Welcome back to Ordinary Time! I love the pace of this season. Each year the Church allows us to work our way through a gospel—this year it’s Matthew—as we get to know Jesus through one set of eyes. Occasionally there are a few “excursions” into another gospel, and today is one of them. Last week we heard Matthew’s account of Jesus’ baptism, and today we hear from John’s gospel of the moment just after the baptism. John the Baptist saw “the Spirit descend and remain” on Jesus, and thus knew that Jesus is the One, the Son of God. When the Church gives us two readings in a row that describe the same scene, I think we need to pay attention to the message.

So what is that message? It has to do with the power of the Holy Spirit. Some of the first believers even thought that it wasn’t until that moment that Jesus “became” God’s Son. (Of course, under the guidance of that same Spirit the Church came to profess that Jesus was always God, that his humanity and divinity are inseparable.) Nevertheless, the early Church was emphatic that with God’s Spirit we receive a mission and the strength to carry it out. It was after his baptism that the Spirit led Jesus into the desert, as we will hear in Lent, and then on to his public ministry.

After the Second Vatican Council the Catholic Charismatic movement grew up, emphasizing the role of the Holy Spirit in our lives and our prayer. Yet the Spirit is not just for Charismatics. Each of us receives the Spirit at our own baptism. Each of us who is confirmed receives the Spirit yet again, giving us strength to be witnesses to the faith. The Holy Spirit enables us in each new Christian adventure. Now as we move toward our transition to being a “Family of Parishes”, the role of the Spirit will be essential in our journey. We on the Transition team need guidance; we need wisdom, and faith, and courage. All those are gifts of the Spirit. Yet it is not just the ordained, or the Transition Team, who have received the Holy Spirit: all of us who have been baptized have received the same Spirit, and all of us will have a role to play.

And as you read this I will be away for my annual retreat, and some vacation days. I count on your prayer while I am away, and assure you of mine. Pray for Fr. Steven and Fr. Leo and all our parish team. It is reassuring to go away knowing that you are in such capable hands. May the Spirit we receive in baptism guide and strengthen us.

One of my aunts was so proud that I was a priest. She loved introducing me to people as her nephew, Father Maurice—with a little pause before the word “Father”, so that people would be listening. It was always a bit embarrassing for me to hear that, yet it would always give me a little “push” to do the best I could.

I can’t help but think of that as I read this weekend’s gospel passage. In describing Jesus’ baptism, Matthew tells us that “a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.’” Think about that for a moment.

Jesus, even though he was always fully God, didn’t start his ministry until after he saw the Spirit of God descending on him and heard the voice of the Father proclaim to the people that Jesus is his Son, that he loves Jesus, and that he is pleased with him. It is in the strength of that affirmation that Jesus has the courage and strength to go out into the desert and then to begin his ministry. I like to imagine that it was the memory of that baptismal event that would give him the extra push he needed to keep at his ministry when he was being rejected and misunderstood. In my own life and ministry it has often been those affirmations by others, whether from my aunt letting others know that I was “her nephew the priest”, to Bishop Fabbro  having the confidence in me to ask me to be pastor of our upcoming Family of Parishes, and so many other instances.

It makes me wonder as well just how often I affirm others with whom I relate. Sometimes a public “You are appreciated” can make a big difference in a person’s life. Even a private word of praise can buoy a person up. How about you? Perhaps there is someone in your life who would benefit from hearing, especially in front of others, that you appreciate them, that you care for them. Jesus’ baptism is a turning point. In his life, it marked the beginning of his public ministry. In the Church, the feast marks the end of the Christmas season and the beginning of “Ordinary Time”. Could your affirmation of someone, your acknowledgment of your care, be the beginning of something new?

And as we look to the beginning of something new for our parishes, I ask your prayer and your support as we begin our transition phase to becoming a “Family”. I ask for your prayer, look forward to your input, and promise you my prayer as we journey forward.

 

 

 

The Epiphany of the Lord—January 5, 2020Happy 2020! We’ve made it through another calendar year. I am deeply grateful to all of you for bringing us to this point. We had wonderful celebrations of Christmas and New Year. So many people gave hours and hours of their time; others shared their talents and skills, and still others their financial resources to create a spectacular setting for our first holidays back in our historic church. Still others prayed so earnestly for our restora-tion, for the flourishing of the parish, and for the glory of God. To each of you, whether your contribution was filling a spot in a pew, decorating, reading, making music, doing unseen service like cleaning or counting the collection, I can only say a heart-felt THANK YOU!We are all blessed in so many ways.As most years, this first Sunday of the year is Epiphany.

