spiritual life


Let There Be Light!

Easter Sunday

Deacon Tom Vert

Preached: April 9, 2023

Let there be light!!!”

Tonight, we have the symbol of light in so many aspects of our celebration!

A new fire, symbolizing our eternal life in Christ, is made which lights the Easter candle. The candle, representing Christ himself – and the words are sung – the Light of Christ!

The single light of the Easter candle processing into the church and the spreading of light from it!

The first words of the first reading describing God’s first creation – let there be light!

It is the deacon’s job to carry the candle into the church and lead the singing, and I was thinking as I carried it what a great symbol it is of the Easter message!

The light of Christ – the light of the world – the light that conquers darkness – the resurrection that conquers death and brings us into God’s eternal light!

That is why we come together to celebrate today – that the light comes into the world, into our lives, and we are never the same.

That light also brings so much brightness that it shines joy to others and brings them closer to God also.

This image, this candle, this symbol of God’s love – should remind us of our own baptisms or those of our children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews.

At our baptisms, after the person has been baptized with water and anointed with the sacred oil of chrism; the godparents and parents are given a candle that is lit from this same Easter candle and these words are spoken:

“Receive the light of Christ.  This light is entrusted to you to be kept burning brightly. You have been enlightened by Christ.  Walk always as children of the light and keep the flame of faith alive in your hearts.”

This flame of faith, this light, this Easter candle are a key focus for us today.

The light from the candle is actually the result of the burning of the wax, up through the wick, and combining with the oxygen in the air.

The candle burning is a great example for our spiritual life:

  • In order to have a strong flame, we need 4 elements – the wax, the wick, oxygen and the spark or another flame that ignites it:
  • The first element is wax which is our spiritual life – it is the sacraments, it is when we read the Bible, when we say rosaries, when we meditate – all the things we do that help to push us forward on the journey of faith
  • The wax is very important because it is the fuel that sustains the flame over the long run
  • The second part is the wick, which is prayer – our connection between us, and the flame that is Christ – as the wick connects the fuel of the wax to the flame; so our prayer life is that connection between us and Christ.
  • The wick is also critical – if you don’t have it, or you cut it off…then the flame dies, you have lost the connection; if the wick is too small or thin, then the liquid overwhelms it and again the connection is lost. It is key to keep the flame burning in our lives by making sure our wick, our prayer life is strong – just 5-10 focused quiet minutes with God makes all the difference to keep that connection
  • The third element is the oxygen that enriches the process; and I would say that this is the Holy Spirit – oxygen is always available in the air for us, everywhere waiting to help sustain the process – and the Holy Spirit is the same, always available when we need Him.
  • It is not something we have to get or find but just has to be tapped into!
  • And finally we have the spark of the first light or activation of the process is the Light of Christ we get from the Easter candle at our baptism – the spark that begins our journey of faith.
  • The result of this combination of the spark from Christ; the spiritual life and prayer providing the wick and fuel and the oxygen that is Holy Spirit – is the flame – the light, the warmth of the Christian life!

But what happens when our candle goes out or dims until it is barely visible?

We are told to keep the flame alive in our hearts – the question for us is, as the storms of life come – the breezes of family challenges, the waves of sickness or financial distress, or just the long time in which we run the race of life – and our candle gets blown out or worn down and runs out of wax – where do we go to keep our candles lit?

The wax is hardened and the wick is small – but the fuel is still there and the oxygen of the Holy Spirit is still there!

The only element we are missing is another flame to get the reaction restarted.

So we look to the Easter candle – we look to Christ for a restart or a reboot or a refresh – this is the great thing about this annual celebration – we get a chance to start anew!

The sun that rises on the empty tomb with Christ overcoming death, is the message that He is there for us to overcome the storms of life and get our flame burning strong once again.

Not only does Christ light the candles, but also he uses each of us to help spread that flame and light candles for one another through the flame that burns inside our own hearts!

Jesus says to us “You are the light of the world, the salt of the earth – you are to bring the light to others!

We should ask ourselves: “Whose candle are we lighting?  Who do we know that needs a restart”  Who have we shown our love and God’s love to that needs it today?

The flame is not for us to hold selfishly but it is to be shared.

Who might be in our lives at home, at work, at the hockey rink, the soccer field or the grocery store that has had their flame go out and needs us to pass the torch to them with a kind word, a smile, or a helping hand?

As we go forth today from this Easter celebration – we should say to ourselves each time we need a boost or we see another in need of a lift in life:

Let there be light!!!

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Are You Producing Good Fruits?


8th Sunday Ordinary Time

Deacon Tom Vert

Preached: February 27, 2022

“Wow!  That’s an amazing piece of fruit!”

I remember making this exclamation a few years ago on a trip to Japan.

