I remember Corpus Christi Sunday when I was growing up. I would go with my dad to downtown Houston, where men from the Holy Name society from all the different parishes in the area would gather. We would march behind the Blessed Sacrament, carried in procession by a priest or the bishop. Many parishes still celebrate it, some by processing through the neighbourhood. It is a venerable tradition that focuses on our enduring belief that in the consecrated host is the actual, living Body of Christ. We celebrate the fact that our very God desires to be with us, present to us in a tangible manner, and nourish our souls. And I think this is a very appropriate time to celebrate those of us from the former Blessed Sacrament parish, who are now part of Assumption. Thank you for your steadfastness and your witness to the Body of Christ present among us.

Although this solemnity highlights the presence of Christ in the Eucharistic species, this weekend’s Gospel takes it further: Jesus feeds the crowd of 5000 men (plus women and children?) with only five loaves and two fish. Jesus feeds the body as well as the soul. And that is the perennial call of the Christian: to unite the spiritual and the physical, to care for the soul and the body—both others’ and our own. It is so much easier to worry only about my spiritual health. On another level, so much of society today worries about physical health, without being concerned with the spiritual. The challenge is to do both.

The Catholic Church has a long tradition of this. Here we have two conferences of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, one originally from Holy Name of Mary and the other from Blessed Sacrament (where the thrift store is now). A large group of dedicated volunteers ensure that SSVP helps many families each week with food (most of which you have given) and other items. This ministry is indeed an essential part of building up the Body of Christ, which is the Church.

And in an effort to care for my physical and emotional needs, I will be gone until mid-June, to help build up body and spirit. I will attend a conference in New Jersey, followed by vacation in Texas… where at the same time I’ve been invited to preside at a wedding of former parishioners, and then to be at the sad event of the Basilian “going away” Mass at Most Holy Trinity in Angleton, where I was pastor. Please pray for the people there as they transition from over 50 years of Basilian presence, to a diocesan pastor. And, I ask for your prayer for me during this time of rest; I assure you of your presence in my thought and prayer.

One of the students at St. Joseph’s College in Edmonton used to stop by my office for chats and counselling, and she asked me if I would be willing to preside at her wedding. So, I had the privilege of being there this past weekend. It was good to see many of the people I got to know while I lived and worked at St. Joe’s. And in another couple of weeks, I will be back in Angleton to do another wedding, this time of parishioners at Most Holy Trinity, where I was pastor. One of the privileges of having moved so often since I joined the Basilians is that I have formed relationships in all of these places. It is such a blessing to have people who are friends in so many places around the world. In a real sense, all these relationships are experiences of God.

For Christians—just as for Jews and Muslims—God is one. Yet we also acknowledge three Persons in that one God. We do not say we have three gods; we do not believe that one of the three Persons is of greater dignity or deserving of a higher place. Recently in one of the Sunday gospel passages we heard Jesus say that he and the Father are one. And this past weekend we celebrated the coming of the third Person, the Holy Spirit. Yet, these three Persons are united in such a way that they are only one. Fr. Richard Rohr rephrases the opening line of John’s Gospel into “In the beginning was the Relationship.” What a concept! If that is correct, then a relationship can be an experience of God.

Last Sunday, in his excellent homily, Deacon Paul invited us to “unwrap” the gifts of the Holy Spirit that we receive at Pentecost. One of those gifts is understanding. In the Letter to the Ephesians, St. Paul eloquently prays that we be given the gift to understand the width and length, the height and depth of the love of God poured out in Christ, so that we may be filled with the very fullness of God. I think that this week—and hopefully for much longer than that—I will try to remember just how privileged every relationship is. For in that very interaction, in that relationship between another and myself, can be the experience of God. I pray that we all may come to know God more fully in one another and in the relationships we have.

–Father Maurice

Wow, it’s Pentecost once again! I’ve been thinking of all our family traditions around Pentecost. I used to love opening Pentecost presents, and all our Christian neighbours would look forward to their gifts. Oh, wait—I think I have the wrong Feast in mind. Growing up, our family never did anything for Pentecost, and we don’t do anything now, either. On one level, I am extremely thankful that Pentecost has never been commercialized. No “Hallmark Cards” money is to be made off this feast. Nobody goes into debt buying gifts they can’t really afford and the receiver doesn’t really need. No, this celebration remains “Church-only.” Yet it is no less important than Easter and Christmas. It is our birthday as Church, and the moment when humanity is created anew. Freed from all the cultural trappings of holidays, we can truly celebrate God’s love for us. Imagine! God loves us so much that he has decided to become an integral part of who we are. The Holy Spirit penetrates our very beings and God comes to dwell within us.

