Ascension Of Our Lord
Deacon Tom Vert
Preached: May 29, 2022
“I can’t believe the great service; look how often they fill up my glass!”
I remember thinking this the first time I went to a high-end restaurant for a business dinner many years ago.
They came and filled up the water glass, and I would take a few sips and before I knew it, somehow, magically, the glass was full again!”
I was used to going somewhere and you get a glass of water (or you get your own) and one glass is all you get.
But this new experience, really made me appreciate attentiveness and the importance of service and a great wait staff.
So, you may ask, Deacon Tom, what does the filling up of a water glass and great waiters possibly have to do with the readings this week?
And I would say that there are similarities between how the Holy Spirit acts in our lives, and how the water glass gets filled, and how that should inspire us in our spiritual lives.
Remember that Christ says at the Last Supper that he came to serve, not to be served; and that we are to do unto others as Jesus taught us to do, following his example as a servant washing others feet.
The Holy Spirit can easily symbolize this love and service of others as the attentive waiter of the church, always looking, always ready to help, and always with love.
We see the Holy Spirit mentioned quite a few times in the readings today:
• In the first reading:
- Jesus we are told gave the apostles instructions “through the Holy Spirit” So, we see that the Holy Spirit, the third person in the Trinity, was active in Christ’s life on earth, so we can be confident that He is active in ours also.
- We are also told, “you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit” and “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you”. This same promise is ours at our own baptisms where we receive the same Holy Spirit, not different, not less, but the same!
• In the second reading we hear so many wonderful things:
- “Brothers and sisters: May the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, give you a Spirit of wisdom and revelation”. St. Paul is praying to God for this wonderful gift to be given to the Ephesians and also to us.
- Paul goes on to say that the purpose of the gift of the Holy Spirit is for four reasons:
i. With this gift we will have knowledge of the Father – truly knowing that God is our Father who loves us
ii. That our “eyes in our hearts” may be enlightened – this means that our hearts are to receive light and knowledge; why? So that we will know that we are people of hope because we belong to him, and we are not alone!
iii. That we may know the richness of our inheritance – we may know the gift of eternal life that is now ours, not through our efforts, but by the work that Christ did on earth in his passion, death, and resurrection.
iv. We will know what is the greatness of His power that will be at our disposal to live the Christian life. The same power of the apostles is ours, if we ask and if we are joined to or we abide in His love.
And finally in the gospel we hear again of the Spirit:
• And behold I am sending the promise of my Father upon you; “when” you are clothed with power from on high.”, which is the gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost – again, the same clothing of the Holy Spirit at our baptisms and why we clothe ourselves in white.
• We also hear the reason for all this strengthening: The apostles and all of us will be Christ’s witnesses to preach the forgiveness of sins to the nations! Not just missionaries, but each and every one of us is called to be witnesses and servants in the faith!
The Holy Spirit I think has always been a little bit under appreciated in the Roman Catholic tradition, compared to the Eastern Orthodox tradition.
We need to be in awe of the Spirit, and to thank Him in all things like is said in the psalm – clap your hands, shout with joy, and sing songs of praise. Look how often the Holy Spirit is filling our glasses!
The Holy Spirit is involved in the sacraments:
• Blessing of the water and the child in Baptism
• Transformation of the water and wine in the Eucharist
• Anointing in confirmation and ordination
• Forgiveness in reconciliation
• Strength in Anointing of the Sick
• Glue that joins in Marriage
But that is only the beginning, we also have:
• The Holy Spirit speaking to us in the quiet moments of prayer
• The Holy Spirit who sends people into our lives to help us
And probably one of the most important things of all: the Holy Spirit who strengthens us, so that we be God’s witnesses in this life, to all those around us.
To witness means to testify or give evidence and comes from the Greek word “martus” from which we get martyr – witness to the point of suffering and even death.
We are God’s waiters and servants in the world, and we are called to witness by how we live and how we love – “truly I tell you, whatever you did for the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did this to me.”
I love this beautiful poem by a Christian pastor that really highlights our role as witnesses:
You write a sermon
A chapter each day
By the deeds that you do and the words that you say;
People read what you write, if it’s false or true
Say, what is the gospel according to you?
