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”.

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?