Last weekend I mentioned how generous poor people were to me when I lived in Colombia. I learned a lot from them about generosity, and about a freedom from attachments. I also learned a lot about faith. I had only been there for a couple of months when one of the sisters came to ask me to go anoint Elvira, an old woman, who was sick. Sister Mirabel took me to the poorest part of the parish, right near where sewage entered the river. She lived in a tiny shack, with dirt floors. It was no more than five feet wide, and had only two rooms. This old woman, who seemed to be nothing but skin and bones was laying on a makeshift bed. When sister introduced me, Elvira said, over and over, “Blessed be my God. My God loves the poor.” I was so moved by that. All I could think of was that if I lived in those conditions I probably wouldn’t even believe in a God. And here was this old lady, teaching the young priest about true faith.

Pope Francis has proclaimed this weekend as the Second World Day of the Poor. In his message he writes:

The poor are the first to recognize God’s presence and to testify to his closeness in their lives. God remains faithful to his promise; and even in the darkness of the night, he does not withhold the warmth of his love and consolation. However, for the poor to overcome their oppressive situation, they need to sense the presence of brothers and sisters who are concerned for them and, by opening the doors of their hearts and lives, make them feel like friends and family. Only in this way can the poor discover “the saving power at work in their lives” and “put them at the centre of the Church’s pilgrim way” (Evangelii Gaudium, 198). …

Faith naturally inspires a message of hope. Often it is precisely the poor who can break through our indifference, born of a worldly and narrow view of life. The cry of the poor is also a cry of hope that reveals the certainty of future liberation. This hope is grounded in the love of God, who does not abandon those who put their trust in him (cf. Rom 8:31-39). As Saint Teresa of Avila writes in The Way of Perfection: “Poverty comprises many virtues. It is a vast domain. I tell you, whoever despises all earthly goods is master of them all” (2:5).

I pray that we all may be people of hope, detached from our possessions and filled with faith in God. Only then can we recognize ourselves in each other and learn from one another.

 

When I was newly ordained I was assigned in a parish that we Basilians had taken in a poor area of Cali, Colombia. I quickly learned to moderate my compliments when people were wearing clothes that I liked. The first few times I complimented someone on the shirt he was wearing, a couple of days later it would appear at the church as a gift—freshly laundered and folded. Once I learned that a friend gave me one of only three shirts he owned. I have never forgotten how those people would give so generously, even though they had so little. I think the poor widow in this weekend’s gospel was much like those people in Colombia. Jesus said that those two copper coins were all she had to live on—yet she gave them. The widow of Zarephath who fed the prophet Elijah did the same. I can’t even imagine what that must feel like. I often think of myself as generous because I regularly help people I know in Colombia and Palestine, yet my lifestyle hasn’t changed because of it.

For me, this gospel is a personal challenge. It asks me to give of myself rather than from my surplus, whether that be time or energy or finances. Intentional discipleship fits here as well. Statistics show that when I truly have a personal relationship with Christ I become more giving. I rearrange my priorities. I think that’s why the diocese—and we here in the parish—are putting such an emphasis on this concept. A parish filled with a significant number of intentional disciples is one that has life. People volunteer for ministries and for outreach. They give generously of their finances, and help the parish be a wise steward of resources.

Last weekend Joe Perry and I presented a thumbnail sketch of Assumption Cares, the project we are beginning in partnership with Hospice Windsor. This weekend we have a survey. I am asking you to give of your time by filling one out for yourself and then polling others. Together, giving of ourselves, we can help Assumption be known as a place of life and a place of caring. In short, as our Pastoral Priority Plan states, our purpose is to Encounter God; and having done so, we envision being a beacon of mercy, service, and discipleship. Those are powerful concepts. Together we can make them come alive.

A year or so ago I read a commentary that noted that Jesus’ words were not “love your neighbour as much as yourself, but rather as yourself. In other words, the distinction between us gets blurred. How I treat myself affects you. How I treat the other affects not only that person, but others and myself as well. I know I wrote something about this before; I’ll probably write about it in the future, too, because I think it is so important. So as you think about those words we hear proclaimed in the gospel this weekend, I invite you to think of Pope Francis’ words from September of 2013: “The thing the church needs most today is the ability to heal wounds and to warm the hearts of the faithful; it needs nearness, proximity. I see the church as a field hospital after battle. It is
useless to ask a seriously injured person if he has high cholesterol and about the level of his blood sugars! You have to heal his wounds. Then we can talk about everything else. Heal the wounds, heal the wounds.… And you have to start from the ground up.”

