Monthly Archives: November 2013

Homily – Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, year C

Once again, this weekend, our Deacon is preaching, so here is my homily from last year.  While the readings are different than this year’s B cycle, the message will still be appropriate.

Dan 7:13-14
Ps 23   R/.  The Lord is King; He is robed in majesty.
Rev 1:5-8
Jn 18:33b-37

Today we’re reaching the end of the liturgical year — next week we’ll begin Advent —, and on this final Sunday of Ordinary Time the Church invites us to celebrate the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe.

This beautiful feast is a reminder of what we’re called to do in our lives as Christians, and of our goal in following Christ.  We’re called to order our lives so as to build the Kingdom of God in this world, and called to share in the glory of God for eternity in the next.  That’s why the Church put this feast on the last Sunday of the liturgical year, because that’s what we’re journeying towards: Christ’s reign.  But she’s also placed it just before Advent because that’s the time when we anticipate the Lord’s return.

When he created this feast in 1925, Pope Pius XI spoke of the three powers of a king: to make laws, to judge, and to govern.  Christ established the law by commanding us to love God and to love one another as He loved us (cf. Jn 13:34).  As today’s second reading implies, when He returns in glory, Jesus will judge all peoples, calling to account each tribe.  Then, having completed His Kingdom, Christ will rule for all eternity.

Consequently, then, our duty as His disciples is this: we must be good and faithful citizens of God’s Kingdom, here and now.  This is how we build up the Kingdom of God on earth.  But if we’re to build up His Kingdom and spread the Gospel, then Christ must first rule in our own lives.  As Pope Pius XI said, when establishing the feast:

“He must reign in our minds, which should assent with perfect submission and firm belief to revealed truths and to the doctrines
of Christ.  He must reign in our wills, which should obey the laws and precepts of God.  He must reign in our hearts, which should
spurn natural desires and love God above all things, and cleave to him alone.  He must reign in our bodies…, which should serve
as instruments for the interior sanctification of our souls, or to use the words of the Apostle Paul, as instruments of justice unto
 (Rom 6:13)” (no. 33).

Christus vincit! Christus regnat! Christus imperat! (Christ conquers! Christ reigns! Christ governs!)

Christus vincit! Christus regnat! Christus imperat!
(Christ conquers! Christ reigns! Christ governs!)

That’s why today’s Gospel Jesus describes His Kingdom as not being from this world (Jn 18:36).  Because, as St. Paul tells us, the kingdom of God is not food and drink but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit (Rom 14:17).  It’s precisely in our loving actions that Christ’s reign is built up in our lives, and it’s in Christ ruling our lives that the Kingdom of God grows in the world.

But by this I don’t mean that faith in Christ, that the rule of Christ, is merely in our hearts.  Faith and religion are not purely internal matters.  Without expression, faith means nothing.  Without action, faith is dead, says St. James (cf. 2:17).  Religion is the public expression of faith in and through the community, and the practice of religion impels us to live our public lives in accord with the worship that we profess here at church.  If we live differently inside these walls than we do outside, then what meaning does our worship have?  What influence does it having in our lives?  Doesn’t that just make us hypocrites, actors?

In creating this feast, Pius XI was seeking to help us publicly live our lives in accordance with the faith we profess.  He wanted us to follow Christ as our King — ruler not merely of our hearts but also of our nations, so that together with Him, in Him and through Him, we might transform the world and build His Kingdom.  This was the whole point of Christendom.  And this was the goal of the first settlers who came to Canada: to create a society rooted and built up in Christ.  We need only travel throughout Québec and Acadia to see the evidence of this.

Our holy Patron also understood this very well.[1]  On the way to his execution, St. Thomas More confidently remained steadfast in the faith and encouraged others to do the same.  His last words were: “I die the king’s good servant, but God’s first”.  St. Thomas understood perfectly well that it isn’t good enough to personally confess Christ in private, in the safety of our hearts and homes; we must also confess Jesus in our public and professional lives and in the laws and policies that govern our society.

Muslims understand this concept well, that’s why wherever they go they try to have laws changed to reflect their own.  But we’ve lost this sense of building the Kingdom of God, of bringing others to know and understand His rule.  And especially in our country, which was founded not on enlightenment principles like the US, but on Catholicism and on Christ.

