predecessor, while I am about that much older than mine!

On top of that, Toronto’s new shepherd has a great big head of curly black hair while I have... well, you can see for yourself.

I am mentioning this not only because the contrasts are fascinating, but because I intend to shamelessly borrow from Archbishop Leo’s homily at his Mass of installation in Toronto. That’s the bad news. The good news is that my homily will only be one-quarter the length of his.

Archbishop Leo’s first thought was the same as mine: gratitude. Gratitude to God for the faith that unites us, the salvation that we celebrate, and the joy that we share.

Gratitude to Archbishop Miller who has entrusted this parish family to my care. And gratitude to Father Rodney who in his time at Holy Name did much good. I particularly wish him good health and spiritual blessings.

The young archbishop went on to introduce himself to his new flock. I can’t really introduce myself to you without making some reference to our first reading, which tells about the call of the first deacons. Only once every three years do we hear this reading on a Sunday, so today is very special for me, because deacons are very special to me.

It has been a great privilege for me to have served as the first Director of the Permanent Diaconate Office in the Archdiocese, and to have implemented Archbishop Miller’s vision for the ministry of permanent deacons from the very beginning.

My new assignment as Vicar General means I must sadly give up the diaconate this summer, but I will certainly never lose sight of the importance of this ministry to the Church. I wasn’t completely convinced at the start, but then I read what Saint Ignatius of Antioch, martyred in 107, wrote. He said “one cannot speak of the Church” without the deacons, the bishop, and the priests (St. Ignatius of Antioch, Ad Trall., 3,1).

The effective restoration of this order through the permanent diaconate is a tremendous gift to the Church throughout the world and to our own Archdiocese. During my years at Christ the Redeemer three parishioners applied to become deacons; one was ordained and the other will be ordained in a year. I have every hope that Holy Name will beat Christ the Redeemer’s record during the coming years.

I also hope and pray it will be possible at some point that we will have the support of a deacon in this parish, given my other responsibilities and the importance of this ministry.

Archbishop Leo said that there were certainly going to be many questions in the minds of those he is called to lead and serve. “Who is he? What’s his story? What makes him tick?” I can’t answer all that today, but you already know that I do have a very significant time commitment to the Archdiocese, one that I have prepared for during many years studying canon law, the law that guides the Church. So Holy Name will need to share me with the Pastoral Centre, just as Christ the Redeemer did with the Permanent Diaconate Office.

I felt that the parishioners of Christ Redeemer were blessed by my dual role in many ways and I am confident that the same will be true for you. God always repays our generosity to His Church.

And of course I want to know who you are! What your story is, and what makes this community tick. You’ll need to be patient with me “as I strive in the coming months, and hopefully years, to understand more deeply the strengths and weaknesses, opportunities, and challenges” of this parish community.

So that’s another way of saying that I don’t have an agenda! As Archbishop Leo told Torontonians, I will take the necessary time to come to know you, and to listen to you. I want to learn from you about the history of Holy Name, its diversity, changing trends, and new challenges. I have already seen ministries which exist and are thriving and I am filled with hope and gratitude.

But even though I do not have a personal agenda, there are some aspects of parish life that are already clear, and which will not change. We are called to outreach—to concern for the poor and refugees; we are called to defend human life at every stage from conception to natural death; to promote and strengthen marriage and the family; to draw youth and young adults into the heart of parish life; to cooperate with Catholic healthcare and education; to work for reconciliation with indigenous communities; to protect children and vulnerable adults and prevent all forms of abuse; and now, more than ever, to evangelize—to proclaim the Gospel to those who have not heard it.

Although by the time I become pastor the Easter season will be over, these days of listening to the apostles preaching in the Acts of the Apostles have been a wonderful reminder to me that we need to proclaim what we believe and not to keep it to ourselves.

Cardinal Raniero Cantalamessa, the preacher to the papal household, reminds us that two occupations were central to the lives of the apostles. Jesus called them to be shepherds, and showed them what a good shepherd looks like. But he also called them to be fishers of men.

It’s often easier to be shepherds rather than fisherman—to nourish and care for those who already come to church rather than to go out in search of those who are far away. The Cardinal says the parable of the lost sheep is reversed today: ninety-nine have strayed and only one remains in the sheepfold. “The danger is that we spend all our time nourishing the remaining one and have no time ... to go out and search for the lost ones” (Raniero Cantalamessa, Navigating the New Evangelization, pp. 49-50).

