Reflection for Sunday, Dec. 20th, 2015 by Rachel Heft

Reflection for Sunday, Dec. 20th, 2015 by Rachel Heft

4th Sunday of Advent

For printable version: Reflection 4th Sunday of Advent II (Year C) Dec 20 2015

Today’s Gospel is unusual in that it features two women… two pregnant women… two women who have no reasonable expectation of being pregnant.

Mary, a virgin, 13 to 15 years of age or so, is pregnant by the power of the Holy Spirit, the power of God creating life in her womb.

Elizabeth is somewhere in her 60s or 70s or 80s, in all her years she has never been able to have children and is past child-bearing capability.  Yet she and her husband, Zechariah, also of advanced years, conceived John the Baptist, the baby in her belly.

It’s a miracle that either of these women is pregnant. Based on Luke’s account, and the Canticle of Mary in particular, I think it’s safe to say, Mary and Elizabeth are both pretty thrilled to be the chosen miracle mothers.

Many of us in this room are parents, many mothers.  I gave birth to my son in 2012. My husband and I knew we were blessed to have him.

But it was with some surprise and a little concern that I found myself pregnant again less than a year later… We wanted children close in age.  It was just a bit closer than we’d anticipated.

It was in my second trimester that we attended a routine ultrasound.  As with my first pregnancy, I felt great.  The ultrasound technician held the probe to my still-trim tummy. The baby looked small to me… and didn’t seem to “float” so much as “sink”.  Then the technician turned to me and said “I’m sorry, I can’t find a heartbeat”.  There was no heartbeat where there had been one before.  My baby had died.  My body had betrayed no signs of the loss.  The child we had not planned, would not be.

As you can imagine, this was a difficult time for my husband and me emotionally. Still seeking to have children close in age, my husband and I began “trying” as it is now euphemistically called.  Months of waiting and another miscarriage later, we started to get concerned.

Conceiving a child is a scientific matter these days.  Drug store tests can pinpoint ovulation to the day.  Nothing is haphazard.  So when no baby found its way to my belly after a number of months, my doctor quickly referred me to a fertility clinic.  The clinic doctors ran my husband and I through a flurry of tests.  Each one had to take place on the right day within a 30 day timeframe.  Blood work, ultrasounds, lab tests – they were all scheduled with great precision.  And at the end of it all, a medical expert used the dreaded “f” word. I had a fertility disorder.  From a reproductive standpoint, I was, I am, in my forties not my thirties. There just aren’t many viable eggs left.

“Keep trying…” said the doctor, “it isn’t totally impossible, just very unlikely.”

The first thought of women who experience miscarriage or infertility is: what did I do wrong?  Women experience tremendous guilt, shame and sorrow when faced with reproductive limitations.  It’s not something we get to plan for, we don’t know we have a problem until we’re faced with it and the consequences for our lives are significant, we feel like failures and we’re also tremendously sad about the child we will never know.

I prayed in these pews for God to send me another baby.

Imagine how Elizabeth must have felt.  In a society where a woman’s primary goal was reproduction, she was a total failure.  Barren, unproductive, unfruitful, infertile…

How she must have prayed to have a child…

In announcing John’s birth, the Angel Gabriel told Zechariah that the child would be filled with the holy Spirit even from his mother’s womb, would turn many children of Israel to the Lord their God, would turn the hearts of fathers toward children and the disobedient to the understanding of the righteous, to prepare a people fit for the Lord.

But is that what Elizabeth was praying for?  A prophet?  A blessing, to be sure but after she conceived, Luke’s Gospel indicates Elizabeth said, “so has the Lord done for me at a time when he has seen fit to take away my disgrace before others.”  She was thrilled to not be barren anymore, to have the simple blessing of a child.

These days, parents turn to the medical community, alternative therapies, surrogacy and adoption to create families. Families look more diverse, but the love they create is incomparable to any other relationship.  Both the extreme sadness at the difficulty creating a family and the tremendous efforts made by parents-to-be to overcome the problem drive home a singular message for me: our children are a blessing.  They are gifts from God.

Children make us want to tear our hair out from time to time (or everyday, when they refuse to put on their boots, eat the meal they loved yesterday or remember to clear their own dishes after eating), but parents still can’t imagine our lives without them.  They help us believe in the possibility offered by the future, they force us to connect with our inner child, they often bring out the best in us and play a role in helping us grow spiritually and emotionally.

After we’ve created the family we long for, miracle mothers take shape in other ways too: by trying to help our children overcome the extreme challenges they sometimes face.

