Set Your Parish on Fire

Sacred Heart 20It’s been a while –– I’ve stopped writing our my homilies and recording them has been a bit challenging, so there hasn’t been much to post. I’ll work on it. In the meantime, I’ve added some other audio files.

Last week I gave a Parish Lenten Mission for Holy Family Parish in St. Albert, Alberta based around the book Divine Renovation and the current need for Parish transformation –– moving toward a missionary dynamic in the Parish. The Mission took place on March 5 & 6 (2018). Below are the two talks.

Talk 1 (45 mins.)

Talk 2 (73 mins.)

I welcome your feedback. Enjoy!


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Homily – The Flesh vs. The Spirit (Sunday OT 14 A)

Zech 9:9-10
Ps 145       R/. I will bless your name for ever, my king and my God.
Rom 8:9, 11-13
Mt 11:25-30

In our second reading today, St. Paul reminds us: Brothers and sisters: You are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit (Rom 8:9). Flesh and Spirit — St. Paul uses these images to symbolise the internal struggle of the Christian: the battle against our tendency to sin. This is a major theme in Paul’s letters.

But he’s not using this to make a commentary on the body, as if to say that the body — or material reality — is bad and only the spiritual is good. He’s using these words to symbolise deeper realities. For Paul, the flesh symbolises the life of sin (elsewhere he calls it the ‘spirit of the world’), and the Spirit symbolises the life of grace.

St. Paul is trying to help us understand the spiritual struggle that lies in each of our hearts. Deep within us, due to original sin, is the tendency to sin — what we call, concupiscence —, and if we look closely at this tendency and where it points, it becomes easy for us to see why St. Paul clumps it all in together under the name the flesh. Our tendency to sin is always directly to pleasure: be it lust, gluttony, greed, pride, anger, sloth or envy, each of these deals with a certain sense of the pleasures of the body. That’s pretty obvious when it comes to lust, gluttony and sloth, but it’s also true of the others. Greed, for example, is really just a lust for money or material things. And pride is really about puffing one’s own ego to make ourselves bigger than we really are. That’s why we give it bodily terms? (i.e., ‘You’re so full of yourself’, or ‘What a fat head’, etc.). These sinful attractions are what St. Paul means by the flesh, and they’re something toward which each of us leans because of original sin.

But St. Paul seeks to remind the Romans (and us, too!), that we’re not slaves to these fleshly desires. No, we’ve been redeemed by Christ! In Baptism, our fleshliness (these sinful tendencies) was put to death on the Cross so that we could receive new life in Christ through the Holy Spirit. This is why St. Paul tells us, You are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit.

We’ve been claimed by Christ, and it’s His Spirit that now dwells in us. We’re no longer ‘fleshly’ beings, but born of the Spirit. And it’s this life in the Holy Spirit that ought to direct our lives, not our base inclinations to sin, our concupiscence. That’s why we need to do battle with our tendency to sin, so that the life of grace we received in Baptism can continue and grow even stronger. Because, as St. Paul rightly says, if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live (Rom 8:13).

Jesus has redeemed us by His Death, and He continues to save us through the forgiveness of sins in Confession, not so that we might continue to die according to the desires of the flesh, but so that we might live according to the grace of the Holy Spirit.

That’s why in the spiritual life we often speak of ‘dying to self’. To die to self doesn’t mean that we become disinterested in ourselves and allow ourselves to be victimised by the sinfulness of others. Rather, it means that we struggle against our desire for sin so that we can truly live according to God’s love as His sons and daughters. It means that we must chose to abandon certain practices, certain likes, certain ways of living — that’s the dying part — so that we can remain faithful to God’s commandments.

We have to let go of our sinful habits, and even grow to hate them, so that we can choose to act in love instead of selfishness. And we call it dying because it’s not easy and often feels like we’re dying when we change our ways. It costs us something. In order to receive the grace God has in store for us, we first have to let go of what we’re already holding. That’s why Jesus said in last Sunday’s Gospel, those who lose their life for my sake will find it (Mt 10:39).