We witness each day in what we do or don’t do; who we help or don’t; what we say or when we keep silent; what we post or comment online; in what we have done, and what we have failed to do. When we have filled another’s cup or when we have sat idle.
We can only witness to God’s action in our lives, if we have had our own cup filled. We cannot help others if we have nothing to give.
We must first ask for God to fill our unique cup with his unique gifts, encouragement, peace, comfort and gifts and talents.
We can then use this cup that is so full to then be God’s hands and feet, in answers to prayer, in being people who comfort and love; and to use the unique gifts given to us to build up the body of Christ in the world.
So think of yourself as God’s waiter, and getting ready to help and then to have your pitcher of water filled…I would ask you pray the Holy Spirit prayer which I will ask you to do with me now.
Close your eyes and repeat after me:
Come Holy Spirit,
fill the hearts of your faithful,
kindle in us the fire of your love.
Send for your Spirit and we shall be created,
and you will renew the face of the earth!
Fr. Mark Gatto
Posted: May 22, 2021
True Prayer is very dangerous. And perhaps the most dangerous prayer of all is, “Come Holy Spirit.” When we call upon the Holy Spirit with an open heart then God will want to change and transform us, will want to work through us. We do not know where that may lead us. There are many images for the Holy Spirit, such as fire and wind. We warn children not to play with fire. We know that wind comes and goes sometimes without warning and we do not have control over where it blows.
The Risen Lord Jesus as he appears to the disciples, breathes on them and says, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” The breath of God transforming and changing them. In the story of that first Pentecost, the Spirit came like a rush of violent wind and as tongues of fire. Then we see the disciples speaking in many languages. The Church was being transformed and going out to all people, in all the world.
The Holy Spirit is able to transform and change everything. We see this in the Eucharist when the priest prays over the gifts of bread and wine on the altar. We call this the Epiclesis, the calling down of the Holy Spirit, as the priest extends his hands over the elements. This symbolizes the Holy Spirit transforming this simple bread and wine into the real presence of the Lord. This also reflects the Holy Spirit wanting to transform us, the people of God, into the body of Christ.
The Holy Spirit is the true power of the Church. Sometimes in history, the Church has had political power or economic power. Sometimes the Church has had great influence and control within society. But, this is not the true power at the heart of the Church. The true power at the heart of the Church is the power of the Holy Spirit. Not a power of control or political influence. After calling for the Holy Spirit to be received by the disciples, Jesus says, “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them.”
The great power of the Church is the power of Holy Spirit seen in the power of forgiveness. Forgiveness has the power to transform people and communities and situations. When you forgive someone it can be like giving them new life. When forgiveness happens within a community or family, it has the power to change relationships, bringing healing and peace.
St. Paul lists the fruit of the Spirit. Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. True prayer of the heart is dangerous. For it has the power to transform us and change us. Often in ways we did not expect. But, we need to have a heart open to the Holy Spirit, open to being changed and transformed.
We see the power of the Holy Spirit when a great sinner repents and changes. When a person who is a coward becomes courageous. When someone who was immersed in riches and possesions changes to embrace a simple way of life. We know that our prayer to the Holy Spirit is honest when it leads us to love, joy, peace, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
Pray for the coming of the Holy Spirit often. That simple prayer in our heart, “Come Holy Spirit.” At the beginning of each day. Before each encounter with someone in our family, or friends or coworkers. Before each social media post. “Come Holy Spirit.”
The Holy Spirit is able to transform how we act and think and treat others.
Deacon Tom Vert
Preached: May 31, 2020
“But I’m just a small piece of coloured stone”!
Picture a small square or rectangle of coloured stone or glass about 10mm or ½” in size talking to another small piece and making this statement.
A small piece with its own colour, lustre, translucency, and texture.
This is what I imagine two or more stones from a beautiful mosaic saying to each other during their daily chat.
“How can I be important?” “I am not noticeable”, or “I am too small to matter.”
And yet, when we observe a mosaic image in a church, we see so much more.
In our trip last year to Italy, we saw amazing mosaics over 1000 years old, still with their shine, still able to evoke our emotions and touch our souls.