Over the last month, there are 2 stories that have driven home how clearly mothers see their children as gifts. The first is the story of Kate Drury, her family and her mother, Julie. Julie is a devoted mother to two children.  Her life shifted in a momentous way when her daughter, Kate, began showing signs of medical distress as an infant and continued to be medically fragile as a child.  I followed their story through Julie’s blog and Facebook updates.  Her updates often detailed Kate’s emergency episodes landing them at CHEO.  Between being a caregiver for her daughter and trying to keep up with being a present parent for her son, Julie stretched herself incredibly thin.  Last year, Kate spent over 200 days (consecutively) in hospital trying to overcome mitochondrial disease. I didn’t know her, but its obvious Kate made a huge impression on everyone she met.  She is always described by her giggles. Sadly, Kate returned home in late November of this year, just in time to see her Christmas tree and spend some time with her family before passing away at the age of 8 years old.  Julie and her family are devastated and yet, Julie’s Facebook post about Kate’s death focused on how Kate was an incredible light in this world, had touched so many with her smiles and spirit and how honoured and proud Julie was to be Kate’s mom.  Julie’s life has been gut-wrenchingly difficult over the last few years, but she knows Kate’s life was a gift and she was privileged to be her mother.

You may also know of the story of Evan Leversage.  He inspired the entire town of St. George, Ontario to celebrate Christmas on October 24th knowing that Evan, who was battling brain cancer, would likely not make it until December 25th.  Carollers, lights, festivities, all took part after Evan’s mother requested that a few neighbours put up their Christmas lights early so that Evan could see them one last time. Evan took his last breath, held by his mother, on December 6.  Not only Evan’s mother, but the entire town of St. George treated this child as a gift from God by lighting up their town for his moment of happiness – knowing how important it was – fleeting as it may have been.

And what of the mothers who are currently fleeing Syria as refugees?  They are packing up their babies and climbing into boats to traverse traitorous waters.  They are walking marathons with the weight of their children on their backs and their children’s future on their shoulders. When those mothers find a new country, perhaps here in Canada, despite the cold, what kind of song do you think their hearts are singing?

And what of the mothers in Southern India – whose homes were flooded when rivers burst their banks after heavy downpours? Climate change has them swimming to keep their children above water. They have left every belonging they have, they cling only to their children.  Their most precious gift.

After my fertility diagnosis, I spent a lot of time on prayer.  I also launched myself headfirst into every alternative therapy that was available. And I’m one of the lucky ones. My daughter was born three months ago.  I have the same love for both my children, but the moment my daughter was born I knew I was a miracle mother too. This child, both my children, are gifts from God. I feel a kinship with Elizabeth and Mary.

Every day I look at my daughter and say “I’m so glad you’re here. Thank God you’re here.” The mothers of Kate and Evan can testify to how much those children, even in their fragility, were incredible gifts in their lives. I feel a kinship with these women.

And to the mothers fleeing Syria and swimming in India, I feel a kinship with you too.  I know you are miracle mothers whether or not you struggled to have your children come into this world, you’re struggling to keep them safe here. You’re their superheroes. And this community, as it looks at its Christmas tree for the first or the 30th or the last time, needs to treat you like miracle mothers, and your children like gifts from God.

And we can all sing a version of Mary’s song.  Though we may not bear the Christ child in our wombs, we are oh so blessed to have the gifts of our children:

My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, and my spirit exalts in God my saviour. For he has looked with mercy on my lowliness and my name will be forever exalted. For the mighty God has done great things for me, and his mercy will be from age to age.  And Holy Holy Holy is his name.

Reflection for Sunday, Dec. 13th, 2015 by Marc Caissy

Reflection for Sunday, Dec. 13th, 2015 by Marc Caissy

3rd Sunday of Advent

For printable version: REFLECTION_Dec.13,2015

 

A PRE-CHRISTMAS TO-DO LIST

Perspective on the Readings for ADV3, yr. C
Zephaniah 3:14-18, Phil 4:4-7, Lk 3:10-18

 

Just before Christmas, a pastor we know asked his young nephew Jim to record a message for his answering machine. Rehearsals went smoothly:

 

I can’t take calls right now.  Please leave a message.  Your call will be returned ASAP.

Then came the test.  The 5-yr old recited sweetly,

I can’t take calls right now. Please leave a message. 

Your call will be returned as soon as, as soon as, as soon as Jesus gets here!

 

Jesus in our world: that’s what Scripture is all about today.  Zephaniah urges us to “sing aloud, shout, rejoice!”  To the Philippians, Paul writes: “Rejoice in the Lord always… Don’t worry about anything.”

Even so, two grinch groups would find these readings disturbing…

One group would complain: how can we rejoice when things are so bad?

When Zephaniah called on Israel to rejoice, it was a morally corrupt state, harassed by several enemies.  When Paul wrote to the Philippians, he was in prison.  Christians were suspect and victimized by crass prejudice.  What was there to rejoice about?

