Since 1984, Aid to Women has provided counselling services and material support to women with crisis pregnancies. The agency's work changed in March 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic reached Toronto. Below, executive director Mary Helen Moes shares with us how Aid to Women is continuing to serve women amidst the ongoing pandemic.
1. What has been happening with Aid to Women over the past year?
In the last year, Aid to Women has been helping more women facing crisis pregnancies than ever before. Sadly, we have experienced a heart breaking increase in the number of women contacting us. Our numbers have doubled and, in some months, we’ve tripled our outreach. We are finding that women are considering aborting their child, even when they would like to keep their baby, because of a lack of support.
We’ve been able to provide them with professional counselling and the material needs of their baby, not just during their pregnancy and childbirth, but until their little one is two years old.
Our level of help seems unbelievable to them. Yet we continue to hone our skills everyday so woman in crisis will trust that we will deliver on our promise to them.
2. Tell us about Aid to Women and how it’s coping during COVID-19.
COVID-19 changed everything. But we are small enough that we can pivot and change quickly.
Our protocols changed rapidly from meeting the women at a distance, to by appointment only meetings (no walk-ins), to meeting by Zoom or phone only. It is harder to establish trust when you are not meeting in person. Yet women in need are still connecting with us. And because of that, some of the women we serve have already had their babies and there are more babies on the way!
We had to change how we serve those who have already given birth. We make a strong commitment while these woman are still pregnant that we will support them until their child is two years old. We do not take our commitments lightly. These women are our priority.
We found delivering goods to the mothers was a problem at first. Most of our volunteer drivers are over the age of 50 and were not comfortable entering large apartment buildings. We took that concern to heart and to mitigate the risks, we found young people who were laid off during the pandemic who were quite willing to help.
Other challenges had to be overcome. For example, it became difficult to accept donations from people's homes or to pick-up donations. Then there was not enough space to process the items (i.e. extra cleaning and safe handling). We took one of the rooms in our office and made it our COVID-19 donation room. Everything is placed in there for the recommended length of time for the virus to no longer be present on the items’ surfaces.
3. What is your greatest need during this pandemic?
Frankly, donations. We had planned four campaigns in churches throughout March and April, and our annual gala was scheduled for April. All of that came to an immediate halt because of the COVID-19 shutdown. The loss to our agency was extraordinary.
As the world came to a halt, we could not pause our work. We could not wait for the COVID-19 restrictions to be lifted. Our clients and their children need as much help as possible in these difficult times.
Thankfully, we shifted quickly. We held an online art auction by asking people to stay home, create, paint and donate. We had over 30 artists from Babies to Bishops donate their stay-at-home creations and our tiny online auction made some much needed dollars. We also had some amazing volunteers sew face masks, which we are selling for $6 - $10 each with the proceeds going to Aid to Women.
We are finding that most people are earning less now and they are also spending and donating less. We are learning quickly that fundraising success right now will not look like it did in the past. So we are pivoting to do things to support our women that we would have never dreamed of before. But if sewing masks makes money that helps us to pay our rent and buy diapers, then we are most grateful!4. Despite the office being closed to the public, what projects are Aid to Women currently working on?
Right now, I am working with perhaps the best board of directors I ever been blessed to know. These professionals are redoing our budgets, re-writing and approving policies to see us through in the short term and give us direction for the future.
We are calling all our donors to check-in with them and make sure they know we are still operating and need their support. Our donors play a critical role in making sure that our rent is paid and that the lights remain on, yet more important than that, we are able to do this great work that we feel called to do. More than that, we find strength in the support we are able to offer women.
Although we may not be operating exactly the same in the future, we are doing everything in our power to fulfill our commitment to serve women who are facing a crisis pregnancy. 5. What is your greatest hope for Aid to Women after this pandemic?
That we continue to save lives by connecting with one woman at a time. That we continue to listen to these women’s stories and help them through their crisis pregnancies by providing life-affirming options. That we are able to do this with full staff, in the same building and with all the bills paid.
We are passionate about serving women and saving lives every day. We do this hand-in-hand with our donors and loyal supporters. We look forward to the future with great hope, knowing that the need for our support will continue to grow.
To learn more about Aid to Women, please visit their website.
Fr. Michael McGourty is pastor of St. Peter’s Parish in Toronto.
On the first weekend that we were unable to publicly celebrate Mass in our churches because of the COVID-19 pandemic, I had what I can only describe as a panic attack.
I struggled with a great deal of anxiety in those first few weeks of the church closures. I was terribly worried about how St. Peter’s Parish, which struggles financially under normal circumstances, would pay its bills during this crisis. I feared it would be necessary to lay off our parish staff and I did not know how I would look after the parishioners or maintain our huge property without our staff. The anxiety and stress that was making me panic was caused by my illusion that I had to solve these problems on my own and that I could be in control of these difficult circumstances.
As the weeks passed, I slowly realized that I could not deal with these issues on my own. I sought support in prayer and from friends, which helped me learn that many other people were feeling the same way I was.
It certainly helped that many good people at our archdiocesan chancery worked with the bishops to come up with solutions to many of the parish’s concerns. The situation was also aided by the support that many of us received from the government during this crisis. However, what I really had to learn (and accept) during this uncertain time is the same lesson that Jesus announces in this Sunday’s Gospel. This life-giving and freeing message of the Gospel has been hidden from the “wise and the intelligent, and revealed to infants.”
When I was studying at St. Augustine’s Seminary, my favorite teacher was the late Bishop Attila Mikloshazy, my liturgy professor. Bishop Mikloshazy said the most important lesson in the spiritual life to remember “that God is God and you are not.”
