Sunday, June 8, 2014

Joy, Peace, & Unity

As far as I'm concerned, there were two "miracles" associated with last Sunday's pilgrimage to St. Joseph's Oratory: (1) we were moving nearly 300 people around a foreign city, and managed to stay right on schedule the whole day through; and (2) we drastically changed the Mass schedule here to accommodate the pilgrimage, and not a single person has complained!

   Pentecost   A 

Fr. Tom was greeting folks after Mass
when a woman came up to him and said,
 “Father, that was a good homily!”
“Why, thank you,” he replied,
“but I have to give the credit to the Holy Spirit.”
“Now, Father,” she said, “it wasn’t that good…”

Abby with me after Mass
All week long,
parishioners have been coming up to me
and saying, “Father, thank you! 
That was such a wonderful pilgrimage last Sunday!”
I want to make sure to give credit where credit is due:
it was Fr. Tom and his committee that did all the work.
We’re certainly grateful for their careful preparations!
I also want to thank all of you who came to take part.
From what I could see, nearly 300 people where there
for the Mass in the basilica at St. Joseph’s Oratory.
That means about one of every four people
who come to Mass here in the Malone Catholic Parishes
made the trek to Montréal a week ago.
Pretty impressive!
As my four-year-old niece, Abigail,
said to my sister-in-law at the end of the Mass,
“That was amazing!
She was right.

But even more than Fr. Tom or hundreds of pilgrim parishioners,
there is someone else whose presence and work last Sunday
needs to be acknowledged—and that is the Holy Spirit.
One of you took a video
of the final procession at the pilgrimage Mass,
and a strange ball of white light can be seen
hovering over the servers and us clergy
as we make our way from the sanctuary to the sacristy.
It’s kind of a neat thing to see…
…but there’s even clearer evidence than that
that the Holy Spirit was with in a very special way.

The first sign was joy.
“I’ve never seen so many happy people!”
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard that this week.
Our group was marked by smiles and laughter—
and not just when returning with full plates 
from the evening buffet.
Pilgrimage always involves hardship,
and this one was no exception.
It was a long trip on the buses,
and the Oratory is built into a mountain;
even with escalators and elevators,
it’s a challenge to get around.
And yet there was so much palpable joy—
and I’ve been seeing it on people’s faces ever since.
It was that way on Pentecost, too.
As the on-fire Apostles went out to the gathered crowds, 
their joyfulness was noteworthy.
In fact, read just a couple more lines into the Acts of the Apostles,
and you’ll hear some folks scoffing, “They’ve had too much wine!”
No doubt, the joy seen among those first believers
attracted people to Christ even more so
than the wondrous way they spoke in many tongues.
As a French writer once put it,
“Joy is the most infallible sign of the presence of God.”  (L. Bloy)
God the Holy Spirit was clearly with us.

The steps are a little too steep for you to get a good sense of the size of our group
The second sign of the Spirit’s presence was peace.
A parishioner who was making her first visit to the Oratory
“felt a sense of peace that was very overpowering and complete.”
Others noted much the same thing,
almost from the moment we arrived on the property.
We live in turbulent times.
Our lives are marked my constant activity,
and much agitation and anxiety.
We long for peace of mind, peace of heart,
but we assume it must work its way in from the outside:
that we must get ourselves free—even if only for a moment—
from the struggles and sufferings,
duties and distractions that surround us.
But the only real peace—
the one pilgrims experienced last Sunday—
is an interior one, and it’s a gift from above.
A wise priest once wrote,
“The devil does his utmost to banish peace from one’s heart,
because he knows that God abides in peace
and it is in peace that he accomplishes great things.”  (L. Scrupoli)
On the evening of his Resurrection,
Jesus appears saying, “Peace be with you. 
Receive the Holy Spirit.”
That Spirit of peace was with us.

The third sign of the Spirit’s presence was unity.
As a priest, I hear people speak
about joy and peace often enough,
but generally not about unity…except this past week.
Parishioners have noted how good it was
to see members of all four of our parishes
joined together as one in that massive church.
I must say: from the altar, it was a rather beautiful sight!
People met and spoke with fellow Catholics from our community
whom they’d never met or spoken with before.
As someone else put it,
“I think a lot of walls came tumbling down on Sunday.”
Historically, the people who founded our parishes
came from different backgrounds, spoke different languages,
and had different social standing.
I think Sunday helped to make it plain
that there’s much more which unites us than divides.
As St. Paul wrote,
“In one Spirit we were all baptized into one body”—
that is, the Body of Christ.
That same Spirit of unity was with us.
Yes, I took this photo from the Presider's Chair at the end of Mass...but how could I resist that view?

Joy.  Peace.  Unity.
They were particular graces on our day of pilgrimage.
But they don’t have to be limited to any single day!
I pray that what we experienced
when going together to the tomb of St. André Bessette
will be hallmarks of the new parish that is to bear his name.
Archbishop Oscar Romero once noted,
“It will always be Pentecost in the Church
provided the Church always lets the beauty of the Holy Spirit
shine forth from her countenance.…
The Church will be fair to see,
perennially young, attractive in every age,
as long as she is faithful to the Spirit that floods her
and she reflects that Spirit through her communities,
through her pastors, through her very life."
This Pentecost Sunday, let us pray with great fervor
that the Holy Spirit will come upon us anew
and remain with us always—
that St. André’s Parish will be a place
marked by joy, peace, and unity.

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