We have two versions of this happening. The more common one gives the name of the feast today. On the 50th day after Easter, the Holy Spirit came upon the apostles and Our Lady as tongues of fire. It transformed them from a frightened, huddled group into people on fire with excitement, who boldly proclaimed the Good News, the message of Christ’s death and resurrection and the love that God has for us. Yet, as important and vivid as that image is, I tend to prefer the second: John’s Gospel situates this even as happening the night of the resurrection. Jesus himself comes into the room where we find the same frightened, huddled group of people and breathes on them. Just as God breathed life into the clay to form the first man, Jesus breathes life into his followers and makes them into a new creation.

In Hebrew, the same word is can be translated as “spirit,” “breath,” and “wind.” It is the “wind—spirit—breath” of God that hovers over the waters in Genesis that brings order out of chaos. It is God’s “wind—spirit—breath” that breathes life into Adam, and Jesus’ “wind—spirit—breath” that recreates his followers into people empowered to proclaim the good news. And it is God’s “wind—spirit—breath” that continues to bring order into the chaos of today, that continues to breathe life into lifeless moments, that continues to strengthen us, to recreate us, enabling us to boldly go forth and live by our principles, by God’s principles, in a world that sometimes goes astray.

Each year we end the Easter season with this amazing feast: the new life that Jesus experienced in the resurrection is now ours. I pray that we may do God’s work with the life we are given.

-Father Maurice

I offer my congratulations to the 21 young women and men who completed their sacraments of Christian initiation by being confirmed this Saturday evening. It is such a privilege to be able to celebrate with them and to be able to administer this sacrament. Three of them even received all three sacraments. Congratulations to each and every one of you. I encourage all of us to keep them in thought and prayer. All during the Easter season we have had the baptismal font before us, reminding us of who we are. Pentecost, which we celebrate next week, is the end of the Easter season. We will be moving the baptismal font to the place where the Canadian bishops recommend: near the entrance of the church. Baptism is our entry into the people called the Church. It is good to be reminded of that as we enter the building called the church, and bless ourselves with the water of our baptism.

Several years back, I defended my doctoral dissertation at the Gregorian University in Rome. It was, without a doubt, an important moment in my life. Upon walking out of the building, my very first thought was that I had to call my mother and tell her that it had gone well. Then I remembered: she had died almost a year-and-a-half earlier. I thought, “She already knows.” I often think of that experience when it comes to Christ’s Ascension. Of course, what I experienced concerning my mom was infinitely less than what we celebrate this weekend. Jesus of Nazareth, the leader, teacher, and hero of this band of disciples, had risen from the dead on the third day after the Romans crucified him. He appeared to the disciples on many occasions; then, he was taken away, up into heaven. He was gone. Yet he is not gone. He is here. He is alive. He is with us—but he’s not.

For me, the Ascension opens the way for two key aspects of our faith: First, Christ is exalted at the right hand of the Father. It is a statement of his glory. And second, it clears the way for the coming of the Holy Spirit, who dwells within us. St. Paul tells us that we are temples of the Holy Spirit. It is hard to even begin to grasp all the implications of that. As we prepare to celebrate that great feast, which is the birth of the Church, I pray that the Spirit may enlighten each of us, always making us docile to God’s will.

I remember when I was at Ste. Anne’s in Detroit in the late 1990’s. I used to come to visit the Basilians here in Windsor and sigh sometimes. Or, I’d be driving along the river and look over to Canada: everything was perfect here. There were no burned-out shells of houses, no zones of the city that looked like they had been bombed. Windsor was an idyllic land, where all your dreams could come true. Well, of course we all know that Windsor is not perfect. (Close, perhaps, but not quite there.) There is no place on this earth that is perfect. Even when we speak of a “utopia” (from the Greek meaning no place), we are stating our faith that there is an ideal, and that we are not living it yet.

