When I am in the Holy Land, I love stopping in at the Church of the Dormition of Mary, on Mount Zion in Jerusalem. It’s a beautiful church, run by German Benedictine priests, that is a nice place for quiet meditation. It’s built on one of the sites where tradition says that Our Lady’s life on earth ended, and she was assumed into heaven. Just down the hill, in the Kidron Valley outside the Garden of Gethsemane, is another church, staffed by Orthodox priests. They say that that is the spot where Mary breathed her last on this earth and was then assumed into heaven. Then, in Ephesus, where tradition says that the apostle John went to live with the Virgin after Jesus’ death and resurrection, is another site where tradition tells us that the her life on this earth reached its end and she was assumed into heaven. Just where it actually happened is not important; the reality it expresses is, however. Even though it was not declared dogma until 1950 by Pope Pius XII, for centuries the church has believed that at the end of her earthly life, the Blessed Virgin Mary received the fullness of salvation. It is something that all of us hope to receive. Thus, Jesus can point to our true home in this weekend’s gospel passage and remind us that where our treasure is, our heart will be also.

Thus it is appropriate that in 1767 the Church in Canada chose the name of Our Lady of the Assumption for a new parish, established from what was originally a mission of Sainte Anne’s, only serving the Huron peoples of this area. Here, in this land just south of Detroit, the parish born from her was dedicated to Anne’s daughter Mary. And now, every parish in Windsor/Essex can trace its origins to that humble beginning. Mary, Anne’s daughter, was the mother of Jesus, and is the mother of the Church in this area. I find it such a privilege to be part of this history. It is no wonder that the Diocese of London decided not to give a new name to the parish formed by the four parishes coming together over these past few years. If you go all the way back, Holy Name of Mary, St. Patrick, and Blessed Sacrament were all outgrowths of that original parish.

It is fitting, then, that we celebrate our Patronal Feast. This coming weekend, the Masses will be that of the Assumption of Mary. On Sunday, August 14, we will have a picnic on the grounds of Holy Name of Mary church after the 11 o’clock Mass. On that day Assumption Church will be open from 2-5 PM, and again on the Solemnity itself, August 15, from noon-6 PM. I encourage you to celebrate our heritage and honour Our Lady.

The book of Ecclesiastes is perhaps the most hopeless book in sacred books of any religion. All is vanity. You can work all you want; you can be as rich as you want: you still end up dead and decomposing. People will forget you. It kind of makes you want to curl up and die. Why should I bother doing anything if it’s not going to make a difference? The only thing is to perhaps have some comforts while I’m alive. Those are the words of “the Teacher,” often rendered by the name “Qoheleth.” They don’t paint a very pretty picture. It’s easy to become quite cynical. I’ve felt that way far more often than I would care to admit: “Life is useless; I might as well numb myself out, have a little pleasure in the moment.” Thankfully, those days are mostly in the past for me. Yet, the world hasn’t changed—I have!

 Larry Broding states that Ecclesiastes challenges us to make a choice: “to become selfish and cynical, or to reach out to God.” The author of the book made that choice; in the midst of the sufferings of the day, he chose to keep faith that there is a God, and that somehow things would make sense. It’s like living “as if”: Live as if everything is just as it should be. Live as if your dreams are being fulfilled, and the world is full of love. People who do that tend to be people who leave traces of joy and life wherever they pass. They live “as risen beings in history,” as one theologian put it.

So what would happen if I lived as if the values of the Kingdom were what mattered, as if I didn’t need to embrace today’s society’s values of spending and consumerism? What would happen if I lived as if the words in this weekend’s Letter to the Colossians were true, and that “Christ is all in all,” no matter what our origin? What would happen if I accepted that I am the one who needs to change? It might be fun trying to find out.

 -Father Maurice

Back when I was newly ordained I had to give a conference to the Missionaries of Charity sisters (the order founded by Mother Teresa) in Colombia, and as part of my preparation I read their Rule of Life. In there it stated that the sisters were not to keep any food in storage. All that they received was to be given away each day, counting on God’s providence to give them what they needed the next day. When I asked the local Mother Superior why they didn’t do that in our parish, she said that they needed to keep it so that they could run their soup kitchen for the poor.

Luke’s version of the Our Father that we have in this weekend’s gospel passage can be frightening. It’s quite simple, more so than the version in Matthew that we Christians use in our daily prayer. In Luke’s version we ask for our daily bread each day. That implies that we do not store up extra. Not only does that go against everything our society instils in us, it is very hard to live. Not even Mother Teresa’s sisters in our parish tried to live that radical command.

