You can now listen to my homily from last Sunday on Sound Cloud:
“Whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant” (Mk 10:43).
You can now listen to my homily from last Sunday on Sound Cloud:
“Whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant” (Mk 10:43).
Today is supposed to be a great and joyful feast in honour of the glory of Mary and the triumph of God’s mercy in her life, in her very being. Mary is assumed into heaven body and soul because of her sinlessness, because of her immaculate conception.
And yet, today the Church finds herself in mourning, covered with shame, confusion and hurt. And not because of anything that has happened to her from the outside, but because of the failings of her very own shepherds. It pains me to speak about this today on this joyful feast – it makes me cry even just to think about it –, but speak I must, because silence is what created this mess in the first place. I’m speaking here, of course, of the newest wave of clerical sexual abuse and misconduct that is being revealed in these days. And it’s not just an isolated case or even many, but the systematic nature of these abuses and the depth to which they were rampant. And I fear that we’ve only just touched the tip of the iceberg in this matter. What a contrast to the very nature of our feast today.
You see, Mary’s glory is that she, in her person, reveals the very destiny for which every person has been created. We’ve been created not for sin and depravity, but for holiness and righteousness; we’ve been created to reflect the very holiness and perfection of God, and the reward for that holiness is the beatific vision, union with God in heaven for eternity. Mary’s assumption into heaven is what God created each one of us to experience. Now, as children of Adam, we lost that gift through original and personal sin.
But as St. Paul reminds us in the second reading, Jesus has restored this gift (albeit in a modified form) by bringing us the gift of mercy, forgiveness and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit: since death came through a man; for all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ (1 Cor 15:21-22). But Christ’s gift of grace isn’t magic; we aren’t restored unless we repent, and we aren’t made holy unless we allow the Holy Spirit to work in us, to change our hearts and our lives. We must do the works of the Father in order to inherit the Kingdom of God; we must be holy for God is holy.
We must allow the Holy Spirit to put to death the sin that lies in our hearts, or else it will reign there, and we will be lost. This is exactly what we’re seeing again in these days, what happens when people allow sin to reign in their hearts. This is all the more painful and devastating when Priests – men who have been consecrated to God, for His service, for His people – allow sin to take hold of their hearts.
In our first reading from the Book of Revelation, we hear that the great Dragon swept a third of the stars down and waited to devour the son of the Woman (Rev 12:4). If we continued reading the vision, St. John tells us that after being defeated, the Dragon was angry with the woman, and went off to make war on the rest of her children, those who keep the commandments of God and hold the testimony of Jesus (Rev 12:17). We’ve seen and experienced these attacks since the beginning of the Church, but almost always from the outside. As Jesus said, ‘If the world hates you, be aware that it hated me before it hated you. If you belonged to the world, the world would love you as its own. Because you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world – therefore the world hates you (Jn 15:18-19).
But now we’re seeing very clearly that the Dragon has entered the Church and is pursuing God’s children from within. And it’s important for us to realise that these crimes are attacks on the Church and attempts to destroy her from within. In many cases cited in recent reports, strange demonic rituals often accompanied the abuse perpetrated. And notice how it’s always an attack on the innocent. The evil one relishes the destruction of innocence, because innocence is a glimpse into God’s holiness. This is heartbreaking on so many levels.
But our second reading from St. Paul also continues with some good news: Then comes the end, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father, after he has destroyed every ruler and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet(1 Cor 15:24-25). While it’s painful for us to hear the stories of these abuses, and it rightly angers and sickens us, it is in fact good news, because it means that God is purifying His Church: He is showing the strength of His arm; He is pulling out the weeds and scattering the proud of heart; He is casting out the demons that lay hidden within her, and bringing down the powerful from their thrones. And this, too, is only the tip of the iceberg!
As St. Paul reminds us in his letter to the Ephesians, Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, in order to make her holy by cleansing her with the washing of water by the word, so as to present the church to himself in splendour, without a spot or wrinkle or anything of the kind – yes, so that she may be holy and without blemish (5:25-27).
