The Relentless

The Relentless
Pursuit of Perfection

By Fr. Morgan Rice, CSB

Some of you might recognize the title of this reflection as the original motto of Lexus, Toyota’s luxury division. It accompanied the launch of its LS 400 sedan in 1989 after several years of research and development to build the world’s best car. This required identifying the best features of their competition and improving them. The result was an extremely refined, reliable, luxury car that even cost much less than the competition. However, to be the best depended not only on the car but also on the service experience associated with ownership. In this area, too, Lexus excelled. It was a total package aimed at perfection.

Today’s Gospel passage concludes with Jesus’ exhorting his disciples, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5.48). Our society presents various notions of perfection (for example, with respect to appearance), but they usually only fit a small portion of the population. For most, it is not something that can be achieved no matter how hard one tries. However, the perfection that Jesus speaks of does not exclude anyone, but it is something that God’s grace allows anyone to obtain, no matter who they are or where they have come from.

St. Paul reminds us that we are God’s holy temples, temples of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is our guide to the perfection that reflects the perfection of God in whose image we were created. Like those Lexus engineers and researchers who spent great deals of money and time to produce the LS 400 and the network of dealerships, we are to use what God makes available to us in our relentless pursuit of human perfection. While they studied Mercedes and BMW as ways to perfection, we look to Christ and the many holy women and men who have reflected his ways and qualities in their lives.

Christ is our model for perfection. Following his teachings, including his ways of non-violence, love and forgiveness of enemies, seeking others’ good without expecting anything in return, and giving of what he had to those in need, will help us to get closer to perfection. The thing is, God’s perfection does not require that all of us be exactly the same but instead to allow the Holy Spirit to guide us to be our unique, most authentic selves and fulfill our role in the diverse body of Christ.

Sunday’s Readings:
Leviticus 19.1-2, 17-18
Psalm 103
1 Corinthians 3.16-23
Matthew 5.38-48

Precious in God’s Eyes

Precious in God’s Eyes

By Fr. Morgan Rice, CSB

In reflecting on the Christmas gift of God in the person of Jesus, I continue to be drawn to the vulnerable, needy baby in the manger. Who would have thought or imagined that God would come to us in such a humble state in such conditions?! It is difficult to grasp that our God, who created the universe and who could make it all disappear in an instant, chose to be born into this world. Out of an immense love for us, Jesus became part of the human family and accepted the many things he could have easily avoided due to his status as God. It says a great deal about God and how much God values humanity.

Like today, the world into which Jesus was born was a world that had its fair share of darkness. Yet, God chose to enter an imperfect world to bring light into the darkness, to bring life into the midst of death. “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light” (Isaiah 9.2). Jesus Christ, the Light of the World, has been born for us! We are invited to rejoice that the Light has come, to invite the Light into the dark recesses of ourselves, and to reflect the Light to others to brighten their lives.

As we reflect on Jesus’ birth, perhaps we can reflect on how his coming to dwell among us has affected our lives. Do we allow ourselves to encounter him and allow him to continue to have an impact on the world around us through our love and care of others? While we acknowledge the darkness around us, let us live with the hope that Jesus’ coming does make a difference today. Profound transformation still happens when we cooperate with the Spirit of God within us and serve as Jesus’ presence in the world, thus reminding others of what his coming told us: that each one of us valued and precious in the eyes of God.

May you and your loved ones experience the blessings of the Prince of Peace. Merry Christmas!

Focusing on Christ

Focusing on Christ

By Fr. Morgan Rice

A couple of weeks ago, I had a chance to attend the Shaw Festival’s wonderful production of Brigadoon at Niagara-on-the-Lake with some of my Basilian confrères. Before the evening performance, we walked along the Niagara River to where it empties into Lake Ontario at Queen’s Royal Park. We stopped to look at a large granite and bronze marker dedicated to those who had successfully swum the 52km crossing to Marilyn Bell Park on the north shore of the lake, not too far from Exhibition Place. On the plaque are the words “perseverance”, “courage”, “fortitude”, “spirit”, “challenge”, and “triumph”—qualities needed to perform this feat that usually takes 20+ hours. One thing that I thought might help a swimmer is to focus on something like the CN Tower, something that could be seen from the start, something that could provide some encouragement along the way. Little by little as the fatigue set in, the tower would seem to grow taller and taller as one drew closer and closer to it.