For me, that makes theological sense of one of the priorities we set for our Pastoral Plan, that of outreach to family and community. We do outreach because we ourselves need healing. That’s why I am excited about the upcoming launch of Assumption Cares, our ambitious plan of outreach to the community. Partnering with Hospice Windsor, which connects us to the community at large and gives us access to their wealth of experience, will help put Assumption on the map as a place where people can come to get their needs met—a field hospital of sorts. Of course I would enjoy it if some of the people who look to us as a source of physical or emotional help end up also becoming a part of our worshipping community; yet that’s not why we’re doing this. At the beginning, Assumption Cares will be mostly a publicizing of the things that we are already doing: food distribution, haircuts, bereavement support, divorce survival group, and many others. As our pool of volunteers increases—which I am sure will happen—and as we partner with experts in other areas, we will increase our services and outreach. And that helps us accomplish our Vision Statement, of being “a beacon of mercy, service, and discipleship”.

To be an intentional disciple is to meet Jesus, to have a relationship with him and to make a decision to accept his invitation to follow him. Although getting to know him could be a bit scary, I have a feeling it will always lead to life, and life abundantly—maybe even to meet myself in the one I thought was the “other”. Won’t you join me in the adventure?

When I was about six years old, my parents received a note from my school, informing them that I had failed the vision test. My parents took me to the eye doctor, and I got my first pair of glasses. When I first put them on, I was amazed at how clearly I could see the world.

And yet, even with the ability to correct my vision, I’ve been struck recently by the realization that many times, though I may be looking out at the world around me, I don’t truly “see” what is happening around me. Sometimes, I am distracted, and I fail to see obstacles in front of me. Other times, I choose not to see, because a situation makes me uncomfortable, and it is easier to just look away, and pretend not to see what’s going on.

Sight is a funny thing- I’m often amazed by the way in which people who have lost their sight can “see” the world around them. Sometimes, I think they are even more in tune with the world than I am!

That’s very much the situation in today’s Gospel. Bartimaeus cannot see Jesus, and yet he has so much faith in his ability to restore his sight that when Jesus calls him, he casts aside his cloak, his only security against the harsh Judean desert. Blind Bartimaeus “sees” the truth of who Jesus is far better than Jesus’ own Apostles. Yes, the Apostles see physically, but their spiritual blindness is on full display. Bartimaeus, on the other hand, lacks physical sight, but has crystal clear spiritual vision- so much so that he immediately follows Jesus “on the way” once his sight is restored.

The phrase “on the way” in Mark’s Gospel signals Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem- to his passion, death on the cross, and resurrection. Bartimaeus following Jesus “on the way” means that he is truly committed to following Christ, no matter where that path may lead- without worldly concerns standing in the way.

We are all called to do the same in our lives- and yet so often we are blinded by other concerns that keep us from truly seeing the path that God has laid out for each one of us. My prayer for each of us this week is that we may learn to overcome our own spiritual blindness, and truly see the world through God’s eyes- with true spiritual vision.

—Deacon Steven Huber C.S.B.

Each time I go to the Holy Land I come face to face with how people suffer. Whether I am serving with Christian Peacemaker Teams, or helping to lead a pilgrimage like I just did, I see unjust systems; I see people who suffer unjustly. I also see people who struggle against injustices and who bring hope. One of the most difficult realities we human beings have to face is that of suffering, whether at the hands of others or due to things like illness. Why do people hurt one another? Why do we get sick? Why do we die? It just doesn’t seem to fit with the notion of a loving God. The Bible wrestled with this notion as well. The prophet Isaiah wrote four passages about God’s “suffering servant” (part of which we read this weekend); that is the image the early Church used for Jesus. Somehow that suffering can be seen as redemptive. The Letter to the Hebrews talks about Jesus, our “great high priest” as able to sympathize with our weaknesses because “in every respect [he] has been tested as we are, yet without sin”.

Julian of Norwich (1342-1416), the great British mystic, said that Jesus is a “handsome mixture”. She talks about his face speaking of “a knowledge of life’s delight and a knowledge of life’s pain…. It is not a face that is naïve to the world’s sufferings or to the personal experience of sorrow. Nor is it a face that is so overwhelmed by sorrow that it loses its openness and wonder…. It is a soul that has experienced the heights and the depths of human life….” From another perspective, Etty Hillesum (who I quoted in last week’s message) wrote, “I am with the hungry, with the ill-treated and the dying, every day, but I am also with the jasmine and with that piece of sky beyond my window….”

