Toronto students called to ‘ACCTS’

TORONTO - The Toronto Catholic District School Board, through its A Catholic Call To Service (ACCTS) program, is looking to expose students to the true meaning ofservice.

“It’s a program in which our students get an opportunity to witness, in action, their faith,” said Deb Gove, the board’s secondary resource person forreligious education. “It is a totally unbelievable experience for boththe students and the people (they help).”

ACCTS, which launches Oct. 17, will see 35 Catholic secondary schools across the city send 10 students into the downtown region to help out at a varietyof social assistance agencies. These agencies include shelters, missions and food distribution groups.

On the day of service, students meet and are divided into groups before heading off to the appropriate location. Everything is wrapped up around 7 p.m.following a liturgical service. But there is more to it than just a single day of service.

“It’s not just a day, it’s a taste of what service is like,” said Gove. “It’s life-long learning.”

Lasting about 10 hours, the day does not count towards the students’ compulsory 40 hours of community service for graduation in the Catholic system. The focusis on teaching students about the importance of helping others without any personal gain.

“If we’re just out there looking after each other and not looking after those who need it we’re not doing what Jesus asked us to,” said Gove.

“It’s important that we take care of the poor and vulnerable.” That’s a message which stuck with Raffi Degralstanian after participating in ACCTS last fall.

“I hadn’t actually had a good idea of what service was until I was actually there,” said the Grade 12 Brebeuf College School student. “It definitely opened my eyes to when people need service and how I should give it to them.”

Degralstanian was one of the students who helped clean up Mary’s House, a downtown women’s shelter, after it suffered significant damage from a fire.
The experience touched him so much that when the opportunity to participate in this year’s 15th anniversary program came, Degralstanian immediately wentonline to register.

“It was like wow, I did something here, I was able to contribute my physical being and apply it to this place and it made a difference,” said Degralstanian.
“Giving your sweat and being there physically doing something is much more meaningful than donating five or 10 bucks.”

When the group of 10, which included Degralstanian, returned to Brebeuf the following school day from their various assignments they instantly becamepivotal figures in establishing the school’s own Street Patrol program. Details of the school’s program, which is independent from ACCTS, are still beingdeveloped, but the objective is feeding the homeless at least once a month during the school year.

“It speaks a lot to the meaningful experience they receive on this given day,” said Robert Gregoris, Brebeuf chaplaincy team member.

“For a lot of them it is an eye opener. A lot of them don’t see the difficulties and the challenges that the human spirit goes through.” Although Gregoris said he understands the importance of the day’s message of unrewarded service he does think the students receive something in return — a closer connection with God.

“It’s a real tangible way where young people get to experience the message of Christ and the face of Christ,” said Gregoris.
“It gets to their heart, it gets to their soul.”

An escape from city life led to an unexpected call to serve the Church

MAYO, YUKON TERRITORY - When we moved to the Yukon almost four years ago, it wasn’t to work in the missions. I was employed as a schoolteacher and my wife Tina stayed home with our young son Johnathan. We moved to Mayo for adventure, change and reprieve from city life. It was not meant to be a long-termcommitment, nor working for the Church.

The village of Mayo has a population of a little more than 400 people, predominantly the Na Cho Nyak Dun First Nation. Although we did not move to the Yukon to work in the missions, it seems God had other plans.

Sr. Angela Shea of the Sisters of Notre Dame was resident administrator for Christ the King mission. She had been here almost 20 years where she led the Catholic community and was an integral part of the larger community. During our first year, there was talk of the 80-year-old sister leaving Mayo and retiring to her native Prince Edward Island. In talking with Whitehorse Bishop Gary Gordon, Tina and I expressed ourwillingness to serve the Church. With Sr. Angela leaving, the timing was good. Gordon asked if we would fill in as mission administrators. His need for missionworkers and our interest and desire to serve the Church came together, and we began discussing the transition, which took place in 2009.