Last weekend Deacon Paul told us that the gospel passages we’re getting in July are like “Discipleship 101.” I hear those readings this weekend and I am reminded of my need for a radical reliance on God, and perseverance in asking for help. Sometimes I would rather depend on other things. As good stewards, we need to have money in the bank. Our parish has a finance committee. I’m quite convinced that if I were to go to them and say that we were going to give away everything we had, and rely on God to give us what we need for tomorrow, they would think I was crazy. And somebody would probably contact the diocese in London, and the bishop might call me to reprimand me.

So what do we do? I am quite aware that I have never fully lived out the Gospel call. I never will. The passage this weekend reminds me that I must never allow myself to be complacent; there is always room for growth. Last weekend in this column I mentioned that I was away learning how to best use my unique qualities to become a more effective leader. I didn’t plan on having to change anything. I thought I was just going to learn some better habits based on what I was already doing. I was wrong. It turns out that I will actually have to expend some effort and change a few things if I want to live by the principles I profess. It requires work! It also requires prayer, and a reliance on God. It’s one more lesson in discipleship. I pray that all of us continue learning.

When I lived in Edmonton, there was an ad on the city buses that said something like, “I don’t need to use a leash with my dog. He’s always very well be—ooh, look! A squirrel!” Of course, you can visualize this very well behaved dog that forgets everything and darts out after the squirrel. It’s just what dogs do. It’s also what I seem to do, so very often.

If you’ve been to the parish offices, you know that Sally keeps a very neat desk. She works on one thing at a time, and puts it away before beginning anything else. Sometimes I sigh with envy when I walk through her office. If you’ve been in my office, you’ll know why: No matter how often I clean, and make resolutions to keep things neat and organized, it doesn’t take long before I’m in a messy environment once again. I start working on something, and remember something else I was supposed to do, and then another thing… and then the phone rings, or I get an email, and somebody asks me a question, and I go looking for the answer, and… You probably get the picture: I’m rather scattered. I often waste time and energy. I take some consolation that numerous personality tests that I’ve done say that’s the way I am; it’s part of my “energy,” part of my leadership style.

I think I sympathise with Martha in this weekend’s gospel passage. I can just hear Jesus saying to me, “Maurice, Maurice, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing.” And that thing, of course, is focus on the Lord, on sitting at his feet as a disciple. I need to be reminded of that often. Indeed, it has been proven that meditation improves focus and concentration.

And I also need to be reminded that Mary was not Jesus’ only friend; Martha was, too. Her worry and distraction still served a purpose. As I write this, I’ve just arrived in London, to be part of a leadership training program sponsored by the diocese. Good Leaders, Good Shepherds is an internationally recognized program that helps a pastor learn more about his leadership style, and then use his unique qualities to become a more effective leader. Bishop Fabbro suggested I enrol in this program, which will be offered over two summers: this week, one week in August, and three weeks in summer 2017. I ask your prayer for me and for all the priests in the London diocese who are part of this. I pray that the Lord, who takes each one of us as we are, and uses us for his good, may grant us grace to know his will, and wisdom and blessing to put ourselves at the service of his people.

One of my friends and I often argue about the how to address problems in the world. I tend to be in the “radical pacifist” camp, thinking that love can win people over, and he says we need to go out with all the arms possible and eradicate evil/terrorism wherever it exists. I’m probably exaggerating, but I imagine you get the picture. Thankfully, although we have radically different political and cultural points of view, we have remained good friends for many years.

I think that the fundamental difference between his position and mine is how we view the human person. Today’s reading from Deuteronomy tells us that God’s word is very near to us, in our mouths and our hearts. God’s law is written in our hearts. If we are attentive, we will follow it, and it will give us life. Even though the human race is tainted by original sin, we—all of us—remain fundamentally good. That goodness is not tied to our religion or gender or sexual identity or ethnicity; it is not even tied to our original parish community. It is tied to our humanity.

I think Canadian culture has been quite good at recognizing this. Next weekend’s Open Streets is for everyone in Windsor. It is not limited to any particular group. Come out and stop by Assumption’s booths, one in front of Assumption church; one near Sandwich and Mill Streets. We’ll be handing out breakfast bars and water. Pope Francis may even make an appearance—or at least a cardboard cut-out of him. If you’d like to help, contact our Pastoral Council chairperson, Kevin Alexander, at gwalexander@hotmail.com.

Although activities like Open Streets are good, it is still hard to for many of us to accept the “other.” I’ve read some analyses that said that the NDP, who were favoured going into last year’s federal elections, lost because of their support of the Muslim woman who wanted to wear her niqab for the citizenship swearing-in ceremony. Part of what enabled our ancestors to survive in the midst of a harsh and threatening environment was banding together in clans, made up of similar people. We seem to distrust differences.

