A priest was questioning a little boy. “Who does the Sun belong to?” “God,” the little boy said.
“And the moon?” “God.”
“And the stars?” “God.”
“And this Teddy Bear? Who does it belong to?” “Teddy? He’s mine!”

It never gets any easier.

As anyone who ever interacted with a toddler knows, the idea of “sharing” can be a hard one to get across. (Not that I have much experience with toddlers, but I asked Sally, our parish secretary, about it!) In this Sunday’s second reading St. Paul encourages the Corinthians to be open not just to the idea but the reality of sharing, so that ‘the who had much would not have too much, and the one who had little would not have too little.’ This reading comes into sharp focus for me, because this weekend is the last I will be celebrating at Assumption Parish, and it is also the first weekend our new deacon, Steven Huber, is here. Now something that was Assumption’s will be shared henceforth with Edmonton, and something that was Houston’s (Steven) will be shared with Windsor. And from my point of view, something that was mine is now something I am being asked to give over to someone else.

It is an essential part of our faith that a blessing that is shared multiplies. Think of the miracle of the loaves and fishes, where a boy’s lunch, freely shared, becomes enough for five thousand people with lots left over. Perhaps the reason for this is because that in sharing we communicate God’s love, which is inexhaustible. This is one of the themes of today’s Gospel. Christ’s grace is so abundant that not only is a little girl raised from the dead, but a woman with chronic illness is healed solely by touching the hem of Jesus’ cloak. When we are asked to give up our lunch – or something bigger – may we always remember that this is the way that God’s grace works to multiply the good things of this world.

May God bless you all.

—Fr. Jim Stenberg C.S.B.

101st Anniversary of the Miracle of Fatia takes place on Saturday, October 13th, 2018 with a 10:30am Outdoor Procession followed by a 11:00am Holy Mass.

Refreshments to follow in Rooney Lounge.

Pay attention to this Sunday’s first reading. In the middle of bold declarations of God’s deeds, Isaiah says “I have labored in vain; I have spent my strength in nothing and vanity.” What an odd thing to say! Isaiah is telling everyone about how God had chosen him from his mother’s womb, how God had been preparing him all his life for great things. And then, rather than expressing pride or joy at receiving God’s favour, Isaiah instead admits that he is a screw-up, and that he has wasted his life.

And yet, don’t we often do the same thing? We profess that we are children of God, that we are members of the bodies of Christ, that we are anointed with the Holy Spirit and empowered to be Jesus’ disciples. And yet, despite knowing this, our response is not joy, but frustration at our lack of success. We can even feel that we are failures, that we have spent our strength with nothing to show for it. How is it that we can
express so much admiration for God, and yet in the same breath express contempt for the work of God’s hands, that work being our very selves?

Many of us were taught that pride is a sin, and that humility is a virtue. And so, in an attempt to be humble, we are often our own worse critics. It is true that we should not be too self-satisfied; God did not give us so many gifts so that we could admire ourselves all day long. God wants us to put our gifts to work! But surely we can do this without being negative about ourselves.

It may help to remember that humility does not mean that you think negative thoughts about yourself. It is healthier to think of humility as self-forgetfulness. As being the kind of person who can appreciate the positive qualities of others, but when they notice their own qualities, think only of how to put them to good use.

And remember too that God works in the long term. Isaiah did not think that he had accomplished anything, but that is because he did not see how his words would be fulfilled in Christ and inspire believers down the centuries. We too need to trust God that, although we might not see anything happening now, great things are still to come.

