Fr Bob Writes – June 1, 2014

This Sunday, we celebrate the feast of the Ascension of Jesus Christ. At the end of Luke’s gospel, we read that after Jesus left them and was carried up to heaven, the apostles went back to Jerusalem “with great joy“!! (Luke 24:52). This was their great friend, the most wonderful person they had ever known, who had turned their lives upside down. How could they have been so happy to see him go?

In my youth, there was a pop song called “Reasons to be Cheerful – One, Two, Three ” In line with the sentiments of that song, I am going to give you three reasons why the apostles could be so cheerful to see Jesus go, and why we, also, can celebrate this feast of the Ascension with great joy:

(1) Although Jesus has left us, He is with us always.  Jesus says to his disciples, at the end of our gospel this Sunday “I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). How does this make sense in the light of his disappearing into the clouds away from them? The answer comes with the repeated promises by Jesus that he would send them the Holy Spirit to be with them forever (John 14:16). The Spirit becomes the new mode of Jesus’ presence with his disciples, and thus with each one of us. Through the Spirit, we now “carry” Jesus within us. Wherever we are, there He is. This is why Jesus can make the promise he does in John 14:18: “I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you.” Through our baptism, the Spirit of Jesus enters us and transforms our “ophan” spirit into the spirit of an adopted son or daughter, able to cry out to God “Abba! Father!” (Romans 8: 15) “So the Spirit bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and therefore, not only children, but heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ” (Romans 8: 16-17). None of us need fear being alone ever again!

(2) Although we are separated from Jesus, we are always with Him. Another paradox (by the way, a paradox is not the same as a contradiction!): Our second reading this Sunday, from Ephesians 1: 17-23), says that God has raised Jesus from the dead “and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places” (v.20). But only a little further on from there, at chapter 2, verse 6, Paul tells us that God “has raised US up with Jesus and seated US with him in the heavenly places.” If Jesus is seated at the right hand of God in glory, then so, in God’s eyes, are we. This means that whenever God looks at Jesus, he sees us , united with him so closely, through our baptism, that we form one “body” (Ephesians 1:23) . It would be grotesque for a head to be separated from its body. It would be similarly “grotesque” to imagine Jesus, our Head, separated from us, His body. The single most stunning revelation for Paul, on the road to Damascus to persecute some more Christians, was to meet Christ in a vision and have Him say to Paul “Why are you persecuting me ?” (Acts 9:4) Not “why are you persecuting my followers?” but “why are you persecuting ME?!!” Jesus so totally identifies with each one of us, as a member of His Body, that an attack on any one of us , is an attack on Him.

(3) Although Jesus has sent us out on our own, He goes with us. At the end of Mark’s gospel, we are told that, after Jesus had sent out his disciples to “preach the gospel to the whole of creation” (Mark 16: 15), nevertheless He continued to “work with them, and confirmed the message by the signs that accompanied it“(16:20). We are not left on our own to convince the world of the truth about Jesus’ resurrection. Jesus himself, through the miracles he works in answer to our prayers, continues to show the world that He is very much alive. “You ask me how I know He lives; He lives within my heart.” 

Happy Ascension Day!!

Father Bob Writes – May 25, 2014

In our gospel this Sunday, Jesus promises that his heavenly Father will send his disciples another “advocate” to be with them forever.  The original Greek word here is “paracletos” and it literally means “one who calls out for another.” This could be translated as spokesman, mediator, intercessor, comforter or a defense counselor. Here it is translated “advocate”, in keeping with the general “courtroom” ambience of the gospel of John, and the term is applied to the Holy Spirit. For whom will the Holy Spirit be the advocate? In 1 John 2:1, Jesus is also called the “advocate,” in this case he is the advocate before the Father for any person who sins. The writer of the book of Hebrews also speaks about this role of Jesus, when, in chapter 7, verse 25, he says that “Jesus lives forever to intercede for us before the Father.” 

The Holy Spirit is also an advocate in Jesus’ name for Christians, but before whom will the Spirit defend us or present our case? Since there is no division within the three Persons of God, the Holy Spirit does not defend us before the Father – that is Jesus’ role. In verse 26 of chapter 14 of John’s gospel, we are told that the Holy Spirit Advocate will teach and remind us of all that Jesus had done and spoken. Likewise, in John 15:26 , Jesus says the Advocate will testify to him. The Holy Spirit then is an advocate for Christians as they face the “court” of the world in which they live. The Holy Spirit provides support and defense against the challenges we Christians face as we live out our faith.

Mark 13:11 (also Matthew 10:19-20 and Luke 12:11-12) indicate that the Holy Spirit will speak for Christians and give them the words to say when they are brought before civil authorities for being followers of Christ. Jesus promises the Spirit will give us an eloquence when facing our opponents that they will not be able to overcome.  The recent movie “God’s Not Dead” gives a magnificent demonstration of how this works when it shows a first-year philosophy student standing up against his atheistic professor and a whole classroom of students who have just declared that “God is Dead” and winning them over to his position by his cleverly reasoned arguments.

Jesus indicates in today’s gospel that the Holy Spirit will not come merely for a visit but will remain forever, continuing to speak the truth of Jesus to us and through us.  No moment would show so clearly the convergence of these two dynamics as the coming of the Holy Spirit upon the apostles on the day of Pentecost followed by their proclamation of Jesus to thousands of people in the streets of Jerusalem that same day.

“Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful, and enkindle in us the fire of your Love. Send forth your Spirit  and we shall be created, and you will renew the face of the earth”

Fr Bob Writes – May 18, 2014

We are told in the first reading for our Mass this weekend, that “the number of disciples increased greatly” in the early Church. Why is this, and what can we learn about the principles for Church growth for our own day and age?

