We’re about to celebrate Canada Day! I’ve lived in Canada now at three different points in my life: as a seminarian in the 1980s, teaching at the Faculty of Theology of the University of St. Michael’s College in the late 2000s, and now this period, first as a teacher at St. Joseph’s College in Edmonton, and now in the privileged assignment here at Assumption. Recently my application for permanent residency was called up, and last month I submitted the required paperwork. Now I wait. I should receive an appointment for an interview within the next few months. If all goes well, before too long the process will come to an end and I will receive my card indicating that I am a permanent resident of Canada. Once I am officially a resident, I am entitled to apply for citizenship once I have been on Canadian soil for three years within a five-year period. Except for aboriginals (and we of Assumption remain ever grateful to the Huron Wyandot people for their gift of land to the parish.), every person here is either an immigrant or the descendant of immigrants. People have come here from all over the world—most seeking a better life. When the parish of Our Lady of the Assumption was 100 years old, the Confederation of Canada officially came into being. Although this country is far from perfect—like any other human institution—people have looked to Canada for a place of welcome. I am thankful that the tradition continues, and that many people continue to find this to be a land of welcome and of opportunity.

And after the Great Seasons of Lent and Easter, we have returned to Ordinary Time, which will now continue through the rest of the Church year, until we reach Advent. Our gospel readings are taken from what biblical scholars call the “second discourse” in Matthew’s account. They are sayings that tend to be addressed to the disciples sent out in mission—and to the Church in its evangelizing role. Some of the sayings are comforting, others challenging. All of them lead to life. And all of them are reminders that God invites us to find him in every circumstance of our lives.

Beginning next week and continuing through the summer, we will be publishing a bulletin only every other week. During this time, pray for Canada, and work for the reign of God.

So much of our faith has to do with the spiritual realm. We are often concerned with saving souls; the body is going to die anyway. The Incarnation, though, gives value to the physical. God freely chooses to take flesh and is born as a human being. And that physicality did not end with the Ascension; in a sense, Jesus is even more present with us in the Eucharist, because he is no longer confined to one person. I would even say that the Eucharist is the logical “next step” of the Trinity. God, who is perfect love, who is relationship itself, now wants to totally unite with us, to nourish us, to accompany us in our lives, and to fill us with life. The Spirit wants to bring us into that dance that is Father, Son, and Spirit. There is no other faith that can say the same about their God; that is one reason I consider it a privilege to be a Christian. And to me, that relationship is what we celebrate this weekend, the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ.

This weekend’s first reading, from Exodus, talks about God guiding us into freedom. Paul says that we participate in Christ’s body and blood. And Jesus tells the crowds that we must feed on him. Later in that gospel story, John tells us that many followers left him because of those words. They just couldn’t accept the concept that the Son of the great and mighty God, Creator of the universe, wanted us to eat of him. We, though, have taken it to heart. And Jesus wants to be with us in so many ways. When we receive Communion, the Eucharist nourishes us. In adoration, the Blessed Sacrament helps us to focus on God’s dwelling with us. Both types of Christ’s presence are physical and nourishing to us.

I like to think that the idea of God dwelling with us inspired the choice of the name “Blessed Sacrament” when Assumption Parish established a mission in the West End in the 1930s. This day, then, we celebrate the former Blessed Sacrament parish, and we ask the risen Christ in sacramental form to continue nourishing and accompanying the people of the West End of Windsor and indeed, the entire world.

Congratulations to our 19 youth who received the sacrament of Confirmation this past Monday! We had such a great celebration, with Bishop Joseph Dabrowski presiding. I thank all the students who came so faithfully throughout the year, as well as their sponsors, their parents, and in a very special way, their catechists, Mike DeNunzio and Denis Roy. I know that the year required perseverance and commitment. I pray that the Holy Spirit guide and strengthen each one of you as you continue your journey through life.

Last weekend’s celebration of Pentecost, followed by the Confirmations, highlighted the Christian concept that our God is far more complex than just a “simple being.” In fact, I think that the feast of the Holy Trinity, more than anything else, is the feast for Christians. Of course, Christmas and Easter are the ones we really celebrate, as we should. Lately, though, I’ve become more and more aware of the implications of Trinity. When I was a little boy, I learned about three Persons in one God, and accepted that as fact. I learned about how St. Patrick used the shamrock to teach the concept of Trinity to the Irish, and that made sense. Maybe the first prayer my mother taught me was the Sign of the Cross. In a sense, Trinity was just something I accepted, knowing that how there can be three Persons yet one God is “mystery” and I will never fully comprehend it.

