Thursday, September 08, 2005

God is calling you. Does your heart hear? Seeing love return in the eyes of one we have loved - this is the joy of priesthood and parenthood.

This entry is about being fully alive, breaking through the veil of superficiality that causes one to feel bored with life, feeling at one with all the other creatures in the world around us, and seeing the radiant Presence of God in everything - the great undercover wonder who takes delight in enabling us to participate in his own work of creation and of giving life - it's about hearing the call to participate fully in living and in giving life to others. November 30, 2006. Feast of St. Andrew.

This is a very fascinating place to be after eleven years, with just one little year to go in my current assignment. The first few years were an awesome challenge, and I even felt then that I might be in over my head. At the same time, there were those really great hearts who lost no opportunity to give a word of encouragement, to lend a helping hand, to offer a kind gesture or sage word of advice. People are amazing, and without thinking much of what they are doing, at times reach high levels of excellence in their outlook, speech, behaviour, and action. People like that really do make the world a better place, despite those that make a lot more noise or wreak havoc and destruction.

It is so very deeply satisfying when they say that my presence, word, attitude, action, or example has really touched, inspired, encouraged, or challenged them, because some of them do that for me. The sharing of a common journey, the collaboration in a single important task, the mutuality in that intercourse of persons who happen to breathe the same air on the same planet at the same time while discovering the same hidden mystery at the very source of it all... incredibly intensifies the wonder of just being alive. This alone is already the kind of stuff that inspires poets, playwrights, composers, philosophers, theologians, wives and husbands, mothers and fathers... yet there is more!

The middle years of my time here became increasingly active and productive, but most importantly of all, they challenged me even more to go beyond my comfort zone, grow in generosity, and learn even from those younger than me. The wonder of other people is that, however young, each person has character virtues or strengths, abilities or experiences that they hold or use uniquely, and this challenges and encourages me to open my spirit to greater possibilities. Difficulties, obstacles, apparent failures, and even discouragement can serve to push us beyond the limits of what we thought was possible. The most fascinating and puzzling area of life seems to me to be where we are most weak, vulnerable, helpless, or powerless. I have been stable in one place and the same assignment long enough to have accumulated a long list of what might be called personal failures, or failed personal attempts to accomplish this or that. In turn, this opens up the awareness of my own personal limits.

You'd think that as a person open to the supernatural and to the spiritual dimension I would have had a better grasp all along of the boundary between what I can myself accomplish and what can only be possible to God. Perhaps it's the eternal youth in me that still feels overly responsible for the world around me, or the child in me that never learned very well to ask for help, or again the current context in which so much is expected by so many of the priest or pastor, or is it simply our common human condition from the time of our origins that causes me and us to daily struggle valiantly on as though it were all up to me, to us?

In the midst of it all, there are deep joys for me these days and today. As what we call the "pastoral year" - the year of the caring we receive from God in churches - ended and now starts up again with the coming and going of summer; I have been taken hostage, no, rather set free by an unexpected and disconcerting realization. It's not a new invention, but it is certainly fresh and impactful for me. All these very wonderful and unique people keep coming back to this church, and it's not because of me. It's because of Jesus Christ, the One Saviour of the world. He died, but rose again from the dead - the "first fruits from the dead" - who came into the very midst of our darkness to seduce our hearts, enlighten our minds, heal our bodies, and to restore the vigour of our wills, and so to lead us out of the darkness into his own wonderful light.

Though He truly is the "all in all" of God; yet is He so kind and considerate as to remain among us and work still within us, but under cover, under the cover of spirit being, existence, speech, and action. He could accomplish by himself the salvation and lifting up of every generation of humanity, but He continues to submit himself to the Father's plan and will that as many of us humans as possible might come to the life changing satisfaction and delight of participating as partners in this ongoing transformation of people and their lives, beginning with our own and the lives of those we love.

What is it that covers Him up? In large part, it is the network of illusions that we nurture that nothing happens without us or me. This is the perspective of the child of two, who naturally thinks that all that is new to them isn't known to anyone else. As we move away from that time of innocence, we varyingly try to resist opening our self to others and to persist in serving our selves. All this static of self blocks the waves of divine vitality radiating from God, and we just don't "tune in" to the "godcast", we miss the happenings, we reject the gift of faith which alone clears the static and opens the receiver.