Not surprisingly, Cardinal Cantalamessa says that the laity’s contribution to this massive task is providential—and I would add, essential.

Holy Name of Jesus is possibly the parish most filled with potential in the entire Archdiocese. The development that has already happened up and down Cambie Street, the massive Oakridge Park project eight blocks away, and the development of the former RCMP property three blocks away will bring a surge of new residents to our community—new residents, who will in many ways be different from the old ones.

How do we prepare for such a daunting task? Pope Francis makes it somewhat simple, as he often does. He says there are three challenges to evangelizing today, first, to make Jesus known; second, to witness to him; and third, fraternity.

As I’ve already suggested, the first challenge requires that we return to the initial proclamation of the Gospel—to communicate the core message of Jesus with such programs as ALPHA. Archbishop Leo adds that this calls for “pastoral creativity” that can reach people where they are living—not waiting for them to come.

Proclaiming the Gospel demands that we be credible. And there is the second challenge the Pope gives us: witness. The Gospel is preached effectively when how we live and act is in line with what we say. We must begin with ourselves, showing respect for each and every individual. Effective witnesses are like living Gospels that all can read.

And finally the third challenge is fraternity, or, if you prefer, community. As Jesus said, “by this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). In the early Church, Tertullian tells us how non-believers reacted to the witness of Christians. “See how they love one another,” they would say. If our own community does not mirror the communion of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, if it is not capable of quality relationships and respectful dialogue, the words we preach to others and even to ourselves, will ring hollow.

Toward the end of his remarkable homily, Archbishop Leo called his appointment to Toronto “an arranged marriage, with Pope Francis as the matchmaker.” Something of the sort could be said of my impending arrival here, with Archbishop Miller as our matchmaker.

With arranged marriages it is hoped that in due time the spouses get to know each other and then come to love one another. Archbishop Leo reminded the people of Toronto that since he was 51 years old he had about a quarter of a century for them to get to know one another and fall in love.

We don’t have that much time! We’ll have to make the process move a little more quickly. But what Archbishop Leo said about his situation is true of ours: “as in all successful marriages, commitment, and patience, forgiveness and sacrifice will be required.”

This welcome chance to say hello to you is also something of a “goodbye for now”: until my appointment here becomes effective in the middle of July I am still responsible for Christ the Redeemer and the diaconate. I will be back on Pentecost Sunday for the Confirmation of our young people, but other than that my existing commitments require that I simply keep an eye on the parish while generous replacement priests provide you with the pastoral care you need.

I know that you will continue to pray for me, and for one another, as I will for you, until the day when we are indeed a family together.

Archbishop Francis Leo
Installed as Archbishop of Toronto March 25, 2023

Sunday, April 9, 2023

Easter Afternoon 2023


Let’s go for a walk!

Don’t worry, you can stay in your pew—it’s probably raining outside anyway.

But let’s join the mysterious stranger and two bedraggled disciples along the dusty road to Emmaus. We know that one of them was called Cleopas; let’s imagine you’re the other.

It shouldn’t be all that difficult. Haven’t we all had days—or weeks, or months, or even years—when we felt that life had let us down—that God had let us down?

The two disciples were, like us, people of faith. They’d opened their heart to the message of Jesus; they’d put their hope in him for their future and for the future of their people.

Now, nothing but confusion and uncertainty. Stories they found hard to believe.

What first happened on the road was simple and can happen to us without drama. A master teacher showed those two how the Scriptures applied to their experience. He let them see that the prophecies of ancient times, which they knew well from childhood, were true and able to explain the unexplainable.

It’s something modern folk need—which is why the Alpha course in Christianity goes out of its way to talk about how Jesus fulfilled the prophecies of the Old Testament.

Jesus showed the confused pair the way that the Jewish Bible made sense of the events they’d experienced. Knowing the texts wasn’t enough for them: they needed to understand and apply them concretely.

Like the two disciples, we need to allow the Holy Spirit to instruct us in the truths of Scripture. Just listening to the readings at Mass—just listening to the homily, for that matter—is not enough. Although Jesus was the teacher, the Spirit was at work on the road to Emmaus—that’s why the disciples hearts started to burn  within them.

And that’s not all. After what must have been hours of instruction, Cleopas and his companion still didn’t know their teacher. They knew the Bible a lot better but did not know Jesus.