There are about 47 Catholics in Mayo. Besides keeping the lights and heat on in the church and rectory, we help keep the Catholic faith alive in the small community. We arrange for the priest in Dawson to come twice a month for Mass and other sacraments, and I lead the community in a Communion service on Sundays when he is not present. We usually meet for coffee and goodies or a meal after to catch up on news and share a laugh. We say the rosary with others and have Stations of the Cross during Lent. Each day, we strive to be a living witness to the Catholic faith and administer to the spiritual and other needs of Catholics. We call Fr. Ernest Emeka Emeodi from Dawson or Gordon when assistance or adviceis required.

Many joys and challenges of lay ministry abound in this remote part of Canada. Mayo is located near 63 degrees latitude, halfway between Whitehorse and the Arctic Circle. Mayo holds the distinction of being both the hottest and the coldest community in the Yukon. It is not uncommon for temperatures to dip to minus 50 Celsius for some days, and for a cold spell of minus 40 or more for a week.

While there are both joys and challenges, the joys definitely outweigh the latter. Some joys include living in the rectory which is attached to the church and having the Blessed Sacrament available 24 hours a day. There is joy knowing that although at times we feel we have a small role, it is nonetheless vital for the Catholic faith and Church locally. There is a deep inner joy knowing we are in the service of God and His work.

Since starting in Mayo, Tina and I have moved on but continue our mission work with the Church. We recently moved to Yellowknife, N.W.T., where we are ministering at Trapper’s Lake Spirituality Centre.I pray that more lay people — single and families — will be open to working for the Church in the missions for a time, be it a year or two or more. Perhaps an interest and desire might be awakened and one may hear a call. As a lay couple and family, it is not for everyone, but it has certainly been rewarding and a real blessing for us, not to mention the great adventure.

Toronto’s Year of Faith focused on faith formation

TORONTO - To celebrate the Year of Faith, the archdiocese of Toronto’s office of formation for discipleship has undertaken its most focused effort at faith formation to date.

“This is an opportunity in this year for people to pause and to consider the role of faith in our own lives and why we are eager to share that faith with other people,” said Bill Targett, director of the office of formation for discipleship.

Targett said the archdiocese will be offering 18 programs across the archdiocese for the Year of Faith, which kicked off Oct. 11, alongside the 50th anniversary of the opening of Second Vatican Council and the 20th anniversary of the promulgation of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and ends Nov. 24, 2013, on the feast of Christ the King.

“They range from single night workshops to look at one topic up to and including an eight-part series,” said Targett. “And then, in between those extremes, there’s a whole variety of other workshops.”

Topics vary from Catholic social teaching and basic teachings of the Catholic Church to lectio divina and prayer. Free of charge, the hosting parishes will become “regional centres of formation,” said Targett.

There will be three rotations of the same workshops in the fall, winter and spring at different locations to geographically accommodate as many people as possible, he added.

“The Year of Faith has been a long time coming,” said Targett. “John Paul II was speaking about it already in the early ’90s and for us, it’s exciting that it’s finally here. And we look forward to contributing whatever we can to helping to replant the Gospel in the West.”

Targett said he regards parishioners as the “frontline of people.”

“If we can help convince them of the important role that faith has in their lives, I think they’re the best example to spread that information through a wider community so that people who are not of faith look at a Catholic and say, ‘What is it about that person that makes them happy as they are?’”

For the younger crowd, the archdiocese of Toronto’s Office of Catholic Youth will be running catechetical events based on the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church and YOUCAT: The Youth Catechism of the Catholic Church.

A solemn opening Mass to launch the Year of Faith will be celebrated by Cardinal Thomas Collins Oct. 14 at St. Paul’s Basilica in Toronto. In addition, Collins will be dedicating this year’s lectio divina programs to a biblical understanding of faith.

For more information on the office of formation for discipleship’s Year of Faith workshops, see www.archtoronto.org/discipleship.

What is the new evangelization?

