During this Jubilee Year of Mercy, Pope Francis has been reminding us of the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy. Most of us (myself included) are not too familiar with them, so I thought that we could explore the meaning of them during this Lenten season.
The first three corporal works of mercy are feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty and clothe the naked. We are encouraged to assist in these works of charity each year at Christmas when there are food drives, collections in the subway, or solicitations that we receive in the mail.
But the poor need these things everyday and we need to remember them all year around. Last week I had mentioned that one form of almsgiving or giving to charity is to volunteer of our time, instead of giving money or articles to charity. We can give of our time to prepare food for the needy, or work in a food bank distributing food to those who come. Just to sit down and have a cup of coffee with the recipients at a food bank and listen to their stories is feeding them nourishment.
When we enter into contact and engage with those who are in need, we begin to change ourselves and to see Christ in them. To see Christ in the other person, especially the poor is to identify with some of the poverty within our own selves. My own encounters with refugees and other persons who request help and charity have been very life giving. The adversity that they have encountered gives them a wisdom that I admire. Many of them have a courage and sense of perseverance that I do not see in too many people. I know that I have a lot to learn about life.
Are you sensing a desire to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty or clothe the naked this Lenten season? There are many creative ways to help others. Let us hear your stories.
Here is a video on Almsgiving and Joy.
Lent begins this coming Wednesday and the traditional way of entering this season of reflection is to receive ashes. Receiving ashes on our forehead is a sign of our desire to change our hearts and come to know Jesus better. It is a practice that dates back to ancient times.
But what if this year we were to enter the season of Lent with a sense of adventure and discover how we could enhance our relationship with God and with our neighbour? Can we cultivate that sense of excitement and trepidation that an adventure brings? As in any adventure, there is a sense of the unknown, that which we cannot control. There will be surprises.
In preparing ourselves to fully benefit of the experience, we must get our hearts ready. For the Lenten adventure, the ancients practiced almsgiving, fasting and prayer. Almsgiving helps us to focus on the needs of others, so this may mean donating money to a charity or giving of our time to volunteer to help someone or an organization.
Fasting helps us to focus on our spiritual life and less on our wants. It is like a shift in gears to keep our train of thoughts turned towards God and what God may be communicating to us.
Last but not least, there is prayer. Prayer is our connection with God. As in any relationship, we need to communicate with God, that is to speak with God, but to also be listening to what God has to say to us.
Some suggestions for praying online in Lent are:
The American Jesuits are proposing 10 different ways to walk through Lent in Ignatian Spirituality
The Franciscans have a site called Busted Halo which offers some Lenten resources
If you are more interested in going to attend a prayer retreat, the diocese is planning a Lenten mission
You may have your own ideas for almsgiving, prayer and fasting. Attending an Ash Wednesday celebration at your closest church can help you to enter the adventure with greater intentionality. But what is most important is to enter the adventure with God, you never know what may happen!
My first week at St. Benedict concluded on January 12th with the celebration of the memorial of St. Marguerite Bourgeois. This past weekend, marked the end of my first month in Nova Scotia. I celebrated mass in two towns, Hammond’s Plain and Upper Tantallon, both are part of the newly formed parish of St. Marguerite Bourgeois. They are in the process of building a new church as these communities merge to form one parish in a part of the province that is becoming a bedroom community for the greater Halifax region, HRM, as it is known here. I mentioned in these mass centers just how pleased I was, as a proud Montrealer, to come to Nova Scotia and be able to celebrate mass in a parish named in honour of one of the foundresses of my hometown. St. Marguerite Bourgeois, being the foundress of the first school in Montreal, also would have visited her sisters who taught in the towers on Fort and Sherbrooke street which are now part of the grounds of the Grand Seminary in Montreal, the seminary I attended.
Marguerite came over to Ville-Marie, as Montreal was then known, in 1653 in order to help educate the young girls of the newly founded city. She also founded one of the first un-cloistered order of nuns in the Catholic church. This refers to religious sisters who could travel freely outside of their convent and interact and minister to every person, not exclusively those who came into the convent. She is one of the most important figures in the founding and building up of the city of Montreal, let alone the building up of the Catholic church in the city. When the Society of Notre-Dame of Montreal decided to found and fund the settlement on the island Montreal at the base of Mount-Royal. They dedicated the colony to the Virgin Mary and thus named the settlement Ville-Marie. It was expressly intended to be a missionary settlement, where people lived under the Christian ethos in order to be a beacon of light and hope to those who had not yet heard the Gospel message. It was to be an evangelizing presence in New France, and consequently in the New World. Marguerite Bourgeois, along with Jeanne Mance, and Angelique de Bullions, are among the women who played key roles in establishing the settlement of Ville-Marie, and trying to fulfill the vision of the Society of Notre-Dame de Montreal.