We have no reason to apologise for our belief in Christ, and even less for trying to uphold His rule in our lives and in our society.  Now I’m not saying we need to force our beliefs on others; but if we’re convinced we have the truth, then we have an obligation, a moral obligation, to help others see that truth.  We are obliged to help them understand and experience that Jesus Christ, and only Jesus Christ, is the way, and the truth, and the life, and that no one comes to the Father except through [Him] (Jn 14:6).

This is the feast that we celebrate today; this is the faith that we celebrate each day.  By these sacred mysteries, may Christ’s Kingship be increasingly established in our lives, so that we may be strengthened to spread His Kingdom by living according to His commands and teaching others to do the same, [restoring] all things in Christ (Eph 1:10).  To Him be glory and dominion for ever and ever (Rev 1:6).  Amen.


1.  When this homily was given, I was Parochial Vicar of St. Thomas More Parish.

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Vatican Council II – Revisiting its Documents: Sacrosanctum Concilium Part X

A multi-part series honouring the Vatican Council II by reviewing its documents.
We continue with a review of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy.

Part X: General Principles of Reform …continued

As you’ve probably noticed in the previous sections, the Council Fathers put a visible emphasis on active participation in Liturgy. But that wasn’t because they thought there wasn’t participation before; rather, they wanted to make sure that the ways in which we participate in Liturgy were appropriate to the nature and purpose of the Liturgy.  That’s because, as we’ve seen before, the Liturgy is an expression of our theology and faith in Christ, as well as a means of encountering Him (cf. Parts V, IX). And the rubrics, which guide our actions and participation, are meant to make sure that the theology and faith contained and expressed in the Liturgy is maintained (cf. Part V). Consequently, the Liturgy teaches us about our faith and forms into disciples of Jesus Christ.

My first Mass of Thanksgiving at St. Joseph Seminary (Edmonton)

My first Mass of Thanksgiving at St. Joseph Seminary (Edmonton)

For this reason the Council Fathers provided norms of reform based on this educative nature of the Liturgy (nos. 33-36). This was rooted in the old saying, Lex orandi, lex credendi; that is, the law of prayer is the law of belief, or, how we pray shapes what we believe. By being faithful to the Liturgy, as handed down to us from the Church through the ages, we come to know more deeply the faith we received in Baptism, and we’re built-up into better disciples of Christ, in the same way as all who’ve come before us. It’s a part of what it means to be ‘in communion’ with the Catholic Church everywhere, and in every age (cf. Catechism, nos. 74, 1200, 1323, 1336, 1345).

This is because in the “liturgy God speaks to His people, and Christ still proclaims the Gospel. And the people reply to God both by song and prayer” (no. 33). And through these songs and prayers, and especially through Scripture, “the faith of those taking part is nourished and their minds are raised to God, so that they may offer Him their rational service [worship] and more abundantly receive His grace” (no. 33).

As such, then, the Liturgy is not to be sloppy or cluttered; “The rites should be distinguished by a noble simplicity” (no. 34), so that “the intimate connection between words and rites may be apparent in the liturgy” (no. 35), especially connections with the Word of God. The rites should also be “within the people’s powers of comprehension, and normally should not require much explanation” (no. 34). With this in mind, the Council Fathers gave 8 norms (nos. 35-36):

1) More ample use of Scripture; 2) the homily is part of the Liturgy, and should be related to Scripture or the Liturgy; 3) liturgical formation should be provided for the people; 4) Liturgies of the Word by a Deacon should be encouraged when no Priest is available; 5) the Latin language is to be preserved in the Latin Rite; 6) since the vernacular can be useful, “a wider use may be made”; 7-8) the national conferences of Bishops are to make decisions regarding language, and have them approved by the Pope. (To be continued…)

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Homily – Sunday OT 33 C

Mal 4:1-2
Ps 98   R/.  The Lord is coming to judge the peoples with equity.
2 Thes 3:7-128
Lk 21:5-19

As the Liturgical Year comes to a close — we have two weeks left —, the Church, every year, invites us to ponder on the ‘four last things’: Death, Judgement, Heaven and Hell.  Already last week we began to talk about the importance of the resurrection for our faith.  And you’ll notice, that from now until Advent, our readings will focus more and more on death and the ‘end of the world’, or the ‘judgement of the world’.