This, my brothers and sisters, is what God has hidden from the wise and the intelligent but has revealed to little infants (cf. Mt 11:25). We are called to die to sin, to die to self, so as to live for and with Christ. That’s why it’s so important for us to be constantly examining our hearts: are we living according to the flesh, or according to the Spirit? And this is why it’s so important for us to be constantly repenting of our sinfulness and clinging to God’s mercy and grace. Because we can’t win this battle for ourselves, we can only win if we allow the Holy Spirit to take over, to heal and to lead us in the ways of God. No, we are not of the flesh; we are of the Spirit, and therefore we must live by the Holy Spirit.

Breathe into us, Holy Spirit, that our thoughts may all be holy.
Move in us, Holy Spirit, that our work, too, may be holy.
Attract our hearts, Holy Spirit, that we may love only what is holy.
Strengthen us, Holy Spirit, that we may defend all that is holy.
Protect us, Holy Spirit, that we may always be holy (cf. St. Augustine).


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Homily – Funeral for Shamus Martin

Last week I had what was perhaps the most difficult funeral I’ve ever had. One of our parishioners, a middle-aged and beloved man, took his own life. We’ll never really understand why he did this, but we trust in God’s mercy and turn to Jesus in prayer and in sorrow. The following is the homily I gave for Shamus’ funeral. May he rest in peace.

Loneliness… Have you ever noticed how lonely people are? And I don’t just mean today; people have always been lonely, though I think it’s more severe in our time than it was before. Have you ever wondered why that is, why people are lonely? If you take time to think about, and are honest about it, you’ll come to see that everyone is lonely. Yes, absolutely everyone is lonely.

The great rock icon Freddie Mercury once said: “You can have everything in the world and still be the loneliest man. And that is the most bitter type of loneliness, success has brought me world idolisation and millions of pounds. But it’s prevented me from having the one thing we all need: A loving, ongoing relationship” (Rock On Freddie, 1985).

You see, that’s because loneliness isn’t a disease, it’s at the heart of the human condition. From the very beginning of Creation, man has felt a certain loneliness, a need for an ‘other’. God Himself said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him (Gen 2:18). And so God created the animals. But that didn’t suit the man. Then God created woman, and the two became one flesh.

When God created us in His own image and likeness, He created us for union with an ‘other’. Just as God is in Himself a communion of three Divine Persons, so too, has humanity been created for communion. We’ve been created with the need for others, and not just in a marital way, but with the need for deep personal communion with others; it’s part of our design.

Unfortunately, the great tragedy of original sin broke down communion: it broke communion with God, with others, with Creation, and even with ourselves. And it didn’t just break down communion, but even broke down our ability for communion. The joy and oneness of communion now became a sense of isolation and loneliness.

And yet, we still long for communion, we still need this communion, because it’s what we’ve been created for. Now, however, we just can’t seem to achieve it; the other person always remains ‘other’. This is the great misery of the human person.

Well, it’s into this misery that God entered by becoming a man in Jesus Christ. Jesus entered into this misery, lived it out, and even went into its very depths through His Passion on the Cross. Remember His cry on the Cross? My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? (Mt 27:46). Or the Lamentation we sing on Good Friday: Look and see if there is any sorrow like my sorrow (Lam 1:12b) Jesus entered into the abyss of human loneliness — further, I think, than any of us can even imagine —, deep into the darkness of despair. And He did this so that He might be there with us, in the deepest recesses of our loneliness. He did this so that no one could ever say that they’re too far from God to be saved. As Jesus said, the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost (Lk 19:10; cf. Mt 18:11).

Jesus has gone to the ends, not of the world, but of being in order to save His lost sheep. This, my brothers and sisters, if God’s mercy! This is how deeply He loves us and desires for us to be with Him. Because the truth of the matter is that while our ability for communion has been compromised by sin, His has not. While our loved ones will always remain distant and separate from us, Jesus makes Himself one with us! This is why He became man. This is why He died on the Cross. This is why He continues to call us to Himself.

