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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.


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

Matthew 25

We have completed our walk with Jesus through Ordinary time with the evangelist Matthew as our guide.

As you may have heard the last three weeks of Year A in the 3 year liturgical cycle  are particularly significant for those of us at St. Patrick’s. The Parish “Vision Statement” which is a prominent feature in the Large Hall was developed many years ago using the three parable’s from Matthew’s Chapter 25 as its foundation.

The story of the 10 Bridesmaids taught us that we have TO BE prepared for the coming of the bridegroom- Jesus – could be at any time.

The Parable of the servant who took what he had been given by his master and put it to good use is where the words Faithful Servants come from in the motto.

Last week, on Christ the King Sunday, the final Sunday of the church year, we hear what many consider to be the most powerful of the parables in the gospels.  Jesus tells us how on the day of the final judgement we will be separated into two groups. One on his right and one on his left. It turns out that our focus on the traditional sins, while important, may not be what we are primarily judged upon when Christ returns again.

In this parable the disciples ask Jesus to explain when did they see him poor and in need, sick or in prison or a stranger. Jesus tells them, he tells us, that “whatever you do for the least of the brothers and sisters you also do for me.” In other words Jesus on that final day will be most interested in how we walked the talk.

The St. Patrick’s vision, therefore, is a simple call; “To be faithful servants walking God’s talk.”

This message is carried forward today in our Gospel reading from Mark.  Jesus tells us to “Be watchful! Be alert! You do not know when the time will come.”

Advent is this period before Christmas, it is our time of preparation. Advent is also a call to be alert to what is about to happen on Christmas Day and to be aware of what is happening around us.

In a few short weeks we will celebrate the birth of our Lord Jesus. We will experience that our God so loved the world that he sent his son to not only be with us but also, to be one of us.

During mass we are reminded of this gift, although it is a silent prayer, when the priest or deacon mixes the water with the wine as the cup is being prepared for consecration he says this silent prayer:

 “By the mixing of this water and wine may we come to share in the divinity of Christ who humbled himself to share in our humanity.”

Advent is this special time where we prepare ourselves for the coming of the Lord. On Christmas Day we remember that Jesus humbled himself to share in our humanity and that he constantly invites us to fully share in his divinity.

One way we do that here at St. Patrick’s is that we are alert to the needs of the least of our Brothers and Sisters.  There are a number of worthy causes at this time of year. The St. Pat’s Knights of Columbus are in the foyer today asking for your support of their many good works. The CWL recently asked you to help women in shelters get a new start.

Perhaps our biggest requests of you each year is the Christmas Card Collection program run by the Society of St. Vincent De Paul who help those in need and the Friends of Dismas ministry to people touched by crime.

Last week many of you who participated returned the cards and a good number of you dropped by to pick up envelopes to help.

I wanted to share a letter I received from a man who was help by you this past year. I have known Edward off and on for almost 15 years through my work as part of the Friends of Dismas. He is a proud man who after years of living on his own found himself on very hard times for a number of circumstances beyond his control.

Here is what he wrote:

Dear Deacon Walsh, St. Patrick’s Parish Markham,

Last year I returned to the Toronto area, it was below zero and I was robbed at a shelter, I was broke and miserable.

I received three gift cards for Walmart and Loblaws. This was my first ray of hope. It wasn’t just that I needed things like T-shirts, socks, allergy medication, I certainly did need them, but far more important, I had to lay aside my bitterness and take the first steps to face reality.

Your parishioners gave me hope that life could be better, with these cards. When I was offered another one I was proud to say “no thank you, I’m okay now.”

God bless you and the people of St. Patrick’s for their kindness to strangers they will probably never know. This is truly Christian.    Edward

Father Greg Boyle in his book Tattoos on the Heart, offers this advice to us:

To be in the world who God is. Here is what we seek: a compassion that can stand in awe at what the poor have to carry rather than stand in judgment at how they carry it.

I would like to take a moment on this First Sunday of Advent to thank all of you here at St. Patrick’s for your awe inspiring compassion for the least of the brothers and sisters.