What happened to change that? It’s described perfectly: they recognized Jesus in the breaking of the bread—in a Eucharistic encounter.

There’s our own Sunday experience in a nutshell. We break open the Word of God so that we might understand the Scriptures. Then we break the bread, celebrating Christ’s sacrificial meal.

Strengthened by Word and Sacrament, today and every Sunday we recognize Jesus and join the disciples of every age in proclaiming “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!”

Here in this parish, and throughout the world in the Church, we celebrate Easter every Sunday. Like the disciples on their way to Emmaus, we sit at table with the Lord. So, I’ll offer just one key thought that applies to all of us, regular Mass-goers or not: At Sunday Mass we can find answers to our confusion, remedies to our problems, and consolation for our hearts.

Our eyes will be opened, and our hearts will burn, if we will stay on the road with Jesus.

Saturday, April 8, 2023



Olivia, Chelsea, Sara, Dara, and Britanny, you are about to become a statistic!

That doesn’t sound flattering, I know. Nobody wants to be a mere statistic. But tonight it’s wonderful and important, not only for you, but for the whole Church.

An opinion poll published on Wednesday found that only 49.3 per cent of your fellow Canadians answered “strongly” or “somewhat” when asked whether they believe in God. Already you have responded with a with a strong “yes” to the question.

But that’s just a start to your new place in Canadian society.

Sad as it is to know that half of the population doesn’t believe that God exists, it isn’t particularly new—the figure hasn’t changed much over the past few years. And I wasn’t surprised that it’s common for Canadians to believe in God and feel unattached to their religion. We’ve all heard someone say, “I’m spiritual but not religious.”

But the poll reports something astonishing: many Canadians doubt that God exists, even to the point of atheism, while still feeling closely attached to their religion.

I never thought I’d hear “I’m religious but not spiritual.” Yet apparently some people can question their belief in God without questioning their religion, according to the president of the Canadian Studies Association that commissioned the research.

The poll also measured attachment to religious groups. Three-quarters of Sikhs and 40 per cent of Jews say they are very attached. Tragically, Catholics come out last. Just 17.8 per cent said they felt “very attached” to their religion. (Remember, of course, that these are self-identified Catholic respondents, not the average people in the pew.)

Tonight, you will stand before family, friends, and this community to profess not only your faith in God but your faith in his Church—your personal decision to become part of a community that has been called “a messy family.” As on a wedding day, you are promising to be faithful in good times and in bad; you are joining with all your heart that 17.9 per cent minority and doing so with eyes wide open.

Whether through Baptism or entering into full communion with the Church, you are taking a big risk. But unlike those who became Catholics as infants, you won’t be able to say you weren’t warned.

The very first reading of our long Vigil, from the Book of Genesis, already presents a challenge to modern Christians, in just one sentence: “God created man in his image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” As you know, holding fast to this truth, once universally accepted, can now lead you to misunderstanding and even persecution.

The second reading tells you that God can be very demanding. He does not always act in the way humans expect. Doing what God asks can be painful. That’s why it’s important not to miss the last sentence of the reading, which promises great blessings to those who obey God’s voice.

Our third reading, the story of the Exodus, also sounds a note of warning for those who wish to be faithful Christians and for you five joining the Church tonight. The modern Pharaohs and their armies may well come after you as you follow the pillar of fire toward freedom and God’s plan for you.

At this point, you might be thinking that I am trying to frighten or discourage you. I want to reassure you that you are not only going to face challenges: you are also becoming part of a religion that has over many centuries “inspired the greatest achievements of the human creative mind” as columnist Rex Murphy said in today’s National Post.

He says “Religion is so often disparaged. Easy minds cast easy abuse at its failings and faults. With some justification.” But he goes on to celebrate the work of  artists, composers, musicians, writers, and poets who were inspired by their Christian belief. To which I might add missionaries, teachers, philanthropists... and martyrs.

Rex Murphy, not a practicing Catholic as far as I know, concludes by saying Easter is a time to be “eternally, grateful” for centuries of inspiration, beauty, and excellence.”

So, dear friends, even as Christians in this modern den of lions you will have your admirers and defenders.

But back to Exodus. The story begins with a flight from Pharaoh’s chariots; but it ends in victory and triumph. That’s beautifully underlined by the song of victory that followed the reading: “Let us sing to the Lord, he has covered himself in glory.” The Lord is sovereign, mighty, and victorious: if we join his people in leaving Egypt for the Promised Land, he will look after us on the journey.

