Fr. Michael McGourty is pastor of St. Peter’s Parish in Toronto.
At the Bathurst Street entrance to St. Peter’s Parish, there are two very meaningful plaques on the church’s wall. These plaques are similar to many others found in some of our older churches.
One plaque is dedicated to the memory of all of the parishioners who gave their lives to serve our country in the World Wars.
The other is dedicated to the memory of Anna Warde, a fourteen-year-old girl who heroically drowned on July 14th, 1904, trying to save another young person while swimming on vacation.
I have been thinking about these two plaques quite a bit these last few weeks. They are a powerful reminder of the difficult times that our community and the Church has lived through. Our own community has survived the World Wars, the Great Depression and the Spanish Flu. Many of our families have survived painful losses, like that of the Warde family when their daughter, Anna, died.
Throughout all these challenges and difficulties, we have turned to Jesus, who is the way, the truth and the life of all believers. His love, as well as His promise that there are many rooms in His Father’s house, gives us the courage to continue in hope and faith. Just as Jesus has strengthened our community, and the universal Church, throughout the difficulties of the past, so too, He is with us today. He invites us to turn to Him today. In the words of this Sunday’s beautiful Psalm Response, today’s situation invites all of us to call on Jesus saying: “Let your love be upon us Lord, even as we hope in you."
Today’s first reading from the Acts of the Apostles, gives an example of how the Lord has been with His Church and helped it adjust to the many different challenges throughout history. In the early Church, the Apostles dedicated themselves to preaching the Word of God, but a challenge arose when people complained that the community was neglecting the improvised widowed Greek-speaking women. The community decided that deacons would be appointed to serve their needs. This challenge called on the Church to act in different and new ways (just as the present situation does for us today). It’s just one example of how the Lord has always walked with His Church and shown its members the way in trying times.
We are called to be confident that Christ remains present and active in His Church today. In today’s second reading, Peter explains why we are called to have confidence in the Church in difficult days: “You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of Him who called you out of darkness into his marvellous light.”
This reading tells us that the baptized are the living stones of the Church that is founded on the sacrifice of Christ. He continues to live among us through the power of the Holy Spirit. As a result of Jesus’ death and resurrection, we have each received the gift of the Holy Spirit through baptism. Just as death could not defeat Christ, so too, through baptism, death has lost its power over us. We are now called to walk in the confidence that He is with us and we are His people.
The confidence that Christ invites us to have at this moment is written in His own words in this Sunday’s Gospel reading, as He states: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me.” Jesus goes on to remind us that He suffered and risen, so that we might be with Him. We are comforted by those beautiful words: “In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places.” And: “so that where I am, there you may be also.”
This confidence allows us to answer His call to continue His works of charity. In this situation, we can do the grocery shopping for elderly or vulnerable family and neighbours. We can call senior citizens who are confined to their rooms in a nursing home.
Our priests are still answering the call to anoint the sick and bury the dead, even if this is done in very different circumstances. As we are the members of the Church, each one of us can continue to support our parishes financially, if we are able to do so. By doing this, we allow our parishes to continue to care for those in need, the sick and the dying. And we ensure our parishes will survive this crisis and will continue to support us in the future. Peter reminds us of our responsibility to support the Church in today’s second reading, as he states: “Like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” Donations to parishes can be made online, by mailing a cheque to the parish or by dropping off donations.
The COVID-19 pandemic has confronted our communities with a challenge. But today’s first reading and the plaques at the doors of our church remind us of the other challenges our communities have faced in the past. We dare to face these challenges because we face them with the Lord at our side, as he tells us: “Do not let your hearts be troubled … I am the way, and the truth and the life.”
In this Easter Season, we celebrate that Jesus has done so much to prepare a place for us in His Father’s house. As a result of His generosity, the Father has poured out his Holy Spirit upon us, making us living stones in Christ’s Body, the living Church.
In this season that we celebrate what He has done for us, we are also reminded that we are invited to respond by making “spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” Let us do so, trusting that Jesus is with us through this crisis as we call out with confidence in the words of the psalmist: “Let your love be upon us, Lord, even as we hope in you.”
On this Mother’s Day weekend, I would like to conclude by praying for all of the mothers of our parishioners; those both living and deceased. I pray that the Lord will bless them always and grant each a place among the dwellings He has prepared for all of us in Heaven.
May God bless all mothers always!
This reflection is based on the readings for the Fifth Sunday of Easter: Acts 6: 1-7; 1 Peter 2: 4-9; and John 14: 21-26.