In the early 20th century Quebec sent thousands upon thousands of missionary priests and nuns throughout the world, among them were hundreds of nuns from the Congregation Notre Dame, the order founded by St. Marguerite Bourgeois. It seems Marguerite’s vision was being fulfilled. Yet today this missionary nature of my hometown has seemingly been abandoned. It needs to be reclaimed. And that reclamation need not be the purview of nuns and clergy. The Society of Notre-Dame de Montreal had clergy, nuns, and lay men and women as its members. The laity need to reclaim their own missionary role so that the Church in Montreal can once again be an evangelizing presence to a city and province sorely in need of hearing the Good News.
How do we do that? In the past when a missionary arrived in a place and culture that had not heard the Gospel, it is my understanding that they spent time learning the culture, learning about the people and their religious and civil practices and rituals. And it would have been absolutely essential that the missionary learn the language. In doing so they would not only be able to communicate the Gospel to people, but they would also have been able to take what is good and noble and life-affirming in that culture and frame it in a Christian context. This would not only help in transmitting the beauty of the faith to people, but would ultimately enrich the Church. Think of the beauty of the traditional Huron Carol, originally written by St. John Brebeuf in the Huron language. This hymn adapts the Nativity story to the native culture and celebrates their traditions along with the Christmas message of a God who so loved the world that he sent his only-begotten Son. It is a wonderful example of how Christianity is enriched when we open ourselves up to other cultural influences.
So what does this have to do with what I am witnessing at St. Benedict parish in Nova Scotia? This parish is making a decided attempt to become a missionary parish, a parish that seeks to bring the Christian message to an increasingly post-Christian society. I see some of those same core missionary principles at work in what they do. They seek to understand their surrounding culture, understand the rituals and traditions in their community, and they have learnt the language of the society. And they have appropriated what is good and noble and life-affirming in the surrounding culture. In the process I believe they are enriching the Church.
I will go into more depth in the weeks to come concerning the details of this. But St. Benedict has a decidedly corporate mentality and language that is spoken among their staff and leadership. They use corporate leadership strategies and processes in order to ensure that they stay focused on their ultimate mission. They set measurable and definable goals for teams and individuals, and surprisingly in the Church that I know, they hold people to those goals. They seek to quantify success and strive to achieve it. In short, they have taken what is best about the corporate world and culture and brought it into the Church.
If we realize that a corporation refers to the forming of a legal person, although made up of many people, that is able to act in the world as an independent and unified entity. The word originates from the Latin word Corpus, meaning a body, or body or persons. Is this so far off from the idea of Church that Saint Paul first proposed when he called us the Body of Christ, meaning the body of people who form the Church to act as a unified entity in order to manifest Christ’s enduring presence in the world? Would it not then be appropriate to discover the best practices and language found among some of the healthiest and innovative corporations in the world and use them in the Church, the corporation of Christ.
I know that this frightens some people, that some might see this as de-humanizing the Church in some way. But is it really? Here I am referring only to healthy and innovative companies, companies that seem to have employees who are enthusiastic about the role they play in the company mission. They have dedicated sales forces who have bought into the vision and invest their time, talent and yes their treasure too (think stock options) into accomplishing that mission. It can be an enriching and rewarding experience to be an employee as well as a client of a company like that. And for people who either work for or with them it can be something that is life-affirming. Is that not something we would all love to experience. For those who’ve been lucky enough to work for, or deal with a company like that, does it not lead to a desire to deepen that relationship and be loyal and enthusiastically vocal advocates of their product or service. Why should the Church not learn from those companies and in fact embrace the best practices of the corporate world, adapting them to suit her mission.
Our product, salvation, is so critical to the world. Wouldn’t we want our leaders, our members and ministers to be enthusiastically vocal advocates for what we have to offer? St. Benedict seems to have bought into the notion that we can learn to be more missionary by using the language and practices found in healthy and innovative corporations, be they companies or churches. They are not simply dealing with those who come into the local church, they are un-cloistering themselves and interacting and ministering to their community at large. To do this requires trust; trust in their vision and their product, but also trust that what is good and life affirming in the world fundamentally must come from God and thus can be used for the building up of the Church. They are trying, in their way, to fulfill St. Marguerite’s vision.
St. Marguerite Bourgeois…pray for us.