Today, we’re stumbling out of a long recession.  Many First Nation communities are among the most marginalized in Canada.  One quarter of our children live in poverty.  In the wider world, several terrorist attacks have recently taken many lives.  The specter of global warming haunts us.  Church scandals are featured in movies.  One currently playing in local cinemas explores the 15-year old cover-up of clergy sexual abuse in Boston.  Why rejoice?

Advent is all about answering that question.  Yes, we believe in a God who saves us from ourselves.  And yes, we celebrate that God becoming human, source of meaning and life in this community!  Isn’t that enough Good News to rejoice?

A 2nd group would ask, “Why rejoice?  We’re doing great on our own!”  In the early 1900’s, Leon Brunschvicq, a French philosopher proclaimed that “modern man needs no redemption.”  In other words, we’re good to go by ourselves, thank you.

Haven’t we seen enough massacres to really believe we can do without God?  Massive numbers of refugees are fleeing toward Europe because of on-going atrocities in their own native countries.  Isn’t the sorry state of the world a consequence of human arrogance, stemming from military dominance, economic prosperity or educational superiority?  Hasn’t much of our vaunted high-tech discoveries simply made it easier to maim and kill each other off?

During the Paris attacks, someone with a grand piano played the famous John Lennon song, “Imagine there’s no heaven, no hell below us…  Imagine there’s no countries and no religion too…”  In the 20th century alone, many “isms” have proposed similar visions.  Visions, yes, but where’s the hope?  Are we any happier because of all the stuff we can shop for?  Are our schools safer?  Are we less lonely, less depressed, less broken-hearted?  Are we really doing so great on our own?

Let’s face it.  We need the Emmanuel more than ever.  Advent is good news indeed: it prepares a real hope-filled vision of the world, of ourselves!  Does this mean that the Creator will take care of whatever mess we make?  When he wrote, “Don’t worry about anything”, did St. Paul mean the same thing as that little Jamaican ditty, “Don’t worry, be happy”?  God isn’t a babysitter.  We’re big boys and girls now: we’re accountable!  To renew the mutual trust between ourselves and the Lord, to celebrate his imminent incarnation, what should we do?

Instead of risking exhaustion and disappointment on spectacular spiritual somersaults, why not get busy on small things?  John the Baptist could’ve made radical demands on the crowds around him: fast and pray, leave everything, join me in the desert. 

But no!  Instead, John simply called for small steps toward renewal. Those who have, share with the have-nots; tax collectors, be honest; soldiers, don’t bully the vulnerable.  “With many other exhortations, John proclaimed the Good News to the people.”  In order to enjoy the peace “that passes all understanding”, what should you and I do?

While terrorists are looking for new ways to “kill our joy” (French president Hollande), we believe it will blossom when we share what we have // with the throngs knocking on our doors.  Here are three suggestions from our bishops on what we can do.

If possible, join a group to sponsor a refugee family.  Just like the doors of a certain inn in Bethlehem, prejudiced minds keep doors closed.  Donate to agencies that educate against apathy, intolerance and fear.  Last but not least, pray for a deeper understanding of Scripture and its pressing call to solidarity and compassion.

It took a faithful and visionary man like John the Baptist to stand against the social injustices of his day.  It will take a faithful and visionary people to embody God’s compassion in this crisis.  Mary and Joseph sought refuge in Bethlehem, and later with Jesus, experienced exile.  Jesus himself had no place to call home during his ministry.

Advent and the current refugee crisis are an opportunity to renew our hearts, deepen our faith, and summon up hope.  What should St. Joe’s do?  Rekindle the Vision and proclaim the Good News to the poor!

Our pre-Christmas to-do list awaits.  So, let’s relax, rejoice… and get going.

Reflection for Sunday, Nov. 29th, 2015 by Joe Gunn

Reflection for Sunday, Nov. 29th, 2015 by Joe Gunn

1st Sunday of Advent

For printable version: First Sunday of Advent 2015

Maybe you’ve heard the story of Christmas dinner at Richard’s house? He always served succulent baked ham, prepared according to the age-old recipe that had become a delicious family tradition. But last year, that tradition was called into question…

You see, his young niece Stephanie, just before grace, asked, “Uncle Richard, why do you always cook the ham in two big pieces?” Richard was a bit taken aback. “Why Stephanie,” he muttered, “That’s the way we’ve always done it in this family.” He turned to his sister, Stephanie’s mom, for help. “Sis, don’t you always cut your ham in two before baking it?” “Sure,” came her immediate reply, “It tastes better that way. That’s the way mom always baked the ham.”

After the big dinner and cleaning the kitchen, all the family traipsed off to see Grandma in her retirement home. Once there, however, Stephanie was not about to be deterred…

“Grandma” she asked, “Mommy and Uncle Richard say you always used to cut your ham before baking it. Why did you do that?”

