Happy Leap Day

It’s ‘Leap Day’ today. I can’t help but feel the whole day is going to be a gift. After all, it’s only once in every four years that we get this ‘extra’ twenty-four hours of time. So I’m on the lookout today, more so than usual, for glimpses of grace, sacred encounters, and marvelous moments.
Yet it’s shaping up to be an ordinary day in my life. I’m at work, doing all the ‘ordinary’ things: meeting with staff, emailing, writing, a few appointments, dinner with my husband, a presentation tonight. There’s nothing spectacular planned, nothing extraordinary in the works.
Nor am I expecting the extraordinary. Glimpses of grace, sacred encounters and marvelous moments don’t require visions, locutions or ‘supernatural’ phenomena. As Sarah McLachlan sings, it’s enough to know the ordinary miracle of each and every day. Snow falling, seeds growing, rain falling, birds flying, sun rising and setting, and here I am alive to enjoy it, gifted with a day. http://youtu.be/m4j_wrmpMnU
A glimpse of grace comes in the chickadee I watch outside my office window as it hops from snow covered branch to snow covered branch, nibbling on the pine cones. A sacred encounter occurs with an unexpected visitor who shares a part of her faith journey with me. Later, there is a marvelous moment of communion when something funny happens and gathered community bursts into shared laughter.
And I have the entire day to enjoy it! What a gift! I am invited into the awareness that G. K. Chesterton knew when he wrote, “Here dies another day during which I had eyes, ears, hands and the great world around me, and tomorrow begins another. Why am I allowed two?” Even one day is a miracle. To expect another and another is simply sheer abundance.
Surrounded as I am by the sacred, aware that every moment is held in God and held by God, I am moved by gratitude. A response arises, unbidden but freely offered. “Lord, you have given me the gift of this day. What would you have me do today?” I want to fill this with God. In the glimpses of grace, the sacred encounters and the marvelous moments, I want to know what God is calling me to do, how God wants me to respond. I want to be a witness to love, a voice of compassion, a peace-maker and reconciler. I want to be a disciple. “Here I am Lord, I have come to do your will.” What better way to spend this gift of a day? Really, what better way to spend any day? It’s not that the ‘leap day’ will be any different in terms of the presence of the sacred. It’s simply that I hope to be more attuned to it.
It’s ‘leap day’ today, a ‘bonus’ day. How will you spend it?
Sandy Prather HOMI

A Big World… A Big Church

Part of what has made me the priest I am today is the variety of ministries and places in which I’ve served. For the last four years I’ve lived in Ottawa serving as vocation director for my OMI Lacombe. In this ministry I lead retreats and preach parish missions, and of course work with men (and women) discerning God’s call. In my twelve years of priesthood I’ve served in parish ministry and high school chaplaincy in Saskatoon, and was part of a four-year mission project in Birmingham, England.

 

I currently live with four other Oblates. Two work in youth ministry, and two work as part of a mission-preaching band. Br Dan who has worked with the Inuit in the Arctic, can transform 200 riotous teenagers into a church choir in the space of five minutes. Fr Mike is known throughout the country for his energy and innovation in youth ministry. Fr Alfred is considered one of our experts on the life and history of the Founder, and Br Louis is an artist, with both the camera and the guitar. Both the youth and mission-preaching ministries have full time lay members as team members, and these women and men bring their own gifts and experience to bear on our community life. To greater and lesser degrees all of them touch and inform my life making me the priest I am.

 

As an Oblate I feel a genuine connection to the work of the 4500 brothers and priests ministering in more than seventy countries around the world. Their ministry is mine and my ministry is theirs, and all of it together forms the corporate mission of the Oblates – our contribution to the larger mission of the Church. It is quite a thing when I take the time to consider it: all the people who walk with me in my priesthood and my ministry simply by virtue of the vows we’ve made and the charism we share.

Eczema and the Priesthood

I didn’t want to be a priest. But in the mid eighties I was desperate after I realized that I would not be able to work as a meat cutter because of severe eczema on my hands. I had already applied to the RCMP but since my eyesight was too weak I wasn’t eligible. So I had to move back home and think about what to do next. The year before I had experienced a major conversion in my personal faith that led me back to a deeper practice of Catholic faith and parish life. I was on fire for Jesus and the Church and wanted to get married and have a beautiful Catholic Family.

During my last week in the town where I had been working for a few years several friends from my prayer group spent an evening with me in prayer. One person spoke in a spirit of prophecy that they saw me on a hill with my arms extended in blessing. Another said they saw the Lord pouring oil on my hands anointing them for service. Someone else quoted the scripture “for this is what the Lord has said to me, “Go and post the watchman, and let him report what he sees.” Isaiah 21: 6. Remember that my conversion had me hoping on marriage and family life. What my friends were sharing in prayer felt like they were trying to corral me into the priesthood.