Yes, loneliness is at the heart of the human condition, and it will never be completely gone, but Jesus invites us to a unique personal relationship with Him that transcends our limitations, even in this life. We need not hide our loneliness from Him, but rather we need to bring it to Him, because only He can truly understand it. Part of what keeps us apart from one another in this life is that we can’t ‘get inside’ of one another; we can’t read each other’s minds, each other’s hearts. The other person forever remains a mystery, especially if they put up barriers. As the actor Robin Williams once said, “All it takes is beautiful fake smile to hide an injured soul and they will never notice how broken you really are”. But we can’t hide this from God, because He knows the depths of our hearts, He knows our brokenness better than we do.

But we shouldn’t hide our loneliness from each other either. Instead, we ought to come together before the Lord in our misery, in our deepest longing for communion. Because in doing so we not only find solace in one another, but we find friendship in Christ, friendship through Christ, which leads to communion with one another. And that, my brothers and sisters, is the heart of the Church! Brothers and sisters who come to Jesus, together in their woundedness, together in their loneliness, together in their brokenness to find strength and hope in Him, and companionship with one another.

While we all face loneliness, no one should face it alone — in fact, no one does face it alone, but Jesus is always with us; in the depth of our brokenness, in the depth of our suffering, in the depth of our darkness, He is there, waiting for us, waiting to bring His light and His grace, waiting to bring us together to the Father. May we never forget — no matter how lonely we may feel — that we’re never alone: Jesus is here. Amen.

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Our Lady of Canada, Pray for us! (Homily – Sunday OT 13 A)


Our Lady of Canada, by Marius Dubois, in the Basilique Notre Dame, Montréal.

2 Kgs 4:8-12a, 14-16
Ps 89   R/. Forever I will sing of your steadfast love, O Lord.
Rom 6:3-4, 8-11
Mt 10:37-42

I remember a conversation I had with my dad years ago, when I was beginning to discern my call to the Priesthood. At the time I was still dating a young lady, and we were talking about the possibility of Marriage, and I asked my dad how I could love God above all else and still love a wife with my whole heart. He answered that in Marriage a husband loves God above all things by loving God through his wife.

This hits to the core of our Gospel message today, as the Lord challenges us to love Him above all else: Whoever loves father or mother [son or daughter] more than me is not worthy of me (Mt 10:37). Jesus isn’t exaggerating to make a point here; rather He’s simply recalling the 1st Commandment and the great “shema Israel”, Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might (Dt 6:4).

Jesus is warning us against making others the first object of our love and attention. He’s warning us not to be attached to His gifts, but to Him. Our parents, our children, our families, these are all gifts from God. They’re indeed great gifts to be treasured, but not treasured more than the Giver Himself. Instead, like my father explained, we’re called to love God through them by recognising that they are in fact treasured gifts given by God. The love we owe to our families, and anyone else for that matter, must be a love that is first and foremost directed to God. To love our families and friends with gratitude to God means that we understand them to be gifts from Him and opportunities to love Him through loving them.

It all comes down to where our hearts, minds and lives are focussed. It’s about not making people or things into idols, but keeping God first in our lives. It’s a question of what we make the priority in our lives.

It’s a beautiful message for us to receive as we celebrate the 150th anniversary of our country, a country that was founded on this very principle. In 1534, when Jacques Cartier first landed on the Canadian mainland, he planted a Cross on the shore. He did this to claim Canada for the King of France, but also as a symbol of claiming it for Christ. He could have easily placed the King’s flag or some other royal symbol, but instead he chose the Cross, claiming this land in way similar to when we greet a child for Baptism and claim him for Christ by the Sign of the Cross. From the very beginnings of colonialisation, what was to become Canada has been dedicated to Jesus by this great symbol of the Cross.

This was echoed in the 1982 Constitution, which begins by stating, “Canada is founded upon the principles that recognize the supremacy of God and the rule of law”. And again in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which lists the freedom of conscience and religion as the first freedom of its citizens.

