By Most Rev. Richard W. Smith, Archbishop of Edmonton

Monday, December 19, 2016

The Fourth Candle

Drivers in Edmonton have to navigate regularly what we call “traffic circles”, or what other jurisdictions may label “rotaries” or “roundabouts”. My personal name for them is purgatory. In the years I was growing up in Halifax, rules for navigating the “rotaries” required drivers already in the circle to alternate with those entering; they had to yield to one another. Not so in Edmonton. Drivers in the circle have the right of way, meaning that those wishing to enter must yield until they have an opportunity. This latter method seems to work better, I must say, but until I learned it old habits would kick in, and I thus caused many a driver to slam on the brakes and lean on the horn as I drove in front of them smiling and blessing.

As the fourth candle was lit on our Advent wreaths, the Sunday Gospel reading proclaimed at mass (Matthew 1:18-24) was about yielding to the one with the right of way. Rather, to the One. It recounts the resolution of St. Joseph to travel along a certain path. He has learned that his betrothed, Mary, is expecting a child and he knows he is not the father. Without understanding the circumstances of her pregnancy, he resolves to divorce her according to the Mosaic law and custom of the time.Yet his resolution comes up against another, that of God himself. From of old, God had resolved to save humanity by the gift of his Son, who was to be conceived in Mary’s womb by the Holy Spirit. When this plan was made known to Joseph by an angel speaking to him in a dream, Joseph knew that he had to yield his resolution to that of God. God always has the right of way. In faith and obedience, Joseph took Mary into his home in accordance with the resolution of God.

Our life with God is not one of alternating interests, whereby we sometimes follow his way and at other times our own. No. Our plans and resolutions must always yield the right of way to God. In this final week of preparation for Christmas, let us consider: the plan of God for the world is on full display in the birth, life, death and resurrection of his Son, Jesus Christ. Having faith in him means giving Jesus the right of way in all things. It therefore also means letting go of any plans, determinations and resolutions that move in directions other than the one he establishes for our lives. 

May God’s grace of love and mercy, poured out anew as the Church celebrates the Nativity of the Lord, enable us to yield, with faith and joy, to the divine resolution to save us.

Monday, December 12, 2016

The Third Candle

Joy. That is what is represented by the third candle, with its distinctive rose colour. The other purple candles recall the penitential aspect of the Advent season; as we wait for the fulfilment of the Lord’s promise to return, we ready ourselves by repentance of heart and conversion of life. The rose colour of the third candle is an invitation to rejoice as we call to mind that the Lord whom we await is with us now, very near, in the power of his love. Because the Lord is near, we rejoice!

So, where’s the joy? It doesn’t seem to come easily. Many hearts are burdened instead by fear and anxiety. What moves us from angst to joy? When we recall the Scripture passages from the Third Sunday of Advent, we see that it is a matter of how we deal with the answer to a question.

Consider the Gospel passage (Matthew 11:2-11). John the Baptist poses the question: “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” The question is prompted by what he has been hearing about Jesus. He knew that miracles of healing the blind, deaf and lame were the very signs foretold by the prophet Isaiah as indicating the presence of the long-awaited Messiah, or Christ. Since Jesus was doing these very things, John asks if the time of waiting is over, if the moment of the fulfilment of all God’s promises has arrived. Jesus answers in the affirmative. He is, indeed, the awaited One. But then Jesus goes on with the mysterious: “and blessed is anyone who takes no offence at me.”

Offence? How could we possibly take offence at Jesus? Quite easily, in fact. Witness the crucifixion. To accept Jesus as the long-awaited Saviour is to allow him to change our lives radically. To that, we might quickly say, “Not so fast,” and refuse to accept his answer to John’s question. Especially in our day with its exaltation, and near worship, of the autonomous Self, any idea that another be Lord over my life is cause for deep offence. Yet, do we really want to continue as we are? Life apart from Jesus and his love is no picnic.

Let’s think again about those signs pointing to the presence of the Lord: the desert blooms, the lame walk, the blind see and the deaf hear (Isaiah 35: 1-6a, 10). This means that, apart from him, we have persistent desert, lameness, blindness and deafness. As with most biblical images, these point to the state of the soul. There is today a vast interior wilderness of spirit, evidenced by hopelessness and lack of meaning; many are crippled by fear or addiction, blinded by moral confusion or deaf to the cry of the poor. This is no way to live. The way we move from desolation to joy is to accept that answer Jesus gave to John and to allow it to take deep root in our heart and change our lives. Only then will any inner aridity blossom in hope; only then shall we walk in true freedom, see clearly the truth of things, and respond sensitively to the cries of any around us who are suffering. Only then, in other words, shall we know true and lasting joy.

Monday, December 5, 2016

The Second Candle

How is the preparation going?

The progressive lighting of the Advent wreath candles signals the call to a progressively deep preparation for the celebration of Christmas. We are obviously not talking about the frenetic and superficial secular preparations that leave us exhausted on Christmas Day, almost glad that it’s over. Rather, of concern in Advent is the preparation necessary to welcome Christ more deeply into our hearts.

This preparation, fully embraced, issues in a celebration of Christmas marked by profound peace and real hope.

Key to the preparation is the experience highlighted by the Gospel for the Second Sunday of Advent: repentance (cf. Matthew 3:1-12). We heard John the Baptist cry out to all who would listen: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” We prepare for God to rule in our lives by repenting. What does this mean?

The word is familiar to us. We hear it all the time, especially in the liturgical seasons of Advent and Lent. Do we understand it? My guess is that we often think of it in terms of sorrow for sins committed and a determination not to repeat the offences. Well, yes, that  is certainly part of it, but the term “repentance” means much more. Far more. At its heart, the biblical call to repentance is the summons to radical conversion. I use the word “radical” deliberately. It comes from the Latin word “radix”, meaning “root”. So to repent is to allow oneself to be thoroughly “uprooted”, that is to say, entirely changed. It means a complete re-alignment of one’s life, a thoroughgoing re-direction away from anything and everything that is contrary to living in the love of God and keeping his commandments. We are obviously a great distance from preoccupation with Christmas lights!

Did you notice I said “allow oneself” to be changed? This is important. True repentance is not something we are able to pull off by ourselves. It comes about as a response to the love of Christ and with the help of his grace. Consider the rather frightening image used by St. John the Baptist. He speaks of the “axe lying at the root of the trees” so as to cut down and throw into fire any tree that does not produce fruit. He is speaking in very dramatic fashion of the action of God himself. God wants to get at “the roots” of our lives. He wants to sever us from the roots we so often put down into the soil of self-reliance, in order to re-root us in his own Son, Jesus. His “axe” is mercy. He offers “radical” forgiveness, a healing at our very roots, and thus enables us to start again, indeed, to live again.

The second candle has been lit. Time is passing. Let’s not waste it in the superficial but go to the very root of things. Let’s seriously prepare for Christmas by asking God to lead us by his Word and his mercy to a radical conversion of our minds, our hearts, and our actions.

Monday, November 28, 2016

The First Candle

First of four, that is. I’m speaking of the Advent wreath. The progressive lighting of its four candles through the four weeks of Advent marks the drawing near of our celebration of the Lord’s nativity at Christmas. This ritual began yesterday on the First Sunday of Advent.

I hope we do more than light candles.

Advent is serious business. It highlights our need to prepare, to be ready, for the Lord’s coming! This requires deliberate and serious attention. This holy season points us not only to our commemoration of the Lord’s coming among us as a child born of the Virgin Mary but also to his coming again at the end of time and to his many “advents” in our daily lives now. The Scripture passages for Sunday teach us that readiness is a matter of having our lives rightly ordered. What does that mean?

An important symbol is the “mountain of the Lord” spoken of in the prophecy of Isaiah (2:1-5). All nations, says the prophet, will stream to this mountain, established as the highest. The mountain refers to Jerusalem. There was found the Temple, God’s dwelling and thus the place of worship. From there would go forth instruction. A rightly ordered life is one in which all of its aspects are ordered to God. The worship of God is the first and highest priority, from which follows the desire to receive his instruction and have one’s entire life enlightened by his Word. When the worship of God and obedience to his Word are given first place, all else falls into proper place. St. Paul (Romans 13:11-14) likens this to waking up from sleep, casting off darkness and living in the light.

So becoming ready through getting our lives rightly ordered means taking a serious look at how we are living and asking questions such as: what do I, in fact, worship? Myself? My possessions? Reputation? Desires? And from where do I take instruction? To what voices am I listening and giving my trust? Do I turn to the Internet? Social media? Magazines? TV shows? What is shaping my mindset?