In these past few years, however, thanks to some writers like Fr. Richard Rohr, I have become fascinated by the concept of Trinity. I know that I will never grasp the whole concept, yet I think it was indeed the Holy Spirit who guided the early Church to come to this terminology to describe our one God. For, the Trinity is relationship. It means that our God is not just some static entity, but rather a dynamic interaction, based in love, of Three who are, in a sense, so “synchronized” with each other that they are One. It is how John could write that God is love, and that if we love we abide in God and God in us. What a beautiful gift God gives us! Our relationships with one another can somehow lead us into relationship with God. And in those interactions, somehow we can be God’s presence to others, and they God’s presence to us. How different our world would be if we could come to live the implications of this! Think of the respect, the love, and the care that we would show one another. I pray that our very God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—grace each of you with a renewed sense of awe at the wonders of the God who loves us.

 

On my first trip to the Holy Land with Christian Peacemaker Teams I was privileged to help plant some small olive saplings, on the farm of a Christian family just outside Bethlehem. It was a powerful moment for me. Palestinians say that olive trees are a sign of hope, and a promise to continue. Olive trees live for a long time; in the Garden of Gethsemane, there are a six trees called “witness trees,” that are over 2000 years old—some of them more like 2500. That means that those trees were in the Garden when Jesus prayed after the Last Supper. Some were already at least a few hundred years old. Palestinians today give names to olive trees once they reach 100 years old. They are not only signs of hope, but also signs of accompaniment. Last Monday Kevin Mannara planted a dogwood tree near Rosary Chapel. For me, it, too, is a sign of hope and of accompaniment. He planted it with the firm hope that it will live and grow, and that we will profit from its shade and admire its beauty. Its fragrant white blossoms each May will remind us of Our Lady, in her special month. As it matures over the years it will accompany us, and then those that come after us. It is a sign that in this passing, tumultuous world there is stability and hope and life.

I reflect on these things as we the Church celebrate Pentecost. Besides being considered the “birthday of the Church,” for me it is a sign of hope and of accompaniment. Think about it: according to Luke, the apostles were gathered in fear. Then the Holy Spirit came upon them and energized them. The Spirit gave them hope and strength and courage to go out and proclaim the Good News of Jesus. And we believe that the Holy Spirit continues to accompany us and to nourish us with grace and joy.

As the years pass, I hope that our new tree will grace the grounds with beauty and strength; and I hope that as it grows, it will be a reflection of Kevin’s growth in ministry in Rochester and wherever the Spirit may send him in the future. As the tree accompanies us, may we be reminded of all that he has brought to us, who are the parish of Our Lady of the Assumption. I pray that God’s Spirit that we celebrate today may fill Kevin and each of us with the hope and strength we need to live according to God’s plan for us, and to be assured that we are never alone. God is with us.

I grew up in a loving family. I know how privileged that makes me, and I never cease to be grateful for the parents I had, and for my two sisters and their families. That might be one reason that I’ve started to become much more hopeful about the Diocese of London’s decision to structure the entire diocese into 30 families of parishes. This past Tuesday, people from every deanery in the diocese met, watched a video from Bishop Fabbro, and received our packet of information. The bishop and the diocesan task force accepted almost all the recommendations that we submitted several months back. Assumption parish will be in a family with St. Alphonsus and St. Angela Merici.

So what does this mean for us? At the moment, it only means that we get used to the idea. This fall, the diocese will choose a few “pioneer families”, who will begin integrating in January of 2018. The rest of the families will be implemented gradually, learning from the experience of the pioneers, until all of us are in families by 2026. Next year we may decide to do a project with the other members of our “family,” such as outreach or some type of service. Once fully implemented, there will be one pastor and three associates in our family, one of whom will need to speak Italian.

Last week, I mentioned that we are Preparing for the Spirit. This weekend the Church celebrates the Solemnity of the Ascension of Our Lord, which can seem to be a confusing feast. We celebrate with joy the fact that Jesus leaves us. That can seem rather strange. Jesus is clear, though, in many places, that in order for the Spirit to come, he must leave. Jesus returns to the glory he had from the beginning, and then God comes to be with us in a new way, to live in each of us as the Holy Spirit. So we rejoice that Jesus “prepares the space,” as it were, for the Spirit to come. I pray in the words of our second reading, from the Letter to the Ephesians, that “the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power.”

