Called to be a living, loving community

April 29, 2018

On these Sundays we are having as Gospels passages from what is called the “Farewell Discourse” in the Gospel of John. John’s Gospel is the fourth and latest Gospel written at the end of the First Century for a Christian community which had little by little become disconnected with Jesus the Risen Lord. That community was also under persecution and no doubt some people had started to doubt about who this Jesus really was, what the meaning of his life was for them. So, the writer of John’s Gospel wants to reinvigorate not only the faith of his own community, but the faith of all future communities, and yes, that includes our community of faith here in Saanich Peninsula Parish. He wants to tell us how we need to interpret the life, suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus. He does so by collecting all kinds of sayings attributed to Jesus, grouping them together according to themes in four chapters, and placing them into a “Farewell Discourse” (John 13:1 – 17:24) by Jesus before his departure. Humans are always interested to learn what famous people said before their death. It is really last instructions, a teaching, an evangelization, of people who need encouragement in difficult times, including our own difficult times. What strikes us when we read these words is their optimism, the tone of encouragement. Jesus could have been pessimistic as he saw the end     approaching. After all, he seemed to have accomplished so little. He could have been filled with anxious warnings for his followers or he could have said words of how great he was. Instead, his words show no anxiety but rather   reassurance. His concern is for the well-being of his followers, of us.  And so we are told that as followers of Jesus we will never lose touch with him because we form together part of a living plant. Jesus is the vine and we are the branches; we depend on Christ for our life and vitality. The same intimate relationship that exists between Jesus and his Abba–God, exists between Jesus and his followers. Jesus has made his life a gift to his followers, to us. And that gift of life flows through us now. We need to become ever more aware and conscious of that vitality in us: Christ’s life flows through us and is the source of our fruitfulness in the world. Christ is alive now and we can live out Christ’s dream for ourselves and others by drawing on his life force within us. And we are not alone on that journey; we are together with companions, companions on the journey. There are other branches on this vine; we form one plant lovingly cared for by our   loving, nurturing God. Jesus sees us all connected to him and thus, to one another through him. The importance is that we remain connected, that we see ourselves in fundamental solidarity with one another, especially with the sick and lonely, the poor and marginalized, the forgotten close by and far off.  This is why we need to come together  on Sundays to break open the Scriptures and reflect on them, to give thanks and praise, and pray for ourselves and the world. Otherwise we forget who we are and to whom we belong. Jesus tells this connected community to love one another, to remain connected. The memorial that Jesus leaves the world is not a statue in bronze, not a list of accomplishments. The memorial that Jesus leaves to the world is a living, loving community. It is this living, loving community that is a living memorial of its founder; it will be known by its love for one another, by the name Christian. This community is the Word spoken in the world, a Word of love and of mercy, a Word of justice, reconciliation and peace. This concrete sign of God’s love, spoken in each generation, will draw others to itself, the way Jesus’ followers were drawn to him, a Word spoken in darkness.  Others are drawn to this living community and through the love and care of its members they will hear the voice of the shepherd, be drawn to it and thus come to follow the shepherd; remember Good Shepherd Sunday (April 22)? Pope Francis has called upon the Church “to take up the joyful call to mercy once more” and to refashion itself as a place not of judgment or condemnation but of pardon and merciful love: “Mercy is the force that reawakens us to new life and instills in us the courage to look to the future with hope.”   As we prepare ourselves for the Feast of Pentecost (May 20), let us pray that we may discern the signs of the times so that as a Church we may learn what needs to be changed (“Christian life is not a museum of memories” – Pope Francis). Let us pray that the Gift of Christ’s Spirit may strengthen our own living loving community so that we may be for ourselves and others God’s love and mercy in action in this our time, in this our world. Shalom, Fr. Rolf, OP
 