This is the joy I receive as gift these days, to rediscover more deeply than ever before that we are all the work of God - even though it is his pleasure that we have a part and take delight in taking up our part - so that all that is real, beautiful, true, good, and loving, all that lasts, comes from Him. It is ours to notice, see, hear, accept, and receive, to use, develop, say, do, and accomplish, in partnership with God and with each other. What brings me joy in this is not the mere idea of it, but the all-pervading realization of it, the conviction of it in my gut, the bright perspective of it illuminating all that I concern or busy myself with, the humbling magnitude of it as I go on relating to and collaborating with others. How can any thing ever be the same again?

Another pulse within this same joy came tonight. Some of us diehards got drenched mucking around in the rain playing golf through the front nine holes, and then went for cover in the form of a good shower and change into dry, warm clothes; while only three really passionate players went on to play the bottom nine. That was fine. We shmoozed over appetizers and drinks and then along came one of our fine recruits. He didn't play but joined us among those who simply came as part of the "supper shift" - priests invited over the years and who remain on the active list because they either have come or at least answered the invitation. It's all about fraternity, the simple joy of being with these other men we love and who love us, mostly because of Jesus. We have in common Jeremiah's experience: Jesus seduced our souls and we let ourselves be seduced by Him.

It's all about just being there together, sharing one another's company, anecdotes, and friendly intercourse. Then it happened. The young recruit, about seven years into his personal formation and professional training, shared with me what it's like for him to be at this point in the journey, and how vital it also is for him to be so very intimately caught up in the saving relationship with Jesus, our Saviour, our Lord, and the Beloved of our souls. What an awesome thing it is to see happening in another life, another soul, another person, the very same mystery of existence beyond human sight and only visible by faith. This undercover Jesus is truly a wonder, to accomplish such similar effects in so different lives, all the while respecting the fragile yet intricate web of freedom and discretion that makes up each unique human being.

I already have the joy of knowing that this is the very same pattern that happens in the lives of all these dear brother priests, some of whom I know much more intimately than others. It is very touching to see it happening anew in someone still in the early stages of the formation years, because that is when you feel so small in the face of what you are gradually preparing and committing yourself to do for the rest of your life. To be a Roman Catholic priest is to commit yourself for the rest of your life to do the impossible, all that you cannot possibly accomplish, but which Jesus can in you, as He has been doing for two millennia. It's awesome to be called and to freely and gladly respond and accept to be part of something like that.

It's very much like the awesome mystery into which a woman and man enter when they fall in love and leap into the precipice by joining their destinies to each other and get married, preparing and committing themselves to bring into this confused and even dangerous world an undetermined number of brand new, fragile human persons to share in the eternal destiny offered us all by God the Father in his extravagant bounty. What an awesome, timeless ecstatic experience it is to gaze in wonder into the eyes of your child, a unique, individual little person who didn't exist before, and who only exists now because your committed love joined you to your spouse in your committed love, and this love between you, making you one, has multiplied you, and you are lost in the contemplation of this new life, which is looking back at you with a response of unconditional love, gratitude, joy, delight, and innocent wonder!

It is the same for a priest whenever he gazes into the eyes of any and all of God's children whom he has the privilege and honor of serving, as he notices the power of God passing through him into their lives: healing their wounds, forgiving their sins, restoring their dignity, intensifying their love, filling them with gratitude, giving them hope, enthralling them with new vision of the mystery of the Holy Three in One, restoring their will to courageously do battle with temptation, sin, and evil in the world, strengthening their hearts to endure all the trials, difficulties, opposition, persecution, and burdens of life; so that they may acquire an ever expanding capacity for love, peace, joy, delight, contemplation, passion, fruitfulness, generativity, endurance, hope, and faith.

If you are a single Roman Catholic man and have been moved by this account, perhaps God is calling you to consider the life and ministry of the priest, who is given by Jesus a share in the saving ministry He came to Earth to begin. If such is the case, open your heart to Jesus with me and make your own a prayer something like this:

"Dear Jesus, You who came to the Earth to reveal to humanity the love of the Father and to save us from our sins, lifting us up to live a life of love beginning on Earth and continuing into eternity; if You are calling me, please let me know. I open my mind, heart, soul, and body to You. I am willing to explore the possibilities, and to find within myself the freedom to respond to your call, with your help. Let your Holy Spirit enlighten me and guide me every step of the way. Thank You for touching my spirit. Please continue to reveal yourself to me. Lead me to some of your other disciples, who will help me to discover your ways. Amen."