 

The apostles must have been quite confused at times when they were with Jesus. Today’s gospel passage comes from the Last Supper discourse, according to John. Jesus—who is with them, speaking with them—says that he will not leave them orphaned, that he will come to them. If he is already with them, how will he come to them? I think the answer may lie in what we’ll be looking at for the next couple of weeks in a series we’re calling Preparing for the Spirit. As long as he walks the earth, as Jesus of Nazareth, God is here in a single person. But once he goes away and comes as the Holy Spirit, God enters into our being: “On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me and I in you.” That’s his message: God loves us so much that he is no longer content to be part of our history in Jesus of Nazareth, but instead wants to come and dwell in each one of us! Our God, who is so completely other, chooses to dwell inside of you and me as the Holy Spirit. As we near the end of the Easter Season, we will consider this Spirit that God is sending to us—and with the Spirit dwelling in us, who knows what God may choose to do with us.

I like to think it was the Spirit who moved the General Council of the Basilian Fathers to appoint Kevin Mannara here almost two years ago. Kevin came to us with a great deal of expertise, having recently completed his Doctorate in Ministry, and has been a great motivating force behind many of the activities we have done as parish. And now the Spirit has moved the General Council to ask him to exercise his talents elsewhere. As of June 1, Deacon Kevin will be appointed to Rochester, New York, his home city, to assume charge of chaplaincy at St. John Fisher College. We have been blessed to have him with us, and I know that his spirit will live on in many of our practices here in the parish. Next weekend we will have a small goodbye for him after each Mass, with cake and coffee and a time to wish him well. I pray that the Holy Spirit, who brought Kevin here, will guide and strengthen him as he continues serving God’s people in a new way. Thank you, Kevin, for your ministry and your presence; may the Spirit, for whom we are preparing, fill you with wisdom and strength as you begin your new assignment.

In these weeks of the Easter season, we have been looking at Jesus Face to Face, in order to get to know him a bit better. Three weeks ago we looked at Jesus’ face and saw mercy. Instead of getting back at his followers for abandoning him in his hour of distress, he recreates them and shows them infinite mercy. Then, with the Emmaus story, we looked into Jesus’ face and saw our playful Saviour, one who is sometimes hidden, yet is always with us. He is with us in moments of loneliness and of fullness. He nourishes us, calling us together as community and feeding us with his very Body and Blood. Last weekend, Deacon Kevin powerfully brought us face to face with Jesus as both Gate and Shepherd. Jesus gets dirty with us, risks his life for us, and protects us, even when we are smelly and lost.

This weekend we come to the clincher: If we come face to face with Jesus, we are coming face to face with God Almighty. That may sound rather normal for us, with almost 2000 years of collective memory that God is Trinity, and that Jesus is God. In Jesus’ day, however, even the thought that a human being—even one as special as Jesus—could actually be God, the Lord of hosts, the all-powerful One, who lives in highest heaven, would have been a huge scandal. God is God, and we are humans. God is not us, and we are not God. But in the man Jesus, the One who was a threat to the religious status quo and to the Roman Empire, we see the Father. We see God. God, the “Rock of Ages” sung about in the old Protestant hymn. The One mentioned as “rock” in 50 verses of the Old Testament is also Jesus, who Peter calls “a living stone” in our Second Reading.

There is a story of a famous rabbi who was dressed rather shabbily, and was on a train going to give a talk in a town in Poland. One man (also on his way to the talk), thinking the rabbi to be a bum, treated him rather rudely. On arriving and meeting the rabbi, he begged forgiveness for the way he treated him on the train. The rabbi responded that he had no power to forgive the gentleman: the forgiveness had to come from a shabbily dressed street person. It seems that our God has chosen to do the same. He comes to us where we least expect him. My hope and prayer is that I may recognize that in all my relations, especially with those on the periphery of society, I come face to face with God.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a funeral on television that didn’t include a recitation of Psalm 23 at one point or another. Most of us can quote at least part of it: “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want…” I don’t know if there is an image more familiar to us than God as shepherd. It sounds so nice, so comforting. Yet, if truth be told, I don’t know if there is anything quite so revolutionary as that image. Instead of the majestic, all-powerful, almighty God, we are given the image of shepherd. Shepherds get dirty with their sheep. They smell. Because sheep need to be pastured daily, shepherds work all the time—even on the Sabbath!! The Jewish people somehow lived with this contradiction, that God is both majestic and humble, both enthroned in glory up in the heavens, and yet dirty and smelly here with us. But when Jesus came along saying that he was the shepherd, well that was going too far. How dare he put himself on par with God! And to top it off, in today’s gospel passage, Jesus says that he is both shepherd and gate. What might that mean? And how do these images help us to get to know Jesus better face to face, as we’ve been saying.