You are faithful servants walking God’s talk during Advent and all year long. You truly know what the words at the end of Mass mean when you are invited to go in peace, glorifying the Lord by the way you are choosing to live your life.

St PaulOne of my favorite authors tells a story about his early experiences in school. He was a creative child with boundless energy. He was the type of kid many teachers just did not know what to do with, as he did not fit the mold of the “model student”.

One day this young writer to be arrived home and informed his mother that the teacher wanted to see her the next day at school. The worried mother asked her son why the teacher had summoned her to this meeting and all the boy said, as he ran from the room, was that the teacher said he was a “Scurvy Elephant” .

The next morning the somewhat angry mother entered the classroom where the teacher was waiting and demanded to know why she had called her son a “Scurvy Elephant”.

The teacher looked back with a smile and said “I did not call your son a scurvy elephant, I called him a disturbing element!”

It seems to me that to be a follower of Christ, Jesus invites us to use our gifts to become a Scurvy Elephant or a positive disturbing element in the world.

Let me explain.

In today’s readings, there is the theme of rich food that has been prepared in a banquet for us by God.  The first reading from Isaiah is my favorite verse for funerals especially if the person who has died lived a full life.

“On this mountain the LORD of hosts will provide for all peoples a feast of rich food and choice wines, juicy, rich food and pure, choice wines.”

In the Gospel, we hear the parable of the king (God) who has prepared a glorious wedding feast for his son. It is a table filled with the best food available. However, at the end of the parable we learn that many of those invited refused to come and partake in all the banquet has to offer.

I have come to think that throughout our lives we will receive numerous invitations to a number of banquets the Lord has prepared for us.

Last week for example, Fr. Dominic talked about the availability of a new program here at St. Patrick’s called the Strengths based Workshop, which is open to all parishioners.

Could this be one such invitation?

A few months back I attended this Strengths based workshop in the parish hall.  Fr. Dominic and a team of parishioners organized these sessions to help people connect with their gifts (“the feast of rich food and choice wines”).

Over my business career, I have been to a number of similar workshops. You take a questionnaire and based on the results you learn about your personality type. These sessions also helped me to understand why I got along with some people and had difficulties with others.

The Strengths based workshop was different. It was excellent at highlighting how each person is a unique creation of God. It turns out we all have different combinations of strengths. The workshop also highlighted how we have the opportunity to utilize these strengths in ways that can make us a positive “disturbing element” in our families, at our places of work or school and in our community.

Let me give you an example using a character in the bible.

Who would you say is the most significant  “Scurvy Elephant” or Disturbing Element in the New Testament?

To make this more interesting lets exclude Jesus and Mary from this question because they are obviously the two that had the most impact.

My choice for the most POSITIVE Disturbing Element award would go to St. Paul the Evangelist.

Interestingly, for a time in the early story of the Church, Paul, who we knew as Saul, could have also won the Most Negative Disturbing Element Award.

When you take the Strengths Workshop, you will discover that there are 34 strengths. You start by completing a survey, which will identify your top five strengths.

There may well be an Ahha moment- an epiphany- when you examine your results. You may well realize that you have wasted a great deal of time and energy trying to fix your weaknesses rather than developing your strengths.

I have it on good authority that St. Paul did not take the online test but what might of his results looked like if he had the opportunity.

It is an assumption, but it could be a good bet, that St. Paul would have scored high in these two strengths:

Belief: altruistic, dependable, family-oriented, responsible, spiritual

and Achiever: energetic, goal-oriented, hardworking, motivated, self-disciplined

When we first meet Paul in Acts of the Apostles, he is going by the name of Saul. I once read a scholar who likened Saul to the members of the modern day Taliban.

Saul was a Pharisee. The Pharisees considered themselves the most expert and accurate witnesses of the Jewish law. Saul was also an achiever so he took this role very seriously.

When the Followers of the Way (the 1st Christians) appeared, Saul saw them as a threat to the purity of the faith. In the early chapters of the Acts of the Apostles Saul is leading a group zealots that stoned Steven, the 1st deacon, for blasphemy.

