Saturday, July 24, 2010

St. Patrick's, Cupar: A Hundred Years of Living the Faith

Early in the month the Parish Community of St. Patrick's in Cupar celebrated 100 years of living the Catholic Faith. St. Patrick's is one of the communities served by Msgr. Reymundo Assis at St. John the Baptist in Southey. As you can see from the picture, we had a great turn out of the faithful for the celebration of this Mass.

The celebration of these special anniversaries are occurring with some regularity these years in rural Saskatchewan. The faith is strong and long standing in these communities, but the reality of the shift in population and the diminishing reality of the family farm causes concern on the part of parishioners for what will lie ahead for their parish.

These occasions of celebration are wonderful opportunities for me to meet the parishioners of our diocesan church, both the present members of the parish and those who come back home to the roots of their faith.

The young people are present in these parishes, but not to the degree as in the past. This phenomenon is found throughout our church in Saskatchewan and beyond, but it becomes a particular worry to small communities.

Nonetheless the presence of our people of all ages continues to be a sign of hope for our Church and a sign of hope that we will continue into the future carrying out the mission that Jesus, our Risen Lord, has given to us.

After the Celebration of the Eucharist there was a gathering in the community hall with entertainment and a good meal.

Here again, the talent and commitment of the young people was evident and their contribution was certainly enjoyable. During my remarks to the parishioners I spoke of the worries and concerns we have regarding the future not only of our smaller parishes but of the Church itself. I related an experience that I had recently with some of the priests our our Archdiocese. It was an experience which pointed out - once again to me - that the Church is in Jesus' hands, and that things don't always unfold as we think that they should. But that doesn't mean that things are falling apart. So here is the experience.

Some of the priests of the diocese responded to the Holy Father's invitation to come to Rome to take part in the ceremonies concluding the Year for Priests in the Church and I accompanied them. Our former Vicar General, Msgr. Don Bolen, who had played a large part in organizing this trip and who is now the Bishop of Saskatoon was able to come as planned. Following the ceremonies in Rome, six of us continued on to the Holy Land for an eight day pilgrimage.

Part of our visit was spent on the shores of the Sea of Galilee which is still a very rural and beautiful part of the country. As you know, it was here that Jesus carried out much of his ministry. One of the most striking miracles performed by Jesus was the feeding of the multitude of many thousands with five loaves and two fish. It was an event that was etched into the memory of the early Christians for it is recounted in each of the four Gospel accounts, sometimes twice.

There is a tradition which holds that this miracle was performed on the shores of the Sea of Galilee at a place which today is called Tabgha.There is a beautiful church there which commemorates this miracle.

Here you can see the Sanctuary of the church with a nearly 1,700 year old mosaic floor.

In this church,the altar is built over a stone which protrudes from the floor as you can see in this picture. The tradition is that Jesus laid out the loaves and fish on this stone as he performed this miracle. The early Christians chipped away small pieces of this stone to take home with them for devotion and veneration. What was of interest to me is the history of this church which is a story of encouragement for all who fear and worry about setbacks we suffer in the life of the Church.

A church was built on this spot in the 300's. A Spanish Nun named Egeria toured the Holy Land around the year 380 and left a famously detailed diary which gives us much insight into the life of the Church in the Land of Jesus in those early years. She wrote this: In the same place (not far from Capernaum) facing the Sea of Galilee is a well watered land in which lush grasses grow, with numerous trees and palms. Nearby are seven springs which provide abundant water. In this fruitful garden Jesus fed five thousand people with five loaves of bread and two fish. The stone upon which the Master placed the bread became an altar. The many pilgrims to the site broke off pieces of it as a cure for their ailments.

A larger church was built about a century later with beautiful mosaic floors. Then in the 600's the Persians invaded the country and destroyed the church. All that was to be seen for the next 1200 years was an empty field with no traces of the church. With the Arab invasion in the 700's all the Christians disappeared from the area. So for twelve centuries this place of Christian tradition, pilgrimage and worship ceased to exist.

In the 1930's the Franciscans came and began archaeological work. In the 1980's the Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves was found with its mosaic floor intact. The church was rebuilt and now is again a source of pligrimage, prayer and remembrance of the power of Jesus love and healing for all people.

When we came for Mass on Sunday morning, we were unable to use the Church, but the Franciscan community had an "outdoor chapel" on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. The six of us celebrated the Eucharist with a large boulder for the altar. This time, it was not the loaves and the fishes which lay upon a large rock, but the Bread of Life and the Cup of Salvation: Jesus' Body and Blood. The breeze was blowing off of the water and the shade of the overhead trees giving a cool and wonderful place to celebrate the Sacrament to which the Miracle of the Loaves and Fishes pointed. It was not hard to imagine Jesus in that same spot with his disciples. That morning we were joined by two Philipino priests, one of whom took this picture for us.

We returned to the Sacristy in the Church and had this picture taken in this place which was dead for so many centuries but alive again with vigorous faith and visited by hundreds of people daily.

Whenever I worry about the future of the Church in our Archdiocese, particulary in our small communities, I remember the power of Jesus' miracle of feeding the five thousand with five loaves and two fish. I remember the story of this holy place in Tabgha on the Sea of Galilee, and I am comforted by this lived-out example of the power of Jesus, Crucified and Risen from the Dead and of his Church against which not even the "gates of hell" will prevail.