I thought about that as I reflected on today’s second reading from Hebrews 12. Recognizing that life is akin to a race, the author of the letter encourages the Christian community to “run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus”. Our lives are marked with challenges that might seem overwhelming at times, but with perseverance and the right focus, the goal is attainable. For a disciple of Christ, the focus is on Jesus, who himself demonstrated perseverance and endurance through the cross to his heavenly throne. He has wants us to live fulfilling lives and eventually join him there, but things like disappointments and our sins might seem to stand in the way. They might seem like a daunting chasm to cross.

So what do we do? Like the Hebrews, we are encouraged to “not grow weary or lose heart” but to train ourselves to keep going by living out our faith and fixing our eyes on our tower of strength, Jesus Christ, who forgives us, strengthens us, and leads us to share in his triumph in the heavenly kingdom.

August 18 Readings:
Jeremiah 38.2-6, 8-10
Psalm 40
Hebrews 12.1-4
Luke 12.49-53

August 25 Readings:
Isaiah 66.18-21
Psalm 117
Hebrews 12.5-7, 11-13
Luke 13.22-30

Corpus Christi

Corpus Christi

By Fr. Morgan Rice

When people find out that I am from Corpus Christi, Texas, they sometimes ask, “How many people living there actually know what the name means in English?” I wonder myself. Except for Catholics and those who studied Latin, many probably would not know that Corpus Christi means “body of Christ”. It is a name that drew attention in the early 1980s when the U.S. Navy wanted to honour my hometown, which is a significant naval centre, by naming a submarine the “USS Corpus Christi”. Catholics protested that a name that is associated with life and nonviolence would be inappropriate for a warship. As a result, the Navy named the submarine the “USS City of Corpus Christi”. “Corpus Christi” is the name that is still commonly used to refer to today’s feast day, which Pope Urban IV first decreed in the 13th century. While the papal decree called for its celebration on the Thursday following Trinity Sunday as a way to associate it with Holy Thursday and the institution of the Eucharist, some countries celebrate it on Sunday. Whichever day it is celebrated, the feast highlights the mystery of the Real Presence of Jesus in the bread and wine that become the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit at Mass. While the mystery can never be fully explained in words, it does speak of God’s power to do more than we can imagine and of God’s desire to nourish and care for us so that we might experience eternal communion with God. It is beautifully described in Lauda Sion, the pre-Gospel Sequence written by St. Thomas. An excerpt follows:

Bread yourself, good Shepherd, tend us; Jesus, with your love befriend us. You refresh us and defend us; to your lasting goodness send us that the land of life we see.

May the nourishment we receive from the Eucharist remind us of the heavenly banquet for which we hope and truly make us “one body, one spirit in Christ” as we make known Jesus’ loving and true presence to all we meet.

Sunday’s Readings:

  • Genesis 14.18-20
  • Psalm 110
  • 1 Corinthians 11.23-26
  • Luke 9.11b-17

Next Sunday’s Readings:

  • 1 Kings 19.16b, 19-21
  • Psalm 16
  • Galatians 5.1, 13-18
  • Luke 9.51-62

The Light of the World

The Light of the World

Fr.  Morgan V. Rice, CSB

During my first years in Rochester, I needed to replace the car I had been driving. Some parishioners recommended that whatever car I purchased to make sure it had a sunroof. They said that I would want to absorb as much light as possible, especially in the grey days of the long winter. How true! Light can have a significant effect on our emotional and physical well-being. The same can be said about our spiritual well-being when we consider the Light of the World, Jesus Christ, whose resurrection we celebrate in a special way this weekend. Jesus give us light and life to counter darkness, death, and all its manifestations. This is demonstrated in a magnificent way during the Easter Vigil on Holy Saturday night when the Paschal Candle, representing Christ, is first lit from the Easter fire. It is then brought into the dark church and announced as “the Light of Christ”. Some of the darkness disappears. However, when that light is spread by using it to light the candles of each person in the church, the darkness disappears with the church aglow with warm light. Through the power of the Holy Spirit at our Baptism, we have received the light of Christ and been invited to share in his mission of bringing light to those who suffer due to the darkness of their lives. As Jesus described at the beginning of his public ministry, that involves bringing good news to the poor, sight to the blind, and freedom to the oppressed (Luke 4.18). While each of us do this individually by sharing Christ with others, we see even more powerful results when we join together as the Body of Christ to bring Jesus’ healing, compassion, freedom, life, and peace to others. As we celebrate the fifty days of Easter, may the presence of Christ in each of us enhance the well-being of everyone we encounter due to their exposure to the Light. Happy Easter!

