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.

Happy birthday! We’re old. 250 years is a long time, especially in this continent. I knew a bit about Assumption before I came here, since I used to come for the occasional visit when I lived just across the river at Ste. Anne’s in Detroit. Nothing, though, could have prepared me for my experience here. As Patrick Brode wrote in the introduction for 250 Years of Assumption Parish, “so central was Assumption to the province’s spiritual origins that historian Michael Power concluded, ‘the history of the faith in Southwestern Ontario was the history of its development in Our Lady of the Assumption Parish.’” That is certainly something to celebrate.

Yet as important as our history is, we also celebrate the parish as it is today. As time went on from those early days, parish after parish was carved out of what had been one. Today, with the reality of the Church in the early twenty-first century, parishes are being merged, and Assumption now consists of what had become four parishes: Assumption, Blessed Sacrament, Holy Name of Mary, and Saint Patrick. And as we look to the future and our association with Saint Alphonsus and Saint Angela parishes as part of one family, we have even more adventures ahead of us.

The gospel passage that the Church gives us as we celebrate our sestercentennial is a great challenge to me, and I hope it is to you as well. In the parable about the two sons we hear that it is not what we say, but what we do that is important. Thus, we are called to discern God’s will for our parish and then take action to put that into practice. I am certain that we are up for the task! Assumption is a vibrant community of faith, which to paraphrase Michael Power’s words, is still contributing to the history of the faith in Southwestern Ontario. We continue to be an important presence in West Windsor, reaching out to Catholics and people of all faiths or none. I am convinced that this community will continue to be important to Windsor for many years to come. I am deeply grateful that you have welcomed me into your lives and hearts. I pray that God continue to bless each of you with life and grace.

Fr. James Martin is a Jesuit priest in the US, who is a frequent presence in the media. He has written a number of books, is an editor-at-large of America magazine, has a high profile on social media, appears on television, and serves as a consultant to the Vatican’s Secretariat for Communications. Recently he published a book entitled Building a Bridge: How the Catholic Church and the LGBT Community Can Enter into a Relationship of Respect, Compassion, and Sensitivity. As you might expect, this book has created a storm of controversy. Even though it received the approval of his Jesuit superiors, two cardinals, and a number of bishops in the Church, certain groups from inside and outside the Church have been quite vocal in their criticism of the book and of Fr. Martin. Some groups felt that he didn’t challenge the Church’s teaching, thus continuing to marginalize GLBT Catholics. Others felt that he was too welcoming to them, and did not adequately stress the traditional teaching of the Church concerning sexual morality. Social media has provided a platform for this criticism, and because of this, Fr. Martin has been disinvited from some speaking engagements.

So why am I mentioning this topic in our Sunday bulletin? What does this have to do with us? I think that this weekend’s readings offer some guidance. In the Prophet Isaiah, we hear that we are to seek the Lord, and that the wicked and unrighteous should forsake their ways and turn to the Lord. We also hear that God’s ways are not our ways, and our thoughts not God’s thoughts. I think that’s one reason that Jesus so often tells us not to judge. The Gospel passage adds another dimension to this: some scripture scholars say that the reason the owner of the vineyard pays the last people first is that he wants all the others to see—and rejoice in—his generosity. If I wanted to pay everyone the same, I would probably have started by paying those who arrived first, so as to avoid any hard feelings and controversy. Those who worked all day would have been gone by the time the later workers received their pay. Instead, the landowner offers payment—salvation—to all, in ways that I would never have imagined.

For me, this is yet again an invitation to look at myself and see where I might become judgmental, where I place my criteria before God’s. Pope Francis continually reminds us that God is merciful and welcoming. I pray that my life may reflect that as well.

Before all else… a huge “Thank you!!” to all of you who participated in any way in this past week’s celebrations in honour of Our Lady. Tuesday’s commemoration of Holy Name of Mary parish was an uplifting evening of fellowship and remembrances, and many people spent much time in making the evening possible. Then on Friday, on a more sombre note, with Our Lady of Sorrows we asked forgiveness for the sins of clergy sex abuse, and prayed for healing for victims of this crime. In both joy and sorrow, our mother takes us in and covers us with her mantle of care.

Mary’s Son Jesus teaches us so much in our gospel reading this weekend. Forgiveness is what gives life. My mind often returns to the grudge I carried for years against a Basilian confrère who snubbed me. When I finally reconciled with him I realized that he had no idea he had hurt me—nor, of course, that I was carrying a grudge. Carrying that grudge against him had been slowly poisoning me, and didn’t affect him at all. I think that’s why Jesus’ statement to Peter about forgiving “seventy-seven times” is so important. That forgiveness does little or nothing to the one against whom I carry resentments; what it does is free me, the one who does the forgiving.

In our daily lives, nobody is exempt from sin, which means that each one of us, in one way or another, has hurt somebody else, and each one of us has been on the receiving end of hurt. In the merging of four parishes into one, I know it has happened more than once. We step on each other’s toes; we become territorial. We hold on to what has given us solace and comfort and life. This might be an ideal opportunity to reflect on where we carry hurts and grudges, and let them go. Might it not be time to experience some of the freedom and life that God is offering?

