Today’s homily is about courage, and I want to start by affirming you for your courage. What courage do I see? I see that you’re all on a journey, you’re sincerely open, searching, and trying to grow—that takes courage. You come to Mass, and sometimes that takes courage because there are temptations not to come. It takes courage to be part of this parish where we’re challenged and try to grow. You go to reconciliation—that takes courage. Some of us don’t receive Communion, which takes courage not to be concerned about what some people may think. Being Catholic can sometimes be hard, because we try to be completely honest, patient with everyone, and hard working. We go against the culture on gay marriage, abortion, euthanasia, and contraception. I see people here trying to pray, listening, being silent in church, and being friendly. I just want to affirm you in the good things you’re doing. You’re doing a great job!
It’s important to say this because we’re all tempted towards cowardice. We’re tempted to take the easy way out, to not rock the boat, to try to fit in and not follow Jesus. So we all need more courage. Our relationship with Jesus needs courage, that is, the courage to pray always. We need courage in our human relationships to forgive and take the high road. I personally need courage to speak the truth, to try new things because I sometimes get criticized (which isn’t all bad), and to strive for holiness.
Jesus says to us in the second reading through St. Paul: “I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you” (2 Tim 1:6). Jesus wants to rekindle our courage today. St. Paul says that “God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.”
There’s one thing that will always give us courage, and this is what we should all take away today: Love gives courage… love gives courage. Whenever we feel intimidated or afraid of doing the hard thing, think about this: The people we love need us to have courage.
Children sometimes get mad at their parents for having high expectations, being strict, and punishing bad behaviour. They don’t know it yet, but they need parents like this. The easy way out for parents is to be their children’s friend, let the TV or iPad pacify them, or give them the phone when all their friends get it—this takes no courage. Many parents have shared with me that they’re afraid of standing out or having their kids not fit in. So, stay strong in the face of peer pressure. You make the rules, not your friends, because you’re the parent and you know what’s best.
If we want our children to be exceptional, then we must be exceptional parents. A 1-in-10,000 child takes a 1-in-10,000 parent. Did you know that to parent like the rest of society means we’ll be an average parent? Because average is what most people do. To be above average means we must parent differently, not for the sake of being different, but because we have higher standards.
A mother once called Dr. Ray Guarendi and told the following story: she and her two daughters, ages 12 and 14, were attending a pool party. Come dusk, the hostess asked all the parents to come get the kids out of the pool. While most parents negotiated with their kids, nagging and bargaining, this mom wordlessly motioned with her hand for her girls to come out. And they did. The other parents observed the contrast between these girls’ cooperation and the other kids’. And they became the talk of the party. What do you think everyone talked about? They said it’s not normal for teenagers to be so cooperative; “Why are they so afraid of their mother?” (Dr. Ray Guarendi, Good Discipline, Great Teens, Disc 6, Tract 7). The moral of the story is the some of the biggest criticisms often come from other parents. It’s the subtle things they say and don’t say that make us feel like we’re being too severe.
Parents, please: Have courage. Jesus calls us to lead our kids to holiness. We should be stronger and more tender parents—and we can do both. And be sure of one thing: if our kids don’t do what most kids do, it’s because we have higher standards.
The people we love need us to have courage. We speak out against abortion not to hurt anyone or make people who have had abortions feel badly, but because unborn babies, whom we love, need us. We speak out lovingly against gay marriage, euthanasia, and confusion regarding transgender issues, believe it or not, because we love everyone and they need us to speak the truth, not politically correct comments.
This idea (love gives courage) is one of the biggest motivators for me when I get criticized. Now some of it is quite fair and has helped me to grow, like asking me to be on time and homily suggestions—for these I thank people. But other criticisms are not so helpful: saying Mass is too long, there are too many changes, and why are we spending this money? The answer to these criticisms is: I’m thinking about the people I love: first of all, you; then the people in our neighbourhood who I’d like to invite here, and, in a particular way, the 91% of Catholic children who stop practicing their faith by age 22. These people need us to radically improve the way we celebrate Mass and need us to spend our money on the right things.
When we love God more than other people, we’ll have courage. When we love our kids more than other people’s opinions, we’ll have courage. Deacon Andrew recently told me that, on one issue, I’m too worried about other people’s opinions. Thank you, Deacon. That comment strengthened me.
I find comfort to think that priests who have tried to speak God’s word and do the right thing always get criticized. Fr. James Mallon in Halifax, for example, leads one of the most dynamic parishes in North America (with 90 ministries running, including eight Alphas at the same time; in four years, almost 2000 people have gone through them, 20-30% of them being non-Church goers). But every week he gets one or two letters of complaint: about his preaching style, the speed of Mass, and being a “holy roller” (Fr. James Mallon, Divine Renovation, 280).