“Well,” said Grandma, “No big secret. I had to feed this whole mess of kids and I never had a pan that was big enough to fit a whole ham.”

So will we prepare for Christmas in the traditional way?

Today marks the first Sunday of Advent. Does that fact strike cold fear into your heart, when you think of all the important things you need to get done in the next month?

Please don’t think of all the things on your list to accomplish before the 25th…the Christmas cleaning, shining up the silverware, bringing out special decorations, hanging lights, getting a Christmas tree – and then the baking and meal planning, not to mention the frantic holiday shopping – please let’s not even think of all that.

You see, the challenge that the Church asks us to consider in today’s readings is how we might enter into this season of great expectations with a commitment to do something differently,

to be changed,

to be renewed.

Advent is the build-up towards the Feast of the Incarnation – we need this time to prepare, and we need to consider how to use this time well.

And we need – to use religious language – to be converted.

The question before us is: will we do anything different this year, that could make Advent 2015 more meaningful?

There are some hints towards what we might do to mark Advent in today’s readings.

Jeremiah suggests the coming of Our Lord will be obvious because “he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.” Justice and righteousness…! Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians offers that the Lord’s coming should be a time when “love abounds.” And Luke’s Gospel encourages us to remember that Christ came into the world at Christmas, but will also return at the end of time – so our preparation for that should also be on our agendas – beyond the frenzied activity of this next month.

This Advent we could take some time to ponder some of what Pope Francis is challenging us to consider.

Francis wrote the first-ever encyclical on “care for our common home” (Laudato Si’) last June. Few of us are going to read the 190 pages, or 40,000 words of that message. But in short, as Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez has stated, Laudato Si’ represents “a new Rerum Novarum” – a new moment in Catholic Social Thought.

Francis has been constantly speaking about what he calls “an integral ecology” – that which, he says, takes us to the heart of being human.

The pope writes:

“Young people demand change. They wonder how anyone can claim to be building a better future without thinking of the environmental crisis and the sufferings of the excluded.” (LS #13)

The pope understands we face “not two separate crises…but one complex crisis which is both social and environmental.” (LS #139)

Francis says we must hear both “the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor.” (LS #49)

Last week the Vatican sent a letter to every bishop in the world, asking them to “offer your support in prayer, word and action” to the Global Climate March – a series of 2,3000 rallies worldwide taking place one day before the start of the Climate Summit in Paris. The Vatican invited bishops to “offer the celebration of the Eucharist” on Sunday November 29th (today) the day of the March, “for a responsive and successful international conference and summit.” I’m glad that St. Joe’s has accepted this invitation at today’s liturgies, and it’s gratifying to know that several of us will join the March here at City Hall after the 11:30 Mass. It’s hopeful to note that Archbishop Paul-André Durocher of Gatineau and Ottawa’s Archbishop Terry Prendergast will participate in the March with us.

Canada’s bishops also joined 65 other faith community leaders in signing on to a statement on climate justice, ending poverty, and respecting the rights of Indigenous people. In terms of the Paris Climate Summit, these church leaders called for 3 things: for the federal government to “positively influence negotiations in Paris to conclude a binding international agreement;” to “establish more stringent and ambitious emissions reductions targets in Canada;” and “provide material assistance to assist the poorest and most affected countries…”

These elements are what we need to see Canada commit to when the Paris Summit draws to a close.

Of course, there are other ways to reflect, sing, pray and act for climate justice this Advent. (see website on slide.)

There are worship resources available: prayer ideas, sample homilies from a Catholic bishop and other ecumenical leaders, and other resources on-line. You can join the “Prayer Chain” and commit to praying for an hour during the week-long Paris Summit, and you can add your name to a petition that will be presented to the Canadian government delegation when they arrive in Paris. (Pope Francis himself signed a similar petition circulating in Europe!)

You know, here in Catholic churches in Canada, we have a privileged opportunity to make Advent observance come alive through our participation in the work of the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace. This is the organization currently fundraising to support refugees in camps throughout the Middle East, and this is the organization that asked for our signatures on the climate petition that circulated in our parish these last few Sundays. They seem to understand what Pope Francis means when he calls for an “integral ecology.” We can be thankful that a delegation of D&P members will be in Paris next week, and that D&P members from many towns will make their presence known in today’s Climate Marches.

There’s a Chinese proverb that was probably not written with Advent in mind, “If you do not change direction, you may end up where you’re heading.” In terms of the climate challenge, we don’t want to end up “where we’re heading.”

God’s love came into the world, God’s Spirit touched human history in a whole new way that first Christmas. God’s light came among us – but we can always choose to block out that light. We Christians believe that Christ’s birth made everything different – this Advent, we don’t have to prepare for Christmas as indistinguishable members of the consumer culture that engulfs us, that excludes so many, and that damages the earth. We don’t even have to cook that ham in the same old way…

We can start to become the change we want to see, the journey of change towards that “integral ecology” that upon which Advent invites us to embark.