Basically, the Church flourished because they faced head-on a potentially divisive issue in their community and resolved it according to the direction of the Holy Spirit. The issue was that there was a conflict between the two wings of the Church, the Hebrew-speaking Christians, and the Greek-speaking Christians. The latter was concerned that their widows were being neglected during the regular distribution of alms in the community. This was a potentially explosive issue which could well have destroyed the early Church from within before it was able to really get going.

The leaders of the Church, the apostles, could either have imposed a solution on the community. Or ignored the whole issue and hoped it would go away. Or rushed around trying to fix the problem by neglecting their own God-given tasks and concentrating on something which was not.

Instead the apostles recognized that “it was not right” for them to neglect their ministry of prayer and teaching in order to focus on the problem at hand. Instead they suggested that the community should select respected and capable men from within their ranks to take on the task of distributing the alms. We are told that the “whole community”, thus consulted, “were pleased with what they said” and went on to elect such men and bring them to the apostles, who, as leaders, showed that they sanctioned their choice of ministers, by laying hands on them, an early example of ordination into ministry.

It has been a cardinal belief of mine, which I have voiced many times, that God has given each of us, through the Holy Spirit at our baptism and confirmation, varied gifts which incline us to particular ministries within the Church community. The leaders’ role is to identify which gifts a particular person has, and which ministry they would best be placed in, in order that their service would be life-giving, both to themselves and to the rest of the community. No one person, not the pastor, nor the deacon, nor the experienced layperson, has all the gifts residing within them. If a pastor tries to take care of all the responsibilities in the community, he ends up burning himself up, and neglecting what is his God-given ministry, to the detriment of both himself and the entire community.

In a couple of weeks, I will be speaking at mass and calling forward members of the parish to step into the different ministries we have in the community. Please bear in mind the points I have made above and listen to where the Holy Spirit is calling you to ministry in the Church.

St. Philip’s PFC Issues Its 2014 First Quarter Report

The St. Philip’s Parish Finance Council issued its report for the quarter ending March 31, 2014 in this past weekend’s parish bulletin.

The 2014 First Quarter Report can be viewed here.

To view previous reports, please visit the St. Philip’s PFC page and look for it under the heading, “PFC Reports to Parishioners and Other Publications.” Parishioners will find links to past PFC reports starting with the quarter ending September 30, 2013.

Father Bob Writes – May 11, 2014

May is the month traditionally devoted to Mary. In the current edition of the Knights of Columbus magazine, Columbia, mention is made of the close association of Mary with the Order’s founder, Fr Michael McGivney. His family parish was the Immaculate Conception in Waterbury, Conn. He studied at Our Lady of Angels Seminary in Niagara Falls, N.Y., St Mary’s College in Montreal, and St Mary’s Seminary in Baltimore. He was ordained at Baltimore’s Cathedral of the Assumption and became assistant pastor of St Mary’s Church in New Haven. Eight years after founding the Knights, he died of pneumonia on the eve of the Assumption at age 38. In short, the Blessed Mother was a constant presence in Father McGivney’s life from beginning to end.

I had something of a similar experience. When I first arrived in Ottawa on a year’s sabbatical from England, I was assigned by the Companions of the Cross to the parish of St Mary’s, Bayswater, and was also asked to help out at the parish of the Queen of the Holy Rosary on Wellington. When I returned to England, I was assigned to the parish of St Mary and St Michael, and then to St Mary of the Angels. When I decided to emigrate to Ottawa following that, I was assigned to Our Lady of Perpetual Help parish in Chinatown. The community of Lift Jesus Higher moved from there to a closed down Catholic Church called Notre Dame et Saint Esprit!!! There comes a point when you stop talking about coincidence and realize that God is sending you a message. Somebody, probably my mother, was giving me into the care and protection of Mary during my travels. If my mother could not be with me physically during this time, she wanted to make sure that Mary would be keeping an eye on her “boy”!!

The cult of Mary has developed in the Roman Catholic Church, in part as a counter to a too-cerebral approach to spirituality. While doctrine and catechism are all very well, if we neglect the attitude to the heart to matters of faith, we diminish its appeal. The mother image is one with strong resonance in most of our lives. Even the hardiest and toughest of men have a soft place for their mothers. A devotion to Mary prevents our faith becoming merely an intellectual assent to certain propositions and introduces the note of caring, intuition and nurturing into our spiritual lives. Through Mary, the qualities of the “feminine” find a place in our religion.

Lest we think this is all too “mushy” for our tastes, be aware that being a mother is not all about being gentle and compassionate. Anyone who tries to take a baby, be it animal or human, away from its mother, knows that the mother will fight tooth and nail to stop them!! When Mary is greeted by her cousin Elizabeth with the words “Blessed are you among women,” we need to be aware that those words are used only twice previously in Scripture,  in reference to a woman, the first to Jael in the book of Judges and the second to Judith, in the book named after her. Both Jael and Judith are honored as “blessed among women” because they save the nation of Israel from powerful enemies, in Jael’s case by her despatching the commander of the opposing army, by hammering a tent peg into his temple while he is sleeping, in Judith’s case by her cutting off a general’s head while he is drunk on wine!!

St Louis Marie de Montfort described Mary as head of a powerful army of end-time Christians who would be used by God to crush the head of the devil a second time in the final battle. To cultivate a devotion to Mary is to sign up to be part of this end-time army. Are you ready to be called up??