A few years ago, Fr. Wilfred Gomes, from St. Andrew’s in Vancouver, asked me, “Does everyone in your parish love you?” I said, “Well, some do.” “Good, because if everyone loves you, something’s wrong,” he said with a big smile. That’s very wise: if we’re popular with everyone in our life, that’s a sure sign we’re not doing the best, the optimum, because, when we are, we challenge people and the status quo. Obviously this doesn’t mean we should sin so that people don’t like us. But, think of Jesus, who was perfect: He made many people uncomfortable and challenged everyone. St. Mother Teresa spoke against abortion in front of pro-abortion politicians Bill Clinton and Al Gore. St. John Paul II was disliked by many inside and outside the Church. Non-Catholics who stood up against injustices were not popular with everyone: e.g. Martin Luther King, Gandhi, Mandela.
Start at 13:34
The famous Protestant pastor, Rick Warren, once said that every pastor has a decision to make (but this applies to everyone): either he will be a risk taker, a caretaker, or an undertaker. A risk taker aims high and makes mistakes; a care taker maintains the status quo, while an undertaker buries the dead. So which one are we, especially in terms of our faith? Here’s the thing: we think we have three choices, but in reality we only have two, because caretakers automatically become undertakers since maintaining the status quo always dies out. So, we’re forced to decide: will we be risk takers or undertakers?
As a parish family, are we going to aim high, grow in relationship with Jesus, run programs geared to growth, reach out to people, or stay comfortable, maintain the schedule as it is and then do more funerals than baptisms of adults? Most parishes are doing the latter.
Jesus gave us a mission: make disciples. A disciple is someone who follows Jesus, learns from Him, imitates Him and tries to become like the Master. The Church reiterates this, and Pope Francis is on our case to do this.
So trying to finish Mass in an hour does not help our mission. We’ve been doing it for decades and where has it gotten us? If we go to a parish that finishes Mass in a tight hour, do we say, “Wow, this parish is on fire, these people want to make disciples”? Appointments should be kept to an hour, not celebrations. Things that are pointless are things that we try to get over and done with but things that are beautiful are things we extend. When our children see us distracted during Mass, talking before Mass is over, itching to leave, and leaving early, they perceive that it’s not important to us; so why should it be important to them? By the way, the same goes for homilies: they are not restricted to being 10 minutes! They are as long as they need to be.
That there are too many changes is, in my opinion, not a good question to ask. The question is: are they good changes? If they lead people to grow closer to Jesus then that’s what we’re here for.
To the criticism that we’re spending too much money, the response is: what should we spend money on? What’s the alternative plan to the one we have now? I’m very open to hearing other strategies, but they must be sound and there should be examples of where they’ve worked. As a priest, I’m not perfect, I make many mistakes, and I don’t have a crystal ball. But because I’ve studied pastoral ministry for years, talked to experts, listened to many people and am imitating churches that are growing, I have a good idea of what works and what doesn’t. So I’m humbly asking for trust from everyone.
One thing is for sure: the current model of Catholic parishes is not working. It takes courage to face the facts: we lose 91% of our children by the age of 22. Please look around: all the time, kids are falling away. We’re only maintaining Mass attendance in Vancouver because of immigration; it gives the illusion we’re healthy. Vocations are down and we rely on priests from other countries. These are the facts, and they are indisputable. We have an elephant in the sanctuary and some people, including some priests, say, “It’s a poinsettia.” Some of you have pointed out that there are parishes in Vancouver that cannot survive along their current trajectory. When you go there, you see the Masses half empty and few young people. Courage asks the question, here and in every parish we visit, “Will this parish be bigger and healthier in the future?”
Let’s end by looking at someone who has courage from God. The star of The Passion of the Christ and Person of Interest, Jim Caviezel, is a devout Catholic. Keep in mind how hard it is to be a practicing Catholic in Hollywood. He knows abortion doesn’t help women, and there are 1,000,000 abortions in the US every year, so he once said, “I don’t love my career that much to say, ‘I’m going to remain silent on this.’ I’m defending every single baby who has never been born.” So someone he knew said to him, “You’re pro-life. Tell you what, if you really believe in what you speak, adopt a child—not any child, he’s got to have a serious deficiency.” Caviezel said, “It convicted me.” So he and his wife went to China and adopted two children with brain tumours. They were offered a second healthy child, but took the one with a tumour because they knew someone else would adopt the healthy one. Where did his courage come from? His love for Jesus and love for unborn babies.
His love also gives him courage to say what no one else is saying. One thing he talks about in many of his interviews is being a poser: someone who doesn’t live up their calling. Whenever I hear a challenge like this, I say to myself, “I don’t want to be a wimpy priest, a maintenance priest. I want to be a good priest, one who aims for the best.”
My brothers and sisters, keep up the good work. Whenever we’re afraid, let’s think of the people we love: Jesus, our family and children. Love gives courage.