The fifth reading offers the same assurances but in more detail and in gentler language. However, it too challenges you who are about to be baptized and confirmed. Though the reading is rich in promises, it also asks some very pointed questions.

Why do you spend money for that which is not bread? Why do you work for that which doesn’t satisfy?

This prophecy from Isaiah tells us we must think the way God thinks, not the way the world thinks, because God’s thoughts are not ours, and the world’s thoughts are not his. The life of faith requires a new set of values and a new attitude, even to ordinary things, such as finances and work. When we are baptized we put on Christ, as St. Paul says to the Galatians (Gal 3:27). He tells the Corinthians that this means having the mind of Christ (1 Cor 2:16).

This really may be the hardest thing of all for the young modern Catholic. Thanks to massive changes in the world, this is probably the smartest generation in history when it comes to knowledge and information. But it seems we have lost much wisdom along the way. Happily, among the gifts of the Holy Spirit that you, our catechumens and candidates, will receive in Confirmation tonight will be those of wisdom, understanding, and knowledge.

Our Old Testament Vigil readings reach their climax in the bold prophecy of Ezekiel. However hard the way ahead may be for faithful Christians, however much darkness descends on our world, the Lord will act for the sake of his holy name, as the prophet says.

The Lord who cleanses us from our idols and who gives us a new spirit and heart is at the center of everything tonight. He will guide and lead us where we need to go, and make us his people.

We travelled a long way between tonight’s first reading to the Epistle and Gospel. I haven’t left myself much time to address them; but perhaps they speak for themselves, at least to you Sara, Chelsea, Olivia, Dara and Britanny. You are beginning a new walk with God, a walk in newness of life. You are leaving your old self behind that you might become a new creation.

All these promises, all these challenges, and all your hopes are unshakable because of one thing. That one thing is the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. St. Paul says boldly that if Christ has not been raised, then “we are of all people most to be pitied.”

But in fact we are of all people most blessed. That blessing, though, comes with a responsibility. The gifts of grace you will receive tonight, Chelsea, Sara, Olivia, Dara, and Britanny are meant to be shared with others. You are called, each in your own circumstances, to reach out to the 50.7 per cent of Canadians who do not know God and his love, as you do.

You are called also to share your joy with the 82.2 per cent of Catholics who are not engaged in the Church, as you are.

All the while, find strength in what the Lord said to his disciples on the first Easter and says this Easter to you: “Do not be afraid.”

The image of Christ appearing to Mary is from the JESUS MAFA series, a response to the New Testament by a Christian community in Cameroon, Africa. Texts were selected and adapted to dramatic interpretation by the community members. Photographs of their interpretations were made, and these were then transcribed to paintings. Dramatically picturesque, this painting of John’s resurrection narrative captures the moment when Mary recognizes Jesus outside the tomb. 

Thursday, April 6, 2023

Food, Glorious Food! (Holy Thursday 2023)


When I was twelve years old, I appeared in Oliver!, a musical based on the story of Oliver Twist. While you may find it surprising when you look at me now, I was one of the starving orphans in the workhouse.

(Even then I didn’t look starving—I failed the audition for the title role because the director remarked that I looked too well fed.)

The workhouse boys’ show-stopping song was a rousing number called “Food, Glorious Food.” Believe it or not, that is the title of my homily this Holy Thursday night.

But please don’t think I’m being irreverent. St. Thomas Aquinas says much the same thing when he calls the Mass a “sacred banquet, in which Christ is received, the memory of his Passion is renewed, the mind is filled with grace, and a pledge of future glory is given to us.”

Although the Mass is fundamentally a sacrifice, it is also a meal—a sacred and sacrificial meal. And a meal has to have food.

“That the Eucharist … is a meal shows us that we do not have life in ourselves. We must receive it, eat it … if we refuse to receive, refuse to eat and drink him, we remain without life.” We starve.

That thought comes from a new book on the Eucharist called Bread That is Broken by a Carmelite priest from Belgium, Father Wilfred Stinissen. His opening sentence is: “What is most striking about the Eucharist is that one eats and drinks. The Eucharist has to do with food and drink.”

My first thought was “thanks for telling me what I already know.” But that thought didn’t last long before the author began offering marvellous insights that can deepen our understanding of the Lord’s Supper that we celebrate tonight.