Since the late Pope John Paul II coined the phrase in an address to Latin American bishops in the late 1970s, Catholic thinkers, writers, theologians and pastors have debated what the new evangelization really means. In the lineamenta sent to more than 200 bishops earlier this year in advance of the synod, Archbishop Nikola Eterovic offers several definitions. Among them:

o The new evangelization is primarily addressed to those who have drifted from the Church in traditionally Christian countries.
o There should also be a dialogue with those to whom religion is something foreign.
o The new evangelization is primarily a spiritual activity to recapture the courage and forcefullness of the first Christians and first missionaries.
o As an evangelizer, the Church begins by evangelizing herself.
o Evangelization is facing new challenges which are putting accepted practices in question and are weakening customary, well-established ways of doing things.
o The Church does not give up or retreat into herself; instead, she undertakes a project to revitalize herself.
o The new evangelization is a frame of mind, a courageous manner of acting.
o A new evangelization means, then, to work in our local churches to devise a plan... to transmit the Gospel of hope in a practical way.... becoming more and more the artisan of the civilization of love.
o A new evangelization also means to have the boldness to raise the question of God in the context of these problems.
o In the end, the expression new evangelization requires finding new approaches to evangelization so as to be Church in today’s ever-changing social and cultural situations.

Marriage Encounter strengthens the relationship

TORONTO - It’s one thing to have a good marriage, it’s another thing to have a great one, and that’s what a Marriage Encounter weekend can offer.

“You really are disconnected from the world for a weekend and investing in your relationship,” said David Adams, co-county co-ordinator for the English Toronto district of Worldwide Marriage Encounter with his wife, Lucy. “Really the basis of the weekend is to help couples learn a communication technique called dialoguing.”

This is done by essentially sequestering a group of couples, in the case of the upcoming Nov. 2-4 weekend at Mississauga’s Four Points Sheraton, and having them discuss specific topics with their significant others.

Each topic is first discussed in front of the group of participating couples by one of the presenting couples who have already completed the regular week and a more intensive training version. These presentations last between 30 and 40 minutes.

Twelve topics of discussion are presented during the weekend after which all participants privately reflect on their personal feelings regarding the topic. These reflections are then shared with the respective spouses.

“It’s more than just the topic, it’s about being able to listen, to get the feelings behind the topic,” said David Adams.

“It’s really about understanding who you each are.”

Topics include defining the type of listener you are, determining the personality of your partner and sex.

“Each topic follows each other so beautifully and by the time you get to the end, which is the sacrament, it’s like this yearning to really almost make that new commitment to each other, that bigger commitment,” said Lucy Adams. “It just gives (couples) a whole program to experience other couples openly sharing their lives and vulnerabilities.”

But it doesn’t end on the Sunday. The group is encouraged to establish a sharing circle.

According to Lucy Adams, about 80 per cent of couples successfully establish these groups with a small percentage of those who do not returning for a second weekend.

These groups meet monthly and practice the dialogue technique. This strengthens the ability to communicate and in turn the marriage.

“It allows couples that were together, in a very condensed and simplified format, to continue that weekend,” said David Adams. “We’d like to see couples continue to be connected with the Worldwide Marriage Encounter community and keep it alive in their marriage.”

Worldwide Marriage Encounter, the facilitating organization of the weekends, began in Spain with Fr. Gabriel Calvo in 1961. By the end of 1967 Marriage Encounter weekends had begun in North America starting in New York. Worldwide Marriage Encounter is active in more than 90 countries, in a variety of languages and focus on different faiths, but all have a consistent format.

“There might be some regional subtleties but the whole format and the desire behind it are consistent,” said David Adams.

Although the weekends co-ordinated by the Adams are Roman Catholic based, inter-faith couples are still encouraged to come — David Adams was an Anglican when he attended in the spring of 1995 but has since converted to the Catholic faith.

For those interested in the November weekend, or one scheduled for April 19-21, call Cora or Mike Bryce at (905) 896-2958.

First NET team established in Quebec

OTTAWA - After 18 years of evangelizing youth across Canada, National Evangelization Teams (NET) Ministries has finally taken hold in Quebec.

Seven youth aged 18-20 will devote the next eight months of their lives to missionary work at Saint-Louis-de-France parish in Terrebonne, Que. There, they hope to bond with parishioners, who will billet them in their own homes, and lay the foundations for an active youth ministry while sharing the Good News and drawing people into a personal relationship with Christ.