Sadly, today we seem to have forgotten this root of our nation. Instead of being oriented to God, we’ve changed our focus to the self. God is no longer given the supremacy; love of self is now supreme. And I dare say that we’ve made the modern ideas of individualism and self-determination the idols of our day. This is why abortion, sexual immorality, euthanasia, and recreational drug use are being so strongly promoted today. It’s all about the self, all about making the self the focus of our lives. Well, if Jesus says that loving others more than Him makes us unworthy to be His disciples, how much more will we be unworthy of Him if self-love, self-worship, is supreme?

In today’s Gospel, Jesus calls us to examine the priorities and orientations of our life: are we pointing to Him, or to something else? We need to orient ourselves to Christ, individually and societally. We must again recognise that supremacy belongs to God, and to God alone.

That’s why the Catholic Bishops of Canada have decided to re-consecrate our country to Mary, and are doing so this weekend to coincide with Canada’s anniversary. We need to get back to our Catholic roots, and one of the best ways to do that is to turn to Mary. Just as Mary brought Jesus into this world, so too can she bring us back to Him. By staying close to Mary, our Mother, she can help us to receive Jesus in a deeper way and to follow Him more perfectly.

This is the purpose of Marian consecration. By consecrating ourselves to Mary, we consecrate ourselves to Jesus through her. Just as Mary’s life was set-apart for Jesus, so too, by consecration to her, are our lives set-apart for Jesus in imitation of her. It’s a commitment to follow in her footsteps as the perfect disciple of Jesus, who calls us to Do whatever He tells [us] (Jn 2:5).

With this consecration, we also ask for Mary’s intercession and protection for ourselves and for our country: that she who is destined to crush the serpent’s head will also defeat what St. Paul calls the spirit of this world, so that Christ may reign in our hearts and in our country.

May we, then, express love of our country by renewing our love of Jesus through Mary by calling upon her to pray for us and to lead us into the ways of love, that we may truly love God above all things, with all our heart, mind, soul and strength. Like Mary, may it be done to us according to God’s Word (cf. Lk 1:38). Our Lady of Canada, pray for us. Amen.

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Pastor’s Message – The Sunday Obligation

Since the Parish bulletin isn’t up yet, I thought I would post this here.

As you know, the Church places on all the baptised the obligation to attend Mass on all Sundays and holy days of obligation (Catechism, no. 1389; Canon Law, no. 1247). This is a serious obligation, which God instituted for our own good (3rd Commandment), and which the Church continues in fidelity to God’s will. Moreover, in her maternal love for us, she knows that we need (as a minimum) to be nourished weekly by the Word of God and the Eucharist in order to avoid grave sin and remain spiritually alive.

By this the Church reminds us that participation in the Sunday Mass is the foundation of our ‘practice of the faith’, the source of every other prayer, devotion and spiritual exercise we undertake, and that these other activities are directed to the Mass as to their goal (Catechism, no. 1324). Without the Sunday Mass, all of other aspects of the spiritual life fall flat.

So serious is this obligation that to intentionally or neglectfully miss Sunday Mass is a mortal sin. Again, this is because she desires us to be holy and knows how much we need God’s grace. However, there are circumstances in which this holy obligation cancelled. Canon Law lists two: the absence of a Priest, and, another grave cause (Can. 1248).

The absence of a Priest is an obvious reason: no Priest = no Mass. But what about another grave cause? The Oxford Dictionary defines grave as, “giving cause for alarm”. The Church has always understood that a ‘just cause’ for missing Sunday Mass must be something of the utmost importance.

The usual examples of ‘grave cause’ are: serious illness, caring for the sick, impossibility of transportation, emergencies, the necessity to work to support one’s family, or severe weather. (It does not, however, include convenience, the presence of guests or other such instances.)

In such grave cases, the obligation to attend Mass is not transferred to another day or even to a Liturgy of the Word; it simply ceases. Again, this is due to the Church’s maternal care for her children: the Church doesn’t obligate us to do the impossible.