Yet God is always challenging us to go deeper. The Samaritans and the Jews had a long history of distrust and animosity. In today’s context, our Gospel story would be about a member of ISIS assisting a Christian (or a Sunni Muslim) who had been mugged, and caring for their needs. That is difficult for many of us to hear. Yet Jesus tells it—and commands us to go and do likewise!

Happy Canada Day! This past Friday, of course, we celebrated Canada Day, commemorating the official birth of Canada in 1867, and then the patriation of the Constitution in 1982. And, across the river, the United States is about to celebrate the date of the signing of that country’s Declaration of Independence, on July 4 of 1776. Here in Windsor we have the spectacular fireworks honouring the national holidays of both countries. We can give thanks to God that we are good neighbours. We rejoice that we live at peace with one another. We rejoice that the more than 450 tonnes of explosives are used to celebrate peace and harmony rather than war, to produce beauty rather than destruction.

The fireworks always ensure lots of “oohs” and “aahs,” as we see the impressive colours and patterns, all carefully choreographed to provide beauty and impact. They are spectacular. More spectacular still is that your name is up there, too! The final lines of this weekend’s gospel are powerful: “…rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” Think for a bit about this gospel passage. Last week we heard that Jesus had begun his journey to Jerusalem. This week, still near the beginning of his trek, Jesus sends out disciples to prepare his way. They come back full of joy, reporting that even the demons submit to them. Jesus responds, saying, “I have watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning.” He gives them power and authority, then states what is most powerful: “Nevertheless, do not rejoice at this, that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”

If we believe that Scripture is indeed God’s living word for us, then Jesus is also speaking to us. We—any of us—who are his disciples indeed have our names written in heaven! God has made us all part of that one big family. No wonder that the prophet Isaiah tells us to rejoice, and the psalmist reminds us to “make a joyful noise to God.” No wonder that Paul boasts in the cross of the Lord, that which made him part of God’s family in Christ. No wonder that the mark of the Christian ought to be joy and love for one another.

I pray that we all may be constantly aware of God’s immense love for us. The beauty of the fireworks (Satan falling from heaven!?) pales in comparison to the beauty of our names written in heaven.

It felt so good to be back home in Windsor and at Assumption this past weekend! Thank you, each of you, for everything you have done that has made me realize that I am home here in the parish.

We’ve had a busy week. The Grade 8 students of St. John celebrated their graduation Mass on Tuesday, and St. James on Thursday. This week, Assumption College High School has their Commencement Celebration. Summer has begun! For many of us, there is not a big change in routine between  summer and any other time of year. For others it is quite  different: a time of endings and new beginnings, of rest and relaxation and renewal. Because of the heat, we tend to move more slowly. It’s a time for cookouts and outdoor activities. The city holds festivals.

On July 17 and September 18 our parish with participate in a City of Windsor initiative to promote healthy activity called Open Streets. Kevin Alexander, our Pastoral Council chair, is organizing people and activities that will highlight our parish as a place to nourish our spirits.

And, of course, we celebrate the Assumption of Our Lady, the patroness of our parish, on August 15. Since that day falls on Monday, we will anticipate it with a Mass of Our Lady and a parish picnic on the Sunday, all at our usual place at Holy Name of Mary. Assumption Church building will also be open on both Sunday and Monday for people to come pray, visit, and reminisce. Once we have the hours fixed, I will let you know.

This week is a turning point for Jesus in the Gospel of Luke. If you remember, last Sunday Jesus announced to his apostles that the Messiah was going to have to suffer and die. We begin today’s passage with Luke telling us that Jesus “set his face to go to Jerusalem.” Up until now, Jesus’ ministry has taken place in the Galilee, mostly around the water. But now we begin his journey to Jerusalem, where he will be betrayed and executed—and then on the third day rise to new life. “Setting one’s face” is a Semitic expression that expresses resoluteness and determination, come what may. Jesus fully embraces his destiny; he will not be deterred.

I pray that each of us may do the same: that we may fully embrace God’s will for us, whatever that may be, and stand fast in the midst of temptation. Even though difficulties will inevitably arise, if we follow in God’s will, it is New Life that awaits us.

 

Today’s first reading alludes to the death of King Josiah, who fell in battle against Pharaoh Neco of Egypt. Josiah was a good and holy king, the last hope of a kingdom in decline. The grief following his untimely death is described as the grief one feels for the loss of one’s only son, the mourning one feels for the loss of one’s firstborn. It is grief felt by a whole people, a people who “wait for a time of healing, but terror comes instead.” (Jeremiah 8:15) It is grief for the loss of all that might have been, all the hopes and dreams for the future that will now come to nothing.