He shows how the Eucharist, which is directed to the new creation, is related to the original creation in which food and drink were very important. When God created Adam and Eve he said “Behold, I have given you every plant … you shall have them for food” (Gen 1:29). The fact that our first parents needed to eat even in paradise reminded them of their fundamental dependence on God. By eating, they were living in communion with God.

And even their Fall had to do with food. After all, Adam and Eve ate the apple.

So it shouldn’t surprise us that when Jesus comes to renew creation, he also comes with food. Both the first creation and the new creation have, in the end, to do with food.

Father Stinissen reminds us that Jesus did not improvise the Eucharist. “He meditated for a long time on what and how he would act when his hour came. That he chose bread and wine was the fruit of an intensive listening to the Holy Spirit.”

The book is filled with startling and fresh things about the two elements Jesus chose to transform into his Body and Blood at the Last Supper.

Father Stinissen starts with the obvious: “Bread is loaded with a rich symbolism that Jesus understood.”

“In the first place, as we hear at the Offertory, bread is the ‘fruit of the earth’.” We hear that all the time, but the book points out that when grain falls into the earth, it draws energy from the earth itself. To sprout it needs “all the powers of heaven: rain, light, warmth, wind”—the entire physical world.”

“The Father places all of creation into the hands of the Son so that he will transform it to his body and thus divinize it.”

This hidden symbolism is matched by something more evident to us: “The bread is also the result of ‘the work of human hands’. There would not be bread if man did not sow, harvest, grind, knead, and bake.”

And all of this work “is or should be a concrete expression of love.” We do not work primarily to nourish ourselves but rather to nourish our family and loved ones. “We are created to give life to others, never to ourselves.”

And “by our work, we create possibilities for deeper fellowship.” That deeper fellowship is expressed when we sit down for meals with others. We even use the expression “breaking bread” together.

Father Stinissen then turns to the wine, in a very interesting way. He points out that bread “is the normal, necessary food. Wine, however, is not necessary. One could be content with water.”

Bread is for survival; wine is for joy.

“Wine,” he says, “is also a symbol of ecstasy … the joy that the wine brings about anticipates the joy of the world to come.”

But that’s not all. “In the Bible, wine is also a symbol of God’s wrath and of suffering and punishment.” We see that when Jesus begs the Father to take away the chalice from him.

Thus, “the Eucharistic wine is a symbol of both joy and suffering. By choosing wine as a sign of his presence and his sacrifice, Jesus indicates that his death, despite all the bitterness it entailed is nevertheless a source of exuberant joy.”

These are just a very few of the new things reading Bread That is Broken taught me about the bread and wine that we will soon consume as the Body and Blood of Christ. I also learned something more general, and I want to share that with you too.

As this little book offered me so much in so few pages, words of St. Paul kept going through my head: in the Letter to the Romans, he exclaims “how deep are the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God!”

How much meaning and treasure is in front of us at every Mass—should we not do more to discover these riches?

Yesterday, together with the other priests of the Archdiocese, I renewed my priestly commitments at the Chrism Mass at Holy Rosary Cathedral. I did, of course, look back on thirty-seven happy years, but I also took stock about where I am right now and what the future holds.

Somewhat to my surprise I realized that I am particularly grateful for the fact that I am still learning exciting things about the Eucharist, even after all these years of celebrating Mass.

I suppose there must come a time in the life of lawyers when they pretty well know just about everything there is to know about their area of the law or a time in the career of engineers when there is little more to be learned about building a machine or a skyscraper. And I sure hope there are no pilots who jump up in the middle of a book about flying and exclaim, “Oh! I hadn’t thought about that before!”

But as a priest and a Catholic, I know I can never stop learning about God and his wonderful ways.

Let’s go deeper. The Eucharist is “an excellent school” where we learn and live what Christ wants from us and wants to give us.

And tonight we are in the most privileged of classrooms. As we witness the washing of feet, recalling our Lord’s own wordless teaching, we enter into the heart of the Eucharist. “To be nourished by Jesus in the Eucharist implies that we become nourishment for others ourselves.”

If we eat and drink Love himself, we start to long to make our life a life for others. We live less and less for ourselves, and seek to say in action rather than words “this is my body given up for you.”