Reflection for Sunday, Nov. 22nd, 2015 by Eleanor Rabnett

Reflection for Sunday, Nov. 22nd, 2015 by Eleanor Rabnett

Feast of Christ the King

For printable version: Reflection for Nov. 22 – Feast of Christ the King

 

First Reading:  Danial 7:13-14
Second Reading:  Revelations 1:5-8
Gospel:  John 18: 33b-37

“I am the Alpha and the Omega’ says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.”  The beginning and the end – and everything in between.  These lines from Revelations are an invitation to us to stop and reflect on God’s kingdom.

The Almighty – all powerful; omnipotent; supreme; preeminent – this is also how in the past people spoke of kings.  Kings from which came every power.  Kings who were believed to have been appointed by God. It is a powerful reading – one full of triumph and majesty.

Today we celebrate the Feast of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe – the feast of Christ the King.  Happy Feast Day!

Here in Canada we do not have kings or queens, princes or princesses. And although I am not unfamiliar with this feast day – I am not usually in the habit of thinking much about it, what it means, how it might be relevant in my life.  Preparing for this reflection has been a gift, a grace from God.

In the Gospel we listen to John’s account of Jesus before Pilate – it’s a story which we are accustomed to hearing – in Holy Week.  As I mention Holy Week I think of the Cross – not the usual image that we find when speaking of kingship and royalty.

William Barclay maintains that “no one can read this story without seeing the sheer majesty of Jesus”.  He goes on to add “When someone faces him, it is not Jesus who is on trial; it is that person.” (Pilate) […] We cannot help feeling that it is Jesus who in control […] “The majesty of Jesus never shone more radiantly than in the hour when he was on trial before the world.”

When Pilate asks if Jesus is a king – he responds with: “My kingdom is not from this world.”  And then a little further he say:  “You say that I am King.  For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth.  Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”  But notice Jesus does not say out-right that he is king.

The Feast of Christ the King.  Christ was not family name, not the last name of Jesus.  Christ comes from the Greek word ‘Christos’ which means anointed, in Hebrew that would be Messiah – Savior. It is a title.  Jesus is the Christ and he is the Savior, certainly by his birth, but also by his death and resurrection.  Jesus, the Christ, King of the Universe.  And I realise as I am speaking that once again the image of the Cross is before us.  That Cross which we will celebrate on Good Friday is also with us today as we celebrate the Kingdom of God.

I must confess that not only have I not thought a lot about the Kingship of Jesus the Christ, or about the kingdom of God – I have never really consciously connected Christ the King with the Cross.  Yet it seems that to experience one is to experience the other.

I find myself a little exuberant and joyful over this.  I am celebrating the Feast of Christ the King of the Universe.  To say it is to make it so, to make it real and lived and not just some words in the Sunday Missal that we hear once a year.

So – How do we love?

How do our lives celebrate the kingdom of God?

Do we live lives that testifies to the truth of Christ the King?

Pope Francis in his 2014 homily for the Feast of Christ the King said:  “The starting point of salvation is not the confession of the sovereignty of Christ, but rather the imitation of Jesus’ works of mercy through which he brought about his kingdom.  The one who accomplishes these works shows that he has welcomed Christ’s sovereignty, because he has opened his heart to God’s charity.  In the twilight of life we will be judged on our love for, closeness to and tenderness towards our brothers and sisters. …Through his victory, Jesus has opened to us his kingdom. But it is for us to enter into it, beginning with our life now, by being close in concrete ways to our brothers and sisters who ask for bread, clothing, acceptance, solidarity, [refuge].  If we truly love them, we will be willing to share with them what is most precious to us, Jesus himself and his Gospel.”

Our Savior the Christ, King of the Universe – before us on the cross and resurrected.

This is our King – a king like no other king has been or will be.

Well this is the day of our Lord and King –let us rejoice and give thanks.

 

Resources:

Pope Francis – Homily from Christ the King Sunday, 2014

William Barclay – The New Daily Study Bible – The Gospel of John

Sunday Homily – 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time/ Fr. Richard’s Installation

The Installation of Fr. Richard Beaudette, OMI as Pastor
St Joseph’s Parish—Sandy Hill, Ottawa, ON
The Solemnity of All Saints – November 1, 2015

THE CHALLENGE OF BECOMING SAINTS

[Texts: Revelation 7.2-4, 9-14; [Psalm 24]; 1 John 3.1-3; Matthew 5.1-12a]

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ:

[Spontaneous remarks re welcome received this morning; evidence of the generosity of parishioners as they entered church in giving to the food bank and supper table; the announced inclusive welcome of St. Joseph’s; the sounds in rehearsal of the vibrant and energizing choir; and the joyful engagement of the children in the entrance procession/liturgy.]