“It is an amazing opportunity to be in Quebec and it is certainly missionary territory,” said Joe Vogel, executive director for NET.

NET Ministries already has several English-speaking youth missionary teams across Canada. Vogel explained that “Les equipes NET,” the French-speaking branch of NET, began several years ago as a travelling team which spent one to two weeks in various francophone communities. He likens the visits to planting a “seed” of faith, but in Terrebonne that seed will now be watered and given ample sunshine. The parish team will spend almost a year getting to know the community and its social reality, forming friendships, identifying the needs and wants of the faithful. It aims to organize a youth group, retreats, prayer events, anything to be effective in reaching people’s hearts for Christ. Essentially, the team is there to serve, responding wholeheartedly to the call for new evangelization, after a summer of training.

“We’re praying that it works and we are going to do the best that we can,” said Vogel. “Success would be witnessing the Gospel to young people and seeing lives changed.”

The community at Saint-Louisde-France was eagerly anticipating the NET team’s arrival this month. Micheline Chartrand, a lifetime parishioner, made the trip from Terrebonne to Ottawa on Sept. 29 for the NET Ministries’ Commissioning Mass, where Ottawa Archbishop Terrence Prendergast gave his blessing to all the young missionaries who will scatter across Canada this year.

“My hope is that by the end, we will have a group of youth who will be equipped to train other youth (to evangelize) and that they will experience peace and serenity in their hearts,” said Chartrand, adding that the French travelling team helped revive her faith during its visit more than a year ago.

None of the team members come from Quebec, but all are eager to explore the new mission territory and brush up on language skills at the same time.

“It’s a little intimidating, and humbling, but very exciting,” admits Kaylene McQuaid, originally from North Battleford, Sask. “I took French from Kindergarten until Grade 12, but I kind of took it for granted, and now I see there was definitely a reason why I took French. But being immersed in the culture will help as well.”

Charles Turner, a team member from Alberta, is honoured to live out the new evangelization in uncharted territory.

“We’re really coming out of our comfort zone,” he said.

In addition to Quebeckers, the NET missionaries will also be working directly with five missionary priests from France, members of the Community of Saint John, which was founded in 1975. The religious community of brothers began sending its priests to Quebec 16 years ago.

Fr. Marie Elie joined his brethren in Canada five years ago, with the task of finding the means to breathe life into the faith lives of the youth. Little by little, the priests have been creating opportunities for the youth of their parish to grow in faith and are preparing to send a group to the next World Youth Day. But NET seemed like the answer to their prayers, to give their ministry a boost.

“It is a beautiful opportunity to have young people who are equipped to encounter and engage young Quebeckers. The culture is a difficult one to penetrate, and a difficult one to connect with, and so we know that to succeed in the task we need help to show young Quebeckers that faith is not dead and the Gospel can be a beautiful part of their lives,” said Fr. Marie Elie.

NET missionary Pio Hartnett joins the Quebec team directly from Ireland. This year’s stay in Terrebonne will offer many challenges, but he still feels confident.

“The situation in Quebec reminds me of the situation in Ireland,” said Hartnett. “When I signed up for NET, I thought it would be amazing to be a part of this team... and so I am very excited.”

Success will not come without sacrifice

29th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B) Oct. 21 (Isaiah 53:10-11; Psalm 33; Hebrews 4:14-16; Mark 10:35-45)

Suffering is the world’s oldest and greatest mystery. Philosophers and theologians of all varieties have made attempts to explain it with limited success. Anything that sounds too glib or that serves some particular ideology should be viewed with great suspicion and caution.

Isaiah and his nameless prophetic colleagues had their work cut out for them. They had to explain to the people of Israel why their nation had been destroyed and the people exiled in Babylon. The bigger part of that question was why God — with whom they presumably had a special relationship — had allowed it to happen. Sin, idolatry and laxity in matters of the law provided an answer to the first part of the question. But they also insisted that God had a plan and continued to work for the restoration of the people and nation even in Babylonian exile. The suffering that they had experienced was for cleansing and renewal. There would have to be a collective conversion of minds and hearts and a commitment to follow the ways of God carefully and zealously.