These are tough and challenging questions, but they cannot be postponed. When Jesus speaks in the Gospel of his return (cf. Matthew 24:37-44), he makes clear that he will come at a time we simply cannot know. The conclusion is clear: the time to get our lives in order is now.

Advent is not about candles on a wreath. It is about having a life that is enlightened by right order. May God grant us the grace to clear up any disorder in our lives and thus to be ready to greet him joyfully when he comes.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Who Rules?

In the aftermath of the American presidential election we see that some people are having difficulty accepting the choice. This makes clear that the election of a leader is not the end of the story. That choice has to be accepted if governance by the leader is to be effective.

This is precisely what is at issue in the Scripture passages assigned for Sunday’s celebration of the Solemnity of Christ the King (2Samuel 5:1-3; Colossians 1: 12-20; Luke 23: 35-43). The Church recognizes that Jesus, crucified and risen, has been designated by God as King of heaven and earth, appointed by the Almighty Father to rule over all creation. Do we accept his rule?

This question is not just abstract or theoretical. It bears directly upon our lives in a way that is increasingly urgent.

Think of what we are allowing to govern us now, and I don't mean politically. Recent news reports are filled with stories of an opioid crisis, especially around the drug fentanyl. In the attempt to escape pain people are growing addicted to deadly drugs and many are losing their lives. This is governance by addiction, and we know that such rule is not limited to opioids. There are addictions to other drugs, to alcohol, gambling, to shopping, and - what is especially prevalent - to the mobile device. We can also allow ourselves to be governed by fear and worry, anger and bitterness, by illusory desires, by how we look or the possessions we have or don't have. I am sure you can amplify the list. In these ways we make choices all the time about what will govern or rule our lives, but what we are electing is totalitarian rule; our choices leave us unfree, wrapped in the straitjacket of self-absorption.

Is this the rule we want? Of course not. Neither is it what God wants for us. This is why he has sent Jesus to us. In the words of St. Paul, by giving us Jesus God has brought us out of a kingdom, a rule, of darkness, into a kingdom of light. When we accept his rule in our lives, Jesus leads us from darkness to light, from captivity to true freedom.

How do we, in fact, accept the rule of Christ in our lives? Consider the Gospel passage, which depicts Jesus on the Cross between two thieves.

The first and obvious thing that catches our attention is that this is a very strange depiction of a king. His throne is a cross. He has been crucified, a punishment reserved to slaves and to the worst of criminals. Furthermore, he is not praised but mocked; not only by soldiers but also by the inscription placed above him: "This is the King of the Jews." St. Paul helps us to understand what we are seeing. This Jesus, he tells us in Colossians, is the one in whom God dwells fully, the one through whom all things in heaven and on earth have been made. In Philippians he tells us that this Jesus has dwelt from all eternity with the Father in heaven, and that he emptied himself fully by becoming human and offering his life on the cross. All of this was done to destroy the rule of sin that had so deeply crushed humanity and to establish a universal reign of peace, justice and reconciliation. Jesus rules by love, by self-gift, by mercy and by forgiveness. This is the rule we are called to accept.

A thief teaches us how.

"Jesus," that thief said, "remember me when you come into your kingdom." This is the thief who, of the two, recognized his wrongdoing and sought the Lord's forgiveness. We accept the rule of Christ by acknowledging our sin and weakness, by admitting the various ways in which we have chosen to govern ourselves or to allow other forces to govern us, and then to repent, to say we are sorry and to ask him in his love and mercy to change our lot and give us the peace he wills for us. We accept his rule by surrendering control of our lives to him, trusting in his love and mercy.

The result is peace. Long ago representatives of the tribes of Israel went to David and asked him to rule over them. These tribes had been warring among themselves and wanted it to end. They recognized that the Lord had chosen David to lead them and bring them peace, and protect them from the hostile nations surrounding them, so the elders anointed David king over them all. By their acceptance of David's rule, division and strife was replaced by unity and peace. This foreshadowed what God planned to do for all of humanity in Christ his Son. By raising him from the dead. God has anointed Jesus king of all creation. When we accept his rule through repentance and surrender, our inner divisions are healed and we are granted a peace that can come from nowhere else.

Monday, November 14, 2016

A Closed Door that Remains Open

Yesterday, in cathedrals throughout the world, the closing of Holy Doors marked the end of the Jubilee Year in the local Churches. Pope Francis will close the Holy Door at St. Peter’s in Rome next weekend to bring the Jubilee formally to a close. This signals the termination of a grace-filled time in which we were invited to focus in a particularly close way upon the wondrous gift of God’s mercy. The Jubilee reminded us that, even as we close physical doors in our churches, the doors of mercy in our hearts are to remain always open to receive God’s gift of pardon, first of all, and to share that grace with others through the corporal and spiritual works of mercy.

When we place this teaching in the context of the Gospel reading for Sunday, we become aware of another holy door opening before us: the door to eternal life. Those two doors - the door of mercy and the door to eternal life - are inseparably linked.

In these last Sundays of the Church year the Scripture readings point us toward the end of time, when Christ will come again in his glory to judge the living and the dead. In so doing they remind us that this life on earth is only temporary. People were shocked when Jesus said that even the strong and magnificent Temple in Jerusalem would come to an end, that not one stone would be left upon another. In other words, all is passing; all is contingent. Only God's love and his plan to save the world in Christ is unshakeable and indestructible. In this light we recognize that life in this passing world is to be lived with an eye to the future one. Here we see the link between the two doors: by keeping open the doors of mercy, as Jesus has commanded, we live in the hope that he will lead us through the door to eternal life.

Such a life of mercy is not without its challenges and even dangers. We heard Jesus warn that the Christian life, authentically lived, will often be met with resistance and even persecution. It is not difficult to see why this is so. When we open doors of mercy we are proclaiming the vision of life that arises from the teaching of Christ himself. The Gospel proposes a worldview that challenges accepted and prevailing viewpoints and mindsets. For this reason, our Gospel proclamation is often met with resistance. We find this verified in our own experience. When we challenge the unholy doors opening around us - doors to practices that threaten human life from beginning to natural end, doors that open onto views of marriage, sexuality and gender that are opposite to God's creative purpose, doors leading to racism and bigotry, poverty and exclusion - then we soon find that we are not very popular. In the face of criticism and pushback we can experience the temptation just to stay quiet, to go along in order to get along. But we know we can't. Indeed, open doors of mercy impel us to speak against anything contrary to human dignity. Jesus assures us not to be afraid but to trust that he will grant us the words to speak. I often think of a parishioner from my days as a parish priest in Nova Scotia. She once told me that she was very nervous about having to confront her child on a difficult and sensitive matter. Her prayer was “Holy Spirit, land on my tongue!” That’s a prayer that arises out of the promise of Christ himself. If we trust in him and venture to speak the truth, he will give us the words we need.

This has been a wonderful year of grace. Thank you, Pope Francis! May God grant us the gift of perseverance, so that, in any and all circumstances, our doors remain open as we respond to the call to be heralds and agents of the mercy that heals and liberates.

Monday, November 7, 2016

The Panorama Shot

I didn’t know my smartphone camera had this feature until someone pointed it out to me. Remarkable, really. Just hold down the button, move the camera around to take in everything I want included in the shot, and - behold! - all of reality surrounding me appears in the picture. This panoramic view helps one to see how each individual item in the photo is situated in relation to all others. It gives, literally, the whole picture.

That is what happens whenever we read the Bible. We see “the whole picture”. Sacred Scripture provides a “panoramic view” of nature and history by situating both within the whole of reality that surrounds us. That “whole” encompasses not only the visible world and our experience of the unfolding of time but also the mystery of eternity and the wondrous plan of God for humanity, a plan that arose from the heart of God even before time began. Within such a “view”, we can appreciate how our lives “fit”, what their place is in this picture and how they are related to other persons and events within it. Without such a view, our vision becomes narrow and myopic and in consequence the ultimate meaning of things escapes us. When our inner camera focuses only upon the present and the immediate, we fail to capture the elements of broader reality that help us grasp the meaning and direction of our lives.

The necessary expansion of vision is provided in the readings from Sacred Scripture proclaimed at mass on Sunday. By pointing to the truth of life after death, they reveal that there is much more to the mystery of living than “meets the eye”, than our earthly existence. Confidence in life after death enabled seven brothers to endure torture and death rather than deny their Lord (2 Maccabees 7: 1-2, 7, 9-14). Jesus affirms life after death in his response to the Sadducees trying to entrap him (Luke 20: 27, 34-38). He refers to the words of Moses, who encountered the Lord as “the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.” God is God of the living. Life continues after death. By accepting and appropriating this truth, our “picture” of life broadens.

