St. Anthony reveals God as real, close & intimate

Homily Feast of Saint Anthony at the Franciscan Church of the Assumption, Syracuse, NY

IMG_7752I had the privilege of being in Padua a few weeks ago. One of the highlights of my time there was a mass welcoming young adults who had made a 12 mile walk overnight to the Basilica of Saint Anthony of Padua. You can imagine there were lots of tired and sleepy face but the liturgy was quite upbeat with organ, guitars and drums playing together.

At the end of mass as we began to leave, the procession took a different route. Rather than go out by the main doors of the basilica we turned right and the concelebrants were guided towards the back of the tomb of Saint Anthony where, as we walked, we reached out to touch the tomb, and let our hands linger there the whole length of Anthony’s body.  As I turned around I could see that we were being followed by all of the young people who had made the overnight pilgrimage. It was a very sight moving sight.

There’s something about that physical touch to the tomb of the saint that makes a profound impact on all the pilgrims who come to Padua. It’s not very much different than what has happened here at our Novena where so many have lined up simply to touch the relic of the saint.

Touching with our hands means so much to us. Touching with our hands confirms what we think we see with our eyes, it makes it seem more real, more intimate, more close to us. This is after all Saint Anthony’s legacy. Anthony was known for bringing the Gospel to life. He did this by his personal and physical touch to people’s lives. His concern for the poor, the powerless and the sick revealed to us a God who is real, intimate and close to us. Even the saints fame for finding lost things tells us that he and God care about the things that are concrete that we can touch with our hands

Physical closeness, touching with hands, being real are not new to our faith. Jesus in the Gospels is always close to people, touching them, using his spit and mud to heal people. Jesus is real, intimate and close to those whom he meets.

In the Gospel we read we heard about how the Apostles went out to preach the Gospel and how this preaching was accompanied by signs. Through the laying on of hands the Apostles healed people and brought them concrete, physical evidence of God’s love for them. What the Apostles did then, Christ continues to do through us.

At this liturgy today we are honoured to have a living Apostle among us in the person of our bishop. By the laying on of hands he consecrates those who are ordained as priests. Through his priestly hands he touches, comforts, heals and makes God’s love real, intimate and close to us. Bishop Cunningham is not alone in doing this. Each one of us baptized in Christ Jesus has been given the mission of preaching the Gospel in both word and deed. Through our baptism we have been sent forth to use our hands to heal, comfort and strengthen our brothers and sisters. The daughter who bends low to clip her elderly father’s toe nails, The father who gets up in the middle of the night to change his daughter’s diaper, The grandmother who bakes for her family, The volunteer who cleans the floor at the food pantry.  All of these are examples of how we use our own hands to help people experience a God who is real, intimate and close.

We can do this because Christ first touches us in baptism and gives us the fullness of life, we in turn bring that healing touch to others in our service to our neighbours and then when we return to the Eucharist we are once again touched by Christ. Think of how a sacred and beautiful a moment it it when we come up to communion, extend our hands and make a throne for God. And then Christ’s very self is placed into OUR hands. How humbling, how amazing that God makes himself so real, so intimate so close to us.  And then the circle continues and God sends us forth to use those very hands where he layed to serve others.

Today when we are sent forth from this mass… we will be sent with a piece of bread. This is St. Anthony’s Bread. This ordinary bread will be blessed as a sign of our commitment to serve the poor. This bread will be given to you…but it’s not for you. Well, not just for you. We ask you to take this bread, only per person, and that you take it and share it with someone else who is not here today. Take and share it with someone who is alone, someone who might be sick, someone who might be struggling.

Go and share it with someone who needs to hear St. Anthony’s message of a God whose love for us so real, so close, so intimate.

Funding available for Franciscans

Are you a Franciscan Friar, Sister or Secular or part of a Franciscan volunteer service program like FrancisCorps? Are you thinking of a project that would provide direct service to the poor or marginalized or care for creation? Do you need money to make your project a reality?1214

If that’s the case, then I have some good news! The Saint Anthony of Padua Mission Aid (affiliated with the Messenger of Saint Anthony from Padua, Italy) gives grants every year to registered charities in Canada and also around the world. Priority is given to projects by Franciscans which are small, local organizations and which also promote a sense of community among those whom they serve.

