I have my own LEGO character!

Take a look at the pictures a parishioner showed me of her boys' LEGO creations. First, they made a LEGO version of me.  I was both amused and flattered - "LEGO Fr. Nick" has a sweet head of hair!

LEGO Fr. Nick
Then, they had me celebrate Mass for a LEGO congregation. For those who may be wondering, the chalices are from the Indiana Jones set.

"The Lord be with you."
"And with your spirit."
I am hoping that LEGO Fr. Nick's Mass makes it into the sequel to The LEGO Movie.

(Thanks for the pictures Andrea!)

The Real Presence: dealing with doubt

John 6:51-58 (Corpus Christi, year A)
Christ with the Host, Paolo da San Leocadio, 1520
When I was living in Rome, one of my favorite events to attend was the annual Corpus Christi procession. Every year this begins with the Pope celebrating Mass at the famous basilica of St. John Lateran. After Mass, the Pope places a consecrated host inside a monstrance and leads a crowd of several thousands in procession through the streets of Rome to the nearby basilica Santa Maria Maggiore. There everyone spends some moments in adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. Now, if you had no knowledge of Catholic tradition and belief, the event would seem very strange. You might ask, quite understandably, why people were adoring what looks like a piece of bread. If you were to ask why we did this, we’d reply it is because we believe that this bread is not bread but that it is really, truly, substantially Jesus. This belief in the Real Presence would no doubt leave you confused and doubtful. This reaction is not uncommon, both among Catholics and non-Catholics.

In fact, the feast of Corpus Christi came about because of doubt in the Real Presence. Back in the year 1263 a German priest was travelling to Rome on pilgrimage. Along the way, he stopped in the small, Italian city of Bolsena to celebrate Mass. During his pilgrimage, this priest was experiencing a crisis of faith. He was struggling to believe in the Real Presence. While he was celebrating Mass, something extraordinary happened. At the moment of consecration the host began to drip blood onto the piece of linen, called a corporal, that sat upon the altar. Shocked, the priest went to visit Pope Urban IV who was staying in the nearby city of Orvieto. After an investigation, the Pope ordered that the host, along with the corporal be displayed in the Cathedral of Orvieto for veneration. You can still see them there today. Soon after this event, Pope Urban instituted the feast of Corpus Christi, in honor of the Body and Blood of Jesus. He even commissioned St. Thomas Aquinas to write the prayers for this special feast, one that came about because of doubts that a priest had in the real presence.

Today it seems that many Catholics do not believe in the Real Presence. In 2013, a survey of American Catholics (I assume the numbers would be similar for Canadians) found that approximately 40% of American Catholics do not believe in the Real Presence. That is, they do not believe that at the consecration during Mass, the bread and wine really become the Body and Blood of Jesus and are not just mere symbols. That only six out of ten Catholics believe in the Real Presence is hardly encouraging. When you look closer at the study, however, some interesting facts emerge. This study explains that half of American Catholics do not know that the Church teaches the Real Presence. Looking closer we see that 17% of Catholics do not know that the Church teaches the Real Presence, but believe in it nonetheless. On the other hand, 33% do not know that the Church teaches the real presence and do not believe in it. Most interesting of all, of those who actually know that the Church teaches the Real Presence, a mere 4% do not believe in it. From this study, we can draw an important lesson. Though four in ten Catholics do not believe in the Real Presence, the vast majority of these people are ignorant of Church teaching. This study then tells us that lack of belief in Real Presence is more a problem of lack of proper religious education rather than doubt.