-Father Jim

One of the things I really appreciate about “Ordinary Time” is the ability to see God’s work in everyday things, in life’s normal rhythm, without focusing on any specific event of Jesus’ life. It helps me to see God’s hand at work in the routine and the extraordinary, whether seemingly significant or trivial. In our gospel passage this weekend Jesus tells a parable about a farmer scattering seed, and then that seed developing into a plant, without the farmer knowing how it happened. This makes me wonder how many seeds Fr. Jim has scattered during his three years with us here at Assumption. Some have grown into large plants and have been harvested. Others are still tender shoots that will need nurturing in order to grow into a bountiful harvest. And to borrow some of the imagery in our second reading this weekend, Paul writes to the Church in Corinth that we walk by faith and not by sight. Even though I cannot see the results of everything that Fr. Jim has sown, I have faith that it will indeed bear much fruit in our lives. I also have faith that his new appointment as Chaplain at St. Joseph’s College in Edmonton is the place where he should be. I will miss Fr. Jim when he is gone. I appreciate his gentle humour, his simplicity of life, and his dedication. Over the past three years, since the two of us arrived here in Windsor, we have come to know each other’s strengths and weaknesses, plusses and minuses. I know that he has sown seeds in my life, and I imagine he has touched the lives of many of you here—some consciously, and others perhaps more subtly.

Of course, this weekend we celebrate Father’s Day. I pray for biological fathers, as well as those who engender life in other ways, that what they sow in life may also bear great fruit. It is also the time when many students are preparing to graduate, ready to move to the next stage of their lives. I invite your prayers for all fathers and all graduates during this time.

This coming weekend we will have an ice-cream social after all the Masses, to wish Fr. Jim Godspeed, as he gets ready to head west. Even though he will still be with us for another few weeks, this is an opportunity for us to reflect on what he has sown in our lives, and what seeds we might nurture into bearing much fruit.

 

My mom was one of 14 siblings and my dad one of eight, and we are 78 cousins in my generation: 22 on my father’s side and 55 on my mother’s, and 49 of those live in Belgium. As a child, my mom used to tell us stories about her family. I think that because they were so far away, she felt it all the more important that we knew about our origins. She did such a good job at this that when my sister and brother-in-law were visiting last year, and we had dinner in Toronto with the son of one of my Belgian cousins, we found that Margaret knew more about our family than Max, who grew up there. And on my dad’s side, needless to say, for us Italians famiglia is very important! Family was very important in Jesus’ culture as well, so it is not unusual that Jesus’ family would be concerned about him when people started thinking he had “gone out of his mind”. And then Mark tells us in this weekend’s gospel that some were even accusing Jesus of being possessed by the devil. Of course his family was concerned!

Jesus’ response to this concern is rather shocking: “‘Who are my mother and my brothers?’ And looking around at those who sat around him, he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.’” Think about the implications of that. If Jesus is God’s Son and we are Jesus’ sisters and brothers, then we are God’s children as well. And although we are not God in the way that Jesus is, there are so many instances in Scripture where we hear that God dwells in us, and that we are temples of the Holy Spirit. All it takes is for us to do God’s will. That is a daunting task at times, yet the rewards are definitely great.

Last weekend a member of the Pastoral Council presented our pastoral plan. Over these past two years we have been trying to discern God’s will for us as a parish family, and in preparation for being a part of a “family of parishes”. How do we best reach out to our sisters and brothers in need? How can we “be a beacon of mercy, service, and discipleship”? In short, how are we becoming more a part of Jesus’ family? And how about you? What is your role in this family?

Over the past weeks we’ve heard Jesus declare some rather  puzzling things, like, “The Father and I are one.” On the  surface, that’s impossible. They are two people. When Jesus prays to the Father, he isn’t praying to himself. He said that he lives in us and we in him. That seems even more absurd; it’s obvious that we’re separate people. The early Church had to address some apparent contradictions as they wrestled with their faith that God is One, that Jesus prayed to God as Father, and yet he also seemed to be God. And to add to the confusion, Jesus talked about a “Holy Spirit” who would dwell in the
disciples and make all these things known. For the first three centuries there was great debate among believers as to how these things could be understood. Some said that Jesus was God, and others that he was a creature uniquely blessed by God. Finally, in 325 the bishops met in Nicaea and formulated a Creed, an official statement of belief. There is one God, and yet the one God is three separate Persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. They are all one, yet they are three, co-equal in every respect. The council coined the term “Trinity” to describe a God that was three persons in one unity. Since then, one of the tenets of faith that identifies a Christian is belief in the Triune God.

