Rev. Rhondda MacKay’s homily at St. Joe’s: the prodigal sower

Thanks to your liturgy team for the honour of opening scriptures for you. I am honoured to have an opportunity to address the congregation, for which I have such respect and to stand with Fr. Andy who we have been so pleased to welcome into Sandy Hill; I like to brag about the good working relationship amongst churches and faith communities in this neighbourhood… I like to think we are fertile soil for the sower’s seeds, but it is worth thinking about what the fertile soil would be that provides abundant harvest

In his response to the questions of his disciples, Jesus tells them parables are for those who know beyond knowledge. They hear and see beyond the obvious.

It’s an invitation to look again at the familiar image –prodigal sower, casting seed not just on the prepared ground, but also on the path, on rocky ground and amongst the thorns. No self-respecting farmer would do that.

I grew up on a farm. One of our jobs as children was to turn the crank on the seed mill that took the weed seeds out of some last year’s grain for next year’s sowing. Seed was carefully saved from one year to another and in Jesus’ day probably hand sorted. Grain kept for seed was precious–not available for eating.

So for those who know about the economics of subsistence farming, a sower flinging seed over hard packed paths in thickets of weeds seems irresponsible.

But that’s what Jesus says God does with the seeds of the kingdom–casts them out over everything–the stony and the thorny as well as the prepared and receptive. Jesus attracted such a crowd by the sea of Galilee that they had to put him in a boat to be seen and heard. And he told everyone that the kingdom of God was here for them. It didn’t seem to matter to him that some would seem receptive at the first and then fall away–that others would fall prey to forces beyond their control. He kept putting out the word–the word that in our first reading (addressed to disheartened exiles) God assures shall not return to me void, but shall do my will, achieving the end for which I sent it.

Jesus knows that in his generation and ours there are those whose hearts have grown dull, ears hard of hearing, eyes shut… to his message. But, he says, I would heal them. (Matt 13:15)

And so the seed of the word must be sown extravagantly–not just to those with ears to hear, but also onto what we might regard as rocky ground…

This is a tall order to those of us who see ourselves as a remnant church, stretched to maintain even the community life we once had. But our call is to keep reaching out … sharing the good news of god’s kingdom: that Christ wants to heal hard hearts, broken lives, damaged relationships, ineffective instutions….

At a conference I attended recently, one of the presenters put up three different slides:
1. A very attractive artificial flower arrangement
2. A vase of gerbera daisies–also attractive
3. A healthy dandelion
–then she coxed out of us which was the one which could reproduce, bear fruit…

Only the dandelion.

Then she invited us to think about our faith communities and ask ourselves–are we the real thing? Or are we just a manufactured imitation of the life Jesus offers us?
–are we cut off from our root–our source of life–or are our root sunk deep in the soil?
–are we vibrant enough to fling the seeds of the spirit far and wide, not worrying about where they fall?

Because haven’t we all seen those dandelions pushing out of the cracks in sidewalks or the most inhospitable looking locations? In fact at my church down the street, this week I’ve been enjoying a blue bell that somehow managed to push through between the stone foundation and the asphalt.

 So, what does that mean to those of us who are the public face of the church in Sandy Hill on this warm Sunday morning?

Here I want to commend the work of this parish: through the Supper Table, Aboriginal Healing work, refugee support, Women’s Centre, and the other significant outreach you do in the community. I would also thank you for your support of the Open Table ministry which provides a supper and other programming for students and young adults at All Saints during the school year. We have collaborated effectively over the years in various ecumenical and interfaith and music ventures and  offered seniors afternoon programs, a Blue Christmas Service and (recently) a funeral planning workshop. I am currently working with a member of this parish and St. Paul’s Eastern United on a women’s healing circle for the fall. (Hope there may be a men’s breakfast on the horizon.)

–Also ask for your support for Centre 454 as it returns to St. Albans at the end of the year.
(Open House next Sunday afternoon July 17)

Together, may we indeed provide good soil for the seeds of God’s spirit, so that
–there may be healing between us–and
–the harvest of blessing in this broken world may be abundant indeed!

Christine Burton’s reflection at St. Joe’s: The Parable of the Sower

Dorothy Day, the founder of the Catholic Workers Movement, spread the Word through action, not words.

If you’re like me, when you hear this parable, your first reaction is probably something like „ACK!  Am I a faithful seed about to be choked out by the weeds and thorns of a secular and cynical world? Is my faith planted in thin soil? Will I wither at the next crisis? Am I returning 100-fold? What if I‟m only generating a 60-fold or a 30-fold or, golly, only a 10-fold return? What‟s God gonna think?‟

All good questions.  But the trouble with these questions is not what they ask, but their focus. There’s a whole lot of “me, me, me…‟ going on in that reaction. So much of Jesus‟ example was about turning away from an I-centred focus and towards our brothers and sisters. And thus, as I
reflected on today’s reading, looking for a different perspective, I realised that there’s another person, another role described in the parable – the Sower.

Can we be the sower? Jesus says “the word is the seed.‟ Can we spread “the word‟ more widely and more effectively in our communities?
Ok, so given all the very public issues we have been facing as a faith community, it seems to me that just admitting you’re a practising Roman Catholic these days, let alone getting into discussions of faith and quoting scripture, can be pretty unnerving – what will people think of me?

And, even though pretty much everyone who gets to know me finds out pretty quickly that I’m a Christian and that I believe that God speaks to us in different ways, giving rise to different faith traditions, and through a range of holy writings that can speak to all of us, I am still not crazy about the idea of constantly talking Bible-talk. Save it for the revival meeting…

And most often when we talk about “the word‟ we think of the Gospel. So the prospect of talking about the Gospel to people at work, in my social life, anywhere other than at church – yikes! – it can feel as if I’m just one step removed from wearing a sandwich board sign saying „Repent!  The end is near!‟ Maybe I’ll go back to that whole self-absorbed me, me, me approach…

But then I remembered the opening words of the Gospel of John: “In the beginning was the word. And the word was with God and the word was God.” And it came to me that sowing “the word‟ isn’t just about the Gospel, isn’t just about “Bible-talk”, but more so, it is about making “the word‟ – God – manifest in the lives of the people with whom I interact every day.

