Field Hospital

Field Hospital

by John Dalla Costa

Pope Francis often describes the church as a “field hospital.” The world’s wounds are not of tangential concern to the church. They are its holy mission. Indeed, evangelization is empty without attending to both the causes and aftermaths of those injuries that effect the health of body, mind, heart and soul. Early church fathers and mothers recognized that, as the mystical body of Christ, the church must continue the healing work of Jesus’ ministry. St. John Chrysostom called the church “a hospital for sinners, not a court of law.” St. Ambrose recognized that “sickness needs medicine. The medicine is the heavenly and venerable sacrament of the Eucharist.” Pope Francis is retrieving this ancient legacy, while also renewing it. He is asking us each to go into the world, as only we can – in the fields of our own our workplaces and classrooms, of our daily meetings and coffeeshop encounters, of our political activity and social justice work – to bring, as Jesus did, sacramental healing, hope and joy to others. Today’s readings remind us of the revolutionary power to heal that we’ve inherited through Baptism. The law in Leviticus logically sought to protect the community from leprously, which is as contagious as it is catastrophic. The burden of the law, however, fell on the ill, so that those afflicted with the disease were held responsible for their own painful ostracization. Jesus reverses this law, making himself vulnerable to the most vulnerable. In the passage preceding today’s gospel, Jesus tells his disciples : “Let us go on to the neighbouring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also.” Moving into the field, which is always unpredictable and dangerous, Jesus meets the leper, and heals him. Such a hospital is not a place, but a disposition: it is not a structure, but an encounter, which looks beyond legal responsibility to attend to the moral needs of the human person before, or beside us. Not surprisingly, the medicine we usually most need personally is often the same as that, which by our gifts, and by God’s grace, only we can administer to others.

Sunday’s Readings:

  • Leviticus 13.1-2, 45-46
  • Psalm 32
  • 1 Corinthians 10.31-11.1
  • Mark 1.40-45

Gold, Frankincense, Me & You

Gold, Frankincense, Me & You
by John Dalla Costa

Make a trek today
With willing heart follow the star
Behold the light, laser-like illuminating the Child
Come let us bring our gifts

In a heartbeat of silence
Ponder the Presence
Bask in the Child’s glow
Touch tenderly His tiny fingers
Caress with Mother Mary His cheek

Then join the wise ones
Make an offering
Be the gift
What will be the treasure we bring to Jesus?
What commitment will we lay at the crib?
How will we honour Him?

The Child has come to save us
Yet as a child needs us
To be His eyes in our world
To be His hands doing the needed work of now
To hear for Him the joys and sighs of our sisters and brothers
To be His heart enveloping the world’s sorrows and hopes
To mourn and be merciful
And to seek justice and make peace –
In His name
And in His stead

All of us matter more than gold
Each of us are indispensable

Having followed the star generations have followed
Having heeded the holy-tug of Sacred Scripture
We too are now intertwined in the story –
Mother and Child, me and you

We’ve all crossed our own deserts of longing to be here
We’ve all trusted that God’s promise would be kept
The hard-won glorious Epiphany is ours –
Not only having God revealed to us in a stable
But revealing as well our deepest selves to God

Make a trek today
Bow, or on bended knee, approach the crib
What will we offer Our Lord?
What gift to the Christ-Child can only I make?

Sunday’s Readings:
Isaiah 60.1-6
Psalm 72
Ephesians 3.2-3a, 5-6
Matthew 2.1-12

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

The Most Holy Trinity


By John Dalla Costa

Like others who recite the Liturgy of the Hours, we at St. Basil’s have adopted the practice of bowing when praying the “Glory Be.” Four times during every Lauds and Vespers we bow to bodily show our reverence for our Triune God.

With today’s Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity we may ask ourselves how to enact the due reverence in our everyday lives? To be a Christian is by definition to be immersed in Trinitarian love. What does this spiritual truth mean in practice?

