Tag Archives: Church

Homily – Assumption 2018

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.

Rubens_Assumption

The Assumption of the Virgin (1612-17), by Peter Paul Rubens

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.

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Homily – Sunday OT 15 C


Deut 30:10-14
Ps 19         R/. The precepts of the Lord are right, and give joy to the heart.
Col 1:15-20
Lk 10:25-37


Audio of the Homily.

Today in our Gospel reading we encounter one of Luke’s great parables of mercy — one of the best-known parables of the Bible along with the Parable of the Prodigal Son. I think it’s safe to say that most people know this story by heart.

But knowing it and understanding it are two different things. While this parable touches the human heart of all who hear it, how many of us are moved to imitate it? When we hear it, do we just say, “Yeah, I know that one. Mercy is good; Jesus is good. It makes me feel good”, or do we reflect on it and say, “Wow, that’s really challenging! I generally don’t help people in this way. Maybe I should. With the help of God’s grace I will!”?GoodSamaritan

You see, too often we hear the words of Jesus and our selfishness filter kicks in and we push them to the back of our minds and pat ourselves on the back with reassurances that we’re nice to others and that we nonetheless do ‘good’ things, even if we don’t go as far as the Good Samaritan. But this isn’t enough!

In the last verse of today’s Gospel, Jesus is quite clear, Go and do likewise (v. 37). Jesus wants us to go and show mercy to others, and He doesn’t make it a suggestion, He commands it: Go and do! And as Moses tells us in the first reading, Obey the Lord your God by observing His commandments and decrees (Deut 30:10). To be merciful as God is merciful is a necessary dimension of the Christian life (cf. Lk 6:36)! This has been a central message of Pope Francis’ pontificate and the reason why he’s given us this Jubilee Year of Mercy: we really do need to go and do likewise.

But in order for us to do likewise, we first need to experience and understand the depths of God’s mercy, and that’s also at the heart of this parable.

Jesus gives this parable in answer to a question, what must I do to inherit eternal life? (v. 25). In other words, to inherit eternal life we must be merciful like the Good Samaritan. It’s not enough to just love God; we must also love our neighbour, and this love is expressed first and foremost through mercy.

In the parable, the Priest and Levite — Jewish ministers of God — pass by the half-dead man. Now it’s not that they didn’t see him or that they simply ignored him, or even that they didn’t feel moved by his condition. They most certainly did see him, but they were stopped from helping him because they put themselves and their needs and plans ahead of the man.

You see, in Jewish law, touching a dead body would defile you, make you ritually impure. Had they helped him, the Priest and Levite could not have fulfilled their religious office as ministers, at least for a week or so. They refused to help the man in order to stay pure, to remain ‘holy’ according to the Law. They put themselves ahead of the needy man; they didn’t want to be inconvenienced. They were being selfish, and this is what prevented them from having mercy. It’s this attitude that Pope Francis decries as ‘pharisaic’. Through this parable Jesus calls us not to be concerned about what the needy person believes, how they live, what they think of us, and so on; He just calls us to respond to their needs, and to do so with love.

The Good Samaritan didn’t let the purity laws be an obstacle. Moreover, Samaritans and Jews were sworn enemies, and yet, he was moved with pity (v. 33) for the half-dead man. He was able to see and respond to the needs of the man with mercy and compassion because he understood that the Law of Moses was intended not to make him cold-hearted, but loving. He understood that charity trumps the Law, and so he allowed his love of God to move him to mercy, and was able not only to help the man but also show that he in fact loved God with all his heart, soul, strength and mind, and his neighbour as himself (cf. v. 27).

But the Parable of the Good Samaritan isn’t just a moral lesson; it’s also an allegory of our own life. St. Augustine says that we are the man half dead by the road. Through the devil’s deceptions, we’ve been beaten by sin to the point of death. Jesus is the Samaritan who, moved with pity, picks us up and brings us to the inn (the Church) for healing and recovery through the Sacraments (symbolised by the oil and the wine). It’s Jesus who goes down into the ditch of our sin to carry us out and bring us forgiveness, healing and holiness. This is what Pope Francis means when he says the Church is a ‘field hospital’; it’s where Jesus brings wounded sinners for healing and recovery.