Jesus is now purifying His Church so as to make her holy, and not just by getting rid of the evil that’s hidden in her, but by using these events also to remind us of why it’s so important for us to seek holiness. This cleansing of the Temple is a call to holiness! We’ve created this mess – and let’s be honest, it’s not just the Priests’ and Bishops’ fault –, we’ve created this mess because we’ve abandoned God’s call to be holy as He is holy; we’ve abandoned His call to hear the word of God and do it; we’ve forsaken a life of prayer for a life of comfort. In other words, we’ve allowed the world to lead us, and not the Holy Spirit. And this is as true for each of us as it is for those who committed these horrendous crimes.
As we walk through this time of desolation – and it isn’t over yet –, may we hear the voice of God calling us to a deeper conversion, to a return to prayer and fasting, to renew our efforts to be holy, by allowing His grace and the Holy Spirit to change our hearts and our lives. God is indeed mindful of His promise to our fathers and is using this difficult time to bring us His mercy. May we hear His voice and follow after Him, for the victory is already His and is being fulfilled before us right now. The only question that remains is, where will we be found? Among the fruit, or among the weeds?
As we celebrate this solemn feast today, let us take refuge in Mary and seek her intercession for the Church, for victims of abuse, for ourselves.
Pray for us, O holy Mother of God, that we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ. Amen.
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
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.
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.
Ps 117 R/. Go into all the world and proclaim the good news.
Heb 12:5-7, 11-13
‘Kerygma’. How many of you have heard this word before? Kerygma is a Greek word that we use to describe the content, or the heart, of the Gospel, the Good News.
The kerygma — it’s a noun — can be summed up as this: ‘We are sinners, condemned to death for our sins. But God loves us, so He sent His Son Jesus to free us from our sins. Jesus died our death on the Cross, redeeming us from our sins, and offers forgiveness to all who repent’.
You’ll notice that the kerygma isn’t just the heart of the Gospel, it’s also s good summary of the whole Bible, of the whole of salvation history. And so, while it’s an ancient Greek word, it really is one with which every Christian should be familiar. That’s why I’m introducing it to you today, but also because it’s a word we’re going to hear a lot more often in our Parish as we embark on the Alpha experience this coming program year. And while Alpha won’t start until October, our readings this Sunday already point us to the content of this word.
In our first reading, Isaiah prophesies how the Lord will declare His glory among the nations (Is 66:19), not only by bringing His own people back to Jerusalem, but others, too, whom He will also call His own. Through the faithful remnant, the survivors, God will make His name and glory know to all. This is the great message of hope that salvation isn’t just for the Jews, but for all nations, for all peoples, for all sinners.
The Psalm refrain reminds us that it’s our mission as Christians, as God’s people, to make this message know to others: Go into all the world and proclaim the good news.
The second reading reminds us that God sees us not as His possession, but as His children: the Lord disciplines those whom He loves, and chastises every child whom He accepts (Heb 12:6). And that He heals us precisely through the discipline that He gives us. This is the role of His laws and commands.
That’s why in the Gospel today, Jesus tells us that people will come from east and west, from north and south, and will eat in the kingdom of God (Lk 13:29). This is our hope, that God loves us and comes to save us.
But only those who accept the kerygma, the Good News, the forgiveness that Jesus offers, will be able to enter the Kingdom of God. That’s why Jesus encourages us to [s]trive to enter through the narrow door (Lk 13:24).
And the narrow door is the Cross of Christ, which calls us to repentance and to a change of life. That’s why the kerygma is more than just a word, more than just a message, but is truly Good News that calls us to a transformation of heart, mind and life.
Since we’ve been purchased by God through the death of His Son, we’re no longer our own; we’re His. And the transformation of life this calls for is more than just accepting the Good News, more than just accepting Jesus as our Saviour once for all. Rather it’s a constant accepting of this unmerited gift of God’s love, a constant repentance for our sins, and a constant turning to Jesus in prayer to seek His assistance and grace to remain faithful to the gift He’s given us from the Cross.
