Given that we’re celebrating the solemnity of our patron, St. Anthony, today’s homily is about celebration and mission. The Readings are about Jesus’ mission, and they’ve touched me deeply. The First Reading says, “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me… he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted” (Is 61:1). This verse refers to Jesus, but we share in His mission (Cf. CCC 1287).
[Watch Fr. Justin’s homily delivery here.]
So the first reason to celebrate is that it’s a blessing to share in Jesus’ mission! I love being a priest! I was designed to be a priest. Even when I was in grade two, I was put in charge of others… and even then I bossed them around. Just kidding. I loved helping people then and now! There’s nothing better for me than priesthood. I couldn’t do anything else.
Everyone is designed for a mission. The First Reading says, “The Lord has anointed me” (Is 61:1), and all of us are anointed at Baptism for a unique mission (Cf. CCC 1268). When you discover Jesus’ mission for you, you come alive: all your talents, interests, and opportunities converge!
That leads to the second reason to celebrate: Many of you have started to see your lives as a mission: You witness to Jesus all day long, and many of you are proclaiming Him in ways you never did before. I thank all the people who serve in parish ministries, as well as our staff, who have given up work in the world to serve in ministry: Deacon Andrew, Catherine, Anthony, Jacquie, Annie, and Chris.
Jesus says today, “The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into his harvest” (Lk 10:2). God has given our parish family many labourers, and we’re going to keep on asking for more. Why?
Because the third reason is that there is no greater mission in the world than Jesus’ mission. In April of this year I mentioned that I had my best class visit ever. A student asked what I would do if I were granted one wish. I told the students that whatever I would choose, it would have to be the greatest good, for the greatest number of people, and for the longest duration. I wrote these three conditions on the board, then I asked the students for examples of what is the greatest good possible. They answered: stop COVID-19, end slavery, racism, starvation, protect the environment, stop abortion, etc. These are good goals, but I started worrying: Aren’t there more important things than these? Then someone said, “End sin.” Another said, “Lead people to God.” That’s when I thought: Now we’re talking!
We went through each suggestion to see which would do more good: end COVID-19 or slavery? Well, it depends on which is causing more harm. End racism or abortion? Abortion kills the most people in the world every day, so it’s ending abortion. We started eliminating each possibility one by one until one student said, “Father, if people stop sinning, then there’d be no abortion, racism, slavery, etc.” “Yeah!” I said. And, if everyone were to love Jesus, no one would sin, and we’d all choose to go to heaven, for eternal life. The kids got it! Now, many of them forgot about it the next week, but the point is: If everyone loved Jesus, there would be no moral evil in the world. Sure, there would be natural disasters, but statistically, more people die through human causes than by disease, etc. Jesus’ mission is the most important mission in the world, because it does the greatest good, for the greatest number of people, and for the longest duration, that is, eternity. We share in the greatest mission possible.
The fourth reason to celebrate is that, when we see our life as sharing in Jesus’ mission, everything has a purpose. If our mission is to love as Jesus does and proclaim Him, we can do this all the time. If we’re sick, we can do this. If we’re at work, we can do this. At home, school, whether we’re feeling good or not, we can always fulfill God’s purpose for us.
God designs even our suffering so that we can glorify Him. In 2014, after I was assigned here, a priest told me that I wasn’t supposed to be sent here. The original plan of Archbishop Miller and the consultors was for me to be appointed pastor at another parish. But, around the time of their deliberations, I mentioned in passing to His Grace that there was an incident where I was treated very badly and unfairly, and, based on this knowledge, he changed the plans. So, though I will go wherever I’m sent, God arranged that, through my being treated badly, my mission would be here.
Mass always thanks God for His blessings, but today, in particular, we’re grateful for our wonderful spiritual community. Andre Regnier, one of the most fruitful Catholic leaders in North America and the founder of CCO, Catholic Christian Outreach, said that our parish is the ‘flagship’ for CCO Faith Studies.
In April of this year, a married couple in their 30s who live in another North American city, asked to speak to me, and offered to pay for one of our staff positions, because they believe in what God is doing in our parish. At their parish, they’ve seen so much spiritual transformation through Alpha, so many lives changed, and people’s falling in love with Jesus, that they want the same for us. Can you imagine that: A married couple with lots of kids believe in the mission of Jesus so much that they want to offer tens of thousands of dollars to help another parish evangelize? This is a couple that sees their life as a mission from Jesus.