So how are we going to do that? Is this possible without talking about God and Jesus? Well, last week, Father Andy talked about Mother Theresa. She is one of the most revered modern holy people. She talked a lot about God and Jesus. But we didn‟t hear about or from her until very late in her life, by which time her lifetime of action, caring for the poorest of the poor in India gave her words even more credence and weight – it was her actions not her words that showed God and Jesus‟ love. And our own patron saint, Saint Joseph, is silent in the Gospels as we have received them. And yet he is a saint, held up as a living example of the power and love of God made evident in the actions of a human man, and through those actions, making the world a better place for all of us. Did not both of these people – and Dorothy Day and Oscar Romero and so many other saints and blessed and holy men and women – sow the word, making God manifest through more than their speech, but through their lives and their actions?

Good. Get out there and be a Mother Theresa or a Saint Joseph… Nothing like setting the bar high… I don’t know about you, but I am so not likely to be called to stand in for Mother Theresa anytime soon.

So what does “sowing the word‟ look like in our context? We are given a clue in the fruits of the Holy Spirit, mentioned in the second reading – when we live in joy rather than despair, we are sowing the word; when we demonstrate patience, when we respond to anger with love and kindness, when we encourage peace in our families, our workplaces and our society, when we give with true charity and compassion in our hearts.

We may not be called to be Mother Theresa or St. Joseph, but we are called to listen to God’s voice in our hearts and take those steps that are available to and right for each of us as individuals, whether that might be to be an activist working for social and economic justice in our community, our country or our world, whether it is to donate personally to the St. Joe’s Supper Table and to work with our colleagues to organise a food drive instead of a “worst gift exchange‟ at the office, or to sign a petition, or even just to take a deep breath and offer a smile to someone whom we could just as cheerfully strangle…

And the best part of this? Like the sower, and as promised in the first reading, I don’t have to worry about where the seed lands, I just need to sow it – widely and continuously – and let God take care of any questions to do with the growing conditions – sending the rains and snows as mentioned in the psalm – or as to whether there are weeds or thorns present or what the depth of the soil might be.

Perhaps, then, we can take our best sowing instructions from St. Francis, who said “Preach the Gospel always… use words if necessary…”
May God bless you always.

Fr. Andy’s homily for July 2, 2011

Fr. Andy Boyer, St. Joe's pastor

All weariness is not the same. You come home from a day spent at a desk in an office and say, “I am absolutely exhausted.” The reason is that you spent the entire day under the stress of meeting a deadline. You are genuinely tired– mentally, emotionally, and even physically. You come home from a two-mile run and say, “Wow, I feel great!” You are tired physically, but you are invigorated, you are on a natural high. There are different kinds of fatigue and different causes. The all call for some kind of rest.

1) Rest from worry.

It is often said that the fastest growing disease of the 21st century is stress. Stress, as such, need not be a disease or ailment. Dr. Hans Selye, in the Stress of Life, says we “should not try to avoid stress any more than we would shun food, love, or exercise.” But the growing complexity of life in a time of massive and unrelenting change puts great pressure on humans. Add to this such factors as a faltering economy and joblessness and anxiety is inevitable. There are limits to how much stress we can endure. Jesus says, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”

Rest from stress, anxiety, or worry is one of the most blessed forms of relief we can experience. But it requires a different mental state or attitude. We must see things differently, find another perspective, come to a new point of view. Jesus invited his followers to stop being anxious about tomorrow. Leave tomorrow’s worries until tomorrow. Take life one day at a time. Do your best today, and trust tomorrow to God. Jesus said, “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me.” What is a yoke? It is not a device for a single animal. It is a wooden bar or frame by which two animals, such as oxen, are joined at the necks for working together. Jesus is saying, “Get in the yoke with me, and we will work together.”

2) Rest from striving.

One of the most exhausting of all human activities is sarcastically called the “rat race.” It is the striving for material security or wealth. A materialistic culture regards success as the accumulation of possessions. The problem is that such an environment encourages greed in the individual. Jesus told a parable about a man whose business was so successful that all of his barns were full. Rather than sharing his goods with the less fortunate, he tore down his barns and built larger ones! The toll of greed on the human spirit is increased when a culture defines success in external and material terms, rather than internal and spiritual values.

The writer of Ecclesiastes sounds almost contemporary, although quite negative. He cries, “Vanity of vanities! All is vanity.” Reflecting our theme, he says, “All things are full of weariness.” As to the “rat race” he refers to such pursuits repeatedly as “a striving after wind.” Robert Short says we find “a Christ-shaped vacuum” in Ecclesiastes. There are few portions of Scripture that are more relevant to our own time than Ecclesiastes. Will we commit ourselves to a pilgrimage of faith, to an upward way that is transformative, or will we continue in pursuits that are merely “a striving after wind?”

3) Rest from pretense.

One of the most tiring of human undertakings is deception. Life is challenging enough when we are being honest and being ourselves. When we are presenting a false front or a manufactured image of the world, life becomes exhausting. Pretense of some kind is as widespread as the insecurity it attempts to hide. Most pretension is relatively innocent and harmless, but it can be unhealthy, dangerous, and tragic. Seriously pretending to be something other than who and what we are is going against the Creator and creation. Our faith affirms that each of us is a unique creation, made in the very image of God. Our faith calls us, especially in Jesus Christ, to become who we really are, and all we are meant to be. The darkness within us whispers that we are not adequate as we are, and urges us to see other people as threats. If we believe this, we will do whatever it takes to gain power over others.