Now, this isn’t meant to scare us: the Church is not a prophet of doom.  Rather, the Church is a prophet of hope, because in reminding us of these things — especially death and judgement —, she’s calling our attention to the most important aspect of our lives.

You see, today’s Gospel isn’t so much about future predictions of the ‘end of the world’, or about the various famines and plagues and dreadful portents that will precede it (cf. v. 9, 11).  Rather, by using what we call ‘apocalyptic language’ — an ancient Jewish literary device that uses images of the end of the world (cf. Daniel, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Joel, Amos, Nahum, Zephaniah, Matthew 24, Mark 13, Revelation) —, Jesus is actually calling our attention to the present.

The key phrases to understand today’s Gospel passage are verse 6 and the first part of verse 9.  The whole talk about persecution and war is rooted in Jesus’ line about the Temple; it’s almost a kind of sidebar or distraction: by asking questions about the timing of the destruction, the listeners seem to have missed the point.  Jesus’ point rather, was that the external beauty of the Temple, its decorations, adornments and stones — which are not wrong; beautiful churches are important —, needs to be secondary to the internal beauty of the temple of our soul.

You see, today’s scene follows the widow’s mite: the scene where a poor widow, out of her love for God, put all that she had (two small copper coins) in the Temple offering; a stark contrast to the rich, who only put some of their extra money in the offering (Lk 21: 1-4).

In connecting the two — the example of the widow’s generous offering and trusting abandonment to God, and the fleeting beauty of the Temple —, Jesus is calling us to be vigilant that salvation is what’s important in our life.  That’s why He tells us in verse 9 to not be terrified: because if we focus on Him, then nothing else really matters.  Riches, physical beauty, luxury… all these things fade and come to an end when we die.  But our friendship with the Lord, our closeness to Christ, the effects of grace: these are eternal!  These are what make us truly beautiful; these are what lead us to salvation.  As such, then, these are the truly important things.  There’s no sense in building beautiful churches if we aren’t first building beautiful temples within us.  That’s why, in the second reading, Paul is calling us to be imitators of him (2 Thes 3:7), so that we might, like him, work tirelessly for our sanctification and the sanctification of others.

But, we have to be careful: salvation doesn’t ‘depend’ on us and our efforts; it depends on God’s grace.  But if we don’t actually seek out God’s grace and open our hearts to cooperate with it — that is, if we don’t make use of the Sacraments (especially Confession and the Eucharist), and if we don’t change our lives to abandon sin —, then we can’t expect God’s grace to magically change us.  It’s a an extension of Paul’s line: Anyone unwilling to work should not eat (2 Thes 3:10b).  If we don’t want to be saved, if we don’t make the changes we need to so as to receive God’s grace, then we shouldn’t be surprised that we don’t get it.  We can’t just go around pretending to follow God.  (Now, I’m not saying this is what you do, but we always have to be on guard!)  As the famous line in the movie “The Nun’s Story” (Audrey Hepburn) goes: ‘you can fool me, you might even fool yourself, but you can’t fool God’.

The Last Judgment, by Stephen Lochner (ca. 1435).

The Last Judgment, by Stephen Lochner (ca. 1435).

The Church invites us in these ‘end times’ of the Liturgical Year to ponder on death and judgment so that we might also ponder on our spiritual life to see where we stand.  Are we ready for judgment?  If I die today, where will I go: heaven or hell?  Is Christ really the focus of my life, or is there something in the way?  Do I really make efforts to live according to the love of Jesus?

Chances are we’re all missing the mark a bit; I know I am!  But this is why we need Jesus!  And this is why Jesus tells us not to be terrified, because the end isn’t immediate (cf. v. 9).  As St. Peter tells us in his third letter: …beloved, while you are waiting for these things [a new heaven and a new earth], strive to be found by him at peace, without spot or blemish; and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation (2 Pt 3:14-15).  Jesus gives us this time — this life time — so that we might repent and turn to Him to be saved, and this is itself a gift of His mercy, because He doesn’t want the death of the sinner (cf. Ez 18:23, 32).

But none of us know how much time we have left, so it’s essential that we’re always turning back to the Lord, asking for His mercy and forgiveness, so that the grace He gives us will be fruitful and be working toward our salvation.  Because if we are faithful to Christ, not a hair of [our] head will perish (v. 18), but rather, by [our] endurance [we] will gain your souls (v. 19) and rejoice with Him in the Kingdom of Heaven.  Amen.

