Love God. Love others. Make disciples.

Deacons and Priests  - Weekly Reflections

Posted on: August 9, 2020

Jesus Walks on the Water

Have you ever wished that you were able to encounter God in some awe-inspiring and remarkable way as Elijah and Peter did in our readings today? For me, the answer is yes. However, I also know that if I were ever to encounter the Lord in this kind of manner that I would probably be frightened almost to death. I am the kind of person who is quite easily scared by sudden noises in the dark. During this past week, while I was out at the Priest Cottage on retreat, I had quite a few opportunities to hear sudden and inexplicable noises at night. However, my time at the cottage was, overall, more pleasant and relaxing than it was frightening.

As I was spiritually preparing for my upcoming priestly ordination, I decided to read Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation Gaudete et Exsultate, which is all about our unique and individual call to holiness. I also chose to read Cardinal Marc Ouellet’s newest book Friends of the Bridegroom: For a Renewed Vision of Priestly Celibacy. Both of these documents provided a wealth of insights for me to meditate upon. In the evenings, after I had finished reading and meditating on my daily quota of chapters from each of these two texts, I would sit quietly either inside the cottage or outside on the back deck. While I was outside, I would take these opportunities to simply appreciate the sheer natural beauty of Fort Qu’Appelle. My favourite day there was Wednesday because the weather that day was very cool and refreshing, due to a gentle breeze that was blowing across the lake. The previous three days had been quite warm, and so this shift in temperature was a welcomed change. What struck me most, however, about this pleasant experience was just how close I felt to God that day. Throughout my whole life—so far, I have only had two experiences, besides this one, where I felt the Lord’s presence palpably and tangibly in nature. I was quite awe-struck by this grace-filled experience.

My encounter with God this last week helped me to reflect on this Sunday’s first reading. In that Scripture passage, we hear about the prophet Elijah’s encounter with the Lord on Mount Horeb. Elijah, as the First Book of Kings tells us, was informed by God that He would pass by the cave where the prophet had been camping in. We are then told that as Elijah waited for the Lord to go past him, he experienced many amazing and terrifying natural occurrences, such as winds that split the mountain and rocks that were there, as well as an earthquake, and a blazing fire. Amid all these remarkable events, we are told that God was not to be found in any of these incidents, rather the Lord was in the “sound of sheer silence.”

Elijah’s encounter with the Lord is important because it helps to remind us that silence is an important spiritual component in our life. If you are like me, I find it quite hard to be silent and still. Instead, I prefer to keep both my mind and body busy. However, during this past week, I was forced, in a very good way, to slow down and to make more time and room in my day for God. This probably sounds like an easy exercise; however, anyone who has tried it quickly discovers how tough it actually is to do. What I noticed during my retreat is how crucial it is to prime ourselves so that we can more easily encounter the Lord in our day. By devoting a specific amount of time each day to cultivating our relationship with God, it gradually enables us to become more disposed to recognize the Lord’s activity in both our life and in the lives of the people around us.

There are many different ways that we can open ourselves up to God’s amazing presence among us, such as through regular prayer, daily reading of the Scriptures, journaling, reading Spiritual books or documents, or through whatever other activities that we find spiritually nourishing—like being out in nature. Today’s first reading clearly points out that the Lord will always find some means of meeting us wherever we are at in our life. These encounters, as Elijah illustrated, are not going to be big and flashy, rather they are more likely to be both simple and profound. This week, as we go about our daily activities, let us try to set aside a small amount of time each day for God, which, in turn, will help us to gradually become saints who can see the Lord at work in our life. I know that if we prepare ourselves to see God that we will indeed see Him—just maybe not in the ways that we might expect.    

 

God bless,

Deacon Chris

Posted on: August 2, 2020

Five Loaves and Two Fish

St. Matthew tells us, “When Jesus heard that Herod had beheaded John the Baptist, he withdrew in a boat to a deserted place by himself.” This death deeply moves Jesus for three reasons. Firstly, Jesus and John were cousins: there was a family bond between them. Secondly, they had both received a mission in the history of salvation: there was the deep bond of dedication to God’s Kingdom. And finally, John's death marked the beginning of a new stage in Christ’s mission – the Messenger’s job was done, the King’s job was starting. So, with a sorrowful heart and a lot on his mind, Jesus goes away to be alone: to take time to reflect and pray at this crucial, and very painful, moment.

How beautiful is it that Jesus’ human heart shines through in this detail! This is our God: a man who knows what it is to be fully human, to suffer, and to feel the weight of things. This is why we can always pour out our hearts to him, knowing that he will understand everything.

The crowds, however, refuse to let Jesus have his time alone – they flock around him, begging for words of wisdom and healing miracles. And how does Jesus react? He cannot resist their pleas. He puts away his own loneliness and preoccupations, sits down, and gives his time to the people: comforting, healing, teaching, and listening to them. And when it seems that there is nothing more he can do, and when his disciples are completely worn out, he marvellously multiplies the loaves and fish.

Jesus spent the entire day attending to the needs of the crowds, when his heart yearned to be alone with his Father. This too is our Lord: a man who lives entirely for the good of those he loves, for each one of us!

This is one of the reasons our relationship with Jesus Christ is so unique. We don't have to earn his love, and we don't have to be afraid of losing it: Jesus’ love is unconditional and loyal. We don’t have to earn his friendship by having a great personality, good looks, or remarkable successes. As the first reading said so beautifully, “Everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.”

We also won’t lose Christ’s love because of our failures or weaknesses, for as the second reading tells us, “neither death, nor life, nor Angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Even when we actually reject him, by sinning, he is always waiting at the door of our hearts, to come back in and stay with us. Christ loves us just because he loves us, and so our weakness, misery, and neediness, instead of driving him away from us, actually draw him towards us. Christ lived for others. Christ lived for us.

Through the Eucharist, and through all of the sacraments, he continues living for us. And if that’s how Christ is, that’s also how we should be. We are Christians; we bear Christ’s name, because we are called to follow his example. Our mission in this world is to show his love, so that all people will believe in Jesus, follow him, and come to eternal life. And we do that by loving others as Christ has loved us. This was Jesus’ final commandment, the great desire of his heart: “Love one another as I have loved you... This is how they will know that you are my disciples: by your love for one another”.

Do you know what holds us back from boldly fulfilling this commandment? Fear. We are afraid that if we give of ourselves to others – our time, talent, treasure, attention, help, comfort – we are afraid that if we give what we have, we just won’t have enough left over for ourselves.

But today Jesus has eliminated that fear. His Twelve Apostles started with five loaves of bread and two fish – not even enough for themselves. They entrusted this meager supply of food to him, and then in his name they gave it away to others who were in need. After they did this, did they go hungry? No, in the end, there were twelve baskets of leftovers: more than what they had started with, an entire basket for each of the Apostles. God will never be outdone in generosity. If we give as he has given, we will receive more than we can imagine. 

We are Christians. And so today, sisters and brothers, let’s promise that this week we will do our very best to live up to our name.

 

Deacon Andrew Lindenbach

Posted on: July 26, 2020

The Kingdom of Heaven is like a Merchant in search of fine pearls

As I read today’s first reading from the First Book of Kings, I was immediately reminded of the movie series Indiana Jones. The reason that my mind was so quickly drawn to this particular movie franchise is because of its main character’s constant pursuit of priceless archaeological treasures. Surprisingly, we are all, to some degree or another, like Indiana because we too are all pursuing some elusive treasure, which we think is invaluable—even if, in truth, it really is not. However, unlike Professor Jones—in most of his movies, we generally never end up attaining those precious items that we so desperately desire. What typically ends up happening, more often than not, is that we become more like Gollum, from the Lord of the Rings, as we track down the things that we think are so precious. Sadly, we often become obsessed with the things of this world that we cannot possess, which then leads us to become depressed, envious, and irritable. If, however, we do end up obtaining the things that we want, they very quickly lose their appeal for us.  

Our first reading about King Solomon offers us some incredibly wise and insightful advice about what we should genuinely pursue in our life. Shortly after Solomon was crowned the monarch of Israel God appears to him in a dream and offers to give him whatever his heart desires. Unlike the rulers of his time, who were two and three times his age, this young king does not ask for the usual things like a long life, riches, or for the life of his enemies. Instead, Solomon simply asks for “an understanding mind… [that is] able to discern between good and evil.” This request is fascinating because it is the same thing that Adam and Eve wanted when they ate the forbidden fruit in the middle of the Garden of Eden. Solomon knows intuitively that any good leader worth his salt needs to be able to discern between what is truly good on the one hand, from that which is evil on the other. If a ruler or leader cannot do that, then that individual, like our first parents, will easily be duped by the Devil. We currently live in a world where it has become increasingly difficult at times to be able to discern between what is actually good and evil. When we are in doubt, the best place to turn is the Church and her teachings because she has the collective wisdom to guide us. After all, the Church has existed for more than two thousand years. The Church has seen the rise and fall of many nations, empires, and rulers. One of the most interesting facts about human beings is that we have not changed very much over the more than two millennia that the Church has been in existence. A few of the things that have drastically changed in the world are the environment, our societies, and technology, which, as we can see, all have the potential to lead to our destruction. If we want to not only survive but thrive in the world, then we need to find a way of acquiring wisdom that is comparable to the kind that Solomon possessed.   

