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”.

We here at Assumption and St. Alphonsus  parishes do not worship in sterile surroundings. Assumption, St. Alphonsus, and Holy Name of Mary are all beautiful church buildings. So many people have commented to me how they love the “churchy” feel, the stained glass, the statues, the artwork, the marble and stone and beautiful carved wood. These treasures are worth preserving. St. Alphonsus is in the final phase of restoring the stained glass. Assumption, of course, is in the midst of a huge restoration project. It is well and good; yet there is more. Back in the third century the Emperor Valerian told the Archdeacon Lawrence to bring him the treasure of the Church. When Lawrence arrived, he brought the Church’s true treasure: crowds of poor, crippled, blind, and suffering people. It infuriated the emperor and brought Lawrence the honour of martyrdom. Lawrence was right, though.

That is why I feel it is such a privilege to serve at these parishes. Windsor’s downtown and west side provide such great  opportunities for service to the Church’s treasure. Assumption Cares has recently launched, and is offering so much to anyone who comes: a community meal on Mondays, haircuts, “walk and talk”, health screening, and lots more. And when a fire broke out earlier in the week in a downtown apartment building, the police called St. Alphonsus and brought the residents to the parish for shelter on that cold snowy morning. As important as our worship spaces are, the services and hospitality we  provide to those in need are even more important. How wonderful it is that we are known as places to come for service and shelter, and that we are being saved by those we serve!

This weekend we celebrate the third World Day of the Poor. In Pope Francis writes, “In the eyes of the world, it seems illogical to think that poverty and need can possess saving power. Yet that is the teaching of the Apostle, who tells us: ‘Not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one might boast in the presence of God’ (1 Cor 1:26-29). Looking at things from a human standpoint, we fail to see this saving power, but with the eyes of faith, we see it at work and experience it personally. In the heart of the pilgrim People of God there beats that saving power which excludes no one and involves everyone in a real journey pilgrimage of conversion, to recognize the poor and to love them.” I pray that we may always serve generously, and realize the gifts we receive from those we serve.

 

This past week the documentary PREY premiered in Windsor. It was difficult to see again, and to be reminded of the harm that one of my Basilian brothers, Fr. Hod Marshall, had done. Any sex abuse is bad; it wounds people beyond words, and leaves lasting scars. Although it is true that sex abuse by clergy ac-counts for only a small minority of cases, it differs in magnitude. People, especially the young, look to priests as representa-tives of God. Thus when a priest abuses a young person it is in many ways like God harming the child. Think of it: instead of experiencing a God who is loving, merciful, caring, and life-giving, victims experience manipulation, pain, and abuse. It mars them for life. It is no wonder that so many victims have left the Church permanently. I don’t think I would want to be a part of a Church that has taught me of a god of manipulation, pain, and abuse. I’ve mentioned before how aware I have be-come of the interconnectedness of people and things, of how so much of what we say and do has a “ripple effect”, touching so many more people than we realize or intend. People who are hurt are the ones who are most likely to hurt others.

So what can we do? I think Paul offers good advice to the Thessalonians in our second reading this weekend. He begins with a prayer: “May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and through grace gave us eternal comfort and good hope, comfort your hearts and strengthen them in every good work and word.” As Paul prays for the Church of Thessaloniki, he also prays for us. Yet as God gives us comfort, hope, and strength, we are also commissioned to be that pres-ence of God to others. We are called to be Christ’s disciples, carrying God’s comfort, hope, and strength to others, especially those who suffer.That is one reason I am so grateful that we have begun the As-sumption Cares outreach. It is a way of reaching out to the community to say that the Church cares, that wecare, indeed, that God cares. We have begun a bold initiative, stepping out-side the boundaries of traditional parish programs. It is, I think, an effective and concrete way to preach the message of a God who cares for all the people he has created. We are blessed to have so many people who have stepped forward to volunteer or to lead programs. Assumption Cares is truly helping us to achieve our parish vision, to be a beacon of mercy, service, and discipleship. May Our Lady intercede for us and God fill us with comfort, hope, and strength

This past week the priests in the Diocese of London were gathered for the annual Priests’ Study Days. It was good to renew acquaintances and spend time together, and to be challenged in faith and ministry. This year our speaker was Deacon Keith Strohm, from Chicago. He spoke to us of “paradigm shifts” that need to happen in the Church in today’s world in order for us to carry out our primary task, that of proclaiming the mystery of Christ. All of this must be based on a real and personal relation-ship with Christ our Saviour. Or, as Pope Benedict XVI put it in Deus Caritas Est, “Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.” A relationship like this leads to a genuine trust in him, trust in a God who loves me, who cares for me, and who will give me the grace I need to live out my baptismal call. It gives me a sense of stability and security, which allows me the freedom to try things that are new. Thus, Pope Francis can say to priests, “Let us rethink our usual way of doing things; let us open our eyes and ears, and above all our hearts, so as not to be complacent about things as they are, but unsettled by the living and effective word of the risen Lord.”