In a few moments I will formally install Father Richard Beaudette as your new pastor. In that ceremony, he will renew the promises he made at the time of his ordination within the Congregation of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate. He will promise to live out his commitment for the next several years with you. The first bishop of our diocese of Bytown, later renamed Ottawa was an Oblate sent to the Canada Mission by the founder of the Oblates, St. Eugene de Mazenod.

Next year we will celebrate the 200th anniversary of the founding of the Oblates, a year that promises to be rich, as you emphasize the Oblate charism of proclaiming the Good News to the poor, that is to say those who are distant or marginalized in any way as the special starting-point
of Oblate ministry.

In turn, I will invite you, representing all other members of the parish to assist him in leading this faith community. I hope that you will say “yes” to him with enthusiasm and joy.

We will process around the church to the various places where he will exercise his priesthood (the baptismal font, the confessional, the pulpit, the altar) and I will remind him of the spirit that should guide him in his service to you. Pray for him that he may do this generously and well.

-Archbishop Terrence Prendergast

Reflection for Sunday, November 15th, 2015 by Louise Lafond

Reflection for Sunday, November 15, 2015 by Louise Lafond

33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

For printable version: Reflection – 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year B – November 14-15 2015

I was very apprehensive when I first looked at today’s readings and Gospel. I know that the time before Advent is filled with apocalyptic texts, but I must confess that I have a lot of difficulty in reconciling the “Son of Man coming in the clouds” and the Jesus of healing the sick and feeding the hungry. As the author of the Letter to the Hebrews states it so well, “Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins.” So what now? Is it not done? The classic theological answer is: Yes and no. Yes, it is done, or as Jesus said it so well himself, “It is finished.” The sacrifice has been made and because of it we are blessed and are assured everlasting life as “…he has perfected for all time those who are sanctified.

On the other hand, no, it is not done: Take a look at the creation that surrounds us, it is constantly becoming, changing, altering, dying, birthing, evolving. We, in our faith communities, continue to memorialize that sacrifice which took place almost two thousand years ago. Why are we not done? We are not done because we are also becoming, changing, altering, dying, birthing, evolving. If members of the early church were to walk into this building what parts would they recognize as part of their community? Materially, nothing. What about the Eucharistic Celebration? Most probably, the Eucharist itself. Other than the Eucharist, I can only hope those members would recognize us, the body of the Church.

However, unlike the earliest members of the early church we have been unable to sustain the “Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place.” Writing in the early 1970’s the great (and blessed) theologian Edward Schillebeeckx said:

“So the sheer strangeness, for us, of the New Testament ideas about salvation-to-come can hardly be denied. We do not look for a celestial son of man to appear at any moment as our judge and set up a messianic commonwealth – concerning which we might inquire anxiously, as people did then, whether Christians already dead will nevertheless have part in it…. We may be rather hasty in our judgement here. One can, after all, wait quite a time for a train that fails to come. But anyone who in this day and age has waited by the track for a scheduled train, not just for hours but for days and weeks – what for us is centuries – when the train simply fails to materialize, can no longer psychologically maintain or substantiate his ‘train-expectancy’. Anyone will conclude soon enough that trains have ceased to run on this particular track. The picture of Christ as it comes to us in the New Testament is in the first instance, therefore, actually weird – not just in the sense of the strange, scandalizing quality inherent in God’s peculiar and divine dealings with man that surpass human wisdom; but strange or ‘queer’ in a purely human, cultural-religious sense.” 1

So, where do we go from here as Christians? We create new meaning about Christ’s nearness to us “…at the very gates,” without letting go of the promise of his coming again. We are forced to create a belief and practice, that started as a contingency, but is now our everyday faith.

So, until that day or hour which no one knows, let us follow Jesus in the best ways we know how: by loving our neighbour; being peacemakers; caring for the sick; clothing the naked; loving our enemies; feeding the hungry; caring for the poor; being kind and merciful, and leave aside the business of our resurrection until he comes again.

 

1 Schillebeeckx, Edward. Jesus: An Experiment in Christology. Trans: Hubert Hoskins, New York: The Crossroad
Publishing Company, 1991, p. 23.