This is not always an easy thing to remember. We are often tempted by the desire to always be in control. Most of us hate uncertainty. When problems arise, we want to solve them with plans that make us feel confident that everything will be alright from our human perspective.
The reality of life is that we need to be aware of the things that we can control and be able to live with the things that we cannot control. There is a great prayer that is used in twelve-step groups that captures this reality. It goes: “Lord, grant me the serenity to accept the things that I cannot change, the courage to change the things that I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
This is such an important prayer for me to pray when I am tempted to forget that God is God and I am not.
It strikes me that this is what Jesus is getting at in today’s Gospel.
Let me share an example with you. Imagine how ridiculous we would consider a two-year-old getting a job and feeling responsible for providing for her or his family. In a healthy family, no infant is expected to care for her or his parents. The infant trusts the parents and does not even think about the mortgage payments and bills. There is nothing an infant can possibly do about these things.
Although we might be slow to admit it, and uncomfortable to accept it, the reality is that we must trust God, our loving Father. We are His children and we must trust in His loving providence, as we are powerless over certain things. There are things that we can control and there are responsibilities that we need to tend to in life. However, there are things that we cannot control — like natural disasters, illness, accidents, pandemics, the hour of our death and a whole list of things that make us uncomfortable.
We can pretend that we are in control of these things, if we wish. However, as we try to control those things that are beyond our power, in all likelihood, we will find ourselves creating unnecessary stress and anxiety for ourselves. The more we live with the unreasonable expectation that we control situations that are, in fact, beyond our control, the more likely we are to find ourselves panicking in the face of our reality.
As we come to terms with our powerlessness in certain situations, it is then that our hearts are ready for the comforting words of Jesus in today’s Gospel: “Come to me, all you that are weary and carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
Sadly, these words that should bring me comfort, are words that I often struggle to put into action. Because of my pride, I often have the curse of falling into that category of people who think of themselves, as Jesus says, among the “wise and the clever of the world.” Those of us who struggle with this problem, always think that we can solve things on our own. Even in prayer, we might come to God looking insights to help us use our intelligence to solve and deal with the situations before ourselves. When we do this, we end up closing our hearts and minds to the presence of the loving God who is at our side to assist us and give us the grace we need to walk tranquilly through those situations that we cannot fix and solve.
When we rely only on our own strength, we become blind to the God who desires to walk at our side. The result being that the mysteries of the Gospel are hidden from our eyes, as they are revealed only to God’s children who know that “God is God and I am not.”
What are we to do when trials come our way?
We should start by doing the best we can, as we use our prudence and common sense to care for our self and our neighbours. But, once that has been done, and we have been wise enough to recognize that the situation is beyond our control, we must hand it over to God in prayer if we are to enjoy serenity and peace in these situations. The alternative is to bring upon ourselves anxiety, stress and needless panic.
Now, I used to hear people say, “Give it to God,” and I had no idea what that meant. I have since come up with my own notion of what that means. This is how I do it. For me, to give something to God, requires prayer in a quiet place — ideally before the Blessed Sacrament in the church. There, I like to imagine myself in conversation with Jesus, who loves me and you very much. I imagine giving these fears and anxieties to Jesus. Sometimes as I come to Him, I do so as a child; at other times, I do so as an adult coming to a friend or brother.
When I say that “I give Jesus my fears and anxieties,” I mean that I imagine myself physically handing them to him to carry. If things are really bad, I imagine Him as the Good Shepherd carrying me on His shoulders and me as the helpless sheep that He has come to save. Sometimes the burden begins to lift quickly; at other times, I need to sit there with Him for a long time. Even if I have to sit there a long time, I don’t leave until I understand the meaning of His words: “For I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”
It is said that St. John XXIII, pope from 1958 to 1963, would go into a chapel every night before he went to bed and say: “Lord, it’s your Church, I’ve done my best today. I’m going to bed, you look after it.”
Despite the great responsibility of his office, as pope, he always exuded such peace. St. John XXIII knew how to be a child of God. Jesus invites us to have the same confidence of His presence in our lives.
In this Sunday’s reading from the Book of Zechariah, we hear how God came to protect His people at a time of war. The people rejoice because the Lord came to rescue them from the war horses and chariots from Ephraim by riding humbly on a donkey. The temptation for all of us is to try and solve every challenge with our strength, intelligence and wisdom. Yet, we are all of us God’s children and, as His children, there are certain things that we must entrust to His care and providence.
When certain things are beyond our human power, it is futile to fight them or to weigh ourselves down with anxiety, stress and panic trying to solve a problem over which we have no power. These situations call us to take up His invitation in today’s Gospel: “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
May we all learn the joy of being God’s children and giving Him our fears over the things that are beyond our control. When fear and anxiety are about to overtake you, stop and be still and know that God is God and you are not. By doing this, you will experience the freedom that only Jesus can give.
This reflection based on the readings for the Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, year A: Zechariah 9:9-10; Psalm 145; Romans 8: 9, 11-13; and Matthew 11: 25-30.
Craig Fernandes, a former seminarian at St. Augustine’s Seminary, is now an engineering Master’s student at the University of Toronto.
“Do not be afraid!”
These words from Jesus in today’s Gospel should be a source of reassurance for all of His stewards. These same words were echoed by St. John Paul II at his inaugural homily as Pope. He said, “Brothers and sisters, do not be afraid to welcome Christ and accept his power. Help the Pope and all those who wish to serve Christ and with Christ’s power to serve the human person and the whole of mankind. Do not be afraid. Open wide the doors for Christ.”
