HAPPY EASTER!!! I wish each and every one of you a happy and holy celebration of Christ’s resurrection. This is the victory of our God, the triumph of life over death. It is a celebration of Jesus’ message of compassion, of reconciliation, and of mercy. Even though his proclamation of the Kingdom of God led to his crucifixion, he was unwavering in his commitment. And thus, as we hear in the Acts of the Apostles during this season, God (the Father) raised him up to new life.

And so, annually we relive this event. Over the past week we have contemplated Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, his Passover supper with his disciples, the agony in the Garden of Gethsemane, the condemnation, his incredible suffering on the cross, his death, and now the most amazing thing of all: his resurrection to new life! For centuries, the Church has celebrated this most symbolically with the new waters of Baptism. In the early Church, adults were brought into the Church at Easter, and so some 40 years ago, we have returned to that practice. At the Vigil, Chad has entered the Church and been given new life through his baptism into Christ’s death, so that he might also rise anew with Christ. Congratulations to you, Chad, and welcome! We have also received others into the Church with the sacraments of Confirmation and Eucharist. Cynthia, Judi, Kim, and Loretta, congratulations to each of you, and welcome!

Since Baptism is so central to this feast, you will notice that the Baptismal Font will be highlighted during this entire season. It is our entrance into the Church. When we bless ourselves with holy water, we are commemorating and recalling our own Baptisms. I invite you to be conscious of that in a special way during this season. I pray that each of us may live the life offered to us through the Resurrection, and to live it to the full! This is indeed the day the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it!

And so it begins. We enter this most sacred of weeks, Holy Week. This weekend is Passion, or Palm Sunday, and Thursday begins the Triduum, which revolves around the Last Supper, the Crucifixion, and then Christ’s resurrection from the dead.

The Mass this weekend has two gospel passages: Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, and then his Passion. I never cease to marvel at how quickly people could go from welcoming him, crying out “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!” to shouting “Crucify him!” just five short days later. Some scripture scholars think that the cleansing of the temple, which the evangelists Matthew, Mark, and Luke place during Holy Week, to be the turning point. Something like 90% of Jerusalem’s economy revolved around the temple: Lodging pilgrims, feeding them, caring for the animals used in the sacrifices, carting off their carcasses, and many more activities. When Jesus turned over the moneychangers’ tables, and drove out the animals, he was threatening the very structure of the temple—and therefore their livelihoods. That was not acceptable.

Think about it: Ecology and Pope Francis’ encyclical sound really good. Caring for the earth sounds really good. The reality, though, is that if we lived by everything he says in there, the auto industry would be doomed. Windsor’s “backbone” would be broken. I remember how devastated Southwest Detroit was when I lived there in the 90’s because General Motors had closed two plants in the area. Windsor has already suffered because of layoffs in the auto industry. What would happen here if every last part of the auto industry were gone? How many jobs would be lost? And then, nobody from there would be able to shop, to eat, etc., etc. In fact, some economists say that the reason there is still so much doubt around climate change is that if it is real, it means the end of our economic system as we know it. And that is scary. And it means that those who have profited from things as they are have a lot to lose. My tendency is to keep my comforts, to try and fool myself into thinking I am doing a lot for the earth by recycling and driving a hybrid vehicle. The reality, though, is that if I really want to care for the earth, I will have to change a lot in my lifestyle. It’s not easy.

Although Jesus of Nazareth was condemned to death almost 2000 years ago, and he was unique in history, the basic story continues: I don’t want to give up what keeps me comfortable, and those things that are familiar to me. The unknown is scary.It was scary for the disciples, too. When they lost Jesus, they thought everything had ended. But then the Resurrection came, and changed everything!

This past Wednesday was the annual diocesan-wide Day of Confessions. I write these words beforehand. Last year we had around 150 people take advantage of this opportunity. What a privilege it is to be able to show God’s mercy and forgiveness to so many people!

I am constantly awed by how much God can show mercy, under so many circumstances. I remember once when, as a seminarian, I was visiting with my confessor. After I had told him my sins, there was one that I just wouldn’t let go; I told him how guilty I still felt. Finally, he looked at me and said, “Who the h*ll do you think you are?! If God can forgive you, how can you not forgive yourself? Do you think you’re more important than God?” And then he started laughing, because he knew full well that I was not the first, nor the last person to hang on to my guilt.

Since those days I’ve moved on. I started forgiving myself more easily, but also holding on to grudges. Or, I would forgive you, but only after I let you know just how much I suffered because of what you did. When I’m honest with myself, I think it’s a way of trying to show myself how important I am, and how much I suffer at the hands of others.