I can’t count the number of times that someone has wronged or offended me, so I go tell others about that. In the moment, it’s so much easier to go and talk about someone rather than to go and speak to that person. In the long run, however, failing to speak directly to someone—whether it’s because the other hurt me, or I hurt the other, does more harm. I think that one of the inspired tenets of twelve-step recovery programs is step nine, when one person goes to another to make amends. In the end, when I’m honest, the question I need to ask myself is whether or not I love someone enough to be honest, and whether I am humble enough to accept that I may be wrong. That truly is what it’s all about, and I’m convinced that it underlies the Gospel passage we hear. In the end, it all revolves around Jesus’ teaching on loving one another, that Paul so eloquently restates in this weekend’s second reading, from his letter to the Church in Rome: “Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.”

Over and over and over again I need to hear those words, and to put them into practice, in all my relations. Love is what enables me to humble myself before another. It is what gives me the strength and the courage to say, “You hurt me” to another. It is what underlies any true Christian community.

This week we have the opportunity to experience love in two quite different circumstances. This Tuesday we honour and celebrate Holy Name of Mary parish. For some 95 years, Holy Name was a parish, with a rich history, and a community bound together by love: love for God, love for the parish, and love for one another. Now so many “Holy Namers” enrich Assumption parish with their presence, their service, and their care for the community. I hope we have a great turnout for our Mass, followed by a potluck dinner on September 12.

Then on Friday, the feast of Our Lady of Sorrows, we show love in a different way. The Church says “I’m sorry; I was wrong,” to victims of clergy sex abuse. I am deeply grieved when I think about how many people over many, many years have been hurt because of the actions of clergy. People who represented God and the Church betrayed the trust that people placed in them. It is an act of love to recognize our wrongs and to make amends in any way we can—and to pray for healing.

Over the years, my image of Jesus has changed greatly. There was never a question of whether I believed; instead, it was more a question of who Jesus is to me, and where I might find him. Is he the great and glorious God, or my companion in life, or the poor person in the street, or…? In this weekend’s gospel, Jesus asks his disciples who they say he is. Even when Peter recognized him as the Messiah, he was putting his own definition to that, as we see next Sunday, when Jesus calls Peter “Satan” for saying he couldn’t suffer.

During our parish celebrations for the Feast of the Assumption, I encountered Jesus in many ways: The people on the Sestercentennial committee who organized our celebrations to perfection, the many others who volunteered their time and energy, and the many, many people who came out to celebrate are all manifestations of Jesus to me. It is the Christ who allows me to celebrate, the Christ who works so hard for me, and the Christ who accompanies and affirms me. It is such a blessing and a privilege to me to be a part of Assumption parish, especially during this, our 250th year of presence to the people of this area.

I thank all of you who participated in any way in our celebrations revolving around our Patronal Feast of the Assumption, and invite you all to be a part of our next celebration, that of honouring Holy Name of Mary parish. In true Holy Name tradition, we will have Eucharist and then a pot luck dinner, where we can be present to each other, and offer our best to those of our parish community.

Further enhancing the life of our community, I am pleased to announce that we have hired two Lay Ecclesial Ministers, who will begin their work on September 5: Jean Beneteau, from St. John the Baptist parish in Amherstburg, comes to us with a wealth of education and pastoral experience at both the parish and the diocesan levels, and is our new full-time Pastoral Minister. Melissa Pacitti-Fallone is an Assumption parishioner with much education and volunteer experience, and is our new part-time Coordinator of Youth Ministry. We are truly blessed to have these two capable people as part of the Pastoral Team. Soon we will be installing them formally at all the Masses. I look forward to working with them, and to experiencing the gifts they bring to the parish, and invite your prayer for them. Welcome, Jean and Melissa!

Happy Feast Day!! It is such a joy for me to be celebrating this patronal feast of our parish with you. And this day is about us, no matter where we began our journey or what parish we called home. I love the preface from the Mass of the Assumption, which states, “…the Virgin Mother of God was assumed into heaven as the beginning and image of your Church’s coming to perfection and a sign of sure hope and comfort to your pilgrim people….” Since we ourselves are Church, it is we who are gradually coming to perfection—sometimes with fits and starts, perhaps a few backtracks, but still on the road. I am always so humbled and impressed when I realize that God’s plan for me and for each one of us is to reach perfection, and then to be with him for all eternity. Thus it is that we continue on our path, and ask Our Lady to help us along the way.

As we celebrate this Solemnity with greater fervour this year, I hope you enjoy our parish picnic, this year on the traditional site where the parish was founded. Also, I invite you all to stop by Assumption church on both Sunday and Tuesday for prayer and recollection, or learn more about our history with a talk by Dr. Guillaume Teasdale at 6 PM on August 15.

I am convinced that we are on the road to perfection when we allow God to work in us, when we say “yes” to God’s plan for us. For the Virgin Mary, it was the “yes” that brought God to us in the flesh, in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. No matter how or where we are called to serve God in this life, God invites us to say “yes” to that plan. It is precisely in that yes that we help bring about God’s Kingdom in our world. Since we are all unique, our “yeses” take different forms. This past Saturday, August 5, Kevin Mannara, CSB, said “yes” to God as Bishop Fabbro ordained him to the priesthood at the parish where Kevin worked in his hometown of Rochester, NY. We are privileged to welcome Fr. Kevin as he joins us for our parish celebration. Welcome, Fr. Kevin, and congratulations! May Our Lady of the Assumption cover you with her mantle and guide you along God’s paths.

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.