Prepare the Way of the Lord!

Prepare the Way of the Lord!

by Jessica De Luca

Advent is a time of preparing – preparing to celebrate the coming of the Lord. If you are like me, a staple in preparing for any event in life begins with making a to-do list; Christmas is no exception. I am always sure to have a list made, sometimes even before December rolls around. It would be fair to say that my typical to-do list would not include a “pause and reflect” bullet point; if it did, it would likely show up somewhere near the bottom, maybe even as an afterthought. “Pause and reflect” is however, what we are told to do as we enter this second week of Advent. Today’s scripture readings remind us to “prepare the way of the Lord” by preparing ourselves. What a beautiful and well-needed reminder! It is easy to be overwhelmed in this season by the seemingly endless lists of to-dos. Preoccupied by the things to get done, we often fail to pay attention to what is most important: consciously thinking about how we are going to prepare for Christ to enter into our lives. As the readings tell us, preparing ourselves for the coming of the Lord must include an examination of our conscience. We are called to seek forgiveness for our wrong doings and are told to “strive” to let Christ find us each “at peace”. This can be a real challenge for us, especially if there are sins we are not ready to acknowledge or purposely ignore. Encouraging us to spend time in self-reflection and repentance is the beautiful image of Christ offered in our first reading. Christ is described as a shepherd that feeds His flock, carries the lambs, and leads His sheep. We know that the Lord is compassionate and merciful. Our second reading tells us He is “patient” with us too. Inevitably, by pausing and reflecting, by examining our conscience and being at peace, we are faced with a decision to act. Preparing the way of the Lord includes thinking about what we can be doing better in our lives. Perhaps this is something as simple as adding more prayer time to your day, or helping a person in need. In this next week, may we take a break from the hustle and bustle and spend time thinking about how we can better prepare ourselves. Let us all make a to-do list for the Lord, so he may fill our lives in a new and deeper way this Advent season.

Sunday’s Readings:

  • Isaiah 40.1-5, 9-11
  • Psalm 85
  • 2 Peter 3.28-14
  • Mark 1.1-8

The Threefold Coming of Christ

The Threefold Coming of Christ

by Erica Tice

Today the Church begins its new year with the First Sunday of Advent. Coming only a week after the glory of the Solemnity of Christ, King of the Universe, we are given a solemn reminder to watch and wait expectantly for the Lord. What are we watching for, exactly? From a liturgical point of view, we watch for the coming of our Infant King, of the tiny Babe to arrive in the manger of our hearts in a few short weeks’ time. From an eschatological point of view, we await the coming of this tiny Babe in all His majesty and glory at the end of time, where we will see Him as He really is. The third point of view lies between the visible poles of Christ’s birth and His coming in glory. It is the invisible, hidden coming of Christ which intersects with our daily lives where He acts as our rest and consolation. This intermediary coming is the one that we watch for today and throughout this first week of Advent. Those who watch for this invisible coming of Christ come equipped with particular attitudes and dispositions as illustrated by Blessed John Henry Newman in his Parochial and Plain Sermons: “They watch for Christ who are sensitive, eager, apprehensive in mind, who are awake, alive, quick-sighted, zealous in honoring him, who look for him in all that happens, and who would not be surprised, who would not be over-agitated or overwhelmed, if they found that he was coming at once… This then is to watch: to be detached from what is present, and to live in what is unseen.” So let us watch and wait today and this week in the deep and hopeful silence which enveloped Our Blessed Mother as she carried our tiny Lord beneath her heart. Come Lord Jesus!

Sunday’s Readings:

Isaiah 63.16b-17; 64.1, 3-8

Psalm 80

1 Corinthians 1.3-9

Mark 13.33-37

Use it or Lose it

Use it or lose it

by Michael Pirri

Every time I meet with an individual who is interested in volunteering, I start out by getting to know what they like doing in their spare time. What is it that they are passionate about, or that they enjoy doing the most? We are quite fortunate that our volunteering parishioners bring a wealth of understanding, knowledge, and expertise to their tasks here at St. Basil’s. I believe it is important that volunteers are able to deepen their faith experience through volunteer work; I know, for instance, that music is an integral part of my faith life. My work in music ministry has been, and continues to be, a lasting source of energy for my faith journey. In part, this is why I seek to find what drives others in our community – my hope for them is that they are able to experience a deepening of faith through work just as I have. Our Gospel reading allows us the opportunity to reflect on how it is we use our abilities, skills, resources, knowledge, and time; more specifically, how we use these to glorify God. “For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away.” (Matthew 25. 29) I think it’s important to acknowledge that the meaning of the parable extends far beyond financial investments. We must also note that the master does not compare the five talents against the two, because each slave was able to make as much as they could considering what they had been given. God gives us all a wide variety of gifts and He expects us to be able to use them; we are tasked with refining them, no matter how big or small, to their fullest potential. I’m reminded of what I was told in French immersion school about speaking French — if you don’t use it, you’re going to lose it.

