The First Sunday of Lent

LEAD US NOT INTO TEMPTATION

By Maria di Paolo

Lent is a time for prayer and reflection and the scriptures for Ash Wednesday and for today, the First Sunday of Lent, give us much to begin with.  On Ash Wednesday, we hear Jesus instructing the disciples in piety, telling them not to be hypocritical in prayer, fasting and almsgiving: these activities are to be done privately, without show and fanfare.  What is skipped over in the Lectionary reading is Jesus’ special instruction about how to pray the “Our Father.”  I decided to start my reflection with this thought because it occurred to me that it provides a link to the readings we hear this Sunday …

The Book of Genesis contains two creation stories that seem contradictory.   In the first one, God creates the world in six days, resting on the seventh.  He creates humankind in his own image and, when he finishes, “God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good.”  In the second story we encounter Adam and Eve and the serpent in the garden.  The serpent tempts Adam and Eve to eat the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  They do and are expelled from paradise.   Two contradictory ideas: the perfection of being created in God’s image, and the imperfection of being human.  The story about Adam and Eve is about what we are as humans: we do have the ability to know right from wrong, good from evil.  We never had an option to say “No” to the serpent.

In today’s Gospel, we encounter Jesus in the desert being tempted by the devil.  If we forget Jesus’ humanity, we have an image of a superhuman divine being who sees off the devil relatively easily.  But these are temptations that we should all be able to relate to: satisfying our own physical needs and desires, satisfying our desire to control our own fate, and satisfying our desire to have power over others.

St. Paul provides a bridge between these two stories in his letter to the Romans.  While Adam and Eve represent our fallen nature as humans, easily lead into temptation, Jesus shows us the way to redemption and salvation.

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Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time

A LENTEN PSALMODY 

By Fr. Chris Valka, CSB

This Wednesday, we once again begin our sacred season of Lent.  As a parish, I am asking each of us to journey with the Psalms, for they voice our dialogue with God and speak of the intimacy between God’s creation and its Creator.

Over the last few months, we have begun to quietly reintroduce ourselves to the Liturgy of the Hours, which centers around the Psalms.  They are shouts of gladness, cries of lamentation, offerings of praise, prayers for our community, invitations to repentance and so much more.  The Psalms are unlike the rest of the Bible, for they do not advance the story of our salvation; rather they offer the people a chance to respond to all that God has done.  They give us permission to have a voice.

St. Basil writes, “A psalm implies serenity of soul; it is the author of peace, which calms bewildering and seething thoughts. For, it softens the wrath of the soul, and what is unbridled it chastens. A psalm forms friendships, unites those separated, conciliates those at enmity. Who, indeed, can still consider as an enemy him with whom he has uttered the same prayer to God?

So that psalmody, bringing about choral singing, a bond, as it were, toward unity, and joining the people into a harmonious union of one choir, produces also the greatest of blessings, charity. A psalm is a city of refuge from the demons, a means of inducing help from the angels, a weapon in fears by night, a rest from toils by day, a safeguard for infants, an adornment for those at the height of their vigor, a consolation for the elders, a most fitting ornament for women.

It peoples the solitudes; it rids the market place of excesses; it is the elementary exposition of beginners, the improvement of those advancing, the solid support of the perfect, the voice of the Church. It brightens the feast days; it creates a sorrow which is in accordance with God.

For, a psalm is the work of angels, a heavenly institution, the spiritual incense.”

So as we begin this Lenten season, let us begin by uniting our voice with the voices of others; let us begin with the Psalms.

Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time

BOUNDLESS LOVE

By Emily VanBerkum

In today’s Gospel reading from Matthew 5:38-48, Jesus places great demands on his audience. In fact, he outrightly asks for perfection. However, though Jesus’ words may strike the reader as an impossible task, Jesus carefully reinterprets the Mosaic Law’s understanding of retaliation and loving one’s neighbour in order to provide the key to spiritual happiness. If someone hurts us, our instinct might be to “get even.” Yet, Jesus suggests that we “turn the other cheek,” “give our cloak,” “go the second mile,” and not “refuse anyone who wants to borrow” from us. This laundry list of demands doesn’t paint the victim as a passive receptacle of unjust actions. Rather, it reveals a genuine desire to put an end to acts of retaliation for the sole purpose of being spiteful.

By unloading oneself of the immense burden of holding grudges or living in spite, Jesus reasonably argues that praying for those who persecute you rather than hating your enemies actually requires less energy. It’s easy to say that you could “love” your neighbour, but praying for them bears with it the beautiful hope of putting thought into action. Being “children of your Father in heaven” is the reward for loving without boundaries. Don’t simply love when it is convenient to do so, or even when you love the person already. Jesus isn’t easily fooled. Jesus asks an incredible rhetorical question: “For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have?”

I wonder, what does it mean to be “children of God?” In my opinion, the effort of striving for that awesome reward comes pretty darn close to any sort of earthly perfection I can conceive of or hope to achieve. I think others are in the same boat. Mahatma Gandhi once said, “an eye for an eye and the whole world would be blind.” If we don’t demand blindness as a form of justice, it’s worth giving Jesus’ instructions for spiritual happiness a try- no matter how difficult. If we ensure that our neighbour has near perfect sight, we can better navigate what it means to be “children of God”…together. There’s no “us against them” but a humble- and distinctly practical- sense of unity in the faith we profess and the life that we live.

Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time

A  CALL  TO  CLARITY 

by Lucinda M. Vardey

What is Jesus saying in the last lines of today’s Gospel when he commanded our responses to be “Yes” or “No.”?  And what is he inferring by any other response  as coming “from the evil one”?