What would it be like to receive a beautiful gift, but never to use that gift? In 1Corinthians 12:12-30, we are reminded that we all have gifts, making each of us special and loved by God. To look at our gifts or qualities and use them to serve others is to actively participate in God’s creation. It is a daily invitation to become the person we were created to be.
Sometimes we are not aware of our gifts. They may be revealed to us through others who know us well and have our best interests at heart. It is surprising to hear what others have noticed about us. Good friends generally can be very helpful in identifying qualities we have that we may not have become aware of ourselves.
When we do not use it or develop our qualities, a gift becomes stale or can even be lost. Fear can prevent us from developing our gifts. Support from those who love us help to overcome our fears. Everyone has something to contribute to the world in their own individual way. Like the snowflake, each one of us is different and unique.
A story of someone who has persevered in using her gift and has often inspired me is the story of Malala, the young Pakistani girl who spoke out for the education of girls in her country. She was physically attacked for her views, but even after this threat to her life, she continues to use her gifts to serve others. Her courage has inspired young women to continue to seek education in her country. She is now studying to be a doctor to better serve her community.
Not all of us have to face the hardships that Malala has, but we do need to make our own contribution to the world we live in.
Have you discovered a special gift that you have been given by God? How do you use it to serve your community?
In my previous post I reflected on the critical need for parish renewal in order to truly focus on the mission of the Church; to bring people to Jesus Christ. The question becomes do we truly believe that should be our purpose, are we convinced that bringing people to Christ is necessary for salvation? Do we believe Jesus when he said “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” (John 3:16) Do we believe that knowing Christ is that essential, that critical to our salvation? Because if it is, then why do we hesitate in wanting our family, our friends and neighbours, indeed our entire community to know Christ for themselves. Are we hoping to be the only ones to have eternal life, thinking we’ll get God all to ourselves?
The more likely reason is that we are not entirely convinced of the absolute necessity of having that personal relationship with Christ in order to be saved. If that is the case then we need to be evangelized, we need to continue down this ongoing path of conversion. I say this realizing that I need conversion too, that I need to become a more ardent follower of Christ in order to bring to fruition what the Lord is asking me to do as his priest; preach the Word of God, celebrate the sacraments, and lead the people.
I know this is the role of the priest. I know this is what has been taught by the Church in the Second Vatican Council (see “Presbyterorum Ordinis, On the Ministry and Life of Priests”, no. 4-6). I know it has been reaffirmed since that time in numerous magisterial documents. I even learnt this in the seminary. The question becomes is this how I have been exercising my priesthood? The answer is ‘well sort of.’
The Gospel story this past Sunday recounts the time when Jesus is at a wedding and he miraculously turns several jugs of water into wine. As I listened to the story, I began to think of the impact of that gesture of Jesus on the guests at the wedding and the wedding party.
One might think that oh yes, now they would have enough wine to get drunk on, but if we think about it in a different way, how does wine affect a meal? For one, wine with a meal and friends enhances the flavors of the meal. There is now a zest added to the meal helping to appreciate the textures and the different flavors and aromas of the food. My own experience is that wine slows us down so that we do not eat as fast and can better appreciate the food and the rest of the meal.
Speak to any wine enthusiasts and they will tell you that wine invites us to engage all of our senses. There is the color of the wine whether it be white or red or pink, but also the various shades and intensities indicate the ingredients of the wine. Our sense of smell is also touched as we swill it in the glass and sniff the aromas that the wine sends out. And finally the taste of the wine as we gently let the wine enter our mouths and we let our taste buds appreciate the flavor of the wine as we eat our food.
Life in the spirit with God brings zest and energy to our lives. Jesus shows us the face of God. He turned water into wine at the Wedding at Cana. God takes the water of our lives and changes it into a life of meaning and desire. He changes it into a life rich with intensity and joy. A relationship with God truly changes life. We learn to slow down and savor the events that occur and see God’s presence in the everyday. God invites us to experience his love and mercy.
What has been your experience of God? How has it changed your life? In what way is Jesus offering to change the water of your life into a life rich like wine?
“Christians who say “it’s always been done that way,” and stop there have hearts closed to the surprises of the Holy Spirit. They are idolaters and rebels will never arrive at the fullness of the truth…May the Lord grant us the grace of an open heart, of a heart open to the voice of the Spirit, which knows how to discern what should not change, because it is fundamental, from what should change in order to be able to receive the newness of the Spirit.”