Reading this passage, I cannot help but feel for the families and loved ones of the victims of the massacre in Orlando this past Sunday. Or for the family and friends of Robert Hall, the Canadian who was killed by his kidnappers when the demanded ransom failed to appear. And yet the grief spoken of in our first reading is presented as a grace, “a spirit of
compassion and supplication” poured out by the Lord on the inhabitants of Jerusalem. A few lines later (Zechariah 13:1) the tragedy is described as “a fountain… to cleanse them from sin and impurity.” How can grief be a grace?

A key to the meaning of this passage may be found in today’s gospel. Here Jesus reveals to his followers that yes, he is the Christ of God, but also that he would suffer and die for his people. Christ, of course, means ‘anointed one’ and is the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew word ‘Messiah’, and refers to the empowerment and mission that comes directly from God. Jesus tells his disciples that if they wish to follow him and join in his mission that they will also suffer with him. Anyone who is willing to suffer and die with Jesus will enter into eternal life, but those who are unwilling will perish.

It seems to me that walking with Jesus does not necessarily mean undergoing physical suffering and death. The sympathy and compassion we feel for someone who suffers is also a companionship on the road, especially when we pray for them. At all costs we must avoid being the ones who indulge in anger and hate: those are the ones who crucify Jesus. Rather we must be the ones who see Christ’s suffering in all those who mourn, and with a spirit of supplication and compassion accompany them in their grief for the loss of what might have been.

-Fr. Jim

This week’s readings focus on reconciliation and mercy. These are topics we should frequently bring to mind in this Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy. Sometimes it will be us who are seeking mercy and reconciliation, and other times it will be us who are granting mercy and reconciliation to others.

A natural place to seek and celebrate reconciliation is in the sacrament of reconciliation, which is sometimes called ‘going to confession.’ Sometimes we will be like King David in the first reading: we have done wrong, and our conscience is
accusing us. Like David we say “I have sinned against the Lord” and the priest plays the role of Nathan and says “Now the Lord has put away your sin: you shall not die.” Remember that David had arranged the death of Uriah, one of his loyal soldiers, so that he could have Uriah’s wife. Your sins probably pale in comparison!

Other times we will be like the woman in Luke’s gospel. She had loved much, and so much had been forgiven. This is
another way of celebrating the sacrament: we have experienced God’s grace and healing in some aspect of your life and so
approach the Lord in love and service. The words that the priest says express what Jesus says: “Your faith has saved you: go in peace.”

I think that, on the whole, the sacrament is more a recognition of grace and healing that has already taken place in our lives. The very act of coming to confession shows that God’s grace is active in our hearts. It is sometimes painful, but should always be freeing. It should leave us more humble, more loving, more willing and able to serve Christ in others.

Sometimes we need a little bit of help to discern exactly where God’s grace is leading us, though. I have often told a penitent not to worry too much about certain things they have confessed, but rather to focus on some other aspect of their life. It is like going to a doctor complaining about one thing and having the doctor tell you that some other issue is actually more important. We are not usually qualified to diagnose ourselves!

Now just as we would go to a doctor whenever we notice something that might be serious (a strange mole, say), so we should go to a priest when we notice something in our lives that might indicate serious problems in our relationship with God and with the community. It might be nothing, but it might also be something that an outside perspective could help us with. Above all, this sacrament is a way of experiencing Christ’s reconciliation and mercy in a personal and direct way.
-Fr. Jim

Did you hear the readings this weekend? Elijah raised the woman of Zarephath’s daughter. Jesus raises the son of the widow from Nain. These are dramatic events. Don’t you wish that things like that still happened today? Sigh. It seems like bringing the dead to life belongs to the distant past. Or does it? What if new life is springing up all around us? I’ve become convinced that if I wait for the spectacular, I miss all the goodness of the not-so-spectacular. I tend to want to see a corpse resuscitated. I don’t want ordinary.

Yet, the reality is that God is bringing forth new life all around me. Not all that long ago, winter ended and new life came pushing up out of the ground and on the bare tree branches. Flowers were everywhere… and there are still more to come. And the parish is coming back to life. Collections are gradually inching up. Many people got their pictures taken for the new photo directory. More children are coming to the Li’l Saints program.

I think what impresses me most about being here at Assumption is how each of you has gone through a death process, some more than once. Your parish and/or your church building has been closed. And now we get to experience God breathing new life into the parish. We are so much richer as a parish because we are made up of the best of four different parishes. I know that many people left; with each closure more people went away. You, however, are the ones who have stayed, and you are making new life happen at Assumption Parish. Or, more correctly, you are the ones allowing God to work through you to bring new life. Thank you. It is a privilege to witness it and to be a small part of it.

Those of you who enter the church through the main doors are now using the baptismal font to bless yourself with holy water. And, no matter which door you use to enter the building, I invite you to allow that water to remind you that we are baptised into Christ’s death in order to rise with him. May the God of life continue to breathe new life into our world, our parish, and our lives.