As stewards of Christ, it is easy to succumb to various fears. The fear of financial burdens, family crises, health complications and the spiritual fear of not being a “good” enough disciple. It is to these anxieties and others that St. John Paul II – and Jesus – say not to fear.
But how do we fight the temptation to be afraid?
We fight this through prayer and trust in God. Whenever fears or worries take hold of our lives, whenever we doubt the fruits or importance of our stewardship, let us run to prayer. It is in those quiet moments before the Lord that He will slowly reveal His love for us which “casts out fear” (1 John 4:18).
Let us take a moment today to intentionally pray to God, asking Him to fill us with greater trust in His goodness.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus encourages us to “be not afraid!” In our lives as followers of Christ and stewards many fears and worries may begin to take hold of us. Let us strive to fight these fears through the power of prayer and daily grow in greater trust in God.
To read more stewardship reflections, please click here.
Fr. Michael McGourty is the pastor of St. Peter’s Parish in Toronto.
Ever since COVID-19 entered our lives a few months ago, everyone I have spoken with has shared how uneasy this situation makes them feel. All of us feel uneasy when thinking of the uncertainty of illness and the fear of suffering and death.
This reality of our human condition is expressed by the Catechism of the Catholic Church at number 1,500, which states: “Illness and suffering have always been among the gravest problems confronted in human life. In illness, [we] experience powerlessness, limitations and finitude. Every illness can make us glimpse death.”
That this illness gives us a glimpse of death, I think, is what makes many of us feel so uneasy about the current situation. It seems to me that this uneasiness we all feel in the face of uncertainty, sickness or the fear of death, can best be described by the word “dis-ease.”
In the face of this dis-ease, the question that many of us ask is, “Why?” Why does God allow us to suffer dis-ease and why does God do nothing to intervene during these situations?
St. Paul alludes to the answer in this Sunday’s second reading from his Letter to the Romans, writing: “Just as sin came into the world through one man, and death came through sin, so death spread to all people because all have sinned.”
Adam and Eve’s sin broke the relationship of communion that existed between God and humanity. Because of this, men and women began to experience dis-ease with their existence in the world.
To explain what I mean by this, I need to take us back to the Garden of Eden. In the Book of Genesis we see Adam and Eve living in communion with God. They fear nothing and are at peace with Him before sin entered the world. Some have even raised the question: would Adam and Eve have “died” if they had not sinned? St. Paul seems to suggest in today’s second reading that they would not have died.
What does this mean?
I think we need to look to Mary, the Mother of God, to understand. Most theologians believe that God did not create Adam and Eve to spend eternity in the Garden of Eden. They, like us, were created for Heaven. At some point, these theologians say, Adam and Eve would have passed from this world into Heaven. However, they point out that they would have entered Heaven without anxiety and fear. Their passing would have been more of a transition from this world to Heaven.
Because we are born with original sin, we do not have the same communion with God that was originally enjoyed by Adam and Eve. This means that our journey from this world to the next is not a smooth transition. We experience death as the termination of life in this world and with uncertainty about the world to come. Because of sin, it is not even certain that we will pass directly from this world to the next. We are confronted with the reality that God will honour the free choices of those who choose to exclude themselves from His kingdom. It is this uncertainty that is at the heart of our dis-ease.
If we wish to understand what God intended for us, we need to look to the example of Mary, the Mother of God. To save humanity, God created her without sin through the Immaculate Conception, so she might become the Mother of God. He did for her in advance what He hopes to do for each of us through baptism. Having been born without original sin, Mary lived her life in communion with God and is the one who brings Jesus into the world. Because she was born without original sin, and remained free of sin until the end, she passed directly from this world to the Kingdom of Heaven and was crowned as Queen of Heaven without having to await the judgement of the living and the dead that will come at the end of time.
God does for Mary what He had hoped to do for all of us from the beginning. God does for Mary what He will do for us if we accept the salvation that comes to us in Christ, His Son.
This is also what St. Paul told us when he wrote: “For if the many died through the one man’s trespass, much more surely have the grace of God and the free gift in the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, abounded for the many.” As Paul tells us, Jesus came to restore us to communion with God.
As a parish priest, there are two very powerful occasions when I witness that presence of God being in communion with His people.
One occasion of this presence is at communion during Mass. As people receive our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament, Jesus comes to dwell in them through the power of the Holy Spirit. No matter what burdens, disease or suffering we might be bearing on our hearts, when we approach the Lord at communion, Jesus comes to be with us and to strengthen us so we can go back to live our lives in the world with Him. He is Emanuel, God with us.
The second powerful occasion of this presence that I see as a priest is during the last rites with a dying person. Here, when a Catholic partakes in their last Confession, Eucharist and Anointing of the Sick, Christ comes to the side of that individual who is about to pass from this world to the Kingdom of Heaven. In the face of that individual’s uncertainty and fear, Jesus comes to her/his bedside and says, as He did to the repentant thief on the cross, “This day you will be with me in paradise.”
This is what I think Jesus is speaking about in today’s Gospel when we hear Him say: “Do not fear those who can kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both the soul and the body in hell.” If our faith is in Christ, we know from His words that “even the hairs of your head are counted. So do not be afraid, you are of more value than sparrows.” Even in the face of death, we can have faith in Christ’s words that “Everyone who acknowledges me before humans, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven.”
If Christ is with us, we can be confident that ultimately nothing that can prevail against us.
At this point, I think it is important to clarify. Jesus says: “Do not be afraid.” He does not say: “Abandon your common sense.”
