At the Bathurst Street entrance to St. Peter’s Church, there are two very meaningful plaques on the wall of the building. These plaques are similar to many others that are found in some of our older churches. One of these is dedicated to the memory of all of the parishioners who gave their lives to serve our country in the Great World Wars. It lists the names of the parishioners who died for our country in the last century. The other plaque 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 the Church has lived through. Our own community, and many others in the country, has survived the Great World Wars of the last century, the Great Depression and the Spanish flu. Many of our families have survived painful losses, like that of the Warde family and their daughter Anna. Throughout all of these challenges and difficulties, we have turned to Jesus, who is the way, the truth, and the life of all believers. His love and grace, and promise that there are many rooms in His Father’s house, gives all of 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 and invites us to turn to Him to trust Him to be with us 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.”
In today’s first reading from the Acts of the Apostles, we are given an example of the way in which the Lord has been with His Church to help it to adjust to the many different challenges of history. In the early Church, as the Apostles dedicated themselves to preaching the Word of God, a challenge arose as to how the community would meet the needs of the widowed Greek speaking women. This group of the poor was being neglected. The community decided that deacons would be appointed to serve their needs. So too, a little later on in the Acts of the Apostles, the Church would have to address the topic of how to receive the many Gentile converts into a Church that had developed from its initial Jewish roots and origins. Throughout all of these “new” situations, the Lord was active in His Church through the power of the Holy Spirit. The Lord, who is the way, and the truth, and the life, has always walked with His Church and shown its members the way in different and trying times. We are called to a confidence that Christ remains present and active in His Church today.
The reason for the confidence that we are called to have in the Church throughout these difficulties is given to us in today’s second reading. Peter tells us in his first letter: “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.” As this reading tells us, the baptized are the living stones of the Church that has been founded on the sacrifice of Christ. He has died that we might have life. His sacrifice on the cross was for the sake of giving us life no matter what we might suffer and the trials and tribulations we might go through. As a result of Jesus’ death and resurrection, through baptism, we have each received the gift of the Holy Spirit and He continues to live with and among us through the power of the Holy Spirit. As death could not defeat Christ, so too, through baptism it 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 in this situation is stated in His own words in this Sunday’s readings from the Gospel of John, 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 has suffered and risen, so that we might be with Him and He might be with us no matter what happens. 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.” Jesus, who is “the way, and the truth, and the life,” is always with us and will guide us through this situation.
With confidence that the Lord is with us through this present situation, you and I are called to remember that we are the Church that Christ has founded through His death and resurrection and that we are called to act with courage in this situation. We do this as we answer His call to continue His works of charity, as we reach out to our brothers and sisters in need throughout this crisis. In this situation, we can do the grocery shopping for family and neighbours who are elderly or too vulnerable to leave their homes. We can call those senior citizens in our community who are confined to their rooms in a nursing home. 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, even though we cannot gather to worship, we allow our parishes to continue to care for those in need and to be there for the sick and dying. Our priests are still answering the call to anoint the sick and bury the dead, even if this is done in very different circumstances. Peter reminds us of the responsibility that we all have to be and 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.” Today, the spiritual sacrifices that we are invited to embrace so that we might be the Church in the midst of this COVID 19 crisis are those acts of charity towards our neighbours and the call to financially support our parishes so that they may survive this crisis and continue to support us in the future.
The COVID 19 Pandemic has confronted our communities with a challenge like none other previously faced. It is new, but it is like that which was faced by the Apostles in today’s first reading, and like those faced by our communities at different stages of history. The plaques at the doors of our church remind us of some of those more recent challenges. 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.” The present challenge calls us to act in ways that are different and new. We are invited to reach out to our neighbours in need. Perhaps this is the time to finally introduce ourselves in the distance to the senior on our street that we have never spoken to and ask if they need anything. If we have always taken for granted that others are donating to our parish and supporting it, perhaps this is the time, if we are in a position to do so, to make a generous gift to support our parish, so that it might be there to support others in future generations. Donations to our parishes can be made at this time by mailing a cheque to the parish, dropping off donations, or by donating through the Archdiocesan website at www. archtoronto. org. In this Easter Season, we celebrate that Jesus has done so much for us 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!
Fr. Michael McGourty,
Pastor—St. Peter’s Parish—Toronto
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.