December is the month when most charitable giving takes place. It is the month when the impulse to give gifts to family members and loved ones is strongest, and the month when these generous impulses spill over to all kinds of worthy causes. But December is also the last month of the calendar year, and if you want to make a donation for tax purposes, this month is the latest you can donate and have it count against this year’s taxes.

December is also the month when most parish offices, ours included, are closed for the last week of the month. This can be very frustrating to anyone who wants to make a last minute donation and have it count for the current year. It happens that we have a parish website that allows donations to be made (with an immediate tax receipt) for the current year, even if you wait until December 31st.

Our website address is  assumption.dol.ca

There is a big “Donate Here” bookmark on the upper right of the screen for you to click on. You’ll need a credit card or paypal account to donate: we haven’t figured out yet how to have the website accept checks or cash. Don’t forget the dol.ca: it stands for “Diocese of London, Canada” and you won’t get to the website without it.

There are lots of other things on the website as well: mass schedules, parish bulletins, homilies, information on ministries, and a lot more. And if you have not already registered as a parishioner, you can do it through the website. It is easy to do and there is no downside to it: if this is your parish, you should register.

While you are considering your financial affairs and your relation to the parish, I would urge you to consider whether you have remembered the parish in your will. Your last will and testament should reflect your values, and for most people the top priority is (as it should be) bequests for your family and loved ones. But we hope that your parish’s importance to you in life will also be reflected there. It turns out that we are not allowed to give estate planning advice in a parish bulletin (who knew!), and so you will have to consult with your financial advisor as to the best way to do this.

—Fr. Jim Stenberg C.S.B.

 

This Sunday marks six years since the changes to the Roman Missal were put into effect. Most of the changes have been fully received, although here and there you will still hear “and also with you” in response to “the Lord be with you.” However there continues to be some confusion about how long to stand during the reception of Holy Communion. Most people stay standing until the ciborium containing the Blessed Sacrament is returned to the tabernacle, as if we were standing to show respect to Christ’s body present among us. Actually, however, the standing policy is intended to express the unity of the people of God as they are united with Jesus Christ in the act of receiving communion.

Sr. Loretta Manzara, C.S.J expressed this beautifully in the Winter 2011 edition of the Newspaper of the Diocese of London. She writes:

“The whole Communion Rite reflects the mission of the church: reconciliation of all in the heart of God. As we eat and drink of the Risen Lord’s Body and Blood we enact that vision of unity, the vision that proclaims hope in the eternal banquet. We participate in a two-fold treasure. We become what we eat. The Body and Blood of Christ fills us personally with the Real Presence. Walking toward the altar table of sacrifice and banquet feast and joining our voices in song ritualizes our assent and belief that we as one Body become what we eat. We are joined together in the Risen Lord by the power of the Holy Spirit. The church invites us to express this unity with joy and gladness. Our standing posture until all have received symbolizes this unity and our participation in song peals out our faith in this mystery of Oneness in Christ.”

It is sometimes difficult to see when the last person has received communion, but I think it is sufficient to keep an eye on the front of the church. When the priest stops distributing communion there, then the time for standing has also concluded.

—Fr. Jim Stenberg C.S.B.

This Sunday’s Gospel tells us that we will be judged according to how we treat the less fortunate, especially the stranger among us. As our minds turn towards Christmas, then, it would be wise to devote some thought to those outside of the circle of our family and friends. I encourage you to take an envelope from the Giving Tree and return it with an offering in next week’s collection basket. The money will be used to make Christmas brighter for a needy family. I also encourage you to contribute to the Development and Peace appeal for the Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh. Bangladesh is a very poor country and is not well equipped to care for those fleeing persecution in Myanmar. The details on how to contribute are given elsewhere in the bulletin. May Jesus be able to say to each one of us that “I was a refugee and you helped me.”

