Christmas is just over a week away … what should we do?

On this third Sunday of Advent, perhaps we might pay closer attention to today’s gospel message about preparation. So many busy people today – those who go to church regularly; those who go to church once or twice a year; those who aren’t baptized and haven’t heard the Gospel yet. To whom is John the Baptizer speaking?

He is speaking to three groups of people. The third group was made up of Roman soldiers. Obviously, that is, non-Jews. They were pagans, and John’s teaching moved them to listen. Does the practice of our faith move people to ask questions about our Christianity? John basically said to the soldiers, don’t practice extortion and don’t falsely accuse anyone.” In other words, don’t misuse your power and authority. Isn’t that what has happened in our world today as some actors, politicians, priests, police officers, teachers, relatives, et cetera are called to account for their actions through the #metoo movement? What was John’s point? He wasn’t telling the pagans to do something unreasonable or extraordinary, like fasting or praying through the night. He just said: do your job with integrity; be honest. This was a big step for men and women not used to doing their jobs this way. It meant taking a big step forward. It meant approaching life in a spiritual way.

The second group was made up of tax collectors. They were a step up from the pagan soldiers – at least they were supposed to be. They were Jews, but in name alone. For all practical purposes they were living like pagans. They were living by the world’s standards, not God’s. They were living entitled lives. John wasn’t telling them to do anything extraordinary. He wasn’t telling them to change employment and get less materialistic jobs. He wasn’t telling them to leave their families, go into the desert and do penance. He just said, live your lives in a way that is in harmony with who they proclaimed to be: God’s chosen people. For people who were Jews (Catholics) in name alone, this was a tall order… it meant taking the next step forward; practice your Judaism (Catholicism) in fact, not just in name.

And the first group was composed of practicing Jews (Catholics) who were living faithful lives, but who could be doing more. John said, “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.” In other words, John was simply saying what the prophets had been saying for years. Treat one another as brothers and sisters. Treat each other the way you want people to treat you, if your situation was reversed. For people not used to this – again, this was a tall order. It meant taking the next step in the journey of becoming who God called you to be.

How does this apply to us? What would John say to us, if we asked him how to prepare for the coming of Jesus during Advent?” John would probably reply, “well that depends on which group you are in. Just take the next step forward.

—Fr. Mark Gazin, CSB

What happens when you wait … and wait … and wait … and … wait? Kind of like that feeling when you’re at the bus stop and it seems like the bus will never arrive … and it’s rainy and windy and cold. The Jews of the ancient world waited and waited for the Messiah. They suffered from the political oppression of the Babylonians who had destroyed Jerusalem and burned everything to the ground. The first reading for Mass today is from the Prophet Baruch who wrote it during Babylonian exile, 581 years before Christ. Then about 175 years before the coming of Christ, the Hellenistic (Greek) empire of Antiochus Epiphanes IV persecuted anyone who would not worship their gods. Then there was the rise of the powerful ancient Roman Empire along with corrupt King Herod in Judea. At the time of Jesus’ arrest and crucifixion Pontius Pilate was the governor and there was ongoing Jewish religious persecutions that culminated with the second destruction of the Temple in AD 70.

They suffered from the pain of waiting: waiting for the coming of the Messiah, waiting for the coming of the Promised One, waiting for the King of whom the prophets said: “Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will raise up a righteous shoot to David… This is the name they give him: ‘The Lord our justice.’” (Jer. 23:5-6)

When the Messiah didn’t come quickly, the ancient Jews responded just like modern people today. Some lost hope. Others lost faith. But others continued to wait and pray. This was the probable feeling in ancient Jerusalem prior to the coming of Jesus.

We are some two millennia on the other side of the coming of the Messiah. For what are we waiting? Or are we waiting? Have we forgotten how to wait and anticipate?

The first half of Advent is about anticipating the Second Coming of Jesus. I suspect that the Second Coming will arrive like the First one, when John came out of the desert in the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea and Herod was ruler of Galilee, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas. The Second Coming will draw our attention like a BC lotus-land hippie crying out in the wilderness of Bay Street in Toronto.