I write about this because winter is already upon us and it’s expected to be long a harsh this year. It is very likely that on some weekends we might experience severe weather or dangerous driving conditions. If Mass is cancelled due to weather, or if the roads in your area are too dangerous, please stay at home. If it’s too dangerous for the Priest, it’s too dangerous for you. Do not put yourself or your family at risk, especially on a Saturday night; this isn’t the kind of heroism the Church desires of us. If roads are better on Sunday morning, come to Mass then. If not, then in such situations, the Sunday obligation is lifted and you do not sin by staying home.

However, the Church’s mercy in such grave circumstances should never be taken lightly. We must always be careful not to become loose in our interpretation of ‘grave cause’ or lax in our obligation to attend Mass.

If it becomes impossible to attend Mass, I encourage you to spend time in prayer, especially as a family; it is still the Lord’s Day, even if you can’t attend Mass. Read the readings for that Sunday, meditate on them and discuss them. Offer some prayers of intercession — especially for better weather and for safety —, and pray the Rosary. In this way, while Mass may not be possible, you will still spend time with the Lord and grow in faith and in grace.

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Homily – Sunday OT 25 C

Amos 8:4-7 Ps 113       R/. Praise the Lord who lifts up the needy. 1 Tim 2:1-7 Lk 16:1-13

Once again this week in our second reading St. Paul proclaims the core of the kerygma, the heart of the Good News: Jesus desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of truth (1 Tim 2:4). No one is left out of Jesus’ invitation to experience His love and mercy: all are invited! This, after all, was His very mission: to redeem the whole world.

But as we hear in the Gospel, the Lord warns us that if we’re not careful, we won’t be able to respond to His invitation: You cannot serve God and wealth (Lk 16:13). We cannot serve two masters; our hearts cannot be divided between the pleasures of this world and the love of God. If we choose Jesus, then we must give our whole selves to Him, not just one part.

This is why elsewhere the Lord reminds us that our actions matter; the way we live our life matters. Our daily choices and actions are called to reflect our faith in Jesus. If we’re faithful to the love and mercy He gives us, then we will choose according to what brings us closer to Him. But if we choose selfishly, then that’s what we’re building, and we’ll grow more distant from Him.

This is why our Lord calls us to be faithful in the little things, because the little things set our course and will strengthen or weaken our ability to be faithful in the greater things. No one sets out to be a murderer, but arrives there based on a series of selfish choices that increasingly makes the other person irrelevant, unimportant and disposable.

Similarly, no one will wash a dying leper out of love like St. Mother Teresa without all of the smaller actions in loving God and others that build up our capacity to love in this way: forgiveness, patience, letting go of our own way so that we can follow the way of another, etc.

This, again, is what St. Paul is recalling for us when he says, Christ Jesus … gave Himself a ransom for all (1 Tim 2:5, 6). Jesus willingly gave of Himself, put Himself in second place, so that He might be able to do the Father’s will and offer us salvation. He humbled Himself, as Paul says elsewhere (Phil 2:6). And it’s precisely this humility that allowed Jesus to be faithful to the Father’s love, and offer Himself up for our salvation out love for us.

Likewise, it’s humility that opens our hearts to respond to Christ’s invitation to repent and receive His mercy and forgiveness. And it’s humility, rooted in love, that leads us to put aside the ways of selfishness so that we can choose Jesus and give Him our whole and undivided heart. For there is [only] one God and He desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of truth (1 Tim 2:5, 4). Jesus died for each one of us; He desires to forgive and to save each one of us, because He loves us. Do we love Him enough in return to change our lives to be faithful to His love?

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Homily – Sunday OT 22 C

Sir 3:17-20, 28-29
Ps 68   R/. In your goodness, O God, you provided for the needy.
Heb 12:18-19, 22-24a
Lk 14:1, 7-14

Have you ever asked yourself why you come to church? I don’t mean here the reason, as in ‘I have an obligation’ or ‘because it’s important to me’, but rather the purpose, as in ‘what do I come here for’, or ‘why is it important to me’. Have you ever pondered on that? I ask because I think this is part of what’s behind the passage from the Letter to the Hebrews we have as our second reading today.