The brilliant William James said “to give up pretense is as blessed a relief as to have pretense gratified. ” Rest from pretense is possible only when we accept ourselves as good creations of a good Creator, and as children of God. The person who by grace finally arrives at self-acceptance feels that an enourmous weight has been lifted. “I am so tired of trying to be someone I am not.” There is a strong sense of relief and of freedom. “I did not realize how unhappy I was.” There is an experience of coming to oneself, “I feel like I have come home.”

Rest is a sacred theme throughout the Bible. The healing power of physical rest is valued for those who need it. But there is a rest so complete that it renews the soul. In Isaiah we hear: In rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.” (30:15)

Father Andy’s reflection on the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ

Fr. Andy of St. Joseph's Parish

David Smith, in his book Learning from the Stranger-Christian Faith and Cultural Diversity, says: “Learning from the stranger is a necessary component of genuinely loving one’s neighbour.” This goes far beyond pity for the needy or the learning necessary for preparing for missions. It changes our ideas of how God calls us to welcome the stranger and sometimes to be the stranger.

Sometimes God calls us to step outside our comfort zone and be the stranger. Have you ever been in a situation when you were the stranger? How do we respond? First, there is fear, usually related to a lack of control we feel. We want to restore our sense of control. We pray “Yours is the Power,” but we often want that control. We need to lay down our cultural power at Jesus’ feet. We can’t always be the host; we need to be the guest.

We may also find that the knowledge we have about the world, the way we have made sense of the world may be changed. If we always look at the world from one perspective, stepping outside that perspective can be terrifying, and life changing.

This is what was happening at Pentecost.

But it didn’t stop at Pentecost. The early church was very diverse. People sit up and take notice when people reach beyond divisions. Greek and Hebrew, Jew and Samaritan, Gentiles, all praying together. No wonder the early church stories in Acts are so exciting as people notice this Body of Christ, a group like never before.

But is this unique to Jesus’ teaching and to the Body of Christ? There are many examples of this reaching across boundaries outside of the church in organizations, including peace building efforts.

I believe the Body of Christ is a place where we not only cross boundaries of race and culture, but also find a way of interacting, in which we learn from each other and complete each other.

Andrew Wells writes in  a book entitled Cross-Cultural Process: “The Ephesian metaphors of the temple and of the body show each of the culture-specific segments as necessary to the body, but as incomplete in itself. Only in Christ does completion, fullness dwell. And Christ’s completion, as we have seen, comes from all humanity, from the translation of the life of Jesus into the lifeways of all the world’s cultures and subcultures through history. None of us can reach Christ’s completeness on our own. We need each other’s vision to correct, enlarge, and focus our own; only together are we complete in Christ.”

In the book China’s New Nationalism, the author concludes that the only hope for the world is making a new “we” within “us and them.” He uses this story to illustrate: American bombs ripped through the Chinese embassy in Belgrade, Serbia, in 1999, killing four Chinese journalists. Anti-American protests erupted across China. American teachers were told to stay in their apartments to avoid trouble. One young teacher, Annarie, defied the order and went to class. Her students were mourning, and some were shouting in protest. Annarie stood at the front of the class with open arms and said: “I am so sorry. Please forgive us.” The class was silent, tears poured down faces as both the students and Annarie confessed to their part in a violent and hateful world. They talked of hope for peace, for finding ways beyond conflict. One of the students present that day wrote a letter to the editor of the very same national paper that had lost the four journalists in the bombing. This letter was published and read nation-wide as a beacon of hope that we can go beyond the violent rhetoric of “us and them” to a new “we.”

The teacher in this story is a Mennonite from the States. In practical terms, this is very hard work. It is not glamorous and involves very slow steps. For Annarie, that moment didn’t just happen, it was part of years of getting up every morning, spending time with students, allowing herself to learn, to change and to let God’s love flow through her to her students.

It takes humility. It takes admitting that foreign “others” are neighbours that I need. It takes compassion given and received, recognizing our mutual vulnerability. It takes a life of loving God so wholeheartedly that cherished boundaries are redrawn. It takes the power of the Spirit. The Body of Christ is the new “we” between “us and them.”

May God’s Spirit pour on us so that all may experience the wonder of being part of the Body of Christ.

Fr. Andy Boyer

Fr. Jack Herklotz’s homily at St. Joe’s on Victoria Day weekend

Fr. Jack

Do a Google search of May 21/22, 2011 and you’ll find some interesting things scheduled for this week-end: It is Victoria Day Long week-end with lots of out-door events around the capital region. Stanley Cup play-offs! Baseball! It’s the day the world will end. Lady Gaga will be on Saturday Night Live tonight/last night. Elvis Costello in concert at Madison Square Garden Sunday. Wait a minute! May 21, 2011 is the day the world will end! I’m not sure how we missed more advanced notice on that.

Apparently one Christian preacher has been trying to warn us, and Jesus also told us that he would come back for us. It just wasn’t clear that Jesus had an exact date in mind. So, instead of panicking, we’d be wise to follow his advice and let not our hearts be troubled. The hour and day of our deaths or Jesus’ Second Coming are not important; what’s important is being faithful. Love the Lord, do his works, being a beacon of hope to those who are cloaked in the darkness of fear, neglect, disease, and despair, and there will be a place for us in God’s house whenever moving time comes. Easier said than done! Jesus tried to comfort us by saying, “Don’t be troubled, have faith in God and faith in me.” Historically, it’s been hard for us to hear those words of comfort. It’s been hard for us not to be troubled.