Deadline is Dec 31, 2014. Grant decision takes place in March 2015 and funds are distributed over the Spring/Summer 2015 as the groups need the funds.

Check out the grant guidelines below:


1st Sunday of Advent Homily 2014

stress_free_christmasHave you ever had a déjà-vu experience? You know that eerie feeling you get of having been here before. It’s like you have a memory of having done the exact same thing in the past. It’s very strange.

Neuropsychologists tell us that it’s the result of a glitch in our brains. Our brain has two parts or hemispheres. These two halves of our brain communicate with one another through all sorts of connections. It’s like our brain is filled with electrical wires. Sometimes the wires get crossed.

So what happens is that we have an experience and then one side of our brain perceives it a millisecond before the other half of the brain. Even that smallest time-lag makes it feel like we are having a memory of something past. It’s very disquieting.

Christmas can also be a very disquieting time for many of us. And it’s similar to the experience of the déjà-vu. You see part of us gets all caught up in the necessary preparations for Christmas. We are busy with Black Friday shopping, helping Santa Claus with his list and checking it twice!

Many of us get super busy baking and cooking, cleaning and decorating and so many Christmas parties we grow sick of egg-nog. And then suddenly December 25th arrives and the Christmas season arrives and as we gather in church it feels like we haven’t stopped since Thanksgiving and we arrive at mass exhausted and feeling a little uneasy there’s a sense of disquiet within us.

What happens is that in our attempt to prepare all the physical things we like to have for Christmas. We sometimes forget to prepare for the spiritual part of Christmas until we get to Christmas Day mass. It’s like with the brain and déjà-vu. We experience a little bit of a disconnect. So how can prevent this from happening to us?

Well we need to prepare ourselves spiritually for Christmas as well as all the shopping and cooking and visiting we do. We heard the Prophet Isaiah say in the First Reading:

“Would that you might meet us doing right,
that we were mindful of you in our ways!”

So a friends of mine, Fr Tom Rosica, a Basilian priest, came up with 39 things we can do during Advent to be mindful of God and to do what is right:

1. Mend a quarrel.

2. Build peace.

3. Seek out a forgotten friend.

4. Dismiss suspicion and replace it with trust.

5. Write a love letter.

6. Share some treasure.

7. Give a kind answer even though you would like to respond harshly.

8. Encourage a young person to believe in him/herself.

9. Manifest your loyalty in word and deed.

10. Find the time.

11. Make time.

12. Forego a grudge.

13. Forgive an enemy.

14. Celebrate the sacrament of reconciliation.

15. Listen more.

16. Apologize if you were wrong.

17. Be kind even if you weren’t wrong!

18. Try to understand.

19. Flout envy.

20. Examine the demands you make on others.

21. Think first of someone else.

22. Appreciate.

23. Be kind,

24. be gentle.

25. Laugh a little.

26. Laugh a little more.

27. Deserve confidence.

28. Take up arms against malice.

29. Decry complacency.

30. Express gratitude.

31. Go to Church.

32. Stay in Church a little while longer than usual.

33. Gladden the heart of a child.

34. Take pleasure in the beauty and wonder of the earth.

35. Speak your love.

36. Speak it once again.

37. Speak it even more loudly.

38. Speak it quietly.

39. Rejoice, for the Lord is near!

If we do these 39 things we will not only have prepared ourselves in mind, body and spirit for a better Christmas but if we make these 39 things daily habits we will have rehearsed being watchful and alert, ready for when the Messiah comes again in Glory.


Christ the King Homily 2014

Sometimes when you read the bible
You have to wonder
What the heck is God saying here.

Such was the case
When I was praying on our first reading today.
I got to this part which really confused me.

The lost I will seek out,
the strayed I will bring back,
the injured I will bind up,
the sick I will heal,
but the sleek and the strong I will destroy…

Wait, what????
the sleek and the strong I will destroy?????

I get the God is like a good Shepherd
Who goes out to care for the sheep
But why would God destroy
The sheep that are sleek and strong?
What’s going on here?

If this story is really about God and us,
What is God saying to us today?
It sounds like he is saying
That he knows that we struggle.
He knows that we are broken
And God knows that we make mistakes.

It means that God is here for us
Christ is here to heal us and comfort us
and to save us.

But if we think we’ve got it all together.
If we see ourselves as sleek and strong
And really don’t need him
Then we have no place in his kingdom.

