Monday, October 3, 2016

Faith - a Homily

19th Sunday after Trinity   (OT 27C)                                                                                 

STM/SVDP, Toronto Oct 2, 2016

“Because of his faith, the just man shall live.”

The prophetic voice of Habakkuk is echoed by St. Paul: rekindle the gift of God that is within you. (2 Timothy) Faith is central to our lives if we are to live with God and for God.

The Gospel tells us that we must live by faith in Christ who loved us and gave himself on the Cross for us. (Galatians 2:20).

The world, though, can seem to us like it did in the seventh-century B.C. as the situation in Judah seemed to Habakkuk— i.e. to be under the control of God's enemies. The control of mammon seems to be everywhere in secular society.  We face strife and discord and this can sometimes cause us to wonder, as the prophet does, why God doesn't seem to hear or intervene when we cry for help.

Everyone has had the experience of not being listened to – husbands/ wives/ children.

We are exhorted not to let our hearts be hardened by the trials we undergo.  Israel forgot God’s mighty works, lost faith in God’s promise. They tested God in the desert, demanding a sign.

But God didn't redeem Israel from Egypt only to leave them to die in the desert.  God didn't ransom us and give us what St. Paul calls "the good treasure entrusted to you" simply to abandon us in our struggles. God is our God and we are "the people of  his pasture and the sheep of his hand" even though at times both God’s mercy and justice seem long delayed.

If we call on the Lord, as the Apostles do in today's Gospel, God will increase our faith, and will stir the flame of the Holy Spirit who dwells within us from the day of our Baptism.  

Our faith must, then, be strengthened by practice, by corporal and spiritual works of mercy, by celebrating the sacraments,  by receiving Holy Communion regularly and by praying together for the needs of the Church and the world.

As Paul tells us in the Epistle, the Lord will always give us the love and self-control, "the spirit of power and of love" that we need to bear our share of hardship for the sake of the Gospel.  Our strength comes to us, as does our faith, as a gift from God.  Faith is not something we can conjure up on our own.

Our task is to continue doing what Christ has commanded us to do—to love and to build up God’s kingdom—trusting that the vision of Christ continues to press on to its fulfillment.

God’s  vision still has time. One day, even though we may be only "unprofitable servants," we will be invited to eat and drink at our Master's table. It is that day we anticipate with each celebration of the Eucharist.

Holy Communion: Private, public

There is much talk about and, especially with Protestants entering into the full communion of the Catholic Church, often misunderstanding about the corporate nature of communion and, in particular, Holy Communion.  
The individualism of our day and the inherent individualistic focus of Protestant theology makes it both intellectually and culturally challenging for many.  
The question is often framed in this way:
Why can't Protestants share in Holy Communion at Mass?
or more starkly:
Who should be barred from Holy Communion? 
The second question is especially pertinent regarding so-called “second unions” and “homosexual marriages.” 
An interesting article by Fr. Timothy Vaverek
at THE CATHOLIC THING explores these questions.
Here are some excerpts (bolding is mine):
The emphasis has been on Canon Law and the subjective guilt of individuals. These are important considerations, of course. But it’s also necessary to examine the underlying ecclesial meaning of Holy Communion, conscience, and Christian life – if we want to understand the intrinsic reason why certain persons ought to refrain voluntarily from receiving Holy Communion, as well as the true pastoral nature of the Church’s canonical and moral prohibitions.
Many preachers and theologians have noted that the Creed’s affirmation of the “communion of saints” (communio sanctorum) can refer to both the communion of the “holy ones” and of the “holy things.” In other words, our communion with the Trinity and redeemed humanity in Jesus is also our communion in the life of the Church through sharing the sacraments, the Apostolic teachings, and daily Christian life. (Act 2:42)
Receiving the Body of Christ in Holy Communion, therefore, is the personal and ecclesial act of someone who lives as a member of the body of Christ rather than merely as a private individual. This reception does not establish communion, but fosters the communion the person has already entered through Baptism and perseverance in the life of Christ.
Hence one who receives Holy Communion must be baptized, be truly penitent for all sin, and accept the faith and moral practice of the Church. Otherwise, regardless of intention, something is amiss – because the external, objective act of receiving Holy Communion does not correspond to the internal, subjective reality of the person’s relation to Christ and his Church.
In the Catholic understanding, conscience, too, is both a personal and ecclesial reality rather than a merely individualistic one. The origin of the word (con-scientia) means “to know within” oneself and to “to know with” others. For Christians, this is a sharing of the mind of Christ within the Church through obedience, which directs us to do or to avoid a specific action; and to make judgments according to God’s standards rather than man’s.
All this, so that we might become holy as he is holy. Everyone’s conscience is fallible and sin can further damage its judgments, to the point that repeated or unrepented sin can blind the conscience to the truth. (1 Tim 4:2)