There was a problem — a fair number of the exiles were not only resigned to their fate but were quite comfortable and content in Babylon since they did not suffer any significant degree of cruelty or oppression. The prophets worked overtime to rouse the exiled community and reignite the fire of devotion to Israel’s God. They may have been persecuted by their own for their troubles for the suffering servant figure appears as an anonymous exile who suffered greatly for his teachings and prophetic efforts. The important part of the prophecy was the assurance that the suffering was temporary and that the vision of light — a restored Israel — gave strength and courage to the servant. Things of lasting and noble value are worth suffering for and we have the witnesses of countless saints, visionaries, reformers and other leaders who have given their comfort and even their lives for the sake of others. Suffering is never good for its own sake but only when it has purpose and meaning.

Redemptive suffering was most clearly demonstrated in the life of Jesus. His exalted status and His ability to be our advocate and guide was based firmly on His life of sacrifice. Jesus “paid His dues” by becoming human with all of its limitations and being tested in every way. He experienced pain, loneliness, grief, betrayal, fatigue and disappointment. By standing firm in His obedience to the Father and practising unceasing love He rose above temptations and became our compassionate high priest.

Our culture, as well as our economic and political systems, thrive on promising people something for nothing. No taxes, instant weight loss without dieting and exercise and fabulous rates of interest on investments at no risk are fine examples of this mentality. Success without sacrifice is an illusion, and James and John fell for it. They were enamored with the power that Jesus seemed to wield as well as His talk of the kingdom of God. Visions of glory and fancy titles probably filled their heads as they anticipated basking in the Lord’s glory.

The two ambitious apostles approached Jesus and made a request that probably disappointed Him deeply — they wanted the places of honour at the right and left of Jesus in His state of glory. They clearly had not understood His teachings. He pointed out that status in God’s kingdom means being least in the human realm. The exaltation of Jesus was a consequence of His being willing to give His life as a ransom for many. Jesus went on to inform them that He was not in a position to hand out places of honour for it was entirely up to God. They had to be willing to follow in His footsteps with only love as motivation, even to the cross itself.

James and John were just a little too quick in their insistence that they were able to embrace the baptism of suffering that Jesus was about to endure and even then Jesus did not promise them glory. Perhaps they should have added, “With the grace of God.” True spiritual advancement only occurs when we are willing to let go of self-interest, notions of honour and status and selfish ego. Voluntary “downward mobility” is the path to the Kingdom of God.

Wisdom requires an open mind

28th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B) Oct. 14 (Wisdom 7:7-11; Psalm 90; Hebrews 4:12-13; Mark 10:17-30)

It would appear that gold, oil, stocks, natural resources and other precious commodities make the world go around. Indeed, people have been killing one another cheerfully for millennia in order to possess more.

Things that glitter can drive people to absolute madness. In the Wisdom tradition of the Old Testament, there is something that makes all of these things seem worthless in comparison and is more valuable than even health, beauty and power. This is wisdom, and it is not to be confused with knowledge or cleverness. There are those who have been educated far beyond their intellectual or emotional intelligence and others who use intelligence for immoral or evil ends. Wisdom, on the other hand, is something that most of us have fervently hoped for at times — the ability to know what is right, especially when there are many conflicting choices. The one endowed with the divine gift of wisdom remains focused on a path that combines justice, compassion, generosity of spirit and a God-centred mind and heart. We recognize these rare individuals as sages, saints, humanitarians and great statesmen and rulers. We probably know far more of them that are not in the history books, such as certain friends, relatives, teachers and others who have been influential in our lives. The wise person is often the one to whom we turn for advice or to ask the deeper questions of life.

Wisdom does not come easily — it requires humility, an open and seeking mind, thoughtful reflection and prayer. Life and its many experiences is the best teacher. Above all, wisdom will often urge us on a path of action that might be at odds with culture, traditions and the opinions of others. The most difficult part of gaining wisdom is not letting it be eroded or whittled away by the many pressures and negative voices that the world can exert.