Is this how we see ourselves? Do we see ourselves as wounded sinners, half dead along the road, in need of mercy, healing and forgiveness? Only when we see ourselves as being in need of mercy, of being rescued by Jesus, of being saved by Jesus from sin and death — only then will we be able to turn around and be merciful to those around us.

The Priest and the Levite thought they could achieve holiness by their own efforts in strictly following the Laws of Moses. The Good Samaritan understood that God’s love for him called him to help the man in need. Jesus tells us that we, too, need to recognise our own brokenness, allowing it to lead us into His care and grace, so that in turn we might go out and be merciful to those in need; that in gratitude for the mercy we’ve received from Him, we should ‘pay it forward’, as it were.

As we celebrate this Year of Mercy, may we allow God’s mercy to bring us to repentance, healing and conversion, so that in turn we might go and do likewise, bringing mercy to a world, half-dead and in desperate need God’s mercy, healing and grace. Amen.

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Homily – Sunday Easter VI C


Acts 15:1-2, 22-29
Ps 67         R/. Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you.
Rev 21:10-14, 22-23
Jn 14:23-29


Have you ever wondered why the Church teaches what she teaches? Have you ever wondered how the Church arrived at her teachings and why she continues to defend and promote them? It’s easy to miss it, but our first reading this Sunday gives us a beautiful insight into the life of the Church and into the historical development of doctrine.

Chapter 15 of the Acts of the Apostles recounts for us the first major theological crisis in the Church. We’ve been reading it all week at daily Mass, but today we get a summary of the event, which has come to be called the ‘Council of Jerusalem’, the first ever Council of the Church’s Pastors.

The question at hand is about whether one is saved by the Jewish practice of circumcision and obedience to the Law of Moses, or by Baptism into Jesus. In other words, do those who want to be Christian first need to become Jews? Some said yes, others said no; and so began the first theological fight in the Church.

This was a major event in the life of the Church. The outcome established a method of dealing with theological problems, gave a specifically Christian direction for the Church, and instituted a benchmark to evaluate future challenges to the teachings of Jesus.

As our first reading indicates, the theological conflict began in Antioch, in the missions, if you will. Certain Christians, former Pharisees (cf. v. 5), were teaching that in order for gentiles (or pagans) to become Christian, they first had to be circumcised and taught to live according to the Law and traditions of Moses. Paul and Barnabas disagreed with them and decided to bring the matter to the Apostles and elders in Jerusalem, the Church’s leadership at the time.

What an inspiration for Paul to have! He didn’t insist he was right, but humbled himself to go to ‘experts’ for advice. Who better to tell us what Jesus wanted and intended than the Apostles? This is now the role of the Bishops. And the ‘elders’? Well that’s just English for the Greek word presbyteroi, also translated as ‘Presbyters’ or ‘Priests’.

Here the Apostles establish a new method of interpreting the teachings of Jesus and the working of the Holy Spirit: conciliar discernment. The Apostles and elders gathered together in prayer to better understand what the Holy Spirit was saying to the Church, and debated the matter as a tool of discernment. This particular portion of the text is omitted for this Sunday’s reading, but I encourage you to go back and read it. You’ll notice some very interesting points, namely Peter’s authority as Chief of the Apostles (he’s the first to make a formal statement); and James’ authority as Bishop of Jerusalem and host of the Council (he summarises the discernment).

Through the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the Council of Jerusalem set firm in the life of the Church a new course that separated her from the Jewish Religion, establishing a specifically Christian Faith.

After the debate, Peter, based on his experience with the conversion of Cornelius the Centurion (Acts 10) spoke out in favour of the faith: God, who knows the human heart, testified to [the gentiles] by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as He did to us; and in cleansing their hearts by faith He has made no distinction between them and us. […] we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will (vv. 8-9, 11).