Remember what Jesus says in the Gospel of Luke:
“Those who are healthy
do not need a physician,
but the sick do.
I have not come to call the righteous to repentance
but sinners.”

It’s not that Jesus
Does not want us to be successful
Or healthy or strong.
But Jesus invites us to remember
That we are the creatures
And God is the creator of the universe.
He invites us to surrender control.
He invites us to humble and honest
About who we are.

Jesus also invites us
To take the realization and acceptance
Of our own brokenness
And see ourselves in our broken sisters and brothers.
Jesus invites us to be good shepherds
For the hungry and thirsty,
For the stranger and the naked,
For the ill and those imprisoned.
Because in the end,
In God’s sight,
We are all one people,
His people.

This is not just pious talk.
The rubber hits the road
When we take the Gospel today
And apply it to comprehensive immigration reform.

We pray that the Congress and the President
Will find a way to work together,
But as Pope Francis and our bishops have said,
Caring for the stranger in our midst
Is a Gospel command.

We who are so blessed
Must remember our own brokenness
And care for our undocumented sisters and brothers
Whose lives are broken by poverty, war and corruption.

Last week I saw a movie with my sister
That kind of fits the theme of our scriptures today.
We wanted to go see something light and funny
And went to see St. Vincent.
It stars Bill Murray and Melissa MacCarthy.
Melissa you will recognize from Mike & Molly,
and some really ackward scenes in BridesMaids.
I’m not going to spoil the movie for you
But it’s about a guy who is a total mess,
Whose life is a complete disaster.
Except that it’s really not,
Not where it matters.

It’s a film that reminds us,
As the liturgy today reminds us that:
You don’t have to be perfect
To be part of Christ’s kingdom.
All you have to be is faithful.

2 Pope Saints


Like any of us would,
following a momentous event in our life
Jesus rushes to meet his friends
after his Resurrection.

He goes out to them,
because he wants to be with them.
He goes out to them,
because he knows they are afraid.
He goes out to them,
because he has a mission for them.

The Risen Christ is all about:
Presence, Mercy and Mission.

We see this mission of Christ
made manifest
in the lives of two men, two saints.

Saint John XXIII
was a man who was close to the people.
When he was bishop in Istanbul, Turkey,
a mostly Muslim country,
he shocked people by his friendliness,
by his closeness to the lives of the ordinary people
and his revolutionary use of the Turkish language
in the official prayers of the Church.

In many small gestures
Pope John was showing people that
Christ is close to us
and is no stranger to any language, culture or people.

The “Good” Pope, Saint John 23
was present to ordinary people,
even Muslim people
and brought them the compassion, mercy and love of Christ.

The young and dynamic John Paul II
was a travelling Pope.
There is no place on this earth
where he did not bring the message of Christ.

How many times did we see him
being greeted by local people,
dressed in traditional clothes
and doing cultural dances?
How many times did we see him
wearing the funniest traditional hats and vestments?
How many times did we see him
visiting the sick, the disabled, the abandoned?

Saint John Paul, II also reminded us
that every human life has value
and there is no suffering or injustice
where Christ’s mercy and love do not reach.

Today in this mass,
in the Word, in the Eucharist we are about to share
and in one another,
Christ is present to us,
comes close to us because he loves us.

Today in this liturgy,
Christ comes with mercy and love
to heal our sin, our pains and struggles
to touch our scars.

Today in this Eucharist
Christ send us forth
filled with the Spirit
to do the same.

The Risen Christ sends us out
to draw close to the most forgotten,
the most neglected in our community.

The Risen Christ sends us out
to touch the scars and pains
of our brothers and sisters
and to bring them
the Good News of God’s love and mercy.

Like Saint John XXIII and Saint John-Paul II,
like the Risen Christ
we are called to be parishes
of Presence, Mercy and Mission.

Homily, 2nd Sunday of Easter, April 27 2014

Easter Homily 2014

I was recently on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land.
It was my fourth time there and my third as a leader.
One of the things you learn early about the Holy Land
is that there is a difference between a pilgrim and a tourist.

Tourists invariable come in very large groups,
are always trying to cram way too much into a day
and are usually more concerned
about the camera shot
and checking another place off their “bucket list”.

Pilgrims on the other hand
tend to journey with smaller groups of people,
are often found praying at sacred places
and are there to not only see the site,
but to experience it’s meaning in their lives.

