presence of God
19th Sunday Ordinary Time
Deacon William Meehan
Preached: August 13, 2023
The attention span of a goldfish is approximately 9 seconds. And according to a study by Microsoft back in 2000, the average attention span of a human person is 12 seconds. So we are only doing just a little bit better than goldfish.
Being distracted seems like a normal part of the human experience. Distractions are natural. What takes effort is being productive, focused, and concentrating. But distractions do not only impede our productivity at work or impact our relationships with others. They also arise in our spiritual and prayer life.
A few years ago, I read a book by Carmelite nun Ruth Burrows called Guidelines for Mystical Prayer. It was all about the spiritual life and, in particular, the struggles that we all face in trying to pray. She said that prayer is like walking on a path, like being on a journey. If we persevere along this path, we will experience God’s presence.
However, like a dog who impulsively stops to smell every tree, or to pick up every stick, we too have a tendency to get distracted and to veer off the path. There are things which catch our attention and which draw us away from where our focus should be – they draw our attention away from God – they distract us.
We see this danger very clearly in the account of Peter with Jesus on the water. Peter recognizes Jesus standing on the water and he immediately wants to go to him. He wants to be close to Christ, and so he walks toward Jesus. And for as long as Peter keeps his focus on Jesus, everything is fine. However, he quickly becomes distracted by the wind; he is concerned with the storm – he is preoccupied. Peter
should have known that he would be safe – he should have had faith that Jesus would protect him. But he allows himself to be distracted – he takes his gaze off of Jesus. And what happens? He begins to sink.
Ruth Burrows says that these kinds of concerns are common. We are all here today because we believe in God, because we want to experience God’s love, and because we hope in the beatific vision, in heaven. We want this to be our focus, but when we pray there are still distractions. There are the things which occupy our lives, and which take our focus away from God. The problem with distractions is that they can be dangerous. When we focus on ourselves, when we focus on material instead of spiritual goods, we become weighed down and, like Peter, we are going to sink.
I think that we can all agree that there are those distractions in our lives which we know are harmful and which we strive to avoid. And that is wonderful. But, Ruth Burrows says that there is another kind of distraction. There is the distraction which comes when we ourselves turn away – when we follow the wrong trail sign, when we make a wrong turn on the path, thinking that we know where we are going. And this type of distraction is just as problematic.
When Elijah goes up the mountain, he expects to see the Lord. God is mighty and all-powerful, so it is a great surprise that God is not found in the violent wind, the earthquake, or the fire. Instead, against all expectations, God is present in the silence.
In our prayer we expect to hear God speak to us as some great voice from above. We think that when we pray, it is always going to be some wonderful mystical experience – like the ecstatic union experienced by Saint Teresa of Avila.
But this is simply not the case for the overwhelming majority of us. And the problem is that, when we are looking for God in the great wind, or the earthquake, or the fire, we end up missing the fact that God has been, and continues to be, present in the silence. As we go about our daily lives, God is present. It is in the small things, in the silence, in our every-day encounters that we should be expecting to experience God. Prayer is, most often, going to be quiet. When we remember this, we are much less likely to become distracted and to veer off the path of the spiritual life.
Distractions are inevitable, and when it comes to prayer, they are very common. So do not be discouraged. Yes, there are things that we can do to try to keep on the right path, to keep our gaze fixed on Jesus. But there are times when we, like Peter, are going to be sinking. In those times when you feel distracted, or you feel like God is silent and you worry about taking the wrong turn, do not be afraid. Peter was afraid, and it was this fear that caused him to sink.
Even when we are distracted, even when we turn away, Jesus remains focused on us. He keeps his
gaze on us, and he reaches out to us in the midst of these distractions. Jesus is reaching out, offering to pull us back onto the right path. What we need to do, on our part, is to accept his help – to let him catch us.
When we find that we are distracted either because something has drawn our attention away from God, or because we have been looking for God in the wrong places, we need to accept that we have strayed and to allow Jesus to pull us back. We need to trust in his presence, even when it comes in the silence. We, like Peter, need to call out to God and say: “Lord, save me!”
5th Sunday Ordinary Time
Fr. Mark Gatto
Have you ever had a powerful experience of God? We just heard two accounts of mystical experiences of being in the presence of the Holy.
The Prophet Isaiah in the Temple in Jerusalem. He describes an experience of the holiness of God. He hears the Seraphs calling out, “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord of Hosts,” Today when we celebrate the Eucharist we make this same acclamation in the Sanctus, “Holy, Holy, Holy Lord God of hosts,” as we prepare to be in the presence of the Holy God in Holy Communion.
Isaiah is overwhelmed before the sense of the transcendent, holy God. He feels so unworthy in the presence of the Holy One. But, the Seraph touches his mouth with a fiery coal taken from the altar and he is told that his guilt has departed and his sin is blotted out. With this experience of encountering the Holy God, the Prophet Isaiah hears the call sending him out to be an instrument of God. Isaiah responds with a prayer that each of us could use every day, “Here am I, send me.”
