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Sunday Reflection for December 8, 2019 by Rachel Heft

Reflection December 8, 2019
Second Sunday of Advent

There’s something truly inspiring about John the Baptist.  He’s always depicted as such a strong character, a person of complete dedication to his beliefs, a man happy to live in poverty – clothed in camel’s hair with a leather belt, eating locusts and wild honey, living in the desert – preaching.  It is like he has want for nothing – no worldly needs.  And people must sense that he’s a leader or a prophet.  They’re flocking to him, drawn to him for what he offers: baptism in the River Jordan.  Baptism of people as they acknowledge their sins.

John is so passionate about his mission, and so sure of his message that he indeed – as the prophet Isaiah foretold – he crying out in the wilderness.  Because, no one whispers “you brood of vipers!”

John uses this strong language to publicly rebuke the local religious leaders of the time, the Pharisees and Sadducees, who have arrived for baptism. John warns them not to rely on their relationship to Abraham for salvation.  No, like everyone else, they must produce good fruit, as evidence of their repentance.

And like that Pharisees and the Sadducees, the message in today’s Gospel is clearly that WE are called to repent.  Repentance.  Sounds painful and unpleasant, doesn’t it?

Step back a moment and consider this: part of Catholicism is acknowledgement of sins.  Through baptism, customarily given to us as infants now, someone takes the “action” of baptizing the child and absolving it of sin – there is no need for the child (or adult’s) active participation – it is done “to them”.  But in this text, baptism involves adults acknowledging their sins.  More like our right of confession or reconciliation, which puts us in the sometimes less-than-comfortable position of verbalizing our failures – to God, via our mediator, Father Jim – and ultimately (or hopefully) being granted forgiveness.

Now, I realize that confession is a less common part of our faith these days, and I’m guessing that Father Jim’s schedule isn’t always fully booked, but I think it’s still fair to say our intent as Catholics is to acknowledge our sins and failures and want to seek forgiveness.

But repentance is actually something a bit broader than reconciliation.

No matter the time period, it seems that Christians are often dissatisfied with the state of the world.  We don’t think that society is doing a particularly good job as espousing Christian values, like taking care of the marginalized, promoting selflessness.  And repentance asks of each of us not to go to confession necessarily, but to push back against this trend in both personal and public ways.  To turn away from what society is offering us and to pivot or re-orient ourselves and our lives to God. To be counter-cultural… just like John the Baptist.

Doesn’t rebelling against mainstream society sound much more appealing than “repentance”?  I think this one’s all in the terminology and the marketing.

If John and Jesus are calling us to repentance, and asking us to be counter cultural, it’s is not enough for us to claim to be dissatisfied with the world. We are asked to do something about the world and that “something” is to live the Word, and walk the talk even when that may be awkward or uncomfortable.  And that is what John the Baptist symbolizes.

Each of us is likely to consider how we can accomplish this differently, and I can only speak to what I’ve been contemplating, to see if it resonates with you.

This is the second Sunday of Advent, we just lit the candle of faith.  We come to this church on Sunday to celebrate, recognize, feed and sustain our faith.  But showing up, or being baptised, or being descendants of good Christians isn’t enough to live your faith – that’s being secure in your self-righteousness like the Pharisees and Sadducees. Instead, we too must prepare the way of the Lord and make straight his path this Advent in all aspects of our lives.

I’ve been thinking and reading recently about the discord between the birth of Christ – a baby born to a family of modest means – and modern “affluent Western Christianity’s” Christmas traditions.

It’s not going to come as a shock to anyone here to realize that the manner in which our society celebrates Christmas, is rather at odds with the Christmas story.  It seems to get more and more pronounced every year to me, and maybe that’s because I now have young children, who spend most of Advent being asked what they WANT for Christmas.  Not how they’re preparing for the birth of Jesus – or even what they’re doing for someone ELSE for Christmas.

Similarly, I’m fully engulfed in preparing to host family dinners, I spend most of my time worrying about Christmas as a celebration to be facilitated, and expectations to be met – I’m not truly taking the time to treat it as a sacred holiday.