The Catholic Church has always taught the Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist. The reason the Church has always taught that the Eucharist is no mere symbol but that Jesus is really present in the Eucharist is simply: Jesus has told us so. He does this clearly in the Gospel of today, taken from John, chapter 6. As many of you know, in John’s account of the Last Supper, he has makes no mention of Jesus instituting the Eucharist. This is no accident; John’s discussion of the Eucharist happens in chapter 6. This chapter begins with Jesus feeding a multitude through the multiplication of loaves. Later in the chapter, Jesus discusses the significance of what He has done. He explains that though He has given them bread in this miracle, He will give them something better. Jesus explains that He will give Himself as bread in two ways.
  1. In the first way, Jesus becomes bread in a symbolic way. In the Old Testament, wisdom from God was seen as bread (see Proverbs 9:15). This is the bread that gives true life. Jesus explains that He is the wisdom of God; He is the bread that gives true life.
  2. In the second way, Jesus literally gives us Himself under the appearance of bread in the Eucharist, which is truly and really His Body and Blood. We just read this in the Gospel of Today. Here Jesus is no longer speaking symbolically. We know this for a few reasons, here are two. First, the verb for “to eat” changes. The greek verb “trogein” is used. This verb is crassly material, meaning “to gnaw”. This serves to emphasize that Jesus will truly give Himself for us to eat. Secondly, it was clear that those Jesus spoke to realized He was speaking literally. For Jews the idea of drinking the blood of an animal, let alone of a human, was repugnant. Throughout the chapter people are becoming more and more hostile to what Jesus is saying. Ultimately most left Him because of this teaching. Jesus could have stopped and said “listen, I am only speaking symbolically!” He could have kept most of His followers by making this clarification, but He didn't.
The Catholic Church teaches that the Eucharist is not some mere symbol. The Church teaches that Jesus is really, truly present in the Eucharist because He has told us so.

There are some simple ways that we can strengthen our faith in these words of Christ.  Recently, Pope Francis said something which I found striking:
Every Sunday we go to Mass, we celebrate the Eucharist together and the Eucharist is like the ‘burning bush’ in which the Trinity humbly dwells and communicates itself.
After reading this, I thought, “how did Moses acknowledge that he was in the presence of God?” He took off his sandals. Because having a body is integral to what it means to be human, we must express our beliefs with gestures. Moses took of his sandals because he believed he was in God’s presence. As Catholics, we have a rich tradition of gestures associated with the Eucharist. These gestures and the way that we act when in the presence of the Eucharist both express our faith and strengthen it. For example, we kneel during the consecration not to take a rest, but to adore Jesus who is really present in the Eucharist. When we enter or leave a Church we genuflect to the tabernacle. In the Middle Ages, when someone entered the presence of a king they would genuflect. Genuflecting toward the tabernacle reminds us that Jesus - the King of kings - is really present there in the Eucharist. Doing these simple gestures like kneeling and genuflecting both expresses and strengthens our faith in Jesus’ teaching that He is truly, really present in the Eucharist.

Today on Corpus Christi we give thanks to Jesus that in His great love for us He has given us in the Eucharist the greatest gift of all, the gift of His very self. The Eucharist is no longer bread. It is not a mere symbol. It is really Jesus. This has never been an easy teaching to accept. We believe in the Real Presence because of the word of Jesus. We believe it because He has told us so. Let us remember that kneeling and genuflecting are not part of some “Catholic Aerobics routine” but are rather powerful, simple ways to strengthen our faith in Jesus’ teaching.

A Problem of Perspective

John 3:16-18 (Trinity Sunday, year A)

