Sunday, March 27, 2011


Anyone who has seriously taken theatre acting classes knows that the text of most plays does not contain a detailed background story on the character you are about to portray.
You study the lines you are to read/speak, the actions, the inter-action with other characters and develop our own background of the character which you keep within you as you act on stage.
Ever since I began Mass preparation for this 3rd Sunday of Lent, with the Gospel of the Samaritan Woman, I have posed to my heart, mind, imagination, as really wanting to know her, the simple question: Who is she?
The more I have come to know her the more I have come to understand she is me – perhaps you too.
The more I have ‘learned’ about her, the greater the urgency within me to approach the well, to meet the man sitting there.
 The longer I linger with Him at the well, paradoxically, the more, it seems, He wants me to not so much ‘take’ His place as be myself ‘in’ Him as place for others.
So who is she to me and how then is she me?
When I was a boy growing up in the last years of, and the years immediately after WWII, I lived in a poor neighbourhood where there were many widows – older ones from WWI, younger ones of WWII, and some women who simply had been abandoned.
There were of course married women with children besides the widows, some of whom had children, and there were single women many of whom, as munitions production and other direct war work slowed down returned to offices or department stores or what is often referred to as the world’s oldest profession.
So I know all those women of my childhood, and the women of my youth, university and working days, women who worked or taught in the seminary, women from the various parishes I was assigned to, women who come to the soup kitchen – yes somehow each of these women, my beloved sisters in Christ, somehow are part of the answer to: who is she?
Clearly in her deep personal history as a child and young girl events unfolded, things happened which disordered her personality so that her ability to form covenant with a man eludes her – likewise then she is not perceived by the other women as someone they wish to be close to. She is not part of the unique communal experience of women working, moving, walking to the well as a group inter-connected, chatting, empathizing with one another, affirming and encouraging one another, looking out for one another.
The other women both fear and disdain her – yet there is goodness about her.
She can be counted on because no matter how they treat her, if any of the other women is ill, she is there to serve; if any of the other women need help hauling the water, working the fields, tending the children she is always there.
True her unspoken motive is this desperate need for acceptance, to be part of, and she well knows that will never happen, that once she has fulfilled the need which had them allow her to approach she will be cast aside again, for she is obviously too needy – well just look at all the men she goes with!
How then is she me?
My covenant relationship is with Jesus, as a priest – but I am a human being just like my sister at the well and like her I have a back-story, the scars/wounds of which, to be honest about it, are not yet completely healed – and so, for example, when I am under stress I am extremely needy and seek affirmation and acceptance.
The trouble with following my outcast and lonely sister in the quest for water at the well is we end up finding a man is sitting there, a man whom at first we do not recognize and expect from him more of the pain we have grown used to even, while deep in our beings, because there is something about him different from others, the old yearning for affirmation, to be loved really, aches beyond belief!
Of course he starts off by asking to be taken care of.
Well we’re used to that.
Everyone accepts us while do as they ask.
But my sister, this time, perhaps has just had enough, or the sum pain of her life has finally started to overflow the brim of her being, because her reaction and words are not of the desperate-to-be-given-a crumb of acceptance, normally her response, but a challenge, a ‘How dare you’ barely couched in defining the prevailing social mores.
He is different.
He does not respond in kind.
This is not what she is/I am, used to.
He speaks tenderly, offers gift – a gift which contains within all the healing, all the dignity, all the affirmation, all the love ever yearned for!
I look at my sister, so weighed down with so much, her wounded heart so heavy she is as one who moves bent over, yet as He speaks she is transformed before my eyes and quiet dignity, a glow of joy, a straightness of being, a lightness of heart take hold.
Then she is gone!
She has run to where she came from, to speak about the One whom she has met.
Now, it is just He and I.
He invites me to sit with Him, to ask Him, the question: Who is she?
His answer is telling, but not as I expect, for He tells me nothing about her, nor really about me, but about everyone else!
He tells without words, shows really, countless people!
Some are intimately close to me heart and He shows me how much of her is in them – how blind I have been to that.
He shows me others whom I know but am not close to. People I meet on the bus or in the neighbourhood or the soup kitchen or see in news reports about Japan or Libya or……“She” is everywhere!
I get it – well am starting to get it.
True Jesus revealed His thirst first but that disappears quickly, His apparent thirst, because His real thirst is for her, His daughter, a soul in need of His gift.
Ah, Jesus – I am so in bondage to my own thirstiness I have forgotten my prime thirst should be for You, yes – but should be Yours for others too!
That is why You have me sitting here, showing me I will only be slaked if I forget my need and thirst to satisfy the need which is hers/others/Yours.
Now I understand why You have shown me she is present in everyone.
[John 4:5-42]

