Happy Thanksgiving!

I’ll never forget the time when I dropped a friend from high school off at his house the day before Thanksgiving. (In the US, of course, Thanksgiving is celebrated on a Thursday in November.) His mother already had the table set for six people, with fine crystal and china, gold flatware, linen napkins, candles… you get the picture. It was elegant! Inside I laughed, because I knew that the next day I would be at my grandparents’ house. There we would be about 50 people. The dishes, few of them matching and most of them chipped, would be stacked in a pile, and there would be piles of cheap flatware. In the kitchen, the meat (There was always turkey, chicken, ham, and two kinds of dressing.) was on the stove, the vegetables were on the kitchen table, and the desserts were on top of the chest freezer. We ate in the dining room, the living room, the front porch, and anywhere else we could fit. After that huge lunch, cousins and a number of our parents would often pile into cars to go play football in the park.

This year our celebrations may be muted; all of us have had our lives affected by the coronavirus, some in smaller and more subtle ways, others profoundly. We may not be able to invite people we would normally have over, or to accept invitations from others. The Toronto region is shutting down again in the midst of a second wave of infections. People can’t cross the border freely, and many families are separated. Some people are experiencing scarcity. It’s all so different and new. Yet in the midst of this, I find so many things for which to be grateful.

In this Sunday’s first reading, the prophet Isaiah describes the beautiful scene of the heavenly banquet:

“On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-matured wines, of rich food filled with marrow, of well-matured wines strained clear.”

Note that the Lord does this even before death is destroyed (which will happen, the prophet says). So in these days of Covid, of unrest across the border, of viruses and economic uncertainty and of death, let us remember that we are still called to give thanks and to enjoy the feast the God lays before us. Let us be grateful.

This past week I spent numerous hours, with the help of a friend, packing up things in my office at Assumption and moving them to St. Angela. I was impressed by how much I had acquired during my five years here in Windsor. I came from Edmonton with everything packed into my car, plus two large suitcases sent earlier. Now, little by little (from gifts or purchases or the result of meetings, etc.) I have accumulated more: books, papers, clothes, nick-knacks, etc. Some of these things have sentimental value; others just kind of ended up in a drawer or on a shelf or whatever, and ended up at St. Vincent de Paul or in a recycle bin. I moved some things to my bedroom, which remains at Assumption.

This weekend I am conscious of all my “possessions” as the Church celebrates the 106th World Day of Migrants and Refugees. This year Pope Francis chose “Forced like Jesus Christ to flee” as the theme. Bishop Fabbro writes about the stories we have learned from refugees and migrants served by the Diocese of London:

We have learned through their stories that they have come to our country because they were forced, like Jesus, to flee, to find safety for themselves and their loved ones (Mt 2:13). Their lives were turned upside down because of war or political unrest or poverty or environmental degradation, and they had to seek a new home. Some had to leave their country to earn a living, so that they could send support back home to their families. Their stories, in fact, echo the stories of our ancestors who came to Canada in search of a new way of life, a way to support their loved ones. (Letter of 22 September 2020)

I am reminded of how many people flee their homes, their cities, their cultures, everything they know, in search of safety or a better life. They often leave with little more than the clothes on their backs. Some of you reading these words will have experienced it yourself. For others of us, it is our ancestors who have migrated. I often remember how my great-grandmother and her son (my grandfather) arrived in New Orleans on a boat from Palermo with one suitcase and two dollars, coming to join her husband and hope for a better life in Texas. Many of you in our parishes and communities that make up our Family of Parishes could tell similar stories; others came with more “comforts”. Regardless of when or how Migrants and Refugees arrive, Pope Francis encourages us to seek ways to “welcome, protect, promote, and integrate them”.

In this weekend’s gospel passage, Jesus tells us that “the tax collectors and prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God” ahead of the self-proclaimed “righteous” people. Perhaps this is an opportunity to review our attitudes of the recently arrived, and to see in what areas they can teach us.