So if I am honest, the best way for me to celebrate Advent is to shut as much of that down as possible and to reorient my focus from preparing for Christmas as a secular holiday with decorations and gifts, and cookies and meals and to refocusing on Advent as my time to spiritually prepare the way of the Lord.

This is counter cultural, and I may have to drag my family into this with me but my time will pivoted be towards my relationship with God, and my focus on prayer, and reflection on the Word.

For my relationship with Jesus is the relationship I should be wanting to see bear fruit.

Sunday Reflection for October 13, 2019 by Rachel Heft

Reflection October 13 2019
Twenty-eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time


Happy Thanksgiving.


One of my favourite aspects of Thanksgiving is our propensity to be grateful.  Thanksgiving rituals often involve examining our lives and sharing or at least contemplating our many blessings.  As my mother would say, “having an attitude of gratitude”.  Studies suggest that by focusing on gratitude we can improve our outlook on life, because by concentrating on what you have, you feel you have more. By contrast, if you concentrate on what you don’t have, you’ll feel you never have enough.


But for the last little while I’ve been contemplating the world and feeling like there’s little to be thankful for.  I’m finding it hard to be optimistic about life, or thankful for my personal blessings, when I am constantly bombarded by the darkness of our irresponsible and uncaring world.

  • There are vast islands of plastic in our oceans.
  • There are migrant children torn from their parents and housed in cages.
  • We’re in a climate crisis, species are going extinct at an alarming rate.
  • Indigenous youth are dying by suicide. So are local police officers.
  • A Canadian high school student was being bullied and later stabbed to death, in front of witnesses, including his own mother
  • People in Canadian cities are being sold fentanyl, and are too desperately addicted to be able to refuse the risk of using. Worse – no one seems to care


I’ve been feeling like it’s pretty hard to feel grateful and much more natural to feel despondent… presumably, much like a person afflicted with an incurable disease.


But the Gospel today is rich with meaning and leaves us with a more complex outlook on Thanksgiving.


Jesus is entering a village as a group of 10 lepers approaches him.


As we know from other Biblical stories, leprosy was a significant disease at the time.  While germ-theory wasn’t well understood, there was some general recognition that people with leprocy had to be distanced from those without it.  Leprocy was incurable and those afflicted by it were banned from society and considered “untouchable”.


As Jesus approaches, the group pleads with him to have pity on them.


Without ceremony, Jesus tells the group of 10 to go show themselves to the priests.  Inspection by priests was a necessary as only priests, according to Jewish law, could declare a person healed of leprosy and therefore clean, and fit to re-enter society.


What’s amazing here is that the group of 10 just “head off” to go see the priests, and it is only in going or “as they were going” that they were cleansed or healed of leprocy.


One would think that would be the end of a great Gospel – these 10 diseased men believed Jesus, demonstrated their faith, and were cured.  That, in and of itself should be enough of a teaching for us today, we need to be more faithful in God and our faithfulness will be rewarded.  But no – there’s more.


One man, realizing he had been healed, returned to Jesus, glorifying God and falling at the feet of Jesus to thank him.


ONE.  OF TEN.  And not just any of the ten, the Samaritan.  The outsider.  The foreigner.  The one who isn’t supposed to be Jesus’ follower, of whom the least is expected.


And so the nine thankless lepers were struck down by the Lord, right?  That’s the lesson, right?  No.  Nothing more is said of the nine, presumably they went on their way, reunited with their loved ones and lived a full life.  There are no negative consequence for their failings.


Because, let us be clear, those nine are grateful.  There is NO WAY that those 9 lepers don’t have an “attitude of gratitude” after being cleansed of leprocy.


The point here is that the Samaritan isn’t just feeling grateful on account of his feeling of relief, he takes action.  He demonstrates his gratitude by going out of his way to express his thankfulness.