Once a group of adventurers were making their way through a dense jungle. In order to make any progress, they had to cut their way through the vegetation with machetes. It was hard, slow work. Eventually, on member of the group had the great idea to climb a tree in order to get a better view and check on their progress. Climbing the tree, he looked out and to his great surprise found that the group was making their way towards a giant cliff. He called down to his friends in an attempt to warn them that they were going the wrong way. The rest of the group would not listen to him. They kept silencing him saying, “we’re making good progress, come down from the tree and help us!” In our life, we can be like this group making our way through the jungle. We feel that we are making good progress. We go through our daily grind and can be satisfied just to soldier on. We rarely check, however, to see if we are even going in the right direction on our journey. Perhaps we are headed for a cliff. Today, Trinity Sunday, is a great chance for us to climb the tree and see which way we are headed. Today is an opportunity to put our lives in perspective and answer some important questions: where have I come from? Where am I going?
The answer to the question, “where have we come from?” is simple: the Trinity. That is our origin. The Trinity both the most important and perplexing Christina belief. A helpful way to consider the Trinity is to start with what is perhaps the most important definition of God: God is love (1 John 3:16). This says much more than simply God is “loving”, something many religions would agree with. In order for God to be love, there must exist within God a community involving a lover, a beloved and the love they share between them. This corresponds to the Persons in the Trinity: Father (lover), Son (beloved) and Holy Spirit (love they share). The communion of love they share is so perfect that they are one in substance. They remain, however, three different Persons, differentiated only by the relationships they have with one another. The Trinity has existed eternally in a state of perfection, before anything was ever created. An important question to consider is “why did the Trinity create”? Was God lacking in anything? We can discover the answer by considering that definition once again: God is love. An elderly priest once told me a story. He said that after his sister got married, she and her husband very much wanted to have a child but were encountering difficulties. They told the priest, “please pray that we can have a child because the love that we share between us is so great that we need to share it with someone”. Likewise, God created out of an overabundance of love and goodness. We have come from the perfect love of the God, who from all eternity has existed in community.

We were created in order to be in a relationship with the Trinity. This is the purpose of our existence. This idea is illustrated in a very interesting way in one of the most famous artistic representations of the Trinity, an icon by Andrei Rublev. In this icon, the Persons of the Trinity are seated at a table. The Father is seated to the left, the Son in the back and the Holy Spirit to the right. It is an image of loving communion and perfect happiness. If you have seen the icon, however, you will realize that there is an empty seat at the table, directly in the front. With this, Rublev sends the message that this place at the table is meant to be taken by each one of us. We have been created by the Trinity so that we could share in their communion of love. This relationship defines who we are as a human being. There is a space for us at the table with the Trinity.
This wonderful plan was destroyed by sin. Sin separates us from God, because it is the opposite of love. It prevents us from entering into this communion of love with the Trinity. Sometimes we fail to realize how serious and destructive sin is. That it destroys something so beautiful. If you have ever visited St. Peter’s Basilica, you will no doubt have noticed that a large crowd usually gathers in a spot in the back of the Church, just to the right, when you enter the Basilica. People gather there to catch a glimpse of Michelangelo’s Pieta. This statue, which depicts Mary cradling the dead body of her Son, is among the most beautiful and priceless works of art in the world. If you have ever viewed it, you also know that there is a large plexiglass screen separating visitors from the masterpiece. This was not always the case. In 1972, a man attacked the statue with a hammer. Before visitors constrained him, he was able to strike the statute more than ten times, breaking off Mary’s nose and arm. Though the statue was repaired, it was never quite the same. In the wake of this attack, people could not comprehend how someone could deface a work of such beauty and goodness. This event is a apt analogy for sin and should help us better comprehend the its severity. Sin destroys something infinitely more good and beautiful than the Pieta: our loving relationship with the Trinity.
Jesus’ mission was to allow us to enter into communion with the Trinity once again. The Gospel of today contained what is among the most famous passages of the New Testament, John 3:16. You have probably seen people holding posters at sporting events with this passage on it: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.” The Trinity created us out of love. The Father sent His Son to save us out of love. Let’s return back to the story about people hiking through the jungle. By His passion, death and resurrection, Jesus has cut path for us through the jungle and back to the heart of the Trinity. He has allowed us to enter once again into a relationship with God, this is the destination of our life. Jesus has cleared this path and opened it to all as a free gift. Our salvation, however, is not automatic. As we heard in the Gospel, we have to walk down the path laid out by Jesus. We need to trust Him, believe in Him and live a life in conformity with the Gospel. It is important to ask ourselves: are we following the path laid out by Jesus that leads us into communion with the Trinity in this life and the next? Or, are there areas in our life, certain behaviours or attitudes, that are bringing us towards a cliff? Out of love, Jesus came so that we would once again be able to live in a loving relationship with the Trinity.