The words of Jesus are true and trustworthy. He is, after all, “born of the Father before all ages, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God”, as we say in the Creed. Coming from eternity, from the bosom of the Father, he knows of what he speaks. In Jesus, we are given the panoramic view which fully enlightens our lives and unveils their true meaning. In him we see that we are meant for an eternal destiny, for timeless communion with God. By his entry into time he also makes known the connection of the historical present with our eternal future. How we live on earth has everlasting consequences.

This is the picture in which we see ourselves truly and completely. By accepting and living within this panorama, we find meaning and direction, hope and joy.

Monday, October 31, 2016

No Need for Masks

Tonight is Halloween. This time often reminds me of a story told by a friend and contemporary of my parents. As this particular event one year was drawing near, she was speaking with her four-year old grandson. The little boy asked his grandmother if she would be dressing up for Halloween. Wanting to have a little fun, she replied that she was planning to dress up as an old lady. Shocked, the boy protested, saying, “But you're thupothed to be thomething different!

That little boy was giving voice to a message with which we are constantly bombarded: “You're supposed to be something different.” Time and again we are told that life is to be measured in terms of beauty, prowess, accomplishment, material wealth, power, and so on. This lie comes at us so often and in such a variety of ways that we can actually begin to believe it. When we thus surrender to the lie, we look within and begin to say to ourselves that we are supposed to be something different than we are. That’s when we begin to “dress up”, to put on “masks”, by hiding away our true selves under layers of pretence. Not good, because, in fact, what we are saying to ourselves is, “I wish I were somebody other than who I am.” That is to do terrible violence to the self and can cause untold harm. Furthermore, not only do we alienate ourselves from ourselves, but also, in so doing, separate ourselves from others. It is no wonder we see so much fracture and division in our society.

What God says to us is something entirely different than what we tell ourselves. Consider what we heard in the first reading Sunday from the Book of Wisdom: “Lord, you love all things that exist, and detest none of the things that you have made, for you would not have made anything if you had hated it.” We are God’s creation. He loves us as he has made us, not as we wish we were. I’m reminded here of a passage from Isaiah that our beloved late Sr. Annata Brockman had chosen to be proclaimed at her funeral mass. In it, God says to us through the prophet: “[You] are precious in my sight, and honoured, and I love you..." (43: 4) No need for masks.

This unconditional love of God reaches us in the gaze of Jesus Christ. As we were reminded in the Gospel account of his encounter with Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1-10), the Lord looked at him seated on a tree branch. This loving gaze passed through the label of “sinner” and reached the truth of Zacchaeus’s identity as a beloved child of God. Jesus invited himself into Zacchaeus’s life, which was totally transformed in consequence. Zacchaeus knew he had done wrong, but that now a new life was made possible. While everyone else still placed upon him the mask of “sinner”, Zacchaeus cast it off through repentance. His life was totally changed when the Lord led him to see himself as God sees him. He knew that he no longer had to be “something different”, as he received from Jesus the mercy that liberates and restores to life.

The day after Halloween, the day the masks come off, is the Solemnity of All Saints. This juxtaposition of events reminds us that we grow in holiness as we open our lives to the gaze of Jesus Christ, abandon our surrender to falsehood, and live in accord with our identity and dignity as beloved children of God.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Unworthy of Election

For a while now the world has been watching the American presidential election campaign. In some ways the 2016 event seems unique. At the same time, it manifests dynamics common to all election campaigns. These can be used to give a perspective on the teaching of Sunday’s Gospel parable of the Pharisee and tax collector at prayer in the Temple, and lead us into its deepest meaning.

In the case of an election campaign, candidates engage in self-promotion, often furthering a positive image by criticizing their opponents. When we consider the words of the Pharisee, one would think he is running for office. He boasts of his goodness and points to the faults of others. By way of contrast, the tax collector speaks as if he is not worthy to be elected to anything. His head is bowed down in shame, and speaks only of his failings and cries out for mercy: "God, be merciful to me a sinner." Hardly a winning election slogan. And yet he is chosen, he is elected.

Elected to what? By posing this question we can see the urgent importance of this parable. It carries us to the very heart of the Christian life and all that the Church teaches about the love and mercy of God. The Christian life is, indeed, all about election. But the electorate is not us. God alone elects, and the "office" for which he chooses us is a life of communion with his Son in the Church. For such an office, who is worthy? Is this something for which we can campaign? Is this life one which we can earn by our good works? Does God select us on the basis of our merits and the good we have done? The Pharisee seemed to think so, and on that basis was rather confident in his self-righteousness. Yet Jesus concludes the parable by saying that it was the tax collector who went home justified in the sight of God. He who recognized that all he had to offer God were his sins and failings and accepted his total reliance upon the mercy of God was the one “elected.”

God's love cannot be earned; it is freely given. God chooses us not as a reward for our accomplishments but solely on the basis of his mercy. As we were reminded in the first reading from Sirach, God alone is the judge; only God sees to the depths of our hearts and the truth of our existence. He knows that any boasts on our part as to our goodness would be as empty as those of the Pharisee. He sees that we are rather like the tax collector, totally reliant upon divine mercy for healing and for life. In spite of our weakness and failings, he chooses us for life with him. Such is the love and mercy of God! We begin truly to live the life he holds in store for us when we acknowledge our need for his mercy and in faith turn to him beating our own breasts.

This is not to say there is no place in the Christian life for good works! Quite the contrary. Good works are expected of the followers of Christ. But a Christian's good works do not earn God's love; they flow from it. In the second reading we heard St. Paul speaking of his works in a way that sounds like a boast: "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith." Yet we know from his other writings that St. Paul was painfully aware of his sinful past. He knew he had been saved from a life of sin not by his merits but solely by the love of God revealed in Christ Jesus. He teaches us clearly that it is from God's love that we are elected to life in Christ; it is in the power of that love that we are able to do good works; and it is for the sake of witnessing to that love that we are sent forth to accomplish them.

In an election campaign, huge amounts of money are expended to get a candidate elected. Well, a price has been paid, too, for our election to life. That cost, infinitely greater than anything we see in earthly campaigns, was the death of Jesus on the Cross. Jesus became one of us so that his death would destroy the power of sin and death in our lives. He rose again so that in him we might have the fullness of life. It is in Jesus Christ that God has chosen us for a life of faith and good works. Our only boast is this wondrous love and mercy of our God.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Hands Up!

We hear this often in police dramas at the time of an arrest, or see it demanded of prisoners of war. It is a universal image of surrender, and expressive of helplessness in the presence of a force with the upper hand.

The image came to mind as I read the Scripture passages for this past Sunday. The first reading from Exodus (17:8-13) recounts the action of Moses as the people of Israel face battle with the hostile king Amalek and his army. He raises his arms. This is not concession to the enemy. Just the opposite, in fact. It is as if Moses hears not Amalek but God saying to him “Hands up!”, because his gesture is an expression not of helplessness in the face of a fierce army but of reliance upon Almighty God. It is, indeed, an expression of surrender, not to the enemy but to truth: the truth that we are dependent upon God and without him can do nothing; the truth that God will not fail to be with his people and answer their prayers for justice (cf. the Gospel, Lk 18:1-8).

In this light it is clear that we, too, need to have our arms raised in prayer constantly. The Christian life is dramatic. Forces both within and without are constantly pressuring us to rely not on God but on ourselves, to turn away from fidelity to him. St. Paul, in his second letter to Timothy (3:14 - 4:2) goes straight to the heart of the matter. “Beloved: Continue in what you have learned and firmly believed.” Well, what we have learned and accepted firmly in faith is that God has come to us in Jesus Christ, in whom he has revealed both his nature and his plan of salvation. Only Jesus is Saviour. Only Jesus has the words of everlasting life. Only his is the voice to follow. To “continue in what [we] have learned and firmly believed” is to stay faithful to Jesus at all times, to remain ever obedient to his teachings. Siren songs of infidelity surround us, tempting us away from what we have learned, often by distortions of the truth. In the face of this battle, the call is clear: “Hands up!” Pray constantly to God, that he grant us the gift of fidelity to the words spoken in his Son.

In this prayer we are called to support one another. Particularly striking in the passage from Exodus is the role of Aaron and Hur. When Moses grew weary and began to let his arms fall, they held them up, thus supporting his prayer. We do the same for one another, moved by the awareness of our collective dependence upon the mercy of God.