In other words, salvation is through Jesus, not through the Law of Moses; and salvation through Jesus isn’t just for the Jews, but for all peoples. This is the reason why the Church is catholic, or universal. It’s meant for all peoples, not just a select group. It’s for this reason that the Christian Faith continues to spread to all nations; it knows no boundaries. Jesus died for all, and desires that all be saved. This is the purpose and mission of the Church.

The conclusion of the Council is also of particular importance, not merely for the decision that it makes, but for the way it arrived at this decision. After having debated the matter and reached a conclusion through the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the Council writes to the Church in Antioch (and everywhere): it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us — notice the collaboration with the Holy Spirit — to impose on you no further burden than these essentials: that you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols and from blood and from what is strangled and from fornication. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well (vv. 28-29).

Through the Holy Spirit, the Apostles established a guiding principle for Church doctrine and discipline that has lasted even unto today: nothing should be imposed on the faithful except what is essential. Throughout the ages, in every controversy, this has been the litmus test used to evaluate the demands of the Faith.

So how did we get from the four precepts listed in this letter to the tome that is the Catechism? Well, there have two thousand years of sinful human history since then, with many, many challenges to the Faith over the years, each of which called for a clearer definition of what is essential. There were questions about whether Jesus was human or divine (He’s both); questions about Mary’s motherhood (She is mother of God); questions about the reality of the Sacraments (i.e., the Eucharist truly is the Body and Blood of Jesus); and so on, and so on.

Though the Bible is important and essential, Christianity is not a faith based on a book; it’s a faith based on a Person, a living Person — Jesus —, who invites us into a dynamic relationship with Him. As such, then, it’s a living Faith that deepens and grows over time. It doesn’t change or abandon its roots, but like a tree, it matures and blooms into the fullness of its nature over time.

I find this reading gives us hope, because if there’s ever anything in Church teaching that we don’t understand — or perhaps don’t like — then we owe it to ourselves to seek to better understand it. Where does it come from? Why does the Church teach this? What does it reveal about who Jesus is, what He’s done, and to what He’s calling us?

My brothers and sisters, nothing in the Church is random or accidental; it all serves a purpose: to proclaim Jesus Christ as the loving God who has come into the world to save mankind. May we open our hearts to the Holy Spirit so that He might guide us in the paths of Christ and into the heart of the Church. Amen.

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

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 XXVI: Chapter VII: Sacred Art and Sacred Furnishings

Since the beginning of her public life in the 4th century, the Church has understood art to be an important tool in teaching and expressing the Faith. We need only look to the numerous mosaics, icons, ancient churches and paintings of the Renaissance to see how significant art has been. But this hasn’t been by accident or for show; there are deep theological reasons why art is important to the practice of the Faith:

The oldest known icon of Christ Pantocrator (Christ the Lord of Hosts), encaustic on panel, 6th century. The two different facial expressions on either side seem to emphasize Christ’s two natures, fully God and fully man. Saint Catherine’s Monastery, Mount Sinai.

Very rightly the fine arts are considered to rank among the noblest activities of man’s genius, and this applies especially to religious art and to its highest achievement, which is sacred art. These arts, by their very nature, are oriented toward the infinite beauty of God which they attempt in some way to portray by the work of human hands; they achieve their purpose of redounding to God’s praise and glory in proportion as they are directed the more exclusively to the single aim of turning men’s minds devoutly toward God (no. 122).

You see, contrary to popular belief today, art isn’t about self-expression. Up until the 20th century, art was always understood to be an attempt to represent and convey the deep truths of beauty, the human person, and man’s longing for the infinite. True art always leads us outside of ourselves, even beyond the artist, toward something greater. This is especially true of sacred art, whose object is God and the divine mysteries. For this reason the Church has long been one of the biggest patrons and contributors of art. Just look at the Vatican Museums!

For these same reasons, the Church has also intentionally incorporated artistic craft and merit to its various objects of practical use, such as vestments, sacred vessels, and church buildings. [A]ll things set apart for use in divine worship should be truly worthy, becoming, and beautiful, signs and symbols of the supernatural world […] in accordance with faith, piety, and cherished traditional laws, and thereby fitted for sacred use (no. 122). Just because something is useful or practical, it doesn’t mean it should be ugly and poorly made.