Life is a gift. We need to use our common sense to preserve and protect that gift and the gift that is the life of others. Not being afraid does not mean I throw myself into oncoming traffic and think that God will protect me. We still need to protect ourselves and others from unnecessary risks. This is why Joseph and Mary fled from Herod after Jesus’ birth and took Him to the safety of Egypt for several years. They were using common sense. Just as in the face of COVID-19, we are to use our common sense to protect the gift of life.
Each one of us – regardless of race, colour, sex or land of origin – is made in the image and likeness of God. We are made for communion with God. Adam and Eve enjoyed this communion, until they turned their backs on God. Since then, the fate of humanity has been to live apart from God’s grace and to attempt to rely on our own willpower and efforts to save ourselves.
This leaves all of us feeling dis-ease in the face of illness, pain and situations that we cannot control. In the face of these situations, we experience our powerlessness, limitations and finitude. We come to know that this world is not our true home. This can fill us with dis-ease.
It is in these moments that we are invited to turn to the only one who can save us from the uncertainty of death and deliver us, through faith, to communion with the living God here and now. Jesus is the way, the truth and the life. He is the only true remedy to any dis-ease that we will ever experience. He is our salvation and He offers salvation to all who will take it. It is so simple, we need but accept Him as our savior and all our di-ease will be overcome. He is always true to His Word and His Word is that: “Everyone therefore who acknowledges me before humans, I will also acknowledge before my Father in Heaven.”
May we all place our faith in Him and know His salvation.
On this Father’s Day weekend, I would like to wish all of the fathers of the parish, especially my own, a very happy Father’s Day. I will remember all fathers, and the deceased fathers of our parishioners, at all of our Masses this Sunday.
Happy Father’s Day!
This reflection is based upon the readings from this Sunday’s Mass—Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A: Jeremiah 20: 10-13; Romans 5: 12-15; and Matthew 10: 26-33.
Fr. Michael McGourty is pastor of St. Peter’s Church in Toronto.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, many of us have gotten used to doing things “virtually.” We meet friends virtually, attend online Bible studies and have virtual family celebrations.
There is a certain ease to doing things virtually. There is no need to really show up for a virtual encounter. These kinds of meetings are convenient and they don’t call for the same kind of commitment and sacrifice that physically showing up for an event can require.
Today, we celebrate the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ (also commonly known as Corpus Christi). In these difficult times, today is a time to celebrate that there is nothing virtual about God’s love. Jesus loves us unconditionally. He came to Earth to physically show how far He would go for each and every one of us.
The reality of Christ’s incarnation – Him really becoming one of us – is something our Catholic sacraments never lose sight of. Christ left us the sacraments, so through the power of the Holy Spirit, He might remain with us and continue to be in our midst – so he can strengthen and heal us. The sacraments acknowledge the reality of Christ’s incarnation and His desire to continue to be present to us through the Church that He established.
The importance of the sacraments became quite clear to me during my university days. Like many young adults who leave home for the first time, I stopped attending Mass. However, I quickly sensed an emptiness in my heart and joined a student Bible study with some others on campus. It brought me comfort, but something was still missing. I soon realized that if God only wanted to communicate His Word, then Jesus could have stayed up in Heaven and yelled down to us: “Hey down there! I love you and I’ll see you when you get here!”
No, God wanted us to have more than His Word. He wanted us to have the real thing. Just like Jesus says: “I am the living bread that came down from heaven.” Jesus is the real presence of God come down from heaven to be really present to each of us.
Think about what it is like when you love someone. When you really love someone, words fail. We want to show those that we love how much we care for them by being with them and sharing our lives with them. A person who simply says “I love you” and does not act lovingly is soon thought to be a fraud. Imagine how quickly you would walk away from a friend who was always saying “I love you,” but was never backing that up with real action. Love shows itself to be real when it takes on the flesh. In Jesus, God’s love took on flesh for each and every one of us.
At the Last Supper, Jesus instituted the Eucharist, knowing that His time had come, and “having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end” (Fourth Eucharistic Prayer). Jesus, aware that He was about to offer His life as a sacrifice to forgive our sins, gave us the gift of His Holy Body and Blood so He could continue to be with us through His real presence.
We recount His simple but profoundly clear words each time we celebrate the Eucharist: “This is my body — This is my blood — Do this in memory of me.”
Jesus came into the world so He could really be with us. He left us the gift of His real presence in the Sacrament of His Body and Blood, so He can continue to be with us until we are really with Him in Heaven.
Today’s Gospel reading from John is taken from what is known as the “Bread of Life” discourse. It is a powerful statement on the reality of the Eucharist and of the essential role of this sacrament in Christ’s plan for our salvation. This passage brought me back to Mass during my early days at university.
Today’s Gospel affirms so powerfully that Word and sacrament go together. The Word of God prepares us to encounter Christ in the sacraments. Just as a real human being speaks words, these words must be connected to a body if they are to have a reality. So too, God’s love for us becomes real in the Sacrament of Christ’s Body and Blood – it is here that He shows us His love for us is real.
Jesus Himself makes this abundantly clear in His powerful words in today’s Gospel, as He states: “Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in them” (John 6:54-56).
Jesus is clearly saying how real His love for us is and how we are to share in this love.
In the real presence of Christ’s Body and Blood, He desires to enter into our lives, to abide with us and to be present within our realities. It is impossible to imagine a love so real and so powerful. People who love us may stand next to us, but in the Eucharist, Christ enters into our hearts, souls and flesh. The Eucharist is the most real expression of God’s love that we will ever know until we stand in His presence in Heaven.