I think that is the challenge of the Christian: to find the good amidst the bad, the joy intermingled with the sufferings of the world, and then to help spread that joy. Then we are truly serving others, as Jesus talks about in the gospel passage this weekend. Our leadership is that of service, and of bringing light into suffering. That is one reason that I am so grateful for the outreach and the service we already do here at Assumption, and why I am so committed to expanding that, with programs like Intentional Discipleship and our Assumption Cares that we will be rolling out over the next months. I pray that each of us may be that face of Jesus in this world.

I write this from the airport in Tel Aviv, preparing for the long flight home—knowing that I will be back in Windsor before you read this. Our pilgrimage has been a powerful experience. We have seen many things, and met many people who work for peace. The last part of our time in this land has been more spiritual. We stayed at the Sea of Galilee and visited places where Jesus taught and ministered: Tabgha, where he multiplied the loaves and the fishes, the Primacy of Peter, where he commissioned Peter, and then after the resurrection fed the apostles on the shore. We went to Nazareth, where the angel Gabriel visited Mary, and the Word was made flesh because of her “yes”. We spent time in Capernaum, where Jesus gave the Bread of Life discourse, and where he healed the centurion’s son. We had a retreat afternoon on the Mount of the Beatitudes. We met Archbishop Elias Chacour, and heard his story of how his family lost everything when the Israeli forces took over their village.

When Jesus walked this land the Romans were occupying it. His first followers were longing to be free, to be treated as equals. Today the situation is strikingly similar for Palestinians, whether citizens of Israel or in the West Bank. Our group has often asked “Why?”; we hear many answers. In this weekend’s gospel passage, Jesus quotes the commandments that have to do with how we treat other people—and then goes even further by telling the rich young man to give what he has to the poor. It is so darn easy for me to look at other people, whether as a society or as individuals, and see where they fail to live up to these commandments. Yet the real challenge is to look at myself and see how I measure up. I am reminded of the words of Etty Hillesum, a young Jewish woman who was killed at Auschwitz: “And I believe that I will never be able to hate any human being for their so-called “wickedness,” that I shall only hate the evil that is within me, though hate is perhaps putting it too strongly even then. In any case, we cannot be lax enough in what we demand of others and strict enough in what we demand of ourselves.” May we always demand the best of ourselves… and be slow to judge others.

I write these words from Bethlehem. I am aware of the privilege I am experiencing in being in this land, where God himself chose to take flesh, or as the author of the Letter to the Hebrews says in this weekend’s second reading, “for a little while was made lower than the Angels…”. Today we went to the Church of the Nativity and saw where tradition says it all started. God became one of us, a little baby born in extremely humble circumstances. Perhaps even more powerful, though, is a bit further in the reading; Hebrews says that God is bringing many sons and daughters to glory, and that Jesus is not ashamed to call us brothers and sisters! If we, as human beings and as Christians, could ever realize the impact of that, we would have a very different world.

So far on the pilgrimage we have encountered many examples where people are not being treated as sons and daughters of God. Today we learned about the refugee situation of Palestinians, and then visited a refugee camp in Bethlehem. A couple of days ago we were welcomed by Bedouins to the remnants of their village that has been destroyed—bulldozed—133 times so far. (Israel has decided to replace their farms and village with a forest.) In Jerusalem we visited holy sites like Gethsemane and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, and also learned about systemic descrimination, about legalized racism, home demolitions, and military occupation.

We have also met some people who are modeling what it means to be children of God, and sisters and brothers of one another. Moira and Varda both lost family members in the conflicts, yet they speak to groups to show how important it is to hear one another’s stories, and to realize that they all suffer the same pain and bleed the same colour of blood. Amos works with the Bedouins in the Negev, trying to bring dignity and justice. Sami, of Holy Land Trust in Bethlehem, works for reconciliation and healing at a deep level and has helped both Palestinian and Israeli extremists to heal and to form bonds of friendship with each other.

I am convinced that if we could ever come to truly feel our relatedness, our connectedness, our kinship as chlidren of God, that situations like what Jesus describes in our Gospel passage would be healed. We would instinctively treat each other with deep respect; no spouse would be thrown out (which is what divorce was in Jesus’ day); no child would be ignored or shunned. We would know how much all lives matter and we would work for each others’ dignity and progress.

Know that each of you are in my prayer in this special land.

 

As a good Catholic growing up in the 1950s and 60s I learned that Catholicism was the only way I was going to get to heaven. We had the truth and nobody else did. While I continue to believe that we as Catholics have, as the Second Vatican Council put it, the fullness of truth, the Council also said that other religions and Christian denominations share in that truth, each in their own way. I always think of that when I return to the Holy Land, that magical place where God chose to become a human being, a living, breathing part of human history. Christians of every denomination, as well as Muslims and Jews are drawn to this special place. We hear lots of talk about endless conflict, years of struggle, etc. In truth, politics and religion become intermingled and one is often used to justify the other. Of course, each party sees itself at the one whose politics and religion are correct.