I think that as gate, Jesus is protector. He watches out for our security and safety, protecting us from those who might take advantage of us. And as shepherd, Jesus seeks us out, he knows us, he takes on our scent. Pope Francis, in his first message to priests after becoming pope, urged us to take on the smell of our people. I think we are all called to do that: to get to know one another so well, to know each others’ needs, and to be close enough to one another as to take on their scent. Wouldn’t that be something, if we were to try to live that way today? If, as Christians, we would be known as people who care for one another, who look out for each other? Perhaps, if we started to live like that, we would receive what Jesus came to bring us according to our passage from John’s gospel. As he himself states, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” I pray that we each get to know Jesus face to face, as the one who wants us to have abundant life, and to help others to live that way as well.

A week ago Friday, a few of us from Assumption were privileged to witness Kevin Mannara professing his perpetual vows in the Congregation of Saint Basil. I remembered clearly when I said those very same words, some 32 years ago: “I vow forever chastity, poverty and obedience in the Congregation of Priests of Saint Basil….” The word “forever” seems so powerful, so final. (Maybe that’s why we call them “final vows.”) In the intervening years, I have lived through times where I felt fulfilled, connected with God and others, and other times in which I felt very empty and lonely, isolated from God and others. Often, during those times of loneliness, life seemed purposeless.

I think the disciples in this weekend’s gospel passage may have been experiencing some of the same feelings. They had been followers of Jesus, convinced that he was the one sent by God as Messiah, as the one to redeem Israel. Instead, though, the Romans—working with the religious leaders—had put him to death as a subversive. Their hopes had been dashed. They had to look elsewhere for the Messiah. But now this stranger comes up and walks beside them, and starts telling them about how God works by bringing life out of death, of how God never abandons them. And then, at table—at the breaking of the bread (Luke’s wording for the Eucharist)—they recognize that it had been Jesus with them all along.

That, for me, is a true portrait of Jesus: He is the one who accompanies us in every situation, who can even be playful and hide himself at times. He is the one who brings life out of every situation possible, and teaches us that God can transform whatever we are suffering into a source of life. He is there with us, even when the situation seems hopeless, when all has been lost. That is the Jesus the gospels portray.

I invite you to continue coming face to face with Jesus over these next couple of weeks, as we try to look a bit more closely at the person the gospels teach us about. One good way of doing so would be to sit down with one of the gospel accounts—either Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John—and read it through, from beginning to end. Each evangelist paints a slightly different picture of our Messiah, the One who rose from the dead. Each one helps us to get to know Jesus face-to-face, in a slightly different way. Won’t you join me during this Easter season in getting to know him a bit better?

I’ve been active in Facebook for several years now. I’ve reconnected with old friends, and made new ones. Some of my Facebook “friends” are people I’ve never met “face to face,” and yet I feel like I know them well. I’ve made friends in the peace activist community, others in twelve-step recovery, and other areas of common interest. Yet, if truth be told, I only know one aspect of them. I know what they post online; I know their political views. Not all that long ago I was visiting in person with friends I met online, and I realized how little we have in common outside of our one field of interest. I thought I knew this couple well, and found that in reality, I don’t. When I relate to someone face to face, it’s different than just through a computer or an app on my phone.

I think that’s one of the drawbacks to my relationship with Jesus. Often times I think we know him, based on something I’ve been taught, or heard, or read. For the next few weeks, we’re going to look at Jesus in the gospels in a series called “Face to Face,” and, hopefully, get to know him at least a little bit better than we do now.

As I was growing up I was taught how I had to be good, in order to make Jesus happy and not be punished by him. Jesus remembered all of my sins. Even with forgiveness, I was not totally clean. (Those my age and older will remember the milk bottle, dark with sin, and then kind of grey once absolved—never completely white again.) Yet today’s gospel passage teaches us something different. Think about it for a moment: Jesus’ friends left him when he was on trial and then crucified. Thomas would not believe that he had risen from the dead. So, Jesus pointed that out to them when he saw them again, right? Not hardly. His first words are “Peace be with you.” Then he breathes on them, and says, “Receive the Holy Spirit….” His disciples would have thought back to the creation story in Genesis, when God breathed on the man he had formed, and brought him to life. Now Jesus, instead of recriminating them for their faults, recreates them and sends them out to be his witnesses. No wonder we can celebrate this Sunday as Divine Mercy Sunday. When we meet Jesus Face to Face, it is his mercy that we encounter.