What I’m best at, though, is thinking you need to be punished when you break a rule that I either follow or want you to believe I follow. I may have just run a yellow light five minutes ago, but if you run one that I stop at, I want a police officer to be right there to give you a ticket. I’m the one who has to suffer and abide by the rules, and I don’t like it when you get away with breaking them. I think that’s the attitude of the elder son in last week’s story of the prodigal son, and it certainly is in this weekend’s story of the woman caught in adultery. I think that’s the point to this story—and Jesus’ response to her accusers is priceless: “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Of course, nobody is sinless, and nobody threw a stone. Jesus does not condemn her either.

Once again, when I am insisting you be punished, especially when I am the one hurt by your sin, I am making myself more important than God. The Lenten season during this Year of Mercy is an excellent time to remind myself that there is only one Judge… the One who makes all things new.

At the parish where I grew up in Houston, there was a family that was quite involved in the parish. You could count on them to be around when the church needed them, whether that was the pastor, the Knights of Columbus, the Altar Society, or whatever else. They were at Mass every Sunday. One day everybody was so surprised to learn that one of their sons had been arrested and charged with murder. Eventually he was tried and found guilty. They were crushed, yet they never wavered in their love and support for their son.I think that these loving parents mirrored, in a sense, the father that we hear about in this weekend’s gospel passage, commonly known as “the story of the Prodigal Son.” Actually it would probably be more aptly named “the story of the Compassionate Father.”

It’s hard for us in 21st century western culture to realize just how powerful that story is, and how shocking it must have been for its first century Jewish audience. For the son to have asked for his inheritance it would be the same as telling the father, “You are dead to me. I want nothing to do with you ever again.” And, if he were to come back, society would dictate that the father would be sternly seated on his chair while the son came grovelling back, begging for some measure of forgiveness. Instead, we hear the story of a man who is already out looking for his son (the only way he would have caught sight of him while still a long way off), who then goes running to meet him! People would have been shocked to hear this. The father goes even further by putting a ring on his finger and having a big welcome party. Meanwhile, we all know the story of the elder son, who is upset at the father’s forgiveness. That would be a more common situation for most of us, I would guess. Why would we want our father to go against society’s norms? Why wouldn’t we want that renegade brother punished for his misdeeds?

All in all, it’s a pretty shocking picture of our God. Most of us tend to think of the father in the story as being a portrait of our own loving God. Think about it, though: Neither of his sons turned out perfectly. One disowned him, and the other won’t forgive. For me, that gives great hope to parents whose children did not turn out exactly as they would have hoped. Most of you have not had to deal with your child murdering someone, or disowning you (although I’m sure some have). For most of us, it is something more mundane: My daughter is not married in the church. My son doesn’t come to church any more. My child uses drugs, or drinks too much. I don’t like the way they’re raising the grandkids. Many examples abound. The message here today, though, is how each of us is called to be a model of mercy and forgiveness. It is one of the clearest examples in Scripture of God as the very face of mercy. I pray that we do the same.

When I first joined the Basilians I was sent to Rochester, New York, Once, just before leaving for my holidays with family in Texas, I mentioned that I was going to the Holy Land. “You’re going to Israel, where Jesus was born?” somebody asked, and I responded that I was going to the real Holy Land: to Texas. And, even though I said it as a joke, there was some truth in what I said. For me, the land where I was born and raised, and where my family lived, was indeed sacred.Here in Windsor, I’ve been so moved by how many of you come from families that have been here for generations. I know that for you, this is the Holy Land. It is sacred. There are memories here; there is history.

Part of the reality, though, is that it’s not just “the” Holy Land; instead, we are on Holy Land, or more precisely, holy ground. The earth itself—all of it—is holy, as Pope Francis reminds us in his encyclical Laudato Si. Even so, we consider some places holier than others.In this weekend’s first reading (except at the 11:00 Mass), God speaks to Moses out of the burning bush and says, “Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” When I was on a pilgrimage at the places of the Central American martyrs (like Archbishop Romero), at every site we visited where someone in ministry had been killed, we sang a little song: “We’re on holy ground. We’re standing on holy ground. For the Lord is holy; and where God is, is holy.” From my earliest childhood, my parents taught me that I was to behave differently in church because God is present in a special way, and God deserves my attention and reverence.

I think that is why our church buildings are so sacred to us. The buildings themselves are consecrated. The altar is dedicated and anointed. The tabernacle contains the sacramental presence of God. The building provides shelter for the church community that gathers for the liturgy, when we listen to God’s word proclaimed and receive Christ into our very bodies. There is sacred art that lifts our minds to the reality that there is something more than just this life on earth. And in addition to all that, the place is a repository for our memories: “This is where our daughter was baptised.” “We buried grandpa from here.” “This is where I was confirmed.” It is no wonder, then, that it is hard to let go of a building. Unless you are newly arrived at Assumption Parish, established at Holy Name of Mary Church, you have experienced loss. St. Patrick’s was closed. Blessed Sacrament was closed. Holy Name was closed. Assumption was closed—and now we are here at Holy Name, which is “back home” for some of you, and new ground for others.

