by Lisa Fernandes

Today’s readings, on the third Sunday of Lent, are about signs and symbols of God. The first reading is about a physical symbol of God’s word, in this case the stone tablets of the Ten Commandments which were “…written with the finger of God” (Exodus 31:18) In the Second Commandment we specifically read about the danger of worshipping physical objects meant to signify God: “You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above…” (Exodus 20.4). This is not a literal prohibition against carving physical images; it is about placing our faith in anything that takes the place of us depending on God. The responsorial Psalm 19 tells us that the precepts law and fear of the Lord are more to be desired than gold: ”More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold;…” (Psalm 19.10) The importance of a sign or symbol of God is what it means, not what it’s made of. We encounter in our lives not only religious symbols but also secular ones. The Olympics this year partially took place during Lent. The ultimate quest in the Olympics is for the gold medal, a sign that an athlete is the best in the world and some athletes worship the gold medal almost just like worshipping an idol. Some are happy just to be there and participate. We need to take caution in not relying on the wrong kinds of idols to fulfill us (want to put down your phone?) The second reading continues the theme of the first and reinforces the importance of the cross as a sign and symbol of Christianity. In first Corinthians we read that the Gentiles may see our signs as foolishness however: “The message about the Cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (1 Corinthians 1.18) When we were marked on Ash Wednesday with the sign of the cross on our foreheads, that was a visible symbol of the Cross that also expressed that we are mortal and fallible: “…For dust you are and to dust you shall return.” (Genesis 3:19) Finally in the Gospel we read the important story about Jesus driving out the moneylenders who were more concerned with the signs of material wealth than this being a temple of God. We see a very angry Christ telling us how important this is. The Jews demanded a sign that he had the authority to cleanse the temple: “…What sign can you show us for doing this?” and he anticipates his death and resurrection. (John 2.18) The most important sign is one you cannot see – your faith.

Sunday’s Readings:

Exodus 20.1-17

Psalm 19

1 Corinthians 1.18, 22-25

John 2.13-25


by Lisa Fernandes

Today’s readings are about hope. Job is a man who exemplifies suffering. He is subjected to many trials and tribulations and in the first reading we feel his misery when he appeals to us by saying: “My days are swifter than a weaver’s shuttle, and come to their end without hope. Remember that my life is a breath; my eye will never again see good.” (Job 7. 6-7) To him life seems hopeless; but he does not lose faith.

In the second reading we hear of Paul’s mission as an apostle, to teach the Gospel and spread the hope of Christ. We see his passion for his work when he says: “I have become all things to all people so that I might by any means save some. I do it for the sake of the gospel, so that I may share in its blessing.” (I Corinthians 9.22-23) The second reading shows us hope in action, not just personal but spreading the good news to others.

I attended a veneration of a relic of St. Francis Xavier recently at St. Michael’s Cathedral Basilica. He has been called the greatest missionary since St. Paul. He baptized around one hundred thousand people and performed miracles of healing and others. As I did, thousands of people lined up across Canada to venerate the relic, a physical symbol of a man who brought hope and the good news of the Gospel to so many, and continues to do so even now. It was uplifting to see this turnout at a time when there does not seem to be a lot of hope in the world.

The Gospel shows us hope fulfilled by the power of Christ’s deeds. Jesus heals Simon’s mother-in-law and cures many others from the city who were sick and possessed. We feel hope for ourselves when we see what Jesus can do for the whole city and even more so for humanity when he says: “Let us go on to the neighbouring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do” (Mark 1.29). In this case hope fulfilled becomes reality. Let us pray that we continue to hold to our hope in Christ.

Sunday’s Readings:
Job 7.14, 6-7
Psalm 147
1 Corinthians 9.16-19, 22-23
Mark 1.29-39