. . . innocent error or a history of sin may lead Christians to embrace behaviors that are not worthy of the human person, without recognizing the evil of their actions. Inasmuch as their actions are in fact harmful and contrary to the mind of Christ (because objectively wrong), they deviate from the Gospel life and bear an objectively false witness within the Church and before the world.
For those with an innocently mistaken conscience, the reception of Holy Communion remains a means of grace, although there is a discrepancy that needs to be remedied to free them as children of God from the damage and constraint of disordered behaviors. For those guilty of unrepented sin, even if unrecognized due to a seared conscience, reception would be false, sacrilegious, and dangerous. (1 Cor. 11:27-32)
A rightly formed conscience is founded on the objective reality of the person of Christ and his teachings, not the subjective opinions, feelings, or criteria of an individual. Christians who substitute, knowingly or not, other criteria as the basis for moral judgments are not living according to the Gospel and are therefore bringing harm to themselves, others, and the Church.
. . .  receiving Holy Communion while knowingly rejecting the faith and life of the Church, even with an otherwise innocent but incorrect subjective conscience, would mean pretending to profess a way of life such persons actually reject. If they wish to believe and live differently than the Church, they should simply not receive. Even less “receive” on their own terms. Holy Communion is not a private entitlement; it is nourishment and medicine for those who acknowledge their sins and errors while intending to live the life of Christ within the Church.
The case of so-called “second unions” deserves particular attention. Whether a prior marriage is evaluated through an annulment or another approved method, a decision of nullity requires a “moral certitude” founded on the criteria of the Church (such as lack of freedom, knowledge, or intent when the vows were exchanged) rather than the “instinct” or “opinion” of a spouse or priest. The passage of time or the presence of children in a second relationship cannot serve as criteria since these do not remove the capacity or obligation to be faithful to the first spouse. Living as “brother and sister” may be a solution.
Recent appeals to “extenuating circumstances” that allegedly would open a path to Holy Communion in these cases by reducing subjective guilt to venial sin are similarly useless because reception requires the intention to avoid all sins, venial or mortal. This means whether mortally or venially sinful, the parties would have to intend never to have sexual relations again.
“Homosexual marriages,” like “second unions,” entail extra-marital sexual activity. Thus, entering either type of sexual relationship or asserting their morality contradicts the Gospel and places one objectively outside the faith and practice of the Church. Refraining from reception of Holy Communion is then merely an act of integrity since these relationships deny in belief and practice what reception affirms.
Pastoral clarity on the ecclesial nature of Holy Communion, conscience, and Christian life would assist in resolving these cases and reveal the Church’s canonical and moral assessments as merciful, liberating remedies rather than – as some regard them – harsh, pharisaical judgments.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Fr. Cleevely's Remarkable Funeral Homily

Following is a remarkable homily preached by Fr. Philip Cleevely, C.O. at the Funeral Mass for John Bentley Mays on Saturday, September 24 at the Parish of St. Thomas More OCSP.

Christianity, G. K. Chesterton said, is the only religion in which God Himself appears as an atheist. Chesterton is speaking of the Cross, and is considering the words of the Incarnate Son to His Father: My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? This isn’t mere appearance, a kind of disguise, but the decisive time of revelation, of Divine Self-disclosure, the consummation of God-in-the-world. And there, or rather here, in the time and place of the Cross, God appears as an atheist: God forsaken by God, Love unloved even by Love. 

It is God Who opens out the distance between Father and Son across which this forsakenness is sustained. The Son dwells among us to be with us at the very limit of where we can find ourselves, the end-point which fulfills our dread, and our desire, of being without God. In traversing that distance, the Incarnate Son does not cease to be God; and so the distance He travels is measured by God’s capacity to separate from Himself, to be beyond Himself for the sake of what is other than Himself. In other words, the distance is measured by Love.   

Within that distance, our world takes place. Each of us lives and dies somewhere within the distance that separates the Son from the Father on Good Friday. Everything unfolds within God’s being  outside of Himself: all that draws, delights and compels us, everything which frightens and disgusts us; the good and the harm that we do, our monumental indifference, and the more or less settled places and patterns of our lives. The distance of the Son from the Father knows all this, embraces it, holds it and exceeds it. And so we can never be without God, in exhilaration or in sorrow, in darkness or in rebellion, more radically than God Himself has been. This and this alone makes redemption possible: God Himself sheltering and surpassing the extremity of our losses. The distance opened out on the Cross is always before and ahead of us, wherever we put ourselves or find ourselves. The Cross, the atheism of God, is the sign, and the price, of His unreserved solidarity with us. But ‘solidarity’ is a clumsy, indiscriminate term. We would be better off thinking of a lover’s visitation, paid to an uncomprehending beloved. 