In this weekend’s gospel passage we hear about someone casting out demons in Jesus’ name, even though he was not one of the disciples. John wants to stop him. Jesus responds: “Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. Whoever is not against us is for us.” On this trip I am helping to lead a peace and justice pilgrimage, rather than working on team with Christian Peacemaker Teams, as I have done before. As you read this, our group will be in Jerusalem. On the trip we spend time in the holy sites, where Jesus was born and raised, taught, healed, died, and rose. Perhaps even more importantly, we meet with organizations and individuals—Israeli, Palestinian, and international, made up of Christians, Muslims, and Jews—working for peace and for a just resolution to the situation there. Who has the right answer? I think any and all of these people, if working for justice and following Jesus’ example of nonviolence, are “in the right” and further the coming of God’s kingdom.

Closer to home we can apply the same principles, whether for the people running for elected office, or the many, many more who serve others. Do we Catholics do it best? Can a Muslim govern effectively? How about an atheist? Let us pray that all our brothers and sisters, no matter what their allegiance, may work in society according to Jesus’ principles.

When I exited the church through the front doors this past Sunday at the 11:00 Mass I was surprised to see a man standing at the foot of the stairs holding a sign with quotes from Pope Francis about the pain that victims of clergy sexual abuse experience. I didn’t know how to respond, or indeed whether or not to respond. However, his sign also had written on it an invitation to ask him how you could share his pain, so I accepted the invitation. His pain was palpable; he was abused by a priest over a number of years, a priest from his high school who had become a good friend of his family. He was later interviewed for TV news, and said, “If I could share the pain with all the people in the Catholic Church there would be no abuse of children ever again.”

As human beings, our instinct is to run from pain. Who wants to hurt? It’s so much nicer to have comfort and pleasure. St. Thomas talks about beauty as being an experience of God. Pope Francis says that we need to evangelize by making our faith attractive. Yet sometimes we are handed the opposite. Can we find God there, too? Fr. Jon Sobrino, a theologian in El Salvador, says that Jesus on the cross is a revelation of God sub specie contrarii, as something contrary to what we would expect.

In this weekend’s gospel passage Jesus tells the disciples that he will be betrayed and killed. So of course his disciples talk to him and ask how they can support him in his pain, right? Wrong! They argue among themselves over who is the greatest! That’s what we tend to do as human beings. And that’s what we can learn from Jesus: to face our pain and to grow from it. Yet, there is no resurrection without death preceding it. There is no being first without being the last and servant of all.

Sometimes serving others means acknowledging their pain and sharing in it. It is a decision each one of us is invited to make. We’ve been talking a lot lately about intentional discipleship. The word “intentional” is important: we are called to be intentional about who we are and what we do, about being disciples of Jesus. Who in your life might need your service?

When I did graduate studies in Rome, my favourite professor was a teacher of Christology, the study of Jesus Christ. He published the notes from one of his courses in a book entitled, Who Do You Say That I Am? I eventually used it as a textbook when I taught seminarians. It’s a powerful question. My own understanding of who Jesus is has changed greatly over the years. This weekend’s gospel passage asks each of us that very question: Who do you say that Jesus is? Can you answer that? Can you tell others who you think Jesus is, and what he means to you? Can you talk about your faith?

Recently we’ve been mentioning intentional discipleship with regularity. You may have noticed the term in the Pastoral Plan posted on bulletin boards or in a homily. The aim of intentional discipleship is to give each of us tools, to help us be able to actually talk about our faith. Have you ever thought of what kind of relationship you have with God?—that is, if you even think you have one. Some of you may be quite surprised that a large number of Catholics have no concept of what their relationship is with God. Instead, they follow the rules and come to church because they’re supposed to. I would venture to say that most of us, myself included, are not comfortable talking about our faith with others unless, perhaps, they’re people we know very well. (I’m fine with preaching about my faith to a church full of people I know, but I find that it’s very different when I’m in other contexts.)

Over these next few months I encourage you to take advantage of the opportunities we will be offering to learn more about our faith, and to become more articulate—in other words, to become intentional disciples. Just imagine: Wouldn’t it be something if we here at Assumption were known across the region as being people of faith, of having vibrant liturgies, and known for our hospitality? Wouldn’t it be an amazing thing to learn from one another, and to bring more and more newcomers into our parish? Wouldn’t it be something if we had to come early to Mass on the weekend to ensure we got a seat—instead of walking into a space that’s not even half full?