The second mystical experience of being in the presence of God takes place in the Gospel. Peter experiences the Holiness of God, not in the Temple, but in the presence of Jesus. Like Isaiah,
Peter’s first reaction is a sense of being unworthy. “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” Jesus answers him, “Do not be afraid.” Then Peter is given a mission, he is sent out. He leaves everything and follows Jesus and is told that from now on he will be catching people.
There are two things we can learn about our own personal encounter with the Holy God. First, do not give in to the sense of guilt, the sense of being a sinful person, that makes you think that you could not be welcome in the presence of God. The Lord will speak in your heart, Do not be afraid, your sin is blotted out.
Secondly, we need to listen to where God is sending us. Where are you and I being sent to be an instrument of God. Perhaps within your own family. Is there need to bring healing, to bring peace, to bring forgiveness, to bring hope, right within our own home, within your family?
Perhaps where you work or where you study? Is there someone who is hurting, someone who is discouraged, someone who is alone? You may be the one person being sent by God to bring hope and healing and peace.
Take a moment of silence right now, close your eyes. Imagine yourself in the presence of the Holy God. Imagine yourself in the presence of Jesus. At this moment, where would you be sent to be an instrument of God? Where may you be sent to bring the presence of the holy God to others, through your kindness, your forgiveness, your goodness?
When Peter and the Apostles come ashore, they had been fishing all night. They had caught nothing. They would have been discouraged, they would have been without hope. Jesus sends them out saying, “Put out into the deep.” Jesus gives them hope, they do go out again and make an incredible catch.
The church today has many reasons to be discouraged, to be lacking in hope. The constant negative news about residential schools and abuse cases. The past two years of Covid restrictions which has led to isolation for many and a struggle for us to be together. Many of our parishioners that I have not seen for much of these two years. We need to hear Jesus sending us out, “Put out into the deep.”
What gives you hope in these times? I sense that many of our priests are also struggling in these days. What is my greatest source of hope and encouragement? Where do I as a parish priest experience the presence of the holy God in my life? One definite place is Sunday morning in this parish. When I am greeting you the people of our parish. Saying hello, speaking with you, and then praying together in the Eucharist. By the end of Sunday Masses, no matter how I was feeling before Sunday, I always feel a sense of hope, a sense of encouragement. I sense the presence of the Holy God, the presence of Jesus, through you. Also, through many parishioners not able to come out now when I speak with them by phone.
Holy, Holy, Holy, we are to open our hearts to encounter the holy God like Isaiah and like Peter. Do not give in to fear or guilt that keeps you away from God. Then be ready to be sent out to be an instrument of God. Make your prayer the prayer of Isaiah, “Here am I, send me.”
19th Sunday In Ordinary Time
Deacon Tom Vert
Preached: August 8, 2021
“Taste and see, taste and see”
I remember my first trip to Japan on business in 1993 to visit a steel plant in Okayama on the southern part of the main island.
I was a little worried because at the time I was a “meat and potatoes” eater and really didn’t like fish or anything that swam as food at all.
And yet I knew that Japan was a land of fresh seafood and wondered what would happen.
On our second night there, we went to a small restaurant in a little town and I was told that we were going to have tempura. I asked what it was, and they said lightly battered and deep-fried vegetables and fish.
Well the time came for the first course of tempura shrimp and I looked at my hosts nervously and they “taste and see” – in other words “step out of your comfort zone” and try something new.
I tried it and it was fantastic!! The meal continued with squid, scallop, eggplant and lotus root tempura and I learned a great lesson that day about eating out of my comfort zone.
Since then I have taken that attitude to meals from Africa, to South America and India and have enjoyed many amazing cuisines.
The reason I bring up this “taste and see” is that is the psalm we sung today and one we sing every year. I remember many times thinking; why are we singing this – what does it mean? And does it have anything to do with food?
Psalm 34 is a psalm of thanksgiving and this line to “taste and see” means to get a taste of God’s presence in your life and see for yourself.
In other words, if you taste the love of God in your life, if you experience it, through prayer, or encounter with others; once you have this feeling, then you will want it all the more
So, we need to ask ourselves, when in our lives do we feel God’s presence the most? For some it could be at a retreat in silence.
For others, it could be at the deathbed of a loved one and the comfort from family and friends; and for still others it may be when helping volunteer with the poor.
I remember for me, one of my greatest moments where I felt God present in my life was after work one day in 1996.
We had started up the new electric furnace at Dofasco, I was working long hours as well as having the family responsibilities of children who were two and four at the time.
I was exhausted both physically and mentally and I remember pleading to God for his help saying, “I can’t do this anymore alone, I need you to help me”.
I instantly had a feeling of God lifting a weight off my shoulders and I felt lighter, I felt God telling me that He would ensure the burden was not too heavy and would share the yoke with me.
We see a similar story in the first reading today with Elijah. He had just succeeded in defeating the false prophets but was now being chased by the governor who was upset about this.