Lent is about death and resurrection. We focus on Jesus’ death, in order to truly celebrate his rising to new life. It is my sincere prayer that the deaths we have each experienced may lead to new life in our hearts and in our community. Wherever we may be, now or in the future, God is with us and we are standing on holy ground.

I write this from 42,000 feet, as I return to Windsor from yet another trip. Yes, I was traveling again. Yes, I was gone last month, too. Yes, I am gone for more than what is ideal for a pastor. So, I’d like to address that: There are three basic reasons why I travel from Windsor: family, recovery, and peace activism.

First, family: One of the realities of having a parish staffed by a religious congregation—such as the Basilian Fathers here at Assumption—is that many of us come from and have served in different parts of the country or the world. My immediate family is in Texas, and much of my ministry has been there, so I have friends there as well. I also have cousins in Belgium; I have served in Edmonton and studied in Rome. Sometimes I travel to these places for holidays; sometimes it’s for a family celebration, like a baptism or wedding.

Next is recovery: I am active in 12-step recovery. It keeps me (somewhat) sane and sober and allows me to be present to you. I have some active service commitments that require me to travel to meetings and conferences; I have also recently preached two retreats. Part of the reality of the world is that most people can meet only on weekends—which is when I am most needed in the parish. I try and balance those commitments, and I know that I’m not always successful.

Lastly, I have a commitment to peace work. I am a member of Christian Peacemaker Teams, and will be gone this fall for three weeks, to serve on team in Hebron, Palestinian Territories. It is an aspect of my life that is very important to me. When I joined CPT, I was pastor at Most Holy Trinity Parish in Angleton, Texas. There, I explained it as the parish tithing their pastor, and I had the support of the parish. Here, unfortunately, I had already made that commitment before I was assigned to Assumption, so you didn’t get to voice your opinion. I am grateful for your understanding, and to Fr. Jim for taking on extra work when I’m away.

I remain convinced that both my recovery and my commitments to justice work enhance my presence here; and I apologize for the times they inconvenience you. This weekend’s gospel is about the transfiguration. Some of Jesus’ disciples were privileged to see in a unique way that Jesus was indeed a special man with a special relationship to God. It is because you are so special that when I am here I try to be as present as possible. That is one reason I am there to greet you at the beginning of each Mass. I pray that we all may realize what a privilege it is to serve one another and to see how special each of us is.

-Father Maurice

Happy Lent! I hope that the beginnings of this sacred season have already brought you closer to our loving and merciful God.

Before anything else, though, I want to thank all of you who came to the pancake breakfast, and made our Mardi Gras (Dimanche Gras?) celebration so special. We had a great turnout. I am so very appreciative of the hospitality team and the Knights of Columbus who worked so hard to feed us in such a special and welcoming environment.

The gospel passage this week, as is the case for the first Sunday of Lent every year, speaks of Jesus’ 40 days in the desert, fasting and praying. In Scripture, the number 40 is special; it signifies purification and an encounter with God.

This year we have many activities scheduled in the parish, all with the thought of helping us grow closer to God and to build community with one another. The Stations of the Cross each Friday will begin with a simple soup supper in Rosary Hall, hosted by different groups of the parish. We have added a 12:10 Mass for each weekday during Lent. Fr. Q. Johnson will be leading a study of the readings for the following Sunday (with a brown bag lunch) following that Mass on Wednesdays. This weekend there is a calendar in your bulletin from Canadian Development and Peace, which has suggestions for each day of this sacred time.

And next Sunday Fr. George Smith, the Superior General of the Basilian Fathers, will be with us for a special event at the 7:30 p.m. Mass on February 21. He will confer the Ministry of Acolyte on Kevin Mannara. As part of the path towards priesthood, seminarians receive first the Ministry of Lector (which Kevin received last year), and then the Ministry of Acolyte. These are symbolic yet important moments leading towards ordination to the diaconate and priesthood. I invite you to join in prayer with and for Kevin as he takes this next step—and to join us afterwards for light refreshments in Rooney Lounge.

Lastly, please be assured of my prayer for each and every one of you during this sacred season. I pray that we may reach the upcoming celebrations of Jesus’ passion, death, and resurrection, with hearts and minds renewed.