-Father Maurice

Visit our family bulletin for a look at what’s going on in our parishes! https://www.windsorheritageparishes.ca/about/bulletin/

Back around Christmas, Bishop Fabbro announced that our Family of Parishes would be activated this year. We quickly commenced work with a Transition Team and a Support Team to address all the issues that need to be considered for this new reality. One of the things we pledged from the beginning was transparency. That didn’t happen, and I apologize. I assure you that it was not intentional. With the closure of our parish buildings and the end of public worship in mid-March, I just didn’t know how to effectively get the word out to everyone—and ended up not getting it out to anyone. For that, I take responsibility. This missive is an intent to rectify that situation.

First of all, I need to inform all of you about our activation date. Originally scheduled for July 6, the Diocese of London has now said that our Family will be activated sometime around September. We need the border to be open for travel so that we can invite some of the Scalabrini priests who have served at St. Angela to come for a going-away event. The Scalabrini Fathers have faithfully served the St. Angela community for 60 years this year, and it would not be right to have them leave without being able to thank them.

Before the Covid closures, the Transition Team submitted a name to our parishes for consultation. We received many responses; we read them all. Over 90% of you approved the name, which we submitted to the Bishop for approval. He made a slight modification, and I am pleased to announce to everyone that our Family will be known as the Windsor Heritage Catholic Family of Parishes. I remind you that every parish will maintain its own name. Some staff will be shared (such as clergy and administration), others (such as caretakers) will be particular to the parish. Expenses for shared staff will be divided between the three parishes based on their regular income. Most of this will be 44% for Assumption, 27% for St. Alphonsus, and 29% for St. Angela. We will review all this after our first year and see where revisions and adjustments need to be made, and whether our two communities, St. Benedict and St. Daniel Comboni, will start to share in these expenses. (The Transition Team, on the recommendation of the Finance Council chairs, decided that at present it was not necessary.)

We have considered the Mass schedules. As you may remember, we announced early on that each parish would lose some Masses, since it was impossible to maintain current schedules with the reduced clergy that we will have. This is the part that I was hesitant to announce without being able to have “town hall” meetings to receive reactions and input from our congregations. We are currently investigating the best way to seek your input. I know that this is an important consideration. We all know that Mass schedules must be reduced; the reality is that we all want “the other” Masses cut, but not the one we attend. That is human nature. The Transition Team considered many options and finally decided to propose a schedule where each of our three parishes would have three weekend Masses and a reduced weekday Mass schedule. We are also proposing an increase in availability of confession. This is the schedule we are proposing:

Assumption:
Weekend Masses, Sunday 9 AM, 11 AM, 7:30 PM
Confessions, Saturday 11 AM-12 noon, Sunday 6:30-7:15 PM
Weekday Masses, Monday through Thursday, 8 AM

St. Alphonsus:
Weekend Masses, Saturday 5 PM, Sunday 12 noon, 5:30 PM
Confessions, Saturday 3:45-4:45 PM, Wednesday 11:30-11:55 AM
Weekday Masses, Wednesday through Friday, 12 noon

St. Angela Merici:
Weekend Masses, Italian, Saturday 4:30 PM, Sunday 9:30 AM
Weekend Mass, English, Sunday 11:30 AM
Confessions, Saturday 3:30-4:15 PM, Wednesday 6:30-6:50 PM
Weekday Masses, English, Monday, Tuesday 7:00 PM
Weekday Masses, Italian, Wednesday, Thursday 7:00 PM

Our two communities will maintain their current schedules:

St. Benedict:
Weekend Mass, Sunday 2 PM
Confessions, before or after Mass as needed
Weekday Mass, Tuesday 7 PM

St. Daniel Comboni:
First Sunday of the month, 2 PM

Financially, the Novel Coronavirus has greatly impacted our parishes. Expenses continue, while income has been drastically reduced. I am deeply grateful to all of you who have contributed during this time without public worship. I am also grateful to the Canadian government for the wage subsidies for the parish employees, which has allowed us to keep many of them on payroll. All of our parishes are now accepting e-transfers and other means of electronic giving. Of course, nobody can know for sure the long-term impact of Covid. One thing we do know is that some things are forever changed.

Assumption has been live-streaming during this time, and announcing the Mass intentions from our three parishes. We will continue to stream, and gradually begin doing so from St. Alphonsus and then St. Angela. Our parish staffs want to do whatever is possible to ensure your safety. Please stay home if you are not well, or if you are at risk. Remember that Bishop Fabbro has dispensed you from the Sunday obligation at least until Advent. As much as your parish priests and the rest of the staff want to see you again, we want you to stay safe even more.