Rather, the Church has rightly insisted that whatever is used in worship should reflect the importance and dignity of that sacred action: we ought to give our best to God (cf. Gen 4). But the Church has never insisted on any one particular style: she has remained opened to the changes in artistic style and expression as they’ve evolved over the centuries due to trends, culture and time (no. 123). This has contributed greatly to the beauty and diversity of the Church’s artistic legacy and the presence of art in worship. Bishops, therefore, have the duty to encourage, support and protect sacred art (no. 124). They ought to promote those forms that strengthen faith and piety, and remove those that offend true religious sense either by depraved forms or by lack of artistic worth, mediocrity and pretense (no. 124). They should have a special concern for artists, so as to imbue them with the spirit of sacred art and of the sacred liturgy (no. 127). Sacred art must always be subservient to Faith and the Liturgy; it isn’t for it’s own sake. It’s purpose is to helps us enter more deeply into prayer, contemplate the mysteries of God, and to further our knowledge and understanding of the Faith. (To be continued…)

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HOMILY – SUNDAY OT 21 A

Is 22:15, 19-23
Ps 138: 1-2a, 2b-3, 6,8b         R/. Your steadfast love, O Lord, endures forever. Do not forsake the work of your hands.
Rom 11:33-36
Mt 16:13-20
 

One of my biggest personal strengths is that I’m what you might call a ‘visionary’: I think and see long-term, and big-picture. But if I let myself be carried away with what I envision, it’s easy for me to get lost in what ‘could be’, and that can lead to frustrations when the present doesn’t resemble the vision. That’s why it’s also one of my biggest weaknesses. To prevent this, I always have to remind myself that I’m not in charge, Jesus is. This is one of the reasons why I love today’s Gospel passage.

This scene between Jesus and Peter has become rather iconic for us as Catholics. I bet most of us here can quote at least part of these famous lines. And so it’s easy for us to get lost in the ‘big picture’ of what Jesus is saying to Peter and ignore that the true greatness of this passage lies not so much in the ‘big picture’, but in the small details of Jesus’ words.

In His response to Peter’s profession of faith, Jesus says, And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church (Mt 16:18). Now this passage is most frequently used to explain Peter’s primacy or leadership of the Apostles and the beginnings of the Papacy. And it does this, but it also says so much more.

Notice how Jesus speaks of the Church as His Church? I will build my church (Mt 16:18). He didn’t call it Peter’s Church; He didn’t call it the Apostle’s Church; He didn’t give it to anyone. The Church belongs to Jesus (cf. Col 1:18)! It’s His Church, not Peter’s, not the Pope’s, not the Archbishop’s, not mine, not even yours or ours… It is Jesus’ Church! This is really important point: I wouldn’t be able to repeat it enough.

You see, in Baptism we were baptised not just into a community, but into Christ (cf. Rom 6:3; Gal 3:27). Through Baptism we belong to Jesus: He purchased us with His blood (cf. 1 Pet 1:18-19; 1 Cor 6:20). That’s why we often refer to the Church as the ‘Body of Christ’ (JPII, General Audience, Nov. 1991; cf. 1 Cor 12:27).

Our membership in the Church isn’t one of ownership, but one of participation: we don’t own the Church, rather we belong to her because we belong to Jesus. That means, then, that none of us own the Church — not even the Pope —, but all of us are children and servants of the Church. Jesus Christ is her Master, not us. This has been the guiding principle of all of the Church’s teachings: they’re not hers, they’re Christ’s teachings. How often we forget this detail!