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Vatican Council II – Revisiting its Documents: Sacrosanctum Concilium Part IX

A multi-part series honouring the Vatican Council II by reviewing its documents.  We continue with a review of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy.

Part IX: General Principles of Reform …continued

So far the Council Fathers have taught that Liturgy is an expression of our theology and of our faith in Christ, as well as a means of encountering Him today. That’s why it’s important for us to participate fully — body and soul — in the Liturgy, especially the Mass, where we are nourished by the Word and the Eucharist to become evermore the Body of Christ, the Church.

It’s for this very reason that “Liturgical services are not private functions but are celebrations of the whole Church” (no. 26). No one can ever be refused attendance to any liturgical celebration (obviously except for cases of disturbance, safety, or sacrilege). That’s because Liturgy concerns “the whole Body of the Church” (no. 26): “the holy people united and arranged under their bishops” make visible the unity of the Church and, through Liturgy, build it up (no. 26).

That’s not to say that there is no room for ‘individuals’ in the Liturgy: we don’t participate as a mob. Rather, each one of us participates “in different ways, depending on [our holy] orders, [our] role in liturgical services, and [our] actual participation in them” (no. 26). And we are to “carry out all and only those parts which pertain to [our] office” (no. 27), “with the sincere piety and decorum demanded by [our office] and rightly expected of [us] by God’s people” (no. 28); this is an essential factor of active participation. But no special distinction is to be made as regards private persons other than what liturgical law states regarding Holy Orders, liturgical function, or civic honours; no one is to have, or be perceived as having, privilege in Liturgy (no. 32).

However, to properly carry out our offices and participate actively in the Liturgy, we must “be deeply imbued with the spirit of the Liturgy” (no. 29). We need to know more than just the external ‘rules’ of Liturgy; we need to understand the meaning, the theology, the symbolism, and the intentions behind these rules and the various actions and gestures we carry out. If we don’t know why we’re doing what we’re doing, then we’re not participating actively, not engaging in the prayer and worship that is Liturgy.

With this in mind, the Constitution lists a few ‘tools’ to help build active participation: “To promote active participation, the people should be encouraged to take part by means of acclamations, responses, psalms, antiphons, hymns, as well as by actions, gesture and bodily attitudes. And at the proper time a reverent silence should be observed” (no. 30).

Active participation is more than just being present in body and physically doing: we must also be present in mind and spirit, aware of what we’re saying and doing so as to do it with awareness and intentionality. (To be continued…)

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Homily – Sunday OT 32 C

Once again this weekend Deacon Ken preached and so I’m posting here my homily from three years ago.  No, I’m not stealing his joke; I actually did use it then!  Please also note, that the 32nd Sunday in 2010 was also ‘Catholic Education Sunday’ in the Archdiocese.

2 Macc 7:1-2, 7, 9-14
Ps 17      R/.  I shall be satisfied, Lord, when I awake and behold your likeness.
2 Thes 2:16-3:5
Lk 20: 27-38

In the Gospel, the Sadducees try to Jesus to trick because they didn’t believe in the resurrection of the body — “that’s why they were sad, you see…”  But Jesus answered them very clearly: God is not God of the dead, but of the living; to him [Abraham, Isaac and Jacob] are alive (Lk 20:38).  Life after death is real, and belief in the resurrection is true.

We believe today because those who witnessed Christ’s actions and words — the Apostles and first disciples — have testified to them; and we believe because we’ve come to know for ourselves that our faith is true.

This handing-on of faith from one believer to another, from one generation to another, this is a key role of Catholic education.  It’s what makes Catholic schools different from other schools.  And as such, Catholic schools play a vital role in forming our youths to become saints.  Since today is Catholic Education Sunday in Alberta, I’d like to talk a little bit about the role of Catholic schools.

Building on what our children learn at home, Catholic schools are called to foster, not only learning, but especially the development of virtue in our children, and to help them know, understand and practice the Catholic faith.

Catholic schools are called to help our children grow to become faith-filled holy disciples who are capable of discerning what is good from what is evil, what is right from what is wrong, and to have the courage to stand up for truth and justice. Catholic schools are called to help our children become holy witnesses to Jesus Christ and the hope and love he bears for us.  In short, Catholic education is called to form our children to become martyrs.