Monday, July 12, 2010

Canada Day and the Community of Faith

It's been a long time since I have been able to share with you some of the things that I have been involved with in the life of our diocesan Church. And it is time to get back to work on this blog. On July 1st. the Catholic Community gathered at Blessed Sacrament Church for the annual Canada Day Mass.

There was, once again, a wonderful turn out of people to pray for our country and to thank God for the blessings that come to us as its citizens. I spoke on the question of being citizens of Canada as people of faith. And I would like to share with you the things that I said on this special and important occasion which celebrates our country.

My dear sisters and brothers we come together today to give thanks to God for the blessings which come to all of us because we live in this rich and blessed country. We come here as people of faith, as Catholic Christians and citizens of Canada, to pray and celebrate this day.
We recognize that Canada is a country that is struggling to find a way to see itself in this ever and quickly changing world we live in. We are well aware that Canada has chosen to see itself as a secular country, and as a secular society. This is something new in our history. Many of us who are people of religious faith get upset with this vision of what our society is supposed to be: a society in which religion has been moved from the public places and institutions where it held a valued and honoured position for over four centuries in our country.

Neither can we forget that among the Plains Indians who have lived here for thousands of years, spirituality was and remains an important, indeed essential part of their way of life. The Indian people have lived this spirituality out in public ceremonies and rituals that taught the meaning of this spiritual culture and gave them an identity as a people. We as Catholics have done likewise, as we expressed our Catholic culture with its ceremonies and rituals. The public living of our faith in this country gave us a sense of our identity as Catholic Canadian citizens.

I have a vivid memory from my childhood, of going on the bus to Mass on Sunday in the early 1950’s. The bus was crowded with people standing and holding on to the hand bars or straps with one hand and in the other hand the Catholics had their prayer book and rosary and the Protestants had their black leather covered Bible, everyone staring suspiciously at the opposition; but everybody there, going to Church, publicly bringing the outward signs of their faith.

Then all of a sudden it seemed that the world changed. Canada continued to welcome more and more on new arrivals in our country. Only now, they were not from the Christian countries of Europe, but they are from all over the world. And seemingly, all of a sudden, there were not only many religions but there were now many faiths. Now, deep in the Canadian heart and conscience there is felt the need to respect all who are here and a strong dislike of offending others. And so our attitude changed. Religion was moved off of the public bus, as it were, and people are told now that religion is a private matter that belongs in the privacy of our homes.

Christians have reacted to this sometimes with anger, as in the case when Christmas traditions and practices are not allowed in schools or public places. And as a result secularism can be seen as an enemy or an oppression and is met with anger and frustration on the part of religious citizens of our country. But is this the best way for us to deal with this reality in our country? How are we as Catholic people, for example, best able to speak to this society that is not only around us, but also of which we are members? For speak to it we must.

As followers of Jesus, whom we know to be the Way, the Truth and the Life for every person on earth, we know that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, has called us, not to put the light of our faith and the blessings of our relationship with him under a basket. Indeed we are called not to confine the way we live as Christian people to the limits of our bedroom walls. Rather we are taught by Jesus that we are to let that bright light of our faith shine before all people. Jesus teaches us that we are to be a light for our country and our society, a light that can dispel the darkness of injustice and oppression, of pain and despair and can give life and hope to everyone in our Country.

After Jesus had healed the man from Gerasene, who, as you remember, had been possessed by a legion of demons, he told the man to go home to his family and his friends and he said: You tell them “how much the Lord has done for you, and what mercy he has shown you.” Here is the mission of the followers of Jesus. We are followers of Jesus today and we too are taught that we are to tell people how much the Lord has done for us and what mercy the Lord has shown us.

We are able speak to our culture with the words which tell of the blessings we personally have received because of God’s love for us. We are also able to speak to our culture with lives lived according to the Good News of Jesus Christ. In the Gospel for this Mass, Jesus speaks the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount: “Blessed are the poor is spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
The word “blessed” conveys the meaning of happiness and joy. Many people in our society see religion as a bad thing because of the actions of religious extremists. They see religion as a dangerous power urging people to acts of violence and terrorism. They see religion as bringing about extremism in political life. They see religion as endangering people’s freedom.

Is it not our duty, to God who loves and saves us, to show our society that our faith is not threatening but rather is “Good News”? As our society seeks a way to be just, fair and welcoming, do we not have something to say to those around us that will be helpful.

Jesus teaches us then that our friends and neighbours need to see in us people who are poor in spirit, people who in the sad and tragic times of life find comfort and peace from God, people who hunger and thirst for what is just and right. Our neighbours need to see in us who are Catholic people, people who are merciful in our dealings with them, people who make peace rather than cause division, prejudice and violence. And our neighbours need to see in us people who will not give in when the going gets tough, but remain faithful to the Good News entrusted to us. People need to see us as “blessed”, as joyful people whose lives have a special happiness, joy and peace because of our faith and our relationship with God.

In this way we can truly be Jesus’ witnesses. In this way we carry out Jesus direction to tell people “how much the Lord has done for us, and what mercy he has shown us.” And in this way we people of religious faith can be good news for our Country.

May God bless this land of Canada and all of its people. Amen.