But notice also how He’s not merely the ‘owner’ of the Church, He’s also her builder: I will build my church (Mt 16:18). We must never forget that the Church exists not because of what we say or do, but because Christ is building her up. The Church has existed almost 2000 years not because we’ve had great Popes, Bishops and Saints — anyone who’s read the history of the Church knows we’ve had some pretty terrible people over the centuries. But the Church has lasted so long because it’s Jesus who acts in and through her, despite sinful people. It’s Jesus and the Holy Spirit who build the Church; who make Saints in every age according to what’s needed; who lead and guide the Church; who build her, perfect her, expand her. We must never think that the Church depends on us; she depends, and must always depend, only on Jesus Christ. Our task as members of the Church is to make ourselves open and available for the Spirit to work in us; the rest will follow from this according to God’s plan.

And finally, notice how Jesus adds and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it (Mt 16:18). No matter how bad things get in the world, no matter how confusing things get in the Church, not matter how wrong (or how mean) a Priest or a Bishop might be, the Church will never be lost, Hell will not prevail against her. The moment we think everything’s ‘going to Hell in a hand basket’ and that the Church is lost, pride and fear take over and we make Jesus out to be a liar, and we cause scandal and division in the Church — just look as how many different Christian groups there are.

The Church isn’t ours: she doesn’t belong to us, nor does her survival depend on you or me. The Church belongs to Jesus, who is her source of life and her guarantee. That’s why, my brothers and sisters, we must never loose hope, never despair. The Church doesn’t depend on mere mortals, but on Jesus Christ, who has conquered sin and death and sits at the right hand of the Father. We only need to trust in Him, and open our hearts so that the Spirit might work in us to build us up into holy members of His Church; that we might become living stones in that Church (cf. 1 Pet 2:4-5). Amen.

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Homily – Ascension of the Lord

Acts 1:1-11
Ps 47         R/. God has gone up with a shout, the Lord with the sound of a trumpet.
Eph 1:17-23
Mt 28:16-20
Illumination from the Drogon Missal (Metz), ca. 845-855 AD.

Illumination from the Drogon Missal (Metz), ca. 845-855.

We celebrate today the Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord, the feast of the “the final act of our redemption” (JPII), whereby Christ returned to the Father to prepare a place for us (Jn 14:1-3). You see, the Ascension is really the culmination of the Incarnation. Jesus took up our flesh and our nature so that He might unite it to God. In the Ascension, Jesus brings that very nature and flesh into the presence of God for all eternity. In Baptism, we were joined to Christ, we were made members of His Body; that means, then, that Jesus brought us into Heaven with Him as He ascends to the Father. Think about that for a moment! Through Baptism, we already have a share, even now, of Heaven!

As we reflect on this great feast and mystery, I want to share with you some of Saint Pope John Paul II’s thoughts from a homily he gave for the Ascension (24 May 1979).

Reflecting on the readings associated with this feast, he found that “the richness of this mystery” can be summarized “in two statements: Jesus gave instructions, and then Jesus took his place” (JPII). I want to focus on the first statement, ‘Jesus gave instructions’.

*          *          *

In the days that followed the Resurrection, Jesus helped the Apostles to understand what had taken place over the first Holy Week, why He had to suffer and die, and what He had taught them.

Now, in His last moments on earth, Jesus commanded the Apostles to be [His] witnesses … to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8), and to make disciples of all nations (Mt 28:19). Jesus gave them, and through them, the whole community of believers, the Church, the mission to share the Gospel, to evangelize the world. He instructs (commands) us to continue His mission!

But, as St. John Paul II wisely points out, “The instructions indicated, above all, that the Apostles were to wait for the Holy Spirit, who was the gift of the Father [cf. Acts 1:4]. From the beginning, it had to be crystal-clear that the source of the Apostles’ strength is the Holy Spirit. It is the Holy Spirit who guides the Church in the way of truth; the Gospel is to spread through the power of God, and not by means of human wisdom or strength” (JPII).

My brothers and sisters, our mission to share the Good News of Jesus Christ with the world is rooted not merely in our own encounter with Him and the joy that this relationship brings us, but more importantly, it’s rooted in the gift of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit that we received in Baptism and Confirmation.