The Mother and Her Seven Sons

The Mother and Her Seven Sons

Now before the images of suicide bombers cloud your imagination, let me explain what it means to be a martyr.  A martyr isn’t one who straps a bomb to his chest in the hope of glory; that’s a terrorist and a murderer.  A martyr isn’t one who takes his own life; a martyr is one who lays down his or her life for love of God and for the sake of others; for a person, and not an idea.

A martyr is one who, by the giving of him- or herself, bears witness to God’s love for all of humanity.  A martyr, is one who witnesses with his or her life — and that’s the literal meaning of martyr: witness —, and that doesn’t always mean dying…

Ste. Thérèse of Lisieux considered herself a martyr because of the challenges she had in loving others, especially those who were difficult.  She was a spiritual martyr, bleeding in her heart and not in her flesh.  And so, martyrdom has many more forms than being killed for the faith.

Furthermore, martyrdom isn’t about ‘not being afraid’.  Martyrdom is about overcoming
fear and not letting it control our response to love, truth and injustice.  We heard about that in the first reading today, and we see that with all the saintly martyrs who offered their lives rather than turn away from God; we see that in the many men and women who laid down their lives to fight against oppression in the great wars of the past century; we see that right now in the Iraqi Catholics who continue to live their faith despite the dangers of death; we see that in those who are persecuted for speaking the truth about abortion and homosexual activity; we see that in the parents who weep for the conversion of their children; we see that in the young men and women who are ridiculed for choosing chastity and abstinence…  We see that in all who choose right when it’s easier and safer to choose wrong.

Courage and faith, these are the hallmarks of martyrs, not lack of fear.  And this courage comes from faith and from the hope we have of the resurrection.  And this hope isn’t a dream or an unfounded optimism: it’s been assured and guaranteed by Christ’s own resurrection.  As St. Paul tells us: if Christ has not been raised, [our] faith is vain; [we] are still in [our] sins.  Then those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished (1 Cor 15:16-18), and we who believe in the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body and life everlasting (Apostles’ Creed) are indeed the most pitiable of all (1 Cor 15:19).

Regardless of what kind of witness (martyrdom) we’re called upon to give as Christians — whether spiritual or bodily —, it’s our belief in Christ and our hope in the resurrection that allows us to stand up and make the sacrifices necessary for the sake of love, for the sake of truth, for the sake of justice.  Because we know that our life on earth isn’t the end, we have the courage to look beyond it to the true life promised us in heaven.

This life of martyrdom began for us at Baptism when we were united to the crucified Christ.  And we’re called to keep this union with Him, and to renew it daily by offering Him our struggles and our pains.  But at Baptism we also began a life of resurrection when we were united to the risen Christ, but this resurrection isn’t yet complete; it’ll only come to us fully when Christ returns and our bodies are transformed to be like His.  Until that day, we live by faith, hope and love, and by the Eucharist.

As we continue to celebrate this Mass, may the Eucharist we’re about to receive nourish us in body and in soul, strengthening us to be evermore faithful and courageous witnesses of Christ.  Amen.

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Vatican Council II – Revisiting its Documents: Sacrosanctum Concilium Part VIII

A multi-part series honouring the Vatican Council II by reviewing its documents.  We continue with a review of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy.

Part VIII: General Principles of Reform …continued

The Liturgy is really gift of faith received by the Church from her Lord, and faithfully transmitted through the ages from one generation to another. In itself, the Liturgy is the “celebration of the mystery of the Lord, of His death and resurrection for our redemption” (Msgr. Marini, 2011). This is why no one, not even the Pope, may randomly change the Liturgy. It must always remain faithful to the Lord’s gift and will, as St. Paul’s wrote: For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you… (1 Cor 11:23 and following).

This is also why, as we saw in the last segment, the Liturgy is composed of both divine and human elements. Because in itself, in its very nature, the Liturgy reflects the Incarnation; it embodies within it the very mystery of God becoming man and that of man becoming God (the divinization of man): the sanctifying effect of grace that transforms us into the image and likeness of Christ. (The early Church Fathers have a lot to say on this matter.)