Let us together head the summons to constant prayer spoken by St. Paul: “The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:5-7)

Tuesday, October 11, 2016


Over the last few days I've watched the heartbreaking scenes of the devastation caused in Haiti by Hurricane Matthew. It brings back memories of my visit to that country two years after the destruction wrought by an earthquake. Great hardship and suffering. As it did in the wake of the earthquake, the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace, the Canadian member of Caritas International, is receiving donations for emergency relief. I know many will be generous in response to this appeal.

The timing coincides with Thanksgiving weekend. As I watched on TV scenes of people carrying others across flood waters to safety, I knew those helped would feel deep gratitude in their hearts for having been rescued. This is a provocative image that can speak to all of us. We are continually being carried to safety by the love of God. Do we acknowledge this, give thanks for this, especially when the "carrying" happens in ways we do not see?

Sometimes the figurative hurricanes of our lives can leave more "damage" in their wake than the real ones. Sudden terminal illness of a loved one, family breakdown, loss of employment, betrayal and abandonment, and the like; when these crash in on us it can feel like all we have held onto for security has been taken away. We, too, need to be carried across the flood.

And we are! God does not abandon! He blesses and helps. In short, he carries us to safety. There is no need to fear. We may not see it as it happens. Often it is only in retrospect that we recognize how God has been walking with us. But let us not wait to give thanks. The time to give thanks to God for his loving help and mercy is now, because it is now that we are being carried, even though we may not now have the eyes to see it.

Monday, October 3, 2016

First Aid

Many homes and businesses keep on hand a first aid kit. We want to be ready to help anyone who gets injured, and that sometimes means healing wounds with bandages, gauze, ointment and the like. Wounds, though, can go beyond the superficial, and interior injuries can occur to vital organs, such as the heart. So, offices will also often be equipped with defibrillators, and employees will be trained in their use, in CPR etc.

This comes to mind as I reflect upon the Gospel passage assigned for the mass of today. It recounts the familiar and well-beloved parable of the Good Samaritan. In it, Jesus commands that we always to carry with us a first aid kit, so that we are ready to reach out and heal anyone we find left “half-dead at the side of the road.” We are to carry this kit not on our backs or in our hands, but in our hearts. The “first aid” we must always be ready to bring is mercy.

Many people today are “beaten up” by the difficulties of life. I am speaking here of wounds not to the body but to the soul. The wounds may be self-inflicted through sin, failure, mistakes. The bruises and welts may come from the cruelty of things like betrayal, lies, or exploitation. When we encounter a brother or sister who is hurting, we may be tempted to “walk by on the other side”, but the clear call of Christ is to heal the wounds by drawing from the first aid kit of mercy the blanket of love, the ointment of patient listening, the balm of encouragement, the crutch of material or spiritual assistance, the bandage of forgiveness, the gauze of reparation and so on. I’m reminded of the frequent image used by Pope Francis as he speaks of the mission of the Church in our day. He likens it to a field hospital in the midst of a battle. There are so many wounds, he says, and we are called to heal them.

To use CPR at the office, we must be properly trained. Effective use of the first aid kit of mercy likewise requires preparation. If we ourselves experience mercy then we are all the more ready and willing to share it with others. How do I need mercy? Do I feel as if I have been abandoned and left on the side of the road? Am I ready to cast aside pride and seek mercy, especially by asking forgiveness for any wrong-doing on my part? To know the mercy of God is to experience life anew! It liberates me from self-pre-occupation, awakens attentiveness to the needs of others, and inspires me to share with those in need the same mercy of which I have been the recipient.

The Lord Jesus is the Good Samaritan who has by mercy bound up and healed the wounds of broken humanity. May his mercy touch and transform each of us, and make of us agents of his healing mercy toward others.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Travel Light

There must be a knack to traveling "light". I just haven't found it yet. Quite often I end up packing in my suitcase a bit more than I need. You know, "just in case". But the "in case" seldom happens, and I end up dealing with excess baggage and more "stuff" than is necessary.

When this tendency extends beyond a simple road trip to everyday living, major societal problems ensue. When persons and nations pack into the "suitcase" of daily life more than is needed and allow their living to be weighed down by excess, it is often at the expense of others. Moreover, we can become so preoccupied with accumulating and keeping the unnecessary, that we actually fail to notice the plight of persons who do not have what is, in fact, necessary for a dignified life.

This is addressed by Jesus in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, narrated in the passage from St Luke we heard at mass on Sunday. The rich man is so totally absorbed in the enjoyment of luxurious excess that he is indifferent to the real lack from which Lazarus, present at his very door, suffers. When both die their situations are reversed: Lazarus is comforted in heaven, while the rich man suffers torment in hell. Furthermore, an impassable chasm is fixed between them.

The message is clear and arresting: we are to be the carriers in history of God's love and compassion for the poor; how we order our earthly life in view of this responsibility will have eternal and irreversible consequences.

By God's grace, may we learn to "travel light". The familiar saying puts it well: "to live simply so that others may simply live." Carrying excess "just in case" is a decision to trust more in our own calculus than in God's sure providence. May our own experience of God's goodness and love heal our blindness towards those who are in need and liberate us from indifference to their suffering.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Getting the Keys to the Car

That was a big moment, oh so long ago now. Exciting for me, definitely; nerve-wracking, I’m sure, for my father. The day he made the decision to trust me enough to take the car - HIS car - and drive it on my own not long after I had received my driver’s license. He gave me the keys, yes, but of course I knew that it was not my car, that I was expected to use it well, to drive according to the rules, and to return it to him in good shape. Of his car I was but a steward, expected to be trustworthy in the use I made of something that belonged to another. Handing me the keys was not a transfer of ownership, but an expression of trust in my ability to be responsible.

Stewardship is at the heart of the Gospel passage we heard at mass on Sunday (Luke 16:1-13). Even though it addresses itself to the issue of monetary wealth, in fact it challenges us to examine our trustworthiness as stewards in a host of contexts. In many ways, God “hands us the keys”. The foundational question is: do I understand that all is God’s gift, given for responsible care and use in accordance with God’s purposes? Keeping this truth in mind shapes the use I make of what has been entrusted to me.

The issue is urgent. Squandering God’s gifts by using them not for his glory or our neighbour’s good but for our own selfish pursuits leads to great damage. Consider the gift of life. Clearly, this is God’s gift, yet legalization of assisted suicide and euthanasia, unlimited access to abortion, artificial reproduction and so on reveals the societal presumption that we are masters, not stewards, of this wondrous gift, which we end up destroying. We wreck the car. Think, too, of the gift of the senses. We best use eyesight to contemplate the beauty of creation, yet can abuse it by leering at pornography; speech is best put to use by praising God and saying only those things which will build others up (cf. Ephesians 4:29), yet both speech and hearing are often degraded by placing them at the service of gossip. The car is returned badly damaged. Generally speaking, when we forget that we are stewards, dependent upon God’s love and goodness and entrusted with using his gifts responsibly, and act as if we were owners, able to dispose of things and people as we determine, the wheels fall off altogether and life grinds to a meaningless and painful halt.

When my father handed the keys over, I drove off on my own, and he was left wondering (stewing??) how it would turn out. When the Lord “hands over the keys” to us, he gets in the car with us. This is not a diminishment of our responsibility, but an assurance that Jesus is always with us, as he promised. A faithful steward both accepts responsibility and relies upon grace for the fulfillment of duty. Let’s accept the keys he gives us, and pray always for the gift of fidelity.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Ready for the Exam?

Back to school this past week for many children. As they resume the learning process, they will soon come up against a necessary aspect of it: the examination. Students are challenged in their growth and learning by being held to standards and expectations; the examination will enable the teacher to assess how well they are doing.

I mention this because attention was drawn this week by none other than Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI to another type of examination that will face all of us. Reports are beginning to circulate about the contents of an interview he recently gave, and that will be published in English in November under the title Last Testament. When asked how he is spending the time of his retirement, he is reported to have replied that he is now “preparing to pass the ultimate examination before God.”

This is a very important reminder to all of us. In our hectic culture, the pressure of immediate urgency can make us near-sighted; we see and concentrate only on what is before us and forget the longer view. Benedict reminds us of the central truth that must govern every aspect of our lives: God has made clear to us in His Son, Jesus, that we shall be held accountable at the end of our lives for the way we have lived. Sacred Scripture and the Tradition of the Church have passed on from Christ the moral standard given from above to guide our lives. This means that we should be constantly examining ourselves against the standard, and asking God for the strength to be faithful and for his mercy when we are not. Of course, this is something Pope Emeritus Benedict has been doing all his life, and not only in this last stage of it. His is an example for all of us to follow.