As we gradually return to public worship, even with masks, social distancing, no singing, and so many other changes, I assure you of my prayer. I pray that you continue to care for and protect your own health as well as that of others. As Windsor moves into Stage Two, it is easy to think that we can go back to “normal”; my prayer is that we all care for one another so that we can see one another again in good health. May our Lady of the Assumption, St. Alphonsus, St. Angela Merici, St. Benedict, and St. Daniel Comboni intercede for us and keep us safe.

 

We, the priests serving you, condemn racism in all its forms, manifest and hidden.

We ask that all of us work to love each other, every other, with tenderness and reverence.

–Fr. Maurice, Fr. Steven, Fr. Leo

Another week of the Covid-19 shelter-in-place has gone by. It seems so long since I have written anything. Without the regularity of the weekly bulletin, and Sally asking me if I have the pastor’s message ready to go, I find that I busy myself with other things, and I tend to forget about much of what was a normal part of my day-to-day or week-to-week routine. It’s hard to believe that we’ve now been shut down for over two months. We went through a good part of Lent, then Easter, and now we’re already celebrating the Ascension, then Pentecost next weekend—and all of it without public Masses. When Detroit first announced they were suspending public worship at least until the beginning of Holy Week, I found it hard to believe. Then reality set in.

Recently, Bishop Fabbro announced that the Ontario bishops are working on guidelines for how we will reopen our houses of worship. Once that is done, the Diocese of London will issue directives for our diocese. We don’t know yet when that will be. What we do know is that our public worship will be different than it was before. Dioceses that have reopened have directives that include social distancing, wearing of masks, no singing, and many more changes. I imagine that ours will include these features.

In other words, we are taking a slow approach. Of paramount importance is protecting the health of our parishioners. When you think back to what it was like at Mass on Sundays, a significant percentage of our congregation is in a high-risk category, due to age and other factors. I am reluctant to do anything that might put someone else at risk. Recently, BBC reported that over 40 Covid-19 cases were traced to one church service in Germany. We will do what we can to avoid a similar occurrence here. I know that some of you will disagree with this approach. My hope and prayer is that any errors we make will lead to saving lives rather than losing them. I miss gathering as a worshipping community so much, and so look forward to returning to it when we can do so safely.

I would like to leave you with a thought from Rev. Deon K. Johnson, the bishop-elect of the Episcopalian church in Missouri:

The work of the church is essential.
The work of caring for the lonely, the marginalized, and the oppressed is essential.
The work of speaking truth to power and seeking justice is essential.
The work of being a loving, liberating, and life giving presence in the world is essential.
The work of welcoming the stranger, the refugee, and the undocumented is essential.
The work of reconciliation and healing and caring is essential.
The church does not need to “open” because the church never “closed”. We who make up the Body of Christ, the church, love God and our neighbours and ourselves so much that we will stay away from our buildings until it is safe. We are the church.

The following is a letter from Bishop Fabbro about a novena from May 22 until May 30 to bring to a conclusion our Year of Prayer:

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability (Acts 2:1-4).

Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,

A year ago at the Mass of Chrism, I announced that beginning on Pentecost Sunday, 9 June 2019, and lasting until the next Pentecost Sunday, 31 May 2020, we would observe a special Year of Prayer for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on our diocese as we seek to be “a mission-oriented Church that forms disciples of Jesus”.

On the day of Pentecost, the disciples were all together “in one place”. We cannot be together physically during the pandemic, but we can be united spiritually during these days which are meant to be an intense preparation for the Great Feast of Pentecost. I am asking that we mark these days, which will bring to a conclusion our Year of Prayer, by a novena to the Holy Spirit. The novena will begin on Friday, 22 May, and continue until Saturday, 30 May, the Vigil of Pentecost.

My hope is that all the faithful of our diocese, all our parishes and our families will unite in prayer each day of the novena, and that all of us will include in the different prayers we use, a daily recitation of the common prayer for the Year of Prayer.