I’ve been talking to a number of people about my recent dark outlook on the world.  In a vast number of cases, many people have made the same recommendation: “start doing little acts of kindness” and you will see the beauty, peace and hope of the world again. No one is talking to me about making donations online or joining charity boards – though we should do that too.  The consistent advice I’m receiving to go out of my way to do something for another. My acquaintances have recounted a variety of stories:

  • stopping to help lost tourists;
  • taking care of a friend’s children when her marriage is struggling;
  • taking time to chat with an elderly neighbour who recently lost her husband.
  • Bringing food to the panhandler outside my office


Jesus doesn’t smite the nine lepers, but he does bestow a favour on the one Samaritan, he says to him “Stand up and go, your faith has saved you.”  Other translations use “made you well” or “made you whole” from Greek.  The Samaritan was already cleansed of leprocy along with the other nine.  What Jesus is offering is the healing of his soul, allowing him to feel whole, to experience salvation.


So again, happy Thanksgiving.  I’ve decided I’m not going to list my blessings this weekend – I think that may miss the point.  I’ll pray.  And then I’ll start making lists of thanksgiving actions to help me move past despondence towards healing.

Sunday Reflection for October 6, 2019 by John Mark Keyes

27th Sunday Ordinary Time 2019

Reflection 27th Sunday of Ordinary Time October 6 20 1 9
• Today’s Gospel reading is one of the most difficult I have ever had to reflect on. It seems to be in two disconnected parts.
• The first part is the Apostles asking Jesus to increase their faith. The second part is Jesus telling them to say they are “worthless slaves”.
• What are we to make of this?
• Let’s start with faith. The apostles’ request to increase their faith comes after the parable we heard last week about Lazarus and the rich man. After Jesus tells this parable he admonishes the Apostles about temptations and then tells them to forgive those who sin against them, even as often as 7 times a day.
• After hearing Jesus tell them all these things, the apostles ask Jesus how to increase their faith.
• It is not altogether clear what the object of their faith is – faith in what? But it most probably has to do with believing in the things Jesus has talked about:
▪ believing that there is an after-life and that the things you do in this life will make a difference in the after-life;
▪ believing that you should resist temptation to do things that are wrong;
▪ believing that forgiveness is better than recrimination.
• Jesus responds to the Apostles’ request with the now well-known comment about how a little faith (the size of a mustard seed) is capable of moving mulberry trees.
• This is an interesting application of faith in landscaping and reminds me of the time I decided to remove the stump of a spruce tree that I had had cut down. Spruces have incredibly deep and strong roots. It took me almost a week, but I persevered and eventually got it out.
• Faith requires you to keep at something even when it starts to seem hopeless, when uncertainty mounts and you wonder where things are going.
• It requires a focus on what you want to accomplish or happen. It can be a little irrational. But in the end, if you keep the faith, things turn out.
• Faith also comes up in the first reading from Habakkuk. It begins with a desperate plea: “O Lord, how long shall I cry for help and you will not listen?”
• This resonates with our own time. The daily news, particularly on the global front, is discouraging: climate change and forest fires, migrants fleeing conflict and oppression, demonstrations and protests, the rise of dictatorships and the decline of democracy.
• And that’s just the big picture. What about all the difficulties we encounter in our individual lives? These are much more immediate and pressing: figuring out what to do when you lose your job; putting up with a noisy neighbour; juggling too many demands at work; wrestling with illness. The list goes on.
• Habakkuk was a prophet at the beginning of the Babylonian conquest and captivity of the Israelites. His plea for help is about throwing off the Babylonian oppressors.
• The Lord’s answer is to be patient and wait for “the vision for the appointed time” to materialize. In other words, have faith that God will answer your plea for help.
• Historians say the Israelites had to wait about 70 years for the fall of the Babylonian empire and their return to Israel. It did happen eventually and the faithfulness of the Israelites is what kept their nation together.
• This then might be the connection to Jesus’s comment about slavery in the Gospel. Is it echoing the slavery the Israelites endured at the hands of the Babylonians?
• Or is it simply saying something about the commitment the Apostles must show towards God and to what they “ought to have done”?
• Many, indeed perhaps most, versions of the Bible translate this word as “servant” in the passage we have just heard from Luke. “Servant” has a much softer, more civilized tone to the modern ear.
• A servant is basically an employee, someone hired to do a job and who has a choice about doing it.
• Slavery is something abominable, that we assume has been outlawed the world over.
• The easy way out of this would be to simply read “slave” as “servant”. But our Lectionary uses “slave” and there is little question that Jesus used a word that signified that rather than something else.
• Slavery was common in Jesus’s time. It was a generally accepted part of the world he lived in.
• So instead, some biblical scholars suggest trying to understand what was embedded in the concept in Jesus’s time and also consider how other parts of the New Testament refer to our relationship with God using other ideas, notably “children”, “heirs” and “friends”.
• So, how does “slave” fit with these?
• It doesn’t if you understand slavery as an oppressive relationship of subjugation and exploitation. But this does not necessarily characterize all these relationships in Jesus’s time.
• Think of Joseph in the Old Testament whose brothers sold him into slavery. He was eventually sold to Potiphor, the Egyptian Pharaoh’s captain of the guard and ended up rising to a position of importance in Egypt, in part through service to his master, Potiphor.
• One aspect of slavery is devotion to someone. Doing what they ask without question. Or, to repeat Jesus’s words from the Gospel, doing what was commanded, what ought to be done.
• And why might you do this? Well, maybe faith has something to do with it. You believe in the God who commands you to be good, to love your neighbour, to forgive those who offend you.
• These things do not depend on some rational calculus. They are simply norms we follow. Just as a slave follows the master’s orders.
• And the notions of our relationship with God in terms of being children, heirs and friends are also not far removed from this unswerving devotion.
• Why are children expected to obey their parents? Why does an heir inherit? What explains friendship?
• These are relationships that just are. Children do not choose their parents. Heirs do nothing to obtain their inheritance. True friendship is unwavering.
• It is difficult to compare these things to slavery, but think of it as a different kind of slavery, one that is about unswerving commitment to God and the Good News, one that is build on unshakable faith.