Because life is busy, it is easy to get caught up in our day to day commitments and lose sight of the ultimate destination in our life. We get stuck in the jungle, hacking with our machete, and easily lose our way. Trinity Sunday is meant to give us perspective. We often make the sign of the cross. It is such a simple and powerful prayer. Often, however, we don’t pay attention to what we are doing. Whenever we make the sign of the cross, let it be an opportunity to consciously remember that we have come from the love of the Trinity and are meant to return back to this loving communion. Knowing from where we’ve come and to where we are going should determine how we live and the choices we make.

Be Not Afraid!

John 20:19-23 (Pentecost, year A)
"Creative Commons Apostles receive the gift of tongues (Acts 2)"is licensed under CC0 1.0
One of my heroes is St. John Paul II. This man, who was Pope during most of the time that I was alive, helped inspire me to follow Jesus more closely and to become a priest. The most important message that I received from Pope John Paul II can be summarized in the short speech that he gave immediately after he was was elected Pope. If you haven’t seen the footage, I suggest you check it out on YouTube. Walking to the balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica right after his election, Pope John Paul II addressed the many thousands gathered below in the square with a simple, powerful message: “Do not be afraid!”

The reality is that fear often prevents us from fully engaging in society in order to carry out the mission Jesus has given us. Like the disciples in the Gospel of today, we lock ourselves away from the world out of fear. For the disciples, their fear was of the Jewish authorities. Today, we can often be afraid to even let people know that we are Catholic. We are timid to discuss our faith with others. We are hesitant to offer our opinions on some matters because we do not want to be judged or drawn into arguments. Recently the Catholic Church has taken a beating in the court of public opinion. Many of these wounds are self-inflicted. Because of the terrible actions of some of its members - the sexual abuse scandal is a notable example - the reputation of the Church is greatly tarnished. Many people no longer care to listen to what the Church has to say, arguing that is a backward and outdated institution. Some, like Richard Dawkins, appear on television arguing that the Catholic Church is among the greatest forces of evil in the world. Certainly, there are many who admire and support the Church. That said, we have all probably felt a certain shyness of fear to even admit to others that we are Catholics. Like the disciples in the Gospel of today, we are unable to do the mission Jesus has entrusted to us because we lock ourselves away from society out of fear.

It is through the gift of the Holy Spirit that Jesus transforms us completely. Without Jesus, we would forever be locked away. The Gospel of today is the Evangelist John’s depiction of Pentecost. In this, Jesus breathes on the disciples and says “receive the gift of the Holy Spirit”. This act of breathing is very significant. It reminds us of of the account of the creation on the first man in which God brought the man to life by breathing into his nostrils. Similarly, by giving us the gift of the Holy Spirit, Jesus gives His followers new life. Here are two manifestations of this new life:
  1. Jesus forms us into a community, the Church. Pentecost is usually considered the Birthday of the Church. Because of the Holy Spirit, we are united into one family from every nation and language. As we saw in the first reading, the disciples went and spoke every language. This is still a reality today.
  2. Jesus sends us out on a mission. After giving them the gift of the Holy Spirit, Jesus tells His disciples, “as the Father sent me, now I send you”. The Church is meant to continue Jesus’ mission of reconciling the world to God. To do this the disciples must unlock the doors and go boldly into society.
By giving us the gift of the Holy Spirit, Jesus gives us a new life.
The Holy Spirit gives each of us gifts that are meant to be used in the service of Jesus’ mission and of others. In the second reading, we heard St. Paul describe the Church as a body. A body is made of many parts which are all connected to each other and important to the proper functioning of the body. Likewise, as members of the Church we are part of one body. We are all connected to each other and serve a common mission: as Jesus was sent by the Father, so He sends us. Each of us have been given different gifts. We are not meant to keep these gifts to ourselves. They are meant to be used to carry out this common mission. In addition to Pentecost, today is also Stewardship Sunday. We are reminded today that we are meant to use all our gifts - our time, talents and treasure - in the service of others and the mission Jesus has given us. As the saying goes, “use it or lose it”! We cannot bring these gifts with us after we die! Or, as Pope Francis is found of saying, “there are no pockets in a burial shroud”. God has all given us time, talents and treasure that are meant for the service of others.