Gaudete Sunday

Gaudete Sunday

by Lisa Fernandes

Today we celebrate the third Sunday of Advent also known as Gaudete Sunday or Rejoice Sunday. Advent generally is a time for us to prepare and make way for Christ’s coming. In the Gospel we read about John and his role in this important event when he says: “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord.’” (John 1.23) On Gaudete Sunday we are rejoicing because our preparation is almost done. As the first reading says: “I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my soul shall exult in my God;…” (Isaiah 61.10) Advent is also a time of new beginnings and is the start of each new liturgical year. I recently heard a comparison between Advent and the wait for the birth of a child. Parents are nervous and anxious; they are unprepared even amid their joy when awaiting the birth of a child. In the same way, in Advent we are happy to remember the birth of Christ and await his coming again, but at the same time we are anxious; we are not prepared and have not reconciled our sins with God. In our family we have many different kinds of advent calendars and candles to mark the countdown including secular ones – a hand painted wooden tree with ornaments added each day, one with chocolates (of course) and a candle with 24 days of December marked. Most importantly, though, we have a traditional Advent Wreath with three purple candles and one pink one. The purple ones can be seen as representing sacrifice. Today on Gaudete Sunday, we will be lighting the pink one which reminds us of the joy among our more solemn preparation from the past couple of weeks. Each candle that is lit brings more light into the darkness. During this time of year, let’s reflect on the spiritual preparation of the season as well as the secular preparation for feasts and gift buying and try to be Christian towards others as we deal with holiday crowds! As Catholics we can focus and pray upon some of the themes of Advent like hope and anticipation, peace, joy and love even though at times the world seems to be lacking these. Perhaps we can remember that Christ’s birth is the greatest gift of all.

Sunday’s Readings:

Isaiah 61.1-2a, 10-11

Luke 1

1 Thessalonians 5.16-24

John 1.6-8, 19-28



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



by Lisa Fernandes

“To err is human, to forgive divine” as Alexander Pope wrote. Today’s readings capture this difficult path we all have to travel. We want to be forgiven our human transgressions, as difficult as it is for us to forgive others. As in the first reading: “Forgive your neighbour the wrong that is done, and then your sins will be pardoned when you pray.” (Sirach 28.2)

Today’s Gospel reading tells us more about forgiveness. The parable is about a slave whose debt is forgiven by his king but who does not “pay it forward” and show forgiveness to a fellow slave who is indebted to him but instead tortures him, and thus warns us: “So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.” (Matthew 18.35)

The difficulty of forgiveness is shown when Peter asks Jesus if seven times is enough to forgive his brother or sister and: “Jesus said to him, ‘Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.” (Matthew 18.22)

Seven is a significant number in the Bible usually related to completeness and perfection (God rested on the seventh day after creating the heavens and earth, and seven pairs of clean animals went on the ark etc…) so this is not a literal counting but a lesson about the limitlessness of forgiveness. In the Old Testament, the number seven was more associated with revenge: “Then the LORD said to him, ‘Not so! Whoever kills Cain will suffer a sevenfold vengeance.’ ”(Genesis 4.15) while the New Testament has a contrasting emphasis on forgiveness.

God forgives us unconditionally; how can we aspire to do the same with others? We can start small. If someone cuts you off on the road, instead of road rage forgive them and give them the benefit of the doubt. Or if someone doesn’t hold the door for you, give them a pass. Every week in Mass when we say the Lord’s Prayer, we ask God to: “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” There are role models both religious and secular, such as Nelson Mandela who forgave and reconciled with those who had kept him captive.

As C.S. Lewis put it, “To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable, because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you”.

Sundays Readings:

Sirach 27.30-28.7

Psalm 103

Romans 14.7-9

Matthew 18.21-35



By Lisa Fernandes

Today we celebrate the Feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord. This is an ancient feast that was gradually introduced into the Western Church, and made a universal feast by Pope Callistus III in 1457. It celebrates Christ’s glorious transformation before several Apostles.

Just prior to the Transfiguration Jesus takes Peter, James and his brother John up a high mountain where his appearance changes: “And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white” (Matthew 17.2).

According to the Catechism: “Christ’s Transfiguration aims at strengthening the apostles’ faith in anticipation of his Passion: the ascent onto the ‘high mountain’ prepares for the ascent to Calvary” (CCC 568). Today it is an important reminder of Christ’s divine nature; we all need reminders to strengthen our faith in this age of chaos.

Peter, James and John were purposely chosen as Jesus only needed a few witnesses and these, specifically, were part of his inner circle. These are the same three disciples that later accompanied Christ to Gethsemane on the eve of his passion. The transfiguration was not meant for the masses even though Peter misunderstood what was happening and wanted to build tents to mark the event and show everyone. But it was meant only for their eyes as Peter and the other disciples realize when suddenly God says: “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!” (Matthew 17.5). It was at this point that the disciples fell down to the ground in awe.