A striking example of this difference
was recounted to me by a friend of mine
who leads pilgrimages on a regular basis.

She was waiting in line with her group of pilgrims
to gain access into the Holy Sepluchre in Jerusalem.
This is the tomb where Jesus was laid to rest.
A group of tourist came by and they seemed unsure
whether it was worth waiting in line to go in.

The tourists asked my friend:
“Is there anything to worth seeing in there?”
to which she responded
“No, there’s nothing to see in there. It’s empty!”

That is the essence of what we celebrate this evening
a tomb that is empty!
Jesus has been raised by,
and now reigns as the Risen Christ!

Where he has gone
we hope to follow.
The question remains… will we, Follow him?

Are we truly pilgrims on this journey to Resurrection
Or are we mere tourists,
spectators watching the events unfold
from the bleachers.

Just because we are here in church
is not enough
even tourists do as much.

To follow Jesus from the Cross
to the empty tomb
means to allow ourselves
to honestly acknowledge our sins,
our pain, our struggles and doubts.

ImageIt also means that like Jesus
we must remain open and trusting
and allow God to raise us up…
up to heaven on the last days…
but also here on earth right now!

For example
when we realize
that we have been selfish and mean
and find ourselves asking forgiveness of a friend
it is the power of Christ’s resurrection
lifting us up and out of death
to a place of healing.

When we look at our miserable neighbour
who is a pain to all who know her
and we suddenly find ourselves
driving her to do her shopping
it is the power of Christ’s Resurrection
lifting us up out of our smugness
into a place of gentle service.

Whenever we find ourselves,
reaching out
becoming more gentle, more compassionate, more forgiving, more loving
it is the power of Christ’s Resurrection
lifting us
up and out of the tombs of our broken lives
and drawing us to himself.

“Tourists pass quickly through sacred places
Sacred Places pass slowly through pilgrims, leaving them changed forever.”*
At the empty tomb,
are you a tourist or a pilgrim?


* Father Thomas Rosica, csb

Good Friday Homily


One of the most challenging part of my job
as director of FrancisCorps
is also the most inspiring part of my ministry.
Over time I really get to know our FrancisCorps volunteers
and they share with me
the stories of the people they meet
at their various places where they serve the poor.

Sometimes the stories are sweet tales
of children causing chaos
or others of their frustration with people
not being grateful for what they get.

And then there are times,
very special times
when the volunteers
get to touch the wood of the Cross.

Carolyn was a volunteer a couple of years ago
and she worked with disabled children.
One of her classrooms
was for children who are deaf, blind
and developmentally challenged.
What Carolyn didn’t fully grasp at first
was that every one of the kids in her class
was blind, deaf and developmentally challenged.

I can still see the look on her face
as Carolyn talked about these children.
It was a look of shame and confusion
wondering why the children were alive.
It was a look of anger and frustration
at a God who allows this to happen.
What’s the point of all this suffering?

As time went on though,
Carolyn began to get to know the kids
and her love for them grew
and she recognized in them
the wonderful persons that they are.
Carolyn’s heart grew.

Carolyn is not alone in her experience.
So many of our FrancisCorps volunteers
face situations of pain and injustice;
whether it be a women beaten by an abusive husband,
a child infested with lice
because of a mother’s negligence,
or a teen mom, raped by an uncle
they see it first hand,
up close and personal.
But sometimes it’s just too much to bear.

These stories of pain and injustice
speak to us
because they are not foreign.
Each one of us has confronted
the reality of evil in our own lives.
Whether it be cancer, or divorce,
unemployment or grief
we’ve all had moments of pain
when we’ve felt alone
and wondered where is God in all this.
It’s too much to bear.

The answer is in the wood of the Cross.
What started off as a sapling
that become the Christmas tree
lighting up the winter night with the joy
Has been cut down
and been made into the instrument of our salvation.

Emmanuel, God-made-flesh at Christmas,
because of his love for us
now bears the weight of our pain
along side of us.

Jesus suffered and died on the Cross
so that no one on earth
would ever suffer alone.
Jesus always goes before us,
no matter what we face.

My friend Carolyn’s heart grew huge
out of love for the kids which she served.

Jesus’ Sacred Heart grows ever greater
out of love for the people he saves.