Jesus always invites us to be clear about the truth embedded in the will of God.   How we discern that truth requires us to listen, with an open, loving heart, in the quiet and solitude of prayer.  From there we are guided by the Spirit and wisdom of God to know how to confidently respond in any situation.

There must have been occasions when we have reacted too quickly, made decisions without turning to prayer.  How many times have we regretted saying “Yes” when we desired to say “No.”?  Were decisions affected by feelings of “should” or guilt, or fear that we’d upset other’s expectations?  And when did we fall into interminable indecision, permitting a “maybe,” or succumbing to the silence of no response?

Jesus could well be emphasizing that no response, no action, no decision, is never neutral.   Everything has a cost.  Being nebulous has hurtful consequences.

In her encounter with the angel Gabriel, Mary asked a question, received an answer and responded, like the Apostles, with her affirmation.  Our readiness to trust God’s guidance, and our willingness to clearly respond,  increases not only our faith but God’s work in and through our lives.

Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time

ESSENTIAL LIGHT

By John Dalla Costa

With the bright stars of Christmas now a receding memory, and the new dawn of Easter still months away, the liturgical year turns to helping us live the illumination of faith in ordinary time. Light is the motif connecting all of today’s readings: from the poetic-pragmatism of Isaiah, to the terse, Tweet-like declaration by Jesus that we “are the light of the world.”

What does it mean to light up ordinary time? In a canyon of still rising condominiums, our parish church is literally ever more in shadows cast by the city. So we don’t need to go far from our bell tower to discover the gloom of hunger, illness and homelessness, which Isaiah challenges us to see and correct.

Nor, however, do we need to go very far up or down Bay Street to discover other forms of darkness. In our culture, which makes morality optional, and truth relative, it is often hope that is eclipsed, and meaning that gets obscured. And in our neighborhood, it can just as easily be that the busiest people are the loneliest, the smartest most in need of understanding, and the most successful aching most for satisfaction. Jesus does not ask us to share the light, but to be the light; not to judge, but to embody our spirituality so that the peace and purposefulness from our baptism light up the darkness for those around us.

Ever the humble servant, Paul insists that we can’t let these bright lights go to our heads. It is after all God’s power that generates this potential in us. Our job is to be July in February – to radiate the warmth, gratitude, welcome and glee that help extract the deep preciousness from ordinary time.

Feast of the Presentation of the Lord

PRESENTED TO THE COMMUNITY

By Leanna Cappiello

It has only been one month since I began as your Social & Community Coordinator, and I must say, I’ve grown attached to you all already!

Your immediate response to our new initiatives has been doing wonders for this new energy at the Parish. Individually, and as a collective, you are the reason for this change. My role is merely to invite and facilitate.

For those who haven’t met me yet: I hold my B.A.[H] in Drama in Education & Community, and my B.Ed. at the Intermediate-Senior level. This means that I am both a Theatre Practitioner and a Teacher. My most notable internships vary from clowning at Fools for Health, to international politics the Holy See Mission to the United Nations. I spent most of my summers at the Shakespeare School in Stratford. I am a freelance writer, and my work has been published through CBC’s Generation Why, Salt+Light Media, Examiner.com, The Catholic Register, and Busted Halo. In addition to working with you at St Basil’s, I am currently pursuing my MTS at Regis College.

I’d love to offer a short update on how things have been going so far:

Reaching out to our Newlyweds and Engaged couples has been a great joy. The potlucks this month have been both delightful and delicious.

Couples: keep an eye out for some of our adventurous dining experiences in the future.

Our first gathering as young adults went exceptionally well. So much in fact, that we have decided to make it a weekly gathering: each Sunday following the 4:30pm mass.

Young adults: stay tuned to mailing list and on Facebook for upcoming events, gatherings, and locations.

Beginning in February, we will be starting a new initiative called “Threads of Prayer”, where we will gather each week to knit or crochet small gifts for the homebound and sick. These sessions will be held on a weekday in the late afternoon. Knitting lessons will be offered!

Elders: more information to come…

In today’s Gospel, we heard Jesus’ words, “You are the salt of the earth… You are the light of the world.” This mission He hands to us is not simply a call to ponder about change, but to act on change. You have already started. My position here is a direct result of your desire to be a more welcoming, generous, dynamic community – and this is only the beginning.

Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

THE JOURNEY FROM LIGHT TO DARKNESS IS ONGOING

By Maria di Paolo

Deep darkness will make way for a great light, gloom and anguish for a glorious way by the sea, writes the prophet Isaiah. Matthew’s Gospel quotes this same text just before Jesus calls his first disciples, Simon Peter, Andrew, James and John, saying, “Come follow me, and I will make you fishers of people.”  The four leave their work and families and join with Jesus in his mission as he teaches and proclaims the Good News.  A simple reading of these two short excerpts side by side may lead us to think, “Well that’s it! We have the answer and it is Jesus.  He is the light and we don’t really need to do much more work!”  But we know that things aren’t that simple.  We know that Peter and the disciples often don’t get things right.

And in the second reading, only a couple of decades after the Jesus’ death and resurrection, St. Paul is writing to a small Christian community in Corinth that is riven by quarrels amongst its members, asking them: “Has Christ been divided?”  Who, he asks the Corinthians, do you belong to?  That community, and others like it, learned from him and from each other and grew and flourished and prepared the way for all the generations that followed.

Like Peter and the disciples, and like the community in Corinth, we often don’t “get it.”  We often don’t quite see the light, but we build on what we learn from our parents and families, from our friends and teachers and neighbours and from our own life experience and then we do see the light, and then we pass that insight on to someone else.  For the Church, and for ourselves, the journey from darkness into light is ongoing and never ceases.