The followers who knew Jesus personally, as well as those like Paul who converted after the Ascension, experienced the Trinity profoundly in their prayers before it was formalized by theologians. Faithful Jews who fiercely protected the Oneship of God met God so radically in Jesus that they had no choice but to leap into the unifying mystery of love as embracing Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

We share this Trinitarian praying at every Eucharist. The Son of God offers himself for us, in thanksgiving to the Father, and to raise us through the Holy Spirit into our destiny with God. More than encounter Trinity, holy communion sanctifies us to participate in the very nature of God. For being included in this profusion of love, the most important reverence to Trinity happens when we recognize that-of-God in persons, beliefs or circumstances that are most unsettling, or even inimical to us. “The irreducible multiplicity of human life,” explained Hans Urs von Balthasar, “…appears to be paradoxical or even illogical only to one who does not know God’s trinitarian being.”

Shocked by recent terrorist acts, immersed in our world’s divisive politics, and cajoled ever-more aggressively into self-satisfying competition, today’s divisiveness seems intractable. Trinity is the only answer and antidote for these great anxieties because it consecrates diversity.

As Pope Francis explained at Pentecost, to “become a Christian of the “right” or “left”” is a contradiction. Especially today, recognizing that difference is holy is the best and most important way to revere God and make God’s hope tangible to our divided world.

Sunday’s Readings:

Exodus 34:4b-6, 8-9

2 Corinthians 13:11-13

John 3:16-18

Divine Mercy Sunday


By John Dalla Costa

Even on bended-knee before the cross on Good Friday, and in the glee of Resurrection bells ringing during the Easter Vigil, our devotions only palely approach the actual trauma of those who loved Jesus and followed him. Their loss was monstrous, unleashing grief and guilt that destabilized each person to their core, even before the incomprehensible empty-tomb destabilized every certitude about life, death, faith, cosmos, love and God. In today’s gospel we encounter that trauma head-on. Doors are locked, as are disappointed hearts. Fear and doubts prevail, as those closest to Jesus cower in confusion.

All these barriers in wood and stone, or in comprehension and attitude, could not keep Jesus at bay. The One who was tortured and left to die in ignominy came back to his friends after death as he had in life, with gifts of peace and forgiveness. And the fact that convinced his friends to have faith in the life they were seeing was to touch the very wounds that had caused Jesus’ agonizing death. To me this is a significant detail. The real and Resurrected body of Jesus Christ bore the marks of violence and execution on his hands, feet and side. Rather than being left behind, the cross is present in the Lord returned from death. The instrument of annihilating scandal and abandonment is now literally incorporated into the living body that is the animating core of our faith and Eucharistic life. Many of our saints and mystics developed their spirituality by contemplating the wounds of the Risen Christ for this very reason.

Love does not end suffering, nor replace the cross each of us must carry. Rather, it incorporates that sacrifice into an offering that transforms the one giving love as much as the one receiving it. In the marks left by nails and spear we discover God’s embrace of our own suffering and vulnerability, and God’s abiding presence in the suffering and vulnerability of our sisters and brothers.

Sunday’s Readings:

Acts 2.42-47

1 Peter 1.3-9

John 20.19-31

Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time


By John Dalla Costa

Jesus’ most challenging teaching is also his most essential: to love our enemies. With the vitriol in today’s politics, and so much hate in our culture, we are forced to confront both the implausibility of such love, and the impossibility of healing our world without loving on these extravagant terms. As Jesus explains, there is no spiritual credit for loving the lovable because nothing really changes. Transformation requires that excruciating effort beyond reciprocity, which alone changes hearts by opening them.

Still, it’s hard. How do we love those who hate or harm others? How do we give to those who are conditioned by greed to only take? What is the line between “turning the other cheek” and self-abnegation? We usually approach such questions by trying to change our view of the enemy. We recall that they too are children of God, with wounds and gifts that warrant our respect. Important though it be to penetrate the veils of vilification that divide our society, community, church and even families, what Jesus teaches is much more for us than for any “them.”