The early Christians felt this strongly. The passage from the Acts of the Apostles that we hear proclaimed this weekend describes a powerful moment in the early Church. The first Christians had huge arguments as to whether or not one had to become a Jew (meaning the males would be circumcised and all would follow the dietary regulations) before one could become a Christian. Paul’s conversion of gentiles (non-Jews) provoked a crisis in the Church. And the Church addressed in the Book of Revelation was going through a time of persecution and crisis. And John gives those people powerful visions of a place that could be, a place that is not yet. Last week we heard of the New Jerusalem. This week it is described for us. It is a place of beautiful symmetry and harmony. The number twelve is prominent. In Sacred Scripture, twelve signifies completeness, wholeness. That is why there are twelve tribes of Israel, twelve apostles—and twelve months in a year, even twelve signs in the zodiac. It seems that God draws us to that number, consciously or unconsciously, and deep down within each of us we experience fullness. And this city has four sides, another symbolic number: the four directions, considered a fundamental feature of creation.

God gives the early Christians this beautiful vision of what could be. None of us have achieved it yet; it remains ever before us, guiding us in the direction we should go. Jesus sends us his Spirit to guide us in his ways of peace, the way that will lead us to God’s vision for us. I pray that we may always be open to the Spirit, wherever it leads. God’s vision for us awaits.

I find it hard to believe that I will soon mark one year here at Assumption Parish. It was on April 28 of last year that I crossed the Ambassador Bridge, driving from Edmonton to Windsor. The letter from Bishop Fabbro listed the effective date of my appointment as May 1, although we both knew that I would be away for most of May. This has been an incredible year. You are a kind, generous, and welcoming people. Thank you for making me feel completely at home. It is a privilege to be here as a part of this parish community.

For the early Church, even though it was an individual who made a profession of faith, it was always as part of a community. The first Christians were always Church, a community of believers. The readings from the Acts of the Apostles that we hear proclaimed during the Easter season highlight the communal aspect of the nascent faith, those people alive with the enthusiasm that came from the freshness, the recentness of the Resurrection and Pentecost. We on the pastoral team are trying to encourage community whenever and however  possible. Last weekend, John Dollar spoke to you about a  greeting ministry.

There is someone working on reviving the Pasta Dinners that St. Patrick’s used to have. I’ve been told that Holy Name used to have a great potluck dinner on a regular basis. I’d like to restart that, as well as learn about practices from the Blessed Sacrament and Assumption communities.

Since coming to Windsor I’ve gotten to know many of your names. I know even more faces. Since Assumption is an amalgamation of four parishes, I imagine that many of you still do not know everyone. So, we’re doing a directory. I encourage you to sign up to have your photo taken; we should be able to make appointments within another week or so, and photos will be taken in the second half of May. Everyone who participates receives a free 8×10 print, and a directory. Of course, the company printing these will invite you to buy more prints; you are welcome to do so, but are under no obligation. We are doing this in order to get to know each other better, to put names to the faces that we see.

In the Gospel of John, Jesus prays that we all might be one, one in Him and in the Father. I invite you to pray for that intention: for the unity of Assumption and the unity of all believers.

 

I remember the first time I ever saw a sheep. I was in high school, and went to a classmate’s house one day after school. Out in their back yard they had a sheep tied up; he called the sheep their “lawnmower,” because they would move the stake around and the sheep kept the grass nice and short. I thought that was kind of funny, but what most impressed me was the sheep itself. She was dirty! The wool was matted and kind of yellow. I had been around lots of cows in my life, but this animal smelled! I thought, “Yuck!” It didn’t look anything like the pretty white sheep I’d seen in textbooks, or around Jesus’ neck in drawings. It didn’t look anything like the fuzzy sheep we made by gluing nice white cotton onto construction paper back in grade school.

In his message to priests the first Holy Thursday after his election, Pope Francis mentioned that a priest had to smell like his flock. That is a powerful order. It means that I, and priests around the world (as well as bishops, cardinals, and the like) are called to get out of our offices and the sanctuaries at church and be with people.

In reality, though, it’s nothing new. Both the Old and the New Testaments contain images of God as our shepherd. And those images were first given to people who knew what a sheep was like. They knew how they smelled, and how they could wander off. They knew how they needed protection from marauders. And our God is the One who is with them, who searches them out when they are lost, who protects them! Our great and glorious God, enthroned in the highest heaven (like we hear in this weekend’s second reading), is also the one who gets dirty with us, who is with the little ones.

