It is a very rare thing for me to get to a Toronto Maple Leaf game. Tickets are expensive and hard to come-by. Recently, as a result of the pandemic, it has been even more rare for any of us to take in a game. I think because it has been about three years since I had last been to a game, I was quite taken in by the whole atmosphere of the crowd and the spectacular environment of the whole show; not just of the game, but of the environment that surrounded the whole game.
There is a brilliant use of lights, music, video and emotion at these games which are intended to make each person that is in attendance feel like they are an essential part of an extremely important battle. Before the game begins, the lights, music and visual equipment are used to create an important sense of calling that belongs to each member of the crowd as a citizen of “Leaf Nation.” On the big screen, a video is shown that presents the players as they come from their homes in their street clothes, on their way to the arena like every other person who has come to the game. The difference being, that these select persons have been chosen as warriors for that one cause that has brought everyone else to the arena. Once they have taken the ice to fight on our behalf, the music, video and lights are all used to create a sense of urgency among the crowd that makes each person feel that he or she is a part of this great contest. Each person is made to feel that the warriors on the ice depend upon each person cheering and contributing to the battle cry that will strengthen the forces on the ice. The section that cheers the loudest is regarded as being the most supportive of the cause and they are given special rewards—like t-shirts or free pizza. Everything is done to make each person feel that they are part of the team and that their role is essential. So perfectly is this accomplished, that there is a kind of unity created by the atmosphere, as everyone senses they are united in the same effort. There was a beautiful sense of unity between all who were cheering for the Toronto Maple Leafs. The young boy with Down Syndrome sitting behind me, the not so sober people coming and going, the young and old from every ethnic background, we were all on the same side united in our common hope for a Leaf victory. I even felt that the people sitting next to me wearing Boston Bruins sweaters were traders who did not belong.
It occurred to me that as I was sitting there, that this is the way that you and I are intended to feel when we come to Mass and are reminded of the call that is given to each one of us as a result of our baptism. The opening hymn at Mass is intended to unite us and bring us all together as we come to celebrate the Eucharist. During the Penitential Rite, we acknowledge the struggles and failures of the previous week as we have attempted to live our vocations. The readings at Mass remind us of the common journey that we are on and the ways in which we are called to live it and assured of Christ’s presence in our lives. As we celebrate the Eucharist, we remember the New Covenant that has made us God’s people through Christ’s sacrifice and His blood. The celebration of the Eucharist is to remind us of the presence of Christ who is with us on our journey and unites us as His Body, the Church, on our pilgrimage to the New Jerusalem. On this journey, each one of us has a role to play, and we are all necessary for the Church to fulfill its mission and task in the world. The success of the Church depends upon each one of us doing our part and recognizing the role and responsibility that we have helping he Church to fulfill its mission. At the conclusion of the Mass, we are sent out into the world to live that mission and do our part as members of Christ’s Body the Church. With more enthusiasm than Leaf fans, we are called to witness to the victory of Christ over death and His presence in our lives. Mass is intended to remind us of a victory and struggle that is far more important than a hockey game. We are all pilgrims and our true homeland is in Heaven. We are called not be just members of “Leaf Nation,” but citizens of the New Jerusalem, and to strive to build the Kingdom of God during our earthly pilgrimages. Every baptized Christian has a call and a vocation.
I think for most Catholics, when we think about vocations, we tend to think of a call to the priesthood or the religious life for men and women. The fact is, however, that every baptized person in the world has a vocation. The word “vocation” comes from the Latin word “vocare.” This word means “to call.” Through our baptisms, we are all called to follow Jesus and to do His will in our lives. There is a beautiful prayer that is said after a person is baptized and when he or she is anointed with the oil of Chrism. This anointing takes place to signify that through baptism we are all set aside to share in Christ’s life and receive a gift of the Holy Spirit that allows us to be formed in His likeness. The prayer states:
God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ has freed you from sin,
given you a new birth by water and the Holy Spirit,
and welcomed you in to his holy people.
He now anoints you with the chrism of salvation.