As we heard in the Gospel, saying we follow Jesus isn’t a guarantee of salvation; Baptism isn’t a guarantee of salvation, but only fidelity to Jesus. Notice how it was only those who followed the owner into the house or those who went in seeking him that were accepted in; those who lingered behind or hung around outside the door were locked out and rejected by the owner.
My brothers and sisters, yes, Jesus loves us; yes, He died for us; yes, He calls us to be His disciples, but for our part we must actually follow Him and walk in His ways. We must respond to His invitation, accept His gifts, and allow the Holy Spirit to change our hearts and souls in order to inherit the Kingdom that God extends to us.
Through grace, through discipline and through repentance, may we be found worthy to enter into the Kingdom. Amen.
Jer 38:4-6, 8-10
Ps 40 R/. Lord, come to my aid.
In these past days we’ve been experiencing the first week of the 2016 Olympics in Rio, and I’m sure many of you have been watching. It’s quite something to see these athletes compete and show off their skill and all their hard work. And hard work it is! You don’t make it to the Olympics in your first year in a sport. What we’re watching is the culmination of a lot of time, effort and training. These athletes have been working hard for this competition, and not merely for months but for years. They started in their sport in their youth and have been training ever since.
One of my nephews has been doing gymnastics for two years. His coaches are already pointing him toward Olympic training because they see potential in him. So starting in September he’ll be training nine hours each week. Nine hours a week! And he’s just seven! While he might show potential of being an Olympic athlete, by the time he’s old enough to compete at that level, he’ll have trained for fourteen years! And not just for nine hours a week: that’s sure to double by the time he’s a teenager. That’s the kind of work it takes to get to the Olympics, and only for a couple of minutes of competition! It certainly takes a lot of dedication, work and drive to win a medal. I have a great deal of respect for anyone who can compete at that level.
That’s the image the author of the Letter to the Hebrews is calling to mind in our second reading today as he tells us to run with perseverance the race that is set before us (Heb 12:1). It echoes St. Paul words to the Corinthians, Do you not know that in a race the runners all compete, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win it (1 Cor 9:24).
My brothers and sisters, like athletes, Christians are called to run the race of life so as to win, not a perishable crown or a medal, but the crown of holiness given by Christ to those who persevere in faith and charity to the end (cf. 1 Cor 9:25). Jesus died so that we might live; He gave His life for us so that we might be united to Him in this life and in the next. But in order for us to receive this crown of glory, we must train and work at it. Like Olympic medals, holiness won’t be given to those who don’t run the race!
That means that if we want to get to Heaven, we need to live as if we’re already there. We need to practice the virtues until they become second nature. We need go beyond ourselves, beyond our fallen nature, and imitate Jesus in His love and mercy. We need to make efforts to make our faith in Jesus a priority and to train ourselves in the practice of prayer and service. We need to be serious in our quest for holiness as if our life depended on it, because it does!
No one gets to their destination without focussing on it, without setting themselves on the right path to get there. This is what each one of us is called to do in the life of faith, to set our hearts and minds on Jesus and to make the sacrifices necessary to follow Him.
Our task in this life is to lay aside every weight and the sin that clings to us so closely, so that we might be found running the race when Christ comes. That means we must be intentional in our discipleship. A person doesn’t become an athlete by accident, and an athlete doesn’t make it to the Olympics by accident. It takes intentional effort, coaching, training and sacrifice. Likewise, we won’t make it to Heaven by accident or become saints by accident, but only by making a commitment to follow Jesus and allow His grace and the Holy Spirit to transform our lives. And at the end of the day, that’s all holiness is. It isn’t about being perfect or being able to perform miracles, but about allowing God’s grace to transform us, to change our hearts so that Jesus becomes visible in us.