Last week the Synod on the Amazon made big news when the bishops there recommended that “viri probati” (proven men) who are married might be admitted to ordination as priests in this region where there is so much need. That would be a huge change in the discipline of the Roman Church, a true “paradigm shift”. We don’t know yet where this may lead, or how the pope will respond to this recommendation. In one sense, it doesn’t matter. It is about the Church in Amazonia, not Canada. In an-other sense, though, it matters greatly. I think that each one of us, including myself, needs to ask ourselves what our relationship with Jesus is like. Do I love him? Am I his friend? Do I trust him? Will I let him care for me? If I can answer “yes” to those questions then I am truly on the road to becoming his disciple. And as a disciple, my primary mission is to make God’s love known to others. Sometimes structures may need to change. In his first encyclical, Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis wrote, “We cannot demand that peoples of every continent, in expressing their Christian faith, imitate modes of expression which European nations developed at a particular moment of their history, because the faith cannot be constricted to the limits of understanding and expression of any one culture.” Although that sounds radical, we in the Diocese of London are already experiencing this with Families of Parishes. This new way of “being Church” can be very effective if we each play our role as a disciple of Christ

.In this weekend’s Gospel passage, Jesus breaks all kinds of paradigms by calling Zaccheus down from the tree and going to stay in his house. It becomes a conversion moment for Zaccheus. Today Jesus is intending to stay in our house, in our hearts. How might that be a conversion moment for me?

Over the years I’ve taken a number of personality surveys; they are often helpful in religious life, enabling us to know ourselves and to understand those with whom we live. One of my characteristics that surfaces again and again is my desire to be liked, that others will think well of me. And, of course, so that you will think well of me, I want to show you my good side. I want you to see my strengths and not my weaknesses. In fact, most of the time I’d like to pretend I don’t even have any weaknesses. As a country, we do the same. In this election cycle the only weaknesses candidates pointed out were those of the opposing party. And now that Mr. Trudeau will be leading a minority government, parties and individuals will be doing their best to point out their strengths in order to gain support.

With God, though, that doesn’t work. If you think about it, our “entrance ticket” to Mass is admitting our sinfulness, our weakness. Right after the presider’s greeting we go into the penitential rite. It’s not a time to pretend; instead, it’s a time for honesty. We are flawed and we need God’s help—each of us. This weekend’s Gospel story reminds us that only then does God truly accept us. Recognizing our sins is a way of admitting our need for God. The choice is mine: I can be like the Pharisee and pretend I’m better than everyone else, or I can be like the tax collector, acknowledging my flaws and my need for God’s
mercy.

That is easier said than done. On November 6th and 7th, the documentary film Prey (about the trial of Fr. Hod Marshall) will be showing at the WIFF, and then on TVO November 19th, 21st, and 23rd. It is difficult to be a Basilian and see the harm that one of my confrères caused to many people, some of them here in Windsor. It would be much easier to just pretend we’re all perfect—but in the long run that would just enable more hurt to happen.

I invite your prayer for Canada, for the Basilians, and for each of us, that we may always recognize our need for God, and  allow God’s grace to move us forward along the path of righteousness. Although none of us are perfect, with God’s help we can do great things.

 

As many of you know, I have been to the Holy Land several times now, both on pilgrimage and as a member of Christian Peacemaker Teams, serving in Hebron. So earlier this month it was great to see people I’ve become friends with over these past years. At the same time, it was distressing to see the changes in Hebron. There are more shop closures in the Old City, because very few people go there any more. My friends Jamal and Abed and Muneer are barely able to stay open—and I think part of the reason they do is as an act of resistance. A number of the military checkpoints, which have been rebuilt and fortified over the past couple of years, now have wooden fences around them, hampering CPT and other international groups from their monitoring activities. Just south of there, the Bedouin village of Umm Al Khair is experiencing difficulties because of the neighbouring Israeli settlement. The entire village was moved to their present location in 1948, but now the settlement wants them gone. In the Negev, the village of Al Arakib has been demolished 150 times! The handful of people who remain  continue to rebuild rudimentary shelters. All over, things look bleak for these people and so many others.

I find it easy to despair and lose hope in these situations—and I’m only an observer. I can’t imagine what it must be like to be living through these atrocities. Yet our readings offer me hope. A couple of weeks ago we heard God tell the prophet Habakkuk to write down the vision clearly, to keep it present. And this weekend Jesus tells the disciples a parable “about their need to pray always and not lose heart”. That is our task as a follower of Jesus: As difficult or as hopeless as a situation may seem, I am called pray and not lose heart.