How might such an examination be carried out? Well, the Scripture passages we heard proclaimed on Sunday at Mass are an excellent guide. They remind us, first, of the primacy of God’s love and of his desire to save his people through the forgiveness of sins. St. Paul is crystal clear: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” (1Timothy 1:15). That’s you and me. All are in need of the mercy that Christ alone can give. The self-examination begins with this acknowledgement of our weakness and need, and the assurance of God’s love and mercy if we are truly repentant.

The passages also are a very helpful reminder of the ways we can fall short of the standard. Perhaps we are like the people, who, according to Exodus, decided to worship a golden calf, the work of their own hands, instead of the Living God (cf. Exodus 32: 7-11, 13-14). We can have lots of idols of our own making in our lives: reputation, power, wealth, accomplishments and so on. Or perhaps we can do as St. Paul said he once did, namely, persecute the Church (1Timothy 1:13). Do we rebel against the teachings of Christ and his Church by our words or lifestyles? The parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15: 11-32) reminds us that we, too, can squander the beautiful gifts of God by using them not for the glory of God and the good of others but for the selfish pursuit of our own desires. Likewise does the parable invite us to ask in what ways we imitate the older brother. Do we stand in judgment of others, withhold forgiveness or act as if we earn God’s love by living an upright life?

Preparation for “the ultimate examination” is not something to delay, to put off until later in life. The time for it is now. From the beginning of his pontificate, and especially in this Jubilee of Mercy, Pope Francis has repeatedly stressed that, although God never tires of forgiving us, nevertheless we often tire of asking for that forgiveness. Let us be alert always to our need for mercy, and turn frequently, with contrite hearts, to God who rejoices to grant his pardon, restore us to life, and help us to be prepared to pass that all-important exam.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

SAINT Teresa of Calcutta… Pray for Us!

Canonization day today (Sunday, Sept 4th)! Deo gratias!

Recently circumstances brought me into contact with a wonderful organization of healthcare professionals: the Victorian Order of Nurses (VON). They visit patients in their homes to offer a number of medical services. Among the helps they offer is assuring that the patient remembers to take any medication that has been prescribed. This is invaluable for anyone who may have the tendency to forget to take the medicine. This is a serious matter. Medication is prescribed for a reason and must be taken as directed if one is to be well. The necessary reminder must be given with regularity: take the medicine!

In this Jubilee Year of Mercy, our Holy Father, Pope Francis, has been reminding us of the medicine prescribed by our Lord for the temporal well-being and eternal salvation of humanity: the medicine of mercy. As weak and sinful human beings, we are entirely dependent upon the mercy of God; we live from his tenderness, compassion and forgiveness. Yet, pride easily and persistently stands in the way of taking this particular pill. Our cultural obsession with the autonomy of the self gives birth to a particularly dangerous and debilitating “Alzheimer's”: we forget our need for mercy and hence neglect to implore its bestowal. Moreover, the greater our amnesia in regards to the receipt of mercy, the more we fail to extend it to others.

Mercy is a medicine we are called both to receive and to dispense. On this latter point, the world has no greater model and inspiration than Saint Teresa of Calcutta. Affectionately and respectfully known to the world as Mother Teresa, she has long been recognized and admired as a woman fully dedicated to living the call of the Gospel to be merciful to others. Today’s official numbering of Saint Teresa of Calcutta among the saints is confirmation of what many have long known in their hearts to be true.

I cannot forget the first time I saw her in person. The occasion was a Youth Corps event at Varsity Stadium in Toronto in 1982. Thousands of others were gathered there, and I could see her only from a distance. What I remember vividly when she arrived was the extraordinary energy that exuded from this person of very small stature and filled the stadium. What we all felt instantly was the power of authentic holiness. I do not remember what she said; I do recall the impact of her presence.

As I think about it now, what we experienced that day was what Pope Francis has labelled a particular form of contagion: the contagion of goodness. Standing in the presence of Mother Teresa that day, all present “caught” the desire to grow in holiness through service of others, especially the poorest and most needy. This is something we are all called to “spread” by the example of a holy life.

The diseases of pride, selfishness, hatred, violence and division spread very quickly and are causing great sickness today in the body of the human family. The antidote to these viruses is mercy. They can be healed if we but remember to take the medicine!! We must stop forgetting to to take it and then be quick to dispense it.

Thank you, Saint Teresa of Calcutta, for demonstrating in your own life the great power of mercy to heal and transform. Pray for us

Monday, August 29, 2016

Pokemon Go – Please!

The attraction escapes me.

While I was visiting my family last week in Halifax for holidays, one of my sisters downloaded the Pokemon Go app for her eight-year old son. He was very excited and starting running around the family property with the smartphone. He was apparently catching things which existed only in the device, things he enthusiastically called Pokemons. Seemed a little strange to me, but I was happy to see that something had been developed for the amusement of little kids. Later that evening some family members joined me for a stroll along the Halifax waterfront. My nephew had his smartphone and started chasing these imaginary things again. He was not alone. To my surprise, it seemed that every other adult (!!) there was doing the same thing! More than once I feared that a person with their attention glued to the phone would wander off the end of the wharf!

Now, keep in mind that the waterfront of Halifax is frequented by many tourists for its historic significance and natural beauty. I am used to seeing thousands of people out for a leisurely stroll to take it all in. Well, that evening they were there in great numbers all right, but most were turned away from the real beauty around them and saw nothing but their phones and these imaginary little creatures, which somehow were supposed to be findable on the waterfront. I couldn’t see the Pokemons (thank heavens!), but what I did see clearly  were people, phones and an erratic chasing about after nothing.

I’ve heard it opined that this is just another passing fad. Could be. As I think about it though, this transient phenomenon symbolizes a perennial temptation: the preference for illusion over reality and the dedication of enormous amounts of energy and resources to the pursuit of something that doesn’t exist. We are tempted to chase illusion all the time, mistaking it for the real: honour in the eyes of others (Jesus criticized this in Sunday’s Gospel); the identification of happiness with possessions; busy-ness as an indicator of personal worth; taking Hollywood as my moral compass; and so on. Reliance upon illusion in the pursuit of happiness ends in a banal and empty existence. Pokemon Go might well be fun for some. What it represents is no fun for anyone.

A necessary counter-message was heard in Sunday’s first reading from Sirach. It announced the call to humility as a virtue necessary for a well-lived life. Well, true humility is remaining rooted in the real (the reality of God, of God’s love, of my dependence upon that love, of my need for forgiveness and mercy) and the shunning of all illusion that I can find happiness apart from Jesus Christ and the salvation he offers.

Let’s stay rooted in the real and stop chasing after nothing.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Vacation break

I pray that you are enjoying the summer, getting some rest and relaxation and renewing relationships with your loved ones. I also will be taking a bit a of a break, so my next blog post will be on August 29. God bless!

Monday, August 8, 2016

Hearse with a U-Haul?

I remember having a chat many years ago with a colleague, who was commenting on the rather prevalent obsession with accumulating possessions and wealth. He said, “You know, I have yet to see a hearse with a U-Haul behind it.” A rather striking way to voice something we all know to be true and more commonly express as, “You can’t take it with you!”

Which begs the question: What do we take with us? When at death we stand before the judgement seat of Christ, what shall we offer? We know from Sacred Scripture that the Lord will not be particularly interested in a record of things we have accumulated.

In fact, what we are able to offer the Lord, now and at death, is no more than empty hands. It is important to understand this correctly. An ancient heresy called Pelagianism held that we can follow the Lord’s teachings and thus save ourselves without the help of God’s grace. This was condemned by the Church, because the truth is that we can do nothing without the help of God. By that divine help our lives are made an acceptable offering to God. We acknowledge this in the eucharistic prayer at mass: “May he [Christ] make of us an eternal offering to you, so that we may obtain an inheritance [i.e;. eternal life] with your elect…”

I love watching how young children respond when collection is taken up at mass. They obviously have nothing to offer. So, Mum or Dad gives them something, which they then joyfully put in the collection as their own gift. What we can offer the Father is that which is given to us by the grace of Christ, or, better, that which we have been made by him, and we offer it joyfully in gratitude for God’s love and mercy.

This has huge implications for the way we live our lives. It means being disposed daily to that which the Holy Spirit wants to bring about in us. The Scripture readings of Sunday teach something of how to do that.