–Father Jim

One of the things about Pope Francis that has most impressed me and many others is his simplicity of life. As archbishop of Buenos Aires, he lived in a simple apartment, rode public transit, and cooked his own meals. The night he was elected as pope, he rode to the reception in the bus with the cardinals. He refused to live in the traditional papal apartments, instead opting for a room in Casa Santa Marta, the Vatican guesthouse. There he takes his meals with others, going through the serving line with his tray like anyone else. He eschewed the traditional papal Mercedes, and selected a four-year-old Ford Focus for his trips in Rome. When he came to the United States, he rode in the back of a Fiat 500L. On numerous occasions now, he has invited street people to dine with him. Thus, it was no big surprise that Pope Francis has declared an annual “World Day of the Poor,” to be celebrated this weekend.

In his Message for this day, Pope Francis writes, “We are called… to draw near to the poor, to encounter them, to meet their gaze, to embrace them and to let them feel the warmth of love that breaks through their solitude. Their outstretched hand is also an invitation to step out of our certainties and comforts, and to acknowledge the value of poverty in itself.” Later, he continues, “Tragically, in our own time, even as ostentatious wealth accumulates in the hands of the privileged few, often in connection with illegal activities and the appalling exploitation of human dignity, there is a scandalous growth of poverty in broad sectors of society throughout our world. Faced with this scenario, we cannot remain passive, much less resigned. There is a poverty that stifles the spirit of initiative of so many young people by keeping them from finding work. There is a poverty that dulls the sense of personal responsibility and leaves others to do the work while we go looking for favours. There is a poverty that poisons the wells of participation and allows little room for professionalism; in this way it demeans the merit of those who do work and are productive. To all these forms of poverty we must respond with a new vision of life and society.”

Jesus, too, often directs his ministry to the poor, and criticizes the rich. He himself ended up on the underside of society, rejected by both religious and civic leaders. Next week we will hear how he himself is to be found in the poor: the hungry, thirsty, ill, and imprisoned. May we continue to find Christ there.

Once when I was driving to visit an uncle of mine in Belgium, I stopped at a WWI cemetery. It was a small graveyard, in the southern part of Flanders; even though it seemed a bit neglected, the poppies were in bloom, and the famous poem was inscribed at the entrance gate:

In Flanders fields the poppies blow,

Between the crosses, row on row….

Canadian John McCrae, from Guelph, wrote the poem in the fields at Ypres the day after his best friend died. It was early in the war, and the romanticism that many—soldiers and civilians alike—felt was still strong. We remember the dead, who sacrificed for us and who pass their mission on to us:

Take up our quarrel with the foe:

To you from failing hands we throw

The torch; be yours to hold it high…

For me, November is a month of remembrance. In the Church, we begin the month by commemorating all of those holy people who have gone before us, those who will probably never be officially canonized, yet who are with God as part of the communion of saints in heaven, the “cloud of witnesses,” as the Letter to the Hebrews says. And then as a nation, we commemorate those who have died in the service of country. Although November 11 was chosen because it was the day the Armistice was signed, ending World War I (the “Great War”—the “War to end all wars”), we remember all those who have died in service of country. I think that we also honour their memory when we work for peace, so that nobody else need fight in war.

There are some tasks, though, that cannot be passed to another. Scripture commentators mention that this weekend’s gospel passage is not one about generosity; rather, it points out that each of us have tasks that God requires of us; they cannot be loaned or given by another. This week begins a three-week series when our gospel points us toward the end times. And Jesus is quite clear: we each have a role to play, and we are either ready for him or not; there is no in-between. Unlike McCrae’s dead in the poem, when the end comes, Jesus will not ask us if we’ve given our tasks to others to complete. He will ask us what we ourselves have done. May we all be ready to receive him at any moment.

In my conversations with people who come to me for advice, I have often mentioned how important meditation practices have been to me, and recommended that people adopt some kind of meditation exercise. Then, last weekend in my homilies I mentioned how my own practice had helped me see our interrelatedness. Yet, as I was preparing for last weekend, I realized how lax I had become in this area. Thankfully, because of that I renewed my commitment to centring prayer—and I invite any of you to hold me accountable, by checking in with me to see how it’s going. I do not want to become like the scribes and the Pharisees whom Jesus criticizes in this weekend’s gospel passage, telling others to do whatever they teach but not what they do. That hits a little too close to home.