Then Saul has and extraordinary encounter with Christ on the Road to Damascus. Jesus speaks to him from the heavens saying, “Saul, Saul why do you persecute me? “

Our Lord could have just as easily said, “Saul, why are using your gifts to hurt my people.”

Saul became Paul with the help of another person who cared for him after Saul lost his sight. Saul realizes he must become a positive disturbing element for Christ. When he realizes this, the scales fall from his eyes and he becomes Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles.

From that moment on, Paul starts to use his gifts, his God given strengths, to take the good news to the world. He establishes the church in many different places. His epistles are his letters of encouragement to these newly formed groups that are often struggling with their own beliefs.

The strengths workshop offered at the Parish is a truly unique opportunity to see yourself in a new light.

If you are young person finding your way, it is a chance to understand your God-given and unique talents.

If you are in the middle of life, it is a chance to see that you are not defined by your perceived weaknesses. It is an opportunity to see that it is your strengths that make a real difference in your life and the lives of those you touch.

If you are in, or approaching the “retirement” part of your life, you may be tempted to say that you cannot teach an old dog new tricks. If you take a chance and attend the workshop, you could be surprised by how much you have to offer the least of the brothers and sisters.

Back to the gospel. No matter your age, God has invited you to a one of a kind wedding feast. On the table, God has prepared for you, your own banquet of unique gifts, strengths. All he asks is we answer this invitation and join him at the table.

When we come to fully understand that we are a unique creation of God with special strengths given to us directly from this loving Father, then we truly will know what it means to go in peace and we will be fully equipped to glorify him by the way we choose to live our lives.

Walking on Water

The last time I was with you I told you about a priest, an evangelist, and a minister who had serious racoon problems in their respective churches.

Today we find the same three in a rowboat in the middle of a pond fishing. None of them had caught anything all morning.

Then the evangelist stands up and says he needs to go to the bathroom so he climbs out of the boat and walks on the water to shore. He comes back ten minutes later the same way.

Then the minister decides he needs to go to the bathroom, too, so he climbs out of the boat and walks on the water to shore. He, too, comes back the same way ten minutes later.

The priest looks at both of them and decides that his faith is just as strong as his fishing buddies and that he can walk on water, too. He stands up and excuses himself. As he steps out, he makes a big splash down into the water.

The evangelist looks at the minister and says,”I suppose we should have told him where the rocks were.”

My last homily was on the 14th Sunday of Ordinary Time.

Since then we have spent most of our time walking with Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew and he has been telling us parables. I once read that if you want to know what God thinks study the parables.

Today’s gospel story starts after the miracle of the multiplication of the loves and fish. Jesus sends his closest disciples away on a boat. He goes off by himself to pray.

There is a storm on the Sea of Galilee and the disciples are worried that they are going to die when Jesus walks across the water. They go from worried to having a panic attack thinking that he is a ghost.

When they finally realize that this might be Jesus, Peter finds the courage to call out and him saying:
“Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.”
He said, “Come.”
Peter got out of the boat and began to walk on the water toward Jesus. But when he saw how strong the wind was he became frightened; and, beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!”
Immediately Jesus stretched out his hand and caught Peter, and said to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”  

When I get the opportunity to speak to Christian group I like to ask them to raise there hands if they are in agreement with the following statements.

The first is- Do you believe everything that Jesus teaches in the Gospel? Most of the hands go up.

The second statement is a bit more challenging. I ask them to put up their hands if the have a deep and unwavering faith.  Here the response is mixed and it differs based on the group.

I then read them some quotes from people of faith who have shared the many doubts they have faced with respect to their faith. The audience is surprised to learn that all of these quotes about having a true and deep crisis of faith are actually the same person- Saint Mother Teresa.

What is faith?

The dictionary defines Faith as complete trust or confidence in someone or something. The same dictionary tells us that Doubt is a feeling of uncertainty.

Can you have faith and doubt at the same time?

I would suggest that the answer is yes and one could argue that if you do not have some doubt, some uncertainty then there is no need for faith.