-Pope Francis, homily January 18, 2016
I am Fr. Michael Leclerc, two weeks ago I was in charge of St. Ignatius of Loyola parish in NDG. This was the parish I grew up in, where many of my friends still resided, where my mother still attends. This is the place where I was most comfortable, most at home. However upon my arrival at St. Ignatius I felt some unease, I knew that this wasn’t the vibrant parish of my youth. I knew that this parish had been ageing, that attendance had been on the decline since I was last a parishioner there in the early 1990’s, and I quickly learnt that the only thing keeping the parish financially solvent was the rental of the parish hall to Concordia university five days a week. I quickly understood that renewal was necessary for this parish, in fact I came to understand that a change in the parish culture was becoming an existential matter. Jesus said “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10) How I want my parish to embrace the abundance of life Christ has given us.
A few days ago, in a discussion with friends, one person spoke about how God made each of us in his image and likeness. In view of that, she reminded us that every person we meet will teach us something about God. I realized that I forget to see the image of God in others when I judge them, categorize them or look at them through only one lens. God is always inviting us to be open to him through others and that includes the stranger.
In our current situation as a host country to the many refugees coming from the Middle East, we risk doing the same when we only see them through the eyes of the media or people who have already pegged them as persons not to be trusted. Jesus was once also a refugee when the Holy Family had to flee from Bethlehem to go to Egypt. As people of faith, God can be encountered in the refugee or the stranger.
How can that happen? First of all, it is important to see the good in them, their qualities and strengths. In my own encounters with refugees, I have seen that a refugee only leaves their country because they want a better life for themselves and their family. They are most often very grateful for being offered refuge and safety. Refugees have left their own countries only because of war, threats to their safety or poverty. If we were in their shoes, we would want to do the same.
There are many opportunities to pray as a community for those who whose lives are being upheaved and forced to flee their countries. On January 17, there is a meeting for the World Day of Migrants and Refugees being held at the St. Sauveur Melkite Catholic Cathedral in Montreal. Follow the link for more details.
The face of God shines through all those who are different from ourselves. Our society can only become enriched as we welcome refugees as our brothers and sisters of the world.
“Jesus Christ is the face of the Father’s mercy”. So begins the document, written by Pope Francis, proclaiming the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy which began December 8, 2015 and ends a year later. During this time, Pope Francis asks us to be witnesses in a more deeper way to the mercy of God’s love. In Montreal, several churches have created a Holy Door as a testimony to God’s mercy and love.
What does mercy really mean? The dictionary equates mercy with compassion after an offence has been done, that is to be with another in a loving way even when that love is difficult. In the concrete, mercy is to offer forgiveness.
In the Gazette newspaper this week, I read about a beautiful story of mercy. The events surround two women who have become a beacon of support to each other. What is so incredible is that the son of one of the women, had murdered the son of the other woman, in an act of revenge and anger. The act of mercy offered by the murdered son’s mother became a witness of love for both families affected and as time went on, both families reconciled.
Does this mean that the murdered man’s mother loved her son less? No, but she knew that to hold onto a grudge would become more toxic to her and her family than to offer mercy to the murderer’s mother and family. She also realized that the murderer’s mother was not responsible for her son’s actions. She was a true instrument of healing for the family and the community they lived in.
We all need to experience the virtue of mercy. Sometimes it is even difficult to accept the mercy of another. When we do, we need to look deep into our heart to recognize the gesture of love that we are receiving.
Can you remember a time when you have experienced the mercy of another? What changed for you? Were you able to experience the mercy of God?
How was it for me being a Christian in a professional theatre program in CEGEP? Let me spell it out for you: H – A – R – D! On the other hand, it was not impossible, but possible only by God’s grace, prayer, being around Christians and keeping myself involved in as many activities in school and getting to know as many people as possible just by talking to them and getting to know them. Being a young adult in CEGEP is a good time period to exercise one’s spiritual fervor in serving the Lord (Rm 12:11). Whether it is in volunteer work, bringing food for the events hosted by a Christian group in CEGEP or praying for another believer regularly can be ways in serving the Lord by serving his children.
I was fortunate enough that I had teachers that did not condemn me – nor give me a bad grade if I mentioned God in a philosophy paper (i.e. for being Christian). I had teachers that even respected me for my beliefs. I have also had the pleasure of going to the church of one of my theatre professors and seeing the fruit of her directing a small play with some of the members of the church. I even had opportunities to pray for my classmates and professors in the theater program.
It was a great experience to be challenged and grow in my Christian faith during my years in CEGEP. Letting God use me in the smallest of ways: Being at the Dawson Christian Fellowship room when one was seeking a place to be welcomed by other students, meeting Christians in a French class, overhearing a Christian having a conversation with an atheist and desiring to see that Christian again and then having God make it happen! I was able to be myself and was able to start conversations with friends simply by saying, ‘‘I am well by the grace of God’’ when one would ask me how I was doing.