God’s love is not just mere words. Jesus took on flesh to redeem each one of us through the vivid reality of God’s love. The Most Holy Body and Blood of Jesus reminds us that salvation is real and that Christ has come to be with us today in our own flesh and blood.
The Sacrament of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ really makes Him present. It is the source and summit of the Church’s life. The Church is able to make Christ present because its members are fed by His Body and Blood and configured into His likeness. We are reminded and called to be Church by the Eucharist and the presence of Christ that it gives to us. Paul reminds us that it is through the Eucharist that we are built up into the Church, the Body of Christ, as he writes in today’s second reading from the First Letter to the Corinthians: “Because there is one bread, we are many are one body, for we partake of the one bread.”
The Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ reminds us that Christ’s love for us is real. As we celebrate this great feast, we must also recall that ultimately our Church is called to be real and to celebrate the mysteries that Christ has given us as a memorial of His life, death and resurrection.
The COVID-19 church closures called on us to take-up virtual expressions of our faith, but we must not become satisfied with this. These were temporary measures in the face of an emergency situation. We can look forward to next week when we can really gather together once again and truly being fed on the Body and Blood of Christ. This is what really makes us the Church.
This celebration of the Body and Blood of Christ reminds us that the love of God is made real for us in the Eucharist. The Eucharist is the sacrifice of Christ’s life for us so that we might enjoy eternal life. May our longing for this real love strengthen us for the real gestures of love that will be required of us to really be the Church — His Body — again soon.
This reflection is based on the readings for the Mass of the Solemnity of the Body and Blood for Christ: Deuteronomy 8: 2-3, 14-16; Psalm 147; 1 Corinthians 10:16-17; and John 6: 51-59.
Before celebrating the Vigil Mass for Pentecost last weekend, I was trying to work in the parish office at Bathurst and Bloor, but I could not help wondering about the humming sound of helicopters hovering over the area. It struck me as strange that these helicopters seemed so close and were staying in one place for such a long time.
That’s when I noticed the approach of what seemed like a huge roaring crowd.
As I went outside to investigate, I was astonished to see thousands of men and women of every race, colour and nationality walking along Bloor Street to protest against racism. The helicopters were following the crowd as they marched along Bloor Street en route to Christie Pits Park, where the people could gather together.
I couldn’t help but think: What a beautiful sight on Pentecost — people of all nations marching together to speak for the value of every human being, created in the image and likeness of God.
I have often felt that Pentecost has a special value for us here in Toronto, as it marks that solemnity on which the Holy Spirit was sent to the disciples so they could bring the Good News of salvation to people of every colour and nationality. Here in Toronto, we see in our churches all of God’s people, from every land and nation, of every colour and nationality. In fact, the very word “catholic” means “universal” and refers to the love that God has for all His people. As one bumper sticker I recently saw expressed so beautifully, “Racism is about sin, not the colour of skin.”
The Gospel for this week’s Solemnity of the Holy Trinity also made me think of the love that God has for all people, as it reminds us that God’s salvation is for everyone who believes in His Son and accepts Him as Lord.
God loves everyone so much, because He has created all of us in His image and likeness. He invites all of us to recognize our dignity – and the dignity of every person – by loving one another and enjoying eternity with Him.
This Sunday, we celebrate the love that God has within God’s self as a Holy Trinity of Persons. From the love expressed in the Holy Trinity, we are called to learn how to love God and one another. This is a love that must stand against all forms of racism and discrimination.
As Catholics, every time we pray, we begin by invoking the names of the three persons of the Holy Trinity, whose solemnity we celebrate this Sunday: “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”
This custom can be so habitual that at times we may do it without realizing how profound those words are. Each time we name the three persons of the Holy Trinity, we are articulating a great mystery about God and his proximity to us, as revealed by God Himself.
We only know about the Trinity and the names of the persons contained within God, because Jesus told us about Them.
As the Son of God, sent from the Father, Jesus has told us to call God “our Father” and has repeatedly spoken to us about the Father. During His life, Jesus promised His disciples that He would send them the Holy Spirit after He had returned to the Father. At Pentecost, the Holy Spirit was poured out upon the Church by Jesus and His Father in Heaven. That the three cannot be separated is witnessed to in the passage from the end of the Gospel of Matthew (chapter 28), as Jesus commissions His disciples to baptize all people “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”
Everything we know about God as the Trinity has been revealed to us by the Trinity Himself. We can learn so much about God’s love for us in reflecting on this great mystery of our faith.
The fact that God exists as a Trinity of persons within one God speaks to the reality that God’s love is so great that it is impossible for Him to exist on His own. The force of His love is so powerful and dynamic that it is responsible for all of creation (I often think the best way to describe the Earth’s creation is as a “Big Bang” of God’s love).
Each of the three persons of the Holy Trinity reveals an awesome aspect of God’s love and identity.
God the Father is the source of all creation. He willed each of us into existence so we might know the love that He has for each of us. Everything we have and are is from Him. Every race and nation has its origin in the love of God the Father. Our lives are sustained by Him and we are called to return so we might know the fullness of happiness with Him in Heaven for all eternity.
As Jesus Himself has taught us that the Father wishes us to call on Him intimately, calling Him “our Father.” We express our own intimacy with the creator of the universe every time that we pray, calling upon Him and addressing our prayers, “In the name of the Father.” But when we speak so intimately with God there is a danger that we will grow overly familiar and forget who we are speaking to and what we owe Him.
Jesus, the Son, has been sent by the Father so we might understand how much the Father loves each of us. Christ told us He came to reconcile us to the Father. As we hear in the Gospel this Sunday: “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him.”
All who see Jesus, see the Father and come to know His love for us.