I am challenging you—and I’m challenging myself—to deepen our understanding of the Eucharistic sacrifice. For some, this might mean re-reading one of the Gospel accounts of the Last Supper. For others, it might mean purchasing this inexpensive book, easily available on Amazon. And of course the Catechism of the Catholic Church is a priceless online resource about the Eucharist.

Tonight’s one-sentence summary tonight is therefore: Let’s not be content with what we already know about the Mass.

But let me give the last word to Father Stinissen, who says “Nothing lies outside of the Eucharist. The answer to the question: ‘How shall I live?’ ought always to be: ‘live Eucharistically’.”

And how do we live Eucharistically? Strengthened by the ‘glorious food’ of the sacred banquet in which Christ is received.



Sunday, April 2, 2023

It is not good to die alone... (Palm Sunday 2023)


One of my favourite verses from the Old Testament is in the Book of Genesis where God tells Adam “It is not good for man to be alone.”

You might think it odd that a celibate is keen on that verse, but it not only announces the creation of woman, but also states a basic truth. It is not good for man (or woman) to be alone. Making due allowance for our need for privacy and solitude, we all want to be with others at least some of the time.

I don’t like eating alone, I don’t like praying alone. You can ask Father Zidago! One or two of my assistant pastors—though not him!—got a bit frustrated when I wanted them to show up for meals and join me in the chapel for Evening Prayer.

My insistence comes partly from how I think priests should live in community, but it is also a question of what I personally need. And I’m in good company: Pope Francis made this very clear after his election when he announced that he wouldn’t be living alone in the Apostolic Palace but in a Vatican hotel surrounded by other priests.

It is not good to live alone. But it is also not good to die alone. That is why the Church accompanies the dying with such tender care; with solicitude, with special prayers and rites. This is why we pray so fervently for our sick and dying parishioners.

It is not good to suffer alone. Even in a hospital bed, surrounded by people, we might feel alone, but still we never need to suffer alone—because we can suffer together with the one whose suffering we have just heard described in excruciating detail. Whatever our suffering—mental or physical—Jesus, the man of sorrows, wishes to be at our side to accompany us, to strengthen us, to say to us “You are not alone. I am with you. I am beside you in your suffering.”

There are many reasons why we begin this Holy Week with the reading of the Lord’s Passion but one of them is to make it real for each one of us—to make it matter for us.

It was necessary that Christ die for our sins, necessary that he give his life for the redemption of many. But surely it was not necessary that he suffered in such an awful fashion.

The Passion therefore has a double value: Jesus places himself in the Father’s hands by accepting death on the cross. But he also places himself in our hearts by accepting absolute solidarity with all who suffer and especially with those who suffer most.

Today we have read the Passion. Archbishop Fulton Sheen points out, however, that Jesus didn’t want us only to read about the great drama of Calvary but to be actors in it. We are actors in the drama whenever we participate fully in the Mass. But we also enter deeply into the mystery every time we unite our sufferings with Christ’s.

A friend who looked over my homily asked “But how do we do that? My sufferings are nothing like his.” My answer was: Precisely. That’s why uniting our own miseries with Christ’s is possible and powerful. We are not alone. Our sufferings, be they small or great, acquire purpose and meaning when they are united with his.

As we enter Holy Week, let us pray that these each of our solemn celebrations will make a difference in how we live—and how we die.

Sunday, March 26, 2023

Two afterthoughts on Lent.5.A.....


Although my blog is called “Homilies and Occasional Thoughts,” this post should be called “Afterthoughts.”

My original post of this Sunday’s homily featured the picture above, with a note that I could not find the name of its artist or the source. An old friend and former parishioner promptly emailed to tell me that the painting came from a remarkable source, Vie de Jesus Mafa, a catechetical project from Northern Cameroon that aimed at helping Mafa communities teach the Bible.

You can read the remarkable story here and take a look at the catalogue of images from Vanderbilt University's digital archive here

And that’s not the only afterthought I have to share. On Twitter this morning I saw this quotation from Pope Francis about today’s Gospel of the healing of Lazarus. The Pope said: “Here we can experience firsthand that God is life and gives life, yet takes on the tragedy of death. Jesus could have avoided the death of his friend Lazarus, but he wanted to share in our suffering for the death of people dear to us, and above all, he wished to demonstrate God’s dominion over death.”

I found this emphasis on Christ’s sharing in our grief over the death of those we loved very helpful.