I am very blessed in my career at having the opportunity to travel around the world and see many cultures and things unique that I would never see here in Hamilton.

On one of these business trips, I was out shopping for gifts to bring home for my daughters, and we wandered by a food store and saw these unbelievably perfect fruit – melons, peaches, cherries, etc.

The peaches were as big as softballs and the prices were just as unbelievable – one peach was $40!

The fruit is the best of the best – perfect smell; the best look with great colour, great texture, the shape is perfectly round.  When you taste it has the great taste – the right combination of sweet and tart, the texture is great – no soft or crunchy spots.

In talking to our local Japanese interpreter, he told us that in Japan they have a tradition of giving fruit as a gift for special occasions – not just any fruit – but this special fruit that was grown to be perfect.

The time and care created a perfect peach or melon that could then be sold as one of the special gift fruit.

So, you may ask, Deacon Tom what does this have to do with the readings today?

Well, Jesus tells us in the gospel that “No good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit;  for each tree is known by its own fruit.” – so the question posed today is “If God were to look at our spiritual life – what kind of fruit would he see?”

Would it be a shrivelled-up peach fallen from the tree on the ground or would it be one of the $40 special peaches or maybe something in between.

How can we tell which one we are?  And more importantly, if we are not at the best level – how do we get there?

Well, let’s look at how great fruit are grown, you need the best conditions to be put in place:

The four key ingredients for growing are nutrients(fertilizer), water, soil and light.

Where do we see those components in the readings today?

In the first reading, we hear from the Book of Sirach, which has proverbs of wisdom, shows us the importance of fertilizer and nutrients.

It says that a person’s speech discloses the cultivation of their mind, and what a person says, and how often they speak, show how they have been nourished.

We are told that our speech shows if we have a spiritual life of husks or kernels, and if our clay pot is strained and cracks as we reveal it.

In other words, if we have nourished our mind with reading the Bible or listening to spiritual insights on the radio or TV, or studying wisdom in literature, in the lives of the saints, etc., is nutrients to our soul.

Nutrients are the food, and if the food is poor in quality, if we are watching or listening to media that is poor in taste or value, then our mind will be filled with this, and our speech will show the quality of our fruit by what we say and talk about.

Secondly, In the psalm we have sung today, we see the importance of water and being “tapped” into God.

We hear “the righteous flourish like a palm tree and grow like a cedar in Lebanon – they are planted in the house of the Lord and flourish…in old age they still produce fruit, they are always green and full of sap”.

What a beautiful image that is used by the psalm writer.  The palm tree and the cedar both have deep roots that tap into water no matter what the conditions.

This water provides the sap to allow the tree to be green and produce fruit no matter how old it is.

This challenges us to put our roots deep into our faith life.  To tap our roots into prayer and heart to heart conversations with God as a personal relationship that we can count on in times of stress and distress.

Our fruit is shown by an aura of peace in the midst of the storms of life as we know in our heart that our water comes from God’s love and is not dependent on day-to-day circumstances.

Thirdly, In the second reading Paul tells the Corinthians and tells us also about the soil.

He says, “my beloved” (a beautiful thought for fellow Christians), be steadfast, immovable, and always excelling in the work of the Lord.

Soil that is great for growing has this same image of sturdiness, it is not washed away by the wind or rain but stays and holds the plants secure.

We are to be steadfast amongst the trials and tribulations due to our faith in God and knowing his deep and immovable love for us!

Knowing how much personal love He has for us, we excel in the works of the Lord which are love for the poor, the orphans, widows and pushing for justice in the world.

We will hear in the announcements today about the St. Vincent de Paul Society who mirrors what St. Paul is talking about here.

And finally, we have light and sun and heat to produce great fruit.

In the gospel today, with Jesus telling us mini parables to help shine light on us.

He tells us to find the best of spiritual teachers to help us grown in our faith life.  This may not be professors, but maybe parents, grandparents, friends or even co-workers who we already see by their actions live the life that bears the great fruits of joy, love, peace, gentleness and kindness.

He tells us to get out of the shade of criticism and gossip towards others and instead to pull the log out our own eye and to focus on improving ourselves.

Pope Francis says that we are to be humble and recognize our own faults and failings before we eve think of correcting another person.  We approach others with humility and respect and not out of any form of superiority.

We are told that “the good person…produces good” because of the treasure of a heart filled with God’s love.

So this week as we prepare for Lent and we are trying to decide on what to work on for 40 days, let us remember the perfect Japanese peach. Look at your spiritual life, look at the fruit it is producing and think about what you want to work on.  Is it the getting more fertilizer from reading, more water from prayer, better soil from helping others or more sun by seeing wisdom from better teachers of the faith.

We should be encourage during Lent, in knowing that we are connected to the grower –and He will prune, water, fertilize, shade, shine – whatever we need to bring us closer to Him and closer to what He wants for us in our lives – all we have to do is ask!!