As such then, any ‘change’ or ‘development’ can only be made (by the Pope) in continuity with this Tradition and teaching given to the Church by Christ, because the Liturgy has an impact on the holiness of God’s People. With this in mind, the Council Fathers decreed that before anything be changed, “careful investigation — theological, historical, and pastoral — should always be made”, and that no innovations are made unless absolutely needed for the good of the Church (no. 23).

The Constitution also highlights the importance of Sacred Scripture in the Liturgy: “it is from it that lessons are read and explained…, and psalms sung[; …] that the prayers, collects, and hymns draw their inspiration and their force, and that actions and signs derive their meaning” (no. 24). In other words, Scripture is the root of everything we say, hear and do in the Liturgy. That’s because Scripture is both the Word of God and the written Tradition of the Church (cf. Catechism, nos. 80-83). As such, then, it’s at the heart of our faith in God and of our worship of Him.

The Council Fathers, therefore, called for a greater selection of Scripture in the Liturgy so as to promote a deep love and respect for Scripture (cf. nos. 51, 24), and to encourage people to regularly read and meditate on Scripture as an important part of their personal prayer (cf. Catechism, nos. 131-133). This is to help us grow in our knowledge of Christ and of salvation history, as well as to prepare us for a deeper and more active participation in the Liturgy. (To be continued…)

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Homily – Sunday OT 31 C

Ws 11:22-12:2
Ps 145       R/.  I will bless your name for ever, my King and my God.
2 Thess 1:11-2:2
Lk 19:1-10

When I was a young boy, we had a series of little comic books about the Bible — now you can get them in one volume, called the Action Bible.  My brothers and I would read these little books all the time.  It’s actually the way I learned all my Bible stories, and I still remember them today because of that.  But there was always one New Testament passage that got my attention over and over again: Man in a Tree.

Me at the beginning of my climbing phase (18 mos.)

Me at the beginning of my climbing phase (18 mos.)

You see, I was a small short kid, so I completely identified with Zacchaeus not being able to see Jesus over the crowd.  I also loved to climb things: trees, sheds, bookcases, scaffolding, houses…  So this story about a short man in a tree captivated me, and I’ve always had a soft spot for Zacchaeus.

As I grew up, other aspects of this passage came to life for me.  I realised that Jesus called Zacchaeus by name the first time He spoke to him.  It’s as if Jesus already knew him.  Then, the math didn’t make any sense to me: half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I’ve defrauded anyone … I will pay back four times as much (v. 8).  Either he was a good investor or a bad counter, because giving back four times what he took with only half of his money left…?  It just didn’t add up for me.

But as I began to study Scripture in the seminary, this passage, and many others like it, began to open up to a deeper content.  Now, it’s not that there was anything hidden in the story; it’s all completely visible, I just didn’t know to see it.

You see — and I’ve said this several times already since I’ve been here —, Bible passages must always be read within their context: the immediate context of the chapter and the specific book, but also in their wider context of the whole Bible.  And for Zacchaeus’ story, this give us so much!

By this time in Luke’s Gospel, Jesus is on His final journey to Jerusalem where He will be crucified.  He knows this very clearly, because He’s already talked to His disciples about it three times (Lk 9:22; 9:44; 18:31-33).  And the closer He gets to Jerusalem, the stronger His language becomes.

In the paragraph before today’s story, Jesus arrived at Jericho (Zacchaeus’ town) and He healed a blind man who had been crying out: Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me! (Lk 18:38). You probably remember the story.  Now a crowd had already been following Jesus, but now with the healing, you can imagine the crowd got bigger.  And this is where we meet Zacchaeus.

Zacchaeus may already have heard about Jesus before, but Luke gives us the impression that he certainly heard about the healing: He was trying to see who Jesus was (v. 3).  Zacchaeus’ interest was piqued by what he had heard about Jesus, and he wanted to know who this man was, who could heal the blind.  And clearly his curiosity was quite strong; it’s not everyday that an adult would run ahead and climb a tree (cf. v. 4) to see who’s passing by.

Now that’s just Zacchaeus’ actions.  Jesus’ actions are all the more powerful!  Notice how Jesus calls him by name: Zacchaeus, hurry and come down (v. 5).  Again, Jesus looked at him with the heart of God, and loved him.  That’s why he then proceeded, not to condemn him for being a sinner, a tax-collector, but rather welcomed him and invited Himself over: I must stay at your house today (v. 5). Zacchaeus met Jesus, and Jesus welcomed him; Jesus accepted Zacchaeus and loved him despite his sins.  Think on that for a minute!  Whereas the crowd grumbled and rejected Zacchaeus, Jesus accepted and loved him despite his sins.