A piercing and cutting two-edged sword is a strange metaphor to use for the Word of God. There is an obvious danger in violent and militant religious symbolism. But its uncompromising, levelling and unmasking qualities are certainly correct. “Word” means far more than what is written on a page. It is God’s communication with humanity and it can reach us by many paths. The recent pastoral letter Verbum Domini points out that God’s Word can be expressed in salvation history, events, inspired speech, messengers such as the prophets, art, music and, most of all, Jesus who was Himself God’s Word. A genuine expression of God’s Word does not confirm the status quo or allow hypocrisy and self-delusion. It can be painful and disconcerting but it also transforms and gives life and it is most effective when applied rigourously to our own life rather than used against others.

These qualities of the Word were evident in the story of the rich young man in the Gospel. Jesus the Word brushed aside the young man’s attempt at ingratiating flattery and pointed out that he already had the answer to his question concerning eternal life: he should practice the principles of his religion. The rich man had a nagging sense that there was something more. Jesus did not judge him — in fact, He looked on him with love while at the same time piercing through all of the man’s defenses and self-delusions. Jesus saw that the man derived his identity and security from his wealth as well as his ability to control his own destiny. Jesus invited the man — if he really wanted to move to a new spiritual level — to leave it all behind. By giving the wealth to the poor and following Jesus he would discover his true self and would really learn what it meant to rely on God and be led by the Spirit. It was too much for the rich man to handle all at once and he went away shocked and sad, causing Jesus to comment on how difficult it was for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God.

Maybe the man had a change of heart later on — after all, with God all things are possible. Renunciation and discipleship is foolishness in worldly eyes, but as Jesus reassured Peter those who do so receive far more than they have given. Freedom, happiness and letting go are different ways of saying the same thing.

Christ fills our hunger through the Scriptures

Questioning Faith

Once, a parish priest asked me and my brother if we would offer a Bible study in the nearby seniors’ home. We invited all residents to an afternoon series in their lounge. Two or three showed up regularly, but nobody else. What were we doing wrong? Why didn’t they like us?

Finally one of the attendees, who was Protestant, acknowledged to us: “They wanted to come because they like this sort of thing, but they couldn’t understand why anybody would send Catholics to do a Bible study.” This took the pressure off!

Though it cherishes a sacred book, Christianity is not a religion of the book. It’s a way, “the way,” to use one of its earliest names. It offers life through encounter with One who is the door to life. Why then does the Church have a special book (or rather, collection of books) that it considers sacred? Where did it come from, and what are we supposed to do with it?

The Church considers the Scriptures “inspired.” Perhaps this makes them seem distant, reserved for the learned few. We may want to get closer to them, without knowing the way (which, at times, is how we feel about God, too). On Oct. 18, we celebrate the feast of St. Luke, one of the four evangelists. Luke, tradition says, was a physician and knew the Mother of God. The first semester of my theological studies included a class assignment to read a Gospel from start to finish. Because the feast day was nearby, I chose Luke’s Gospel; the experience was moving and educational. I discovered somebody behind the Scripture texts. I’d always been taught God was behind them, but now I began to see and hear a human writer. Could it be that God and Luke were writing together?

What a combination — a collaboration between God and a human, in which I could join. It was like being part of a conversation and discovering that in the process, you were getting to know God. So I learned that if the Bible is inspired, that doesn’t put it far away from me, but brings it close. It’s for me, for all of us (including Catholics)!

But what does it mean to say the Bible is inspired?

The other day I saw a photograph of a nice-looking young man. A self-portrait, it showed him wearing a black, short-sleeved T-shirt and black shorts, sitting on a column like a Greek hero. His figure exuded strength and compassion. Noteworthy, but not dominant, was the lack of three limbs, though the bare scarred skin was unabashedly visible.

While on assignment in Afghanistan in 2011, photographer Giles Duley accidentally triggered an explosive device. He endured the amputation of both feet and one hand, and resumed his photography career. Differently. He explains there are things he can’t do any more, such as keep his balance while looking through a viewfinder, and some things he can do in ways he couldn’t before, such as “focus even more on the connection with people.”