To hate is always to disconnect from the flow of God’s love, so that, in despising others, we are actually depriving ourselves of the very relationship our souls need to thrive. To hate is also to give up our own freedom, choosing a prison of resentments or vengefulness that only hardens our isolation. To hate ultimately denies the truth in that any knowledge we may have gained – even if spiritually valid – only gets suffocated when subjected to the prerogatives of anger.

Jesus understood that power and violence can never break the fiercely reinforcing reciprocities of hatred or suspicion. The truth can only persuade when it is engifted as an act of love.

For me, this most hard gospel only confirms the mystery of the Incarnation. Only a divine heart in a human body could fathom a love so extremely inclusive. And only a human heart pierced by an executioner’s lance has the credibility to demand from us the extreme forgiveness to love even those who hurt us.

Today’s Readings: Leviticus 19:1-2,17-18; 1 Corinthians 3:16-23; Matthew 5:38-48

Christmas 2016


By: John Dalla Costa

Such joy to relish this day. A light is born that no darkness can swallow; a hope has been enfleshed that no despair can ever despoil.

The angels were right acclaiming: “Glory to God in the highest!” How can our hearts not sing with praise on this day? That said, for all that we now know Christmas to be, the birth of Our Lord is actually the greatest possible reversal from expectation.

This day actually celebrates “Glory to God in the lowest,” because the salvation for every atom of creation was vested in a child conceived out of wedlock, and born in a barn to homeless parents.

For all that is uplifting, we are actually beholding “Glory to God in the least,” because the greatest force in history – that of healing forgiveness – sprouted from one the farthest possible distance from the usual centres of political, economic, or military power.

Christmas commemorates “Glory to God in the smallest and most vulnerable,” because the Word of truth became incarnate in a child, whose later teaching invites us “to become like little children” so as to host in our own hearts the unbounded wisdom of God.

Throughout Advent we have worked as a parish on making space for the Messianic waiting that our Jewish ancestors experienced over generations. Immersing ourselves in this process of hope-against-hope was to help recover the utter surprise of Bethlehem, in order to feel anew the upside-down unsettling unleashed by our Saviour’s birth. Today deserves more of that solemn space – to appropriate God’s remarkable intervention in history, and to unwrap with peaceful deliberation the priceless gift of God’s presence in our own lives.

The Divine Office for Christmas includes a sermon from the fifth century by Pope St. Leo the Great. He wrote: “Christian, rememberer your dignity, now that you share in God’s own nature…and have become a temple of the Holy Spirit.” Glory to God in the highest, indeed, and in you, and in me, and in all our sisters and brothers.

Merry Christmas!

30th Sunday in Ordinary Time


By John Dalla Costa

With the Year of Mercy ending soon, our question as church, and as individuals, is whether this year has made any difference. Personally, I’d grade myself an “incomplete.” I’d liked to have done more, learned more, and changed more. But I also trust that seeds have been planted – in my heart, in our church, and in our world – that are germinating still, and will yet yield a surprising harvest. One small seed with enormous potential comes from Francis’ invitation to speak gently.

As a writer and teacher I love words, and mourn for how we’ve so debased language for the sake of commerce, politics or ideology. By demoralizing our words we’ve also drained facts of their ethical value, leaving us bereft of understanding even as we drown in reams of data. Our words matter. What we say to others, or about others, has a material impact on the hope and dignity we’re creating together. So the simple task of changing our words can radically change our world, and the way we see it. Another seed involves recovering the feminine dimension of our church. In his book, which preceded the Jubilee, Walter (Cardinal) Kasper explains that Mary is the exemplar of mercy.

That she received the Word, bore God in her womb, helped Jesus to grow and go into the world, shows how we too can embody God’s mercy to one another. The feminine spiritual wisdom of silent heeding, attentive waiting, and purposeful self-offering, as modelled by Mary – and which has been coming ever more visibly to life in our liturgy, prayers, community, and social justice work at St. Basil – represents an antidote for the misogyny still all too present in our culture.

Today’s readings, while focused on God’s justice, remind us that mercy is not for the fainthearted. When he launched the Jubilee, Francis explained that his aim was to spark a wholesale conversion. With our global society stuck in self-fulfilling indifference, Francis invoked mercy to help us develop the skills of heart and imagination to become disruptors in the cause of God’s justice. With the year soon ending, that task of growing mercy to grow justice has only begun.