Today’s psalm offers us the simple ABC’s of how we can grow in divine wisdom. The reason that Psalm 119 can do this, figuratively speaking, is because it is an alphabetical psalm where each of the first letters of each section, in its original Hebrew composition, begins with a different letter from the Jewish alphabet. The portion of the psalm that is read today gives us several great ways of growing in wisdom like Solomon. The first insight is that we need to keep the Lord’s words always in our mind, on our lips and in our hearts, because then these words of wisdom will be part of our daily lives. This is the reason why we mark ourselves with the sign of the cross on our forehead, lips, and heart whenever we hear the Gospel read. A wise person, as the Bible points out, does not simply listen to the word of God; instead, that individual puts it to work in their life. This can be done by memorizing short pieces of Scripture that speak to us. Then, we can use that passage to pray with throughout our day. By doing this, before we know it, our day can, in a way, become more of a prayer. The second insight from the psalm is that mercy is important in a disciple’s life. Jesus illustrated this maxim all the time in his life and ministry. Christ was always ready to forgive someone when they sinned either against him or his Father. This, unfortunately, for us is a real stumbling block. It takes a great amount of humility and courage to forgive someone who has sinned against us. If you struggle with this command of Jesus, then the best way to deal with it is to pray and ask for the grace to forgive. Now, unlike an infomercial, I don’t promise that you will experience immediate results. Instead, God knows us and how stubborn we can be, so He will help us to change slowly. If, however, we choose not to forgive that person, then what we end up doing is simply imprisoning our self in an indestructible cage of hate. The great irony in this situation is that we are the only ones who have the key which can set us free by letting go of the hurt that we are holding on too. The last insight that Psalm 119 provides us with is that by following the commandments and precepts of God we can walk with the Lord in righteousness or right relationship with Him. As Saint Paul points out in our second reading from Romans today, when we begin to conform our lives to the image of Jesus, then we will gradually become more just or justified, which will then someday lead us to be glorified by God in Heaven if we continue with that process of sanctification.

Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, let us be like the merchant of fine pearls in our Gospel reading, who was wise like Solomon and willing to sell everything to get the one thing that would truly make him happy. Jesus, as the New Testament points out clearly, is the only person on this planet who can make us both happy and whole. Christ is able to do this because by following him and his example we can come to know what it genuinely means to be human. Despite being both divine and human, Christ’s greatest gift to humanity was teaching us what it really means to be a human being. We usually forget that to be a human being means to be vulnerable, weak, and dependent. Saint Paul knew this well and that is why, in his Second Letter to the Corinthians, he wrote, “Whenever I am weak, then I am strong.” Saint Paul was only able to write this because he knew from experience that in his weakness, he had nowhere else to turn but to God. The Lord’s greatest desire, which should be ours too, is that we learn to live only for him, instead of for other worthless reasons. The things of this world do not have the power to spiritually heal us, to make us whole, or to give us eternal life. Rather, the things of this earth are meant to be a means of coming to know and love God. When they become the sole focus or idols of our life, then we have regrettably put the cart before the horse. This week, as we go about our usual routines, let us take some time today and each day this week to reflect on where God is in our life. Is He in the center; if not, why? Also, what can we do to put Him at the center of our life?

 

God bless,

Deacon Christopher Juchacz, ofs

Posted on: July 19, 2020

The Kingdom starts small, like a mustard seed

Jesus was always talking about his kingdom. He came in order to establish a kingdom. He will come again at the end of time to bring this kingdom to fulfillment. In the meantime, he taught us to pray every day for the coming of this kingdom: “Thy Kingdom come…”.

What kingdom is Jesus talking about and why is it so important? Christ’s kingdom is life as God created it to be lived: it is life full of meaning, purpose, wisdom, and lasting happiness. It is a life lived to the full, which we can only have through relationship with Jesus, the one Saviour: Through knowing, loving, and following him more each day. Jesus himself said this in the Gospel of John: “I have come so that they may have life and have it to the full.” St. Paul understood this, and even defined this kingdom as “righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” in his letter to the Romans. This is the goal of Jesus’ kingdom: experiencing life to the full, experiencing righteousness, peace, and joy by freely allowing God’s grace to rule our thought and actions. It is a kingdom that begins here on earth, in the Church, and will last through all eternity.

But how do we get there? How do we let Jesus build his kingdom in our lives, our family’s lives, and in our communities? Well, one necessary step is to understand God’s plan, to understand what following Jesus involves: What life in His kingdom is like. In today’s Gospel, Jesus teaches us two key characteristics of His kingdom.

The first one is that this kingdom is always growing. It started small when Christ established it: just a few disciples gathered in a room on that first Easter. The kingdom starts small wherever it goes. St. Augustine of Canterbury had only a handful of monks when he crossed the English Channel around the year 600, so that he might evangelize the Anglo-Saxon people. About a century earlier than that, St. Patrick went into Ireland, a place that even the Roman Empire had never conquered, completely by himself. 

It starts small inside our souls as well: that voice of our conscience, God’s voice within us, is often just a whisper, like a tiny breeze. The kingdom starts small, like a mustard seed or a little bit of yeast in a batch of flour – but it is alive, and so it is always growing.

And so, 100 years after St. Augustine and a couple of friends came to England, the English Church was exporting hundreds of saints and missionaries back to continental Europe to evangelize the new waves of invaders. And so, by the time of St. Patrick’s death, an entire nation had begun to unite under the Christian faith. And so, even if God’s voice is only a whisper in our conscience, when we follow it, He works wonders.

A common criticism I continually listen to, and read about, is how the Catholic Church is too big and developed to be the descendant of that small group of fishers that Jesus started with. Well, when you plant something in the ground, you expect something to happen. You expect to go back and see something that doesn’t look anything like that small seed. God’s kingdom is always alive, always dynamic, and always growing. I know from personal experience, whenever I found myself becoming bored with our Christian faith, it was simply because I had wandered away from my relationship with Jesus.

The second characteristic of Christ's Kingdom is that its impact will always be out of proportion to its size: a little leaven makes the whole loaf rise. As if to make this point even more clear, Jesus specifies the amount of flour being used in the parable: three measures. Now, that might not sound very impressive, but when I looked up how much this actually is, it works out to be about 144 cups of flour. That’s a lot of bread. And that massive lump of dough is penetrated and transformed by a small amount of yeast. Just so, a little bit of Christian courage sends ripples far and wide: One act of forgiveness or mercy can put an end to decades of bitterness, hatred, and resentment. One young man saying yes to God’s call to the priesthood can send tidal waves of truth reverberating throughout the world – just as it did with JPII.

Pause for a moment and think about how odd it is that Mother Teresa of Calcutta was as famous as the world’s great kings and queens, business tycoons and movie stars. This tiny nun from Albania, working with the poorest of the poor in Calcutta was the commencement speaker at a Harvard University graduation. She was the also the keynote speaker at the United States’ National Prayer breakfast. This is way out of proportion.

Just so, the faithful mom and dad, the lawyer, businessperson, and teacher who let Jesus Christ reign in their hearts and actions are spreading God’s saving grace far and wide. Just how far-reaching these actions are will only be known at the end of the age, when everything is revealed. Nonetheless, the impact of saying yes to Jesus Christ can never be exaggerated.

Jesus Christ came to establish a kingdom, and we are members of that kingdom through being members of His Church. We are beneficiaries of that kingdom, though the grace that continually grows in our hearts, like that small mustard seed, making us, little by little, more Christ-like.

Today Jesus wants us to renew our confidence in His kingdom: its power for growth and its capacity to transform lives, families, and communities. How many earthly kingdoms and empires has the Church witnessed come and go? They are innumerable. But the kingdom of Jesus remains, grows, and spreads. Pope Benedict, while celebrating Mass in New York, said that “each day, you and so many of your neighbors, pray to the Father in the Lord’s own words: ‘Thy kingdom come’ … This prayer needs to shape the mind and heart of every Christian … It needs to bear fruit in the way you lead your lives and in the way you build up your families and your communities.”

So today, brothers and sisters, let’s ask Jesus to shape our minds and hearts with His grace, so that we can say those same words throughout this coming week, not only with our mouths, but with the very example of our lives: THY KINGDOM COME!

 

God bless,

Deacon Andrew

Posted on: July 12, 2020

An open invitation to discipleship

In our Gospel passage today, we hear how Christ's words have immense power to influence people’s lives. We are told that there was a great crowd gathered around him as he taught. The crowd was so large that Christ was forced to get into a fishing boat, which he then used as a platform to speak to everyone gathered on the shore. The crowd, as we can imagine, must have hung on every word that he spoke. Interestingly, Jesus could have turned this crowd into a revolutionary group, which he then could have manipulated for any number of purposes. However, instead, Christ simply invites them to change their hearts. In this situation, Jesus demonstrates that he is truly the Lord of love and truth because he refuses to use force in order to get them, as well us, to follow him. Rather, Jesus is the true “sower” in our Gospel parable. Christ is the one who initially spreads God's Word and announces the Lord’s open invitation to discipleship. Remarkably, Jesus never forces people to welcome him or his message. Christ’s eagerness, however, to win over people’s hearts as well as their freedom is evident in the way that he uses parables.