God has brought us this far (that’s the celebration), and now it’s time to listen again, “Jesus, how can we love people more? How can we bring You to people who don’t know and love You?” (This is the mission.)
We’re still in what Fr. James Mallon calls the first phase of parish renewal, that is, getting a critical mass of parishioners, about 40%, to own the parish vision and be engaged, that is, be passionate about the vision and make sacrifices so that the vision can be achieved (Divine Renovation: Beyond the Parish, 290).
We’re ready now to take another large step forward. The couple that offered us money said something years ago in a webinar that’s never left me: They said, “What are you saving the parish’s money for? It’s meant to be used for mission.” The husband himself leads his parish’s finance council and they always run a deficit budget: They spend the parish’s money on mission and evangelization, and so people grow spiritually and new people join their parish, and these people financially support the parish.
So, I’m thinking that we need to run a deficit budget next year in order to grow spiritually. What this means is that we’ll spend more money than we expect to bring in on hiring new staff, and dip into our savings, knowing that, if we’re faithful to God and do His work of making disciples, then He will support us financially by sending the money we need. Obviously, we’re not going to waste money, and the Finance Council is approving something reasonable, but we need to spend more to help people grow. That’s how dynamic parishes grow. Our sister parish in the Divine Renovation Network (which coaches us for growth), St. Ignatius in Montreal, every year spends more than they budget for. That’s part of why they are younger and have more adult Baptisms than we, even though they’re smaller!
For those who get nervous, just keep in mind that, for the past seven years, we’ve been focused solely on Jesus’ mission, and financial giving has increased every single year. Trust in Jesus! Mission comes before money. Faith comes before finances.
The three things I’m going to ask you to do are: see your life as a mission, be more available as a leader, and think about increasing your weekly financial support of the parish.
1) See your life as a mission. I think of our Director of Music, Chris. God gave him musical ability, and he uses it to help so many people. Jesus has also given you abilities and gifts for your mission. You are meant to serve others and evangelize. You can reach people others can’t. How many of you are Christian? Raise your hands if you are, please. How many of you are Catholic? How many of you are disciples of Jesus, meaning, you’ve put Him at the centre of your life? How many of you are missionaries? One day, my hope is that all of us will raise our hands. I’ll ask you again in the future. A parish full of missionaries is a parish that is healthy.
2) Be more available as a leader. One of our greatest weaknesses is that we have lots of people who love Jesus, but not many strong leaders. Could you help us in this? If you’re a natural leader, perhaps you could pray about this and offer your leadership. And all of us are called to grow as leaders ourselves.
3) I will accept the offer from that couple after we all pray about increasing our financial support. The first and only time I asked this was four years ago, and your generosity helped us grow our staff! Thank you!!! In two weeks, I’ll talk more specifically about this topic. But, for the time being, please open your heart to this request. If you make an increased sacrificial donation regularly, then we can hire someone to lead in Alpha, RCIA, and Faith Studies. That’s right, one for each program!
I’ve mentioned for the past nine weeks that we’re trying to bring the NET Team for our teenagers. That’s at least five young adults full time to help us at a projected cost of $95,000. That is a financial steal, and having them come is one of our three game changers for 2021. After prayer and consultation, I signed the NET contract on Friday. Will you help support five missionaries come to our parish for a year? Parents, I’m asking for your financial help, but more than that, that you grow as spiritual leaders for your children. Again, in two weeks, we’ll revisit this.
The Evangelical pastor Rick Warren once told a story about his dad, who was a minister for over 50 years and died in 1999 of cancer. “In the final week of his life the disease kept him awake in a semi-conscious state… As he dreamed, he would talk out loud about what he was dreaming… He relived one church building project after another.” Warren writes: “One night… while my wife… and I were by his side, Dad suddenly… tried to get out of bed… He was too weak, and my wife insisted he lay back down. But he persisted in trying to get out of bed, so my wife finally asked, ‘Jimmy, what are you trying to do?’ He replied, ‘Got to save one more for Jesus! Got to save one more for Jesus!…’ He began to repeat that phrase over and over… As I sat by his bed with tears flowing down my cheeks, I… thank[ed] God for my dad’s faith. At that moment Dad reached out and placed his frail hand on my head and said, as if commissioning me, ‘Save one more for Jesus! Save one more for Jesus!’ I intend for that to be the theme of the rest of my life… I pray that you will always be on the lookout to reach ‘one more for Jesus’ so that when you stand before God one day, you can say, ‘Mission accomplished!’” (The Purpose Driven Life, 287-288).