Sunday Reflection for September 1 by Joe Gunn

Reflection on the 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time and World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation September 1, 2019

St. Joseph’s Parish – Ottawa, ON

Joe Gunn


The readings this weekend, especially from the Book of Sirach and Luke’s Gospel, all touch on the theme of humility. For each of us, there is no question that humility is a virtue worth developing… because we all probably know from experience that “whoever exalts himself will (inevitably) be humbled.” And we’d all surely like to believe that “whoever humbles himself will (hopefully, one day) be exalted.”

But the challenge to “conduct our affairs with humility” (First Reading) – while being a personal requirement for all Gospel-followers – might also take on a new, more communal and broader significance, today.

Humilis, “lowly”
Literally, “on the ground.”
From the Latin humus, “earth.”

Because humankind has shown an astounding lack of humility in our treatment of Creation. The opposite of humility could be pride – and human beings, especially we in the overdeveloped North, pride ourselves on having no limits to what we can demand of nature and consume…

The so-called “Anthropocene era” we live in is so named because for the first time in Earth history, human behavior has become the major cause of the destruction of natural systems by using our power to sully the waters, extract unlimited quantities of resources, drive species to extinction, and humans are even now changing the very climate that life on Earth depends on for survival. We people of the Global North race for the best seat and the biggest plate at God’s banquet of Creation – we ignore Jesus’ injunction to “invite beggars and the crippled, the lame and the blind.”

Today the universal Church, Orthodox Christians and Protestant members of the World Council of Churches all agree to celebrate the World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation. The Season of Creation is to be marked from today until the feast day of Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of animals and of the environment, on October 4th.

And in the Season of Creation, we should be deeply challenged to humbly do all we can to address the environmental crisis.

So how will we do that at St. Joe’s? The wisdom of the worldwide Church may help guide us in this endeavor…

So, first of all we have the terrific social teaching of the Church, which from various popes is now hundreds of years old – but the Church’s teaching on “social justice” took a huge step forward towards “ecological justice” in Francis’ 2015 encyclical, Laudato Si. Francis calls us to work towards “integral ecology” by which he means solidarity with all Creation. Francis’ mantra is that “everything is connected.” He helps us to interpret the Bible and Church teaching with a “green lens.” We are to be in solidarity with the Earth, while creating a better life especially for those populations excluded by our economies and social systems. Francis insists that the cry of the Earth and the cry of the poor are one and the same.