I unite myself to you in the praying of this prayer. Feel free to email me by entering a comment through the hotlink below, or else to contact a Roman Catholic priest of your choice. May God continue to bless you along this amazing adventure of life on Earth and eternal life in Heaven!

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Being a good neighbor to the younger generations: The Knights of Columbus and the Catholic Women's League are amazing brothers and sisters.

It is both an honor and a thrill for me as a pastor to see men of St. Thomas a Becket Parish establish a Council of the Knights of Columbus here. This comes just at the time when I've been really discovering the Catholic Women's League for the first time. The League has been here in this Parish for over 30 years, and I've been here for 11 of those, but have been slow to really grasp the true nature of this amazing women's organization. Without being related in any way, the League and the Knights have a deep kinship in their purpose, objectives, and meaning.

In early 2004 I was mandated by my bishop to serve for five years as Spiritual Advisor to the Archdiocesan Council of the CWL in Montreal. From my very first contact with these women, I was deeply impressed by the quality of their sisterhood, the depth of their love for God, the intensity of their caring for all women and their lives, the warmth of their love for priests, bishops, and deacons, and the strength of their loyalty to the Roman Catholic Church and affection for all Christians and Christian churches. I have been in such awe of these ladies these past 20 months that I wonder that all Catholic women are not members of the League.

My understanding of the workings of the League and my admiration for the women who persevere through the difficulties of life as active members and who dedicate their time, effort, and generosity in service to the life, activity, work, and vitality of the League have only increased with every convention I have attended at the diocesan level twice, and the provincial level once, and at the national level twice. The CWL magazine The League is a high quality witness to the vitality of this organization of Canadian women, and there's a lot more out there than can be reported in the magazine at any given time.

My greatest surprise, which must be because I'm really slow on the uptake, was to discover that the main purpose of the League is the spiritual development of its members. Wow! Where have I been all these years? Every parish and pastor that has a CWL Council may very well consider themselves blessed, and be eager to work more closely with the Executive - especially the President and the Chairperson for Spiritual Development - for the growth of the Council and for the good of all the Catholic women in the parish and of all women in society.

Similarly, the Knights of Columbus have as their main purpose the spiritual and the human development of their members, the srengthening of men for the sake of their wives and families through solidarity at the Council, provincial, national, and international levels, the defense of the clergy and the Church, and the protection of life and the defenseless among us. The Knights were founded in Connecticut almost 200 years ago by a simple and poor parish priest with a few of his leading men for the purpose of coming to the aid of their men who were defenseless immigrants, hard put by poverty and prejudice to find gainful employment, shelter, and food for their families. Life is still hard, even though we are surrounded by affluence, and there are still many men, at all stages of life, who find themselves hard put and alone.

More than ever before, both women and men have a need for the support of their peers and elders, in a venue where they can rely on the integrity and loyalty of others to be there for them, and where they can find the opportunity to use and develop their own abilities and gifts in a way that will help their peers in turn and have a good impact on society at large. These two magnificent organizations deserve our support and are worthy of the trust of younger generations. With the help of their pastors, the elder generation can find within themselves the trust to allow the younger ones to share in the leadership and perhaps take us where we would not think to go.

We were young once and took the opportunity to shape our organizations as we thought best. Now it's time for the young to do so in their turn. First, though, we need to go out to the young and walk with them in the current conditions of their lives at home, work, and school, and in their neighborhoods. As Jesus asked in telling the story of the Good Samaritan, "Which of these three made himself a neighbor to the man in need?" We wlll find joy and inspiration in spending a lot of time in prayer before the Lord, that He may show us how we might creatively find ways to make ourselves a neighbor for the women and men of today.