He says, “it is enough now”, I can’t take it anymore, it’s okay if you want me to call it quits – I’m done!
But God says that he has more for Elijah to do and wants him to eat and rest. Food and peace are brought to him and we know he then travels to Mt. Sinai to hear God’s next mission for him.
God has more for each of us to do no matter what age in life we are…from 5 to 95.
So, we can ask ourselves – what is next in my life God? What do you want from me?
And Christ I think will answer us as he did in the gospel today: “Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me.” In other words, if we hear and truly listen, then we will get closer to Christ; God’s message of love is always there, but when we are world focused and grumbling, we can’t hear and then can’t learn.
We will hear this message that the closer we get to God, the easier it will be to understand our mission.
What we will learn is God’s message to us as he had for the Ephesians in the 2nd reading: “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us”.
The message is fundamental – to live in love, to love one another as Christ loves us. Showing God’s love in the world as St. Theresa of Calcutta says, “do small things with great love”!
Well, you may say – how do we do this?
I would answer you to “taste and see”.
I think one of the challenges of the Christian life, for all of us including myself is to get out of our comfort zones, our routines, and our standard way of doing things.
We have our regular routines in the spiritual life of maybe prayer, mass, grace before meals, etc. – the “meat and potatoes”.
But God is calling us to grow continually in our faith life from 10 years old to 90 years old. As our life goes, we are called to grow closer and closer to Him.
But how can we do this if we just keep doing the same things over and over again? We will get the same results! We need to try the “tempura” in the spiritual life.
What new spiritual food can we taste and see?
- How about trying meditation?
- Maybe a historical book to review the saint of the day will help our growth?
- Could we add a daily reflection to our cell phone?
- Maybe giving up a favourite treat once a week and giving the money to charity?
- What about possibly volunteering for the first time ever? I saw the Cancer Assistance Program is looking for drivers now – maybe that is for you?
- Maybe a physical rest or healthy way of living like Elijah is calling to you?
The key point in St. Paul’s letter is to be transformed to the new life as a Christian. To constantly, slowly look to get rid of the old self and in place become more and more Christ-like.
So, this week I have one small assignment for you. Each morning, ask God in a simple prayer – “Lord, I know you want me to grow closer to you – please show me what to taste and see!”
Holy Thursday 2018
Fr. Mark Gatto
Preached: Mar 29 2018
The presence of someone we love matters. We desire to be with, to be present with those we love. This is why we experience grief when a loved one lives far away, or when they move away, or most painfully when a loved one dies. We grieve the lack of their presence with us. The missing presence of a loved one is difficult.
Our God grieves. Our God loves us in a way we can barely grasp. So, this God wants to be with us, in our presence. Longs to be near to us. Jesus is God’s presence near us in this life, in our human history. But, Jesus also desired a way to remain present to us after his death and resurrection. Tonight on this Mass of the Lord’s Supper we recall and celebrate two ways in which the continued presence of Jesus is available to us. The Eucharist and the Priesthood.
In the Eucharist we speak of the Real Presence. In bread and wine, Jesus is Sacramentally present to us. When we receive Holy Communion, Jesus is coming to us, to be present with and in us. Simply, Jesus loves you, wants to be with you, in the Real Presence of the Blessed Sacrament we are able to experience that presence of Jesus.
In the Priesthood, it is in a normal man, a sinful and failed human being like all of us, that Jesus is present to offer teaching, forgiveness, grace. We speak of the priest as “in persona Christi”. In the person of Christ. In the Sacraments the priest stands there in the person of Christ bringing grace. When people come to a priest, to ask him to pray for them, ask him to bless something or someone, to share a personal struggle, they are coming to meet Jesus. When they come to a priest they want to be blessed by Jesus, to hear a word from Jesus, to be forgiven by Jesus, to be received by the mercy of Jesus. We priests are humanly speaking so inadequate to this mission.
Story of St. John Chrysostom. He was an impressive man and the people of the local church wanted him to become a priest. He initially tried to hide from them. He felt completely inadequate to be a priest, to the important role of the priest. His reluctance was probably wise as he understood the importance of the priest in being the presence of Jesus for people. But, just as Jesus can be present to us in bread and wine, Jesus can come to us through a weak, sinful man.
The Gospel for this Mass of the Lord’s Supper is John’s account of the Last Supper and includes the Washing of the Feet. We all need to allow Jesus to teach, to heal, to forgive, to embrace us. Allow Jesus to wash your feet. But, this example he gives is for all of us. We are to be ready to wash each other’s feet. Bring kindness, truth, forgiveness, healing, gentleness, encouragement to one another. Stand in for Jesus. Be with others as Jesus would be with them. How would Jesus be with that person in front of you? You are to take the place of Jesus.
Tonight we celebrate the presence of Jesus. In the Eucharist and in the Priesthood. We are challenged to help Jesus to be present to others through us, through our words, our actions. Washing their feet. This presence of Jesus is God’s love for us. A God who grieves for us, who longs to be with us. Allow God to be with you.