Ways of Being Christian

April 15, 2018

At Easter time we are always having the sprinkling rite as part of our Sunday Eucharistic Celebrations when I go around with joyous children and with cedar pour generously (!!) Holy Water on you and myself (!) to remind us all of our baptism and our baptismal vows which we renew each Easter. We know that these vows require of us that we become “evangelizers”, living our faith in our daily life at home, at work, in school, wherever we spend time with friends or with the general public.  Our celebrations in this Easter season help us to remember with joy and renewed hope how Jesus the Risen Lord journeys with us to enlighten, challenge, encourage, strengthen and inspire us with the gift of His Spirit so that we might find ways of being Christ-like, Christian, in our daily life.    We are truly blessed to be able to celebrate in freedom our faith especially when we know that countless Christians in Iraq and in the Middle East, in Pakistan, in China and in parts of India and Africa and elsewhere, do not enjoy that right and privilege, and are even being persecuted losing their homes, livelihood and living as exiles in uncertainty and often in danger. We need to keep these people in our prayers and continue to pray for peace and justice in those parts of the world. Let us remember that Jesus’ command, “do this in memory of me” is to celebrate the Eucharist, but also to become Eucharist, nourishment for others, in the way we serve and wash other people’s feet with our sweat and love.  In the week to come from April 15 -21 National Volunteer Week gives us added incentive to find ways of being Christian and to recognize the incredible contributions of Canada’s volunteers and letting them know how much their efforts are appreciated by all. Volunteering is an essential and integral part of being Christian, of being ourselves and sharing the goodness within us with others. That is why we call this volunteering “ministries”: in them we are witnessing to each other and to others, the Gospel and the love and peace of God within us. This weekend you will hear about our Parish’s very important ministry of visiting the sick, shut-ins and home-bound, which from now on will be coordinated by Fatima Warner. We wish to thank her for coming forward as well as thank Richard Neary and Linda McGowan who coordinated this essential ministry for many years in our Parish.    From April 22-28 we celebrate National Organ Donor Awareness Week. The Church has often stressed the importance of organ and tissue donation, again as part of being a Christian: “To donate one’s organs is an act of love,” said Pope Benedict XVI. Unfortunately, people in BC have the lowest participation rate in the whole of Canada. There is a chronic shortage of organs as the need far outweighs the number of organs available for transplant. There are hundreds of British Columbians awaiting organ transplants and hundreds more waiting corneal transplants. Some organs that could be available for transplant are lost because the decision of the loved one is not known by the family. This again emphasizes how important it is for you to let your loved ones know of your desires re. the donation of your organs and tissues but also of your other desires re. funeral celebrations. Make sure that your family knows that you wish to have your Christian life and faith celebrated at the time of your death, meaning that you wish to have a funeral mass of the Resurrection gathering your family and your community of faith around the Eucharist. Please, consider registering as an organ donor. We encourage you to call BC Transplant at 604-877-2240 or at 1-800-663-6189 to request a registration brochure. Individuals may also register their wishes regarding organ and tissue donation online at www.transplantbc.ca  Unfortunately, many of us have outdated ideas and knowledge re. organ and tissue donation. Transplants are costeffective. The average cost of kidney dialysis treatment is $60,000 a year. By comparison, the one-time cost of a kidney transplant in BC is $23,000 with an additional yearly cost of $6,000 for anti-rejection drugs. Survival rates of transplant patients continue to improve, providing recipients with an extended and high quality of life.  Please, continue to come forward to volunteer within our own parish.  Speak to some of the people who have been ministering in various ways and hear from them the joy and satisfaction they receive from their ministry. This month we also finish another year of religious education of our children. Additional volunteer religious educators are needed to continue the work. At the end of September we will continue the two-year program for those children preparing for confirmation and first Eucharist in 2019. We want to thank Carla and Jim Fretwell, Leonarda Manalo, Stasia Hartley and Hollie Beattie who have shared their gifts and talents this past year. If you wish to know more, please, contact me or the office at 656-7433 or e-mail spparish@shaw.ca . 
 