Fundamental is faith. The excerpt from Wisdom (18:6-9) underscores the trustworthiness of God’s promises to his people, and summons us to rely confidently on them. The passage from the Letter to the Hebrews (11:1-2, 8-19) recalls how this trust was exemplified in Abraham, Sarah, Isaac and Jacob. It thus highlights the centrality of faith, which is lived out as trust in the providence and wisdom of God and surrender to his saving work within us.

This openness in faith to the working of the Lord within our hearts as we journey through life stands behind the instruction of Jesus to, “Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit.” (Luke 12:35) Faith is not passivity. Yes, we rely entirely on the grace of Christ, who works within us by the Holy Spirit to make of us a pleasing offering to the Father. Yet this same grace moves us to acts of charity. Faith finds expression in love (cf. Galatians 5:6). Christian action springs from faith, not from self-centered motives. This is why we must “have our lamps lit,” that is to say, be constantly vigilant to guard against the lies and seductions (like the temptation to accumulate wealth and possessions) that tempt us to rely upon ourselves and take pride in our accomplishments so as thus to lead us away from an authentic Christian life.

We won’t take a U-Haul full of stuff to the grave. But our naturally “empty hands” will be filled with deeds of love if we live by faith and allow the grace of Christ to transform us into an offering truly pleasing to the Father.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Real Hope for a Renewed Humanity

The headlines and news stories lately are discouraging. Bombings, shootings, terrorist murders - even of a priest at mass (!!) - angry political debates, caustic commentary, mounting suicide rates, assisted suicide and euthanasia made legal; it all leaves us wondering: how did humanity ever come to this? How did we sink so low? Is there any reason for hope?

In the midst of the dark headlines that can lead us to despair, one story has emerged these last few days as a bright and hopeful light: World Youth Days. On Sunday Pope Francis was near Krakow, Poland, for a mass with an estimated three million (yes, that’s right - three million!!!) young adults, many of whom had come from almost every country on the planet for what is an extraordinary festival of Christian faith. In fact, the Holy Father has been in Poland for the last number of days for a pastoral visit occasioned by this event, which, since the time of Saint John Paul II who founded World Youth Days, takes place every few years. The young people have been in the country for over a week, singing and dancing in the streets, gathering for mass, prayer and catechesis, and manifesting in many ways their love for Christ and his Church and their readiness to assume the mission that is theirs by baptism.

What a contrast to the darkness that seems to be growing and enveloping the world! World Youth Days reminds us that there is a response to darkness, an antidote to misery: faith in the love of God, revealed in Jesus Christ. It manifests in high relief that such faith opens our eyes to a good and noble vision of humanity, of authentic humanity. In Poland we have witnessed countless young people gathered in unity, joy and hope as they discovered and lived God’s vision for the humanity of which he is the author. Jesus Christ, fully God and fully human, reveals that we live our humanity completely and authentically when we deliberately choose not to eclipse God from our lives but to place him at the centre, and when we, in consequence, honour and respect one another as children of God.

In his homily at the closing mass on Sunday, Pope Francis called on the vast multitude to embrace the future with the hope that comes from Christ. He summoned them to become agents of a renewed humanity by being the bearers of the gaze of Jesus himself, a gaze that “seeks the way of unity and communion,” one that does not “halt at appearances, but looks to the heart.” His words of encouragement to the youth were striking: “With this gaze of Jesus, you can help bring about another humanity, without looking for acknowledgement but seeking goodness for its own sake, content to maintain a pure heart and to fight peaceably for honesty and justice. Don’t stop at the surface of things; distrust the worldly cult of appearances, cosmetic attempts to improve our looks. Instead, 'download' the best 'link' of all, that of a heart which sees and transmits goodness without growing weary. The joy that you have freely received from God, freely give away (cf. Mt. 10:8): so many people are waiting for it!”

Well, there it is: the way forward, the way of hope and joy. It is the way that springs from our encounter with the mercy of Christ, who by his love lifts up to view the beauty and dignity of every child of God and thus calls us to live together in mutual forgiveness, unity and peace. We are grateful to have been reminded of it by Pope Francis and by our young people. This is the way of real hope for a renewed humanity.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Lead By Example

Sharing and discussing faith with friends is a great joy. I learn a lot from them.

The other day, for example, i was speaking with a friend about the Gospel passage that was proclaimed at Mass on Sunday (cf. Luke: 11:1-13). It is the familiar account of Jesus teaching his disciples the “Our Father,” in response to their request that he teach them how to pray. My friend was drawn to that which prompted the disciples to make this request: they saw Jesus at prayer. Observing Jesus at prayer led them to ask how to do it. His example awakened in them the desire to know how to pray correctly.

This underscores the power of example to communicate and influence. It raises the question of our own example that we give to others. Christians are called to “give witness” before others. As Jesus himself taught us in the Sermon on the Mount: “You are the light of the world. …[Let] your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5: 14, 16) This happens most effectively when we demonstrate both by words and deeds that our lives have been touched and transformed by Jesus Christ. Among the most effective ways we can give witness to our faith is by the example of prayer. Because we believe, we pray.

Of course, we must be on guard that we do not give example in order that we be seen, i.e., in order to draw attention to ourselves. Vanity and pride can so easily creep in here. Indeed, Jesus himself warns agains this in the same Sermon: “And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” (Matthew 6: 5-6). Going into one’s “room” does not mean here some space in our homes. The Lord is teaching that prayer arises from the secret depths of our hearts, is fully known only by the Father, and is undertaken not in order to be seen by others but so as to give glory to God. Understood this way, it is possible to “go into our rooms” even when we are seen praying “on the street corners”.

What example of prayer is given in the home? Do children see their Dad at prayer? Do the kids see Mum praying? Do they ever witness Mum and Dad praying together? Kids notice everything, of course, and the observation of parents at prayer will surely awaken in the children the desire to do the same and to know how to do it.

What example of prayer is given outside the home? One time I was chatting with another friend, who asked, “Have you noticed that Catholics don’t go out to eat at restaurants any more?” He saw my eyebrows shoot up at that remark, so he explained what he meant. “I go out to eat at restaurants quite often,” he said,” and I never see anyone blessing themselves with the Sign of the Cross before they eat their meal.” Hmmm. Very good point. This is an opportunity to give example, to “let our light shine,” and point by our prayer to the One in whom we believe.

Let’s not hesitate to lead by visible example, especially as regards our prayer, so that our Father in heaven may be glorified.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Sorting Out Necessary from Unnecessary

As we ponder the Gospel we heard on Sunday (cf. Luke 10: 38-42), there arises one question that the Lord poses to each of us. It is a simple question, yet a challenging one: Who do you listen to?

The Gospel account recalls the visit of Jesus to the home of his friends, Mary, Martha and Lazarus. Martha is very busy with all the household work. Mary simply sits at the feet of Jesus and listens to what he has to say. Martha is really annoyed by this and complains to Jesus, who says very straightforwardly: "There is need of only one thing...Mary has chosen the better part."

The words Jesus spoke to Martha are meant for us as well. There is only one necessary thing. That one thing necessary is to make time and to listen carefully and obediently to what Jesus has to say to us.

Martha stands as a symbol for us in so many ways. Our lives are increasingly busy, hectic, sometimes frantic with activity. This constant and diverse activity springs from our very busy minds. Day in and day out we are bombarded with many voices and messages, all clamouring for our attention. We need think only of news reports, television and radio shows, Internet websites, magazines staring at us from the checkout counter, the various forms of social media: Facebook. Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram and now Pokemon GO (whatever that is!). Everything has its own message, telling us where we should direct our attention, what we should think, the opinions we should hold, and what our priorities really ought to be. This fracturing of our minds leads to lack of focus in our actions, and we can soon feel as if we are running around in circles, going nowhere and accomplishing nothing.

The one to whom I listen is the one to whom I give my trust. The one to whom I listen is the one that I allow to have a directive influence upon my life. For the Christian, the one trustworthy voice is the voice of Jesus. There is only one thing necessary, and that is to listen to the voice of Jesus Christ, who is God's Word made flesh in order to speak to us the words that lead to everlasting life.

This does not mean that there is to be no activity in the Christian life! Far from it. The point is that the actions we undertake are not of our own devising but spring from our contemplation of the Word of God and our commitment obediently to put that Word into practice. There needs to be something of Mary and Martha in each Christian life, i.e., both contemplation and action. The latter flows from the former.

From this other questions arise. What time do I make each day to listen carefully and deliberately to the words of Jesus? Am I so busy with unnecessary things, with distractions, that I take no time to spend with the Word of God? The disciple is one who listens, who makes time to "sit at the feet of Jesus" and listen obediently and lovingly to everything that he has to say to us.