In our own parish we have beautiful mosaic stations of the cross at Our Lady of Lourdes site.
These stations from what we can tell are over 70 years old and were hand made in Italy using techniques such as burlap to reinforce the concrete backing.
The craftsmanship and beauty ensured that we would not abandon these pieces of art when we make our move to the new parish site. They have been restored and enhanced to allow another 70 years of parishioners to have their own hearts and souls impacted.
This image of little individual stones inside a larger picture, is the message that the readings today on this feast of Pentecost convey to us.
Many times, in our lives, I am sure we feel like individual Christians, small, insignificant and having no impact on the live and faith of the church.
But these feelings would be wrong.
Just like the individual stones, we are all individuals, no two the same, and we each make up a key component of the entire mosaic of the church.
St. Paul gives this same message to the Corinthians and to us “brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed”.
“Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.”
What a powerful message for us! Each of us as individuals has a unique gift, a special service, a strength for activity in the church.
Each of us gets to sparkle with our own colour, lustre, translucency and texture.
In order to bring forth the power of the Holy Spirit in us for the common good!
Our little stone, or piece of marble is a part of the greater mosaic of God’s love that is the church in the world today.
And just like 4 or 5 stones in a mosaic make an image of an eye or a smile; when we bring our gifts together with others, we can bring talents together for an RCIA program, or a way to feed the poor.
We may think that our stone doesn’t matter, but if you look at a mosaic, if a stone is missing, then the image does not have the same effect!
Each of us is called, each of us is loved, each of us is important to the Body of Christ.
Just as all apostles received the gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, they didn’t end up having the same mission.
St. Peter went to Syria and Rome, St. John to Turkey, Simon and Jude to Armenia and St. Thomas to India.
We are the same! We bring our gifts and talents of prayer, wisdom, knowledge, faith, joy and love to unique places. One brings it to Dofasco, another to McMaster, another to Limeridge Mall, another to the hospital, etc.
And the beauty is that when all of us are seen together as a whole image, the world sees the Christian faith and the love of God being done to make the world a better place and to bring the kingdom of God to the here and now.
The gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost is the same we received at our baptisms and you can picture it as the concrete in the mosaic that binds all the pieces together!
When we proclaim in the psalm – send out your Spirit O Lord and renew the face of the earth, it is we who are sent out. The psalm does not speak of this as a one-time thing, but a continuous process.
This appearance of the mosaic also helps us understand the Body of Christ and the church itself.
Sometimes we may focus on one part of the image only and miss the whole thing. If we are focused on a particular challenge of the church like some of the recent abuses, or a rule or law we don’t like; then we can miss the entire picture, like the growth of the faith in southern hemisphere and the power of love that is shown.
If we focus on the current trials and tribulations in North America, we would miss what I saw in India with 500 children singing acapella the morning hymns in a rural church in India; or the Sunday mass at 7am in Zimbabwe with the church bursting and the children seated all over the sanctuary as there was no other space.
This is one thing I love about Pope Francis – he has us focused to the peripheries – he has nominated cardinals from the farthest corners of the world in order to ensure every part of the mosaic is seen, not just the middle.
The mosaic of the faith over 2000 years has had ups and downs, highs and lows, but through it all the gospel, the Good News of Christ continues to grow, and love and peace continue to shine forth.
So, what can we do individually? In the advice of St. Catherine of Siena – “be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire!”
This is great guidance for us when we look inwards sometimes and say:
“But I’m just a small piece of coloured stone”
6th Sunday of Easter
Deacon Tom Vert
Preached: May 17, 2020
“Now where did I put that charger?”
How many times have I said that statement and how many times have I let my batteries run down?
Sometimes it is my iPad, sometimes the Bluetooth device, and of course the #1 culprit is my cell phone!
I don’t mean to let it run down but before you know how it goes, the battery is less than 15% and I’m getting warnings.
It of course happens when I am far from home and I didn’t buy the car charger device, so I’m stuck! Or the time I lost my charging cord at the hotel in a foreign country.
Either way, I’m low on battery, and I have to find a charger to get my functionality back to normal.