 

Easter 2018

April 1, 2018

We are constantly reminded these days by the change of the seasons and by what is happening in the world of the rhythm of human life with its pain and joy, life and death, rebirth and endings. This is also true in our spiritual and liturgical moments. Each time we come together to celebrate the Sunday Eucharist we celebrate the Paschal mystery of a God who freely chose to suffer and die for us in Jesus so that we have new life. But not just in the past; no, also today when God continues to identify with our own personal and communal kinds of deaths and dyings and lives them with us, bringing forth from them new life and hope! Blessed by that hope and new life we, like Jesus, are called to become voluntary cross and pain bearers: to share the pain, the anguish, even the despair of our fellow human beings, to absorb also people’s anger, and to care for them without question. We are called to see the suffering Christ in the faces around us, in those close by and in the faces of those on our streets, in refugee camps, in suffering communities in areas of conflict around the world.  We have some modern mentors in that regard and Pope Francis points to them. He recently beatified 19 Algerians who were murdered from 1994-1996 in the conflict between Islamists and the army. Among them the Trappists of Tibhirine (a powerful movie, “Of God and men”, tells their story) and the Bishop of Oran, Pierre Claverie, a Dominican who I met in Rome when I was a member of a Justice and Peace Commission. These were men and women who wished to be solidaire with those in Algeria who wished an open and inclusive, plural Algeria. They had entered into a true dialogue recognizing and accepting differences with the willingness to be enriched by those differences. They exemplified God’s own nature, a God whose very being is dialogue, relating to others. Their witness of love and faith was lived with discretion and humility; they are truly saints of and for our time.  On this Easter Sunday we celebrate the certainty that Jesus on the Cross overcame all suffering and the sins of our humanity and that like Jesus we too are now called to emerge from our various tombs and awaken to life. We are assured of God’s mercy and of the gift of the Spirit that helps us see how all our life experiences, no matter how painful, can also be life giving, sources of hope, moments of rising to new life. We usually stop at the dark side of death, just as we usually are preoccupied by the bleakness of our world, the economic and financial woes, the hunger, the sickness, the injustices, the despair, our own darkness and sinfulness. But we must also look at the flip side of all these deaths, so that we may discover that deeper mystical reality which Jesus showed to us in his death on the cross. The cross is the major symbol of our faith; we should not be afraid of showing its truth to the world. The cross both forces us and teaches us to let go, to surrender and trust. And at that very moment when we surrender, pain becomes praise, weakness becomes strength, death becomes life. We know this, we can experience this, because of the example of Jesus, because of the example of so many Christ-like people (Christians and non-Christians) who have or are showing the way in history and in our world. Yes, our own crosses in life CAN teach us compassion, to be merciful to the point of foolishness, to forgive seventy times seven, to reconcile, to share. Our own crosses, no matter how heavy, CAN make us vividly aware of the fact that everyone is wounded and crucified in some way. Our own crosses CAN make us sensitive to the sufferings of others. Our crosses are in a beautiful way the seeds of compassion. Our crosses, mine but also yours, those of so many innocents in the world, in the Middle East, in our cities, this world’s crosses. Yes, these crosses can transform hearts of stone into bread, broken for the hungry of the world.   God’s Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead has also been given to us as a seed in baptism. And as we know a seed must die in order to grow and bear fruit. We are called to let our quest for more things, for inordinate pleasures, die in us and to strive for an end to injustices, for redistribution of wealth and respect for the poor, for a true peace devoid of all violence and hatred. Archbishop Oscar Romero (always seen as a Saint by the people and now at last recognized by the official Church), at first seen as a “safe” choice and then as a man who stood with his suffering people for which he was murdered on March 24 1980, knew it and invites us: “To each one of us Christ is saying: If you want your life and mission to be fruitful like mine, do like me. Be converted into a seed that lets itself be buried. Let yourself be killed. Do not be afraid. The Lord goes with you…. If we illuminate with hope the longings for justice, peace, and goodness that we still have on this earth, they will be realized. Those who have put in their work a feeling of great faith, of love of God, of hope for humility, find all that work now overflowing in the splendors of a crown. Such has been the reward for all those who do work, watering the earth with truth, justice, love and kindness. These deeds are not lost; purified by the spirit of God, their effects are our reward.”  Yes, we are as Christians called to be truly Easter people in action, people who by their presence, by their word, by their action help this world to rise: we are called to be witnesses of hope! Have an Easter which continues to live in us!