While we quaintly move our statues of the Magi closer in at the man-ger scene, this feast has so much to teach us. The gospel story tells us that wise men came from the East. They would have been non-Jews, people from a different culture and religion, speaking a different language. They traveled far and found the “king of the Jews” in a humble setting in a little backwater town of Judea, not far from Jerusalem. He was not in a palace; he was not in an important city. The Greek word “epiphaneia” means an appearance, a glorious display. God’s Son made an appearance to these foreigners as a helpless little child in hum-ble surroundings.And today, some 2000 years later, God is still making appear-ances among us, in places where we might least expect it. It is so easy to find God in the Blessed Sacrament, or inside the church building. We sometimes see God in the “important” people who lead us. Yet at the end of this Church year we will hear the final judgment passage from Matthew’s gospel, where the risen Christ reminds us that he is to be found in the thirsty, the hungry, the naked, the sick, and the imprisoned.

For me, that is the difficult part of my faith. If I am to find the Christ in the child Jesus, in a manger, then I am also called to find him in other humble surroundings: in people with addictions, the homeless, those with mental illnesses. But even that can be romanticized. I also need to find Christ in the one who bothers me, who wants too much of my time. Perhaps Christ is in that person I just tried to avoid seeing in the supermarket or the one I passed on the street.As we begin this year, I invite you to spend a moment in front of the Nativity scene in church or in your home, and to ask our loving God where else he might be making an epiphany. Could it be in the person right next to you?

Over the course of the year and a half that I have lived in Windsor, I have made several trips down to Indiana to visit my Grandmother, who is 93 years old. She suffers from dementia, and currently lives in a nursing home, not too far from my Aunt and Uncle’s house. It’s often hard to visit my Grandma, because it’s sad to see this once vibrant woman seated in a wheelchair, barely able to follow the conversation going on around her.

As I think about the reasons why I continue to visit her, though, I am reminded of today’s First Reading from the book of Sirach. “My child, help your father in his old age, and do not grieve him as long as he lives; even if his mind fails, be patient with him; because you have all your faculties do not despise him.” By continuing to visit my Grandmother, I continue to show her that she is loved, cared for, and appreciated- even if the memory of my visit is gone from her mind just a few short minutes after I walk out the door.

This weekend, the Church celebrates the Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. We are reminded in this Feast that the Holy Family is a model for all Christian Families to follow. We are reminded that we are called to show love and respect to all members of our family, and to help all members of our family to walk in the ways of the Lord.

At the same time, this Feast serves as a reminder to us that there are no perfect families. Yes, even the life of the Holy Family was met with difficulty! From the beginning of Mary and
Joseph’s relationship, things were less than ideal. Before Mary and Joseph were married, Mary was found to be with child. Then, once that child was born, the family had to flee to Egypt to escape King Herod!

What is remarkable in all of this is the level of trust that St. Joseph displays through it all. When the angel appears to him to tell him to take Mary into his home, or to flee to Egypt, he
places his trust in the message of the Angel and obeys. In doing so, he shows his willingness to be a loving husband to Mary, and a caring foster father to Jesus.

Joseph’s example is one we are all called to follow. As we place our trust in the Lord, we learn to be more loving and caring towards all those we come into contact with, and we are better able to emulate the example of the Holy Family in our day to day lives, and bring greater honor to God, through the honor we show to our families.

Welcome to “Mom’s House” for Christmas! It is a great joy to welcome you to Our Lady of the Assumption Parish and to Assumption church this Christmas, whether you regularly worship here, you have just returned, or you are here for your first time. As you may know, Assumption is the oldest parish in Canada west of Montreal, so is truly the “mother” of every other parish in this area.

As Christians, we are the only people who believe that God, the creator of the universe, the almighty, has chosen to embrace humanity fully by becoming part of our history, being born in humble surroundings in an insignificant town. Even though that is a unique event that happened some 2000 years ago, on another level it is continuing to happen all around us. Imagine: God is choosing to be part of your history and your life! That is indeed something to cause rejoicing.

For almost five years Assumption church was closed to public worship. Now that we have returned, I invite you to look around at our splendid surroundings. It is easy to be reminded of God’s greatness, and indeed, that was the goal of all gothic churches: to lift hearts and minds to God, to heavenly things. Consider also the Nativity scene: there we find God entering human history in all humility. I pray that we may find God in both the splendid and the mundane, the opulent and the poor. May Our Lady of the Assumption, our “Mom”, and the Christ Child fill you with blessings and a heart open to recognize our loving God in unexpected places.