In the light of this Gospel message, let's examine our lives and ask: Am I making time each day to read the Bible? It need be only five to ten minutes, reading just a few pages of Scripture at a time. Perhaps one way to do this is to read every day the Gospel passage assigned for the daily mass. Do I allow his Word to challenge me and transform my life? The important thing to establish is a pattern of listening to what Jesus has to say and putting his Word into practice. That is the one thing truly necessary for daily living. His is the only voice which we should hear and follow, because his is the only voice that leads to eternal life.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Holding It All Together

News reports are filled these days with evidence of an unravelling of the social fabric. Foremost recently is the string of shooting deaths in the United States. As we know, we are not immune to gun violence in Canada either. It leaves us deeply unsettled, feeling like things are pulling apart. Global developments are also unnerving, as for example when we see NATO allies uniting in response to Russian military manoeuvres, or as the insanity of terrorism continues to wreak terrible carnage. We witness all around us a tendency, even among friendly neighbours (e.g. Brexit), for nations and peoples to pull away from one another in mistrust and self-preservation.

The social fabric is under pressure at home in Canada, too. The legalization of assisted suicide and euthanasia is, in effect, the abandonment of the one sure principle that, if commonly heeded, can enable us to live together in community, i.e., respect for all human life and the conviction that no one life is more worth living than another, regardless of circumstance. Many families live with pressures and tensions that threaten their unity, and parents and children yearn deeply to keep the home together. Psychologically, individuals can have a hard time “holding it all together” when the difficulties of daily living just seem to be too much.

So, how do we hold it all together? We long to see an end to division on all levels, yet the unravelling just seems to keep on going. The answer to this dilemma comes to us in the Scripture readings that we heard on Sunday.

St. Paul, in his letter to the Colossians (cf. 1:15-20), teaches that, in Christ Jesus, “all things hold together”. In him God has been made visible to us; through him and for him God created “all things”. Jesus is both the centre and the meaning of human history. If all things hold together in him, then, apart from him, all things fall apart. When we can no longer hold it all together (and when have we been able to do that??!!), then it is clearly the time to return to the One who can.

Returning to Christ means acceptance in faith the truth that he is God made visible. This, in turn, requires an acceptance of the words he speaks. In fact, the words of his recorded in the Gospel passage from St. Luke (cf. 10: 25-37) provide the remedy for the illness that plagues us. In the familiar and well-beloved parable of the Good Samaritan, the man beaten, robbed and left for dead represents broken humanity. The Good Samaritan is Christ himself, who heals with the ointment of mercy. Obedience to His command to “go and do likewise” is the abiding antidote to the ever-present virus of division. Mercy heals; love unites. Bitterness separates; hatred divides. As Pope Francis recalls often in this Year of Mercy, the call of Christ is for all of us to be merciful as our Father in heaven is merciful.

This call is not impossible, because the Lord grants us the grace we need for its fulfillment. Moses foresaw this long ago when he said “Surely this commandment that I am commanding you today is not too hard for you, nor is it too far away.” (cf. Deuteronomy 30: 10-14.) God renders possible the life to which he calls us. That life is one of unity and peace, made possible by the gift of His mercy that he asks us to extend to one another. How do we hold it all together when forces threaten to tear us apart? Live by the grace and mercy of Jesus Christ.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Falling like Lightning

This striking expression is used by Jesus in the Gospel account from Luke that we heard proclaimed at Mass on Sunday. He is addressing his disciples, who have just returned from a mission. They had gone forth on the strength of his command, relying not on themselves or their own resources (“Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals”) but only on the power of his message that the kingdom of God has drawn near in him. They have now returned, rejoicing that “in your name even the demons submit to us!” 

In response Jesus replies, “I watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning.” (cf. Luke 10:17-20)

Jesus grants to his disciples a share in his mission. That mission, as put rather bluntly by St. John in his first letter, is “to destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:8). It is this victory over evil that Jesus sees unfolding in his contemplation of Satan falling like lightning as his disciples preach the kingdom in the power of his Word. That power won the decisive victory over the Evil One when Jesus, the Word made flesh, nailed humanity’s sin to the Cross and then rose triumphant from the grave. It remains for the grace of that victory to reach human hearts via the Church’s preaching of the Word and the celebration of the sacraments.

This passage from St. Luke is a wonderful source of encouragement and hope for the Church of every age. Throughout history, and still in our own day, the surrender of human hearts to sin plays no small part in causing terrible human suffering and dark moral confusion. By times it can seem as if this darkness has the upper hand, and it can be tempting to get discouraged. Yet Jesus is teaching us here that the “ruler of this world” is no match for the King of heaven and earth (cf. John 12:31), whose Word echoes in the preaching of the community of his disciples. His victory ultimately cannot be thwarted. Since the mission in which he has a granted us a participation is his, and since he remains always with us, our call is to remain steadfast and confident as we follow him in faith, preach his Word with fidelity, and give witness in our own lives to the transformative power of his love.

The Scripture passage also contains a salutary warning. Jesus cautions against looking for success. When the disciples return to him they are rejoicing in what they saw as a “success”, namely, the submission of the demons to them. But Jesus tells them not to rejoice in that but in the fact that “your names are written in heaven.” We live in a culture of “deliverables”, “measurables” and “outcomes”. Against these standards of human logic and measure we rate the success or failure of various endeavours. This can engender the temptation to “measure” the “success” of our ministry. That judgment, however, belongs only to God. I am reminded here of the famous saying of Mother Teresa: “God has not called me to be successful; He has called me to be faithful.” The source of our joy is that we are called by the Lord, a call in virtue of which our “names are written in heaven”. That is enough, more than enough, to give birth to true joy in our hearts. So let us be faithful and joyful, trusting at all times that the grace of the Lord’s victory is at work in and through us, even when our work may not seem particularly “successful”.

Monday, June 27, 2016


More than once I have witnessed a scene that, I am sure, many others have seen also. I can remember at least two occasions when I saw a young parent walking hand in hand with a very young child. In one hand the parent held that of the youngster. In the other hand was a smartphone. Can you guess where the parent’s attention was directed? Of course … the smartphone. Very sad, really. The unspoken message being given to the child is that she is less important at that moment than whatever message is coming across the smartphone. The parent was allowing the device to become a distraction from something of obviously far greater importance, namely, the little child.

The Scripture readings for last Sunday challenge us to look at the distractions that we allow to creep into our lives, those things that take our attention away from what is of greatest importance. In a sense they ask, “What is our smartphone?” “What do we need to put down or put away in order to fix our attention on what is most precious?

The Gospel account from Luke (9:51-62) tells us that Jesus “set his face to go to Jerusalem”. It is a small phrase full of meaning. To set one’s face means to follow with firm resolution a particular path or direction, allowing of no distraction. Jerusalem is the place where he was to die and rise; the city, in other words, where he was to fulfill the destiny given him by his heavenly Father. At all times, not just in this episode recalled for us, Jesus was focused only on fulfilling the will of his heavenly Father. Nothing could distract him from that; nothing was more important; nothing was more precious.

And we are his followers. We are a people who have been given a destiny in Christ: eternal life. The life we live on earth is a pilgrimage under grace to the fulfillment of this destiny. We, too, are called to “set our face”, to be firmly resolute, in the pursuit of this goal. But, oh how we allow the distractions to creep in! In so many ways we “lift up the smartphone" and allow it to distract our attention away from the goal of eternal life that has been “placed in our hands,” as it were, by the gift of Jesus Christ.

St. Paul helps us to understand this. In the passage we heard from his letter to the Galatians (5:1, 13-18), he teaches that the path we are to follow with firm resolution is that of love. “[The] whole law,” he tells us, “ is summed up in a single commandment, ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’” He explains that this path of love is the way of self-gift and self-sacrifice for the sake of the other, for the sake of the communion that God wills there to be among all people. Yet we allow self-indulgence to get in the way. To paraphrase, time and again we lift up the smartphone of selfishness and self-absorption such that its very enticing messages distract us away from what we should be doing: loving one another.

The consequences of this distraction of self-concern are dramatic and tragic. It causes division in the home as family members place individual pursuits ahead of their duty in love to each another. It gives birth to divisions and inequities in society as concern for the common good gives way to idolatrous worship of the autonomous self. It engenders fear and defensiveness among nations, as borders and walls are prized more highly than communion among cultures.