Reflection for Sunday, Oct. 18th, 2015 by John Rietschlin

Reflection for Sunday, October 18th by John Rietschin

29th Sunday in Ordinary Time

For printable version: Reflection – Oct. 19th, 2015

 

When I realized that I had been asked to offer the reflection on the weekend prior to this year’s federal election, it set my head spinning.  Certainly I knew that this was not an occasion to simply expound on my own political leanings.  In the weeks leading up to a reflection, I always try to immerse myself in prayerful reflection on the Sunday readings.  This time, I wondered, should I expect to receive a clear message through the scriptures signaling the Lord’s preferences on voting day?  Perhaps I should examine the party platforms through the lens of the scripture texts—seeking coherence or contradiction with their message.  As my preparation continued, I took the time to read the Canadian Catholic Bishops’ short document applying the words and thoughts of Pope Francis to our Canadian reality.  Perhaps this exercise would lead to political enlightenment that I could share with all of you…but no…

As I continued to ponder the scriptures, I found myself drawn in a different direction.  In today’s gospel story, James and John’s request to Jesus seems so obviously misguided that it scarcely bears any comment.  How could they possibly misunderstand the Lord’s teaching so badly that they could ask to be placed at the centre of power and prestige in the kingdom that they imagined was coming?  Yet, Jesus’s firm but kind response suggests that he did not see them or their request in such a bad light. He acknowledges their willingness to join in his mission but notes this does not lead to any special privileges.

In fact, the story really urges us to look inward and to examine our own desires and motivations.   Are we content simply to live a life of service; to allow ourselves to be transformed by suffering and struggles to love our family members, our neighbors, our co-workers, even our government leaders?  Or do we secretly long for and perhaps even expect human and divine recognition for our efforts?  Which of us hasn’t at least occasionally wanted to be at the front of the room, accepting the admiration and applause of the crowd? It seems that Jesus recognized this very natural human tendency in James and John’s request.  He gently challenged them, and us, to look more clearly at what it means to be called to ministry and to leadership.

I have been a part of the world-wide federation of L’Arche communities for almost twenty five years now. For the past several of those years, L’Arche in Canada has been developing a program on Servant Leadership.  We have been asking ourselves what it means to be a leader.  Two key insights have emerged.  First, EVERYONE is called to servant leadership—whether you are a person with a disability, someone in a position of authority, or simply a member of the community—each one has gifts to share for the good of all.  Second, leadership, if it is to be a service to others, must always bring us into relationship WITH those we are leading.  Leadership is not a power trip.  It is not a route to glory and honor and riches but it is a path to service and relationship.

Frequently, I have the joy of seeing this play out in real life here in the L’Arche Ottawa community.  It happens as Michelle, one of our members with disabilities, starts us singing a very off-key rendition of grace before dinner because she knows everyone is hungry. It happens when another core member, Pierre, looks after his friend and housemate Harry who isn’t feeling well.  It happens when a group of friends and assistants volunteer to plan and prepare a community meal.  It happens when volunteer board members the community’s leaders wrestle with community finances.

I am pretty sure that each of you can cite many examples of servant leadership in your own lives. Whether it is in your family, among your friends, here at Saint Joe’s, at your workplace, in the community at large, or at the national level—we can, almost instinctively, recognize that spirit of service and of selflessness.  Of course, like James and John, we may occasionally slip up a little bit.  And we are perhaps a bit too quick to note when others don’t quite live up to the call.  But Jesus is always there to show us how and to call us back to being servant leaders… if we will allow him to do that.

And isn’t this what we want most from our members of Parliament and our national leaders?  Not to be perfect, or to be always right, but to be WITH those they serve in a spirit of humility.    We want leaders with competence and clarity certainly—but most importantly we seek those who will serve.

I am sure that most of you know, St. Joseph, our parish patron saint is also the Patron Saint of Canada.  I was touched a few weeks ago when I received an email from a friend urging all the Catholics in her address book to make a novena, praying to St. Joseph for a blessing on this year’s federal election.  Included in her email was the text of a prayer that she had composed for this purpose.  In closing, I invite all of us to pray it together.

 

Prayer to St. Joseph

For a blessing on this year’s Federal Elections*

 

O Saint Joseph, loving father, faithful guardian of Jesus

and spouse of the Mother of God,

our beautiful country, Canada,

has been consecrated to you from its very beginnings.

Just as Mary and Jesus recognized in you

the protector given to them by God,

so too we place ourselves under your protection.

We humbly ask you to intercede through the power of Jesus,

and obtain for us from the eternal God the grace

 to choose the best possible team

of men and women to lead our country,

men and women who will be true leaders,

who are not going to be in government

for their own ego, personal advantage, or agenda,

but who will see themselves as servants of society

and will focus on the common good,

while working as wise stewards of the riches of our country,

in harmony with God’s design.

Amen

*Prayer composed by Marthe Lépine, Russell, Ontario

Reflecion for Sunday, September 6th by Fr. Andre Boyer

Reflection for Sunday, August 6th by Fr. Andre Boyer

23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

For printable version: 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time Homily

 

Last week, we came to a very important passage in the Gospel of Mark. Jesus has proven time after time that he is from God and speaks with unique authority, and he then revealed something crucial to his followers: The rituals you do to clean yourself on the outside really don’t deal with the dirt and evil inside. Your heart needs more than man-made traditions to be truly clean. In saying this Jesus is preparing those who will listen to receive his ultimate cleansing. He makes clear that God has always wanted our heart.