During the Christian Middle Ages, earthly life was a struggle but it was lived in the secure hope of continuing in heaven (if it was lived right and that might bring about a certain amount of stress). But after the age of Enlightenment dawned and now in our Post- modern World immersed in secularism, a radical belief in the power of reason alone makes God an improbable theory and heaven merely a childish hope for many people. I was just reading this week where Stephen Hawking said the afterlife is just a fairy tale. Of course, some kind of superpower could be handy. God could be useful in controlling people’s behaviour, so for many people, religion meant doing the right thing, living a disciplined moral life. There were also a number of people who thought that God made the world and then disappeared and left it on its own, a remote detached God.

Living without God may seem to be enlightened, fashionable, and reasonable, but it does very little to feed a hungry soul. Some people are reassured by various theologians, who say that religion is neither knowledge nor living morally; religion is basically “a taste for the infinite” as German theologian Friedrich Schleiermacher put it. And the most radical human response is a feeling of dependence on that infinity, on our Creator. Now that might be a counterpoint to a moralizing, distant God; but it is too vague and flowery for others. The great, gloomy theologian Paul Tillich was a battlefield medic in World War I who daily buried mutilated friends and heard the bullets whiz by his head in the trenches. God had to be just as real as that war was traumatizing, and so the normal response was anxiety. People are anxious about many things: the loss of their hair, the shape of their bodies, and the miniscule size of their bank accounts. But there are deeper, existential anxieties, so deep that they are more general feelings
than individual experiences.

It is scary to live in time, since each day brings us closer to death. Time eats away at beauty, power, wealth, and fame, leaving us in the end with absolutely nothing. (You know, at one time I used to be a good looking
fellow). We erect carefully constructed and elaborate defenses: insurance plans, wills, pensions; but when all of these defenses are shattered, we become aware of the brutal truth that there is no defence against time. We
experience the shock of “non-being.” We also live in space, but that space is insecure. Houses burn, just ask the
folks who lost their houses in Northern Alberta forest fires. If you live a few hundred miles east in Manitoba or in parts of Quebec, land and dwellings may be washed away by flood. If you live in the Mid-East, your homeland could be taken through war. And one could live practically anywhere on our planet and lose his or her job because of a weak and wavering economy. We are all rooted someplace in space, but no place is absolutely safe, no ground is totally immune to earthquake. We are thrown into existence in one place and pulled out of existence at another place. And between those places, we are never completely secure and so that leaves us anxious.

Finally, our existence is conditional. Everything was made because someone wanted to make it. No single thing and no individual person has a right to be. When we think of how unnecessary we are, how inconsequential our lives are, we shiver to think of how close we are to not being. When we finally awake to our precarious existence and face our anxiety, we have a choice. We can let our hearts be troubled or we can have faith in God and faith in Jesus. We can humbly accept that we are unnecessary, and yet here we are. Someone must think we are worth creating. Someone must love us. Yes, time nips at our heels; but when that time runs out, we fall into the loving embrace of our Creator. Faith is always a choice. We can be discouraged by all the evil in the world and say, “Why do awful things happen to us? Why does God hate me?” Or, we can look in awe at the wonder of creation and say along with Mary, “Let it be done to me as you say.”

Christopher Adam: Reflection for April 10th 2011

In North Korea, more than 200,000 innocent civilians are imprisoned in forced labour camps, where they face beatings from guards, summary executions and a complete lack of any medical care or adequate clothing and shelter. In Iran, the penalty for homosexuality is either a brutal beating or death by hanging; gay adult men are automatically hanged after conviction, while lesbians receive 100 lashes. In 2010, more than 925 million people, primarily in the developing world, faced starvation and more than one billion were malnourished, representing one sixth of the world’s total population. Here in Canada, 10 percent of the population—some 3.3 million people—live in poverty.

These are the statistics and information that we see each day when we read the news and undoubtedly all agree that as Catholics and Christians, it is our duty to find ways to help alleviate suffering in our own communities and to speak out against injustice, regardless of where it occurs and regardless of what form it takes.

But in tonight’s gospel reading, Jesus is asking us to do more than simply address suffering, poverty and injustice by speaking out, handing out a bowl of soup and a slice of bread to the hungry or finding shelter for the homeless. Jesus calls on us to delve deeper by listening to those who are suffering and treating them not as charity cases who will happily and quietly trudge away after being handed a sandwich, but rather just like anyone of us who needs human contact and friendship–and not simply food in our mouth–to stay alive.

When Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead, we learn much more about his humanity than about his divinity. Jesus wept. This is perhaps one of the most important phrases in the Bible and these two words together form the basis of Christianity—the belief that God is here, God is with us and—that 2,000 years ago—he became one of us, sharing in our emotions, frailties and weakness.  Had Jesus followed the traditions of Greco-Roman deities, he would have appeared above a weeping Martha and a distraught Mary in a thunderous cloud, looked down on the grieving women with impeccable stoic demeanour and with a macho, masculine pose that would have made John Wayne jealous, only to zap Lazarus back to life and vanish back into the cloud immediately after the job was done.

It might sound trite to say that Jesus felt their pain, but that’s exactly what he felt. He not only understood the depth of human loss, mourning and suffering, but he was also taken aback by his inability to keep his composure and stop himself from weeping at the sight of sadness and despair in others. Jesus took a moment to understand what it meant to lose someone you loved and only after experiencing mourning did he perform his miracle.

When we perform charitable acts—when we feed the hungry, clothe the poor or reach out to someone who has suffered injustice—we must be careful not to allow this to become mechanical—quickly pouring out a cup of coffee, avoiding eye contact and moving on to the next person in the queue. Being Christian—that is, being Christ-like—means being proactive when it comes to listening those who we are trying to help and making an effort to understand the condition in which they find themselves.