I think it is important for us as current believers to understand their amazement. In our society where there sometimes seems to be a lack of wonder and we are becoming jaded, we seem to have lost our childlike amazement. We overuse the term “awesome.”

I was reminded of this in a recent obituary of Dr. Shigeaki Hinohara, a longevity expert who died at the age of 105. He had many rules for living longer: “We all remember how as children, when we were having fun, we often forgot to eat or sleep,” he often said. “I believe we can keep that attitude as adults — it is best not to tire the body with too many rules such as lunchtime and bedtime.”

How can you recapture your amazement at this wonderful life God has given us? Write a gratitude journal. Find awe in everyday things. I recently went to hear one of the world’s greatest choirs, The Choir of Trinity College Cambridge from England and I thought how lucky I was to have this experience. And also don’t take for granted Christ’s sacrifice. Pope Francis encouraged parishioners to look at the Cross often, and to remember how Jesus was “annihilated” to save us.

Relish the rare moments in between our everyday life when we might sense we are on the mountaintop in communion with Jesus.

Sundays Readings:

Daniel 7.9-10, 13-14 2

Peter 1.16-19

Matthew 17.1-9

Ascension of the Lord


By Lisa Fernandes

Today is the Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord and World Communications Day; appropriately enough today’s Psalm speaks of shouting, as well as singing praises to God. The Ascension, also known as the Great Commission, followed Jesus’ parting words from the gospel – the last direct encounter of Jesus with the disciples – when he says the following before he ascends to heaven: “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age” (Matt. 28:19-20).

We acknowledge this at every mass when we say the Apostles Creed. In his address for today’s 51st World Communications Day, Pope Francis ties the two together. First he talks about communication as he asks “…everyone to offer the people of our time storylines that are at heart ‘good news'”. Then he talks about the Ascension: “Our hope based on the good news which is Jesus himself makes us lift up our eyes to contemplate the Lord in the liturgical celebration of the Ascension.”

I was reminded of the idea of storylines from Pope Francis’ address at a talk by Bishop Paul Tighe (Adjunct Secretary with the Vatican Council for Culture) in the recent Annual Christianity and the Arts Lecture, “The Church and Contemporary Art”. He said we need a culture of encounter or dialogue with others. Art plays a role in taking this dialogue forward; art invites us to be attentive in a distracted world – an idea I appreciate as someone who has studied art history and loves spending time in museums and galleries. As Bishop Tighe said, art is universal, and the church originally needed artists as they made stories accessible to those who could not read. We all want to be in the know which is why we check our mobile devices constantly. In our age of FOMO (fear of missing out) and increased social media we might be losing the essence of dialogue as more and more dialogue is taking place between an individual and their mobile device rather than with people. So on this dual day of celebration, maybe take a minute to put down your mobile device, take in an art show and “be here now” as they used to say in the 70s – and then discuss the art you’ve seen with others.

Sunday’s Readings:

Acts 1.1-11

Ephesians 1.17-23

Matthew 28.16-20

Fourth Sunday of Lent


By Lisa Fernandes

Two weeks ago we all made the change to Daylight Savings Time. If you’re like me you might find the dark mornings difficult to adjust to but, like me as well, you’re probably looking forward to those light Spring mornings that will soon come. The readings this week talk about how we, as Catholics, can move from our metaphorical darkness to the light with the help of God’s love. In the Second Reading, for example, we’re reminded that we all started in darkness: “For once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light…” (Ephesians 5:8).

By finding what is pleasing to the Lord we can find the light. In the Gospel, Jesus cures a blind man, helping him to move out of his personal darkness. Jesus promises us our own journey out of darkness: “As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world” (John 9:5). Ironically, even though Jesus did a wonderful thing for the blind man he was criticized by the Pharisees; doing work on the Sabbath, even healing someone, was “against the rules”. But, just as Jesus acted contrary to the accepted rules of his society to do a greater good, we may sometimes have to resist peer pressure or protest the actions of the majority to do good and walk in the light ourselves. The theme of darkness to light is echoed further in one of everyone’s favourite Psalms: “Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me…” (Psalm 23:4).

At points in our lives we may all find ourselves in a valley of darkness but we get through it with God’s help and by looking forward to emerging into the light. And if we focus on the presence of God’s love we may get there sooner. As we move towards Easter and celebrating the Resurrection, we move through the light of Spring and to the light of the world, Jesus.