We’ve almost made it! We’re about to celebrate our first Christmas back in Assumption church since 2013. It has been such a journey! When I first arrived here almost five years ago, if anyone would have told me that we would be back in the church before 2020, I would have thought, “yeah, RIGHT! They’re living in a dream world.” I knew that one of my tasks as pastor was to help the parish realize that our permanent home was Holy Name of Mary. Then we had some moments of hope for returning to Assumption, but they were dashed. Later, with Paul Mullins’ study of the previous fundraising efforts, new hope was born. At one point we thought we’d be at over $10 million in funding by last Christmas, but that fell through. Then the miracle happened and we returned on September 8. Then because of delays we had no heat when it got cold, and I questioned whether we should have returned at all. At times I’ve felt like I was on a roller coaster.

I think of this as I read our gospel passage this weekend. The Jewish people knew the prophecy of Isaiah. In Jesus’ day, they were awaiting a messiah, the anointed one of God, who would free Israel from the Roman occupation and let them live in peace. Yet it hadn’t happened. And then Joseph learned that his betrothed, his dear young Mary whom he loved so much, was pregnant! And he knew the child wasn’t his. Think of it! Then an angel appears to him in a dream and tells him that the child was conceived by the Holy Spirit—yeah, RIGHT!! It may seem so obvious to us, with some 2000 years of collective memory, but think of how it must have seemed to Joseph. And the angel even tells him what to name the child: Jesus, meaning God saves. This salvation is so much more than what they were expecting. Instead of throwing off the tyranny of the Romans, leaving them vulnerable to some other future empire, Jesus offers freedom from sin, and the ability to live in interior freedom no matter what the political situation might be. The Messiah God sends is so much more than they expected.

As parish, God is bringing us so much more than we could have hoped for. You and I are stepping up and making restoration of our beloved church happen, little by little. I am learning yet again that God’s ways are not our ways. Roof tile by roof tile, star by star, brick by brick, we are all becoming more invested in our future.

Last weekend I was in Texas for a “whirlwind visit” to family and friends. I stayed with our Basilian novices in Houston on Thursday, then on Friday went to San Antonio to see my sister who just had back surgery. The following day I went on to Bryan, where we were over 100 for our annual family reunion. That night I had dinner and stayed at my other sister’s, then drove the 90 minutes or so back to the Houston airport after Mass and lunch on Sunday. As quick a visit as it was, even hectic at times, I was so conscious of how much good it did all of us to see each other. I gained strength and hope from our novices and pray that these four men will persevere and enrich the Basilian community and those we serve. My sister Kathy and I both benefitted from my visit. I was grateful to see that she is healing well, and our conversation about so many things, both past and present, brought joy to both of us. Then at our reunion I was so pleased to see a number of cousins who hadn’t been there for a number of years. My Aunt Lena—my dad’s last remaining sibling, at 91 years of age—was unable to attend. We were all saddened that she couldn’t be there. Please keep her in your prayer. Throughout the day, I saw so many lively conversations taking place.

What impresses me about all these interactions is how much we received from each other. I think that each one of the conversations and visits somehow enriched the people involved. They were moments of grace. In this weekend’s readings we have the beautiful passage from Isaiah, as well as Jesus’ description of what he had been doing: blind receive sight, lame walk, lepers are cleansed, deaf hear, dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. We don’t have to perform physical miracles; we don’t have to fly to Texas. We can be messengers of good news wherever we are.

For me, this is a great reminder of how to prepare for Christ’s coming. In the midst of all the comings and goings, the parties and preparations, it is easy to get distracted or to be short with people. Sometimes, though, just being present to another is being good news to them. A visit, a phone conversation, perhaps even a text message, can be effective ways of touching someone else positively. Won’t you join me in being more consciously present to others during this Advent season?

When this message comes out I will be in Texas for our annual family reunion. For the past several years I’ve made it a priority to attend, because Aunt Lena, my dad’s last living sibling, has now had two strokes, and I keep thinking it will be her last reunion. Last month, at the age of 91, she had a fall and has been first in hospital, then rehab. I doubt seriously she will make the 150 mile trip. It’s looking like last year was the last time she joined the rest of the family for the celebration. (Yet she may still surprise us; I’ll let you know next week.) It’s likely that the next time I see her will be when I get the call asking me to come down to do her funeral.

When that day happens, I have a feeling that Jesus will be saying something like what we hear him say to the righteous in the judgment scene in Matthew’s gospel: “Well done, good and faithful servant. Come inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” That sounds so different than what we hear from John the Baptist: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” So how do we make sure that we hear, “Welcome!” and not, “You viper!”? I think the key is in our readings. John addresses those words to the Pharisees and Sadducees, the religious leaders who thought of themselves as better than most, and held themselves apart from “sinners”. They’re the same people that Jesus gets upset with for things like laying heavy burdens on peoples’ shoulders and not lifting a finger to help carry them, or “tithing mint and rue and ignoring the weightier matters of the law”. Jesus wants us to be compassionate to others, to be present to those who suffer, to serve those in need. He wants us to be humble, admitting and accepting our brokenness and humanity, repenting of the times we are in the wrong, and trying to do better. He wants us to realize that we are sisters and brothers of one another, children of one heavenly Father.