Not only do we show compassion by taking a moment to listen to someone whose only human contact may be a handful of words from a busy volunteer who gives him/her a bed to sleep on or a supper, but we also gain a wealth of knowledge on the long-term emotional, spiritual and psychological impact of poverty and injustice. If our political leaders are to draft effective policies that not only alleviate the immediate consequences of poverty—like hunger, and homelessness—but actually address their  root causes and the long-term human consequences of such a traumatic experience, then they must actually sit down and listen to those who live this reality everyday. We can’t offer real meaningful help from the corridors of power, from the ivory tower or from an armchair in the comfort of our living room. We can’t simply give our credit card information to the World Vision representative on the other end of the line, offer up the price of a cup of coffee a day and lean back on the couch in satisfaction of a good deed done. We have to actually get into the thick of it, just like Jesus did. We have to open our eyes to what’s happening around us, allow ourselves to be taken aback, surprised and angered by what we see, and be open to listening.

There is something called the “blind spot” and it is a term sometimes used by historians, sociologists, political scientists and others in the arts and humanities. It refers to the phenomenon of being so close to the fire and totally caught up in the details and humdrum routines that one fails to see what’s really happening right before one’s eyes. As I was preparing for this reflection my years as a student at an American high school in Budapest, Hungary in the mid-1990’s came to mind.

In 1995, I was in grade nine and one of the traditions at the American International School of Budapest was that we started off each year with a class trip. Two of the ways that the school had us understand the region around us, as well as our own host community, was through local trips and by making weekly charitable and social work a requirement for graduation. In grade nine, we visited the scenic Lake Bled area in neighbouring Slovenia, while our grade 10 peers visited Auschwitz, in Poland. While we took in the sublime beauty of a former Yugoslav republic that managed to break away relatively peacefully five years before and as grade ten students saw first-hand the horrors of a World War II death camp, none of us really understood that we were just a couple of hundred kilometres away from the site of the worst case of genocide, ethnic cleansing and mass killing since the Second World War, unfolding right under our noses, just a short drive south of our stable, tranquil and idyllic high school existence. In 1995, as we took our school trips, Serbian forces had murdered more than 8,100 Bosnian Muslim men and boys—some of them as young as 15 years old—and deported 25,000 women and girls, in the Bosnian town of Srebrenica.  The majority of Srebrenica’s male population was exterminated, thousands of women were raped and infants were murdered; babies often beheaded—right in front of their mothers. More than 200,000 people died in the Yugoslav wars of the 1990’s, Sarajevo—once a thriving multicultural city that hosted the Olympics—was destroyed, as Serbian snipers besieged the town and bombarded it from the surrounding hills and mountains, and the entire region was thrown into a decade-long period of ethnic hatred, from which the Balkans have yet to fully recover.

As students in an American international school located just a few hours drive to the north of the worst mass murder in fifty years, we were completely shielded (and partially oblivious) to the scale of the horror unfolding less than a couple of hundred kilometres away. In geography class, we learned about countries, capitals and borders throughout the world, from Asia to Latin America—except those in our own region—and I remember our teacher noting that the situation and borders in Yugoslavia were too complicated, ever-changing and simply impossible to follow.

Yet it’s precisely when things seem complicated, or simply too horrible to understand—that we truly need to open our eyes.

The real miracle in today’s Gospel reading was not that Lazarus was raised from the dead. Any mythical deity could have done that. The real miracle is that God revealed himself to us in human form, stripped of all His grandeur and titles. The Creator of the Universe stood among us and wept.

Christopher Adam

Ewelina Frackowiak: reflection for March 13, 2011

Ewelina Frackowiak gave the following reflection at the 7:30 University Mass at St. Joseph’s Parish:

I have always admired Jesus for this: he had a clear vision what God’s will was in his life. He knew what to do and where to be, he knew that his job was to teach and he knew to whom he had been sent: (“I have not come to coddle the comfortable, but to set trapped people free for a new life” Luke 5: 32). More than that he did not allow religion or politics to obscure the sense of God’s will. Religion is for people, not people for religion. You should give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God. And, finally, he was so confident in his leadership role that he would invite us boldly: “Follow me”, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” OK, I want to know where this boldness came from. I also want to have the sense what God’s will is for my life. In every moment of my life, I want to know what I should do, where I should be.

Today’s Gospel solves the mystery of the source of Jesus’ confidence. His self-confidence has to do with his desert experience, with the ability to be alone, to be in silence. My friends, think about a desert as a state where you are free to be who you are – you do not allow expectations from a society to influence you, you do not care about what a society thinks success is. You actually do not need the word success in your vocabulary at all. In your desert-state you are what the Nature, what God intends you to be – you are true to yourself. Take a moment now and think about activities in your life in which you get yourself involved in order to please somebody, to fulfill some expectations or to win approval. Now focus on the moments in your life when you were engaged in job that you love to do. Next, contrast the feeling that arises within you when you are accepted, applauded with the feeling of self-fulfillment when you are doing something you thoroughly enjoy. I will ask you today – be aware of the nature of your actions – be honest to yourself what their motives are.

Entering a desert, that is entering the solitude, is an experience that will bring self-knowledge. Left alone you will ask yourself what you are, what is the “you” which you have at your disposal. Jesus must have sought self-knowledge in his desert, too – let us accompany him in this experience. Please ask yourself this question: who am I? Am I just my body? Certainly not – we know that our cells are constantly dividing, dying and renewing; my body (in terms of its cellular content) was very different just 6 weeks ago! And Jesus knew his body was not who he truly was. “One does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes forth from the mouth of God” – we heard today.

Am I my life? Am I a Lord of my life who can play with it, stop it and restore it? Certainly not. I do believe there is a Creator and that my life is a gift from Him. Life is then bigger than my limited idea of what “me” is. I should have respect for my life – for every life – and I should trust the Creator (“You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test.” – said Jesus.)

Do all my possessions, my social status, or my job define who I am? All what I have can perish, I may change a career, I may loose my social status – but I will be still me, right? I do not want to be a servant of my status and I do not want to be so preoccupied with what I have that I would spend all my energy on securing my possessions or gaining more. There is more in my life than what I have. “The Lord, your God, shall you worship and him alone shall you serve – said Jesus after he refused to accept the gift of all the kingdoms of the world. 