Don’t we feel the same way in the spiritual life sometimes?
We are so busy keeping connected to work, friends, family; we have to take care of our homes and cars, and we run out of battery power!
What is this battery power in the spiritual life and how do we ensure that the power never runs down to the warning signal?
We hear the answer in Christ’s words today
“I will ask the Father,
and he will give you another Advocate to be with you always,
the Spirit of truth”
Christ knew he was leaving the disciples and returning to the Father, and he knew that left alone, our battery power would drop quickly, so God sent the Holy Spirit to be our strength, our source of energy in the spiritual life.
Sometimes I think the Holy Spirit is the forgotten part of the Trinity. God the Father gets a lot of focus of course and Christ as redeemer, but the Holy Spirit is just as much a part of the Trinity and we don’t seem to talk about the Spirit as much.
Which is too bad really as the Spirit continues with us now each day and is active in everything that we do in the faith life.
In Baptism, it is always humbling to me to know that the Holy Spirit works through the deacon, or priest as the water is blessed:
“by the power of the Spirit give to the water of this font the grace of your Son”
In the Eucharist, the priest says the words: “make holy, therefore, these gifts, we pray, by sending down your Spirit upon them like the dewfall, so that they may become for us the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ”
In Confirmation, the bishop says: “send your Holy Spirit upon them to be their helper and guide. Give them the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of right judgement and courage, the spirit of knowledge and reverence. Fill them with the spirit of wonder and awe in your presence.”
And then he anoints the candidate, “be sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit”.
At these major sacraments; at these key points in our lives we see the Holy Spirit front and centre, but the rest of the year, it seems that the Holy Spirit is much more hidden and lower key.
But if this is the part of the Trinity that God has given for battery power, strength and sustenance, should we speak of it more?
I have been doing a little research on ecumenism lately, as Vatican II has asked us to do, and it is interesting that our Eastern Orthodox brothers and sisters, who have had beautiful liturgies and theology for the same 2000 years, have a much higher emphasis on a daily encounter with the Holy Spirit.
In their morning prayers they begin with this:
“O Heavenly King, the Comforter, the Spirit of Truth, you are everywhere and fill all things, Treasury of blessings and giver of life: come and abide in us, cleanse us from every impurity, and save our souls, O good one.”
I love this prayer as it invites the Holy Spirit to come and abide with us, cleanse us from sin and save our souls.
It acknowledges that even though God send the Holy Spirit to guide us and give us strength, he is not forced upon us!
The battery is there, but we have to bring the charger and plug it in!
We see this in the first reading, where the deacon Phillip, has the Samaritans listening to the message with great joy, but it is the power of the Holy Spirit through the laying on of hands that embraces them into the Christian life and will be their strength in the persecutions and challenges to come.
In the second reading, Peter tells the Christians that they will have to give an explanation to others about Christ and the reason for their hope – it reminds us what Christ told us in the gospel of Luke – “do not worry about what you will say…for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that time”.
Or in the book of Romans: “we don’t know what God wants us to pray for. But the Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words”.
We are called to plug our charger in to the battery of the Holy Spirit and we are fully charged and ready.
But if we try and rely in ourselves and forget the charger, we quickly run low and our answers will be based only on our own knowledge, which can never give to others the joy, love and caring that we get with the gifts of the Holy Spirit.
Jesus tells us “if you love me, you will keep my commandments” and we know the two commandments are to love the Lord your God will all your heart, mind, soul and strength, and to love your neighbour as yourself.
It is hard to keep the commandments if we are self-reliant; but if we are tapped into our battery power daily, through 9 key words “come Holy Spirit, fill the heart of your servant” than we will never have say “Now where did I put that charger?”
Second Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year A
Deacon Tom Vert
Preached: January 19, 2020
How many lumens do you shine?
When we go to look for a light at Home Depot, the box tells us how many lumens of energy the light emits – a typical light around 1000-2000 lumens and one that is brighter over 5000 lumens.
“Lumens” is a fancy name for candlepower as they are calculated by a candle giving off one square foot of light from one foot away.
So how many lumens, is how many candles of light are emitted from your spiritual light source.
Our spiritual light source is the power of the Holy Spirit we received at our baptisms and throughout our lives.
