As I write this, we pilgrims, eight of us from Assumption, are headed home. It has been a good trip, with a few surprises and some uncertain moments. I prayed for the parish in many places along the way. I took special care to mention you at those places commemorating important events in Jesus’ life: his agony, death, and resurrection in Jerusalem; his birth and flight into Egypt in Bethlehem; his preaching in the Galilee; and the Annunciation in Nazareth. All along the way, we have been trying to recognize the Kingdom that Jesus preached. At times it was easier to recognize the anti-Kingdom, just as I’m sure it was during Jesus’ own day. On our second full day in Jerusalem some people who came to worship at Al-Aqsa, on the Esplanade of the Mosques, killed two Israeli border police, prompting a lockdown of the Old City, where we were. We experienced firsthand something of what it means to have soldiers patrolling the city and a strict control of comings and goings.

In Bethlehem, though, many of us experienced a sign of the Kingdom. Sami Awad, the founder and director of Holy Land Trust, spoke to us of his work of getting Israelis and Palestinians to know each other’s story and each other—to experience reconciliation and understanding. In a land where so many people want the “other” ones out, he works for a healing of wounds and a coming together in peace. In the gospel passage for this Sunday, once again Jesus mentions that God will do the separating of the good from the bad at the end of time; it is not our job right now. Instead, we live together, those who think like us and those who think differently, those we think are good and those we think are bad. As difficult as it may be, I am convinced that a peaceful coexistence and cooperation with those who are not “like us” is a necessary part of experiencing God’s Kingdom.

On another note, this coming Saturday, August 5, Bishop Fabbro will ordain Kevin Mannara to the priesthood in Rochester, NY. The following day he will preside at his first Mass, on the Solemnity of the Transfiguration of Our Lord. Jesus gave a special gift to Peter, James, and John, when they saw him in all his glory. That gift, however, is impetus to recognize God’s presence in all people, indeed in all creation. I invite you to pray that Kevin may have this gift always, and that in his priesthood he will help people recognize God’s Kingdom wherever his ministry takes him.

This past week we got one of those “nice” rains—the kind that farmers love, that soaks into the earth rather than running off. It made me think of one of my first trips to Windsor and Essex County, when I was a seminarian in the 1980s. It was then that I first tasted “peaches and cream” corn. One of my classmates came from a farm in the county, and couldn’t talk enough about it. Of course, one bite was all it took to be convinced that he was right. I think of that each time I pass agricultural fields. I never cease to be amazed at how so much food can come from each plant. Jesus often used agricultural images to talk about the Kingdom of Heaven. I think it’s appropriate that the Church presents these readings during the summer, as the plants get bigger and produce food.

This weekend we hear that God’s word comes down like rain, making the earth “bring forth and sprout.” And the Kingdom that sprouts has several characteristics. It is abundant. The Sower scatters seed everywhere, hoping that it will bear fruit. I never cease to be impressed at God’s abundance. I would tend to be much more careful, ensuring that the ground is fully prepared. God, on the other hand, wants to give every possible chance to each seed. And when weeds spring up, he leaves them where they are. He will take care of sorting things out.

We, too, have a role to play with this. Like plants, people need tending. Often those most neglected in the garden need the most care. For me, it’s easy to offer that care to people who are sick and suffering. It’s much harder to offer it to the ones who don’t “deserve” it, people who break the law, who live on the streets, who are addicted to drugs and alcohol—the “bad” people. It’s sometimes hard for me to deal with people who don’t speak my language, or wear different clothing. Jesus, though, encourages us to welcome all—and let God take care of things.

My next reflection will be written in the Holy Land. I ask for your prayers for the group on our pilgrimage to the places where Jesus was born, taught, healed, died, and rose to new life—and where people of today are working for peace and justice. May we all learn to recognize God’s Kingdom, wherever we are.

Over the next few weeks we will focus on how to recognize God’s Kingdom in creation, a creation crafted by God with wisdom and love. God calls us to a life illuminated by wisdom. As Pope Francis says in his encyclical “Evangelii gaudium” (The Joy of the Gospel), “…it is helpful to stress again and again the attractiveness and the ideal of a life of wisdom, self-fulfillment and enrichment.” And quoting from Paul’s letter to the Romans, he tells us “the Church never fails to be amazed at ‘the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God’ (Rom 11:33).”

During this month of July, the readings for Mass lend themselves to the theme of recognizing God’s Kingdom: thus we will be looking at the ways that we receive the word of God, whether it be in the person of a prophet or in a parable. During this month, Fr. Jim and I (and our guest presiders while I am on pilgrimage in the Holy Land) will be using Eucharistic Prayer IV, which, in addressing God the Father, states, “…you are great and you have fashioned all your works in wisdom and love,” and that “time and time again you offered [all people] covenants and through the prophets taught them to look forward to salvation.”

In this weekend’s first reading the woman who regularly fed Elisha recognized that he was a “holy man of God” and was rewarded accordingly. And Jesus reminds us that these rewards for are not only for those who recognize welcome the prophets, but all who welcome and recognize the righteous and those sent in his name. Next week we learn to recognize Jesus as a King. Not a king in pomp and majesty, but humble and gentle, riding on a donkey. He invites us to learn from him his divine wisdom, and promises that in his humility and gentleness we will find rest for our souls.

As we enter this month of July, I invite you to pray with me for the recent graduates of all levels of education, and to pray for all the students on summer holidays. I pray that each person be touched by the wisdom of God during these days, and that we may encounter God in all our activities, letting him renew us and give us rest. And for those who travel, I pray for safety and enjoyment.

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.