And indeed how else could God show Himself, how else could Love speak, than by this unreserved visitation to the loveless?

To be touched, however glancingly, by the singular, seemingly impossible beauty of that visitation is to have been touched by God. It is an awakening and generative touch: slowly, so unsurely, we are brought to fall in love with Love, and with Love alone: to want, in spite of ourselves, to become what He is and to do what He does. God Himself originates eternally in the power of Love to generate: and what Love generates is not fulfillment for itself, but its likeness in another. And so we find God, and therefore ourselves - a finding which is perhaps never fully conscious, never fully realized - only by entering into Love’s likeness, which is to say, for us, only on the way of the Cross.

The way of the Cross is a secret way, hidden from public approbation, and very often from the grasp even of those who travel it. On this way, one draws nearer to God than one can ever know. In the atmosphere of the culture wars, some believers spend time and energy regretting and contesting their all too evident loss of public prestige, the erosion of the social and cultural credentials of their Christian faith. But rather than styling ourselves through regret and contestation, we can receive modernity’s ambivalence as a corrective, an opportunity, even as a kind of gift. For God and ourselves can be found there too, even in the social and cultural orders we too easily characterize as post-Christian.  

For after all what validation do we seek, in mourning the now deconstructed architecture of the so-called ages of faith? Didn’t the past in fact conceal an evasion, even an idolatry, no less potent than what faces and inhabits us today? How easily the truth of God was interpreted in terms of a lavish but also essentially secular iconography, a concentration upon sovereign power in which the way of the Cross is sublimated, made visible only as the emblem of a victory already adequately reflected in the social order. 

But no social order, not even the Church, can adequately reflect the Cross. The victory that the Cross makes possible is never present and possessed, but is encoded within an always renewed experience of destitution and defeat, of waiting and of being led, of anticipation and of hope. The way of the Cross, in other words, ought to render inescapable for us the mystery of God manifesting Himself in human weakness and limitation. And here ‘in’ means within. God does not exert Himself against human weakness, least of all by showing up the weakness of those around us whom we might be tempted to style as enemies. He manifests Himself not by disclosing and subjugating the weakness of the excommunicated other, but by inhabiting our weakness, our limits, if only we resolve not to flee from them: or, more realistically, once we are rendered incapable of fleeing them. Only then does the unsayable intimacy of the Divine with the human unfold. If we try, nonetheless, to say it, we will find ourselves speaking of the endurance of the unendurable. 

The unendurable can be nailed to us as if from the inside, in the afflictions played out within our minds and our bodies; it can seem to transfix us from without, in the simple consciousness of the burdens borne by others - even one other will do, once we begin to see truthfully, let alone the uncontainable burden of the sufferings and sins of the world. None of these is endurable - and so the alternatives can seem, in the end, to be either to hide from them or to succumb. 

But on the way of the Cross we can be given, and can be taught to live from within, an unforeseeable substitution for our incapacity. We will come to be aware of ourselves, simultaneously, as helpless and as being sustained. A language is forged in which God is at last able to speak with us, a language raised up (as the Cross is raised up) from within the unendurable, an exchange between God and ourselves that cannot be objectified and transcribed but only enacted

God’s visitation can seem, sometimes, as if it might as well mean unbelief, in as much as we are capable of laying hold of and inspecting it as a kind of talisman. And yet, in this very destitution, we can be led to acknowledge that what is real is indeed here, in the mystery of Love’s visitation, and not in things considered as objects to be known and used, of which the business of love could only ever be a decorative afterthought, bestowed or withheld as may be. 

We can be led to acknowledge, in other words, that what is real is Love alone. Only the Cross reads the world, only the Cross reads our lives. 

In an essay completed a few months before his death, John wrote of what he called the void - not just neutral emptiness, on the one hand, or an abyss of negativity, on the other, but instead an in-between state, a waiting condition, without finality, coming into view as a space of impermanence, a clearing attuned to receive and to host the shifting vulnerabilities and joys of living. 

In this characterization of the void he was chiefly considering architecture, but characteristically he was also thinking spiritually and theologically. I would like to think that we have, in John’s late consideration of the void, a metaphor for grace - for what I have been calling our visitation by Love. We cannot master the world or ourselves, but must be prepared to become a kind of emptiness, spaces of attentive waiting to receive what we need, and of yielding to what is asked of us, and in all the turns of happiness and vulnerability finding ourselves sustained and spoken to. 