Sunday, March 20, 2011


Among the day’s emails was one from a seminarian who, like most of us this Lent, even though we have begun week two in the splendour and light of the Transfiguration, seem to be more aware of shadows than of light, of uncertainty than the Father’s love, given and spoken to us through Jesus, fearful – and who is not in these days of earthquakes, nuclear meltdowns, revolutions, war –  not fully embracing Jesus’ word: “Get up and do not be afraid.”
In many respects that is the great challenge of Lent, the getting up – up from whatever weighs us down, whatever has us hesitant to follow Him.
Today we are invited to get up, go up if you will, to the heights of Tabor – in a few weeks we will be invited to go up with Him to the height of the Cross, for in baptism we are plunged into His death and brought up into His Holy Resurrection.
St. Isaac the Syrian urges us: “Thirst after Jesus. He will satisfy you with His love.”
When I was a boy I was given a holy card, an image of Jesus on the Cross, eyes open, gazing towards us, me.
There was one word on the card: SITIO! [I thirst!]: Jn.19:28.
Jesus thirsts for us, for our love to be sure, but for us as a person – His thirst is, if I might use the expression, the Divine, the Trinitarian yearning for us.
We are given breath of life, an immortal soul, in a word given existence by the Holy Trinity first and foremost to be beloved of God.
Sin is our separating ourselves from being beloved.
Jesus suffers and dies, redeems us so that we might ‘get up’ and re-enter the love relationship for which we have been created.
The wonderful gift of sacramental reconciliation, of Eucharist, of each new day is that again and again when we rupture the relationship through sin or hesitancy or whatever we can heed His call and strive beyond fear – by getting up again and again.
His thirst for us becomes our thirst for Him!

Saturday, March 19, 2011


It is the solemnity of St. Joseph who, among his other titles, is both Patron of the Universal Church and of Priests.
Giving thanks to this wonderful man, on earth of such dignity, faith, selflessness, it is also a day, with the tragedy still unfolding in Japan and in Libya, among so much other suffering on the face of the earth, to beg his intercession for peace and healing for the entire human family.
It is a day also to pray for increase of faith.
To help increase our faith I offer the following excerpts from a homily, preached recently by a beloved brother, mentor and friend, Msgr. Thomas Rowland.
By way of introduction Msgr. Rowland was one of the first priest members of the Madonna House Lay Apostolate. He was later recalled to work in his home diocese and after decades of generous service there was able to return to Madonna House where he currently lives and serves: 
                                 “…..a thought about the two basilicas of Our Lady of Guadalupe kept coming into my mind….[the] Gospel states so clearly that everything in our lives must be founded on the Rock who is Christ…..We try to keep our life centered in Christ, the Sacramental life of the Church……the two great basilicas…of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City. The older one….half of the building was built on rock and the other half on sand….half began to sink…..eventually it had to be closed. Could this be, in some way a picture of our lives – partly centered on Christ and partly on other devotions and interests?
…..the new Basilica….goes back to the words of Her Son, Our Lord Jesus – build your building on a rock foundation! This is what they did; a careful testing of the area found a solid rock foundation….
….In our Gospel for today, the devil’s temptations were refuted by the repeated message of Christ: “Man does not live by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of God; Do not put the Lord your God to the test; Worship the Lord your God and serve Him only.” CHRIST MUST BE THE ABSOLUTE CENTER OF OUR SPIRITUAL LIVES! HE IS THE ROCK, THE FOUNDATION, THE REASON FOR LIVING!”
After years of pastoral service in various parishes and his extensive training and work in the area of liturgical practice, Msgr. Rowland wrote a wonderful and easy to read book on liturgical prayer with the title: GOD ACTS WE REACT.
This work is both a tremendous resource for personal meditation and growth in participation in the prayer life of the Church and an excellent resource for parish liturgical teams.
 I recommend it highly.