And the pope has called for a special Synod of Bishops, scheduled for October in Rome. The title of this month-long conference is “The Amazon: New Paths for the Church and for an Integral Ecology.” If you’re read anything about the Synod in the North American press, you’ve heard that the preparatory document suggests ordination of married men in areas where the sacraments are not able to be provided by celibate priests. You may recall that Oblate bishops suggested the same thing for isolated northern Canadian communities decades ago…

But in the 9 countries of the Amazon biome, hundreds of meetings have taken place to identify the most pressing issues of faith communities there. These themes should interest Canadians as well:

For example, what steps are Christians taking towards eco-justice? What is a Christian response to the deforestation of the world’s largest rainforest, which the pope has referred to as “the lungs of the world…vital to our planet?” You’ve recently heard in the news that the number of fires has risen 79% in the Brazilian Amazon this year, and in spite of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro’s (the man who called himself “Captain Chainsaw”) accusation that NGOs  started them, we know that much forest clearance today is illegal, involving incursions into Indigenous lands, protected areas or timber reserves, as well as clearance by fire of more than the permitted amount of land by agricultural operations. (John Innes, Dean of the UBC Forestry faculty, in the Globe and Mail, August 28, 2019.) Even the G-7 leaders meeting in France decided that this was a massive global concern.

Canadians might be equally concerned, for the same reasons, for the protection of our Boreal forest.

A second theme recognizable to Canadians will be respect for the rights of Indigenous peoples and how we must de-colonialize Church actions and theologies; there are 3 million Indigenous in the Amazon, and up to 130 groups still in “voluntary isolation.” During his visit to Bolivia, Francis apologized to Indigenous peoples for the Church’s role in colonization. This Synod will defend their territorial rights, especially in the face of planned agro-industrial mega-projects, dams and timber harvesting – all part of what the Church is calling “the extractivist development model.”

Here at St. Joe’s, we can learn more about these issues in two ways: this fall Development and Peace’s Action Campaign will focus on the themes of the Synod, and you will be invited to sign a petition in support of church partners working for eco-justice in the Amazon region. Also, on November 12, the Centre Oblat and St. Paul University have invited the vice-chair of the Synod, Peruvian Cardinal Pedro Barreto, to share his reflections with Canadians.

Something called the Global Catholic Climate Movement arose in response to Laudato Si, and a Canadian chapter has now been formed, with the active participation of the Oblates. There are 1.2 billion Catholics in the world today – what would the planet look like if all of us took the pope’s encyclical, environmental responsibility (and our faith) seriously? The Global Catholic Climate Movement has resources available to help us grow in this new ministry. They support events like the upcoming Climate Strike scheduled for the week of September 20th, led by young people like Sweden’s 16-year-old Greta Thunberg, where young people are demanding climate action from governments around the world.

Here in Ottawa, hundreds of kids will be on Parliament Hill. They’re disappointed in Canada’s market-led approach to climate action, arguing that our country is not doing enough to meet our commitments to the Paris Climate Accord. They’re right – Canada remains the top per capita emitter among G-20 countries and is the world’s 7th largest emitter overall. Yet, as a federal election approaches, politicians are declining to act with sufficient ambition. People of faith may remember that in September 2015, before the last federal election, religious leaders (including Canada’s Catholic bishops) issued a joint statement that called upon our federal government to “establish more stringent and ambitious emission targets in Canada by…putting in place a range of policies which could include: a price on carbon emissions, developing and promoting a national renewable energy policy, ending fossil fuel subsidies, and encouraging through public policy the creation of an increasing number of high quality, sustainable jobs in the renewable energy sector.” https://262952-817721-raikfcquaxqncofqfm.stackpathdns.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/Faith-Communities-in-Canada-Speak-Out-EN.pdf

The story that we heard today in Luke’s gospel would surely have been a surprise to the religious leaders present that day. Jesus’ invitation list and seating plan would have come in stark contrast to their accepted practice. Jesus challenged the systems that accorded status and honour to some and shame, suffering and discrimination to others. We shouldn’t expect His message to be less biting in our hearing, today. But by adopting a commitment to bring “integral ecology” into our prayer lives, our personal lifestyles, and public policy in this country, our faith invites us to allow this Season of Creation to come alive.