I am afraid this little meditation about who we are tells us more about who we are not. We are not our body, we are not Lords of our lives, neither are we just students, nor just Catholics, neither just poor, nor rich. None of these labels defines you. When you understand this you will find true humility and love. You will see life as it is, you will know what you should do, what you should say. Like Jesus knew himself, you will know yourself. You will be ready to be what God intends you to be.

Ewelina Frackowiak

Father Andy’s homily at St. Joe’s: The Happy Jesus

Fr. Andy Boyer, St. Joe's pastor

Has it every struck you how really very happy Jesus was? How contagious was his exuberance and delight in life? True, Isaiah the prophet did call him “a man of sorrows, familiar with grief.” And, yes, he did weep openly over stubborn, defiant Jerusalem and at his friend Lazarus’ tomb, too. And he bled agonizing tears in Gethsemane. But in reading through the Gospels, we find that those were the exceptions. The very first sign of the kingdom that Jesus performed, his first public miracle, was at a party, a wedding celebration at Cana.

He loved to tell stories about feasts and celebrations. And he also told lots of funny stories. Stories about very prim and proper pious people swallowing camels whole while taking great care at the same time to strain out tiny gnats with their teeth. And about Pharisees puffing out their chests, looking up to heaven, and thanking God that they were like no other. And now in today’s Gospel Jesus looks up at the birds flying high and free in the warm air currents of the Galilean hillside, just happy to be alive. And he also admires the flowers thriving in the rich Galilean soil carpeting the hill he’s sitting on, and he breathes deeply, and he loves it all – this good, beautiful, rich world that his heavenly Father has created. Jesus’ spirituality was opposite to those philosophers who take such a negative view of this world as a place of gloom and shadows and suffering, those who argue that the true philosophy is to escape this sad world and its suffering, to find our way out of the meaningless circles of existence into nothingness. No, Jesus delights in the beauty and the joy and the energy of this glorious world which God has created so good. And it is this world view of Jesus, this philosophy of life, his own happy experience of life that we see in his teaching this morning:

“Look,” says Jesus, “Look at the birds of the air, soaring free and without a care in the world!’ Not that they don’t work. It’s been said that no one works harder than a sparrow to make a living. And yet, says Jesus, they don’t bother sowing crops, or reap-ing, or storing away in barns – they don’t have a care in the world – because your Heavenly Father feeds them! Are you not much more valuable than they? Of course you are! And look again!” says Jesus. “See how the lilies of the field grow! Not a care in the world. Yet I tell you that not even all those Oscar nominees who will parade up and down the Red Carpet this evening in all their splendour, will be dressed like just one of these!“

So here’s my command and my invitation,” says Jesus, “Don’t let that sneaky thief called worry steal your joy. Don’t even worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Stop being so anxious and start living totally in the present, like the birds of the air, like the lilies of the field!”(Pause). And yes we can say, “Jesus, that’s not exactly practical. The lilies and the birds don’t have car payments to worry about, taxes to file, utility bills to cover, children’s university tuitions to prepare for. And once I have paid my bills, then I’ll probably also be wanting a bigger plasma TV, or a better car. “How much is enough?” someone asked John D. Rockefeller. His response? “Just a little bit more.”

And Jesus says, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and rust eat away at that dream car of yours, and where thieves break into your home and steal your prized possessions.” Now we need to be clear what Jesus said and what he did not say. Jesus did not say, “Do not store up treasures on earth.”(Period). Some have heard Jesus saying that it is un-Christian to have a bank account, or to own a home or a car, or to put away RRSPs for retirement. But what Jesus clearly does say is, “Stop storing up treasures on earth for yourselves.” That’s why Jesus puts it so very bluntly: “No one can serve two masters. You cannot serve both God and money.” When we store up for ourselves we find ourselves enslaved to what we’re hoarding, and which one of us has not felt the need to defend our storing up treasures for ourselves on earth?

Who of us would not need to confess that we have tried to serve two masters? Who of us hasn’t tried to insure ourselves against the worries of tomorrow by storing away treasures for ourselves? (experience of Kenya mission). I wonder when we’ll finally figure it out that it really isn’t our circumstances that cause us anxiety – it is not the rise in global terrorism, not bad harvests or global warming or inflation or rising interest rates or my bank account balance.

No, what really causes me anxiety is the moth and the rust in my own heart. We live in a world addicted to worry, a world that finds its energy in anxiety. Living totally without worrying sounds to us almost as impossible as living totally without breathing. When we have so much stuff to worry about, this call to release our anxious grip falls hard on our materialistic ears. This is why the command of Jesus, “Do not worry,” is such a Good News promise of freedom and joy. Jesus does not say, “Look at the ostrich with its head buried in the sand,” but rather, “Look at the birds of the air!” Jesus is inviting us to share in his happiness, his delight in each new day. To celebrate the goodness of God, here and now.

Even in work with joy, because as human beings we have to continue to sow and to reap harvests, and even store away where appropriate, yet with joyful abandon and carefree delight, living in the moment, just as Jesus did. Yes, the bills will have to be paid, and we may still wonder if we’ll be able to balance the books to the end of the month. But know this: the God who sees each sparrow fall has promised, “I will never ever leave you nor forsake you.” Are we willing to believe that God meant what he said? Are we willing to trust God? Will we follow the example of the sparrows, of Jesus himself, and focus on the task at hand, now, in the present? Will we let all tomorrow’s worries remain in the tomorrow ? “If that isn’t a recipe for happiness, I don’t know what is!”