The Holy Spirit gives us the courage to fearlessly use our gifts to help further the mission that Jesus has given us. From the first reading, we see that after the apostles received the Holy Spirit, the went out and courageously witnessed to Jesus. Sometimes we think that we are not good, talented or knowledgeable enough to do the mission Jesus gives us. The truth is that we aren't and neither were the disciples. We are weak, but the Holy Spirit will work through us. When Pope Benedict was elected, he explained that he felt afraid and that he was not up to the task. He said, however, that he took comfort from the “fact that the Lord knows how to work and to act even with insufficient instruments”. For me, an inspiring example of someone using fearlessly using their gifts to further Jesus’ mission is a young Italian religious sister named Sister Cristina. Recently she won the Italian version of “The Voice”, a singing competition. Competing in her religious habit and openly speaking about her faith, she has been a vibrant, compelling witness to Jesus Christ. As one of the heavily tatoo-ed judges named J-Ax remarked when he first heard her sing, "If I had met you during the Mass when I was a child, now I would be Pope. I would surely have attended all of the functions." To this, Sister Christina responded, “well, you have met me now”. The Holy Spirit gives us the courage to overcome our fears and use our gifts to serve others and bring them closer to Jesus.

Pentecost is a day of hope. It is a day to be proud to be called by Jesus to be part of the Church and given a mission. We all have a vital role to play. No one is insignificant or unimportant. Let us not lock ourselves away due to fear. Today let us consciously pray that the Holy Spirit will fill us with the courage to to participate in Jesus’ mission. On Pentecost more than any other day those words of Pope John Paul II should echo deep within our hearts: “be not afraid”!

Boredom is not an option for a Christian

Matthew 28:16-20 (Ascension, year A)
source:,  Fat Les, RanZag
Without a doubt, my favorite television show is Sherlock. This is an updated take on the story of Sherlock Holmes set in modern day London. Each episode shows the adventures of the amazing and talented detective. If you have seen this show, or even read any of the original stories, you probably noticed something interesting. When Sherlock Holmes is engaged in a mystery, he is a whirlwind of activity. He is completely focused on his mission and fully alive. At those times when Sherlock has no mission, however, he becomes a different person entirely. Without a case, he sinks rapidly into boredom. He becomes despondent and lacks direction completely.

Similar to Sherlock, many of us today are often bored and lacking in vigor because we have no sense of mission in our lives. It seems that this boredom tends to manifest itself in two main ways which I will call “busy bored” and “lifeless bored”. Being “busy bored” is very common, I know I often fall into this category myself. Many times we are running around doing many things. There doesn’t seem to be enough hours in the day. How, you ask, could someone who is busy be bored? Boredom sets in because underneath all the business we can feel a general unease and disquiet because we lack a unified goal and direction in our life. We work hard, but what are we working for? We do many things, but why ultimately do we do them? To avoid facing these questions we can just throw ourselves into more activity. These questions struck me pretty hard when I was studying engineering at university. I worked hard and I enjoyed my studies - at least most of the time! Within all my busy-ness, however, a kind of boredom and uneasiness sunk in. What was the ultimate purpose of all this work? I often thought, “there must be more to life than this”. I lacked a sense of mission. The second kind of boredom, “lifeless bored” is what Sherlock suffers from when he is without a case. If you have ever read the books, you will know that when he becomes bored, Sherlock begins to take drugs as an escape from the boredom. Similarly, many people in our culture get into some harmful and questionable activities in order to escape their boredom: drinking, drugs, gossip and prying into other people’s lives, and throwing whole days away playing video games. In our country we are blessed with so many opportunities and resources yet we are often bored. Like Sherlock, for so many of us our lives lack vigour and excitement because we lack a sense of purpose.