As Christ was anointed Priest, Prophet and King,
so may you live always as a member of his body,
sharing everlasting life.
The reason why I love this prayer so much, is that it speaks so clearly of the dignity that belongs to each of us through our baptisms. We become members of Christ’s Body in baptism and are called to continue His saving work in the world. By baptism, each one of us is a member of Christ’s priestly, prophetic and kingly people. To be a member of Christ’s priestly people means that each one of us is to offer our lives in a sacrifice of love to the Lord. We are to love Him and serve Him in what we do. Parents do this as they love their children and make sacrifices for them. Single people do this as they make sacrifices to care for others and contribute to society. Spouses make these sacrifices when they care for the other or put their interests aside for the other. As members of Christ’s prophetic people, we are called to speak the Gospel message in those places that we are sent in the course of the week. We do this when we speak of justice and the dignity that belongs to every person in a world that does not often share these values. Christ calls each of us to witness to Him in the world. The laity have the special mission of taking Christ to the many different places that they are sent through the course of the week. Each one of us, through our baptisms is called to build the Kingdom of God and to do our part in the mission of the Church.
In order to emphasize the responsibility that each baptized person has for the life of the Church, several years ago, Cardinal Collins introduced as a special theme for the pastoral life of the diocese, that of “Stewardship.“ Stewardship is intended to celebrate what God has done for each of us and how it is that we are called to respond in gratitude for these gifts. The Bible begins with the story of creation and calls us to recognize that everything we have has come to us from God. Once we acknowledge that everything that we have is from God, we ought to desire to give thanks to God for these gifts. The other thing that the Bible tells us about the gifts that God has given us, is that they are only ours to enjoy for a finite period of time. Because we are creatures of God, we must ultimately give them back to God and give an accounting as to how we have used these gifts. The gifts we have received from God are not ours for all eternity. The only thing that will be ours for eternity is the place that God is offering us in Heaven.
The reason why the theme of Stewardship is so important is that it calls all of the baptized to recognize the responsibility that they have for the life Church. When we think that only priests and religious men and women have a vocation, then we think that it is their job to look after the life of the Church. For many years our parish had been blessed with many priests, sisters and seminarians. The community had been able to depend upon them to do much of the work of the parish. In order for the life of our parish community to continue to grow, more and more of our lay faithful will be required to take up the different ministries that they have done here in the parish. Even in those ministries that are exercised by the lay faithful, many people leave it to others to be lectors, Eucharistic ministers or ushers. These are ministries that ought to be shared widely by members of our community. I would really like to ask everyone to think about how they might become more involved in our parish community and over the next few months, as you hear invitations to get involved, to think about how you might do so. Again, this September there will be invitations to attend ministry workshops and get involved.
A significant role that each of us has in stewardship for the life of the Church is to pray for and encourage vocations. We have all heard of the difficulties that many have encountered in their vocations as priests and religious men and women. These are not unlike those encountered by married and single individuals. This does not mean that we should not encourage people to think of vocations or to stop promoting them. We should all encourage young people to think of vocations to marriage, the priesthood, the religious life or even if called to be single, how they might best hear the call of God in their lives. Some people believe that God is no longer calling people to vocations. I tend to think that the world has gotten so busy and cynical that less people are listening and responding to calls towards a vocation. This World Day of Prayer for Vocations is a way for all of us to support vocations and be aware of the reality that we are all called by God to respond to His love for us.
When we are baptized, Christ proclaims that He loves us so much that He wants to spend eternity with us. If a total stranger were to come up to you and tell you this, the best thing to do might be to run away. Because for so many people Christ is a stranger, they do run away from God and have nothing to do with him. Today it is not that God is not calling, we are too distracted to listen and follow. When I was young, my parents would call me for dinner when I was playing video games. They could have been five feet away from me and screaming at the top of their lungs. I would somehow not respond. Everything about creation proclaims God’s love for us and His desire that we understand His love for us. He has given each of us gifts to share and use to add to the life of our parish community. No matter what vocation each member of our community might be called to, let us pray that we might accept that spirit of stewardship that will allow us to offer these gifts for the good of our community.