Deacon James Kubina’s reflection at St. Joe’s: God alongside us


St. Joe's

From the very beginning of the month of November, when the weather is turning increasingly cold and bleak, we are invited to think and pray about all those who have departed before us throughout the ages (all Saints and all Souls Day). We also remembered this week those who have died to protect our freedom on Remembrance Day. We may also be reminded of our own mortality, that our own time is limited. And now, as the liturgical year comes to a close, the lectionary presents us (as it does every year at this time) with readings connected to end-times, sombre and stark apocalyptic narratives which can leave us very uncomfortable, perplexed or indifferent, since they seem to allude to or describe events which are far away in the future and far from our communal radar screens. On first glance, it seems that there isn’t any Good News in the Gospel today!

     I heard a story once that reminded me of today’s readings – especially our first reading.  A man was living in the Canadian prairie with his daughter, and one of the great problems about living on the prairie was the fear of prairie fires which rage through and destroy everything in their path. Well, their fears became real when a huge prairie fire broke out, and the father realized that there was nowhere that they could run because they were surrounded by fire.  So the father started his own fire with his frightened daughter, and watched as the area burned, and then he took his daughter into the centre of the area that had been burned already.  He knew that the approaching fire would not touch this area because there was nothing left to be burned. He spoke gently to his very frightened daughter and told her not to be frightened, that the flames could not get to them because everything combustible had already been burned.

     If we look at the first reading today, it is a lot like this story.

     “See, the day is coming, burning like an oven when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble; the day that comes shall burn them up.” Malachi sees what the father had seen and warns the Jewish people about the impending fire. But then Malachi, like the father, tells the Hebrews that they have nothing to fear: “For you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise, with healing in its wings.” By their faithfulness to the Lord God, the Hebrews would be protected from the fire.

     We, too, as followers of Jesus, are burning our field, protecting ourselves from the larger disaster which is to come. We will have nothing to fear.

     What we need to know about Luke’s Gospel, however, is that when Luke wrote, all of the predictions of Jesus had already come true. This passage was written after the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in 70 AD and Luke is trying to interpret the theological meaning of the terrible event. Luke’s descriptions of some of the end-time warning signs are not much help: famines, wars, earthquakes and so on have always been with us and will be with us for some time to come. Although persecution is not a reality for most of us, there are still times and places where one is called to truly suffer for faith. I think for example of the Christian communities in the Middle East which we heard two weeks ago were killed in Iraq because of their faith. Locally in Canada, I think of how our faith is under siege when new debates and rules emerge about outlawing crosses and prayer in classrooms, forcing us to speak up and protect our faith practices. But trying to figure out when the end of time really will happen is a useless and distracting enterprise; no one knows when that will occur anyway and so all that matters is that the Lord finds us doing what we are supposed to do.

     But these readings are not here to inspire fear. Like the father who calmed his daughter by saying the fire couldn’t touch her in the burned area, Jesus tells his disciples: “Not a hair of your head will perish.  By your endurance you will gain your souls.” This is a positive reassuring message; this is a message to inspire us to stay steadfast, to stay constantly ready, eagerly waiting for His return; each day is part of our journey, our eyes fixed on the horizon, on our return to our origin, united with God in heaven. And no matter what our struggles and difficulties are, physical, emotional, job loss, family tensions, marital or relationship problems, maybe we are getting older and getting more aware of our own mortality, we can stand assured that God is walking alongside us and will give us the strength to get through the tough times. All we need to do is to trust in God.

     Here are some words found written in the prayer book of St Teresa of Avila:

     “Let nothing disturb you, nothing make you afraid. All things are passing. God is unchanging. Patience achieves all things. For the one who possesses God, nothing is lacking. God alone is enough.”

Christopher Adam–Reflection for University Mass–26 September 2010

In today’s Gospel reading, we see the key elements of our beliefs come together in a powerful parable. We discover how we can express our faith by simply showing compassion for all of God’s creation. Jesus found himself in a society and culture that tended to value legalism, appearances and superficial respectability above all else. If we place this parable into the context of the broader Gospel message, the rich man’s rejection of Lazarus, while he dines with fine food in the finest attire and mingles with the literati, epitomized a worldview where living a life of faith was tantamount to keeping a myriad of rules, and being able to appear amongst others in society as one who manages to meander through an impossible legalistic maze with both ease and success.

But believing that God is more interested in some form of earthly perfection based on our ability to abide by legislation, rather than us choosing the succinct golden rule of compassion for all, indicates an impoverished understanding of God’s grace. The real risk is that we get caught up in the details and that we fail to see the forest from the trees; we fail to see God’s creation, camouflaged as it is by the scaffolding of respectability that we wrongly think holds it all up. 

Jesus’ message in today’s reading is undoubtedly direct and his depiction of the rich man perhaps even seems a little harsh. But what he’s telling us is to replace disingenuous piety, a judgmental view of others based on a legalistic understanding of salvation and to finally stop keeping a ledger of our personal good conduct and trespasses—hoping that we don’t end up with a negative balance–and focus instead on solidarity with the weakest in society. In the parable, the rich man dehumanizes Lazarus and allows his bubble of wealth to blind him to the fact that Lazarus too is created in the image of God. Jesus, however, restores his humanity, by simply calling him by his name throughout the parable. We are called to see the presence God in the weakest, the abandoned and in the forsaken and to understand that our relationship with Christ is strengthened infinitely more by living a life of compassion, than by attempting to live a life of perfect virtuous conduct and by balancing the books.

In some ways, we—as a society, living in a developed, peaceful and stable country—represent the rich man today, in a world where 10 percent of the adult population holds 85 percent of the world’s wealth. By any measure of wealth, we in the developed world resemble the rich man, rather than Lazarus. It is certainly accurate to point out that few students are wealthy and many struggle with tuition fees, the rising cost of books, exorbitant rent and impending loan repayment. But if we only consider how fortunate we are, in comparison to those in the southern hemisphere or in developing countries—who  hardly have the luxury to worry about the challenges of a university education—or if we considered how fortunate we are from a historical perspective, that we live in relative peace and political stability—then we must truly consider how Jesus expects us to reach in solidarity and with compassion to the suffering.