So like athletes, we must set our hearts on the prize and compete so as to win. We must be willing to let go of certain things so that we might follow Jesus. Are we willing to make faith a priority in our lives? Are we committed to attending Mass every Sunday even if that means leaving guests at home or missing a game? Are we willing to follow Jesus even if that means being rejected by family or friends? Are we willing to say no to something so that we might be able to say yes to Jesus and allow His grace to be fruitful in our lives? Are we willing to fight sin and temptation, even to the point of shedding blood (cf. Heb 12:4)?
May the Holy Spirit set our hearts on fire with His love so that we may run the race so as to win. Amen.
Ps 33 R/. Blessed the people the Lord has chosen as His heritage.
Heb 11:1-2, 8-19
In the Scriptures this Sunday, the Lord calls us to look beyond what we can see, to go beyond where we are. Through Abraham and the Prophets, and especially through Baptism, God has called us to be His people. He’s called us out of our earthly city to journey toward Him and the Heavenly City.
You see, my brothers and sisters, as Christians, we’re not like everyone else; we cannot be! Because we belong to God; He has chosen us to be His people, to be His family. This is the very meaning of the word ‘church’, ekklesia, the assembly of those who have been ‘called out of’ something to be made into something else: called out of sin to be made holy; called out of darkness to live in the light; called out of death to be made alive.
That’s why, in the second reading, the author of the Letter to the Hebrews harkens back to Abraham, the father and model of faith. He left everything to follow the voice of God, not knowing where he was going. He trusted, even though he didn’t understand or see what the plan was. He believed, he obeyed, and he walked in faith and in the hope of what had been promised to him.
This, my brothers and sisters, is what we’re also called to do: to believe the Word of God, to obey the Lord, and to walk toward Him in faith and in hope, because, as St. Paul reminds us, the one who calls [us] is faithful, and he will do this (1 Thess 5:24).
This is why Jesus calls us to keep our hearts and minds set on the things of heaven and not of this earth. While this is where we currently live, we’re not meant for a world of sin and death; we’ve been created for holiness and for life. And this holiness and life is precisely what Jesus has promised us.
This world, while beautiful and good, isn’t enough for us, we long for more; it cannot satisfy our desires, but only distract us with pleasures. And these pleasures distract us not only from the pain and suffering we encounter here, but also from our goal of being with God. How easy it is for us to forget that we’re not yet in the Promised Land! As we heard in the second reading, we’re here only as on a pilgrimage, as on a journey to somewhere else; this is not the place to make our home. Our home is with God, not with ourselves. And this, my brothers and sisters, is why we come to church every week, to be reminded that we’re not there yet, that we still have a ways to go.
The Word of God reminds us that we’re on this journey toward the One who has called us, toward the One who loves us, and it helps us to discern the way of that journey as we walk — it’s the road map, if you will.
The Sacraments remind us that our hearts are often not committed to this journey, that we’re often distracted by the lures of pleasure and sin, and they renew us in our call and strengthen us in spirit and in holiness to continue walking toward God.
Together, they nourish us and prepare us so that we might be made ready for the City of God when we get there. Together, the Word of God and the Sacraments transform us to become what God has called us to be: saints made alive in His Spirit and citizens of Heaven; children of God formed in the image and likeness of Christ.
But as our Lord said in the Gospel today, where your treasure is, there your heart will be also (Lk 12:34). And so, my brothers and sisters, where is your treasure? Is it with Christ in the City of God, or is it here below in the City of Man? Where is your treasure?
In order for us to progress in our journey toward God, we need to constantly examine ourselves and ask where we’re going. Am I living my life as a journey toward Heaven, seeking out God and His grace? Or am I simply wandering in this world, distracted by pleasure and sin? Where is my treasure? Where am I heading? What is my goal?
Jesus has called us out of this world to live with Him, to live for Him, and, as He reminds us, it’s the Father’s good pleasure to give [us] the Kingdom (Lk 12:32). Through His grace, may we set our hearts on Him, so that when we’re called to an account for our life, we may be found faithful pilgrims walking, with lamps lit, toward the Kingdom in the ways of the King. Amen.