There is an old Hasidic tale that says that a rabbi once asked God why he refers to himself the One who brought the Israelites out of Egypt, and not the One who created the world and all that is in it. God responded that it was because the only way people will listen to him is if they knew that he is the One who pulled them up out of the muck. I hope to remember always that I can never get so low, so messy, so smelly, that my God is not there to be with me, to rescue me, and to pull me out of the muck and bring me back into safety and life.

Marie Rose Place, located in our parish a 318-320 Randolph St., is sponsored by the Basilian Fathers  and the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus & Mary. It is a welcoming place for reflection and contemplation.

Upcoming programs:

Friday, June 10, 7pm – Sunday, June 12, 1pm
Come to the Water A weekend retreat at Holy Names Villa on Lake Erie. Registration required, limited availability.

All are welcome! For more info call 519-253-1383.

I made a mistake—not the first one, and certainly not the last. On Good Friday, I announced that the collection was for the Franciscan ministry in the Holy Land, ensuring a Christian presence at those churches built upon the sites where significant events happened in Jesus’ life. I was wrong. I have since learned that in the Diocese of London, this ministry is funded through the parish assessment. The Good Friday collection, in its entirety (that means, without being taxed by the diocese), goes to the parish. I sincerely apologize for the confusion I caused—and I am happy to announce that through your generosity, just over $3100 has gone to the parish.

This weekend Jason Grech, the chair of the parish’s finance council, is presenting a report of our financial state for the past two years. In brief, I am very happy to report that we are solvent. You are generous. As you well know, our situation is complicated. We are paying for the heating and maintenance of two church buildings, as well as Rosary Chapel. If we weren’t, however, we would just about be covering our bills at Holy Name of Mary church, as well as the offices and chapel. Because of our situation, the diocese now allows us to use revenue from the Assumption parking lot for operating expenses; this is what keeps us “in the black.”

The baptismal font continues to be “front and centre” for the Easter season. I know I need to be continually reminded of the connection of baptism and Easter; it is why we will continue using the sprinkling rite for this time, as well. Later we will look at other ways to highlight the font, always remembering that baptism is the official act through which we enter God’s Church.

I am confident that, if we remain in Christ, we will continue to be a strong and healthy parish. One way of looking at this weekend’s gospel passage is that when the disciples went fishing without Christ, they caught nothing. Once he appeared on the shore and instructed them to lower their nets, they had an amazing catch. I pray that all of our activity is done in Christ and at his command. Then we know that we will be fruitful.

Christ is risen! He is truly risen! Alleluia!

Before anything else, I’d like to offer sincere and heartfelt thanks to so, so many people who helped make the parish’s Triduum and Easter celebrations such prayerful and beautiful events. Everything went so well, from the planning, the decorations, participation by the faithful, all the ministers. It was a true honour to be a part of it all!

I recently saw a play at a tiny theatre here in Windsor; actually, there were two plays rolled into one. The first act/play was about cyber-bullying—something that has become more and more common, and quite harmful to both the victim(s) and the perpetrator(s)—and the second about terrorism, specifically between Palestinians and Israelis. I found it fascinating how the audience and the victims in the play gradually began to show sympathy for the one who bullied and the one who blew himself up in an act of terror.

I think this is an example of what I’ve begun to think is a universal truth: The more we know about people, about their past and their experiences, the more we understand their actions and the easier it is to forgive. Small wonder, then, that we know God as merciful, for if God knows everything about us, God sees and understands all the little things that influence our lives, all the things that helped shape us. God indeed is the all-merciful One! How God he not be? All those things that cause me to sin, to treat others badly, to act out unhealthily are seen by God. God is truly Divine Mercy.

And, as always, this requires something on my part: just as I am forgiven, just as mercy is shown to me, I am called to forgive, to show mercy to others. Divine mercy is just the first part of the equation. That happens so that I, knowing forgiveness, might be able to forgive others. It’s not always easy. For most of us, it is especially hard to be merciful in the context of such brutal conduct, like terrorism, yet that is what we are called to be. Thankfully, God’s mercy never ends, so I can always start over. May we Christians, who bear the name of Christ in our own, be known for our forgiveness and mercy.