No wonder Zacchaeus got so excited and generous in his response!  See what love does!  See what God’s grace does to the sinner!  That’s why Jesus said he came to seek out and to save the lost (Lk 19:10).  Love brings to conversion when it’s encountered.  Jesus welcomed Zacchaeus, whom He already loved; and Zacchaeus, through that loving welcome, encountered the generous love of God, and immediately repented of his sins and changed his life.  That’s why Jesus was able to say: Today, salvation has come to this house (v. 9). Encountering Jesus Christ brings with it conversion; repentance brings with it salvation.  This is the beautiful gift that our Lord came to bring us!  This is the Good News!

Encounter with Christ is why we have the Sacraments, especially the Eucharist; it’s why we have so much Scripture at Mass; it’s why we really do need to daily spend time in prayer.  Repentance is why we acknowledging our sins by beginning each Mass with the Penitential Act; it’s why we have Confession.  And we gather for the Eucharist as a community so that we may also encounter Jesus in and through each other.  All of this works for our salvation.

But we also need to become ‘encounters’ for others.  How many people do you think Zacchaeus told about his meeting with Jesus?  How many people do you think he told about having Him over as a houseguest?  We too need to talk about our faith, but not so much about the doctrines of our faith.  As Pope Francis recently said, doctrine doesn’t make sense without knowing Christ (“Interview with Pope Francis”, La Repubblica, 9 October 2013).  Rather, we need to talk about the experiences we’ve had of Christ, who continues to welcome us and work in us.  This is our mission as disciples: to share the encounter we’ve had of Jesus with everyone around us.

But to do this, we must imitate Jesus: we are not to condemn the sinner, but to welcome and love him.  Now that doesn’t mean we put up with sin; but we do put up with people, people who are loved by God, and so should be loved by us also.  Who knows what that Love will do?  Who knows what that encounter with Jesus will do in their hearts?  Maybe, like Zacchaeus, they too will repent and respond with a generous love for God.  Amen.


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Homily – All Souls 2013

Job 19:1, 23-27
Ps 103       R/.  The Lord is kind and merciful
1 Cor 15:20-23
Jn 12:23-26

Yesterday evening we gathered for the Solemnity of All Saints, that feast where we celebrate all those who’ve gone before us as examples of faithful discipleship and who now live in the full presence of the risen Lord and our merciful Father.  It was a celebration of joy, for we rejoice in the glory they share.  And it was a celebration of hope, for we look forward to the day when we can join them.

This morning, however, we gather to commemorate all the faithful departed.  This day of ‘All Souls’ is a day that the Church has set aside (for nearly a thousand years, now) to pray for those who’ve died, but haven’t yet entered into the joy and glory of heaven.  It’s a day when we gather to pray for those who are in Purgatory.

Despite misunderstandings in recent decades, the Church still teaches the existence of Purgatory, a ‘place’ where we go to be purified of obstacles that prevent us from being fully in the presence of God.  The Catechism says: All who die in God’s grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven (no. 1030).  They’re washing themselves in preparation for the heavenly banquet.

As such, then, this ‘place’ of purification isn’t a bad place; in fact, it’s a beautiful sign of God’s endless mercy.  Though we might not be fully ready to enter into His glory, God doesn’t reject us, but gives us more ‘time’ to be sanctified.  And as the Catechism says, those in Purgatory are saved: they’re not going to Hell; they just don’t yet enjoy the full fruit of their salvation.

Yesterday I wore white as a symbol of our joy in communion with the saints.  Today, as we pray for those who’ve died, I wear violet as a symbol of the sober reality of death and of our communion with those who are doing penance in Purgatory.

And that’s why we’re here today: to pray for the dead, because our prayers help those in Purgatory to be purified by God’s mercy.  That’s why it’s important and virtuous to pray for the dead, and why the Church encourages us to do so throughout the year, but especially today on this day dedicated to it.

This is a strong reminder of the nature of our humanity and of our faith.  Try as we might, we simply cannot escape the reality of death.  Ever since the sin of Adam and Eve, it’s been a necessary consequence of our fallen human nature.