It’s the Holy Spirit who gives us the zeal, the joy, the wisdom, the courage, the fidelity, and the words that we’ll need — when we need — to fulfill this mission of evangelisation, this mission of proclaiming Christ to the world. “Like Jesus, [we, too, are] to speak explicitly about the Kingdom of God and about salvation. [We, too, are] to give witness to Christ to the ends of the earth. The early Church clearly understood these instructions and the missionary era began” (JPII).

My brothers and sister, we — you and I, today! —, we need to rediscover this missionary era! This is what the Church means when she speaks of a time for a ‘new evangelisation’. We need once again to proclaim the Good News and salvation of Jesus Christ, each one of us!

But if we’re to do that, then it means that we ourselves first need to rediscover this beautiful gift. We ourselves first need to be renewed in the love and mercy of God, and re-strengthened with the gift of the Holy Spirit. And this isn’t an ‘optional’ part of being a disciple of Christ! If we truly believe what we profess by coming to Mass; if we truly believe what we say in the Creed; if we truly believe that Jesus is our Lord and God, and that He saves us by His Body and Blood, then we have a moral and religious obligation to share that salvation with others, because God wants all to be saved (1 Tim 2:3-4; cf. 2 Pet 3:9). We believe because we believe it to be true; so if it’s the truth, then how could we ever keep it to ourselves?! And so, with this command to preach the Gospel, Jesus shares His mission of saving the world with the Church, with each one of us who follow Him.

"The Ascension", illumination from Les Très Riches Heures du duc de Berry, Folio 184r at the Musée Condé (Chantilly), ca. 1410.

“The Ascension”, illumination from Les Très Riches Heures du duc de Berry, Folio 184r at the Musée Condé (Chantilly), ca. 1410.

That’s why it’s vital for each one of us to know Jesus, to know Him personally, and to always continue learning more about Him and about what He’s done for us. And there are really only three ways in which this knowledge of Jesus can be gained:

First, through prayer. We need to spend time with Jesus in order to get to know Him; we need to be with Him, to speak with Him, to listen to Him. A relationship can only be built through time and conversation, so if we’re to grow in our love and knowledge of Jesus, then we need make time to pray, every day.

Second, through Scripture. St. Jerome, the great Bible scholar once said, ‘Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ’. So if we’re to know who Jesus is and what He’s done for us, then we need to read the Bible. I recommend beginning with the New Testament, and then going back into the Old Testament for a deeper understanding. And since the Bible is the Word of God, reading it with prayer is a great way of discovering and listening to God’s voice.

Third, through the Saints. If prayer is conversation with Christ, and Scripture is His Word to speaking to us, then listening to what the Saints have to say about their life with Jesus is like talking with His family and friends. Our knowledge of Jesus and our intimacy with Him can grow tremendously through a dialogue with the Saints, by reading about their lives and experiences, and by feeding our prayer life with their spiritual writings.

And so these three things: prayer, Scripture and the Saints – these are the principal means of deepening our relationship with Jesus and strengthening our love for Him; these are the tools required for our mission of evangelization, for bearing faithful witness to who Jesus is and what He’s done for us. But of course, as St. John Paul II reminds us, all of this is rooted in the Holy Spirit working in our lives, giving us the grace to grow in faith, in love, in holiness, and increasing our capacity to be faithful and courageous witnesses in the world, for the world.

This is the vocation of the whole Church, not just of the clergy, but of all the baptised. “This is the mystery of the Ascension of [the Lord]. Let us always remember: Jesus gave instructions, and then Jesus took his place” (JPII). May we be faithful to that instruction, and so come to share in the place He has prepared for us. Amen.

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Saint John Paul II and Me…

This morning the Church had the joy of proclaiming Saint two very important figures of the 20th Century: Popes John XXIII and John Paul II, important for both the Church and the World. In these last days it has become very popular on the Web to share stories experiences of both holy Popes. Here is mine.

YoungPope

Photograph by Yousuf Karsh?