-Father Maurice

When I was a seminarian in Toronto, the residence for Basilian priests needing nursing care was on the top floor. The men who lived there represented the spectrum of Basilians: There were parish men, teachers, campus ministers, and missionaries. Some had the minimum studies needed for ordination; others had more than one doctoral degree. Some were quite niceand others had more acerbic personalities. Time after time, I would learn that some of the men up there who were the best loved, who treated the staff nicely and always found something good to say were men who had experienced some kind of defeat earlier in their life: Some were recovering alcoholics, others had failed at a job, or in some way knew that they had a fatal flaw. And the opposite seemed to be true as well: Quite a few of those who were demanding to the staff, whocould always find something wrong with what someone did for them, were people who had always done everything “right.” They had always made sacrifices to do what was expected of them, and now they demanded that others make sacrifices for them. They reminded me of the older brother in the story of the prodigal son, the one who is angry that the father is throwing a party for his son who has come home. And they reflect what Pope Francis recently said in a homily, that humility is the way of holiness.

I think that’s why I like Luke’s version of the call story in this weekend’s gospel. Peter recognized that he is in the presence of Greatness, and he falls on his knees and says, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” He recognizes his own inadequacies, his own weaknesses—and in a sense, this is what makes him able to recognize Jesus, and to commit to being a disciple.

For me, Lent is an opportunity to grow in humility—to recognize my own shortcomings and inadequacies, in order for God to enter in and heal them. I find that when I don’t admit things to myself, God also tends to leave those flaws in place. But when I acknowledge them and ask God for healing and mercy, God is right there.

So I invite you to truly enter into this sacred season of Lent. I pray that any penances or sacrifices you choose to do may help reveal your true self to yourselves and to God, and that this may be a time to experience God’s love and mercy.

-Father Maurice

As I write this I’m returning from a trip and looking forward to being home again. I first was on my annual retreat—which I had to preach this year!—and then went to Texas to baptize a set of twins. I really treasure the relationship I have with this family; they are the first couple whose wedding I did after I was ordained a priest. After the ceremony we became friends, and have kept in touch over the years. When I was at the parish in Texas, I had the privilege of witnessing their eldest daughter’s wedding, and now I was invited down to baptize her first children: a beautiful pair of twin boys. Our friendship has endured over these 29 years, through difficulties and joys, through ups and downs. We have had our disagreements. Our relationship of friendship, as well as Jim and Patty’s and my own individual lives have had moments of tension; yet we continue to be friends and grow in love, though thick and thin.

My relationship with God is sometimes like this, too. Our first reading this weekend contains a powerful statement that God spoke to the prophet Jeremiah: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you….” That statement is valid for each one of us, not just for Jeremiah: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you.” God says that to each of us even knowing that there will be times when we mess up, times when we stray from the path he has indicated for us, as well as times when we are faithful, joyful, and connected.

One of the most powerful things about our Christian faith is that idea that our God—who is only one—is also a relationship: Father, Son, and Spirit. God’s own reality is relationship, and God wants to be in a relationship with us. God called Jeremiah; Jesus himself was in a relationship, not just with the Father and the Spirit, but as a child of Mary and Joseph. And the amazing thing is that God never gives up on us, even when the going gets rough, because God is the God of mercy. May we all know that mercy in our own lives, and reflect it to all those with whom we relate.

When I was in Rome on studies, one of my classmates, a Franciscan from Brazil, told me about a survey they had done with children in that country. Brazilian children were asked to name a person for each feeling that they heard. For “happy,” the number one answer was “a clown.” For “sad,” the number one answer was “a priest.” What a tragic commentary!

One of the things that has impressed so many people about Pope Francis is his joy! He is known for his good-naturedness, his laughing with people, his accessibility, his spontaneity. I think that image is what generates the most criticism and the most praise for him: Either it’s scandalous that the pope is acting so informally and is so accessible, being non-judgmental and welcoming, or it’s the most amazing, Christ-like pope we’ve had!

I think this weekend’s readings point us in the direction of the latter. They are filled with joy. We leave behind the three “epiphanies” of Jesus, and come to the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, as told by Luke. Some people have called this passage Jesus’ “mission statement.” He quotes from the prophet Isaiah, but leaves out the line of judgment. Instead, this is what he is here to do: He is anointed to bring good news to the poor; he is sent to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour. What a mission! These are radical things—and they are causes for celebration.

The same theme is found in our first reading. When Ezra the scribe reads God’s law to the people, they become sad and weep. They realize just how far from the ideal they have been living. Yet Ezra’s response is surprising. He does not affirm them in their sadness, nor does he chastise them. Instead, he tells them the opposite: “Go your way, eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions of them to those for whom nothing is prepared, for this day is holy to our Lord; and do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” In other words, celebrate, and share what you have, because the Lord is full of mercy; God will give you life.

That is our challenge, and it is highlighted in this Jubilee Year of Mercy: we are to be people who, by our very presence, spread the happiness and the mercy of God. May the mark of the priest and the mark of the Christian today be happiness and mercy.

–Father Maurice