Let me give you a simple example. Who has a cell phone? Can I have it for a moment?

Let me ask you a question. Do you believe in the law of gravity? If you have, any doubts about the law of gravity would you mind if I used your cell phone to demonstrate how it works by letting go of it.

Believing in the law of gravity takes absolutely no faith what so ever and few have any doubts about it.

Believing and living everything Jesus teaches, however, takes a great deal of faith and a radical trust in God.

In my last homily, I shared with you the four (4) non-negotiables of faith as I see it if you truly believe everything Jesus teaches in the gospel. They are:

Non-negotiable 1: You are the beloved child of a loving God

Non-negotiable 2: Love of God/Self/Neighbour/ Enemy

Non-negotiable 3: We are a people of Forgiveness

Non-negotiable 4: We practice inclusion- Open Table Fellowship

I read recently that the opposite of faith is not doubt instead it is worry. After all, if we believe everything Jesus teaches in the gospel then why do we worry?

Take the example of Mother Teresa. I do not think you could really argue that she was not a person of great faith. She clearly believed in the Non-negotiable #4, which is the practice of Open table Fellowship. She considered all she met as worthy of love, compassion and care.

She found the courage to leave the protection of the convent and went into the streets of Calcutta. What she encountered there eventually took its toll and she had many doubts but those doubts did not lead to a state of paralysis brought on by worry and anxiety.

If she allowed herself to become a victim of worry and had she stopped trusting Jesus, she most likely would have quit her ministry in defeat.

Jesus does not promise us that life will be nothing but smooth sailing. In today’s gospel, the disciples are in the midst of a storming sea.

Jesus does promise us however that we are all the children of a loving God and regardless of what happens in our lives, if we ruthlessly trust him and if we have faith in him then there truly is no need to worry. ,

Easy to say; “Don’t Worry” but it is hard for most of us to do.

Next week if you come for the 20th Sunday in OT you will hear the story of a Canaanite women who asked Jesus to cast out a demon from her daughter.

At 1st Jesus rebuffs the woman’s pleas in some pretty unkind ways. The woman persists, and at the end of the passage, Jesus praises her as a woman of great faith.

This week the Church will celebrate the Assumption of the Body and Soul of Mary into heaven.

Mary, the Mother of Jesus is the greatest example of faith. I encourage you to read the passages about Mary in the Gospel. We learn that Mary would often “ponder” things in her heart. We ‘ponder’ when we are unsure of something.

Mary did not let worry stop her from saying yes. Her yes did not mean that there would not be much pain as a result. Imagine her at the foot of the cross.

I encourage you to look at the things in your life that cause you worry and anxiety.

Today’s gospel encourages us to leave our worries in the boat. Jesus is calling us to come to him, to ruthlessly trust and have faith in him, and to know that despite our doubts we are never alone.

This does not mean that the worries you have left behind in the boat are not still there. However, if we choose to live a life based on faith in Jesus we will find the courage to go in peace.

We find this peace because we have chosen to live lives without worry and fear which is one way we can truly glorify the Lord.

I will give you restIn a small town, there were three Christian churches. There was an Evangelical, Baptist and a Catholic Church. The ministers and priest met once a year to have dinner and to talk about their ministry. Racoons had set up home in their respective church attics. The decided to meet next year and compare notes on how they had dealt with their unwelcome racoon visitors.

One year later at dinner, the evangelical preacher said they had formed a committee and decided they would build a slide from the roof so the racoons could leave. It turns out that their unwanted guests had so much fun they invited other racoons over and now, a year later, they had even more of them in the attic.

The Baptist minister stated that he did not have any luck either. It seems their congregation had decided to humanely capture the racoons and transport them out of town. Sure enough, by the next Sunday, the racoons had found their way back and they had brought even more of their friends and family with them. Therefore, the Baptists also had more critters in the attic than they had when the three pastors had met a year earlier.

They both looked at the priest from the Catholic Church who was smiling from ear to ear. He said their parish had solved the problem. He shared how they had captured the raccoons, he told them that he then baptized them and now they only came to the church at Christmas and Easter!