A parable, as biblical scholars tell us, is either a simple literary or oral device that proposes a comparison between a hard-to-understand divine truth (for example the truth about God and his plan of salvation) and a well-known earthly reality. Scripture scholars point out that Jesus used these stories and comparisons to conceal his intended meaning from his opponents. Another more pragmatic way of looking at a parable is that sometimes people do not want to accept the plain truth because it means that they will have to change the way that they live. In Christ’s great Sermon on the Mount, he taught his fellow Jews the plain and unvarnished truth. However, there were many people in his time, like there are in ours, who simply did not want to accept these truths. So, in our Gospel reading today, Jesus takes a more roundabout way to convince them. His various parables offered his Jewish audience, like us, a chance to accept certain truths in an abstract way before they could then see how these teachings apply to them personally. It's a clever method of helping people to accept difficult truths. This approach allows these truths to pass through a listener's mental defense mechanism. Out of sincere love for humanity, Jesus always respects our freedom, but he will never stop trying to convince us to use our freedom in better and holier ways.

Pope Benedict XVI understood this idea well when he stated, “It is necessary that each person freely accept the truth of the love of God. The Lord is Love and Truth, and love, as well as truth, never imposes themselves. They knock on the door of the heart and mind and, where these virtues enter, they bring peace and joy. This is the way God reigns; this is His plan of salvation.”

The Pope Emeritus’ insight about God’s love and truth is poignantly captured in a fictional story that I recently read. According to this tale, two brothers were arguing amongst themselves about the wisdom of their parents. “Our Dad is a very wise man,” said the younger brother to his older sibling. The older brother however disagreed. “Dad is not at all that smart! We are just as intelligent as he is, and I'll prove it to you.” The next day the older boy went out into the woods near their home and caught a small bird. The boy brought the bird home and said to his younger sibling, “Let's go find Dad, and I’ll show you that he isn't so smart after all.” The two brothers then went into their father's study together. While they were there, the eldest son held the small bird between his cupped hands. “Dad,” said the boy, “I have a question for you.” “Yes, my son,” replied his father. “I am holding a small bird in my hands. Tell me, is this bird dead or alive?” Now the elder son had devised a shrewd plan. If his dad said that the bird was dead, he would simply open his hands and show that the bird was alive. However, if his father answered that the bird was alive, he would then crush it between his hands and reveal that the bird was dead. This he thought would clearly prove that his dad was not so wise after all. The boys' father, after considering the question for a moment, said, “My son...the answer is in your hands.” Both boys realized that day just how wise their father really was. It is the same for us with God and the freedom that he has given us, so that we, in turn, can cultivate a spiritually rich relationship with Him and then with the people around us.

In His wisdom, God created us all with the gift of free will. Along with this freedom, the Lord has given us the seed of faith, which is meaningful, fruitful, and can help us to live a genuinely happy life. God does this by offering each of us His loving and truthful friendship; however, it is up to us to ensure that the seed is in good soil and that the soil remains good. Without the help of God's grace, our freedom cannot resist the overwhelming influences of the world around us. The Devil, as our Gospel passage highlights, has the power to come and snatch away the seed of faith that the Lord has implanted and nurtured within us. God's grace, however, has the power to make us saints, but first, we must cooperate with it. There are two ways that we can cooperate with the Lord's grace in our lives.

First, we can avail ourselves more often of the various gifts that God has given which are channels of His grace, such as the Sacraments, the Scriptures, the teachings of the Church which can be found in the Catechism, the intercession of the Saints, and, most importantly of all, the gift of daily prayer. If we are not using these gifts effectively, then we are acting like farmers who have foolishly let their farming equipment get rusty. We need to utilize these resources of sanctification to become the disciples that Christ is calling us to be.

The second way is to exercise our freedom just like we exercise our muscles. This means making conscious choices that are motivated by worthy reasons and that are in line with our Catholic faith. A spouse who goes to work every day for years just out of routine and does not consciously renew each day his or her commitment to their family and to the common good of society will eventually face an existential crisis. Wondering why it is that they do what they do each day. This is similar to the Catholic who comes to Mass every Sunday for years just out of routine, but who does not consciously renew his or her personal commitment to Jesus Christ each Sunday. This person might eventually drift away from God because He no longer has a central place in the person’s life. Therefore, we must know the reasons behind our choices, and we must consciously renew our commitment to those reasons. That is how we are supposed to exercise our freedom and to defend ourselves against the hidden cancer of routine, which is an insidious ally of the devil, the world, and the flesh. Today, as Christ renews his commitment to us in this Mass, let us renew our personal love for him in the depths of our hearts, choosing freely, once again, to be his faithful followers who will sow good and eternally life-giving habits in our daily lives.

 

God bless,

Deacon Chris

 

Posted on: July 5, 2020

Our Father will always treat us with love and mercy

Today’s readings remind us that, while many things within our lives can remain the same whether we believe in Christ or not, the way we act in these similar situations is different: believers are asked to live in meekness and humility of heart.

In our First Reading, from Zechariah, we hear a prophecy of the Messiah. In this, we very clearly hear that the Messiah does not come thundering in on a magnificent horse, towering above all others. No, he will come in triumphantly and victorious on a humble donkey: a beast built for burden, and not for speed.

The king is just, but meek. Now, I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty sure the Jewish people who first heard this wouldn’t believe it was enough to do this job. After all, how is he going to destroy war and establish peace with so very little? Especially when the Lord states that this king will not just serve national interests, but will instead proclaim peace to all nations, and reign over every one of them. This king will not be ambitious, but instead simple and selfless. This king has a big job to do, but he doesn’t tackle it by making a large amount of noise or through military might.

Now, we here today have another view to this, as we know the Messiah. We know who he is, and how he brought change though his meekness, justice, and his desire for peace. We know how this disarmed the world of his time and took it by storm.

We see in today’s Second Reading how Paul gives us an insight into how the Messiah, and his many disciples, seized the world. They did this by turning away from the flesh and living in the Spirit of God, which already dwells within them. The Spirit of the Lord spread and conquered hearts, just as it still does today within every heart that is open to it.

However, we always face the danger of sliding backwards, and some people do not live according to the Spirit of God at all, despite that fact that they have received the Spirit through faith in Christ and Baptism. It is the Spirit that teaches us the true causes of woe and war, as well as provides the solutions to these: The desires of the flesh must be conquered. Battle and discord within our world grow from those who strive after the things of the flesh: Earthly desires that make them greedy, selfish, and cruel. This true war, which cannot really be seen at times, is ultimately between the flesh and the Spirit. It continues to be fought by Christians daily, with both victories and defeats, but always with hope firmly placed in the Lord, who has already overthrown the things of the flesh.

In today’s Gospel, the Lord teaches us that there are things in life to which we will be blind if we are not ‘little’ in our aspirations and taught how to be meek and humble of heart. Creation was made with the Son in mind, so it is no wonder that the Father would make his Son the key to understanding the meaning and purpose of life itself. The Son encourages us to learn from him, and to continually work toward meekness and humility. Without this, life becomes much more burdensome than it was meant to be. That is why, in today’s Gospel, Jesus assures us that it is not as tough as it seems, and He will give us rest from our many earthly struggles. If the Spirit of Christ is interlaced within the fabric of creation, the more we imitate him and allow his Spirit to guide our lives, the easier all things will be because through peace with Our Lord we will also gain peace with both ourselves and with his creation.

Each and every Palm Sunday we celebrate the fulfillment of the prophecy in today’s First reading. As Jesus’ many disciples lay palms before him, and he humbly rides into Jerusalem, they still don’t understand yet that his reign will be in a different way. It will occur from the Cross, with Jesus himself humiliated and seemingly broken. For many, the moment of his Passion and death is simply too much. Jesus had been teaching them and trying to prepare them, but it was simply not enough. It was only in the light of his Resurrection that things came into focus and they realized a much different Spirit had been at play through everything.

St. Therese of Lisieux was a cloistered Carmelite nun who died at the young age of twenty-four, yet she is a great spiritual leader, and a Doctor of the Church. She proposed what she called the “little way of childhood”: She based her little way on the fact that each one of us are God’s children in Christ, and we ought to love our Father in heaven with a devoted love full of confidence and abandonment. She saw this as the best way to live out Christ’s teaching that God was our Father: to realize God’s fatherhood toward us and to develop an absolute confidence in God as Our Father. She was convinced that whether we are young or old, a sinner or a saint, Our Father still remains Our Father, and will always treat us with love and mercy, so we should always act as children toward him.

And so, for this next week, let’s all work on being a little more ‘childish’ toward Our Father, in St. Therese’s sense of the word.