Duley’s story was inspiring to me. I imagined how I might respond to similar losses, reflected on the strength of his spirit, the human capacity to transcend itself, how it often falls short but at times rises to glory. His story, his person, evoked a deep response in me.

There are degrees of inspiration. We wouldn’t say the photograph is inspired to the degree the Bible is. We hope the inspiration we get from many things will help us learn to encounter the Spirit in the Bible, where of all books He is most meetable.

The word “inspire” means to “breathe into.” For Christians, it’s a deeply laden word with profound meaning. It reminds us that God “breathed into (Adam’s) nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being” (Genesis 2:7). It’s the truth of our humanness, that held within us like a treasure is the living Spirit of God. The Mother of God is the archetype of inspiration, so open to God’s Spirit that the Word can take flesh within her.

“Inspiration” is not a thing, but a relationship. God breathed into Adam, but Adam also started to breathe. Scripture’s authors were inspired by God, but we too, people who read, study and pray with the Scriptures, find God’s Spirit within us helping us to understand them — we, too, are inspired. That’s why the Scriptures are the books of the Church, though the Church is not a religion based on books. It’s based on a relationship between God and us.

We need this sort of inspiration in our day-to-day lives. Otherwise we get anxious, like a tiny child whose parent is out of sight. The Scriptures help bring us into the ongoing dialogue between God and humanity, in our present affliction and struggle. They’re a unique place of encounter with God. The dialogue between God and humanity becomes a person. It’s this person whom we encounter in the Scriptures, Christ who alone fills our hunger.

All are equal in the eye of the Lord

27th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B) Oct. 7 (Genesis 2:7, 15, 18-24; Psalm 128; Hebrews 2:9-11; Mark 10:2-16)

People have always asked “why,” “where” and “how” questions. Little children are great at asking these sorts of questions as any parent knows all too well. The ancient Hebrews asked the usual things: where do people come from, why are men and women different, and why do people unite in marriage and raise children? They borrowed freely from the creation and origin myths of the neighbours but always gave them a very different slant — one that emphasized creation as an act of love on the part of a unique transcendent God.

The description of the creation of the first humans does not fall in the realm of science and it should not be taken literally. It answers the “why” sort of question — it gives meaning to life and points to God as our origin. God is the author and giver of the life and breath that animates us. Naming things in the biblical world implies exercising power over them, but it also shows that humans play an important role in the story of the Earth. It also implies responsibility — exercising dominion does not mean exploitation, waste and wanton cruelty.

Bad exegesis makes for bad theology, and there has been more than a bit of dubious theology based on the creation of woman from Adam’s rib. Much of it was influenced by the ancient world’s view of woman as an incomplete or defective version of man and that view has played a part in the subjugation of women over the centuries. Looking at the passage from a very different angle we can arrive at a life-enhancing interpretation. Both the man and the woman are depicted as having a common origin and essence. Unity and harmony rather than subordination and dominance express our true nature. Ideologies and theologies that result in exclusion or domination usually do not stand up under careful, honest and informed analysis of traditions.

Hebrews is a rather difficult theological treatise that carries Paul’s name but was most likely not written by him. It is filled not only with beautiful imagery but challenging statements about Jesus and about us. Jesus voluntarily assumed the limitations of humanity on our behalf and was exalted because of His suffering and death. The author insists that God made Jesus perfect through these sufferings. This should be taken seriously and be understood as the development of the humanity of Jesus. Even more intriguing is the statement that both Jesus and those who follow Him spring from the same source and that Jesus was the “pioneer” — the trailblazer — preparing the way for many to follow. He did not come to be worshipped but to be joined by those He is not at all ashamed to call brothers and sisters. Our relationship with Jesus is one of friendship and solidarity.

The passage on divorce is one of those very hard sayings in the New Testament. Most people are in some manner acquainted with the pain of those who suffer from broken marriages. It was not intended to bind people to abusive partners or toxic relationships but to create conditions for a happy and fruitful life together. Perhaps it is fruitful to approach the reading from a different angle as with the reading from Genesis. Instead of asking what it prohibits we can ask what it affirms. The answer is simple: all people are equal in worth and dignity. No one may be used, viewed as property or treated in a calloused manner. This may sound obvious but to many long ago (and far too many today) it was new and unwelcome news.