But if we look at Jesus’ depiction of Lazarus closely, we see that we are not only called to show compassion because of his economic condition, but even more so because he is rejected and marginalized by society. Lazarus looks different, he is physically ill—possibly disabled–and probably comes from a lower class background. Jesus calls us to walk with all who are discriminated against in society and ejected from institutions or shunned by leaders, simply because they do not fit into the frameworks of “respectability,” and “propriety” that we have built. Jesus tells us that sometimes we need to think outside those confines and frameworks if we are to truly address issues of injustice in our society. We need to open the doors of our church community to people of different traditions, backgrounds and lifestyles and accept them for who they are, rather than attempting to project onto them who we think they should be.

We can and should apply this to our church, located a mere blocks from a part of downtown Ottawa that struggles with a myriad of social problems. If we are to truly live Christ’s message of compassion, then we must welcome those struggling with drug addiction, with alcoholism or involved in prostitution. Where people feel dehumanized by their condition or their environment, Jesus asks us to restore their humanity by simply showing compassion, with no strings attached.

The story of Lazarus shows us how God is often most present in times of suffering; He does not leave us to our fate, nor does God simply watch us dispassionately from a distance. One story perhaps expresses the presence of God in suffering the most poignantly is a passage in author Elie Wiesel’s largely autobiographical book Night. Wiesel was born into a Hungarian Jewish family and as a boy; he was deported along with his parents and siblings to Auschwitz in May 1944 from the Transylvanian town of Máramarossziget, in what was then eastern Hungary. Elie Wiesel’s mother, father and sister were all killed in Auschwitz; Elie’s father was actually beaten to death by the concentration camp’s officers after being marched to Buchenwald.

Wiesel, though raised in a practicing Jewish family, questioned the existence of God in his suffering and in the suffering of others around him in the death camp. Wiesel was torn, as he struggled with the feeling of abandonment by God.. For the first time I felt revolt rise up in me. Why should I bless His name? The Eternal, Lord of the Universe, the All-Powerful and Terrible, was silent. What had I to thank Him for?” He elaborated on his crisis of faith and the grim realization that the horrors of the Holocaust were destroying his faith in God. “”Never shall I forget those moments which murdered my God and my soul and turned my dreams to dust. Never shall I forget these things, even if I am condemned to live as long as God Himself. Never.”

But little did Wiesel know that one of the most horrific moments in Auschwitz were yet to come and that it would this moment of total despair that would lead him to realize God’s real presence in suffering. On one night in the camp, Wiesel and the other prisoners witnessed the execution of three Jews—two adults and one child. As the gruesome hanging took place—and as an innocent small child was sent to a painful, horrible death, an inmate in the camp kept asking aloud where God was in all of this?

One day when we came back from work, we saw three gallows rearing up in the assembly place, three black crows. Roll call. SS all around us, machine guns trained: the traditional ceremony. Three victims in chains— and one of them, the little servant, the sad-eyed angel.
     The SS seemed more preoccupied, more disturbed than usual. To hang a young boy in front of thousands of spectators was no light matter. The head of the camp read the verdict. All eyes were on the child. He was lividly pale, almost calm, biting his lips. The gallows threw its shadow over him.
     This time the Lagerkapo refused to act as executioner. Three SS replaced him.
     The three victims mounted together onto the chairs.
     The three necks were placed at the same moment within the nooses.
     “Long live liberty!” cried the two adults.
      But the child was silent.
     “Where is God? Where is He?” someone behind me asked.
     At a sign from the head of the camp, the three chairs tipped over.
     Total silence throughout the camp. On the horizon, the sun was setting.
     “Bare your heads!” yelled the head of the camp. His voice was raucous. We were weeping.
     “Cover your heads!”
Then the march past began. The two adults were no longer alive. Their tongues hung swollen, blue-tinged. But the third rope was still moving; being so light, the child was still alive…
     For more than half an hour he stayed there, struggling between life and death, dying in slow agony under our eyes. And we had to look him full in the face. He was still alive when I passed in front of him. His tongue was red, his eyes were not yet glazed.
     Behind me, I heard the same man asking:
     “Where is God now?”
     And I heard a voice within me answer him:
     “Where is He? Here He is—He is hanging here on this gallows…”

Since we are created in the image of God and we are all part of His creation, in times of suffering, God suffers with us. God suffered with Lazarus when he was rejected by all in society and God suffered alongside his creation when hatred and bigotry led to systematic murder of a people—purely due to their cultural background—just 65 years  ago. God hanged there on the gallows and though Wiesel realized that God was not dead, he understood that never for a moment had He abandoned His people.

The suffering, death and depravation of the Holocaust turned Wiesel into one of the most impassioned advocates of humanism and peace; his was the recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986, in recognition of his capacity to speak out against injustice and serve as a voice for the oppressed. Wiesel’s message is closely aligned with Christ’s message of compassion and justice and the importance of raising our voice, even if when doing so may appear to shake the foundations of our society and community. As an advocate for humanism, Wiesel wrote: “We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere. When human lives are endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy, national borders and sensitivities become irrelevant. Wherever men and women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must – at that moment – become the centre of the universe.”

If Jesus’ depiction of the rich man seems harsh in today’s reading, it is because the scaffold of prosperity, comfort and respectability that we have built is obstructing our view of God and the image of God in our neighbour. Jesus’ message to us is clear, direct and straightforward: if we want to see God, it’s time to finally tear down the scaffold.  

Christopher Adam teaches history at Carleton University and gave this reflection at Ottawa’s St. Joseph’s Parish, on 26 September 2010


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