I chuckled at this story because it has a ring of truth to it. We have just completed the Easter Season and we have once again entered into this long stretch of Ordinary Time. I am sure you have all noticed that it is a bit less crowded at Sunday Mass.

While the crowds come to hear the Christmas and Easter stories, it is the stories about Jesus we experience during Ordinary Time that can transform our lives if we choose to understand and live them.

Over these coming weeks we will hear the Gospel, the Good News, according to Matthew.

Matthew is an interesting character. He is one of the original Apostles and his Hebrew name was Levi. He was minding his own business, and it was a profitable business being a tax collector, until one day he was “ambushed” by Jesus.

Jesus says to the tax collector, “Come Follow-me.” Matthew leaves everything and starts to follow this itinerant preacher.

What makes this scene remarkable is that Jesus would extend the invitation to Matthew in the first place. As a tax collector, Matthew would have been hated by the Jews and considered to be a sinner.

Matthew found the courage to leave everything he had to follow Jesus. The Gospel according to Matthew is an account of what most affected him on this journey.

In Matthew Chapter 11, from which today’s Gospel comes from, we find Jesus with his newly selected Apostles wandering around from village to village. While travelling they encounter followers of John the Baptist who have a question for Jesus from John, who is in prison.

It is a simple question: Are you the one or are we to expect another?

Today’s reading is the final part of this chapter and in it; Jesus gets to the point directly.

He tells us that He is the one. Our loving Father has sent him to help us carry our heavy burdens and if we trust in Him we will find rest, we will find peace.

Here we are 2000 years after Jesus shared these words with that crowd. The world today is a busy and at times a hostile place regardless of our age.

Over the past several months, I have met or talked to a number of people who are hurting because of the loss by suicide of someone close to them.

Why a person, especially a young person, contemplates taking his or her own life is a complex question and each situation is unique. There is no one answer or perhaps there is no answers at all to this question.

People who reach this stage often times feel that their burdens are so heavy they can no longer carry them. For many (not all) I would think that they did not have any real or at least a good understanding of our Mega-story (as Fr. Ron Rolheiser calls it) that is told in all the Gospels.

For me, and it maybe different for you, there are four Big (Mega) ideas that you will see played out before your eyes if you stick with this journey with Matthew through Ordinary Time. I would go as far to argue that these are the four non-negotiables of faith if you as a follower of the Christ want to be able to come to him to find rest, to experience the fullness of the peace of Christ:

Big Idea 1: You are the beloved of a loving God:

  • Brennen Manning in his book called Abba’s Child talks about how this sudden realization, that he was the child of this loving God, helped him return from the depths of his addiction to alcohol.
  • No matter what it is we have done (Prodigal Son) our loving Father will run to welcome us home.

Big Idea 2: Love of God/Self/Neighbour/ Enemy

  • Jesus tells us that the greatest commandment is to Love God with all our heart. We also have to love ourselves. Jesus understands that we cannot give away what we do not have and the next part of the great commandment calls on us to love our neighbour.
  • That is all fine but how can we really Love our Enemy, which is another part of the story we will hear through this most ordinary of times.

Big Idea 3: Forgiveness

  • The Sermon on the Mount- Forgive us our trespasses in equal measure to the way we forgive others.
  • The demons of Guilt /Shame and Resentment/Anger are often the root causes of our burdens.

Big Idea 4: Inclusion- Open Table Fellowship

  • The gift of Matthew 25 where Jesus tells us that when we welcome the stranger, feed the hungry, visit the prisoner, when we reach out to the least of our Brothers and Sisters two things happen. We help to lessen their burden but Jesus knows that we too will have our burden’s lifted as we will benefit even more than the ones we are helping.

Come to me all of you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest.

Over these next weeks of ordinary time, I encourage you to find your Big Ideas from the stories about Jesus according to Matthew. Allow yourself to be ambushed by Christ in such a way that you come to trust him so completely that after each Mass you attend you know what it means to Go in Peace and you have the desire to glorify the Lord by the way you choose to live your life.

A thought…..

Pain Quote for Blog

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