Jesus also tells people not to use titles: rabbi, father (ouch!), instructor. Yet, Paul uses titles often. How are we to understand this passage, then? I think that what Jesus is saying here is that we are never to use titles that separate us from one another. Just as last week’s passage emphasized our unity, one with another, here Jesus is teaching us about humility. We are equals. Anything I do that separates myself from you goes against loving you as myself. If I place myself above you, we are separated. Likewise, if I tell you to act in a certain way, yet don’t do that myself—do as I say, not as I do—then I am saying that I am so special I can get away with an easier standard. So, it’s not so much about what titles we choose to use with each other. Rather, I think Jesus’ words have much more to do with choosing to put myself on a different level than you are. The apostle Paul was humble enough to work hard so as not to be a burden on the Christian community in Thessaloniki. Any gift he had was used in service towards others. I pray that I may follow his example.
 

A few years back I read that Eastern Christianity—Uniate Catholics, like the Maronite and Ukrainian Rites, and the Orthodox—tends to have a very different view of salvation than we do in the West. Instead of thinking so much of a heaven, where each of us goes to live eternity, they tend to speak more of a divinization, wherein we become a part of God. At first I was quite resistant to that idea; the more time passes, the more I am intrigued by and attracted to it. I think it fits with Paul’s statement that in the end, God will be “all in all,” and with Jesus’ words in John’s Gospel about the Father and he being One, and how we will be in God and God in us.

This line of thought applies to this weekend’s gospel passage as well, when Jesus talks about loving your neighbour as yourself. Richard Rohr writes, “One of the most familiar of Jesus’ teachings is ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ But we almost always hear that wrong: ‘Love your neighbour as much as yourself.’ (And of course, the next logical question then becomes, ‘But I have to love me first, don’t I, before I can love my neighbour?’) If you listen closely to Jesus however, there is no ‘as much as’ in his admonition. It’s just ‘Love your neighbour as yourself’—as a continuation of your very own being. It’s a complete seeing that your neighbour is you. There are not two individuals out there, one seeking to better herself at the price of the other, or to extend charity to the other; there are simply two cells of the one great Life. Each of them is equally precious and necessary. And as these two cells flow into one another, experiencing that one Life from the inside, they discover that ‘laying down one’s life for another’ is not a loss of one’s self but a vast expansion of it—because the indivisible reality of love is the only True Self.”

I find this thought revolutionary. If I am one with you, I will look at you in such a different way. No longer can I ever look at “my interest” as opposed to “your interest,” “my needs” against “your needs”—or even “my parish” against “your parish”! Instead, we are united as one, with the One God within us, blurring any distinction between me and you, between mine and yours. How different this world would be if we could see the “other” as an extension of “myself.” What might happen if I take that as my prayer intention this week?

Servant of God Dorothy Day, founder of the Catholic Worker movement, has been called “the most significant, interesting, and influential person in the history of American Catholicism.” Just over two years ago, Pope Francis surprised many people—and the US Congress, whom he was addressing—when he held her up as one of four Americans who inspire us and who helped build a better future. He said, “Her social activism, her passion for justice and for the cause of the oppressed, were inspired by the Gospel, her faith, and the example of the saints.” Day is an unusual candidate for sainthood, who challenges many of our ideas of saints and saintly women. Before her conversion she lived what she called a “disorderly life,” during which she had an abortion and later gave birth to a child out of wedlock. After her conversion, she was both an obedient servant and a rigorous challenger of the Church—and she never missed daily Mass. She was a prolific writer, whose books are still widely read. She was also full of humour, and could light up any room she entered. Dorothy is also important to us here at Assumption, as we study and discern where our permanent home will be. It is said that once someone who was upset that money was being used to build a beautiful church instead of on the poor approached Dorothy. Her response was that the poor need bread, but they also need and deserve beauty as well—and that if a church is dedicated to God, then it is a clear sign of God’s presence among the poor.

Next Monday, October 30, we are privileged to have Kate Hennessy, the youngest of Dorothy Day’s nine grandchildren, to speak at 7:00 PM in Rosary Chapel. Kate will speak about her book Dorothy Day: The World Will Be Saved by Beauty. The book is a family memoir, social history, and intimate biography of Dorothy Day. Afterwards, Kate will be downstairs for hospitality and fellowship.