In speaking about true worship, the author contrasts the experience of God in the first Covenant with that of the New Covenant. If you remember, during the Exodus, when the people gathered at Mount Sinai, God came to them from the mountain in fire and smoke, in thunderclaps and loud trumpet blasts (Ex 19:16-20; Deut 4:11). No one but Moses and his helper were allowed to go near the mountain, lest they die. This is what our passage recalls:

a blazing fire, and darkness, and gloom, and a tempest, and the sound of a trumpet, and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that not another word may be spoken to them (Heb 18-19).

In this beginning of the Covenant, God revealed Himself to the people with power and grandeur to help them understand that He is ‘totally other’ — He is transcendent, greater than and above all things in the universe. He did this as a way to help them to experience the nothingness of their idols: there is no one like me in all the earth, says the Lord (Ex 9:14). This taught the Israelites to respect the Lord, to approach Him with fear and trembling, not merely out of being scared, but especially out of reverence for His power and greatness. God is not our equal; He is so far above us, so much greater than we can even imagine.

Sadly, this is where many people remain in their understanding or experience of God. God is fearsome; He is great and terrible (Deut 7:21, Neh 4:14; cf. Deut 10:17, Sir 43:29). Or, He is far away, beyond our access. But this is not where the Bible stops revealing God, and it’s not where the author of the Letter to the Hebrews stops either!

But you have come to Mount Zion — in contrast to Mount Sinai described above — …you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable Angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven (Heb 12:22-23).

Through Jesus, this awe-inspiring and transcendent God hasn’t remained on the mountain hidden in fire and thunder and smoke. No! In fact, He has come down to us! Jesus became one of us so that we might be able to have a true and real relationship with Him; that we might be able to draw near to Him without fear of death. In Jesus, God is not only made visible, but He’s made present. For the Letter to the Hebrews, this is the image of Mount Zion (another name for Jerusalem).

It’s no longer just Moses and his helper who can approach God, but each and every person, because God is with us! He’s in our midst! We’re no longer clouded with fear and trembling, as it were, but covered with hope and joy.

And this, my brothers and sisters, is what ought to bring us to Mass each Sunday: the joy of being able to see God, to hear Him and to be with Him, face to face in the Eucharist, and the joy of being gathered together as God’s own people. Our purpose at Mass is to worship the Lord, to be nourished by Him and to be drawn into Him, and through Him, into each other, all of us becoming one in Christ. This is how Jesus makes us His, and how we become increasingly made perfect by His grace.

But lest we become to casual with Him, lest we forget the awesomeness of God, His grandeur and power — which haven’t disappeared; the God of the New Testament is not soft, cushy, fluffy love —, lest we forget the majesty and otherness of God, the author of Hebrews reminds us that despite our invitation to approach God and draw near to Him, He is nonetheless the judge of all (Heb 12:23).

Yes, Jesus wants us to be in a relationship with Him, to be close to Him, but we must never forget that He is God and we are not. We are not entitled to be in a relationship with God, but greatly honoured by His invitation, because in doing so, He lowers Himself to us — He humbles Himself, as St. Paul reminds us (cf. Phil 2:6-11) — and He raises to Himself those who turn away from their sins to live as His people.

And this, my brothers and sisters, is the purpose of coming to church on Sundays. We gather here at God’s invitation to acknowledge our sins, our littleness in His presence, but with the hope and joy that comes from His desire to forgive us and transform us with His grace. We gather because God invites us to be in relationship with Him, to be one with Him, and through Him with each other. May this condescension of God stir within us, then, a greater reverence for Him and a stronger desire to love Him in return. May we come to Mass to meet Jesus, and being with Him, meet each other, as we worship Almighty God and are nourished by His Word and Eucharist. Amen.

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