Sunday’s Readings:

Proverbs 31.10-13, 16-18, 20, 26, 28-31

Psalm 128

1 Thessalonians 5.1-6

Matthew 25.14-30

BYE … FOR NOW

Bye…For Now

by Fr. Morgan V. Rice, CSB

One of the most difficult things about having visits from my family and close friends is their departure. It is always so good to see them and spend quality time with them; however, after they leave, there is an emptiness that results even though I am confident that I shall see them again. Of course, that might not be the case. Life is so fragile and death so unpredictable, especially when we consider tragedies like the mass shooting at that First Baptist Church in Texas last weekend. We keep in prayer those families who lost loved ones in that act of violence. May God strengthen their faith, and in their emptiness, may God fill them with the hope that we hear about in this weekend’s second reading. In his first letter to the Thessalonians, St. Paul offers the Christian community some comforting words as they grieve the loss of loved ones. He reminds them of the hope that is central to Jesus’ message, the hope that has its basis in the Resurrection of Jesus. “Through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have died” (4.14). We believe that the souls of the faithful departed, the souls of those for whom we pray and remember in a special way during the month of November, are with God. We, too, have that same hope, that after we are called to our eternal home, “we will be with the Lord forever” (4.17) along with the loved ones whom we look forward to seeing again. These are definitely encouraging words! So when we experience the death of a loved one, we believe it’s only bye…for now.

Sunday’s Readings:

Wisdom 6.12-16

Psalm 63

1 Thessalonians 4.13-18

Matthew 25.1-13

How God Works

How God Works

by Lucinda M. Vardey

In Matthew’s gospel Jesus explains that the grace of God usually works in paradox. One of these is turning around the emphasis of external desires, positioning, privilege, and being honoured by others. Jesus’ way leads not so much to an egoless state of being (the sort of humility that takes years of purification to achieve) but to an awareness. We need to be aware of what we think or do that separates us from him.

The ego operates in a realm of self-emphasis, self-survival and self-protection. While a strong ego is never too much of a problem, the insidiousness of a fragile ego that longs for others’ applause and recognition to boost its own false sense of worth, causes havoc with our souls.

If we consider the examples of some of our great saints, especially martyrs, we begin to see what we need to do to gain an intimate relationship with Jesus beyond ourselves. St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein), a brilliant philosopher and Carmelite nun who lost her life at Auschwitz in 1942, leaves us some wisdom of how humility and exaltation work. In her book, Finite and Infinite Being, she writes that the human task is to “progress from self-recognition to self-formation.” She states that it is only from inhabiting our interior selves with self-reflection can “a life be properly lived.” Only by knowing ourselves in Jesus, Stein explains, can our egos be “held by something other than the external world.”

Through Jesus’ direction to his disciples to not only focus, but live, with one Father in heaven and he as our instructor, then we open ourselves to be transformed. After a while we will be able to more naturally trust that God indeed is working in us and around us, and will more fully reveal the joy and abundance that is our due when we find satisfaction in not being noticed, acknowledged and applauded.

Sunday’s Readings:

Malachi 1.14-2.2, 8-10

Psalm 131

1 Thessalonians 2.7-9, 13

Matthew 23.1-12

The Greatest Commandment And The Smallest Child

The Greatest Commandment And The Smallest Child

by Elizabeth Chesley-Jewell

The Atrium of Saint Basil’s Parish has begun a new year. Just as the returning children have grown, so has our Atrium. As I write this, we have completed two full weekends (six sessions) in the Atrium, and it is easy to reflect on the words of the Gospel today. When asked what the greatest commandment is, Jesus tells his disciples: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind […] And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’” In a world full of noise, never ending To-Do Lists, and conflicts, it is hard to believe that these two commandments can be fully lived out by anyone. But I promise you that every Sunday these commandments are joyfully lived out by the children in the Atrium.