I mention this because Dorothy is, for me, a prime example of “giving to God what is God’s.” Dorothy gave her entire being to the service of Christ as present in the poor. Each one of us, too, is called to “give to God what is God’s.” This might be a good opportunity for each one of us to consider how well we “give to God what is God’s,” whether that be in service to God’s people or in generosity towards our parish.

I remember festive dinners at my grandparents’ house when I was growing up. Every Christmas, Easter, and Thanksgiving, there would be food galore. All the meat was on the stovetop: a turkey or two, plus ham, plus chicken, and two kinds of dressing. The kitchen table had all kinds of vegetables, and the chest freezer was covered with desserts. And my grandma always had a big basket filled with sfinciuni, a Sicilian type of focaccia. We were always around 50 people. There was a pile of plates on the table, many with little chips or cracks, and once you filled your plate you would go find a place to sit—in the dining room, or the living room, or on the front porch. It was a wonderful celebration of family and food. I think of those kinds of dinners every time I hear that beautiful reading from Isaiah. It’s a powerful story. In the previous chapter he speaks of desolation; then God acts, and we have a huge banquet of rich foods and well-aged wines. It is life to the fullest.

Jesus seems to have been greatly influenced by Isaiah. When he begins his ministry, he reads from Isaiah as his “mission statement.” He often speaks of the Reign of God with banquet imagery. Today again we are presented with a parable about a banquet… and for the fourth Sunday in a row, the invited (expected) guests are not the ones who get in. Instead, Matthew tells us that the king has his servants invite everybody they run across. He wants to fill his banquet hall! Coming into the banquet, however, has a requirement: a wedding garment. Even though at first glance this sounds harsh, it really isn’t. Instead, everybody in those days either had a special garment for weddings and other festivities, or else they received one at the door. This is about the person deciding not to conform. Some scripture scholars speak Jesus making the distinction between accepting all persons and condoning all behaviour. All are invited; all are also invited to respond with righteousness. In the same way, I think today Pope Francis is inviting all. He also calls us to respond in love. Once we’ve been nourished so abundantly at the Lord’s banquet, how else can we respond?

What can I say, but a huge Thank you! to each and every one of you who were involved in any way in our Sestercentennial celebrations last Sunday. Everything was splendid, from the 11:00 AM Mass with Bishops Fabbro and Dabrowski to the Gala Luncheon at the Caboto Club. My heart is overflowing with gratitude to you all. This is a marvellous parish, and it is such a blessing for me to be a part of it all. Biblioasis was at the luncheon for the launch of 250 Years of Assumption Parish. This is an excellent photo history of our parish. We will have copies on sale at the church, as well as the parish office, for only $20. If you were at the gala you also saw a trailer of the documentary on the parish that Salt + Light Television is producing. Those should be released next month, and DVDs will be available for only $10.

I am thankful to Bishop Fabbro for accepting Paul Mullins’ offer to conduct a thorough study of the pastoral needs of the West Side of Windsor, and where we might go as a parish. I, for one, am tired of being “in limbo”, wondering whether we will ever restore Assumption Church, or whether we are at Holy Name of Mary for good. This study will bring an answer to our questions, and I am looking forward to having clarity. Please pray for Mr. Mullins and the work that he is doing, so that the Holy Spirit may guide us in our ways. If you have not yet received a copy of the Bishop’s statement, and would like one, they are available at the back of the church or at the parish office.

Regardless of where our permanent parish home(s) may be, we are called to constant conversion. For the third weekend in a row, Matthew’s gospel presents us with Jesus’ parables concerning our need for putting God’s love into practice. I remember hearing a while back that going to church on Sunday doesn’t make you a Christian any more than standing in the garage makes you a car. Although coming to church is important, and nourishes us for the work of being a Christian, Jesus makes it clear that just calling ourselves Christian isn’t enough. I pray that each of us may hear Jesus’ challenge to truly live his teachings, helping to make Assumption be known as a beacon of hope and life in West Windsor.