Jesus came to us in the flesh so God could share His life with us. Jesus shows that every human being is loved by God. There is a beautiful prayer that is said at the preparation of the gifts during Mass that states: “By the mystery of this water and wine may we come to share in the Divinity of Christ who humbled Himself to share in our humanity.”
We can often forget that Jesus became one of us so that He might share His divinity with us. We are invited to share eternal life with Him in heaven. But he has also come so that God may share His life with us now and so that we do not need to wait until we are in Heaven. This invitation is given to people of very colour and nation.
Now that His mission on Earth has been completed, Christ is now seated at the right hand of the Father, where He presents our prayers to the Father in His own name. This we are to remember every time that we begin our prayers in “the name of the Son.”
The Holy Spirit
Through the Holy Spirit we are able to be in contact with God here and now. It is through the Holy Spirit that our prayers can be heard.
The Holy Spirit manifests God’s love and grace to us, and allows Him to intimately dwell in our hearts today. Because of the Holy Spirit, we are in communion with God at every moment in our lives. The fact that the Holy Spirit enters into the hearts of all people – of every colour and nation – shows us the dignity of all people created by God. The Spirit enters into our hearts like the breath of God and is made present through prayer, Scripture and the sacraments of the Church.
God’s intimacy is encountered in every moment of our existence through the Holy Spirit. This is why we always present our prayers “in the name of the Holy Spirit.”
Each time that we begin our prayers with these words, we recall the words with which we were baptized and given new life in Christ. These words speak to us of how closely God dwells in us through the power of the Holy Spirit. They remind us of the love that God has shown us in the life of His Son. These words also speak to us of a radically loving Father who wishes to be intimately close to each of us, even though He is the same Father who created the universe and holds it in existence.
As we reflect upon the great mystery of the Trinity, let us also pray:
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, Is now, and ever shall be, A world without end. Amen.
As we celebrate how much God loves us, we are reminded that we are to respond to this love by loving one another.
May the love of the Holy Trinity sustain us all, now and forever! May this love help us to end all racism and put aside everything that prevents us from seeing Christ in all of our brothers and sisters.
This Pentecost Sunday we read from the Gospel of John, which – on this last day of the Easter Season – takes us back to when this season began, on Easter Sunday. It begins with the words: “It was evening on the day Jesus rose from the dead, the first day of the week.”
These words situate this scene on Sunday, the day Jesus rose from the dead. So many of the Gospel stories we have heard throughout the Easter Season have focused our attention on the fact that Christ appeared to his disciples after His resurrection as they were gathered together on a Sunday (for instance, the story of the disciples on the road to Emmaus or the story of Doubting Thomas).
Over and over again in the Easter Season we hear of the importance of Sunday. It is the day He invites us to celebrate together and be reminded of who we are as His people.
On Pentecost Sunday we celebrate the birth of the Church and the sending of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples so they may share the Good News with the world. However, I must confess to being a little sad that our own churches have been closed throughout this Easter Season. In the Gospel this Sunday, we hear that the disciples were locked in the room where Christ appeared to them. This year, as a result of COVID-19, our churches have been locked and those who might desire to come and receive the Lord have been kept out. This has been a hardship for so many people and a cause of great sadness for many across our archdiocese.
Today, I think particularly of the many young people in our own community who would have received the Sacrament of Confirmation. They – like the disciples in today’s first reading – would have received the gift of the Holy Spirit that was given to the disciples in today’s first reading and they too would have been sent – like all of us from the Church –into the world to proclaim the victory of Christ over death.
In the face of the sadness of our closed churches, I take great comfort and hope from the words St. Paul offers us in the second reading. Paul reminds us that any faith we have is a gift of the Holy Spirit, as he writes: “No one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit.”
The longing that we have to return to our churches and encounter Christ again is a sign of the Holy Spirit working in our hearts. By this gift of the Spirit – given to each of us at Baptism – we were all made members of Christ’s body, the Church.
Paul’s words in this regard are so important that they are worth repeating. He writes: “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body — Jews or Greeks, slaves or free — and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.”
These words remind us that the Church is not a building. The Church is the people of God. Each one of us is a living member of the Church, sent out to proclaim the Good News of Christ’s resurrection.
We sometimes think that the “church” is a building and that now that these church buildings are closed, our “Church” is also closed. Pentecost reminds us that we are the Church – each one of us are members of Christ’s Body.
It is certainly true that what we do in the churches makes us the Church. But we must remember that the faithful are the Church and we become the Church by doing in these “church” buildings the things that Christ asked us to do in memory of Him at the Eucharist.
Many Christian scholars say three things have always constituted the Church: Sunday; Baptism; and the Eucharist. Since the Eucharist depends upon an Apostle to celebrate it, I would add a fourth element: the Church’s apostolic nature that we profess in the creed.
As we celebrate this Pentecost Sunday, I would just like to reflect a little upon the importance of Baptism, Sunday and the Eucharist in our own faith lives, so we may anticipate the day we are able to once again gather in our parish churches.
It is through the Sunday celebration of the Eucharist that the community comes together, hears God’s word and is built up through the gift of the sacrament of Christ’s Body and Blood, so we can be sent out into the world to proclaim Christ’s Good News. St. Augustine used to say as he gave out the Eucharist, “Christian, receive what you are to become, the Body of Christ.”
As we have heard throughout this Easter Season, the disciples encountered the risen Christ on Sunday. All of His appearances take place on this day. At the heart of being a Christian is to believe that Jesus rose from the dead. He did this on a Sunday and we are called by Him to remember His resurrection on this day.