This prayer contains a vision for us as we strive in our Families of Parishes to be a missionary Church. In it, we pray that the Holy Spirit will fill our hearts with an ardent desire:
• To grow in a deep, personal relationship with Jesus, to be his missionary disciples;
• To know God’s word and to proclaim this Good News to others;
• To recognize Jesus present in the Eucharist and to be united closely with him in our lives;
• To love our neighbour, to seek reconciliation and with big hearts to serve those in need.

As we come to the end of this Year of Prayer, I would like to express my profound gratitude to you, the people of the diocese, for entering into this unique time of prayer. We have united ourselves with the Holy Spirit and are confident that our prayer will bear abundant fruit.

Together, we pray that Pentecost will be a new beginning for our diocese. On the first Pentecost after Jesus’ resurrection, the Holy Spirit completely changed the disciples. They were fearful, but filled with the Holy Spirit they went out and proclaimed the Gospel, even to the point of sacrificing their lives. Like these disciples, we do not know exactly what will be demanded of our Church.

May we be filled with the gifts of the Holy Spirit. May we put our trust completely in his hands. Set on fire with his love, may we go out boldly to proclaim the Gospel to the world.

Sincerely yours in Christ,
Most Rev. R. Fabbro, C.S.B.
Bishop of London

English Year of Prayer

Thank you, thank you, thank you! I am deeply grateful to so many of you. Assumption parish, you are AMAZING!

On this Sunday when we remember God’s Divine Mercy, and close out the Octave of Easter, I want to thank so many of you for allowing us to continue to be present. In these difficult times, so many of you have stepped up to help Assumption continue our presence and our service. Just last week we received over $4,000 in donations, through e-transfers, Canada Helps, or by dropping off your envelope in the mailbox. While this is less than what we would take in on a normal Sunday, it is nevertheless extraordinary, given these conditions in which we are living. So many of you took the time to donate, even though we cannot gather as a church community. One of my fears has been that this time of “shelter-in-place” would lead to bankruptcy for us and for many other parishes. I know that a number of you have been laid off or are otherwise experiencing uncertainty. That makes your generosity all the more impressive. And for any of you who wishes to donate, you are welcome to do so at assumptionparish.ca/donate.

Fr. Steven, Fr. Leo, Jean Beneteau and I are getting accustomed to a digital presence and are doing what we can to adjust to the new reality. In addition to live-streaming our Masses we will be providing some prayer opportunity, at a minimum of Monday, Wednesday, and Friday afternoons at 2:00. Jean is working on ways to offer programs through videoconferencing. Our Support and Transition Teams for the Family of Parishes continue to meet on schedule. We are still alive, and looking forward to welcoming you back once the restrictions are lifted and it is safe to do so.

I know that some of you have been directly impacted by Covid-19. Please be assured of our prayer for strength and healing. As much as I would like to “bend the rules” and welcome some of you in the church, or hold some kind of services, I do not want to increase the risk of contagion for any of you. Therefore our presence will be digital until the diocese and civil authorities advise us that it is safe to reopen. In the meantime, let us remember that God is indeed a God of mercy, who forgives all who ask for pardon, and offers eternal life.

I find the words from this weekend’s second reading to be especially fitting for these times. Peter writes, “In this you rejoice, even if now for a little while you have had to suffer various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith … may be found to result in praise and glory and honour when Jesus Christ is revealed.”

Another week has passed since I last wrote. The novel coronavirus continues its exponential spread. We now have parishioners who have contracted COVID-19. Here in Windsor we have our first deaths. There are people from the parish or their family members on the front lines in hospitals and other health care facilities in Ontario and Michigan. Others are on the front lines in other ways: working essential services like grocery stores, running errands and doing shopping for the more vulnerable, calling others on the phone, and praying for one another. My heartfelt thanks goes out to all of you. In many ways you are acting as the Lord’s servant in Isaiah, who, in this weekend’s first reading, asks that he “may know how to sustain the weary with a word”.