We all desire to be part of some great mission. This desire is a part of our DNA. Think about this for a moment.  Who is one living person who you greatly admire for all the good that he or she does in the world? Try to picture this person in your mind. Now, imagine that one day this person contacted you to arrange a meeting. At this meeting, this individual presented to you a bold new plan for changing the world in some positive way. This mission is going to be very challenging and will encounter much resistance. Next, this person you admire surprises you by telling you that they have been watching you for some time and think that you have what it takes to be part of this mission. They offer you a once in a lifetime opportunity to be a member of a team that will be working to bring about real change in the world. If this happened to you, how would you feel? Excited and full of energy? Nervous and afraid? Special and worthwhile? Certainly, we would have strong feelings and this is for just a human being! How would you feel if it was Jesus, someone you admire above all? Maybe it seems unbelievable that He would personally choose us in this way. Each and every one of us desires to be part of some great quest or undertaking.

In reality, Jesus does send us out on the greatest mission. This mission involves nothing less than the transformation of the world. Today we celebrate the Ascension of Jesus when Jesus returns to His Father. He has not, however, left us idle. Jesus hands on to His followers the mission that He Himself initiated in what is often called the great commission:
“Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.”
In a word, the great commission calls us to evangelize. Recently, Pope Francis released an incredible document called the Joy of the Gospel in which he strongly reminds us all of this mission. He explains that all followers of Jesus, all disciples, must be missionary disciples. Each of us is meant to go and spread the good news that God has reconciled the world to Himself through the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. He is our salvation. Pope Francis reminds us that we need to be explicit with this message. We need to draw all people to a relationship with Jesus because in this the human heart finds its deepest joy. There is also a clear social dimension to evangelization. As Pope Francis said: “Mission is at once passion for Jesus and passion for His people”. We are called to impact society, in particular, we must care for the poor. All of us are called to participate in this radical mission, whether we are married, priests, religious or single. Whatever our “day job” is, our ultimate job is to make disciples of all nations and build up the Kingdom of God. Jesus send us out on the greatest and most challenging mission imaginable.

We need to ensure that we personally accept this mission of Jesus. As Catholics, we unfortunately can go our whole lives without embracing this commission of Jesus. When this happens, we end up serving the predominant mission of our society: getting by, keeping busy and trying to live a good life. Personally, I went for a long time without ever really embracing the mission Jesus has given us. I finally did this when I had the opportunity to attend World Youth Day in Cologne at the end of my time in university. I remember clearly the prayer vigil during at which Pope Benedict addressed a crowd of over one million young people late into the night. That evening, he challenged the youth to embrace the radical mission that Jesus has left us all: to go and make disciples of all nations and change the world in doing so. He invited us to be part of a revolution of holiness, which is the only kind of revolution that can bring about true change in the world. That night I felt as though the Pope was speaking straight to me and I wanted more than anything to be part of this mission. In my heart, I embraced this mission from Jesus. I think the World Youth Days have been one of the most transformative series of events in the recent history of the Church. At them countless individuals - both young and old - have personally accepted Jesus’ mission. It is impossible to forget images from the most recent World Youth Day in Brazil where Pope Francis addressed 2 million young people gathered at Copacabana beach with the image of Christ the Redeemer in the background. There again, the Pope echoed the the great commission: go and make disciples of all nations! It is crucial that we personally accept this invitation.

Whenever I watch the show Sherlock, it is sad to see Sherlock Holmes when he is bored. It seems like such a waste of talent. If we are honest, we must admit with sadness that the Church is filled with far too many bored Catholics. This is an incredible waste. We have been given an incredible mission that gives purpose and energy to our lives. Today ask yourself a simply question: have I personally accepted this mission from Jesus? We need to realize that if we are bored as Catholics, we are doing something terribly wrong!