 

God bless,

Deacon Andrew Lindenbach

Posted on: June 28, 2020

Becoming a Saint is not an easy way of life

In today’s first reading, from the Second Book of Kings, we hear how kindness and hospitality have the power to profoundly change a person’s life by bringing new life into it. Elisha, who was a great and mighty prophet of God, is shown a remarkable amount of courtesy and respect by a wealthy and influential woman from the northern Israelite town of Shunem. Historians of ancient Israel remind us that sharing a meal with someone, especially a stranger, was a big deal. By breaking bread with someone back then, a person was making a social statement about himself and his guest. Thus, when this influential lady from Shunem invited Elisha into her home to dine, she was signalling to everyone around her who she believed him to be, which is none other than “a holy man of God.” This Shunemite woman’s acknowledgement of Elisha’s identity then led her to ask her husband to show him an even greater degree of kindness and hospitality by building a furnished rooftop room for the prophet.

These gestures of kindness and respect that were shown by the Shunemite lady to Elisha remind me of the story of Saint Maximilian Kolbe. Father Kolbe was a Polish Franciscan priest who was sent, during World War II, to the Nazi concentration camp Auschwitz for publishing a magazine which was critical of the Third Reich. While he was at the camp, one of his fellow prisoners escaped one evening. When the commander of the camp was informed of the breakout the next morning, he decided to terrorize the entire prison population by having everyone line up in rows in the main courtyard. He then instructed his deputy commander to walk up and down the rows randomly choosing ten men to be starved to death for the actions of the one who had gotten away. One of the men who was chosen to be punished was a Polish soldier named Francis Gajowniczek (pronounced Guy-an-nee-chek). After being picked out of the crowd, Francis began crying and begging to be spared because he had a wife and children back home. His pleas, however, fell on deaf ears. Then, amazingly out of the crowd Father Maximilian stepped forward and asked the deputy commander to take his place. Surprisingly, this Nazi officer agreed to his request. Father Kolbe, like you and I, had no idea what following God would entail for his life. Father Maximilian, however, like the Shunemite lady in our first reading, had faith that, by following the Lord, he would not be making a foolish decision. Rather, Father Kolbe wisely knew that by not following God’s will for his life, which includes showing Christ-like hospitality to strangers in need, that he would actually be making a much more reckless and dangerous decision, than the one that he ultimately made at Auschwitz.

Genuine hospitality--which is always rooted in selfless love, as Jesus clearly illustrates in today’s Gospel, invariably comes at a personal cost. If we are not willing to sacrifice something personal for what we believe in--like our Catholic faith, then how much do we really believe in it. Remarkably, Mr. Gajowniczek lived to see Father Maximilian beatified by Pope Paul VI in 1971, and then to see his canonization by Pope John Paul II in 1982. As a way of expressing his immense gratitude for the life-saving decision of Father Kolbe, Francis spent the rest of his life telling his story around the world to people who would listen. Mr. Gajowniczek would always tell his audiences, "So long as I have breath in my lungs, I consider it my duty to tell people about the heroic act of love of Saint Maximilian Kolbe." Francis’ story and example of profound gratitude should motivate us, in turn, to tell other people about Christ’s heroic act of love for humanity. We can do this in a myriad of different ways. One of the most effective ways that I have found is through gratuitous acts of love, which always speak louder than words. When someone realizes that you genuinely love and care about them, then and only then will they listen to what you have to say. As many of us all know from personal experience, we can spot a phony from a mile away.

In order to ensure that we do not become a Christian only in name, it is important that we find either a saint or a group of saints who can inspire us to become better disciples of Christ like they did. For me, I have always been inspired by the writings and example of Saint Francis of Assisi. Francis, as many Catholics know, was a simple and humble man who knew that the best way to love God was by loving others. In his pursuit of God, Francis shared all that he had with those around him. Now you may be thinking that this kind of radical love and hospitality is too great an endeavour for me to take on right now in my life. I would wholeheartedly agree with you; however, I would encourage you to take on a challenge like this or any other kind with humility and patience. In the spiritual life, sanctification, or the daily struggle to live a holy life, is always a slow and painful journey. As the old saying goes, Rome was not built in a day and neither is a saint. Like the great saints that lived before us--and the ones that live among us today, we also must be willing and committed to taking at least one step forward each day in our pursuit of a holy life of faith. If, like Saint Francis, we do not come to resemble Christ somewhat in our life--like he did with the stigmata, then we are surely doing something wrong.

The difference that genuine Christian living makes in a person’s life is palpable. A fellow prisoner who survived Auschwitz mentioned that he was quite impressed with the inspiring power of Father Kolbe's presence, despite the fact that he lived in a place that resembled Hell. This fellow P.O.W. said, “Each time I saw Father Kolbe in the courtyard I felt within myself an extraordinary effusion of his goodness. Even though he wore the same ragged clothes as the rest of us, with the same tin can hanging from his belt, one easily forgot his wretched exterior and was conscious only of the charm of his inspired countenance and radiant holiness.” Saint Maximilian was able, only after living many years in a Franciscan community, to exude a holiness and wholeness because he had daily cultivated these virtues internally through regular physical and spiritual disciplines.

The process of becoming a saint is not an easy way of life. Rather, it requires a willingness to sacrifice daily, which is why Christ is calling us to pick up our cross in the Gospel. Our Gospel passage today highlights how we must be willing to follow Jesus no matter the cost. It might even entail severing ties with our family members, such as parents, siblings, and children. The reason that this kind of radical action might be necessary is that these relationships can sometimes be poisonous to our emotional, physical and spiritual well-being. Christ, who is undeniably the wisest spiritual director that we will ever find, gives us the shrewdest piece of spiritual advice when he says, “Whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.” The reason that this is sage advice is because it is only in showing love and hospitality to others, even strangers, that we come to genuinely know ourselves. The two questions that we are left with today are: 1.) How am I doing in this ongoing process of personal sanctification (i.e. successes and areas for improvement)? 2.) If I have not started this process, how am I going to begin my gradual progression of growth in personal holiness this week and in the weeks to come?

 

God Bless,

Deacon Christopher Juchacz, ofs

Posted on: June 21, 2020

Being a Christian takes Courage

We enter today’s Gospel scene right in the middle - Jesus is giving the Apostles directions for their first journey. The most remarkable thing about these instructions is the warning. In this passage, Jesus tells them three times not to be afraid. Three Times! Jesus would not have said this if they did not need to hear it, but why did they actually need to hear it?

Well, as these people went out into the world to spread the Gospel in word and deed, they are going to run into some serious challenges. Jesus is warning his Apostles that they will meet up with persecution and hardship, just as Jesus did, in a very dramatic way, during His Passion. Jesus is warning them that their mission will demand great courage, perseverance, and fidelity as they consistently face suffering, slander, ridicule, and hostility. While on their journey, they are truly going to face people who want to destroy them, humiliate them, and even possibly kill them, simply because they bear Christ’s name and are trying to spread His Good News. 

In the verses directly before today’s passage, Jesus was very explicit about this. He told them, “Beware of them, for they will hand you over to councils and flog you in their synagogues; and you will be dragged before governors and kings because of me, as a testimony to them and the Gentiles … you will be hated by all because of my name.”

These same warnings apply to us too. Being a Christian is not like joining a curling club. It is a challenge, and we will struggle while we follow Christ, working to continue building His kingdom in our world. If we follow what Jesus tells us, people will dislike us for this, and it will be hard work, just as it was for the Apostles.

I continually look up to Cardinal Joseph van Thuan, a Vietnamese cardinal who spent thirteen years in prison under the Communists. He used to say the true Church founded by Christ is one, holy, catholic, and persecuted. St. Paul seems to agree with this in Ephesians 6: “For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”

The history of our Church proves that this struggle is real, and not merely symbolic. It is seen in the lives of the Apostles themselves: Every one of Jesus’ first apostles died a martyr’s death, with the exception of John the Evangelist, who is said to have survived being boiled in oil. These are our brothers in faith. They teach us that being a Christian is demanding. It takes courage. It stirs up opposition. These people followed in the footsteps of Christ and ignited a trail for us to do the same with our lives.

Now, this can seem like quite a pessimistic approach to Christianity, but it is actually the opposite. Firstly, pessimism distorts reality, but persecution and opposition are not distortions of reality, and are instead parts of reality. Christians follow in the footsteps of Christ, who walked the way of the cross. This is simple reality. Christians are realists, not pessimists. 

Secondly, when we can finally accept this truth, we actually find great relief: Tension and pressure come when our personal expectations for life don’t match up with the actual reality of life. If, in our lives, we expect every person we meet to appreciate the Christian viewpoint, we can quickly find ourselves constantly frustrated. This frustration will eventually wear us down to the point where we simply stop trying to bear witness to Christ at all: We become ‘undercover’ Christians. Jesus has freed us from this though. Jesus has already told us that by being friends with Him, we will automatically make enemies. We must understand that this is OK! Jesus had quite a few enemies Himself. We must come to the understanding that we do not need to please everyone, but instead only need to please God.

This knowledge takes a great deal of pressure off of us, because Jesus is the easiest person in the world to please, although He is very hard to satisfy. We please Jesus when we follow Church teachings, even when they are counter-cultural. We please Jesus when we do good to others, without seeking anything in return. We please Jesus when we use our time well, instead of squandering it on personal self-indulgence. We please Jesus when we are patient with those who bother us, just as He is patient with us. We please Jesus when we pray, both for ourselves, and for others.