The youngest child, who is three years old, does not come to learn these commandments word for word till they are much older but as catechists we are always helping the child grow in their love for God and one another. One of the very first words the children are introduced to is Alleluia! Praise God! We repeat the word over and over. We sing the word with our whole bodies, with loud voices, and big gestures. And we praise God for the gifts we are given. The gift of our life, the gift of being present in the Atrium, and the gift of each other. Every week the children are presented with new work, new songs, and new words that brings them closer to God the Father and Jesus Christ our Good Shepherd. Hearing the words, “I love God,” from a child’s mouth is a moment of Alleluia for the catechists in the Atrium.

The youngest child in the Atrium loves with their whole heart and this creates an environment where everyone loves their neighbour as they love themselves. One of the first things the children learn about the Atrium is that it is a place of quiet where we respect one another’s work and space. But how do I know love overflows in the Atrium? At the end of every single session we place Holy Water on one another’s forehead and bless one another “In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Not only do the children love receiving the gift of one another’s blessing but they love blessing each other. No one leaves the room feeling unloved. It is my favourite part of every session and another Alleluia moment.

As we begin a new year in the Atrium we ask for you to pray for the catechists and children of the Atrium. Let us also pray that each one of us can take a moment this weekend and love God with the heart of the smallest child.

Sunday’s Readings:

Exodus 22.21-27

Psalm 18

1 Thessalonians 1.5c-10

Matthew 22.34-40

ABSOLUTES

Absolutes

by Lisa Fernandes

“Nothing is certain except death and taxes” as Benjamin Franklin said, referring humorously to secular absolute truths. In today’s readings, though, we hear about absolute truths according to God.

In the first, we hear the absolute that there is one God: “I am the Lord, and there is no other; besides me there is no God.” (Isaiah 45.5)

In the second, we are told we have absolutely been chosen by God: “For we know, brothers and sisters beloved by God, that He has chosen you…” (1 Thessalonians 1.4)

When we get to the Gospel, the discussion about absolutes is not as clear; we have to think about the relationship between Christianity, secular government and society. Jesus avoids the trick but answers the question of the Herodians and Pharisees when they ask Him if the Jews should pay taxes to the Romans.

The Pharisees thought that if He said yes, He would be betraying His people and collaborating with the enemy, Rome. The Herodians thought if He said no He would be a traitor to Rome. Instead, He said: “Give therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s”. (Matthew 22.21) Jesus gave them a truthful answer but one that isn’t a simple absolute yes or no, but requires reflection and acting with the right intentions.

What is Jesus saying? There has been a lot of scholarly discussion about this passage and many interpretations. I see it as acknowledgement that it is often a difficult line to walk between the secular and the spiritual but they are not separate; they complement each other. A good person will both pay taxes and follow God’s law.

It can sometimes be difficult to know what the right thing to do is, though, as there are many trying to persuade us, and many mistruths; we do not want to be tricked into doing wrong nor dissuaded from doing good.

While Shakespeare said: “To thine own self be true”, we are not alone in discerning the right path to take as we have the help of God, our fellow parishioners, and the church community to help give us clarity.

Sunday’s Readings:

  • Isaiah 45.1, 4-6
  • Psalm 96
  • Thessalonians 1.1-5ab
  • Matthew 22.15-21

Happy Feastday!

Happy Feastday!

by John Dalla Costa

Life-long Catholics who volunteer for the R.C.I.A. program at St. Basil’s usually feel that they receive so much more than they give. As catechumens and candidates make their journey towards Christ, we who accompany them inevitably see our faith with fresh eyes. Once the Easter Vigil draws near, the excitement becomes infectious, as the awe and glee of those about to receive the sacraments sweep us all into extraordinary wonder of the Passion and Resurrection of Jesus.

Today’s readings invite us to relish with quickened and grateful hearts the extraordinary banquet God so lovingly makes available to us each day. We often think that disbelief is the opposite of faith. But as we hear Jesus explain in the Gospel, the emptiness that most threatens our communion with God is taking God’s ever-overflowing generosity for granted.

Pope Francis has repeatedly called our attention to the “sin of indifference.” This complacency not only sanitizes God’s gifts and circumscribes God’s presence. It also deprives us of the deep joy from cherishing God’s mercy and love.

There is no easy answer to the distinction Jesus makes that: “Many are called, but few are chosen.” From the scriptures and lives of the saints we can surmise that, while many are called to listen to God’s Word, few become the chosen by heeding with full-hearts what is heard.