That advice goes for us as well here at Assumption. As we  experience ups and downs with donations and hopes for a  complete restoration, God tells us to not lose heart. We are to have the vision before us (thus the importance of our Pastoral Plan and Assumption Cares), we are to pray, and not lose heart. This weekend, if all goes according to plan, the washroom in the church will be back in service. And then before long the new heating system should be keeping us all comfortable as we gather for worship. Let us keep praying and not lose heart, that with God’s help we complete the restoration and offer meaningful service to Windsor’s West Side.

 

Even though I will be back in Windsor by the time you read this, I write this on the way to Tel Aviv and our last night of the pilgrimage. As every time before, this has been a powerful and moving trip, one that inspires and challenges me. And as people tell us their stories I find it easy to take sides. We see so much injustice, and meet so many people who have lost their homes and lands and rights, the temptation is to consider one side “bad” and the other “good” (even though we do recognize right and wrong). But this morning we visited with Archbishop Elias Chacour, the retired Archbishop of Galilee in the Greek Catho-lic Church. It is fitting to end with him because he challenges me to be inclusive. It doesn’t work to be “pro Palestine” and “anti Israel”; nor does it work to be “pro Israel” and “anti Pales-tine”. We must all be conscious of our shared humanity as chil-dren of God and guests on the land. He is fond of saying that the land belongs neither to Israelis nor Palestinians, but rather we belong to the land. (That is also the title of one of his books; I will be happy to loan out a copy to whoever would like to read it.)

I think those words are so important in our own North Ameri-can context, in two areas. First, we are all sisters and brothers, children of the same God, no matter our religion, ethnic origin, or social status. When Jesus healed the lepers in today’s gospel story, he did so with no regard to their ethnic origin. And the one who returned to thank him was a Samaritan, an outcast, one generally hated by the Jews. It would be comparable to Jesus healing a member of ISIS. He didn’t take sides. It’s also one reason that the Assumption Caresprograms are open to all peo-ple, regardless of who they are or what they believe.Second, we belong to the landreminds me of what Pope Fran-cis has so often stressed.

In Laudato Sihe reminds us that the earth is our common home and we need to care for it. When we first returned to Assumption church, Bishop Fabbro acknowledged that we are on the traditional land of the Three Fires Confederacy, who provided refuge to the Hurons, who in turn offered a place to Fr. Potier and the parish. Today we may hold the deeds to our homes (or pay rent to the one who does), but in the end we are passing through, and the land belongs to God. This challenges me to care for the earth and to walk gently up-on it. And know that I look forward to treading the soil of Windsor again soon!

I write this from Bethlehem, which is no longer a “little town”. After three nights staying at a pilgrimage house on the Via Dolorosa in the Old City of Jerusalem, we’re now here in the city of Jesus’ birth. It’s such a privilege to be staying just  adjacent to the Church of the Nativity and to see the thousands of pilgrims who come to see this special place.

As important as it is to experience these holy sites, or “dead stones”, as Archbishop Elias Chacour calls the churches, our group has also been spending time with the “living stones”, people who work for peace. In Jerusalem we met an amazing Israeli woman who risks her reputation and her safety because she shines a light on the injustices that Palestinians face at the hands of the Israeli government. We heard from a Palestinian and an Israeli, members of the Bereaved Parents Circle, who lost a husband and a daughter in the conflict and who now work for reconciliation and healing. We meet with Omar at Sabeel, a Palestinian Christian organization, who led us on a Contemporary Way of the Cross highlighting the present suffering of the people of this land. Amos led us into the Negev Desert, where we learned about the situation of the Bedouin people. In Bethlehem we’ve met with the Holy Land Trust, an organization dedicated to understanding the “other”, promoting nonviolence and healing. We met with Daoud (David), a Christian from Bethlehem whose family’s farm is in danger of being confiscated to make way for more settlements. His message is one of hope, and refusal to be a victim. We visited a refugee camp in Bethlehem and learned the history of the displaced people who live there, and with Wi’am, a Centre for Mediation and Reconciliation run by Christians. By the time you read this I will have visited Hebron, where I have served on team with the Christian Peacemaker Teams, and will have heard the story of the Bethlehem Icon Centre, where Christians today learn this ancient art form that is a window into the sacred.

Each time I come here I experience a plethora of emotions. There is deep joy and yet a profound sadness. Hopelessness is mingled with great hope. The situation is dire for many of the people here, and the injustice is so blatant. Yet this is reality. I take great comfort in this weekend’s Scripture readings. Jesus, too, lived under a time of occupation, yet he tells his followers to have faith. The prophet Habakkuk lived in a difficult time, and experienced hopelessness. “Oh Lord, how long shall I cry for help and you will not listen?”, he says. But the Lord answered him: “Write the vision; make it plain on tablets so that a runner may read it.” God tells him to write down his hope, so clearly that someone running by can see it. That is what I’m experiencing here. So many people are writing down their visions of hope, and it becomes contagious. May we all be people of hope as well. Be assured of my prayer for each and for all of you here in this sacred place.