There is a very powerful movie in the theatres right now that tells the story of one who unexpectedly heard God’s call. It is called “Father Stu.” In this movie, Mark Whalberg plays the role of a boxer with very colourful language and a past that is very troubled. The movie tells the story of Father Stu Long. It shows his very unexpected conversion and call story and the way his weakness led him to become a great missionary of mercy. So often people refuse to answer the call from God because of the fear they have about their weakness and failure to believe in the power of God’s grace to transform them. This is something that goes back to the first call given to Saint Peter, who responded “Get away from me Lord, for I am a sinful man.” In the same way that many individuals may fear to answer God’s call, so too many may refuse to encourage vocations because they see the humanity of a person as stronger than the power of God to work in their lives. The call of the first disciples, and all of the disciples since, just like that of Father Stu, is a call to weak human beings to open their hearts to the power of God to transform their hearts. Please pray for vocations, encourage vocations, and if you are called to a vocation, dare to trust the Lord to fulfill the good work that only He can bring to fulfillment.
In the bulletin this weekend, you will find a stewardship prayer. I would like to conclude with this and ask you to consider offering the “Stewardship Prayer” regularly, as you ask God to help you to respond to His call and generosity toward you.
I come to you in thanksgiving,
knowing that all I am
and all that I have
is a gift from you.
In faith and love,
help me to do your will.
I am listening, Lord God.
Speak your words into
the depth of my soul,
that I may hear you clearly,
I offer to you this day
all facets of my life,
whether it be at home,
at work, or in school—
to be patient, to be merciful,
to be generous, to be holy.
Give me the wisdom and insight
to understand your will
for me and the fervour to fulfill
my good intentions.
I offer my gifts or time,
talent and possession
to you as a true act of faith,
to reflect my love for you
and my neighbour.
Help me to reach out to others
as you, my God
have reached out to me.
On this World Day of Prayer for Vocations Sunday, may we all hear God’s call to us and respond with generosity.
Pastor—St. Peter’s Parish—Toronto.
This reflection is based upon the readings for the Fourth Sunday of Easter, Year C: Acts 13: 14, 43-52; Psalm 100; Revelation 7: 9, 14-17; and John 10: 27-30.
P.S. A Mother’s Day Story and Blessing:
Every year on Mother’s Day, I love to tell the story of an episode of Sesame Street that I recall from many years ago.
The muppet puppets were featured in a story in which a little boy was separated from his mother. As the boy was crying in the town’s piazza because he could not find his mother, the king of that town came upon him and asked him why he was crying. The little boy responded that he had been separated from his mother and could not find her.
The king asked the little boy what his mother looked like and promised to send his entire army out to find her. The boy exclaimed that his mother “was the most beautiful women in the world.” The king dispatched his army to find the most beautiful women in the world so that she might be re-united with her son. The soldiers in the army brought back all of the beautiful women in the kingdom to be re-united with the child. Each time the boy was presented with another person to ask if this was his mother, he said “no, that is not her.” They continued to bring all of the women in the kingdom. Finally, the king said to the boy, we have brought you every beautiful woman in the kingdom. And the boy said, but I told you “my mother is the most beautiful women in the world.
When it seemed like all of the women in the kingdom had been brought, everyone was beginning to lose hope that the boy would ever be re-united with his mother. Finally, a worn down and poorly dressed women made her way in to the king’s court and the boy shrieked in gladness at the sight of his mother.
Surprised that this was the boy’s mother, the king said, “I thought that you said that your mother was the most beautiful women in the world.” The boy exclaimed that “she is indeed the most beautiful women in the world. What took you so long to find her?”
Today we celebrate and give thanks for the gift of our mothers. I will offer Mass for the mothers of all the parishioners of St. Peter’s Parish—those living and deceased.
Thank you to all the mothers of the parish who are to their children the most beautiful women in the world.
May God bless the mothers of our parish today and always.