Sunday’s Readings:

Sirach 35.15-17, 20-22 2

Timothy 4.6-8, 16-18

Luke 18.9-14

21st Sunday in Ordinary Time


By: John Dalla Costa

At one of our last RCIA gatherings earlier this year, we experienced the prayerful immersion in scripture that is at the heart of the Catechesis of The Good Shepherd. Designed for very young children, this particular prayer used woodcut figures, including a tabletop miniature of an animal enclosure with a small gate, to enact the parable of the Good Shepherd. It took a while for my adult brain to surrender to the childlike cadence of this narrative in 3-D, but my heart leapt when one-by-one all the sheep followed Jesus through the gate into their protective enclosure.

I’ve usually interpreted this week’s gospel about “the narrow gate” as a warning. Jesus is saying that not everyone will make it into the safe space on the other side. Faith professed is insufficient. Only living discipleship with concrete deeds qualifies for passage.

But after the glimmer of wonder from the toy sheep, my adult interpretation of the narrow gate feels far too calculative. My heart especially no longer buys that the narrow gate is like a checkpoint where hypocrisy is finally exposed. Yes it’s needed to exclude evil. But more importantly, the narrow gate is for keeping us safe as we learn to love God, as God loves us.

Jesus ministry was defined by inclusion, welcoming everyone, always. What matters is not what we do to qualify for his acceptance, but how we accept him. The gate is therefore narrow not because God’s expectations are harsh, or because God’s mercy is limited, but because it is only as wide as Jesus himself.

The roughly carved figurine that will be used by children depicts Jesus carrying the lost lamb. My initial response was wanting to rest on those shoulders. But knowing Jesus, he is no doubt carrying the most reviled or vulnerable among us. The gate is narrow, but there is no need to scurry in. Once we know that imitating Jesus secures our right of way, we can imitate him here by taking care ourselves for those who are lost, until they too are safely home with our Lord.

Today’s Readings: Isaiah 66:18-21; Hebrews 12:5-7; Luke 13:22-30

Feast of Corpus Christi

“Give Them Something to Eat”

By John Dalla Costa

I wish you could see what I see.

The Body of Christ.

I wish you could see what I see as a Eucharistic minister.

The Body of Christ.

I wish you could see face to face those who come to receive holy communion.

The Body of Christ.

I wish you could see the longing eyes, the loving eyes, the wondering eyes, the quiet eyes, the confident eyes, the knowing eyes, the hungry eyes, the suffering eyes, the trusting eyes, the fervent eyes, the wise eyes, the searching eyes, the pleading eyes, the humble eyes, the revering eyes, that behold the upraised host as they come one by one to receive it.

The Body of Christ.

I wish you could see the soft hands, student hands, children’s hands, beseeching hands, callused hands, tentative hands, welcoming hands, mothers’ hands, fathers’ hands, gnarled hands, powerful hands, gentle hands, open in beckoning to hold Jesus.

The Body of Christ.

I wish you could see the glee, the awe, the utter humility, the abandon, the determination, the fierce wanting, the persistence, the relief, the friendship, the happiness, the holiness, the hesitation, the intrigue, the belonging, which get revealed in between the “Amen” and receiving the host.

The Body of Christ.

I wish you could see this procession from the perspective of the altar, as old and young, rich and poor, strong and infirm, flow forward with common purpose, where all our differences from race, culture, gender, status, nationality, expertise, ideology, occupation, education, and disposition, dissolve in the moment of communion.

The Body of Christ.

As the line winds down, I wish I could see others there, especially friends and family who have fallen away from the faith, or who for various reasons experience exclusion from our church.

The Body of Christ.

When I return to my pew I usually feel that something hidden about this most precious sacrament has been revealed to me simply from being present to others receiving the Lord. However jumbled my thoughts or incomplete my prayers, the gift and grace are urgently real because others have helped me see Jesus anew.

The Body of Christ.