That is one reason we put so much effort into Assumption Cares. It is a way of being present to those who have needs, and a way of realizing how we are all sisters and brothers. This weekend’s first reading from Isaiah is the second of three that offer us God’s vision for the world, when all creation can live in harmony. I invite you to pray with me that any service we render to others may lead us along the path, where we will meet Christ Jesus and experience his vision for us.

Happy New Year! It’s nice to begin this Church year in a warm church. I have always loved the season of Advent. As the outside world — even the space outside the church — is already into Christmas, with decorations and shopping and parties and meals, inside we are in Advent: a time of preparation for Christ’s coming—both at the end of time and as a little child. I somehow think that inside-outside dialectic is key. I can be preparing for Christmas externally, and yet interiorly be looking at my relationship with God and whether I’m prepared to receive the Christ into my life. Sometimes that comes easily, and other times it’s quite difficult—yet I’m convinced that it’s important.

We are now in “Year A”, and will be reading from the Gospel according to Matthew. This gospel is addressed to a Christian community made up primarily of Jews who had converted, and it is rich with images from and references to the Hebrew Bible. We will see Jesus as the new Moses, who comes to inaugurate God’s definitive law of peace. This weekend Jesus refers to the story of Noah’s ark. People were just living their lives, going on about their business, with no idea that the flood was about to happen. In other words, they were looking at everything they had to do, all the “externals”, and weren’t paying attention to where they were with God.

In May of 2015, Pope Francis addressed the encyclical Laudato si’ to “every person living on this planet”. In this bold document, he challenges the human community to look at what we are doing to the earth, our common home. I can almost hear Jesus’ words from the gospel: “… they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, …” buying cars and going to work, worried about the daily cares of life, and didn’t realize they were destroying the earth. The Holy Father asks us to make those connections, to realize the effects that our daily decisions have on the earth and, consequently, on other people around us and those who will follow.

Our first reading this weekend is a beautiful vision from the prophet Isaiah, a vision of peace and reconciliation. The home of God’s people is presented as a light, an attraction for all peoples, teaching them the ways of the Lord. As we begin this blessed season of Advent I pray that we may be beacons of
service, mercy, and discipleship, inviting others into God’s light and allowing them to experience God’s peace.

n a sermon on the Apostles Creed, St. Thomas Aquinas said that the nearer things are to God, the more beautiful and better they are. We’ve probably all experienced that. Majestic scenery can uplift our spirits and lead our thoughts to God. Yet there is another way to experience God as well: Jon Sobrino, SJ, a theo-logian I studied, often refers to the crucified Jesus as God sub specie contrarii(Latin for under opposite species, or form). Looking at the bloody corpse on the cross is anything but beau-tiful. Today’s gospel passage for the Solemnity of Christ the King is indeed God sub specie contrarii, and its implications are challenging—especially when paired with the reading from Colossians, where we hear that “Christ is the image of the in-visible God”.If I am to find Christ, my King and my Lord, in that flagellated, spent body, and if thatis the image of God, then where else might my God be hiding? St. Teresa of Kolkata talked about serving Christ in the “distressing disguise of the poorest of the poor”. But we don’t have to go all the way to Calcutta/Kolkata to find him. In the judgement scene from the gospel according to Matthew, Jesus reminds us that he is the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, the sick, and the imprisoned. He is my friend Sean on the west coast who battles the demons of addiction and suf-fers from PTSD, rejected by his family because he is gay. He is all those people who frequent Street Help and the Downtown Mission. He is the people who have started coming to our com-munity meal service on Monday evenings. We need look no further to find our King.One of my priest friends in the States enjoys watching the Net-flix series Crown, now beginning its third season. In it we see “behind the scenes”, some documented and some imagined, in the royal family in England. In one upcoming episode, Queen Elizabeth gets really upset because people don’t see her as be-ing like anyone else. Her prime minister responds, “They don’t want you to be normal. We don’t know what we want, other than we want you to be ideal. Anideal.” We come to this beau-tiful church building (hopefully with heat by the time you read this) because we want to be uplifted, to have our minds drawn to the heavenly ideal, to experience God. Yet the reality is that if we haven’t recognized Christ in those we serve, those who need us, we won’t find Christ in here either. I pray that Christ our King may open the eyes of our hearts to recognize him “out there”, so that we may also find him “in here”.