So today, when Jesus once again renews His unending commitment to us, let us work this week to not shy away from living out our commitment to Him, no matter the consequences.

 

God bless,

Deacon Andrew Lindenbach

Posted on: June 14, 2020

St. Anthony and the Donkey

On June 13, the Catholic Church celebrates the Memorial of Saint Anthony of Padua, who is known as both an eloquent preacher and Doctor of the Church. He was given the title Doctor of the Church for three particular reasons: 

  1. for his outstanding life of holiness, 
  2. for his exceptional understanding and ability to explain Catholic doctrine or teaching, and 
  3. because he left behind a collection of writings that have contributed immensely to an authentic and life-giving expression of the tradition of the Catholic faith. 

Besides being one of the thirty-six Doctors of the Church, Saint Anthony is also the Patron Saint of Lost Things. This patronage was bestowed on Anthony by the Catholic Church because of a unique situation that took place in his life. 

According to biographers, Saint Anthony, out of love for the Scriptures, hand wrote an entire manuscript of the Psalms, which took him a very long time to complete. The book, unfortunately, was stolen one evening by a fellow Franciscan friar who was determined to abandon his religious vows. This brother planned to sell the precious manuscript to pay for his new life. When Anthony discovered that this fellow friar had abandoned his vocation, he began to pray to God for the gift of conversion for his confrère. Saint Anthony’s prayers were answered and the friar returned to the community along with the book that he had stolen. Because the manuscript was returned, Saint Anthony was then designated as the Patron Saint of Lost Things after his canonization.     

There is another unique and fascinating story about Saint Anthony that I would like to share with you on this Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ. Anthony, as historians point out, lived during the thirteenth century, which was a troubled time in the Church. He had a strong belief in the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. Catholic tradition recalls that one day Saint Anthony heard about a merchant in the city of Rimini named Bononillo who did not believe in the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. In fact, he openly mocked anyone who believed that Christ was truly present in the bread and wine that are consecrated at Mass. Anthony tried his darndest to convince Bononillo of the real presence by appealing to both Scripture and other logical arguments; however, despite all his efforts, the merchant was as stubborn as a mule.

When Saint Anthony realized this fact, he immediately had an idea. Anthony decided that he would challenge the wealthy merchant. He said to him, “If the donkey that you ride on adored Jesus in the Eucharist, would you then believe in the Blessed Sacrament?” Bononillo conceded that he would. Bononillo, however, did not believe that Anthony had a serious chance of changing his mind. As such, Bononillo came up with a plan to starve his mule for three days, and then he would bring the donkey to the town square. The mule would then be placed in front of a large pile of hay while Saint Anthony would be standing several meters away with the Eucharist. Bononillo was quite confident that the donkey would ignore the Blessed Sacrament and eat the hay. 

To prepare for this event, Saint Anthony decided to fast and pray for three days while Bononillo, in turn, told everyone in the town about the challenge. On the day of the great event, Bononillo brought his mule, as planned, to the town square while Saint Anthony came and stood a fair distance away with the Blessed Sacrament in his hands. Defying all expectations, the donkey turned his head and began walking over to Saint Anthony. When the donkey was quite close to the holy friar, it bent his front legs and kneeled in adoration before the Eucharist! When Bononillo saw this miraculous series of events, he immediately knelt down and professed his belief in the real presence of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. 

The point of this amazing story is that it is meant to remind us to use our eyes of faith to believe more fully in Christ’s real presence in the Eucharist. Jesus promised to remain with us always until the end of time. Christ’s promise is continually being fulfilled at every Mass. When the priest says, “This is my body,” and, “This is my blood,” over the bread and wine they immediately become Jesus’ body and blood. Through the ministry of our priests, Jesus is always materially and substantially present in the Church.   

Just as our first reading from Deuteronomy highlights, the Lord can use our “hunger” for Jesus to bring us closer to Him. Right now, in our archdiocese and elsewhere, there is a great desire and hunger for all Catholics to be able to receive Christ in the Eucharist. As Catholic Christians, the Eucharist is both the summit and center of our faith life. When we cannot receive Jesus substantially and materially in our lives, we feel that loss personally. Life, therefore, naturally seems to lose some of its zest and zeal because we either explicitly or implicitly recognize that we are missing the true Author of life itself. It is for this reason that Christ’s words in the Gospel of John today are absolutely correct when they state, “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them.” (Jn 6:56). Jesus is undeniably spiritually present whenever we read his words in the Scriptures or pray to him, but he is also uniquely present to us, in a very special way, when we receive him in the consecrated host and wine. For this reason, let us continue to pray today and every day for a vaccine for COVID-19. When that day comes, we will be much closer to gathering once again as a parish family to gives thanks and praise to God the Father, the Holy Spirit and Jesus for the gift of the real presence in the body and blood that our priests give us at Mass, which are, as Saint Anthony of Padua knew, the wellsprings of prayer, virtue, holiness and eternal life. 

 

God Bless,

Deacon Christopher Juchacz, ofs 

Posted on: June 7, 2020

Most Holy Trinity

When I took a class on world religions at the seminary, it surprised me when our teacher made it clear that every single time he was introduced to a Muslim, the conversation quickly turned into a debate about the Trinity, which we celebrate every year on this Trinity Sunday.

Just like Jews and Christians, Muslim people believe that there is one God: A God who is all-powerful and unequalled in every way. Their concept of God resembles what appears within the Old Testament, and this makes sense, as Mohammed, the founder of Islam, grew up among Jews and Christians in the Middle East. During this period though, the Christian churches in the Middle East were constantly getting involved in theological controversies that caused divisions among the Christian people. It was in this environment that the simplified, non-Christian idea of God began.

Mohammad rejected what Jesus had revealed about the Holy Trinity, that God is three divine persons – Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit – but one divine nature. This rejection limited any previous room for theological controversy, but it also cancelled out the whole New Testament, which many Muslim scholars do not accept as true, but instead as a corrupted form of the actual words of Jesus. As such, out of the world’s monotheistic religions, only Christianity believes in the Trinity: it is unique to us.

It is true that the Trinity is hard to understand! Many priests even make an attempt to stay away from talking about the Trinity, as our human minds cannot grasp it completely: How can God be both one and three? How can the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit be totally God, and yet separate persons? 

And yet, this struggle makes the doctrine of the Trinity clearer. It shows that no mere human mind would be capable of coming up with such an idea. It also shows that God, the Creator of all things, exists in a way that we cannot fully understand, and that makes perfect sense, as God should exceed our ability to understand Him, for if He didn’t, then He would not be much of a God!

This isn’t the end though. Just because we can’t understand the Trinity completely does not mean that we can’t understand it at all. Frank Sheed, a Catholic writer, gives an interesting explanation of the Trinity. He starts by thinking about our own human nature. Each of us exists, but since we are spiritual, we also have an idea of ourselves: we can think about ourselves, reflect on ourselves, and know ourselves. It is for this reason that so many people choose to keep a journal about themselves.

This is similar to what happens in the relationship between the Father and the Son. The Father is spiritual: The Father knows Himself. He has an idea of Himself. But, since His knowledge is limitless, unlike ours, that idea of Himself is perfectly complete. In order to be perfect though, it has to share in God’s own existence; it has to actually be a divine person. Thus, the Father, knowing Himself, creates the perfect image of Himself in the Son. Now, as both the Father and the Son are infinitely perfect, as soon as they know each other, they also love one another. 

We can see this point in ourselves: When we think about ourselves, we love ourselves. We want the best for ourselves, and we are glad that we exist. But God’s love, just like His knowledge, is unlimited, and this love is so intense, and complete, that it shares fully in God’s divinity as yet another person: the Holy Spirit.

This is the mystery that we profess each week when we affirm our belief in Jesus, who is, as the Nicene Creed states, “one in being with the Father, God from God, light from light” and in the Holy Spirit, who “with the Father and the Son is worshipped and glorified.”

The mystery of the Trinity can seem impractical and abstract, but in fact, just the opposite is true. The Trinity is the only practical source of hope for humanity in our globalized world. Technology is continually making the world into one closely linked community, and within that community we find people of different races, religions, traditions, and cultures. If, on the one hand, we let this process of globalization simply erase the amazing variety of cultures, we instead sow seeds of anger, resentment, and revenge in the hearts of other nations. However, if we also fail to create real bonds between the different cultures, our globalized would simply make it easier for different groups to attack one another.

We need both unity and diversity in our world. We need to become one human family with many different cultures contained within it. And we can do this. We know we can because we are created in the image of God, and God is both one and three: perfect unity and perfect diversity. God, by His very nature, is a communion of persons that cannot be broken apart. The Church, which works to create a unified community from many different peoples through a common faith in, and obedience to, Christ, is proof this is very possible. 

The Trinity is the source of the human family. The Trinity is our goal. The Trinity is our model. On this Trinity Sunday, as we renew our faith in the Triune God, let us ask for help to build up the Kingdom of God by truly living in His image. Let us do this, as St. Paul tells us in the second reading, through mending our ways, encouraging one another, agreeing with one another, and living in peace.

