Monday, October 10, 2011

THANKSGIVING DAY - Christian Community Day - Visit from Seminarians from St. Philip's


On Friday, I had the joy of celebrating the Eucharist at the close of the Ottawa Catholic School Board's annual Christian Community Day at the new Ottawa Convention Centre

Director Julian Hanlon highlighted some of the fruits of our Catholic schools and encouraged developing their catholicity; FJMacDonald school reported on some of the ways in which schools can address the needs of poorer students and the poverty around the school. Father Ray Carey gave an inspiring address on the four poles of bibical concept of shalom (being brought to fullness, perfection that brings peace): with self, others, the environment, God.

Given the arrival of Thanksgiving Weekend, the readings chosen for the Mass were some of those suggested for today's Mass on the occasion of the civil observance of thanksgiving, with a theme of gratitude for God's blessing and a call to be stewards in the context of Catholic education's challenges today:

Mass for Christian Community Day
Ottawa Convention Centre—Friday, October 7, 2011

“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly”
[Texts: Colossians 3.12–17; John 15.1–17]

I have a long message for you. Please take it as a sign that you are important to me.

Long story short: giving of your time, talent and treasure is good for your soul. You can see why this may take a few minutes to explain.

This week, the Bishops of Ontario met with sociologist Reginald Bibby, who studies religious observance in Canada. We were preparing for the synod on the New Evangelization in Rome a year from now.

Today’s Challenge
Bibby said that we are a nation of believers but not necessarily belongers. Most have some sort of faith, but a declining number attend church weekly or even monthly. Those who attend are richly fulfilled and serve society.

Those who don’t are missing out. It comes down to a modern notion that religion is a private matter. This is a deception. We are always stronger together than alone. God wants our corporate, public worship and our private prayer. Life is enriched by both.

You might say, “Yeah, but he’s a bishop. That’s the party line.”

But study after scientific study also says that there’s a correlation. Church is good for you and for your community. People who go to church are healthier, happier, better husbands and wives, better parents, better employees, and better citizens.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus is calling us His friend. If your friend writes you a letter, you’ll read it. If your friend says “Let’s dine together”, you’ll go. Otherwise, you would push him away. Jesus said earlier in John’s Gospel, [pointing to the altar] “Don’t miss this meal.” I quote, “unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you.” I don’t know about you, but I want His friendship, so I’m here, body, mind, and spirit.

In the busy-ness of Catholic schools, your challenge is to see your student as an integrated person. Body, mind, and spirit.

All three need to be healthy. Affirm the student’s worth as a child of God. Encourage the student to deepen the gift of faith. But you can give only of what you personally have. Keep growing in Christ and in His Church.

As we gather for this Eucharist—which means thanksgiving—we join all Canadians in a time set aside for giving thanks to God for the riches He has given us. The harvest of wheat and grapes, the bread and wine we offer on this altar, is God’s gift of life to us.

Acknowledging Providence reminds us that we are only stewards of the many gifts He has blessed us with.

We are just passing through. This planet does not belong to us, but is on loan to us. We need a spiritual ecology to live in harmony with creation and honour the Creator. Thanksgiving Day is an opportunity to reflect on this.

Thanksgiving Day and Gratitude
Good stewards are constantly delighted by what they have been given. They feel fortunate, special, and loved. After he had suffered a heart attack in his mid-fifties, my Dad often said, from then on, every day was a gift.

Good stewards are humbly grateful. They know that they do not deserve their time, talents or treasure. It’s an attitude of gratitude that sees every day, every experience, and every good, as gifts to be generously shared!

Sharing One’s Gifts
So we are called to give back, but how much? The Old Testament’s ten per cent of treasure and time? Actually, there is great wisdom in that number, because it seems an awful lot to a low-income family, and it’s an awful lot to the richest of families, too. It takes some courage, but tithers have found themselves living in God’s economy, freed from debt and from the love of money.

Imagine the good you could achieve if all your loan interest payments went instead toward Catholic ministries to lessen poverty and hunger!

A priority of stewardship is reserving time for primary obligations: family, physical health, and spiritual nourishment. You must take time regularly—every day is best—to nurture your inner life. I am talking about reading the Bible, praying with your spouse and family members, attending weekday Mass when that is possible, and getting regular spiritual check-ups in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

Mary Kay Ash of Mary Kay Cosmetics listed priorities this way: God first, family second, and career third. I would add, your lay ministry or volunteerism, fourth. There are seasons when you have to invest more time in your closest relationships, like new spouses and babies, and seasons when you can do more outside that circle.

Good stewards do not act as soloists. They are happy to be part of a chorus, combining their gifts to make a joyful noise unto the Lord.

God Will Show the Way
Stewardship improves with practice. Sister Helen Prejean, author of Dead Man Walking, had no plan when the first death-row prisoner wrote her. But God guided her steps.

Reflecting back on her journey toward advocacy against the death penalty, she says, “God gives you a little flashlight; you won’t see too far ahead, but you’ll usually know where to place your foot for the next step.”

The first step is to commit to becoming a steward. Then the people you meet, the situations you see, the words you hear, will become ways for God’s soft, gentle call to reach you. Answer the call and He will invite you on bigger and bigger adventures.

Stewardship is Spiritual
The spiritual principle is simple: God doesn’t need us to give, because it is all His anyway. We need to return some of what God has given as our act of love and thanks.

Good stewards see service and sharing as spiritual acts, in a small but real way mirroring Christ’s sacrifice.

Financially supporting your parish weekly, and your Archdiocese as you are led, is a beautiful spiritual act. It gives God permission to bless you and your family. Saint Paul wrote, “God loves a cheerful giver.” Your children, your students, and your friends will follow your joyful example!

Pastoral Year Theme
Each year I suggest a theme to unify and nourish the spiritual life of the faithful of Ottawa. For the year starting this September, I have chosen a theme taken from the Post-Synodal Exhortation Verbum Domini: “The word of God grew and multiplied” (Acts 12.24).

A tree is fertile when it grows nourishing fruit. This is the main message of today’s Gospel, in which Jesus invites us to be grafted onto Him to yield much good fruit.

The word of God bears fruit when it is transformed—in you—into attitudes and actions that build a community of faith.

This is St. Paul’s point in the first reading today. He is saying that your relationship with Christ through baptism should lead to mutual care: “Bear with one another, and if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other…Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts…and be thankful!”

Here’s a shout-out to you, the teachers, administrators, support staff, trustees—all friends and advocates of Catholic education—in the Ottawa Catholic School Board: Thank you for walking alongside our young people on their journey of faith and learning!

I close with three hopes for you this year: Be Christ’s friend! Stay strong in His body, the Church! And generously share the gift of faith and the other gifts you have been loaned—time, talent and treasure!

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Last week, I visited our seminarians at St. Augustine's Seminary, but was unable to get to St. Philip`s Seminary to visit with the officials there and our seminarian Jonathan Kelly.

I was pleased to see him home for the Thanksgiving weekend when he dropped by with two seminarians from the Missionaries of the Poor out of Kingston, Jamaica, though they are both from Uganda. 

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