At our baptisms we receive our baptismal candle which is lit from the Easter candle and we are told “this light is entrusted to you to be kept burning brightly” and to “keep the flame of faith alive in our hearts”!
The image of light is so powerful in our faith:
- The first thing God created was light – let there be Light!
- Isaiah tells us in the first reading today that God will make him and us a “light to the nations”
- In the book of James, we hear “light has come into the world”
- Jesus is the “light of the world”
- And in Romans, “let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light”
This theme of light and showing our light to the world is the key to today’s readings.
In the first reading we hear Isaiah speaking in a spirit of thanksgiving. He is thanking God for all he has done through him.
God says – “you are my servant…through whom I show my glory”. This is key as it shows that God shines through us – the power and strength of the Holy Spirit that we have been given in grace is what we are to show to the world. These are to be our lumens that shine forth!
Isaiah was told that he was “formed as a servant from the womb”, just as each one of us is formed with unique gifts and talents that only our own candles will have.
In the psalm we have sung – “Here am I Lord, I come to do your will.” This phrasing is important because it shows us that when we shine our lives out for those to see – it only works if we are doing His will and not our own!
We shine forth to show God’s love and mercy and forgiveness to all those around us, not for the spotlight to be shining on ourselves.
The psalm also teaches us that we are to have “ears open to obedience” and “God’s law in our hearts”.
Always we are called to have God’s message as the focus and source of our candlelight!
In the second reading which is the first 3 lines of St. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, we hear two key messages: Paul is “called to be an apostle by the will of God” and we are “called to be holy”
Both of these are important as we see that even the most famous preacher of the gospel, St. Paul, doesn’t focus on himself – he was called by the will of God.
The beautiful message today is that we are called by the same will of God and we are empowered to be holy by the same gift of the Holy Spirit that Paul was.
Paul may have been knocked down by the light of Christ on the road to Damascus, but we receive the exact same light of Christ at our own baptisms! There is only one Holy Spirit who through the centuries has carried God’s message to each and every one of us.
When Paul says, “Grace and peace to you”, it echoes what we hear at the beginning of each mass – “the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all”
The grace and the peace are the same as 2000 years ago, with the same source in the power of the Holy Spirit.
And then we hear in the gospel today this beautiful story of John the Baptist and Christ at the Jordan just after Christ’s baptism.
John points his own disciples towards Christ and says, “Behold the Lamb of God”. His supporters would have known the Old Testament reference he was making to the “gentle lamb led to the slaughter” that was prophesized by Jeremiah and Isaiah.
They would have known that he was telling them this is the Messiah who would redeem the Jewish nation by his sacrifice and would be a conquering lamb like king David.
John knows his role, he is not the Messiah, he says “this is the reason I came – that he might be made known”.
John knows his calling is based on his unique gifts and this should cause us to pause and think of the gifts that God has given to us individually. What is the talent that I have that is to shine forth so that people can see my connection to Christ?
The question we have is how much light is shining out from our Spirit, and if we have grown dim or dull over time, how do we now increase our lumens?
There are 2 ways to do this:
- We have to make sure we are connected to the power – the light bulb doesn’t work if it isn’t connected! This means that we have to make sure our prayer life is strong and that we receive the “medicine” of the Eucharist to give us strength.
- We have to make sure that our lights are not covered in dust and dirt, etc. It is amazing isn’t it that dust accumulates so slowly over time, but if you look after a while you can wipe off the layer of white with your finger. Sin is the same, it creeps slowly into our lives unannounced, but we have power through reconciliation to wipe the bulb clean!
So then what kind of light are we shining forth? If the source is the Holy Spirit, then the candle power that shines forth are the fruits of the Holy Spirit.
We shine forth kindness, gentleness, peace, goodness, self-control, faithfulness, patience, joy and of course love.
The more we see these fruits in action in our lives, the more we know our light is shining brightly.
We hear in the bible “No one lights a lamp to put it under the tub – they put it on a lampstand where it shines for everyone in the house.” You are that lamp, shining brightly for all to see!
So, this week ask yourself this one question when you pray “How many lumens am I?”