And in the Church we begin Holy Week, this most solemn time of the liturgical year. Our celebrations will seem so strange: no palms on Palm Sunday, no congregations gathering, no people present at the Chrism Mass in London, no washing of the feet on Holy Thursday, nobody in church on Good Friday, no Easter fire or Baptisms on Holy Saturday, no crowds on Easter Sunday. There are lots of “nos”. There are also lots of people suffering: those who have contracted COVID-19, those who care for them, those who lose their lives, those who are left behind. There are people whose partners abuse them who are in precarious situations because they cannot easily leave—and there is more abuse because of the stress of what we are living. There are those who have lost their jobs, or had their incomes drastically reduced. Some suffer from other illnesses and can’t go to hospital because of fear of contracting the virus. Times are very hard for many people.

Even though we usually focus on the palms, the official name of this Sunday is Passion Sunday. It is a time to reflect on the reality that in Jesus, our God loves us so much he was willing to embrace our reality completely, even to the point of dying. In embracing our humanity, God knows what it is like to suffer from COVID-19, to suffer from abuse, to lose income, to lose loved ones. God suffers, yet the final word is not death, but rather life. The end of the story is not Passion Sunday or Good Friday, but rather Easter Sunday. And the amazing thing is that we don’t have to wait until some future day of resurrection to experience new life. There are so many “silver linings” amidst the “clouds” of the coronavirus, all of them tiny foretastes of the life that God has in store for us. We see people putting themselves at risk to help others, giving of themselves in so many ways. Families, friends, and acquaintances are reaching out to check on one another. When we look around, it is easy to see life poking through the cracks, as it were.

In our phone calls to parishioners we have been asked to pray for so many intentions. Please be assured that Fr. Steven, Fr. Leo, and I are praying for your needs and intentions, holding you all in prayer before our loving God, and asking that your needs be met and that we may know Life. Stay safe!

Here is Fr. Maurice’s pastor’s message for this week. Let us pray for one another.
COVID-19: I find it hard to believe that just a few months ago I hadn’t heard the term. Then I heard about a virus in Wuhan—a city in China that I didn’t even know existed. Then it was China. Then the rest of the world. The World Health Organization (WHO) didn’t want to call it a pandemic. Then more people died. Then the WHO called it a pandemic. We heard about people in Europe, especially Italy, getting sick. That started to hit closer to home. At one point our Pastoral Team decided that we should stop distributing the Precious Blood (communion from the cup); that was on a Wednesday. On Friday the Diocese of London confirmed our decision. Then Saturday afternoon we received word that all Masses were cancelled for the weekend. On Monday we moved our Mass into the big church at Assumption so that people could be distanced from each other. Then we cancelled weekday Masses and closed all the churches in the area. It has been an incredible progression.
First I didn’t know anyone who had contracted the virus. Then a friend of mine in Rochester, NY, an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ, tested positive. (Thankfully, she has now been fever-free for 13 days and is considered to have recovered.) A friend of mine in Ann Arbor has it. Msgr. Chuck Kosanke, pastor of Sainte Anne in Detroit, has been hospitalized with it. I’m sure I have more acquaintances who are sick, and I just haven’t learned it yet. At the time I write this, almost 700,000 people have tested positive for COVID-19, and over 30,000 have died—over one-third of those deaths in Italy. This is very serious. In New York state it has now been confirmed that transmission between some people was by coming into contact with each other at their Catholic parish. Where numbers are rising slowly (instead of skyrocketing) it is because people are taking “social distancing” seriously.
This past week Pope Francis gave an extraordinary “Urbi et Orbi” (to the City and the World) blessing, offering a plenary indulgence to all of us who participated, all of us who are affected by the virus, or who care for those who are. He preached on the gospel passage from Mark (4:35-41) that relates Jesus calming the sea. I quote the first three paragraphs of his homily:
“When evening had come” (Mk 4:35). The Gospel passage we have just heard begins like this. For weeks now it has been evening. Thick darkness has gathered over our squares, our streets and our cities; it has taken over our lives, filling everything with a deafening silence and a distressing void, that stops everything as it passes by; we feel it in the air, we notice in people’s gestures, their glances give them away. We find ourselves afraid and lost.
Like the disciples in the Gospel we were caught off guard by an unexpected, turbulent storm. We have realized that we are on the same boat, all of us fragile and disoriented, but at the same time important and needed, all of us called to row together, each of us in need of comforting the other. On this boat… are all of us. Just like those disciples, who spoke anxiously with one voice, saying “We are perishing” (v. 38), so we too have realized that we cannot go on thinking of ourselves, but only together can we do this.
It is easy to recognize ourselves in this story. What is harder to understand is Jesus’ attitude. While his disciples are quite naturally alarmed and desperate, he stands in the stern, in the part of the boat that sinks first. And what does he do? In spite of the tempest, he sleeps on soundly, trusting in the Father; this is the only time in the Gospels we see Jesus sleeping. When he wakes up, after calming the wind and the waters, he turns to the disciples in a reproaching voice: “Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?” (v. 40).
Let us try to understand. In what does the lack of the disciples’ faith consist, as contrasted with Jesus’ trust? They had not stopped believing in him; in fact, they called on him. But we see how they call on him: “Teacher, do you not care if we perish?” (v. 38). Do you not care: they think that Jesus is not interested in them, does not care about them. One of the things that hurts us and our families most when we hear it said is: “Do you not care about me?” It is a phrase that wounds and unleashes storms in our hearts. It would have shaken Jesus too. Because he, more than anyone, cares about us. Indeed, once they have called on him, he saves his disciples from their discouragement.
I think that is our invitation today. In this weekend’s gospel passage we hear about Jesus raising his friend Lazarus from the dead. By his action he saves his friends from discouragement and teaches them that God is about life rather than death. I invite all of you to continue to pray and to bring life to others, to save one another from discouragement. I close with more of Pope Francis’ words:
The Lord asks us and, in the midst of our tempest, invites us to reawaken and put into practice that solidarity and hope capable of giving strength, support and meaning to these hours when everything seems to be floundering. The Lord awakens so as to reawaken and revive our Easter faith. We have an anchor: by his cross we have been saved. We have a rudder: by his cross we have been redeemed. We have a hope: by his cross we have been healed and embraced so that nothing and no one can separate us from his redeeming love. In the midst of isolation when we are suffering from a lack of tenderness and chances to meet up, and we experience the loss of so many things, let us once again listen to the proclamation that saves us: he is risen and is living by our side. The Lord asks us from his cross to rediscover the life that awaits us, to look towards those who look to us, to strengthen, recognize and foster the grace that lives within us. Let us not quench the wavering flame (cf. Is 42:3) that never falters, and let us allow hope to be rekindled.