The example that I gave last week was the healing of the Gentile woman’s daughter…the woman is the first person in Mark to hear and understand a parable of Jesus.

Out of all the people who have heard parables, she gets it. She actually relates to Jesus, not with flattery, and with no pride. You could even say that she argued with him…but it was from a heart of faith. And Jesus LOVES it. He responds with: ‘Woman, you have great faith!’ And he rewards it and grants her the desire of her heart.

Now Jesus moves on and we get another episode with the gentiles in our Gospel today. In this Gospel, we see Jesus face-to-face with a man whose life could be summed up in six words: no sound, no voice, no hope.

No sound, no voice, no hope – it really is an accurate description of this man. It must have been very frustrating for him. Throughout his life, he knew something of what he was missing. He saw other people having conversations, but he could not enter in. Surely he had tried to enter in – and just as surely he had been rebuffed time after time. When he was a child, did other children make fun of him? When, as an adult, he tried to speak, did the people around him not even attempt to understand? Were they embarrassed for him? Or were they embarrassed because of him?

Jesus never met a person in need he didn’t love! Taking him away from the crowd, Jesus “put his fingers into his ears, and he spat and touched his tongue. Then looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, … ‘Be opened.’ And immediately his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly.”

It’s good to know Jesus healed a deaf and mute man 2,000 years ago. It tells us something about Jesus’ compassion and power. But the gospels were not written primarily as history books based on the life of JESUS. The gospels were written, as John says in his account, so that people “may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, and that through believing [they] may have life in his name.” That puts the events recorded in all the gospels in a different light. Each writer chose what to include in his book for a purpose.

Beyond recounting history, Mark had a reason for telling about the man whom Jesus healed. Perhaps Mark knew that people find themselves with no sound, no voice and no hope for a variety of reasons. Indeed Mark had experienced a time when he was in a panic and had no hope. Many Bible commentators believe Mark was referring to himself when he wrote (in Mark 14) about a “certain young man” who was following Jesus in Gethsemane. “[The soldiers] caught hold of him, but he left the linen cloth and ran off naked.”

What about me and you… or your spouse or partner… or friend … or co-worker? Have we ever found ourselves with no answers, nothing to say (or no one to listen) and no hope? Has an accident or disease attacked our body? Or have we experienced a financial setback or disaster? Is your marriage falling to pieces? Are we trapped by sin? Are we struggling with addictions? All of us have experienced times of fear and pain that we had not anticipated and for which we were not prepared.

A woman in Edmonton was asked by her church to share her journey from hopelessness to hope as she dealt for decades with mental illness. She wrote her testimony anonymously and asked the church to make it available to its members and anyone else who might benefit from what she had to say. Hear a portion of her words of faith, even in the midst of adversity and continued struggle: “What a glorious God we share! In amazement I set to this task before me. Laughing with joy and trying to convince myself that this moment is real, I am awake. A place in time that in my darkest hours, I could have never imagined! I have been invited to share some encouraging words with my brothers and sisters who suffer as I do with mental illness … “

She closes her testimony saying, “My God had carried me so far. When I was blinded by illness, God protected me. Whenever I cried out for help, God comforted me. Even in my worst moments, I knew that I had been blessed far more than I ever deserved… Friends, do not give up. Pray, search your heart, seek wise council and press on.”

Mark relates the story of a Gentile who, because of the touch of Jesus, can hear Jesus. Like the Syrophoenician woman, another Gentile outsider has been included in the company of Jesus. Mark is here resuming his insiders-outsiders theme. The hearing and understanding commanded by Jesus are made possible only by Jesus. Faith in Jesus is a difficult matter; indeed, it is the most difficult matter in all the world. Some, like the disciples, are in close and constant contact with Jesus but still cannot see. Others like the Syrophoenician woman and this speech – and hearing-impaired man are in dark and distant lands. But come to see, to hear, to hope. What does it mean for all these to hear and understand? It means that whether Jew or Gentile, near or far, knowledgeable or neophyte, only the touch of Jesus can enable true hearing, seeing, understanding, and witness.

Final Conclusions:

Like the woman, would we be humble enough to let Jesus speak offensively to us? Or will we be offended and leave before the cure can be given? Would we be humble enough to let Jesus but his spit on us? Or would that be a bridge too far? Would we rather be unable to hear? Will we be broken and desperate enough to fall on our knees before Jesus with our life, with our deepest desires and hurts and needs, and stay there, taking what comes, until we are changed? Or will our own comforts and ego and doubt and disbelief keep us from coming to Jesus every day to follow him this way?

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