So often we think that being a Christian is simply about being a loving person. But so many people are loving regardless of their religion. No, a Christian is a person who believes that Jesus rose from the dead and celebrates this on the day that He did so — Sunday.
As we stay at home during this pandemic, every day can seem the same. But Sunday is the day that makes us Christian. Let us continue to pray that we may gather again soon in our churches on Sunday.
Paul reminds us that through Baptism we received the Spirit and were made members of Christ’s Body — the Church. When the Apostles baptized and laid hands on adults, they initiated them with both the sacramental effects of Baptism and Confirmation. In our Latin rite, it was discerned that this laying on of hands should remain with the bishops in the Sacrament of Confirmation. Baptism and Confirmation became two sacraments often with the first celebrated when a person is a child and the second celebrated a little later on in life.
In Confirmation, we are given the gift of the Spirit that calls us to be witness to Christ and His presence in our lives. To be a Christian is not just speaking lovingly to people. A Christian is called to witness to Christ and the power of His victory over death. We do this by belonging to the community of believers and continuing Christ’s work in our daily lives. Sometimes I think the best witness we can give to our neighbours is by just going to Mass and speaking of the place that Christ has in our lives. During these days when we cannot go to Mass, perhaps we can witness by speaking to others of what we miss about attending Mass or perhaps we might resolve to bring a friend to church once we are able to gather again.
The Eucharist is the source and summit of the Church and our lives as Christians. As Jesus appeared to His disciples in today’s Gospel, He said to them, “Peace be with you.” This is the same peace that He shares with us before we receive Him in the Eucharist at every Mass.
The Eucharist is the sacrifice that Jesus has told us to make “in memory of Me” in order that we might be His people and know His presence in our lives. He has promised us: “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day … Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in Me, and I in them.”
As we reflect on Pentecost, when the Church received the gift of the Holy Spirit, we recall how we too received the same gift of the Spirit in Baptism, Confirmation and the Eucharist – and we long for the time that we might do so again in our churches. Because He has made us members of His Body through these sacraments, we know that Jesus abides with each of us during this time of crisis. Through the Holy Spirit, we know the peace of Christ and are certain that He is with us.
This Pentecost, instead of being locked in our churches with Christ, like the early disciples, we are locked out of our churches because of a pandemic. This causes us sadness. Happily, because the Holy Spirit was sent upon the Church, and because through Baptism we have been made members of Christ’s Body, we know that Christ remains with us and abides in us.
Let us use this time of separation from our communities to ask the Lord to help us realize what a gift the Church and the sacraments are. It is through them that we have come to know Christ’s love for us and were made His people.
Pentecost celebrates the sending of the Holy Spirit upon the Church and reminds us that we, the members, are the living Church on Earth. It also focuses us on the reality that we are only the Church because of what Christ did for us on Easter Sunday and that we are called to live and celebrate that gift through our baptisms on Sunday at the Eucharist with our community, the Church.
On this Pentecost Sunday, let us pray that our hearts will open to the Holy Spirit that we received in Baptism and hope that we may soon celebrate Christ’s resurrection together on a Sunday by receiving His Body in the sacrament of the Eucharist, which He has given us as a commemoration of His life, death and resurrection.
Editor's Note: On June 26, 2020, Martyrs' Shrine announced that it will remain closed to the public until at least May 2021 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. This article was originally published on May 25, 2020.
Traditionally, spending time in the church and on the grounds of Martyrs' Shrine in Midland, Ont., would include praying with relics of St. Jean de Brébeuf and his companions, as well as a spiritual conversation with a Jesuit priest. These experiences were the cornerstones of support for the thousands of pilgrims who visited the shrine. Yet the fallout of COVID-19 has sadly reached Martyrs' Shrine.
Physical distancing measures introduced by governments and local health authorities have prevented the Jesuit fathers from providing their usual apostolic outreach. This has created a new financial reality for Martyrs' Shrine, which has led them to seek support from long-time pilgrims and friends, so their work and mission can continue.
Without visiting pilgrims, the shrine's revenues have been severely impacted, putting the national shrine in financial jeopardy. A fundraising campaign is being prepared to help raise $358,000 to close the shrine's projected budgetary shortfall in 2020.
Fr. Michael Knox, SJ, Director of Martyrs' Shrine, remains hopeful for the future, despite the present struggles.
"The Jesuit fathers and I know that this situation is only temporary," said Fr. Knox.
"One day soon, Martyrs' Shrine will once again be able to welcome the many thousands of pilgrims who journey here every year to deepen their relationship [with God], through St. Jean de Brébeuf and his companions."
Martyrs' Shrine staff continue working behind the scenes to implement measures that will ensure the health and safety of visitors once the grounds can re-open.
Staff at the shrine are optimistic that a Saturday, July 4, 2020 opening date can be achieved. Should restrictions on gatherings be eased enough to allow the shrine to open, it will do so with a limited visitor capacity, allowing for pilgrims to attend Mass in the Church of St. Joseph, and enjoy some of the open spaces for prayer and recreation.
Pending opening on July 4, the shrine will only be open on weekends. The grounds behind the church, including the Papal Field, will remain closed.
The shrine is currently reporting that all 2020 pilgrimages have been postponed until 2021, and with the current financial situation, the hiring of seasonal staff has been cancelled.
But these difficulties have allowed the shrine to adapt some of its ministerial and spiritual services to an online format.
Fr. Knox and the staff say they will be working with pilgrimage leaders to ensure that cultural communities can still be celebrated and prayed for at Martyrs' Shrine over the course of the 2020 season; even though their pilgrimages have been postponed until next year.