 

God bless,

Deacon Andrew Lindenbach

Posted on: May 30, 2020

Let the Holy Spirit lead you

Tommy Harmon was a star halfback at the University of Michigan, an All-American in 1939. In 1940, while piloting a bomber over a Brazilian jungle during World War Two, Harmon and three companions were forced to bail out. He landed in a tree, breaking his only bottle of water.

With the help of his compass he struggled eastward, the direction of the sea. The pathless jungle was a mass of twisted vines, trees, and brush, infested with snakes and animals. He had to wade through swamps up to his hips. His sturdy football legs served him well during those days of superhuman effort. But his faith served him better. He prayed almost continuously.

Finally, he spotted a path through the thick underbrush. Harmon followed it to the hut of a native who showed him the way back to civilization. When asked how he made his way out, when others starved or were eaten by wild animals, Harmon replied: “The Holy Spirit dwells in my soul. He was given to me when the bishop confirmed me. I kept praying to the Holy Spirit to lead me. I also pray my Rosary continually. I must have said a million Hail Marys. I was sure that the Holy Spirit and the Blessed Mother would lead me back to safety.”

Dear friends, most of us can say with Harmon: “The Holy Spirit dwells in me. He was given to me when the bishop confirmed me.” But – how many of us can say with him: “I kept praying to the Holy Spirit that he might lead me?”

Today we celebrate Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit came down upon the apostles in His fullness. That was more than 2000 years ago. How about you and me today? How does the Holy Spirit come to us – today?

For us Pentecost is the day of our Confirmation, whether that was five years ago or fifty years ago. We need to recall and renew the great graces that came to us at that moment, graces which we have perhaps forgotten, graces which we have not used, graces which we need today.

Like Harmon, we find ourselves in a jungle of problems – COVID-19 virus, money, health, in-laws, unemployment, temptation, etc. Like the apostles before Pentecost, we are not very clear about what to do. Like them, we are not very brave about doing anything. But, come Pentecost, come Confirmation, we become clear-sighted and courageous, like the apostles.

The Holy Spirit is light in darkness; comfort in trouble; rest in labour; coolness in heat; warmth in cold. The Holy Spirit heals our hearts and wills; guides our steps that go astray. Yes, He gives us joys that never ends. He reconciles us with God and all human beings. He renews our spirit, as He did for Tommy Harmon, if we but ask. It may be many years since our Confirmation. That does not mean the Holy Spirit came and left, that it is all done and over. No, like Tommy Harmon, we can say that the Holy Spirit dwells in us – today. He is with us – today. He is ready to help us – today. He is with us in the Mass whether at church or through live-stream -today - together with the Father and the Son, ready to lead us if we ask Him.

 

God bless you and stay safe.

Father Peter Pham

Posted on: May 16, 2020

BAPTISM, PROOF OF LOVE

St. Louis IX of France was born in 1215 and became King of France at the age of eleven, under the regency of his mother. For forty years he was an energetic and considerate ruler. So prayerful and self-sacrificing was his life that even the notorious free-thinker Voltaire admitted: “He united the virtues of a king to those of a hero, to those of a man.”

This Christ-like King used to sign himself “Louis de Poissy” (Louis of Poissy) the city where he was baptized. One day he remarked to a courtier: “In Poissy I received the greatest honor of my life.” “Your Majesty is mistaken,” the courtier objected, “you mean in the city of Rheims.” “I am not mistaken,” insisted the monarch, “it is true that in Rheims I was consecrated king on earth, but I was made a Christian in Poissy, and there I acquired my right to a throne in heaven.”

All of us can say the same thing because all of us have been baptized. Last Sunday we saw the Ten Commandments are a proof of God’s love for us. Today we want to consider another proof of God’s love for us – Baptism.

On this Ascension Day Christ takes his rightful place beside His Father in heaven. We who try to live up to our Baptism will join Jesus there, because Baptism gives us the right to heaven. This sacrament gives many other blessings. In Baptism God forgives all offenses against Him and the punishment due to those sins. What love!

Baptism gives us a share in God’s life. Our parents give us natural life. God gives us supernatural life, His own life. We call it sanctifying grace. Is there any greater proof of love for us?

Baptism gives us certain spiritual powers – the power to believe, the power to hope, the power to love. We call these powers the virtues of faith, hope, and charity.

Baptism makes everyone of us an apostle. My job as a priest, of telling others about Christ did not begin on the day of my ordination; I became an apostle on the day of my baptism. All baptized Christians are apostles.

Today we are happy because Jesus went home – bodily – to His Father’s home, heaven. We who are baptized can look forward happily and hopefully to our ascension, the happy moment when we will be home with God.

The saintly King Louis realized this. That is why he insisted that the place of his baptism was more important than the place where he was crowned a king. That is why we pray in the Creed: “He ascended into heaven and is seated on the right hand of the Father.”

Pray with special emphasis the concluding words of that Creed: “We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins… and the life of the world to come.”

 

God bless you and stay safe.

Father Peter Pham

Posted on: May 16, 2020

WHO WILL TAKE THE SON?

There is a verse in today’s gospel reading that really struck me. It is Jesus speaking. He says, “The one who loves Me will be loved by my Father.” Here is a little story that illustrates that truth, in a way that we can really grasp.

Once upon a time there was a fabulously wealthy man, who was a collector of the greatest works of art of all times. He had one son, who fully shared in his father’s wealth, and his love for art. The father’s most prized possession, among these works, was a portrait of his son, which he had lovingly painted himself.

The son was called off to war. He was extraordinary in battle, courageous beyond all others, and was killed rescuing another soldier. The father grieved deeply for his son – his only child. Eventually the father died. There was to be a great auction of his paintings. Many influential people gathered, excited to see the great paintings – anxious to buy one of the paintings for their own collections.

On the platform sat the portrait of the son, long ago painted by the father. The auctioneer pounded his gavel. “We will start the auction with this portrait of the son. Who will make the first bid?”  There was silence. Then a voice from the back shouted – “Get on with it – auction the good stuff – skip the son. We want the valuable paintings.”

Finally, a poor man in the back row offered $10.00 for the portrait of the son. “Good,” they all yelled, “give it to him and get going with this.”  He wants the son – we don’t – give it to him.” The auctioneer pounded his gavel – “Going once, going twice, going three times - Sold! for $10.00.

The auctioneer laid down his gavel and said, “I’m sorry, the auction is over.”

“What about the paintings, the crowd bellowed – we wanted to bid on the great works of the masters!!!”

The painting of the son and the entire estate goes to the man who took the son. The man gratefully accepted the inheritance and went on his way. To the stunned crowd, the auctioneer explained, “When I was called to do this auction, I was told of a stipulation in the will. The stipulation was this. Only the portrait of the son was to be auctioned. Whoever took the son would inherit the entire estate of the father. The one who took the son gets everything.”

And so, it is with God. Jesus said in today’s gospel, “The one who loves me will be loved by my Father ... And I will ask the Father and He will give you another Advocate to be with you forever -  the Spirit of truth.” That is the inheritance – the spirit of truth, the Holy Spirit of God. Whoever loves Jesus gets everything.

Who will take the son? That is the question. It was the question at the auction, and it is still the question. Who will take the Son? Because, whoever takes the Son gets everything.

That story speaks its message loud and clear. The same two-step process we read about in the reading from Acts and the Gospel reading holds true in this story. First, we must accept the Son – then we are given the inheritance.

So, the question becomes, where are we in this process?  Each of us must ask ourselves: “Where am I in this process – have I taken step one – the acceptance of Jesus, the Son of God, as my Lord and my Savior?”

During this time of pandemic, when we have to follow all kind of restrictions in order to be safe and for the safety of all others, let us “take the Son” as our Savior; so that He will become the power to help us get through the difficulties of this moment. And, when the pandemic is over, we will be proud to say, “Thank God! We followed your Son’s invitation - Whoever loves me will be loved by my Father."

I am beginning to see some light at the end of the tunnel. At the Feast of Pentecost, Mass will be allowed to be celebrated in our churches (with the restriction of 10 people, including the priest). The diocese is working on directives to make sure that the church is a safe place for everybody. (And, we still need to ensure we follow our local, provincial and federal governing authorities - along with all the required protocols to ensure the safety of our parish families.) 

 

God bless you and stay safe.

Father Peter Pham

Posted on: March 29, 2020

What is God like?

The assistant pastor was tall – over six feet – well-built and athletic. He was standing in the vestibule, greeting people as they walked out from Mass. Along came a little girl, hardly two feet tall, a human cherub, if there ever was one. She looked up at the giant priest and said something he could not hear.

The priest bent over, way down, as if he were going to touch his toes, and asked her to repeat what she said. In a piping voice she asked: “What color are God’s eyes?” Without a moment’s hesitation the priest replied: “Blue, just like yours.” Tiny as she was the little girl was flattered. She blinked, smiled, and then toddled away to tell her mother.