As important as it is to know and profess that belief, sometimes it can seem like pure theoretical gymnastics. What does that have to do with my life? I think the answer is in the concept of relationship. Our God is relationship. The Father, the Son, and the Spirit are in eternal relationship to one another. They want to be in relationship with us—and want us to be in relationship with them. God created us to be social beings, creatures in relationship with one another. Psychologists say that prisoners kept in solitary confinement for lengthy periods of time can experience permanent psychological damage. We human beings cannot function properly if we are not relating to others. In a sense, it is when we are in relationship with others that we are most in the image and likeness of God. That is why community is so important. It is one of the reasons why our parish must be and function as a community, why we must foster and encourage all of us to be in relationship with each other.  Soon, we will be announcing our Parish Pastoral Plan, which will help us build community among us.  I invite you to participate in achieving the goals in the plan, but also to pray with me for the unity of our parish, our Church, and all people of the world. The more united we are, the more we begin to resemble our Creator.

 

Happy birthday! Pentecost is traditionally celebrated as the birthday of the Church. If Jesus died in the year 33, then we are about 1985 years old! Some days I feel like every day of those, and others I think I’m still just a baby. In those early days, the Church had to face some immense challenges. Yet the believers, filled with the Holy Spirit, were able to meet those challenges and grow into a universal Church. Some 250 years ago there was only one parish for this entire area, yet those people dealt with their realities and grew, and now there are hundreds, if not thousands, of parishes between here and Montreal. Today the Holy Spirit continues to renew us and give us wisdom and strength to face whatever challenges lie ahead. Just like in the early Church, God breathes the Spirit into us, and new life results.

At this weekend’s 11:00 AM Mass, ten of our youth will receive the Holy Spirit in a formal way through the Sacrament of Confirmation. I invite you to pray with me that the same Spirit that God breathed into the dry bones, the Spirit that Jesus breathed on his disciples, fill these young women and men with the same missionary Spirit that enlivened the early Church.

Over the past year, your Pastoral Council and I have been working on a Pastoral Plan for our parish. We need to plan as we move forward into the future. Soon you will find bulletin insert that lays out where we hope to put our focus and energy. Along the same lines, last weekend Bishop Fabbro sent out a letter, which we included in the bulletins, where he talked about the Pastoral Plan for the future of the Diocese. The first of the six goals is Spiritual Renewal and Personal Holiness. This theme ties in with both Pentecost and Pope Francis’ recent Apostolic Exhortation Gaudete et Exsultate, where he calls each of us to holiness. I encourage you to read this week’s insert and those that follow. The Spirit we receive impels each of us to growth in holiness and empowers us as missionaries to work in God’s vineyard.

The Ascension of the Lord marks the end of the earthly presence of Jesus. It is a time of transition. Originally occurring on a Thursday, the Ascension of the Lord began nine days of prayer culminating in the gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost: these nine days of prayer make it the very first novena. The disciples are in a period of waiting. Their time of togetherness is at an end, but their new ministry has not yet begun.

I cannot help but imagine that the disciples felt uncertainty and anxiety about the future, and sadness that they would no longer look upon Jesus in the flesh. But scripture speaks to us again and again of their joyous confidence in the face of adversity, their blithe indifference to danger. Life in the spirit was for them a series of continual surprises. New adventures awaited them every day.

As human beings we naturally experience anxiety about change. We are sad when familiar things pass away. I know that I will be sad to leave Windsor to begin a new ministry as Chaplain at St. Joseph’s College in Edmonton.  Some of you have also expressed that you are sad to see me go. Perhaps Stephen Huber – the Basilian who will be moving here just as I leave – is also sad to leave Houston. But it is my hope that any sadness or anxiety there may be will be eclipsed by the joy and surprise brought by the Spirit.

Please keep Stephen in your prayers. He is being ordained a deacon this very weekend, and will likely be ordained to the priesthood early in 2019. Stephen’s experience at Assumption will shape and affect all his future ministry: it is a great compliment to this community to be chosen to shape him in this way.