We can ask that this applies to us, here today, as each of us, in his or her own way, tries, impossibly, to weigh what we have lost. And we must ask that it applies to John too, in death as it did in life. And the grounds of our confidence in asking these things, for John and for ourselves, could not be greater. For although an unthinkable distance now separates us, it is, even so, a distance contained between the Father and the Son on the Cross. In the Cross, Love has already given everything; and what Love gives, in time and in eternity, it never takes back.

Lectures by Michael D. O'Brien in memory of John Bentley Mays

In loving memory of John Bentley Mays
John Bentley Mays

Two lectures are to be offered by the noted artist and writer
Michael O'Brien on the theme of Mercy, reflections for the Jubilee
Year of Mercy.  The event is sponsored by Regis College and
the Catholic Parish of St. Thomas More, OCSP.

Michael D. O'Brien 
Thursday, November 17
Regis College, Queens Park Circle
7:00 p.m. Talk by Michael O’Brien
“The Vocation of a Christian Artist”
A mini art exhibit may be viewed before and after.

Friday, November 18
St. Thomas More / St Vincent de Paul
263 Roncesvalles, Toronto
 6:00 - 7:00 Holy Hour 
7:00 p.m.   Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament 
7:30 p.m.  Talk by Michael O'Brien
“Living Mercy in the City”
John Mays had been instrumental in initiating this project and so
it is fitting that the event be dedicated in his memory.

Free registration online at:

Born in Ottawa in 1948, Michael O’Brien is the author of twenty-eight books, notably the novel Father Elijah and eleven other novels, which have been published in fourteen languages and widely reviewed in both secular and religious media in North America and Europe.

His essays on faith and culture have appeared in international journals such as Communio, Catholic World Report, Catholic Dossier, Inside the Vatican, The Chesterton Review and others. For seven years he was the editor of the Catholic family magazine, Nazareth Journal.

He has given hundreds of public talks and lectures at universities and churches throughout Europe and North America, and has frequently appeared as a guest on television programs in several nations.

Since 1970 he has also worked as a professional artist and has had more than 40 exhibits across North America. Since 1976 he has painted religious imagery exclusively, a field that ranges from liturgical commissions to visual reflections on the meaning of the human person. His paintings hang in churches, monasteries, universities, community collections and private collections throughout the world.

Michael O’Brien lives near Combermere, Ontario. He and his wife Sheila have six children and nine grandchildren.

Patronal for our sister parish in Toronto -- Tuesday, Sept. 27 - 8:00 p.m.

Join us Tuesday at 8:00 p.m. (Sept. 27) as we celebrate the patronal feast of our (elder) sister parish ST. VINCENT DE PAUL with Sung Mass at the Church of St. Vincent de Paul, 263 Roncesvalles.

R.I.P. John Bentley Mays

 John Bentley Mays, a parishioner of St. Thomas More and member of the Ordinariate of the Chair of St Peter died peacefully on Sept. 16 in Toronto, at the age of 75.  He was an influential art critic and best-selling author who wrote on matters of faith, art and culture.  

John's insightful writing appeared in the Globe and MailCanadian Art, The Catholic Register and the National Post, among numerous other national publications.
John  had a Faulknerian upbringing. According to his biography, he was born in 1941 “into an old family of cotton planters, small-town merchants and local politicians in the American South.” He came to Canada in 1969 and not long after resolved to become a writer. By 1980, he was the Globe and Mail‘s art critic – a post he held until 1998.

He was also known for writing bravely and eloquently about his own life, in books such as In the Jaws of the Black Dogs: A Memoir of Depression, and Power in the Blood, in which he tracks his family history through travels to Virginia, South Carolina, and Louisiana. Both were national best-sellers.

Later in his career he turned his attention to architecture and urbanism to which he brought clarity and accessibility. His book Emerald City Toronto Visited (1995) – about the development and history of Toronto’s network of neighbourhoods and its slow progress toward an international city – is still required reading for anyone interested in Toronto’s urban planning history.
John thought much of the Art Gallery of Ontario addition by Frank Gehry: “Gehry’s electric-blue design stands in friendly combat with the soaring table-top, next door, of the Ontario College of Art and Design by British architect Will Alsop, and, with its windows open to the city, it encourages viewers to recall contemporary art’s vital and ongoing relationship with contemporary metropolitan culture, its social problematics, conflicts and opportunities.”
Ardently pro-life and an Anglican who had entered into the full communion of the Catholic Church,  John described his conversion following a mystical experience at Lourdes (where he had never thought he would be in any way moved artistically or spiritually).  He wrote beautifully, thoughtfully and authoritatively on faith, culture, family and mercy. 
John's Funeral Mass according to Divine Worship: The Missal (Ordinariate rite) was celebrated by the Catholic Parish of St Thomas More, 263 Roncesvalles Ave., Saturday, September 24.