At the end of our life – wouldn’t it be great to hear the words from God – “Wow!  That’s an amazing piece of fruit!”

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vine and branches

Abide In Me!

vine and branches

5th Sunday of Easter

Fr. Mark Gatto

Posted: May 1, 2021

My mother grew up on a farm with orchards.  As a young boy I remember visiting my grandmother on that farm.  We would sometimes assist in the fields.  I was amazed to see them pruning the trees.  They were removing sucker branches that would grow but not produce fruit.  This would prevent the nutrients from being wasted on these branches.  By pruning the branches they would assist the fruit that did grow to be larger and better quality.

Jesus uses the image of pruning in connection with our faith life and how God works in our lives.  Just as a branch cut off from the tree will quickly dry up and die, so we need to remain connected to Jesus.  Otherwise, our spiritual life and relationship with God will dry up and die.  Being connected to Jesus requires being connected to the body of Christ, the Church.  Remaining united to Jesus and remaining united to the Church go together.

Jesus says, “abide in me as I abide in you.”  We are called to an intimate union.  A deep abiding love.  It is not a superficial or distant relationship.  Within the church too we need to be connected in a communion, not simply individuals.

I heard a story once about a man in a small town who had stopped going to church.  He said that he did not need to go to church, he could pray by himself.  So, one day the pastor went to visit the man at his home.  He knocked on the door and the man answered, surprised to see the pastor.  But, he invited him in and the two men sat before a fireplace with coals burning.

The two men began to speak about many things, though the pastor never mentioned him not coming to church.  After a while the two men sat there in silence watching the coals burning.  Then the pastor stood up, picked up some tongs and reached in to the burning coals.  He removed one of the coals from among the burning coals and placed it by itself on the shelf.  Both men sat and watched as the lone coal quickly became cold and grey while the other coals continued to burn brightly.

In this particular moment we are living through, two questions come to mind for me in connection with this image of pruning and what happens to branches separated from the vine.

First, what pruning is needed in my life to allow my spiritual life to grow in a good and healthy way?  What am I reading, what am I watching, how am I spending my time?  Are they things that nurture my spiritual life?  Do they bring goodness into my heart?  Do they truly nurture me or do they harden my heart in some way?  Are there sucker branches in my lifestyle that waste the nutrients of the spirit in ways that will produce no fruit?  We need a good examination of conscience to honestly remove anything that is an obstacle to a holy, good and healthy life in Christ.

Second, how do I remain connected to the true vine, Jesus Christ?  In practice, how do I remain connected to the body of Christ in the Church?  As Catholics, one of the key ways is in our connection to a community of faith, usually a parish church.  This is expressed most clearly in the Sacraments, especially in the Eucharist.  Gathering with the church at Sunday Eucharist keeps us connected to the vine and keeps us spiritually alive.

But, in this Covid Pandemic time when many of us are unable to gather for Sunday Eucharist in our parish church, what does this mean?  We need to creatively find ways to express and maintain our communion with the church.  Some of you do this watching Mass on TV or through some other social media.  Some of you make an effort to contact other parishioners you know to check in on them.  Some of you keep a prayer list of people you pray for each day.  Family, friends, and so on.  This type of prayer not only keeps us in communion, but indirectly keeps those we pray for in connection with the true vine.

But, one thing we all can do is pray for the church, and in particular to pray for my own parish.  For those of us who are members of St. Catherine of Siena Parish, we just celebrated the Feast of St. Catherine of Siena this past week, on April 29.  Below is a prayer by St. Catherine of Siena.

“Holy Spirit, come into my heart; draw it to Thee by Thy power, O my God, and grant me charity with filial fear. Preserve me, O beautiful love, from every evil thought; warm me, inflame me with Thy dear love, and every pain will seem light to me.”

All of us need to prune our lives so that our spiritual lives are nurtured and able to produce goodness and love and justice.  All of us need to remain in communion with Jesus and the body of Christ in the Church.  Abiding in Jesus, including being in communion with the church, allows us to remain nourished and alive in faith even in the moments that seem dry and dark.

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lasagna with basil

Spiritual Lessons From Cooking

lasagna with basil

7th Sunday In Ordinary Time

Deacon Tom Vert

Preached: February 23, 2020

What about some fresh basil?

Now the people here at the Corpus Christi site of St. Catherine’s know that food is an important part of my life and has been the subject of a few homilies over time.

However, it has been rare for me to discuss Carmela’s cooking ever, as it is so good!

But I would like to discuss her lasagna today (at a risk to my marriage!)

A quick background though, as my experience with Italian food really began when I started dating Carmela. Before that, I actually thought that Chef Boy-R-Dee was good pasta!