I was born in the last of years of Pope Paul VI, so I cannot say that Pope John Paul II was the only Pope I had, but he certainly was the first that I knew. I cannot recall how I first heard of the this Saint, but I do know that I have long had a fascination with him and deep affection for him. I remember, as a young boy, reading over and over again a simple cartoon book about the life of the new Saint. I was captivated, even then, with his simplicity, his joy, his energy, and his capacity to trust in God despite all of the sufferings and challenges he faced in his life. And what perhaps struck me the most was his closeness to the youth, and this was evident even before World Youth Day.

When St. Pope John Paul II toured Canada in 1984, my family did not miss our chance to pray with this holy man, with this great leader of our Faith. I vaguely remember getting up very early to drive out to the site, which was in Moncton (New Brunswick), nearly 3 hours away, but I do vividly remember the rest of that cold and wet September morning.

Two of my brothers and I, dressed up in our Fall mud suits and covered with black garbage bags to keep us dry, had a grand time running in and around the great crowd. How we never got lost is a miracle in itself!

It seems to me that my family had a fairly decent place, and I remember my brothers and I rushing to the ropes to see the Pope enter the field in his Popemobile. What excitement we felt! Us little boys, not more than 5-9 years old, living in the middle of nowhere, were welcoming the Holy Father! What excitement and joy!

I don’t remember much from the rest of the Mass, but I do recall hearing his young and vibrant voice during the Homily. That day, I am sure, bolstered my interest in the Pope and in the Church.

A few years later, in the Spring of 1988, now living in Western Canada, Bishop Blaise Morand (now emeritus) of Prince Albert, mentioned in his Homily at my Confirmation that he would be going to Rome for his ad limina in the following October. I got really excited about this!

JP2MedalMom and Dad had given me as a Confirmation gift a beautiful medallion of Pope John Paul II, and I was thrilled to carry that image with me. Now, with the Bishop’s announcement I was at one degree of separation with this great man of the Church!

In the boldness of my youth I approached the Bishop after Mass and asked him if he would be able to bring my new medallion to the Pope and ask him to bless it for me. (I’m not sure I would have that kind of courage today!) Bishop Blaise, in his casual and gruff fashion replied, “Sure! I won’t take it with me tonight, because I’ll probably lose it, but send it to me later along with a letter explaining what you want, and I’ll do my best.” Well, that made my day!! In fact, it’s practically the only thing I remember about my Confirmation!

Over the next few months I prepared. Again, in my courageous youth, I took the framed picture of the Pope that we had in our home and drew a copy of it, and included it with my letter and sent these to Bishop Blaise along with my medal. Now, I I never took a picture of my drawing to prove it, but according to my memory, it was quite good, if I do say so myself ;-).

A couple of months later, I received a padded envelope in the mail. Bishop Blaise had made good on his promise. His short letter explained that he did indeed take my medal to be blessed by Pope John Paul II. And not just that, the Bishop also sent me a Rosary blessed by Pope John Paul II. I promptly started wearing my medal and using my new Rosary. Now whether the medal was blessed en masse with the crowds or whether the Rosary was given to the Bishop (instead of for me by the Pope), it really doesn’t matter. These two items have been a symbol of my admiration for a man who gave his whole life to Jesus out of love for God and for others; they are two of my most precious possessions.JP2Rosary

While I was never able to meet Saint John Paul II – even when I worked on staff at WYD 2002 –, this exchange with him through Bishop Blaise gave me a profound and precious connection with this holy man. From that moment, I believe that he and I have shared a bond. He was always a role model for means an inspiration, and when I entered the Seminary in 2002, I did so to become a Priest according to the heart and love of John Paul II. And every time I had a hard time in my journey toward the Priesthood I turned to my picture of my beloved friend to ask for his prayers and his support.

When he died in 2005, I felt as though I had lost a close friend. But I also knew that we were now closer than before. I look forward to the day when I will meet him face to face when I, too, am called home to the Father to rejoice in the reward of His faithful servants.

While I don’t wear the medallion (it stains my shirts) nor carry this Rosary in my pocket anymore (I lost it for a couple months in 2012), today I will carry them both with me in honour of my friend and intercessor. Saint John Paul II, pray for us; pray for me!

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