I thank you for your prayers as well. Both for me as an individual, as well as the prayers you offer for priests in general, especially during this month when the priests of the diocese have all gone on retreat and Bishop Fabbro has requested that the whole diocese pray for them. I experience this need for prayer as underlining the lesson of this week’s reading, that sustained prayer is necessary to escape sadness and anxiety and enter into a
joyful, spirit-filled life.

 

—Fr. Jim Stenberg C.S.B.

 

I think that the most striking aspect of Pope Francis has been his joy. There are so many photos of him smiling and laughing, hugging children, and exuding happiness in so many different ways. In retrospect, it was no real surprise that the first Apostolic Exhortation of his papacy was Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel). Now in his recent Gaudete et Exsultate  (Rejoice and Be Glad) the concept of “joy” (joy, rejoice, joyful, etc.) appears 63 times in 36 pages. It is clear that the Holy Father is trying to give us a message, one consistent with Scripture and much of our tradition. When speaking of the saints in a section entitled “Joy and a Sense of Humour,” he states:

Far from being timid, morose, acerbic or melancholy, or putting on a dreary face, the saints are joyful and full of good humour. Though completely realistic, they radiate a positive and hopeful spirit. The Christian life is “joy in the Holy Spirit” (Rom 14:17), for “the  necessary result of the love of charity is joy; since Every lover rejoices at being united to the beloved… the effect of charity is joy” (St. Thomas Aquinas,Summa Theologiae). Having received the beautiful gift of God’s word, we embrace it “in much affliction, with joy inspired by the Holy Spirit” (1 Thess 1:6). If we allow the Lord to draw us out of our shell and change our lives, then we can do as Saint Paul tells us: “Rejoice in the Lord always; I say it again,rejoice!” (Phil 4:4).

Jesus tells his disciples—and us—in this weekend’s gospel passage to live in his love and to keep his commandments in order that his joy may be in us, and that our joy may be complete. And then he calls us his friends. We are friends of God, who are called to go forth and bear fruit.

In the 1997 film Amistad, about a ship full of slaves from Africa, a group of Christian abolitionists is portrayed singing off-key hymns and generally looking stern. The slaves wonder who these “miserable-looking” people are, and are not impressed with their bibles. I think we have a choice. We can be known as messengers of joy in the midst of today’s society, or we can be known as “miserable-looking” people. I know how I would rather be perceived. How about you?

 

Canada was rocked by the tragic terrorist attack in Toronto this past Monday. I had thought that we would be immune from someone running people down with a vehicle. Unfortunately, that was not true. Over the next days, weeks, and months, we will learn things about the perpetrator’s motives. Some people’s lives will be forever changed. Those killed will remain dead to this world. Those physically injured will heal, to a greater or lesser degree. I believe most people will continue to have emotional scarring. Things like that are just not supposed to happen. Yet in the midst of this terrible tragedy, there are signs of hope. People have come together. Families, friends, and neighbours rally around the victims, offering what support and comfort they can. Moments of great sorrow often elicit support from so many different places.

Jesus’ followers experienced a horrendous shock with the Romans crucified him. The One they thought would save them was killed as a common criminal. Yet the accounts of the Resurrection appearances tell us that the disciples were gathered together. Even though Mark tells us that they scattered at Jesus’ arrest and crucifixion, they later find each other and remain united.

Our gospel passage this weekend is a familiar one: Jesus is the vine and we are the branches. We do not exist in isolation. We need to be tied to Christ if we are to call ourselves Christian—and being tied to Christ, we are in relationship with each other. The earliest Christians could not have conceived of themselves apart from community, each doing their own thing and not worrying about the other. Instead, they looked out for one another, shared things in common, and always came together on the first day of the week to celebrate the Resurrection.

As human beings it is natural for us to join together. We are social beings. Even our inner lives and our own private devotions only make sense when they are supported as part of a community. That is why I think that our Sunday gatherings as Catholics are so important. Not only do hearing God’s word and receiving the Body and Blood of Christ nourish me, but also as community we nourish each other. A vine with only one branch is not healthy. I pray that both in times of difficulty and times of joy we all become ever more aware of how much each one of us contributes to the greater whole.