Note that the initial question posed to Jesus revolved around the permissibility of a man divorcing his wife — not the other way around. Women were often treated as chattel and once dismissed from a marriage a woman’s place in society and ability to survive were precarious. Jesus was clear that marriage is a relationship between equals and highlighted its spiritual and unitive nature rather than contractual or utilitarian aspects. We can hope and strive to obtain this ideal. At the same time, human weakness and a host of other influences often stand in the way. In these instances, compassion and the insistence of Jesus, illustrated in His welcome of the children that no one be hindered from approaching Him, should be the guiding principles.

There are no shortcuts to the Lord

Love, patience, humility and service each day will pave the way

26th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B) Sept. 30 (Numbers 11:25-29; Psalm 19; James 5:1-6; Mark 9:38-43, 45, 47-48)

The craving for power and control is at the heart of much human misery. Domination and exclusion go hand in hand with this desire and this is even more the case in the realm of the spirit. Religion is often used to manage people and societies and to define who is “in” and who is “out.”

Ironically, God is most generous with spiritual gifts — no one can ever accuse God of stinginess. In the reading from Numbers, Moses shared some of God’s Spirit that he had received with 70 elders of Israel — clearly a division and sharing of power. It was evident that the Spirit came upon them for they began to prophesy. Two of the group who were late and had missed out — this happens with any group — began to prophesy in camp. The reaction of Moses’ assistants was immediate and as expected: stop them! We can’t have this — they didn’t follow the rules and they weren’t here! Moses was neither impressed with their protests nor swayed. In fact, he chided the overzealous assistants. Why should they be jealous on his behalf? He didn’t feel the least bit threatened — in fact, he mused aloud that it would be wonderful if everyone in Israel were a prophet and had God’s Spirit within them.

The Spirit of God was poured out later on the first generation of believers in Jesus — on everyone, all flesh — as a fulfillment of a prophetic promise. Experiencing the indwelling of the Spirit of God and being able to give voice to the inspirations that it stirs within us is our birthright. Tragically it is one of the first gifts of God that we toss away, ignore or allow others to take from us.

No one owns or controls the Spirit of God, and as Scripture teaches us, the Spirit has a mind of its own and blows wherever it wills, often taking reluctant and protesting believers along for the ride.

Economic injustice is nothing new, even if it seems to be in the news more often. The author of James has something to tell us — something that Christians have not always been willing to hear: economic injustice is a spiritual issue. James’ rant against the wealthy was not because of their wealth but for the manner in which it was acquired. Defrauding the workers of their wages was regarded as dangerously close to murder in gravity.

We have our own examples of such fraud: the loss of life savings due to shady trading practices, the raiding and squandering of employee pension funds, as well as the bonuses and golden parachutes for some of those responsible. The letter of James is not as Luther claimed an “epistle of straw” but an epistle that we should all take to heart.

The same spiritual possessiveness noted in the first reading was alive and well among the disciples of Jesus. They were upset and outraged that someone who was not of their group was casting out demons in His name. After all, they had exclusive rights! Just as in the case of Moses, Jesus was unconcerned. If someone was inspired by His example and teachings enough to do good things in His name more power to them! The gifts of God’s Spirit will be given to those who have prepared their hearts and minds to receive it despite the label they may carry.

It is interesting that this was followed by some rather jarring language about people cutting off their hands and feet and gouging out their eyes. Biblical literalists pass over these words in silence and look for more congenial verses. This hyperbolic shock language is standard fare in biblical writings. It is meant to make a dramatic, stark and urgent point — in this case, the need for radical self-surgery if we are not comfortable with the type of person we have become.

Things will not “just work out,” nor will any divine intervention change our personality, character and level of spiritual growth — it doesn’t just happen. Opportunities will certainly be provided, but it remains to us to put into practice the necessary spiritual principles for transformation. There are no shortcuts, just the practical lessons of love, patience, humility and service each day.