Many are called to partake of the body of Christ, yet few are chosen by then embodying Christ to the hungry, angry, wounded and wounding world. Many are called to experience God’s healing mercy, however few are chosen by making full use of their talents and gifts to spread forgiveness and peace.

Each of us have our own calling, and so each of us need to discern how we are to be chosen – through prayer, and in the needs of our families, friends, community, and church. This attentiveness to how we are special in our souls and capabilities is the cloak that earns us welcome in God’s feast, because it honours the One who invited us by not taking that-of-God within us for granted.

Sunday’s Readings:

  • Isaiah 25.6-10
  • Psalm 23
  • Philippians 4.12-14, 19-20
  • Matthew 22.1-14

FRUIT OF THE VINE

Fruit of the Vine by Michael Pirri

In last week’s Gospel reading, we heard the parable of the man with two sons, both of whom get sent out to work in the vineyard. Again, in the first reading and psalm today, we hear about the vineyard. This marks the third week in a row where we speak about the vineyard, though surely not the same vineyard. It’s important to note the use of real world imagery in these parables. Under the rule of the Roman Empire, it was not uncommon for wealthy landowners to mismanage their property. Christ’s use of the vineyard shows a profound understanding and disapproval of the socioeconomic conditions of His time.

The first reading paints a pretty grim view of humanity: The Lord of hosts tended his field and “planted it with choice vines […] he expected it to yield grapes, but it yielded wild grapes. […] he expected justice, but saw bloodshed; righteousness, but heard a cry!”

I particularly enjoy the duality in the parable which we can draw: on one hand we are the farmer, angry that our good deeds do not yield their just reward; and yet we are also the vineyard, never living up to the potential God gives us. How can we reconcile not living up to our potential? What good deeds have we done that we feel we ought to be thanked for? Psalm 80 acknowledges our shortcomings and gives us a way of recognizing this struggle “Restore us, O Lord God of hosts; let your face shine, that we may be saved.” (Psalm 80.19).

In the Gospel, we could once again take the role of the landowner with high expectations for the harvest in the vineyard and the willingness to do what it takes to bring that harvest to fruition. And yet we are greeted with lack of respect and abuse rather than gratitude.

Upon greater reflection, you may see that we’re not the landowner at all — we’re the unruly tenants! We tend to the land and vineyard, and when others come to claim what they believe to be theirs, we feel the need to defend the fruits of our labour. If we are the unruly tenants then, as in the first reading, the Lord is the landowner. So we denied prophet after prophet, until finally His son was sent to us, and we acted no better.

I think the best understanding of the readings today falls somewhere between the two interpretations. The focus, I believe, is to recognize that we are to give thanks for that which is given to us, and to claim each day as an opportunity to do better, realizing all of the things God gives to us.

Sundays Readings:

Isaiah 5.1-7

Psalm 80

Philippians 4.6-9

Matthew 21.33-43

TESTING MIND AND HEART

TESTING MIND AND HEART

by Lucinda M. Vardey

The readings for this Sunday turn what our cultures consider normal or usual to the obscure ways of God, always a mystery to our human reasoning.

We are told by Isaiah to seek God while God may be found: from the psalm that God’s presence is near, in fact as close to us as a heartbeat. Yet, God’s thoughts are not ours. Paul declares dying to be a necessary gain in order to live life true to the Gospel.

The Gospel teaches us that it is no good using our human logic to decipher God’s ways. The hardest work we will ever attempt in our spiritual life includes giving up trying to work God out, dying to our separate agendas and plans, so that we may experience the amazing power that is unleashed through practicing what Jesus preached.

At a recent Mass in a small town in Umbria, Italy, the priest called the Gospel the “Wisdom of Love.” Love speaks more clearly in mystery. It is through our hearts that we can more naturally place Jesus at the centre of our lives, making familiar our place at the last so he can be first in everything.

In her excellent book Radical Gratitude Mary Jo Leddy wrote that finding happiness by truly believing that Jesus meant what he said, required a turning away from the economies of consumption, gain, competition and rewards, towards one of gratitude and gift. Gratitude develops the grace of hope and trust in the everlasting goodness of God, acceptance of the wisdom of God in each situation, and receptivity to being surprised by God’s generosity.

Sundays Readings:

Isaiah 55.6-9

Psalm 145

Philippians 1.20-24, 27

Matthew 20.1-16