Thursday, February 1, 2018

Mass with the leadership

Today, principals and members of the Huron-Superior Catholic District School Board leadership team were in Elliot Lake to take part in a retreat experience.  As part of the day, I presided at a mass which was celebrated this afternoon.  We used the readings of the day (1 Kings 2:1-4, 10-12 and Mark 6:7-13).  In keeping with the theme on which the Board has been focusing throughout this academic year - Renewing the promise - the focus of my homily also echoed the promise that is renewed as we fulfill our mission as faithful disciples: to share the good news that we have received.

Homily for the Mass 
with HSCDSB leadership team and principals
Our Lady of Fatima, Elliot Lake

God renews his promise and calls us to fulfill our mission of sharing the good news we have received

A number of years ago, I had a chance to take part in an education symposium that took place in Ottawa.  The keynote speaker for the occasion was a member of the Faculty of Education at the University of Ottawa.  The thesis she put forward went something like this: The effect of the culture of the 1960s on the Catholic Church was not unlike the effect that the atomic bomb had on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

She had our attention right away, but went on to explain that from a sociological point of view, up until the decade of the 1960s, most Catholic families were alike.  They attended their local parishes on Sundays, they enjoyed Sunday meals together, they passed on their value systems from one generation to another, and those value systems were all based on their lived experience of being part their local parishes.  However, the decade of the 1960s brought a pervading tendency to question everything, including all forms of authority and every established value set.  In many if not all cases, those who were teenagers at the time chose to reject the values they had learned from their parents, and the long-term effect of that decision has altered the landscape among those who have traditionally been associated with the Church.

The problem with rejecting value systems as freely as they did is that when the teenagers of the 1960s got into the early 1970s and began to have their own families, they had no value systems to pass on to their own children.  After all, they could not teach them the same lessons they themselves had learned if they had turned their backs on bygone eras.  The long-term effect has left people searching for a value system that they can accept, one they can believe in, one they can pass on to future generations, and although the teenagers of the 1960s are now grandparents and great-grandparents, in many cases they are still searching, and therefore all generations that have followed are also searching for something to believe in.

From the perspective of faith, we have tried to re-define our relationship with God, but we have experienced many growing pains because it seems as though each of us has to start from scratch if we want to explore the possibility of entering into a relationship with another person, much less with God, with Jesus, with the Holy Spirit, with Mary, with the Saints ... and so on.

Now, lest we get too disheartened, we must remember that God has always desired a relationship of trust and love with each one of his beloved children.  He will never give up on us, even if we ourselves have seemed to give up on him.  When the great King David was nearing the end of his mortal life, he gave his son Solomon specific instructions about how to carry on.  Take courage, he said, keep the mandate of the Lord ... and walk in his ways and observe his statues, commands, ordinances and decrees ... so that you may succeed in whatever you do (1 Kings 2:3).

You have come to spend this time in retreat, in order to take courage in the knowledge that you are not walking the journey of faith alone.  Perhaps in some way during these hours that you are spending away from the regular routines of your daily lives, you may find a moment or two to listen for the voice of God that still calls to you.  It is a voice that is filled with hope, with promise, a voice that offers each one of us the possibility of entering into a personal and loving relationship with our God.  He who created the world wants to renew within us the statutes, ordinances, and decrees that he once shared with his holy people many, many years ago, but he needs us to say yes, to accept his invitation.

Like the disciples, Jesus wants to open his heart to us, and he has offered each one of us the opportunity of opening our hearts to him as well, of allowing him to share his tender and merciful heart with us, and of daring to share our hopes, dreams, aspirations and even fears with him.  Once the disciples had accepted this invitation, they quickly discovered in Jesus a steadfast and trustworthy friend, a confidant, a companion who was always willing to walk beside them, to celebrate their successes and to encourage them when they felt despair.  The same is true for us, and when we have discovered the great joy of knowing Jesus, he sends us out, like he sent the disciples – never alone but two by two (Mk 6:7) with other companions who share our journey as well.  He needs each one of us to let go of all non-essential baggage so that we can be free to enter into the lives of students, parents, colleagues (cf Mk 6:10) - all those he places on our paths.

Perhaps like so many who experienced the effects of turning their backs on the faith and value systems that had been passed on to them, you have found yourself wandering through life in search of meaning, in search of knowing the joy of a relationship that makes everything else make sense.  Pray during these precious hours that have been granted to you, and pray every day for the great gift of discovering the great gift that is entrusted to us when we say yes to God’s invitation to come close to him, to learn from him, to discover the joy of living in a close and loving relationship with him ... and when he sends you out into places and situations, especially those that make you most nervous because they are new and unknown to you, know that you are not alone, that he is right beside you, helping you to find the words you need in order to share the joyful news that you have received.

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