Sunday, March 06, 2011


A few blocks from where I live is a huge cemetery bordered on one side by small houses, built mid last century and on the other by an expressway and a huge freight yard.
The cemetery itself dates back to the early years of the 20th century and has a large section of military graves, in among the massive pine, spruce and other trees.
In the midst of the city, and so close to the expressway and freight yard with all the rumbling trains, oddly enough it is an expansive place of quiet where I enjoy walking, praying, as I did today, on one of the first sunny, and not bitterly cold, days in almost two months!
In Shakespeare’s “The Winter’s Tale”, Act 2, Scene 2, he has the character Mamillius state:  ‘A sad tale is best for winter. I have one of sprites and goblins.’  To which Hermione replies: ‘Come on, sit down, come on, and do your best to fright me with your sprites. You’re powerful at it.’
A fair description of what our modern news media tends to do, and what many of us do, in this culture of the negative, the accusatory – witness the obsession with celebrities falling apart before our eyes, or our only being truly aware of our oppressed brothers and sisters when blood runs in the streets.
How much attention paid to Yemen or Libya before the recent chaos?
Walking among the graves – actually mostly assuming where they are as I walked the ploughed paths, we have had so much snow already this winter most of the headstones are buried under the expanse of whiteness – I found myself reflecting not only on the coming season of Lent and what my prayer focus should be, but also recalling a novel, somewhat based on the above play of Shakespeare, and on this year’s Lenten message from Pope Benedict.
Obviously my musings are nothing if not eclectic!
The novel: “Winter’s Tale” published in 1983 and written by Mark Helprin.
Without giving too much away it takes place mostly in a New York City locked in the depths of arctic cold, wind, incessant snow and one night the main character, now adult, middle aged, of orphan background, attempts to rob what he assumes is a vacant house only to find therein a girl who is dying and……….eventually by sacrificing his life for a child the world changes.
I find in that novel not only faint echoes of Shakespeare, also some of C.S. Lewis’ allegory, but mostly the recurrent theme in so much of 20th and now 21st century literature, film: the perennial hunger for a Messiah.
 Sadly across so much of the world, numerous are our brothers and sisters who either do not know, or have chosen to forget, the Messiah, Jesus, has already dwelt among us, laid down His life to redeem us, IS with us always across the ages.
Indeed from time immemorial in oral story, song, poetry, in written word in all its forms, in myth and ‘religion’, we either tell our shared hunger for love and redemption, freedom from tyranny, hold up heroes who  will rescue us, from Robin Hood to Superman, or scare each other with tales of ‘of sprites and goblins’, a paradoxical expression of genuine fear of all that is dark and evil yet often denying satan does exist and we need be protected from him and his minions – here too only Jesus can rescue and protect us.
The hunger for freedom from oppression, so powerfully unfolding in the Middle East these days, is actually rooted in the deep hunger for true redemption, freedom from evil.
It is a hunger in every human heart and soul, there since Adam and Eve were cast out of the Garden.
Each Lent the Church places the whole truth of human history before us, culminating, in case somehow we missed it throughout Lent, in the nine powerful Readings of the Easter Vigil.
So yes, this Lent I intend to pray intently for the release from all forms of oppression of all the peoples of the earth and that as political freedom is achieved everyone will come to know and open wide the doors of their being to Jesus and yes too that we will all, by placing other before self, like Jesus lay down our lives in loving service for: “In Christ, God revealed Himself as love….The Cross of Christ…manifests God’s saving power…given to raise men and women anew and bring them salvation: it is love in its most extreme form…” [Pope Benedict’s Lenten Message 2011].