In John's memory, "Mercy in the City" -- two lectures by the noted Catholic artist and author Michael O'Brien will be given at Regis College, Queen's Park Circle and at STM, 263 Roncesvalles Ave. TORONTO, on November 17 and 18.  Check this site for details.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Pope Francis will celebrate Mass for the repose of the soul of Fr Jacques Hamel, the French priest killed by two Islamist terrorists in July.

Pope Francis plans to  celebrate Mass for the 85-year-old French priest was killed by two Islamists while celebrating Mass. The murder took place on July 26 in the church of Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray as Fr Hamel, 85, was celebrating Mass.
According to Rome Reports, the Mass for Fr Hamel will be held on the morning of September 14 at 7am, in the chapel of Casa Santa Marta, the Pope’s residence.
The bishop and 80 pilgrims from the Diocese of Rouen, where Fr Hamel lived and worked, will be in attendance.

Christoph Schönborn's Warning

Viennese Cardinal Christoph Schönborn warned this week at a Mass for the Feast of the Holy Name of Mary that "Europe is well on the way to forfeiting its Christian heritage". 

"Will there be an Islamic conquest of Europe? Many Muslims want that and say: Europe is at the end," he said during the Mass in St. Stephen's Cathedral during a celebration for the Feast of the "Holy Name of Mary." 

This feast was introduced in gratitude for the liberation of Vienna from Ottoman Muslim forces which were attacking Europe 333 years ago. 

"God have mercy on Europe and with thy people, who are in danger of forfeiting our Christian heritage," Schoenborn said in his homily, according to the website of the Archdiocese of Vienna. This loss could be felt, "not only economically, but above all, in human and religious terms," preached the cardinal.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

The inimitable Fr. Hunwicke on his always enlightening blog " Mutual Enrichment" offers some very useful thoughts for those who ask about the limits and the possibilities of bible study and textual criticism.  Alluding to he Last Gospel which may be the most studied and read passage in the bible, he says:

"Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the Flesh, nor of the will of Man, but of God. 

So the Johannine prologue, the Christmas Gospel in the Missa in Die, the wonderful pericope which we read day after day at the end of Mass, describes those who have 'received' Him. By Baptism, we have that New Birth which is of God and not of human begetting.

But there is a very early variant reading in some witnesses to the text of S John: Who was born .... In other words, the sentence is made to refer to the Lord Himself and to His Virginal Conception. It fits rather well, doesn't it?

The scholarly consensus has always been that the text as usually translated is the correct one. Frankly, I've never been completely sure about that. (My old mentor in the science art of Textual Criticism, the immortal Professor G D Kilpatrick, was once prepared to accept the reading of a single Armenian ms contra mundum, so determined was his 'eclecticism'.) 

The old 'Westcott and Hort' Victorian certainty, the superstition of 'the best manuscript' -  the idea that if only we had sufficient evidence ('O God, please give us some fantastic First Century Papyri!') we would be able to reconstruct the authorial original that came hot from the pen of S John -  represents an attitude to Textual Criticism which among Classicists has either been abandoned or qualified.

But, assuming that the Textus Receptus is indeed to be followed, it nevertheless remains true that S John is here deftly alluding to the Lord's Virginal Conception; and that the Fathers and scribes who produced the variant reading accurately picked up and made explicit an implication which the Evangelist intended to be perceived. He is saying 'Nudge nudge, of course we know that the Lord was born of a Virgin; but I want you to realise that your own New Birth, in Him, is just as Virginal as his temporal Conception'. 

That's the sort of way the Fourth Evangelist works. (He doesn't, for example, describe the institution of the Eucharist at the Last Supper, but he does give us his Chapter 6.) Could the Disciplina arcani have something to do with this? We remember the words of S Ignatius of Antioch that the Virginity of Mary and her Childbearing and the Death of the Lord  were Three Mysteries of a Cry [krauges] which were hidden from the Devil, wrought in the stillness of God (Ad Ephesios XIX 1 et vide egennethe in v. sup.).

Incorporated into Him, we are made sharers in His Divine, unfleshly, Birth "from above" (gennethentes anothen), just as we also share His Death and His Resurrection.

So we are Sons of the Father, Corde nati ex Parentis, and Enfants de Marie, just as the Lord himself was."