 

Dear friends,

A lot of us are like that little girl. Perhaps we don’t ask the color of God’s eyes, but many grown-ups as well as children want to know: “What is God like?”

In this weekend’s Good News, Jesus gives us a clue when he declared: “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.” If we want to get some idea of what God is like, as God, our best bet is to look at the God-Man, Jesus. What Our Lord said and what He did tell us what God is like.

Jesus loved. Look at Him in the Bethlehem cradle. Watch Him feed the hungry, console the sad, reach out to the sick and handicapped. Stand beneath the cross; watch and listen. Here is a man dying out of love for everyone of us. St. John tells us “God is love.” God is all-loving.

Look at our Lord calming the storm, healing all kinds of diseases, multiplying a few loaves to feed thousands. Christ shows us the power of God. God is all-powerful.

Again and again, Jesus recalled the past and explained exactly what it meant. He read the minds of those who questioned Him. He even knew what they were thinking. He knew the future. He foretold many events accurately long before they happened, as in today’s Good News. He foretells the wonders the apostles will work. God knows all things – past, present, and future. God is all-knowing.

Christ forgave. Remember Magdalen. Remember the man with the palsy. Remember the cry of Christ on the cross: “Father, forgive them.” What is God like? He is the One who forgives you and me and all of humanity. God is all-merciful, all-forgiving.

After His resurrection, in His glorified body, Jesus appeared to His apostles even when the doors were locked. God is everywhere.

Jesus was concerned about everyone, especially those who had no one to care about them. God is like a loving, watchful Father, concerned every minute for the good of His children. God is all-provident, all-concerned.

These qualities of God we call His “perfections,” the good traits or marks He has to a perfect degree. They give us some idea of what God is like.

In the Gloria of the Mass we give glory to this all good God. Then in the Creed we cry out: “We believe in this all-perfect God – Father – Son – Holy Spirit.”

During this time of pandemic, whenever I turn on the TV to check the news, I come to realize that the example of doctors, nurses, priests and those who give of themselves in service to the sick is a lesson for me during these times. Can they see God and see what God is like? I ask myself the same question, “What is God like to me?"

Whether God’s eyes are blue or brown, we don’t know. But we do know He is all-good, because Jesus was all-good. I pray that we come to be friends again with this all-good Father of us all.

 

God bless you and Stay Safe.

Father Peter Pham

Posted on: May 2, 2020

CHRIST IS MY SHEPHERD

On January 9, 1975, the National Broadcasting Company (NBC) aired a three-hour news special entitled “Of Men and Women.” Among those interviewed was a girl in her later teens who told how she lived with different boys at different times without being married. She pictured it as a sort of ideal way of life, a sample of one of the main themes of the broadcast, the liberation of women.

“What do you think of that, Betty?” a mother asked her unmarried daughter in her early twenties as they watched the program. “Sounds pretty keen, the way that gal tells it,” answered Betty, “but it looks all wrong to me.” “Absolutely,” her mother added, “it’s just the opposite of what Christ said.”

There you have an example of what Jesus is talking about in this weekend’s Good News (John 10:1-10). On the one hand the voice of the true Shepherd, Christ; on the other hand the voice of a stranger, the teenager on television who was living in sin.

Which voice will we follow? We belong to Christ: He made us; He saved us; He came that we “may have life, and have it abundantly.” Listen for his voice.

But there are many voices, like the teenager on television, telling us that the full life is to be found outside of the sheepfold of Christ. With all its good points, television is one of the greatest offenders in this area - a clever stealer of sheep. It pictures remarried and divorced people living in luxury and false happiness. It shows murder and violence as the accepted method of getting one's own way.

On television we hear double-meaning words and smutty stories. Newscasters slant their stories toward the sensational. Media has many helpful, enlightening and entertaining features, but far too often, the voice we hear is the opposite to the voice of Christ. In today's world, when do we hear the voice of our good shepherd, Christ?

I hear it in the Bible, especially as it is read publicly in church. “The Lord is my shepherd,” we declare in the Responsorial Psalm. What does Christ say? What does Christ do? Ask these questions. Find the answer. Then follow the voice of the Shepherd of your soul.

What is true? What is false? What is right? What is wrong? Listen to the leaders of the Church Christ founded, the Church He promised to be with until the end of time, the Church He promised to protect from error and mistake.

You will hear the voice of the Good Shepherd from your parish. You will hear it in our Catholic medias, papers and magazines. Other churches have many of the truths Christ taught but only the Catholic Church has the fullness of what Jesus taught. His full, authentic voice.

Listen closely to his voice. Renew your loyalty to the true Shepherd. In the words of St. Peter in our Second Reading, “Now you have returned to the shepherd and guardian of your souls.” Then we will have life to the full, as Jesus promises in today’s Good News.

 

Keep Safe and God bless you.

Father Peter Pham

Posted on: April 25, 2020

SUPERSTAR AND SUPER SAVIOR

 

Jesus Christ, Superstar is the name of a play that attempts to tell the story of Christ in modern words and modern settings. It does make one think about Christ, and that is good. It asks many questions that young people are asking today, like the one passage: “Jesus Christ, Superstar, are you who they say you are?” But it leaves the question hanging in the air.

The music is beautiful, often bewitching, like the song: “I don’t know how to love Him.” Some ideas make fun of what is sacred. For example, Mary Magdalen is pictured as a prostitute while she sings: “He is just a man and I have known so many, many men before.”

But the biggest fault of Jesus Christ Superstar is that it leaves out the resurrection of Christ. It takes us to His death and leave Him there – dead. The play leaves out the whole purpose and triumph of Our Lord’s life – His resurrection, which proves that He is truly God and that we will truly rise with Him. To us Catholic Christians Jesus is not only a Superstar, He is our Super Savior.

The same mistake was made by the two disciples on the way to Emmaus in today’s Good News (Luke 24, 13-35); they closed the book before they read the last chapter. They left Jerusalem before they found out the true and triumphant events of that first Easter.

Some so-called followers of Christ make the same mistake today. They walk away before the resurrection. They question the first Easter. They leave it out of their thinking, their living. They are discouraged, disappointed, disillusioned about something or other in the Catholic Church, and they start walking away. The saddest point is that they walk away from the very thing that will help them out of their confusion, their discouragement. They walk away from Mass, the surest cure for all their troubles.

In today’s Good News Jesus appears to two disciples who were sadly walking away from Jerusalem, which, today, would be seen as the Church, the family of God. He explains to them what the Bible said about His coming. Then He breaks bread to open their eyes and they recognize Him.

That is Holy Mass. First we read from the Old Testament and the New, explaining how all of it refers to Christ. In the second part of the Holy Sacrifice we “break the bread,” we change the bread and wine into the true Body and Blood of Jesus.

What took place at Emmaus takes place on the altar of our church every time the Mass is celebrated. This is where you and I meet Christ. Like the two disciples we will be happy. Our hearts will be burn within us. We will not be closing the book before the last chapter of the story of Christ, as did the author of Superstar, as do those who fail to make the resurrection a vital part of their thinking and living. For those of us who would not think of missing Mass, the Emmaus story is a great encouragement. If we renew our faith in the Mass, then even during this COVID-19 pandemic time, regardless how long it will be, even when we have to watch the Mass live-streamed, we will surely be closer to God who is not only the Superstar but also the Super-Savior of our lives. 

The way I read the "Province Announces Re-Open Saskatchewan Plan" earlier this week, I don’t think our church activities will be back to normal any time soon. So I hope and pray that we continue to use this kind of communication through phone calls, emails and the website to pass on God’s message to one another. I do appreciate comments and suggestions in order to better communicate and care for each one of you in our parish. In the last couple of weeks, I have also received many phone calls and emails, and I wish to express my thanks for your care and concern. Let's continue to reach out and care for each other.

 

God bless you and stay safe,

Father Peter Pham

Posted on: April 18, 2020

Why Sunday?

 

Dear friends,

With the COVID-19 pandemic still happening, many of us miss church. That is the comment I received throughout the week. I, too, miss the gathering of the faith community in church as well.

It reminds me of a boy in his early teens who was working for a New York newspaper as a printer’s apprentice. Everything was going fine until one Saturday when he was handed a job that had to be finished before Monday morning. It meant he would have to work on Sunday. The lad approached the composing-room manager and stammered: “I will work until twelve tonight, sir.” “You can’t finish by tonight,” growled the boss.

The young fellow tried his best but when midnight came the job was unfinished. With the papers trembling in his hand he told the manager: “I must resign, sir, as I cannot work on Sunday, I can’t break God’s law.”

The boss tried to convince the boy that a few hours work on the Lord’s day would not be so wrong, but the boy, who was the main support of his mother, stood firm and was about to accept his paycheck when the manager slapped him on the back and smiled: “Say, you’ve got real stuff in you, son. You’re just the kind of boy I need here. You can finish that job Monday. Go to church and worship God. God bless you, Johnny.”

That young fellow advanced steadily in the printing business. His name was John Harper, founder of Harper and Brothers, whose publications are known around the world.