A Radical Choice

A Radical Choice

By Fr. Morgan Rice, CSB

An article (Nov. 12, 2017) in the online version of The Globe and Mail describes how Wilma and Cliff Derksen handled the death of their daughter Candace who was murdered in the mid-1980s in Manitoba. A darkness faced them: “an abyss of sadness and anger that could swallow a person and take away everything they loved, that would spread until it destroyed all that was beautiful”. They had lost their daughter but they were determined not to lose everything else, so they made the radical choice to forgive the murderer of Candace. It was a choice rooted in their Mennonite faith. It was not something that they did once and moved on; they had to choose forgiveness over and over again as a way of living. Last month, Christina Haugan offered forgiveness in court to the truck driver who pleaded guilty to several counts of dangerous driving causing multiple deaths in the collision with the bus carrying the Humboldt Broncos. Christina’s husband, Darcy, was among those who died. Like the Derksens, she had the courage and strength to choose the radical option of forgiveness as a way towards healing. It is probably one of Jesus’ most difficult teachings. In today’s Gospel, Jesus says to his disciples, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. . . . Forgive, and you will be forgiven” (Luke 6.27-28, 37). To forgive those who have offended us or have hurt us or someone we love is part of our fulfilling Jesus’ commandment to love others as he has loved us. It is part of acknowledging the dignity of every human being even those who have committed heinous crimes. Forgiveness is something that might not be easy for us to offer, yet it is something that God never tires of offering us. May our experience of being forgiven by God and the examples of people like the Derksens and Christina Haugan help us to find within ourselves the ability to make the radical choice of forgiveness each day. Sunday’s Readings: 1 Samuel 26.2, 7-9, 12-13, 22-25 Psalm 103 1 Corinthians 15.45-49 Luke 6.27-38

Pondering in Amazement

Pondering in Amazement

By Fr. Morgan Rice

“The shepherds made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed. . . . But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart” (Luke 2.17-19). In the mid-1980s, I enjoyed watching a television series entitled Amazing Stories created by Steven Spielberg. Though I cannot remember much about individual episodes, I do remember looking forward to each new episode with the hope of being amazed and delighted by some unexpected twist or turn of the story. Today, as we celebrate Christmas, we remember one particular amazing story that still has the ability to astound us even 2,000 years later. Babies are miracles in themselves, but how incredible that our God would choose to become a baby born in a manger in Bethlehem! That the King of the Universe would come to us with such humility and lowliness is probably not how we would have expected the story to have been written, but it was. Amazement can affect us in different ways. Most likely, it will lead us to tell others about what we have experienced, probably like the shepherds would most likely have done after they left glorifying and praising God for what they had heard and seen (Luke 2.20). We could also take on the attitude of Jesus’ mother Mary, who pondered in her heart what the angel Gabriel and the shepherds had told her about Jesus. She was just beginning to realize the amazing story that was unfolding as a result of her “yes” to God at the Annunciation. She had an important role to play in the story and so do we as we participate in the story of God’s salvation, each in our own ways. As we listen once again to the amazing story of Jesus’ birth, along with the knowledge of what will come later in his life, we have the chance to ponder with our entire being how God’s birth into the world continues to affect our lives. Pondering might not provide us the answers we want, but it helps us to live with, and maybe even be delighted by, the surprises, the twists, and the turns that come our way and invite us to cooperate with God who always seeks to bring about life. While the Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, and Prince of Peace was born unto Mary, we have the opportunity to bring Jesus to life anew today as our relationship with him becomes manifest in our loving relationships with others. Be assured of my prayers for this family of St. Basil’s as we celebrate, ponder, tell about, and live out the truly amazing story of which Jesus has invited us to be part. Merry Christmas!