God’s Word is a clarion call to put down the “smartphone”, to put away from our lives all that distracts us from our destiny of eternal life. It summons us to do away with self-indulgence and to set our faces toward the immediate duty of loving one another as Christ has commanded us to do.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Internally Displaced

This blog is posted on World Refugee Day, 2016. The day lifts up to the world and its governments the heartbreaking plight of millions of men, women and children around the globe who have had to flee home and country to escape violence and persecution. To global efforts, the Church adds its own charitable works, undergirding everything with prayer to God that hearts and minds be stirred everywhere to work for peace and justice for all.

Among the refugees are countless persons designated as "internally displaced." They have had to flee home and town yet remain within their country's borders. They are caught in a kind of "no man's land," since the rescue efforts undertaken by nations often will focus solely on those who have crossed frontiers and thus qualify for the official designation "refugee". Yet these people suffer no less than others, indeed, perhaps even more, since they have yet to reach safe haven and danger to life follows them closely. May they, too, and find real help and rescue!

This special day can also serve to highlight a challenge that we face in our own homes. I've often thought that the term "internally displaced" and "refugee" can apply analogously to many family situations today. When I visit schools, I see children showing signs of their own internal displacement as, for example, when they come to school early and stay late because they find it safer or more comfortable at school than at home. Without leaving family, there is an "internal displacement" from a happy home life. Family dysfunction can leave people experiencing a kind of "refugee status" even while remaining within their own walls.

The millions of refugees in motion around our planet struggle mightily to keep their families together. Their sorry plight moves us to do all that we can to help them, as we must. Let's keep in mind also the families in our own country who need our prayers. May they, too, receive healing and a "return to home".

Monday, June 13, 2016

What’s My Distance?

I played a round of golf the other day. One of the men in our group was wearing a watch that served also as a GPS. Extraordinary technology! For each hole it indicated the distances to the front, middle and back of the green. I usually try to judge those distances myself, with the help of yardage makers on the ground. Yet seldom am I right! So, it wasn’t long before I began to ask the GPS-touting player what my distance to the green really was. Invariably that day, I was told by the GPS that I was actually much farther from the target than I had thought. It enabled me to adjust my game accordingly.

How far are we from the most important “target” of all, i.e., the kingdom of God? How do we make that assessment? By our own estimation or with the help of a “GPS”, something that can pinpoint with accuracy our position and indicate to us how we are to adjust our lives?

The Gospel for Sunday recounted the story of the visit of Jesus to the home of a Pharisee. While dinner was taking place, a woman entered, and crying copious tears anointed the feet of Jesus. The words of the Lord served like a GPS to position each of these individuals accurately in terms of their proximity to God.

The Pharisee was one who judged himself on the basis of his relation to the law of God. Because he followed the dictates of the law, he assessed himself to be very close to the target, to be righteous in the sight of God. When he hears the words of Jesus, he finds, though, that he is further away, by a wide margin, than he had thought.

Jesus directs his attention to the woman, whose tears were ones of repentance, joy and love. She has been greatly forgiven, Jesus says, and so she is able to love greatly. He is indicating her closeness to God, that she is very near indeed to the “target”, because both her tears and her actions indicate that she has been touched and transformed by the mercy of God.

The Christian life is not one of merely external observance of laws. Of course, there are precepts that we must follow. They are given to us by God and handed on through the Church as a light to guide our path. We draw near to the target, however, when our external observance is reflective of an interior transformation of heart, when, under God’s grace, we realize our sinfulness, our great distance from God, and allow his love to reach us as mercy and forgiveness.

In a world that exalts self-absorption and absolute autonomy, the temptation to self-assessment on the basis of our own perceptions is very strong. But that assessment is likely wrong. We need that GPS which is the Word of God, the Word that became flesh in Jesus Christ, if we are to know our accurate position in relationship to God. Let us stay close to Jesus, allow his Word to situate us, and adjust our lives accordingly.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Pray for Canada

The contrast in message is dramatic. On June 6th, 2016, the ruling of the Supreme Court of Canada legalizing assisted suicide and euthanasia as a response to human suffering comes into effect. The ruling contains within itself the message that there are some lives less worth living than others. The day prior, Churches throughout the world echoed with the teaching from Sacred Scripture that God responds to suffering with the gift of life. Implicit in this doctrine is the message that every life matters.

Three passages of the Bible recounted God's desire and power to restore the dead to life: the restoration of a dead child through the prophet Elijah (1Kings 17.17-21a, 22-24) and by Jesus himself (Luke 7.11-17), as well as St Paul's account of the new life that he, having died through sin, had received from his encounter with the Risen Lord (Galatians 1:11-19). To those who suffer, God responds with the gift of life. The response of the Canadian Supreme Court and (soon) the Canadian Parliament is death. Scripture thus makes very clear that the only mindset that can justify assisted suicide and euthanasia, and even hold them up as a good, is one from which any reference to the compassion and mercy of God, and consideration of God's will for his people in need, has been excluded.

We must be careful not to adopt this atheistic mindset as our own. Turning away from God leads inevitably to not only people turning against one another (e.g. legalizing euthanasia) but also individuals against themselves (e.g. normalization of suicide). We can do better than this! These choices for death follow naturally from the understanding that reality is what I make it to be, the product of my own (very limited) consciousness. When we allow God and his love to enlighten reality, our vision expands infinitely. We see that responding to suffering by killing the one who suffers is beneath our dignity as human beings. We become aware of our enormous potential as members of one human family under God to live as God would have us live and as his grace makes possible: together; in solidarity; ready to suffer with our suffering brothers and sisters; moved by the truth that every life matters and is worthy of being lived until its natural end.

As I said at the opening of our holy door to launch the Year of Mercy, by the legalization of assisted suicide and euthanasia, Canada is opening a very unholy door. It is a door of astonishing arrogance, fashioned on the presumption that we can judge the quality of another's life or determine on our own when life is no longer worth living. It claims to be a door of mercy, when in fact it is one that opens onto a room with no floor, a vast abyss in which fundamental respect for the sanctity of human life falls away and the weak and vulnerable are left with no sure foothold. Even though the State may open this door, we must be clear that it should remain solidly closed and have nothing to do with it.

Pray for our country. We are fashioning a culture of death and despair. This need not be. By allowing our minds to be enlightened anew by Christ and our actions by his grace, we can create instead a civilization of life and hope.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Learning Again How to Die

The month of May draws to a close. In the Catholic tradition, this month, together with October, is a time to highlight our devotion to Mary, the Mother of Our Lord. Yet this is a tradition with an importance that overflows the bounds of Catholicism to confront with hope and meaning the troubling trends of our society.

Mary's universal significance was brought home to me simply and directly by the prayer of a priest last November. We were together with many fellow pilgrims on a journey to the Holy Land. Among the sites we visited was the Church of the Dormition, the place honouring Mary's "falling asleep" in death and subsequent Assumption - body and soul - into heaven. At that place we prayed together the "Hail Mary", which ends with this petition to her maternal intercession: "...pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death." Afterward, the priest told me that he found himself spontaneously praying to Our Blessed Mother that she "teach us how to die!"

I knew right away what he meant. In Canada we are having to deal with the legalization of assisted suicide and euthanasia. This represents the adoption of a new and frightening approach to death. What have always been considered grave evils and sins against the love of God - suicide and the intentional killing of the innocent - are now being normalized and held up as good in response to human suffering. Clearly, we have forgotten how to die. This amnesia gives rise to the presumption that we can pre-determine the time and method of our death, and effect it on our own terms.

The Catholic tradition speaks unhesitatingly of a "happy death" or a "good death". In fact, the Church has for centuries prayed for this at night prayer to conclude each day: "May the all-powerful Lord grant us a restful night and a peaceful death (in Latin: perfect end)." God makes our death "happy" or "good" when we allow him, by his mercy, to prepare us for that moment. This preparation is not to be understood as occurring only "at the last moment" but also as unfolding throughout our entire lives.

This means that, if we have forgotten how to die, it is because we have, first of all, forgotten how to live. The life God creates and intends for us is lived fully only in loving relationship with him. Mary serves as the perfect model of such a life. When we allow this love, revealed in Christ and poured out in the gift of the Holy Spirit, to take root in our hearts and blossom through prayer, obedience, worship, witness and charity, then we grow in the life that God wills for each of his creatures - we truly live. Living rightly and fully means surrendering with trust to God's saving will and purpose at each moment and in every circumstance. The moment of death is no exception. Indeed, death is the final act of surrender to God and of trust in his love. We give expression to this trust by allowing it to occur at a time of God's choosing, not our own. Such a death is, truly, a happy one. It is the exact opposite of one used as a final expression of self-assertion and self-determination.

Mary, our Mother, do, indeed, we pray, teach us how to die by teaching us first how to live.