When I came into the Caliri family, it was as if a light bulb came on – fresh linguini, freshly made sauce, meatballs and of course lasagna!!

Ever since I have enjoyed 30 years of great meals, but as I have been watching lots of cooking shows the past few years, I thought to myself – maybe improvements could be made to my wife’s cooking?  (I know, I know, a potentially bad decision).

So, one day I suggested – “what about some fresh basil?”, when she was making lasagna.  She looked at me suspiciously as if I didn’t like the current lasagna and I thought I might have to run, but she truly is amazing and said, “sure lets’ try it”!

We both agreed that the lasagna was one of the best we ever had, and the fresh herbs gave it that little bit more – making it almost perfect!

You may ask, “Deacon Tom, what does this have to do with the readings today”?

Well the readings today focus on what we might think is perfection: Jesus says, “be perfect, as your Heavenly Father is perfect” and in the first reading we hear “be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy”.

When you first hear this, if you are like me, it is very intimidating!  How can I be perfect?  Is it even achievable? Isn’t holiness for the saints only – those few amazing people in history – Christ can’t be talking about me, can he?

But let’s look a little closer at what Jesus actually told us.

The word that Christ uses in Hebrew is “Tamim” and in Greek is “telios”.  Both of these translate better as to be “whole” or “complete”, in a sense to be exactly what God created us to be.

How do we do this?  How do we become whole and complete?

If we take our lessons from cooking, we know that a whole and complete “perfect” dish, is due to 3 things: great fresh ingredients, a good method of preparing and cooking, and finally a group of family or friends to share it with.

In our spiritual life, the same 3 things apply: When we are first using the gifts and talents that God gave us, (the ingredients); secondly in the way he wants us to (with joy, love and patience as our preparation and cooking) and finally for the benefit of our “neighbours”, our community.

When this happens, then we are “whole” and “complete” – we are perfect as God wants us to be!

The readings today point us to this message.

In the first reading, we have the book of Leviticus, verses 1, 2 and 17, 18 – we skip over verse 3-16, which doesn’t mean they are not important, but actually means the church assumes that we have this already as our foundation.

Verse 3-16 are a restatement of the 10 commandments with some examples for the people and how to implement them in their lives.

The goal of the commandments isn’t to chastise us into a way of behaving, but instead to give us an ethical way of living that is best for our sake and for others.  Holiness and perfection are the goal of these commandments!

A reminder for all of us is that holiness  and perfection are God’s goal for us, in order for us to have a life that shines so brightly; so that others look and take notice and say “why are they so joyful, peaceful, kind” with a way of living that becomes a magnet for others to get closer to God themselves.

People will look as it says in the reading as to how “we love our neighbour as ourselves”, how we roll up our sleeves so to speak, to make the world a better place, to help the poor, push for justice, embrace peace and show patience – and they will see God himself working through us.

In the second reading, we hear the “how” on how we are to accomplish this.  We are to be humble and trust in God to help us, we are not on our own trying to make this spiritual meal!

I love how direct St. Paul is with the Corinthians and us when he says: “do not deceive yourselves; if you think that you are wise in this age, you should become fools so that you may become wise”.

In other words, be humble and realize that self-reliance is not the way to live the Christian life.  Reliance on God through prayer and reliance on others who walk the journey of faith with you is the rock you will need as you strive for holiness and perfection!

In the gospel we hear Christ’s words from the Sermon on the Mount, challenging the people to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world.

In order to do this, he says, you have to behave differently than what is normally expected.

When Christ says “you have heard it said – an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth” the people would have known this well as it was the Code of Hammurabi – the ancient Babylonian code of 282 rules written in 1750BC, and put on a stone pillar that stood for all to see. (It now sits in the Louvre in Paris, France for all to see).

This law was put in place because vengeance at the time was worse – life for an eye, etc., and these laws made it seem more reasonable, balanced and just.

However, Jesus says that retaliation has no place in the Christian life – he sets forth non-retaliation and non-violence as the standard.

Jesus asks us to “turn the other cheek”, to go two miles instead of one and even to “love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us”.  It is a real challenge for us in these times, with a world that is in more contention than ever, we are called to bring peace and prayer – to build bridges instead of walls.

Jesus challenges us to the goal of perfection in the Christian life, not to be perfect all the time, but as St. Paul tells us later in the book of Corinthians “strive for the greater gifts!”

I love this word “strive” as it expresses a desire to struggle and reach and push ourselves, not to live comfortably, but always try with the Holy Spirit as our strength, to love God and love our neighbours a little more each day.

So, the homework for this week is twofold:

First – make a nice meal with your family, something you normally do, but think of maybe one thing you can do to tweak it and make it better.

And as you are cooking this meal, remember this challenge of holiness and perfection and ask yourself:   What about some fresh basil?

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