After experiencing many similar messages over a few months I had to ask myself this question: “If God really is calling me to priesthood won’t I be fulfilled?” That question wore down my excuses and fears. I went to a monastery for a week’s retreat and was frustrated with my director. The last night I went out for a walk on a gravel road in a windstorm. I stopped, looked up at the stars and shouted: “all right God, I will give it my best shot!!!” That summer I visited the seminary, was accepted and spent four tremendous years in a contemplative house of prayer and study. During those years I also began to see more signs that led me to believe I was called to be Missionary Oblate of Mary Immaculate.

When I look back on the initial struggle and the basic fear that held me back it was fear of loneliness. Now one of the things I treasure most in my Oblate life is solitude. Our struggles with our calling reflect in many ways what we desire most. Trust God and trust that providence will give you what you need to peer into and take hold of your deepest desires.

Peace fellow seeker. Fr. Mark Blom OMI

St. Eugene Wants You!

In 2005 I was seriously thinking about the priesthood. I was a youth minister at Bl. Pope John XXIII Parish in Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia (now known as the home of Sidney Crosby). I had been journeying with Fr. Gilbert Bertrand OMI in spiritual direction. On my birthday that year I received a card from Fr. Gilbert. It had a picture of a young St. Eugene on it with the caption, “St. Eugene Wants You!” I had to laugh at the card because I was indeed thinking about the Oblates but I really didn’t want to say yes to missionary life yet.
My hesitations about missionary life were that it would take me away from my family, my home town, and my friends. That is why I decided to study with the Archdiocese of Halifax first. How could I leave my family? How could I say yes to a vocation that might send me half-way across the world?
Finally, I had to resign to the words of Jesus “Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news, who will not receive a hundred fold now in this age – houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children and fields, with persecutions…” Mark 10:29-30. Wow! Boy has this scripture been right!
I have been all over Canada, the United States and now I’m in Kenya meeting Oblates, being in parishes and communities. I have acquired more than I could have ever expected…and I’m just starting my journey. I even have started becoming friends on facebook with Oblates I’ve never met but because we are in the same religious community we still have so much to share.
All the fear and anxiety that I faced in making the decision to join the Oblates has been replaced by the promises held in that scripture from the Gospel of Mark.
So what are you waiting for?
I met a young man several years ago that moved about from community to community discerning a vocation to religious life. Finally he said he wanted to start his own community named “Our Lady of Perpetual Discernment.” It was a funny way of saying he knew that he had thought enough about it but he couldn’t settle on what he wanted. But you never know a vocation unless you try it on, unless you start living it. It will do you no favours if you never try and see if it’s for you.
My life with the Oblates has blessed me in the most amazing ways, but I can’t expect you to take my word for it. Try it on and see if it fits.
Br. David MacPhee OMI

Love Jesus. . . love/hate religion? Where do YOU stand?

It strikes a nerve. The popular YouTube video “Why I love Jesus but hate religion” http://youtu.be/1IAhDGYlpqY  hits home with some painfully accurate accusations against organized religion. The young rapper finds it easy to love Jesus Christ and claim him as his Lord and Saviour while firmly criticizing and rejecting the Church that bears Christ’s name.
I identify easily with the anger and disillusionment expressed in the video. A realistic and honest look at the organized religion called Christianity has to acknowledge the sins and failures perpetrated in its name throughout history and even sadly, still today. But I can’t agree with his conclusions: unlike our young rapper, such sin in the Church does not cause me to reject it.
Instead, I feel more like Father Pontifex who responds to the video with his own rapping: ‘Why I love Jesus and love religion http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ru_tC4fv6FE.  The sins and faults of the people IN the Church do not express the true reality of who and what the Church is. The Church is so much more than that.

In the poetic imagery of Oblate founder Eugene de Mazenod, the Church is the ‘glorious inheritance which Christ, the Saviour, purchased at the cost of his own blood [Preface]. As such, it is infinitely precious: “How is it possible to separate our love for Jesus Christ from our love for His Church? The two loves are inseparable: to love the Church is to love Jesus Christ and vice versa.” {Pastoral Lenten letter, 1860}.

Even so, the young rapper and Eugene would find some common ground. Eugene is not blind to the sins and faults of the Church. In the wake of the French Revolution, Eugene acknowledges: “Such is the state of things brought about by the malice and corruption of present-day Christians that it can truly be said that the greater number of them are worse off now than was the gentile world before its idols were destroyed by the Cross” [Preface to the Constitutions and Rules]. Violence, apostasy, heresy, corruption, hypocrisy, greed, scandal: the Church of Eugene’s time was guilty of all the vices which so disillusion us today.
Yet Eugene’s response was not to abandon organized religion or the Church. Instead, Eugene was fired up to reform it. Inviting others of zeal and fire to join him, his desire was to ‘rekindle the flame of faith’ across the French countryside, and eventually the world. And so the Oblates were born.
So where are you? Disillusioned and rejecting or forgiving and reforming? They are good questions. . .

Sandy Prather, HOMI