On July 14, 1904, a young 14 year-old girl, by the name of Anna Warde, drowned near Juddhaven Muskoka attempting to save a younger child who was drowning. Anna was a member of this parish’s choir and was away on her summer holiday when she drowned. Anna would have sung in the choir in the first of the three churches that have served our community. The plaque which is at the doors of our church today to commemorate Anna’s life, would have been in all three of our parish churches: the one first constructed after the parish was established in 1896, the second church that was built in 1906, and this present building that has stood here since 1925. The plaque was placed there by Anna’s parents who must have been devastated by the death of their daughter. After her death, they came to worship in this church so that as the Psalmist says in today’s readings, the Lord might uphold their lives.
Although, I had read the plaque about Anna’s death a few times, it was only at the beginning of this pandemic that I really took note of it. On the last Sunday that the church was open before the first shutdown, I was locking up the church and I noticed the plaque that had been placed at the doors of the church to commemorate Anna. The plaque spoke to me as much about Anna’s service towards another human being as it did to the fact that Anna’s parents turned to their faith to bear the loss of their daughter. In the face of that tragedy, they kept coming to church to celebrate their faith and their conviction that they would see their daughter again in Heaven. Their faith allowed the Lord to uphold them in their time of grief and assure them that they would see their daughter again. This insight also helped me to appreciate the other plaque that is at the doors of our church: that plaque which commemorates all of the parishioners who died in the First and Second World Wars. These young people, who had given their lives for their country, were remembered by their grieving families in the church and it was this that had upheld their loved ones in the face of their loss. In fact, as you read the history of our parish, you will see in the photos a beautiful picture of the Crucified Lord that used to hang over the Altar in the church before it was renovated. This picture of the Crucified Lord was painted and donated to remember the soldiers from the parish who had died in the Great World Wars.
It says a lot about the men and women who have worshipped in our parish that they connected the service and sacrifice of those who had served our country with the sacrifice of Christ. Their witness is a concrete example of what Jesus is speaking about in the Gospel today.
In the Gospel this Sunday, Jesus begins by telling His disciples that the “Son of Man is to be betrayed into the hands of men, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again.” Although the twelve disciples do not understand what he is saying, Jesus is announcing the reality that by His life, death and resurrection, He will destroy death and bestow upon them, and all humanity, the gift of salvation and eternal life. This is the Good News that has upheld so many in the face of adversity, tragedy and loss. However, as the twelve themselves hear this news, they do not understand it. Instead of thinking how they can respond to this Good News, the twelve Apostles do something that we often do in our own spiritual lives; they think of what more they can ask of God. They Apostles do not think about how they can thank the Lord and render Him service as a result of His generosity, they rather embrace an attitude of entitlement and think about what more they can get from Him. The question that they raise among themselves after Jesus shares this Good News with them is, “ya, but who among us is the greatest.”
In the spiritual life, entitlement can be a very dangerous obstacle to growth and salvation. Entitlement is rooted in pride. It leads me to think that I am wonderful because of what I have done for God. It leads me to think, “I go to Mass everyday, so God owes me.” As Jesus challenges this attitude among His disciples, so too He challenges us to see things differently. As a result of the fact that God has created us, redeemed us, and offered us salvation through the life, death and resurrection of His Son, Jesus invites us to respond in gratitude and service. By understanding that no matter what we are in life, or have experienced, Jesus will uphold us, we are invited to a life lived in gratitude and thanksgiving.
This is the point that Cardinal Collins has written about so beautifully in his letter on Stewardship. I spoke about this letter last week and it was passed out for you to take home and read. In it, Cardinal Collins warns about the illusion of self-sufficiency and the deception that it can create in our minds. It was this illusion that led the Apostles to argue about who was the greatest instead of understanding what Christ was offering them as He shared with them the news of what He would do for them through His life, death and resurrection. When we are able to concentrate on a sense of gratitude for all that God has done for us, we are able to hear the Lord inviting us as His disciples “to become engaged in the Gospel mission received at baptism” (Cardinal Collins, Pastoral Letter on Stewardship, p. 12). The Lord invites all of us to a change of heart that is expressed in “’an attitude of gratitude’ that permeates the whole of our life as disciples” (Cardinal Collins, p. 17). With this authentic attitude of gratitude in mind, Jesus challenged His disciples with the powerful reminder that “Whoever wants to be first must be the last of all and servant of all.”
As Catholics, the greatest way that we have of remembering all that Christ has done for us is the celebration of the Eucharist. Through the Eucharist, Jesus Himself has commanded us to remember what He has done to save us. Through the Eucharist, we not only remember what Christ has done for us, we receive the gift of His Body and Blood so that He might uphold our lives today through the different trials, joys and adversities of our journey. The Eucharist is the food of Christ’s Body and Blood that you and I require to strengthen ourselves on our Christian journey. It is the reason we have a parish and why for the past 125 years Catholics in our community have gathered to be upheld by the Lord. The only reason that we have a parish is so that Catholics in our community might celebrate the Eucharist. It is the Eucharist that makes us Church.
As I have mentioned in the homilies leading up to our celebration today, each time we come to the Eucharist, we are called to become what we receive— the Body of Christ. At the Eucharist, we encounter Christ; are built up in communion with the Holy Trinity and the Church; and we are sent in mission to make Christ present. The Eucharist calls us to be Christ for others and to work to uphold our brothers and sisters through charity, as Christ upholds us in the Eucharist. The Eucharist calls us to discipleship and stewardship. Once again, I repeat the words that St. Augustine announced as he distributed the Eucharist: “Christian receive what you are to become, the Body of Christ.”
It is because the Eucharist calls us to stewardship and discipleship that I asked the parish council if we could celebrate our 125th anniversary on this Stewardship Sunday. As the beautiful history that has been prepared tells the story of the vibrant life of service that this community has been known for, I had hoped to use this occasion as an opportunity to invite everyone in our community to discern how they can best serve the Lord and thank Him for his generosity through their own commitments to gifts of time, talent and treasure to the parish. The ongoing life of our parish will depend on vibrant lay involvement and support. Although the pandemic may delay the active re-start of our parish activities for a while longer, your participation in parish ministries is needed for the health of our community. