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In the Light of the Master

What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? James

Rejoice and be GladToday is part 3 of our 5 part homiletic series based on Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation (which is a message that encourages a community of people to undertake a particular activity but does not define Church doctrine) Rejoice and Be Glad: a call to Holiness.

Fr. Dominic started us off a few weeks back with an introduction with the words of the Holy Father who said to us “Do not be afraid of holiness” (32).  The Pope quotes Leon Bloy (34) who shares that “the only great tragedy in life is not to become a saint”.

Why would we fear holiness?

I have mentioned on several occasions in past homilies that my favorite definition of the word FEAR is: False Expectations Appearing Real.

In the 1st chapter of  Rejoice and be Glad the Pope outlines a number of reasons why we might reject or FEAR a call to holiness and for the most part they can be summarized as a feeling that we are either not worthy of sainthood or we think being holy will subtract from our enjoyment of life.

Chapter 2 talks about the two great impediments to holiness.

Contemporary Gnosticism – it is all in your head: The story of the Scribes.

Contemporary Pelagianism – It is all about your hands: The Story of Martha

Today we reflect on Chapter 3 which the Pope titles: “In the Light of the Master.”

Perhaps you remember the resurrection scene in John Chapter 20 when Mary of Magdala encounters Jesus after the other apostles hurry back to the Upper Room. At first she thinks our Lord is the gardener and she asks him for help in finding out where they had taken the body of Jesus.

Jesus looks at her and says one simple word, her name, and Mary responds “Rabboni!” (which means “Teacher”). Pope Francis says to us in Chapter 3 that to overcome the obstacles and to put aside our FEARs (False Expectations Appearing Real) of holiness, we must be willing to sit at the feet of our teacher Jesus on that Holy Mountain. Jesus will teach us if we are willing to listen and learn how to connect our head and our hands together through our heart/soul.

In Mathew’s Gospel, the Sermon on the Mount begins with the eight beatitudes. Each of these blessings is made up of two parts: the call to be Blessed and the result of living a life based on this calling to be holy.

The Pope uses the Beatitudes to build a bridge that allows us to overcome the two contemporary impediments to holiness and to live the life of a saint even though our canonization may only be known to God and those we touch directly.

Let us examine three of these blessings as taught by Jesus and how they relate to living holy lives.

  • “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
  • “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
  • “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.

Jesus tells us that Blessed/Happy/Holy are the Meek for they shall inherit the earth. Pope Francis shares that this certainly goes against the flow of modern thinking where knowledge and power are often equated with success.

The use of the word meek, especially today, is not well understood. In the context of the beatitudes being meek is the opposite of being pride filled.

The contemporary Gnostics’ faith is locked inside their heads and they often fall prey to arrogance. They use their knowledge as a way to display their superiority over others especially the least of the brothers and sisters. There is a tendency to judge others harshly.

Being Meek does not mean being weak. It is using your knowledge in service but avoiding the tendency to rob others of their dignity.

Blessed/Happy/Holy are the Merciful for they shall receive Mercy. Pope Francis shares that mercy has two aspects: giving and forgiving.

There is a danger that we might confuse good works with mercy.  There is another danger that we undertake these works thinking that when people see us doing all of these things for others they will know that we are truly Holy.

There is also the aspect of forgiveness. There is a risk that we get involved in a never ending series of ‘good works’ as a way to compensate for a wrong. Perhaps it is something that has happened to us that we can not forgive. In some cases it is a response to a hurt we have inflicted on another. Pope Francis realizes that there can be no true mercy – “i.e. Good Works”- without forgiveness.

It is the first of the blessings of the beatitudes that completes the bridge to a holiness that is attainable by all of us and for our community.

Blessed/Happy/Holy are the Poor in Spirit for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.

We are a busy and driven people. Contemporary Pelagianism can often be seen in those who are always doing things, the modern day “Martha”.

To be Poor in Spirit means that we must leave room in our heart/soul for the Spirit. We spend time in quiet reflection and allow the grace of God to enter our souls and it is this grace that guides both our minds and our hands.

Holy are the Poor in Spirit for they are the Kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.

This raises a question – How will we know when holiness has taken hold in our lives? What are the signs of holiness?

Spoiler Alert – These signs are in Chapter 4, which will be brought to you next week at this time in the homily or you could go online and look it up for yourself.

As a preview here is one of the signs of holiness: Community!

Pope Francis shares that “Growth in Holiness is a growth in community, side by side with others”. (141)

In our Prayers of the Faithful for the last number of months we have been asking for guidance as a community. This prayer is a good example of what it means to be Poor in Spirit. To become a holy community we need to leave room for the Holy Spirit.

That said, there is already much evidence that the Holy Spirit is active in our parish life.

I have observed a phenomena I call the two sides of the table when it comes to community holiness.

A good example was last week when Deacon Michael talked about Chalice. After his reflection he and others went into the foyer and stood behind a table. Their hope was that some of you would come and stand on the other side of that table. The response was tremendous.

Recently we had our annual backpack program. The people that come together to run this outreach ministry trust that the Holy Spirit will send parishioners to share with those who have less. I had the great joy of being able to pick up 60 backpacks and deliver them to people who dedicate their lives to helping women who are trying to rebuild their lives after spending time in prison or on the streets. I got an e-mail with about 30 pictures of the children getting the backpacks with a little of their story attached. I can tell you each time one of these children received the gift of a backpack it was a Holy moment.

In the final part of the series of homilies in two weeks time you will be asked to join in what the Pope calls “spiritual combat, vigilance and discernment.”

Francis tells us do not be afraid of holiness. Following this call is what allows us to leave this Mass in peace and to truly glorify the Lord by living lives of holiness and thus avoiding the one great tragedy in life which is – not becoming a saint.

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A Difficult Teaching

I have been thinking about the Gospel’s these past few weeks in preparation for the homily.

As you know there are four evangelists, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.  We believe that each of their canonical gospels is the inspired word of God bGospel of Johnut it is also true that they each feature the words or recollections of the evangelists.

While they all tell the story of Jesus and his time on earth each version of the story has its own style.

To help us understand this I have come up with an analogy. Think of a family going on an extended trip together. There are four siblings sitting in the back of the family motorhome and each of them is tasked with writing about the adventure.

The oldest is Mark. He is the efficient one. He is the first to write his story and it is straight forward and fact based.

The two middle kids are named Matthew and Luke. They have had a chance to read Mark’s account and they determine that there are things he left out that were either important or needed be expanded upon. They even have a few things they remember quite differently from Mark and from each other.

One example of this is the nativity story on which our celebration of Christmas is based. If all we had was Mark’s Gospel we would not know anything about the birth of Jesus, in fact we would not know the names of his mother Mary and adopted father Joseph.

Matthew and Luke most likely had another source for some of the details of the story and they complete their gospels some time after Mark.

John is the poet of the family. Most large families have a John. He has likely read or at least heard the others recounting of the journey with Christ and decided not to simply retell them using the same details as Mark, Matthew and Luke. John wants to provide his own interpretation and explanation behind the events and teachings of Jesus’ ministry.

I encourage you to take a moment this week and read the story of the Last Supper as told by the four evangelists. Mark, Matthew and Luke tell basically the same story but as mentioned they highlight different aspects mostly to make a point with the communities that they are talking to as part of their evangelization.

When you read John’s account you have to question if this is actually the same event.

Scripture scholars have debated why John tells the story the way he does and it remains the subject of much debate to this day.

In all the gospels The Last Supper is the final time Jesus really gets to speak with his closest disciples.

In the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke), Jesus breaks the bread and blesses the wine, he makes his new and everlasting covenant with us and commands us to do this in his memory.

John uses the scene of the Last Supper to show us Jesus washing the feet of the disciples and he tells us of Jesus’ command to love one another as Jesus has loved us.

It is in the bread of life discourse that John shows us the deeper meaning of the breaking and eating of the Bread.

In this discourse in Chapter 6 of John’s gospel we hear Jesus say:

“I am the bread of life;….Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day.”

Spoiler alert: In a few weeks time, when we complete this chapter of John’s gospel we will see that many who have followed Jesus because of the miracles or signs find this teaching about the bread of life to be too difficult.

This is indeed a difficult teaching and many of the followers, those attracted to the miracles find the teaching to hard to either understand or follow and they leave.

This brings us to what I call the “so what” part of the homily.

So what does the bread of life discourse mean to us today in this parish 2,000 years later? For us Catholics this is not really a hard teaching since it has been ingrained in us since birth or as part of the RCIA.

But is knowing a teaching and even believing it to be true the same as living it?

When we listen to the words of the consecration as Catholics and we believe that the bread and wine being offered become the body and blood of Jesus we also acknowledge that he is with us and that we will have everlasting life.

If we believe this teaching why do we find, at times, the other teachings of Jesus so difficult to live by and perhaps we walk away.

I am referring to:

  • The teachings of about asking for forgiveness and granting forgiveness.
  • The teachings on loving our neighbour which may not be so hard but what about holding out the hand of love to our enemy;
  • The teachings about caring for the least of the brothers and sisters including the stranger and the prisoner;
  • The teachings warning us about judging the other as a sinner when we have a log in our own eye.

And I could go on but you can see that many of the teachings of Jesus are difficult.

When we eat his body and drink his blood, when we proclaim his death and that he will come again then why is it we so often leave Mass with a sense of worry, dread, anger or fear.

Perhaps truly believing that Jesus is the bread of life is not as easy a teaching to follow as we might think.

For if we truly believe these words of Jesus, as told to us by the evangelist John and we live our lives as if we are completely fed by the bread of life then there is nothing holding us back from departing this Mass in peace which also means we are completely free to glorify the Lord by the way we live our lives.

 

Here is my Homily from the Daily TV Mass which was broadcast on May 10th:


 

Let me start by wishing all of the Moms here at Mass today a very special and Happy Mother’s Day.

I have had the opportunity lately to visit with several “new” mothers who have had their first child. These visits got me to thinking that parenthood in general, and motherhood especially, has evolved a great deal over the past few generations

One major evolution is the equipment. I have come to conclude that the primary role of the father these days is to serve as a “Sherpa” or assistant who carries all that is needed for this small human being to leave it home for a brief visit into the outside world.

Since it is Mother’s day I hope you won’t mind if I focus on that in my homily but in the interests of fairness these thoughts are as relevant for fathers as they are for mothers.

Today, we celebrate the Ascension of Our Lord. In the gospel we hear that the 11 apostles are with Jesus as he ascends to his Father in heaven. There is a good case to be made that Mary was present and if she wasn’t she certainly was with them when they returned to the Upper Room.

The disciples have retreated back to the Upper Room after the Ascension where they will remain until the Holy Spirit descends on them and they finally find the courage to go out into the world.

As I thought about all the changes in the role of mothers over these past generations, a good argument can be made that the important things are the same as they have always been.

There is much to be learned from Mary, the Mother of Jesus even though she lived in a completely different time and place.

Mother MaryWho was Mary?

In truth we know very little about Mary from the scriptures. We know she lived in a small and insignificant town called Nazareth.  This ‘town” was a collection of a few families and some common buildings like the synagogue.

Since Mary had yet to marry she would have been young, around 13-14 years of age. She was betrothed to Joseph who we also know little about.

This simple peasant girl from Nazareth has well over 500 titles and has a special place in the hearts of Catholics. The one name, however, she most likely treasures above all is that of Mother.

What can the life of the poor peasant girl from Nazareth who lived over 2,000 years ago teach us about the things that never change when it comes to motherhood?

Let us take a walk through her life.

 

Annunciation: Courage

We first meet young Mary at the Annunciation. She is minding her own business and looking forward to becoming Joseph’s wife when the Angel Gabriel appears with a shocking message- She would bear a child conceived by the Holy Spirit.

She finds the courage to say yes to the call from God to have this child. For the first but not the last time we learn that she treasured and pondered these things in her heart.

It seems to me that all mother’s treasure and ponder many things in their hearts as they wonder what the future holds for their children.

Visitation: Perseverance

Upon hearing the words from Gabriel that her older cousin is also with child she immediately leaves to visit her. In other words she has accepted the word of Gabriel but like any good mother she is not afraid to check the story out.

Nativity: Strength

We all know the story of the nativity but have you ever thought of how much strength it would have taken on Mary’s part to go on this journey.

She gives birth in a stable and then the shepherds arrive out of nowhere with the news about the angels proclamation about this baby and for the second time she ponders these things in her heart.

Presentation in the Temple: Faithfulness

Perhaps a less known story is the presentation of Jesus. Joseph and Mary take their son to the temple to offer the required sacrifices. They were faithful Jews and they would bring Jesus up in their faith.

Mary is told things by an old man, Simeon, about the impact Jesus will have on the people of Israel and for the third time she ponders these words in her heart.

Flight to Egypt: Selflessness

Believing that her son is in danger she immediately leaves with Joseph and they travel to Egypt. They become refugees. Mary puts aside her own desires to return home to Nazareth to be with her family to protect her infant son.

Jesus in the Temple: Worry

We don’t really know much about the Holy family’s time in Nazareth following the return from Egypt. We will meet them again in Luke as they travel to the festival in Jerusalem. Jesus is about 12 years old. If you remember the story Mary and Joseph start for home only to realize after sometime on the road that Jesus is not with other members of their family.

Can you imagine the worry in Mary’s heart as they race back to Jerusalem and the relief when they find him in the temple.

Cana- Encouragement

Mary and Jesus are at the wedding feast in Cana and Mary encourages Jesus to help their hosts. Jesus accepts this gentle encouragement from his mother and his public ministry begins with the miracle of the water and the wine.

The Passion of our Lord- Sorrow & Hopefulness

Perhaps the most powerful experience we have with Mary as our guide is to join with her as she journey’s with her Son through his passion.

Mary’s heart must be breaking as she can do little to lessen his suffering other than to be present. Many mothers know this sense of helplessness and sorrow.

In the end, her presence was a great comfort and source of hopefulness for Jesus.

Foot of the Cross: Mary becomes our Mother

Jesus looks at the unnamed disciple whom He loved and said to him, said to us, this is your Mother.

In this moment, Jesus tells us that he is for all times our brother and Mary is our mother.

Back to the Upper Room following the Ascension. During this time of waiting for the Holy Spirit, which was a time of doubt and fear for the disciples, I can see Mary, our mother, comforting and reassuring them.

Mary had pondered many things in her heart over the years she was with Jesus.

In that Upper Room Mary was ready to be there for the apostles just as she is ready to be there for us in our times of great joy and desperate need.

On this day when we honour our mothers, let us remember the lessons of our spiritual mother.

Let us not be afraid to say; Hail Mary Full of Grace, help us to know the peace of your son Jesus Christ and be our guide as we strive to a life that truly glorifies his name.

Welcome Home

When I was a kid back in grade 8, I went to a Catholic School and many of the teachers were nuns from the Sisters of St. Joseph as there convent was just up the street. One day we were having a special lunch and we were lined up in the cafeteria waiting our turn in line. At the head of the table was a large pile of apples. The head nun who was the principal made a note, and posted on the apple tray: “Take only ONE, God is watching.” Moving further along the lunch line, at the other end of the table was a large pile of chocolate chip cookies. I took out a marker and on a piece of paper wrote this note, “Take all you want, God is watching the apples.”

That may not be a true story but I have had occasion over the past few weeks to think back on earlier days. My father-in-law was in his 93rd year. We first met 45 years ago when I was a nervous teen age boy dating his daughter. Over the last two weeks his whole family was with him as he entered into the final stages of his life and he passed away in April 4th the same day as his father had died some 60 years earlier.

In times like this it is natural for people to reflect back to earlier days.  As a deacon one of the great privileges and honours I have been given is to be with families at this time when someone they love has died.

In a sense the Christian community is such a family that comes together during Holy Week to remember the death of Jesus on that Cross in Calvary.

If you can think back that far remember that Holy Thursday night when Jesus gave us the gift of his body and blood.

On Good Friday, we witnessed his death which was proceeded by his suffering.

In today’s Gospel we are back in that Upper Room with the disciples who had walked with Jesus on the road to Emmaus.

While walking home they had met Jesus but they did not recognize him. This is similar to Mary Magdalene’s experience in the Garden.

While traveling together Jesus shared the scriptures with them. We are told that their hearts burned. When Christ broke the bread with them they immediately know it was the Christ and that Jesus’ death on the Cross was not the end of the story.

One interesting point of the Road to Emmaus chapter of the New Testament is that there are two disciples walking with Jesus. One is named, Cleopas, but the other is unnamed. I suggest this is on purpose and that each of us is invited to see ourselves as that disciple.

If we continue the journey with Jesus and we let this Big Story penetrate our hearts there are many lessons for us that, if learned and practiced will change our lives.

Here are four big lessons from our Big Story:

It is a Story of Love

You may not know this but the story of our faith as told in the bible and as it has unfolded through the years is one of love. When asked what the greatest commandment is Jesus tells is that there are two:

Love God with all your heart is the greatest commandment: In other words you are the beloved child of a loving God; and the second is to love one another as Jesus has loved us.

But it raises the question: What does Jesus mean by Love?

We learn more about love in St. Paul’s letters. He tells us that Love is always kind, (even when the other deserves no kindness), it is always patient (even when the other deserves no patience), it is not self-seeking or boastful. Love perseveres through all things.

It is a Story of Forgiveness

I have been told that the majority of teachings in the New Testament have to do in one way or another with forgiveness. Our God knows that we are all far from perfect. The greatest parable that Jesus shares with us is that of the prodigal son and the loving father who welcomes him home.

Jesus knew this about all of us as humans which is why from the Cross He says, “Father Forgive them for they know not what they do.”

It is a Story of Suffering

The story of Jesus we have lived over this past Holy Week in the Christian calendar speaks so clearly of our human journey.

It tells us that suffering is a part of life.

I encourage each of you to read, re-read or watch the story of Christ’s Passion. In less than a day you will see a man who experiences many kinds of suffering.

Jesus is betrayed by one of his closest friends. He is abandoned by all in his moment of greatest need.

He will experience unbelievable physical suffering as he is flogged and mocked with a crown of thorns.

In the midst of his suffering, Jesus picks up his cross and moves forward. This is one of the key lessons Jesus leaves us.

There is a second lesson about dealing with suffering. While walking towards his death, Jesus accepts the help of another person. This person offers to carry Christ’s Cross.

In the midst of suffering do not be afraid to ask for help when you need it and just as importantly offer it when you are able.

It is a Story of Coming Home

Death is not the end of the Jesus’ story just as it was not the end of my father-in-law’s story.

The resurrection stories of the past few weeks point out that our time on earth living this human existence is only a small part of the everlasting life we have been given by our loving Father.

When he was younger, there were people, especially his Mother, who told my father-in-law Joe, this Big Story. As he grew into adulthood he lived the story to the best of his ability.

After his suffering was ended and he died surrounded by his family the next part of the journey began.

He was guided by the Holy Spirit into the waiting hands of God the Father and the warm embrace of his brother Jesus. No more suffering only joy.

I imagine Jesus saying to my father-in-law that he had truly glorified him by the way he had lived his life. God then welcomed his child Joe, as he will one day welcome each of us, home, where we will know what it means to truly live in peace.

Here is my Easter Homily from a few weeks back. It references the Stain Glass Windows in my home parish of St. Patrick’s. Click here if you would like to have a closer look at these windows which help to tell our Big Story. 

A family was walking out of church the last time I gave the homily and I overheard their conversation. The father said that that was one of the worst sermons he had ever heard. The mother offered that she thought the singing was just horrible. Their young daughter looked at her parents and said: “well all in all not a bad show for a dollar”.

Easter Sunday is one of the busiest days at churches around the world and I would like to welcome and thank all of you who are visitors to our parish today on this most special of Sundays.

Why do you think there is a bigger than usual crowd here today?

One of the answers is that on this Easter Sunday we remember in a special way our Big Story.

How did you come to know the story we remember here today?

One of the advantages I have in attempting to re-live this account of the life of Christ, thanks to our former pastor the late Fr. Michael Waites and the parishioners who help with the Stain Glass window project, is that the church of St. Patrick’s is a place where the story comes to life through the images that surround us.

You likely know how our story begins. God created the world in six-days and on the seventh day he rested. He created Man and Woman and placed them in the Garden of Eden.

Life is a gift given to them freely with one exception. They are not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. When they disobey this command we have what is called the fall, the first and original sin.

The most interesting part about the start to our Big Story are the consequences of the act of eating from the tree of knowledge of good and evil.

Many scholars and theologians concentrate on the introduction of evil, of sin into the world through this act of disobedience and there is much to be discussed about this theme in the story.Adam and Eve

I find the introduction of suffering into the world to be just as important a theme of the story. When Adam and Eve are confronted by God they learn that they can no longer live in the Garden and from that point forward all of humankind will know pain and suffering.

The rest of our stain glass windows along the central isle tell the stories of these early struggles.

While the tale of Cain and Able is not presented in these pictures it is offered to us as a lesson on the destructive power of jealousy and anger. Cain comes to hate his brother so much that he ends up killing him.

When you view the rest of these windows you see the story of Noah, Abraham, Moses and we conclude with Elijah departing this earth on his fiery chariot.

This is where the story takes a big turn.

Our God so loved the world that he sent us his only Son.

How does God decide to come into our world?

Instead of using Elijah’s glorious chariot to make a big entrance it is decided that Jesus, the only begotten Son of God, would come into the world as one of us, as fully human and fully divine and walk with us.

If you move from this final panel along the centre isle to this side of the church you will see the Annunciation depicted. The Angel Gabriel tells the young girl Mary that she is to conceive a child and that this baby would be born of the Holy Spirit.

The rest of the New Testament story unfolds from there. Jesus is born in a stable, presented at the temple and then Baptized with water and the Holy Spirit.

On the other side of the Church we see His miracles brought to life. Jesus calms the sea, turns water into wine, cures the man born blind and one of his greatest stories or parables- the prodigal son is captured.

Jesus and the ChildrenThe final window depicts the story of Jesus with the little children. In Mark’s Gospel Jesus tells us that unless our faith is like that of these little children we will never be able to enter the kingdom.

Why does he say this?

One reason I think Jesus reminded us about the way little children see things is that they have the ability to take in a Big Story.  They have the willingness to believe things they may not be able to prove beyond a shadow of doubt. In other words they have great faith, especially when they trust the story-teller.

We will all need faith to let the rest of our Big Story impact our lives and great trust in our story-teller who in this case is Jesus.

As I was thinking about this homily and using these pictures as a guide through our story I thought that the builders of the church of St. Patrick’s over the years had forgotten to include one of the most important images – a picture of the Last Supper.

Then it came to me. We have a full 3D image of this most important event right here in our altar.

Just before Jesus was to enter into his Passion and death he gathered the disciples together for one last time to share the Passover meal. When they were at this table he took bread and broke it and gave it to his disciples and said to them; this is my Body. He then took the wine and again blessing it he said, this is my blood, the blood of the new and everlasting covenant.

Then he gave one simple command- Do this in remembrance of me.

This part of our Big Story could be the subject of a lifetime of learning.  I just want to include the thought that Jesus left us this gift so that we would know that no matter what happens to us we are never alone if we believe and trust in him.

Why is this important?

Look at the next part of our story as depicted along the back walls of the church in the Stations of the Cross.

From that last supper to his death the next day Jesus will experience

  • Betrayal at the hands of one of his closest friends;
  • He will be abandoned by most of the disciples who had promised to never leave him;
  • He will be falsely accused by those who hate him;
  • He will be humiliated and spat upon;
  • He will have to pick up his heavy cross and carry it;
  • He will accept the help of a complete stranger when he needs it;
  • He will witness the pain in his mother’s eyes as she watches him suffer;
  • AND he will die on that Cross.

Why did Jesus choose this path to enter our lives?

This has been one of, if not the central question of our Christian Faith. Many argue that it comes back to the Story of Adam and Eve right back where we started this journey and the coming of Sin into the world.

I agree, BUT I think there is another very important part to this story.

There would have been many ways God could have reconciled us to himself from this original sin.

God , however, chose to send us his only begotten Son.

Why?

One reason comes from the silent prayer of the priest or deacon at every mass when the chalice is prepared.

“By the mystery of this water and wine we have come to share in the divinity of Christ just as Jesus humbled himself to share in our humanity.”

When Jesus came into the world as one of us he showed us that suffering is a part of the journey. There is no escaping it. Jesus did not get through life without weeping at the death of his friend Lazarus.

Jesus experienced the pain and grief of Mary our beloved Mother as she watched her child suffer and die in the most horrible way.

What makes our story the greatest one ever told is that it does not end at the tomb.

The largest of the stain glass windows is the one behind our altar. It depicts the risen Lord ascending into heaven.

Today on Easter Sunday we gather to remember that we have been given the gift of life everlasting through the resurrection.

My hope for all of you is that you get a chance to really come to know and to live our Big Story.

Jesus came to be with us so that we would know that we are called to live in peace.  If we choose to glorify the Lord by the way we live our lives, which means living this Big Story, then we know that the ending of our story is that one day we will be with him in paradise.

John 19There is usually, though not always, a display of pictures or now a days a video. One thing that strikes me as a visitor to this family gathering at the funeral home is how similar these montages of life capture in pictures is between all of these different and unrelated clans.

While they all seem to have the same big moments you can just sense that each individual and family story is unique.

A little over a week ago I was at the funeral home and was doing prayers for my good friend and mentor Deacon Vern Bechard. Many of you know Deacon Vern and Mary Lou who have been members of this parish family for over 5 decades.

There was a slide show that depicted a family with 8 kids which eventually grew to include many grand and great grandchildren. Vern’s oldest son shared his deep respect for his father and what a blessing it was for all the family to be at his bedside when he died.

I wanted to tell you this story because Deacon Vern played a major role in my own journey to the diaconate and most important in my “choice” or at least my agreement to get involved in ministry to ex-convicts.

It was a Sunday, like any other Sunday, and we had come to church and as creatures of habit we sat in our usual seats in the front row by the tabernacle.

Deacon Vern was the homilist and he told a story. At the time Vern was a volunteer chaplain at the centre for young offenders. He shared how he had met a young man there who had just been arrested and his parents were waiting to see him for the first time since his arrest in the waiting room.  Deacon Vern was not there to fix anything but to just help this family reconnect at a very difficult time.

Years later when it came time for me to pick a ministry, the Director of Deacons at the time, the late Deacon Bert Cambre, “suggested” that I might want to get involved in working with ex-convicts.

Deacon Vern’s story from many years prior kept coming back to me and I eventually said yes to this invitation but I pondered, and I continue to ponder, many things in my heart about this calling.

One jarring aspect of walking with men and women who have spent considerable time in prison is that every so often they let you into their family stories.

The 1st person I met as a part of this ministry was a man named Don. I remember that day he got into my car and we were off to have a hamburger which was the 1st meal I ever shared with a bank robber.

Don was an angry young man in many ways. It turns out he grew up in a violent home. His mother was a mean drunk and drug addict.

After a few months he told me of a powerful memory he had as a child of about 8 years of age. It was like a dream. He was being held in these big hands and he had a feeling of safety and security he had never known before.

Suddenly he awoke gasping for breath. He was later told that his mother had almost choked him to death and that he had lost consciousness for a period of time.

I wanted to tell you this story and I have many more as examples of how families are not always what they seem.

But I suspect you already know that to be true.

In our gospel today Mary and Joseph present Jesus at the temple to fulfil the Law of Moses. Eventually they return to Nazareth where Jesus grows in wisdom. We know they venture to Jerusalem when Jesus is around 12 years of age. We also know Mary and Jesus would experience and grieve the loss of Joseph.

Perhaps the most significant event in the history of the Holy Family takes place right at the end of Jesus life on this earth while he is on the cross. This scene only takes place in John’s gospel. You might remember it. At the foot of the cross stands the Mother of Jesus and the disciple Jesus loves. In the moments before he takes his last breath Jesus says:

“Woman, here is your son.” Then he said to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home. (John 19)

The way I read this story is that we are all the unnamed disciple who Jesus loves. In this moment Jesus tells us that his Mother is our mother and therefore Jesus is our brother.

In one instant Jesus promises us that regardless of our earthly family history we are all a part of his Holy Family.

If you take a moment and read the entire story you find that this Holy family is headed by a loving father who so loved the world he sent Jesus to be one with us. He is also the type of Father that will run out to meet us regardless of our wrong doings just as the father in the parable of the Prodigal Son did.

The Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph had their own story much of which we don’t know about. What we do know, however, is that each and every one of us has been included in this family and that no matter what we face on earth we always have a place to call home in this holiest of families.

This reality is what gives us the power to go out into the world in peace and to glorify our Holy Family by the way we choose to live our lives.

Advent Week 2: Peace

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Advent Week 1: Hope

 

Advent Week 1 Hope

 

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope. Romans 15:13

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