The CWL theme for this year is "Companions on the Journey." As these younger women and men find in us companions on their journey, they in turn will discover our best kept secrets: that they have a fraternal organization which they can make their own. Women have the Catholic Women's League of Canada, and men have the Knights of Columbus. Young men under 18 also have the Squires of the Knights of Columbus, and the CWL is contemplating a gathering of young women under 18. Contact your local parish council of the CWL or the K of C. Allow the strength of these brothers and sisters to give you a lift and provide you with an opportunity to discover the best in yourself, and have the deep satisfaction of making a difference in your own life and in the lives of those around you.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Sexuality makes us capable of tenderness but sex is for husband and wife. Nurture helps children embrace their gender identity.

On page 20 of the Montreal Gazette today an article reports brain scan studies of women that tried to see whether drugs might help solve some of the sexual dysfunction or dissatisfaction in women as these drugs appear to be doing in men. Some of the researchers appear to have been puzzled by the greater complexity of the processes connecting the body to the whole inner self in women in comparison with men regarding the factors that contribute to sexual satisfaction. Honestly, does it take a college education and post graduate degrees in science to realize what any married person or grandparent can tell you? Even young people who are awake to the world around them realize that women of all ages care a lot about their relationships and that they see sexuality as tightly connected to relationships.

Men also care about their relationships, but they seem to move more easily from one friendship to another; whereas women tend to invest emotionally a lot more than men. Men tend to be more cavalier about how the relationship develops and about all the feelings associated with it. It's not that women care and men don't, but it's more a question of degree. Women seem to be wired for more intensive attention to their relating; whereas men seem to be wired for more intenstive engagement with the natural world and all its concerns.

Now, these are general statements, and of course there are vast differences of degree even from one person to another. What has shed the most light of all, in my view, on the gender differences between men and women is the research done by Dr. Jeannine Guindon and the formation applications she derived from her research as applied in the Institut de Formation Humaine Intégrale de Montréal, which she founded three decades ago. Working with classic psychological principles, she demonstrated how the development of the human person includes the acceptance of one's gender mode. The male mode is intrusive, while the female mode is inclusive. This mode is rooted in the body, in the sexual organs, but also generalizes into the rest of the body and to the overall behavior of the person.

As children develop into adolescents, if they are encouraged, mentored, and loved with selfless love, they may more easily be willing to embrace their own gender mode. It becomes their preference, and they then need to learn to make use of the other mode. Men can learn to be inclusive, and women can learn to be intrusive. However, if children have insufficient encouragement, mentoring, or are loved with a love that is excessively self-serving, girls may develop into women holding in contempt their own gender mode and instead prefer the male mode, but wielding it more aggressively than they otherwise would. Boys may become men afraid or disrespectful of their own gender mode and instead take refuge in the female mode, sitting in judgement on the male mode as violent and evil.

Without referring to religious faith or the Judeo-Christian Scriptures, Dr. Guindon demonstrated that there is a natural design in the complementary differences between men and women. Their differences constantly and inescapably challenge each other to go beyond the comfort zone, and only when they do is it possible for both to grow as persons and expand their own capacity for selfless love and friendship. Religious faith adds a capacity and willingness to forgive one another and to serve the other by building each other up with ever increasing generosity.

For us to fixate on the biological mechanisms involved in sexual gratification and to put all the eggs in the basket of chemical manipulation is like paying $50,000.00 for a car and straining one's brain to find more creative ways to use it as a door stop or lawn ornament. It' absurd. There is far more to the human person than biology and chemistry. These processes, real as they are to scientific eyes, are intimately bound up with the inner processes of mind, heart, and soul. Without these, you can no more understand human relating than someone from Mars might understand that car on the lawn without the keys or operator's manual.

We are an orchestrated movement of the ebb and flow of the inner workings of the body, emotions (heart), psyche (mind), and spirit (soul). The body wants tenderness, warmth, respectful and caring touch. The heart wants stability, reliability, faithfulness, loyalty, friendship, selflessness, and a multifaceted love. The mind wants meaning and purpose, significance. The soul wants being, existence, life now and without end, eternity, and it wants these things in mutuality, in reciprocal relationship.

The overall result of the simultaneous operation of these multilevel processes within the makeup of each human person, given the varying degrees of lack of development or accomplished development; is a profoundly varied spectrum in the expectations of each person in their relationships. Sexual touch must be preceded by all of these, otherwise it is empty, incomplete, ephemeral, or an outright lie or even a violation.