Here was a lad who was rewarded for keeping the Law of God: “Remember that thou keep holy the sabbath day.” For Jews and some Christians, like the Seventh Day Adventists, the Sabbath is Saturday. For the majority of us Christians the Sabbath is Sunday.

When and why was the Lord’s day changed from the last day of the week to the first day of the week? The change was made in the early days of Christianity:

Because Jesus rose from the grave on a Sunday;

Because the Holy Spirit came upon the apostles on a Sunday;

Because we want to give God the first things, so we give Him the first day of the week.

“First day of the week” is mentioned seven times in the New Testament. Today’s Good News tells us one thing that happened “on the first day of the week” ... Thomas doubted and then believed the Resurrection.

The first day of the week is important for us Catholics because we are asked to attend the Holy Sacrifice every Sunday. The family of God has made this law for its members from earliest times for the reasons just mentioned. I’m sure when COVID-19 has passed, you and I will gather around the Table of the Lord in church again and we will appreciate Sunday even more because watching Mass on a screen is not the same.

Remember we pray during the Creed, the list of our principal beliefs, prescribed for every Sunday. Why? Because many of the main truths of our faith happened on Sunday. For one thing, the creation of the world commenced on the first day of the week; and the first Easter, the new creation of a fallen world, took place on the first day of the week. Some even maintain that Jesus was born on a Sunday and that He shed his first blood at the Circumcision on a Sunday.

For all these reasons Sunday is sacred but especially because it recalls and relives the Resurrection. Every Sunday is like Easter. Every Mass is like a Resurrection. When people wonder, “Why do I have to go to Mass?” remind him or her of these reasons. When this Sunday comes along, let us renew our faith in the resurrection. Have a good week and stay safe.

 

Father Peter Pham

Posted on: April 12, 2020

EASTER - WE SHALL LIVE - ALLELUIA!

 

The scene was a Communist prison camp in North Korea. Among the prisoners, all American officers, was Father Emil Kapaun, the outstanding hero of the Korean Conflict. He had won the heart of every P.O.W. and the rage of his captors by his Christ-like devotion to the physical and spiritual good of all his comrades, no matter what their religion, race or nationality. “All man-all priest” was the way they described him. With threats and actual punishment the Communists hindered his every effort to conduct services, but he always managed.

In Easter of 1951, the heroic chaplain planned a sunrise service. It was a cold, raw day with the wind howling from Manchuria over the Yalu River. About 85 prisoners gathered on the steps of a bombed-out church. Catholics, Protestant and Jew were there, plus some who had no religion at all, but were starting to find one. Father had no facilities for offering Mass, but he did recite the Rosary and the Stations of the Cross. He read some of the Mass prayers and a few passages from the Bible, especially the story of the Resurrection. Very few eyes were dry when it was over. Here was hope. Here was new courage. Here was new meaning to their almost unbearable life.

Why did Chaplain Kapaun and his companions risk inhuman punishment from their godless captors by holding an Easter service? Because they believed that Jesus rose from the grave, because they hoped that Christ would deliver them from the living grave of that horrible camp, because they believed that death itself would be overcome by Him who promised “He who lives and believes in me shall never die.”

This was not mere wishful thinking on the part of those prisoners of war and not on our part as well. We are certain, we are positive, that Christ rose from the grave and that we will rise from the grave.

You have heard the statement: “The only certain things in life are death and taxes.” It’s not true. Death is certain ... but taxes are not. Some people avoid taxes. More important, just as death is certain, so it is certain that each one of us will rise from the grave, on the word of those who saw Him, talked with Him, even ate with Him after He rose. Yes, there are two certain facts – death and resurrection, resurrection to a never-ending life which Christ promises to all who follow Him.

That is the whole reason for our happiness today. That is the reason we celebrate with flowers, bright colors, and stirring music. That is what we mean when we wish Happy Easter to one another. Our faith makes us certain.

That is why during Mass, we profess our faith in the Creed: “We believe… on the third day He rose again… we look for the resurrection of the dead and life everlasting.”

Every Mass is an Easter celebration. Every Mass is a celebration of the resurrection of Christ. Every Mass is a happy happening. Christ rose. I will rise. Alleluia. Praise the Lord. A happy, blessed Easter to everyone of you. 

 

God bless you and keep safe. 

Father Peter Pham

Posted on: April 5, 2020

Make your home a church

 

Dear friends in Christ,

St. Thomas More was an outstanding Catholic layman who lived almost 700 years ago. He was the first layman to be appointed Lord Chancellor of England, next in authority to the King himself, Henry VIII. The king had a deep personal liking for More, because of his learning and skill, and because of his wit and friendly nature. But More lost favor with the king when he refused to acknowledge the king as head of the Church in England, and then opposed the king’s divorce and remarriage.

King Henry VIII had More beheaded in 1535. Seven centuries later the Catholic Church declared Thomas More blessed. Some of you may have seen the movie of his life called, “A Man for All Seasons.”

Saint Thomas More ran a truly Christian, Catholic home. There were prayers every day with a short reading from the Bible. With his wife and children and frequent visitors he discussed spiritual ideas around the table. He attended Mass everyday and recited the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin. He sang in the church choir and at times served Mass. The poor and the needy were always welcome, as were people of learning and talent. Seldom did he invite the rich and renowned. It was an ideal situation – his church helped his home and his home helped his church.

In the midst of this COVID-19 pandemic, when we have no choice but to stay home, my suggestion is we do as Saint Thomas More did and keep this coming week as a Holy Week in our homes. Start today. If you still have a palm from last year, put it in a prominent place. Talk about what it means – we honour Christ as King with the crowd on the first Palm Sunday. (Blessed palms will be available at St. Anne after it is safe to re-open the church for public gatherings. As an option find another type of green branch to display or make one. Another suggestion would be to make a crown.)

Between now and Holy Thursday, family and meal prayer should be more meaningful and devout. You might read small portions of the story of Christ’s sufferings and death, as told to us several times this week.

On Holy Thursday, make a special effort to have the family eat together. At this meal, someone, preferably the father, should remind everyone of what took place on the first Holy Thursday. Jesus began the first Holy Mass - for the first time Jesus gave us Himself in Holy Communion. Our Lord established the Catholic priesthood - remember to pray for all our priests.

Every truly Catholic home has a crucifix. Put it in a different place this Good Friday to emphasize its meaning as it tells of the death of Jesus for all of us. Stand or kneel a moment, now and then, before Love hanging on a cross for you and pray, “Jesus, you did this for me…. I will do something for you. Above all, I will try to appreciate Holy Mass more when this Coronavirus is gone, when I’m able to attend Mass at church again - it brings Holy Thursday and Good Friday alive for me.”

On Saturday light a candle in a prominent place to represent Christ, the Light of the world, who lights up every grave in the world. Think about Easter’s meaning.

Yes, friends, your home is a church. More than ever, we are trying to renew all things for Christ. Start in your home. Celebrate Holy Week there. Do everything possible to remember the tremendous truth we relive during this coming week.

 

Stay well and God bless.

Father Peter Pham 

Posted on: March 29, 2020

The tomb – an invitation to intimacy with our Lord​

From the desk of Father Peter, St. Anne Parish Administrator

 

Dear St. Anne friends,

We feel sorrow about not being able to gather together for Mass this Sunday. For the first time in our church history all parish activities have been suspended in an effort to help stop the spread of COVID-19. At this point in time, we are unsure of how long we will be unable to attend mass in our parishes. During this time as we consider the health of our community, we keep vigil together from our homes. Though we are apart for now, I want to recommend that we all set an intention this weekend to prepare to receive Christ into our homes so that we can worship Him there. 

On this 5th Sunday of Lent, we read about the story of Jesus calling Lazarus out of the tomb (John 11). Reading this story gives me consolation. We hear about Mary, the sister of Lazarus, who harbours resentment against Jesus for being too late to save Lazarus. In fact, Martha told Jesus: “You're too late, he's already been four days in the tomb!” We also read how Jesus wept when he heard this. So, too, Jesus weeps with us as we deal with the uncertainty of our times. He understands our sadness. And, He prays with us and reminds us that He is in our midst. We must continue to believe in Him who is the Resurrection and the Life.

In light of all that is happening in the world today, for me, the Church is reminiscent of earlier days when Christians got together in small communities to break bread and pray privately. Today, we can attend Mass and worship through modern technology - we can watch and attend Mass online, while sitting on a comfortable couch and holding a hot cup of coffee (well, perhaps not holding a cup of coffee). However we worship, we still have an opportunity to get in touch with God. As we move forward in these uncertain times, I encourage you to invite Jesus into your home and make a Spiritual Communion with Him.

Finally, let us remember that the Church teaches that our families' homes are the Domestic Church. “The Church is nothing other than ‘the family of God.’ From the beginning, the core of the Church was often made of those who had become believers 'together with all their household' (CCC, 1655).” This means that St. Anne Parish is built up of many churches — because each of your homes is a Domestic Church. So I want to encourage all of us to make our homes sacred starting this weekend.  Designate a spot to make a home altar and use this space to pray or participate in a virtual mass this weekend! To help you prepare, here are the readings for Sunday mass.

I am with you in spirit and prayer! God Bless!

Fr. Peter