"We invite pilgrims to visit our website, where they can watch Sunday Mass in the Church of St. Joseph," Fr. Knox said. "Have a candle lit in our votary for their intentions, read a weekly reflection, chat online with a Jesuit priest through e-mail and make a donation should you wish to support our mission."
"The Jesuit community, here at Martyrs' Shrine, continues to pray, every day, for all of our pilgrims – especially the sick and the essential workers that care for them – and for the healing of the world."
To watch Sunday Mass in the Church of St. Joseph, please visit the Martyrs' Shrine website. www.martyrsshrine.com/mass There, you can also find out how to contact the Martyrs' Shrine or learn more details about its current plans and financial realities.
In the days following Jesus’ resurrection, His disciples locked themselves away in self-isolation for fear that the Romans and Jews might arrest them for being followers of Jesus. Throughout the disciples’ isolation, Jesus appeared to them and strengthened them with assurances of His resurrection, peace and the gift of the Holy Spirit. He let them know that He would always be present in their lives.
Today, as we celebrate the Solemnity of the Ascension, we see that a huge change took place in the lives of the Apostles and disciples. The first line of this Sunday’s reading from the Acts of the Apostles gives a hint to the nature of this change: “In the first book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus did and taught from the beginning until the day He was taken up to Heaven” (Acts 1:1).
The Ascension of Jesus must have been a time of great fear and transition for his disciples. Up until this time, the story of the Church was basically the story of the disciples as they lived and physically walked with Jesus. While He was with them, Jesus led the way. The disciples did not need to take responsibility for the community of the believers or the direction that community might go. Jesus’ ascension into heaven marks a new beginning in the lives of believers. When they received the gift of the Holy Spirit, the disciples of the Lord were called upon to take responsibility for the Church and how to serve the Lord in different situations.
This new responsibility of discipleship continues onto us today and is sometimes called stewardship.
The Acts of the Apostles is a powerful testimony to the way in which the first believers were transformed in the Church. By receiving the Holy Spirit, these individuals were formed into the living Body of Christ in the world, and each disciple took on the identity of a living member within this Body. As a result of the gift of the Holy Spirit, all were immediately made co-workers with Christ, sent to do Christ’s work wherever they went in the course of their journey. As a result of the gift of the Holy Spirit that Christ’s disciples received after His ascension into heaven, the disciples had the courage to claim their identity as living members of Christ’s Church and embrace the changes in their lives that allowed them to carry the Gospel message around the world.
We see in this Sunday’s Gospel from Matthew how Jesus intends His disciples to continue His work around the world and in different situations and times. In the Gospel of Matthew, before He ascends into Heaven, Jesus gives the great commission to His disciples to go into the whole world “and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit … And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the ages.”
The great commission to baptize is a call to make new disciples so that Christ’s work might be done in every age and land. The hope that we, the baptized, are called to have as we face the different challenges of our time is found in Christ’s promise: “And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the ages.”
The challenge that faced the early Church was huge. Without Jesus at their side for the first time, the disciples had to take His message to strangers who had never heard the name of Jesus. These disciples were bold enough to travel around the world telling strangers of the love of a God who had conquered sin and death and wished to share eternal life with them. Often they were violently rejected by the people to whom they had brought this Good News. Yet they never lost hope, because they knew the Lord, who had risen and destroyed death, was with them through the power of the Holy Spirit. In the days which followed Christ’s ascension, the disciples re-invented themselves, and by the power of the Holy Spirit, became the Church that the times required them to be.
Our own parish communities are about to face a period of transition. For the entire Easter Season, our churches have been locked-up and we have been self-isolating, because of COVID-19. As the public health officials advise us that it is safe to re-open, things are going to be different in our parishes for some time. In all likelihood, we will re-open in gradual phases. So too, our parish offices will not just re-open as they were, but will allow gradual access, with proper distancing, before returning to regular operations. This transition, until it is safe to return to the way things “used to be,” will require patience and understanding on the part of all. For a while, things are going to continue to be quite different.
The changes that re-opening will require will also demand acts of real discipleship on behalf of all. In order to re-open, parishes need to give attention to how they will maintain social distancing, sanitize between Masses and observe proscribed attendance restrictions. This transition is going to call for real discipleship and stewardship in all our parish communities. Disciples will be needed to direct traffic in our buildings, notify parishioners of the many changes and help form our communities according to the new realities of our common life together.
And while there will soon be much for each disciple to do, we are still in a time of waiting. Most parishes are starting to form re-opening committees. However, until we receive more information from the provincial health authorities about how and when we can begin to re-open, we must now simply wait in the confidence that the Lord is with us through the power of the Holy Spirit and will guide us through this – as He has guided previous generations of the Church through the challenges they faced.
The Ascension of the Lord marked a new beginning for the early Church. Those disciples who had locked themselves in the upper room out of fear of the authorities were confronted with a new reality. They were not expected to face the future alone. The Holy Spirit gave them the confidence and wisdom to discern the way forward. Through our baptisms, you and I are disciples of the same Lord and received the same gift of the Holy Spirit. As we prepare for this time of social isolation to end and the slow re-opening of our churches to eventually begin, let us ask the Holy Spirit to show each of us the path to discipleship that He invites us to embrace, so that we might continue the work of the Risen Christ in these new and challenging times.
In the days to come, may every baptized disciple of the Lord be prepared to embrace her/his role of discipleship as we work together to continue the mission given by Christ to be stewards in our parish community.
This reflection is based on the readings for the Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord: Acts 1:1-11; Ephesians 1:17-23; and Matthew 28:19-20.