The wisdom of the Bible's report of God's plan for human beings and marriage is that only a truly stable and permanent relationship even begins to reach the level of involvement and commitment that can ever satisfy the profound expectations that a woman has of her man, of her husband.

Meanwhile, for every single human being, our sexuality - both in our gender identity and in our being enfleshed persons - is actually by design what equips us and makes us capable of experiencing and showing tenderness by expressing the value of other people and of our relationship with them through forms of touching and contact that are not explicitly sexual and do not involve the sexual organs but do enhance our overall feeling of being alive and enjoying the other's presence and company. This companionship crosses over into explicit sexual intimacy in husband and wife because their life long mutual commitment with openness to children lends truth and authenticity to physical union and pleasure. In all other cases the taking of such pleasure is merely trafficking in sex and counterfeit joining.

For further reading, see The Theology of the Body, and The Acting Person, both by Karol Wojtyla, Pope John Paul II.

Monday, September 05, 2005

So many people are on edge - don't let the "crazies" upset you - pray for them!

Today I went to Cap-de-la-Madeleine to reconnoitre our English Montreal Priests' Retreat, which will run from September 11 to 16. We care about our brothers priests and want them to have a good retreat week. On the way back, I got a glimpse of what Snoopy feels like when he's in the World War II mode and is being hunted by the Red Baron in an aerial dog fight! There were several pick-up trucks and ATV's speeding, zigzaging, and considering 6 inches enough separation from other vehicles. I could feel the hair stand up on my arms, and it took way beyond my strength of character to resist blowing a gasket, it took grace!

What is going on in the lives of these people, whatever their age might be, that they would have such little regard for the value of their own life, lives of passengers if they had any, or the lives of everyone else on the road? We're not even touching on the question of regard for others, respect for the sensibilities of other people on the road, even the simple recognition that other drivers are people too, they are actually human beings, with the same right to live, to breathe, to be safe, and to be at peace! Why are these other drivers so much on edge? What is their wound? Why are they unconscious? How old were they when they were first violated, and what was it that happened, so that now they must violate anyone in their way?

Then I remebered what happened to Brother Roger Schutz of Taizé a few weeks ago. I find it was no coincidence that he was stabbed in the throat. True, the unfortunate woman suffers from some form of madness or deep illness. Still, I can't help but find it significant that a man who for many years faithfully bore witness to Jesus, the Word of God, by his own words and life, should in the end to all appearances be attacked in the very spot where his body formulated the words of this testimony.

John the Baptist was a voice crying out in the wilderness who came to give witness to the Word of God. Of course, the Word is more important than the voice; so John was glad that Jesus attracted his disciples away. Then, through Herod and his household, the evil one found a way to attack that voice and silence it. He cut off his head. Perhaps the evil one got fed up of Brother Roger and stirred up this confused woman.

One thing is certain. We must heed Jesus' warning to be awake and alert, and be on our guard against the wickedness and snares of the enemy, the devil, who goes around like a lion roaring for his prey. Through prayer, conversion and Reconciliation, service to the poor, and adoration of Jesus in the Holy Eucharist, we must open the door of our heart to Jesus who ever knocks, and invite Him in to sit at table with us. We need his love and mercy, we need his grace and strength, otherwise, we can succumb to the dark influence of the evil one and find our passions aroused and our wrath inflamed over matters that in the end matter little.

All we can do is let the "crazies" go, and pray for them, that in time they too may wake up to the goodness and value of life, and respect others and the right order of things. At the very least, when we pray for them as they drive off with some of the paint from our car, the Lord restores us and keeps us in his love and peace. God bless you.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Love seeks the truth and truth loves deeply: Jesus and tax collectors

As I prepared the homily for today's Sunday worship, a question from the weekly homily service "This Sunday's Scripture" by Twenty-Third Publications really turned me on my head. Considering Matthew's Gospel verse: "Treat him as you would a Gentile or tax collector." the author asked, "How did Jesus treat Gentiles and tax collectors?" Wow. Until now, I had considered this an instruction or advice to reduce one's dealings with that person who refused to admit their wrongdoing, apologize, or change.