But, death isn’t the end.  Though our bodies die, our lives continue, because God created us in His own image and likeness (Gn 1:26-27) for the purpose of communion with Him.  He created us to live in His presence.  But sin ruptured our relationship with God, and cut us off from Him who is our source of life, and so death became a reality.  But God didn’t leave us to die; He sent His only begotten Son save us.

On the Cross, Jesus freed us from our sins.  By rising to new life, He earned for us eternal life.  Because of the death and resurrection of Christ, physical death is not the end for us: we have access to eternal life in God’s presence.  But Christ’s resurrection is only the first fruits (1 Cor 15:20), a pledge of our own resurrection to come.  This is the hope and the joy of our salvation, for we know that [our] Redeemer lives (Job 19:25) and that all will be made alive in Christ (1 Cor 15:22).

And so today, we turn to our Saviour and pray for those who have died but haven’t yet entered into the fullness of His glory: may their sins be forgiven and may they be sanctified by the merits of Christ, so as to enter into the fullness of His glory.

Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them.  May the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.  Amen.

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Homily – All Saints 2013

Rev 7:2-4, 9-24
Ps 24         R/.  Lord, this is the company of those who seek your face.
1 Jn 3:1-3
Mt 5:1-12

Lord, this is the company of those who seek your face (Psalm refrain).  My brothers and sisters, this is the joy that we celebrate today: the joy of our brothers and sisters who have sought the face of Christ, and who contemplate it day and night in His presence, for today, Solemnity of All Saints, is the feast of all who are in Heaven, whether canonised or not.


All-SaintsAnd we rejoice for two reasons: first, because the ‘saints’ now share in the blessed life that was promised them in Baptism — what we call the ‘beatific vision’ —, and [stand] before the throne and before the Lamb (Rev 7:9) seeing God as He is (1 Jn 3:2).  And as St. Paul reminds us, we are to rejoice with those who rejoice (Rm 12:15).

Second, we rejoice because their reality is our calling!  We, too, as children baptised into Christ have been given the same promise, and we ought to anticipate it with eagerness and joy.  The Solemnity of All Saints reminds us that this is what awaits us if we’re faithful to Christ.  And the great multitude that no one [can] count (Rev 7:9) that St. John describes, should strengthen our confidence and our hope that we too can be numbered among them!  For what they now possess, we hope to have also.

And yet, this hope (of joining the saints in Heaven) isn’t just a hope for the future.  In a very real way — though limited and only partial (incomplete) —, we already share in their joy and reward, because we already share the same life that flows in them.  This is the mystery of the Communion of the Saints: by God’s grace, through Baptism we already share with them in the divine life here and now.  What we hope for, what we await, is nothing more than the completion of what has already begun in us.  That’s why in the second reading St. John says, Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we shall be has not yet been revealed.  What we do know is this: […] we shall be like Him, for we will see Him as He is (1 Jn 3:2).

Pope Francis spoke of this reality just the other day in Wednesday’s General Audience (30 October 2013).  He spoke about how this sharing already now in the same bonds of Baptism — first with Christ, and through Him, also with each other — is rooted in Christ’s prayer: that they may all be one.  As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us (Jn 17:21).  As a consequence, then, “the Church in her most profound truth, is communion with God, […] which extends to brotherly communion” (Pope Francis, General Audience, 30 October 2013).  He goes on to say that this reality of communion means that we’re not alone in our faith; that we don’t journey alone; that we’re called to depend and rely on each other in our weakness.  This should be a consolation for us!  And it should be a source of joy!  The joy of having so many baptised brothers and sisters who are journeying with, sustaining us by their prayers and company; and so many who have already reached the goal of Heaven, sustaining us by their prayers and example (Pope Francis).

My brothers and sisters, we are not alone in the faith; we are not alone in the journey toward Christ, and this journey is not an impossible one!  We are in the company of those who seek the face of God; we are in the company of a God who seeks us.  And today’s Solemnity is a reminder that this is the glory to which we are called, and that if we abandon ourselves to God’s grace and mercy, that if we’re faithful to His love like the saints who’ve gone before us, then we too will receive the reward of the beatific vision, of eternal life in the presence of the very God who loves and saves us.  May we be encouraged by the great multitude to constantly turn back tow God and be sanctified by Him.  All you holy men and women, pray for us!  Amen.

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