Sunday’s Readings:

1 Samuel 16.1b, 6-7, 10-13

Ephesians 5.8-14

John 9.1-41

Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time


By Lisa Fernandes

Today is the fourth Sunday after Epiphany. Epiphany has three meanings. The first meaning when capitalized, refers to the twelfth day of Christmas (January 6th observed January 8th this year) in the Western Catholic Church and is a Feast Day celebrating the first appearance of Christ to the Gentiles as represented by the Magi. The second meaning refers to the appearance of a divine being to man and the third meaning refers to a revelation or “aha” moment which may or may not be spiritual, such as when an apple fell leading Sir Isaac Newton to formulate his theory of gravity.

I was reminded of one of the most profound divine epiphanies in the Catholic Church when I recently visited an exhibit at the Aga Khan Museum called “Syria: A Living History.” I saw a beautiful silver plaque dated 550-600 of Saint Paul on the Road to Damascus. Paul the Apostle was a Pharisee who persecuted Christians. In those days he was called Saul. His view changed on the Road to Damascus when he saw a blinding light from heaven: He asked, “Who are you, Lord?” The reply came, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.” But get up and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do” (Acts 9:5). After that he became a follower of Jesus. The exhibit showcased the rich history of Syrians and its Christian community which is one of the oldest in the world going back two millennia. We are reminded of the sad state of affairs today in Syria where Christians are in peril and some of them are coming here to Canada as refugees.

Today’s readings remind us how God favours the less fortunate and the poor. For example, in the second reading we read: “But God what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one might boast in the presence of God” (1 Cor. 1:27-29). And in the Gospel, the Beatitudes go on to call those who may seem to be afflicted as actually blessed as they receive God’s compassion and mercy: “Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled” (Matt. 5:3-6). With the plight of refugees becoming worse, perhaps now we can remember the gifts the Magi brought to the newborn Christ and continue to give the Syrian refugees the gift of freedom. Sunday’s

Readings: Zephaniah 2.3,3.12-13; 1 Corinthians 1.26-31; Matthew 5.1-12

Second Sunday of Advent


By Lisa Fernandes

Today is the second week of four weeks which make up the season of Advent. Advent comes from the Latin word “adventus” meaning coming and this time is about both the coming of Christ at Christmas as in his historical birthday and the Second Coming to bring justice and harmony to the world. In this season of Advent before Christmas, we have moved from ordinary times in the liturgy to a time of celebration where we look forward to Christ’s coming. Themes throughout Advent include hope, peace, joy and love.

The readings for the second week of Advent deal with peace. In the first reading, we learn about a time of peace and safety: “Then the wolf shall be a guest of the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid…..” (Isaiah 11: 6) In the second reading, we see further a discussion of hope – telling us not to give up hope but to wait in harmony with one another: “May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to think in harmony with one another, in keeping with Christ Jesus…” (Rom 15:5) The gospel continues this theme of waiting and hoping and, in addition, we see a theme of repentance in which the faithful will prepare themselves for Christ’s coming: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” (Mt 3: 2). The Gospel refers to John the Baptist as an example of how we might anticipate Christ’s coming.

As we all know, colour plays a significant role in the church as it takes us through the liturgical year. For the season of Advent, purple in the vestments, candles, hangings etc. has a meaning of sovereignty, i.e. Christ is King. (I love the season of Advent as it is the season of new beginnings and my favourite colour purple is in abundance). During this time as well, the Advent wreath is traditionally lit. The wreath itself is a symbol of eternity and unending love.

There are four candles. The second candle, which is purple, is the Bethlehem candle which represents the birthplace of Christ (the first coming) and the hope of Christ coming again to the world.

This new liturgical year is also the anniversary of the Reformation – the 500th anniversary which was recently observed ecumenically with Pope Francis and Lutherans. We can recognize the pain of the divisions in the church because we all experience divisions in our own lives. We encounter it in our own society trying to live together in a diverse country.

As an American citizen, I see as we look to the south, how the problems of possible divisions still exist. During Advent, there is time for all of us to experience repentance as we reach out with a goal towards harmony.

Sunday’s Readings:

Isaiah 11.1-10

Romans 15.4-9

Matthew 3.1-12