This plucky little question changes everything. It boldly faces eyeball to eyeball the common impression that people who go on and on about love are soft on the truth, and that those who are sticklers about truth and morality have little use for the love discourses. At best, they might concede the need for "tough love", meaning discipline without compromise. They interpret Jesus' treatment of the Scribes and Pharisees as hypocrites as an approach to be applied to the faults of everybody else.

Jesus' words to these spiritual leaders were hard not because they were sinners. We are all sinners. No, it was because they refused to accept Jesus' invitation to get closer to God, and even worse, hindered those who wanted to respond to Jesus' call. They were abusing their positions of authority. Jesus' approach to sinners was much like that of John the Baptist, who called everyone to wake up and repent, because the time is short. He attended first of all to the lost sheep of Israel, and did not go out of his way to attend to Gentiles or tax collectors. However, He was open to them and quick to welcome them at the first sign of faith or repentance.

Consider the faith of the Roman centurion whom Jesus warmly receives, and commends for his faith. Jesus engages the Samaritan woman at Jacob's well, looking for her faith to refresh Him. He pushes the Syro-Phoenician woman's buttons in order to get her to express her faith and immediately responds to her. He spots Zacchaeus in the sycamore tree and invites Himself to dinner at this tax collector's house, sensing the man is ripe for repentance. He gives Levi the nod right there in his tax booth and calls him to join his fledgling band of apostles. Levi unexplainably accepts, and takes the name Matthew. He becomes a new man. In his joy, he invites Jesus to a party at his house in His honor, and Jesus not only comes, but He coolly sits amid other sinners and undesirables, making Himself at home.

What would it look like if we were to imitate Jesus in his treatment of those who either don't know or don't care about our beliefs, values, and morals, or of those whose life or career choices put them in opposition to what we hold to be right, good and true? We thought that we should oppose such people tooth and nail, take every opportunity to defend what we consider right by condemning those we consider wrong, and certainly avoid their company, doing nothing favorable towards them that might in any way "reward" their evil behavior.

Perhaps the ultimate question here is: "Are love and truth compatible? Can they co-exist?" They certainly did in Jesus, who made the bold claim: "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through Me." Jesus taught the truth without compromise, yet received sinners warmly. He loved his disciples; yet He rebuked Peter when the apostle set himself in opposition to the Father's will. So it's not a choice of either truth or love, but rather a complementary union of both of them. We are to love God with all we have and are, and love others as we love ourselves; while at the same time clinging to and proclaiming the truth. Jesus made no compromise about the truth when He spoke, preached, and taught; yet He left people free to draw their own conclusions, receive the truth in freedom, and abide by it out of goodness. If we are to follow Him, then we must leave them free as well.

It is inevitable that at times it falls to us to try to correct others, but if we do so from this perspective Jesus gives us as an example; then we will go about this fraternal correction in a way that is respectful and kind. We can still love others while we adhere to the truth, goodness, and righteousness. Doing what is right and avoiding what is wrong does not hinder us from loving others. On the contrary. At the very least, we can love others apart from their behavior. God raised the bar to the highest possible level by loving us despite our sins. He is Father to us, and the good parent still loves his children, even when they misbehave. He can punish, without interruption in his love. This is the new standard God sent his Son Jesus into the world to reveal. It's not impossible; in fact, we can't become fully human or fully alive without it. How's that for a shocker?

God loves us better because He knows we are sinners. The quality of his love is far superior to that of the one who only loves us when we are without sin. The gauntlet is down. God expects and invites us to love others in the very same way He loves us. Love and truth are not only compatible, they are joined at the hip. One cannot be fully what it is without the other.

As I realized this today and shared the insight with those who had come to worship the Lord, There was a quality of freedom and joy in the air and in our hearts. It is true what Jesus said, "The truth shall set you free." True freedom causes joy to erupt, because we find ourselves in the very air breathed by God, with his very life coursing through us. This is exactly the lift we need to embrace the love and truth combo and practice it, extending it to others. We need to resist our miserly human inclination to exchange the gift of love for an equal weight of the coins of truth. This is the bill of goods, the hybrid of belief and attitude that drives much of our human society, business, and culture. It doesn't have to be that way. There's a new paradigm, and its value is incalculable. We cannot buy it, but we can receive if for free if we are willing to give everything we have and our very life itself in order to make room for it. It is simply too big to take in if we try to keep all the old furniture. Which will you prefer?