This past week I had the privilege of facilitating a retreat for our Basilian novices. Charles, David, Patrick, and Sean are about halfway through their novitiate year; God willing, they will be professing vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience in August. I enjoyed spending time with them in a beautiful setting in rural Texas. During our days together we looked at Jesus’ humanity; you’ve probably heard me say more than once that I’m convinced that we need to get to know Jesus as one like us if we are really going to have a relationship with him and follow him—in other words, to be intentional disciples. I don’t think that we can follow and relate to someone who is totally other.

As I ate and prayed and conversed with our novices, getting to know them better, I was struck by the unique gifts that each one of them brings to the novitiate community, and indeed, to the Basilian Fathers. We are blessed to have them in formation. At one point I began thinking of what it would be like if I actually saw each one of them for who they are in God’s eyes: God’s precious child, totally unique and totally loved, a place where God himself is found (that is, a temple of the Holy Spirit).

In this weekend’s Gospel passage Peter, James, and John get to see Jesus for who he really is: the Chosen One, the fulfilment of the Law and the Prophets (symbolized by Moses and Elijah). Peter wanted the scene to last: “If you wish, I will make three dwellings here….” But then God speaks and the vision is gone. They see their friend Jesus alone before them, and go back to their regular lives. I tend to think, though, that they never were able to look at Jesus in quite the same way after that experience. They had seen him for who he really was: God’s beloved Son, the fulfilment of the hopes and dreams of the Jewish people. What would it be like if we could see each other for who we are in God’s eyes? Although Jesus is God’s Son in a unique way, scripture is clear that we, too, are God’s children, each in our own way. We, too, are God’s presence to one another. We, too, each have special and unique gifts to offer the world and the Church.

I invite you to recognize how unique and special you are—and how much Jesus wants to be in a relationship with you. Wouldn’t it be great to let others know of that? Indeed, that is what we are called to do!