Christmas Eve Readings: Isaiah 9.2-4, 6-7 Psalm 96 Titus 2.11-14 Luke 2.1-16

Christmas Day Readings: Isaiah 62.11-12 Psalm 97 Titus 3.2-7 Luke 2.15-20

Keeping up Appearances

Keeping up Appearances By Fr. Morgan V. Rice, CSB If I am going to watch any TV shows, I tend to opt for the British ones such as those on PBS’s Masterpiece. I look forward to Sunday nights to spend an hour or so watching Downton Abbey, Sherlock, or whatever series is airing. In my earlier years, one of my favourite British shows was the sitcom Keeping Up Appearances with the colourful character Hyacinth Bucket (pronounced “bouquet”, please!), who sought to follow the etiquette book to a T. Appearing proper and limiting the amount of association she had with the “less-respectable” members of her family, she always sought to impress others “of importance”, including the Anglican vicar. Often, though, what she tried to downplay or hide rose to the surface to humorous effects! One of the things that we human beings are sometimes very concerned about is looking good. I invite us to consider the appearance we put forward and who we might be trying to please or impress. I admit that physical appearance is important to me; it bothers me when my shoes are not polished or when I have not had time to iron my shirt, though many people would never notice or even care. Some people’s concern might be avoiding looking old or weak; others might want to avoid the appearance of ever being wrong. Whatever we do to maintain a particular appearance can take a lot of energy and effort that perhaps could be directed in more beneficial ways. In the Gospel this weekend, Jesus decides not to keep up the appearances that the Pharisees and scribes are expecting him and his disciples to have. For example, they are not washing their hands before they eat, and they are being judged for not doing so. Yet, Jesus is not swayed. Instead, he points out that what is truly important is what flows out of us from the heart. In the second reading, St. James writes of the importance of being a “doer” of the word, that is putting our faith into action. Like it was for Jesus’ disciples, living this way might solicit criticism rather than popularity or praise, but living out God’s word within us is what will help us to appear most authentically as a reflection of Christ.

 

Sunday’s Readings:

Deuteronomy 4.1-2, 6-8

Psalm 15

James 1.17-18, 21-22, 27

Mark 7.1-8, 14-15, 21-23

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

A House for All Peoples

A HOUSE FOR ALL PEOPLES

By Father Morgan V. Rice, CSB

The first reading from Isaiah ends with the Lord’s saying, “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples” (56:7). The psalm echoes that notion of all people offering prayer to God in the response, “Let the peoples praise you, O God, let all the peoples praise you!” (67:3). Would that not be a beautiful experience of a united human family that has come to know our merciful and loving God shown to us in the person of Jesus Christ? I believe we get tastes of it when we, a diverse people representing different nations, cultures, ages, and backgrounds, gather together at the Eucharist to worship the Lord and be nourished by Jesus. This I have witnessed during my two or so months here at St. Basil’s; however, we know this is not the case in all parts of our world.

I received my undergraduate degree from the University of Virginia (UVA) in Charlottesville, Va., where the violent and hateful events of last weekend occurred. The demonstration of one group of people claiming to be superior to others goes against the future the Lord has laid out and against what Jesus taught us by his compassion and non-violence. Instead of the community of trust, mutual respect, and life that the Lord desires, the actions of those in Charlottesville led to the loss of human life and an atmosphere of fear and division. Condemning the violence at UVA, the university’s Rector wrote in a message to alumni, “We are all here for a purpose, and the events of the last few days have leant that purpose greater clarity and urgency”.

Events like Charlottesville certainly do clarify our purpose as women and men striving to live out Gospel values and bring the Good News of Christ to all. One of those values is to open ourselves to the gifts and goodness of others who come from backgrounds that we might have been taught to fear or be suspicious of. We do that when we make it a point to encounter and get to know others, particularly those who are different from us, with a belief that we can learn and be transformed from our interactions. Jesus’ encounter with the Canaanite woman and the recognition of her tremendous faith demonstrated that his mission was broader than originally understood. To what insights might our interactions lead us?

In a couple of weeks, university students from around the world will be coming to begin the academic year. The University of St. Michael’s College campus will be abuzz with Orientation Week activities. As part of those activities, students will be attending the 4:30pm Mass on Sunday, 3 September. My hope is that hundreds will come to celebrate and will find a welcoming home at St. Basil’s, where together we can all join in praise of God and truly be a house of prayer for all peoples.

Sundays Readings:

Isaiah 56.1, 6-7 2

Peter 1.16-19

Matthew 17.1-9