And what will this modern day prophet proclaim? Probably something like: ‘prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths’ (Matthew 3:3). Repent and get ready for the coming of the Lord. Straighten up your lives! ‘The crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth; and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’ (Luke 3:6)

—Fr. Mark Gazin, CSB

Happy New Year! Today, we as a church begin a new Liturgical Year, as we enter into the Season of Advent. This season is one of joyful expectation-something that our readings today don’t really seem to reflect! How can talk of war, and fears and strange signs bring hope?

Advent is about more than just preparing for the celebration of Christmas. Advent is also about preparing for the second coming of Christ in glory at the end of time. These readings challenge us to be sure that our hearts are prepared to meet Christ when he comes in glory, and that we are not over-burdened by the cares and desires of this world. When our hearts are at peace, the signs of Christ’s coming will not trouble us, but will instead cause us to be at peace, for we know our redemption is at hand.

This reminder comes to us at a time when many of us are over-burdened by the stresses of the holiday season. We are constantly bombarded by a society that tells us that our “happiness” lies in buying the newest, latest, and greatest whatever-and woe to those who do not get the “perfect” gift for that special someone! There are the pressures of family gatherings, dinners, parties… we often feel compelled to say “yes” to everything, even when it wears us out, and we feel like we just need a break. No wonder so many people complain about how stressful the Holidays are!

You may have heard it announced at Mass last weekend that we are going to be preaching a “Homily Series” during Advent, titled “Your Best Yes.” This series will help us look at how to handle these stresses of the Holiday season with the lasting peace and joy of Christ. Much of this series will focus on discernment- learning when and how to say yes, but more importantly, how to say no to certain requests, so that you can give your best yes to the requests that will be more meaningful, and will bring lasting joy to yourself, and to others-something that can make an impact on your life year round: not just during the holidays!

This new year comes with some changes for me as well. It is my joy to announce to you that the General Council of the Basilian Fathers has formally called me to Ordination as a Priest. The Ordination will take place on Saturday, February 9, 2019 at my home Parish in Albuquerque, New Mexico. We are hoping to be able to live-stream this Mass online. We will also have a special parish celebration of my Ordination on Sunday, February 17, 2019 at the 11:00 am Mass. We will have lots more details about these events as they get closer. In the meantime, please keep me in your prayers!

—Deacon Steven Huber CSB

At 66 years and 9 months, Queen Elizabeth II is the longest reigning monarch of the United Kingdom. She surpassed Queen Victoria’s long 19th century reign three years ago. Queen  Elizabeth is also Canada’s Head of State. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is Canada’s Head of Government. The President of the United States is both the Head of State and the Head of  Government. In comparison to the reign of Christ the King, Queen Elizabeth’s reign is but a blip … and she would very likely bow her head in deference to Christ, the King.

Today’s last day of the liturgical calendar (the 34th Sunday of Ordinary Time) is called the Feast of Christ the King. But what are we Catholics really celebrating? … a Head of State? … a Head of Government? Neither! We are celebrating the dominion of Christ’s truth and goodness over the rule of the ancient Evil One. And this dominion is eternal! This dominion – as is recounted in the First Reading – is an everlasting dominion. Christ is the Alpha and the Omega (the Beginning and the End). This dominion is what Christians call the Kingdom of God. This building up of the Kingdom of God is the purpose of the Church. The Church participates with Christ – her head – in building a kingdom of justice and mercy and forgiveness; a kingdom of love and self-control and joy and peace.

This last Sunday of the liturgical year is a reminder to us that we have returned to the same date as last year … but not the same time, nor as the same people. Unlike the infinite  circularity of life and rebirth in Buddhism, Taoism and natural religions, we Christians believe more in a helical direction … we are different from this time last year and our direction has purpose. It is directed toward God, who is in love with us.

His kingdom – as Jesus states to Pontius Pilate – is not of this world and is a kingdom of truth. We Christians must live in the world, but not live for the world. As intentional disciples … as baptized members of Christ’s Church … we belong to something bigger than ourselves. We are participating in a most magnificent project of salvation. Our part of this project is  happening here in West Windsor. As Assumption Parishioners let us tell others about this Good News because … Assumption Cares!

—Fr. Mark Gazin, CSB

 

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.