May I ask: Are people still greeting each other, ‘Happy New Year’? If so, good, because it’s still the new year, there are still opportunities to grow, and we all want to grow.
One important method for spiritual growth is to take stock of previous graces and use these graces as jumping-off points for where the Holy Spirit is leading us. For example, if we grew through Alpha, then that might be a sign that Jesus wants us to invite others this year. If we really enjoyed our time with someone this past year, then we might want to cultivate and protect that friendship.
St. Ignatius, in his Examen prayer, has gratitude for the Father’s gifts as his first step, and review of His consolations as his third step. The second step is petition, in which we ask the Holy Spirit to show us what He sees.
Let me lead you now in a short prayer: “Holy Spirit, we glorify and praise You. Spirit of wisdom, give us insight and understanding, to see what are the deepest graces of 2021, and what are the hidden graces.”
We’re doing this review because the First Reading states, “Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that she has served her term, that her penalty is paid, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins” (Isa 40:1-2). This text is a turning point in the book of Isaiah, because the first 39 chapters are about challenging and chastising the people to repent and be more faithful. However, with these words at the beginning of chapter 40, the tone distinctly changes, to one of consolation, and theologians identify that it’s describing the glorious future to come. Many Church fathers, commenting on the text we’re now showing, mention how priests need to help their people with this spiritual comfort, because here God is criticizing King Hezekiah, who had been fatally sick and miraculously recovered, but thought only of himself and never encouraged nor prayed for his people (Isaiah 40-66 in Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, 1-2). So, for the Jewish people, who had already been justly punished, now was a time for hope.
Now is a time of hope for us, too. So, let’s take a few minutes to review and give thanks for the graces of 2021 in our spiritual family. Sometimes we forget how much we’ve grown and we forget the graces the Lord has given us.
I mentioned two Sundays ago how our school children have been the most consistently reverent I’ve seen, especially during Communion—this is a tremendous sign that you parents are growing in your spiritual leadership. We praise God also for you teenagers and young adults who have been helping in ministry, and it was very impressive the way a large number of you took very seriously my comments when I called you out in August—a sign of maturity.
Speaking of serving, many of you have started serving in the parish and are trying new ministries, including our six new adult Catholics, which is a sign of growing spiritual fruitfulness.
This past year, some of the homilies have been the boldest ever, with showing photos of abortion last February, and then the homily on residential schools seems to have been the most appreciated. At the same time, a few of you have spoken your mind, disagreeing with the video we showed about the loss of civil rights—what’s good here is that we’re all growing in courage, because we all need more courage to speak the truth.
Many of you have come back to Mass though you were hesitant; Confessions are also very high. We started The Marriage Course and Journey Through Scripture.
Finally, financial giving has been solid, which has allowed us to hire more staff, and about $425,000 was raised for the Parish Centre, which is amazing! Notice that I’m focusing on the ways you’ve responded with the Holy Spirit’s consolations.
So, what I’d invite you to do this week is discuss with someone else two questions: 1) What have been the deepest spiritual graces of 2021? 2) What have been the hidden graces of 2021? By the way, this is the kind of questions we’d talk about in small groups, which Ricky is planning, God willing, for Easter.
However, be careful of being misled by less important graces. While it may be good, for example, that we lost 20 pounds this past year—something for which to be thankful—don’t stop there. Did you grow in virtue, and reliance on Jesus when you lost that weight?
The Gospel today says, “As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, John answered all of them by saying, ‘I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire” (Lk 3:19-20). St. John the Baptist is talking about being misled by good graces. The people were waiting for the anointed one, and some were ready to follow him. It seemed that what he offered them was what they needed. But he pointed out that he was only the preparation; there was more. The true Messiah would give the Holy Spirit, that is, God dwelling inside us.
We also need to see past the good graces, seeing them as preparations for true blessings. For example, if the Holy Spirit healed you from COVID, why? There must be a deeper reason. If you received financial blessings, why? There has to be more. The most important question for us last year is: Did we grow in intimacy with the Father, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, or our Mother?
On Dec. 30, Mr. Perry wrote our school staff: “Dear Colleagues, I wish you a merry 6th day of Christmas! I hope your holiday has been restful and allowed you the leisure to become closer to Christ.” Do you see how he’s already focused on the Messiah, referring to Him by name? Then he closes the email with: “On a personal note, my daughter Maria went into labour prematurely on December 26 and delivered a boy, Emmanuel John. He was many weeks premature and passed away not long after birth. His father, Ed, was able to baptize him. Please pray for Maria and Ed. Maria is quite ill as a result and particularly needs prayers. The family is consoled by the thought that we have a saint in heaven advocating for us!”
We often see the greatest good in the greatest suffering. Ed and Maria are devastated, and she’s still sick. But Ed had the presence of mind and love to give eternal life to his son. It’s theologically true that Emmanuel has gone straight to heaven and is now glorifying God and praying for us. And Mr. Perry, the grandfather, sees the Father’s hand in this. On this feast day of the Baptism of our Lord, we praise God for the gift of Baptism, which guarantees us eternal life! Mr. Perry understands this gift so much that he sees this deep, hidden grace.
Again, please discuss these two questions with someone this week: 1) What have been the deepest spiritual graces of 2021? 2) What have been the hidden graces of 2021? This is one way we will fulfill the Father’s command to give comfort to His people.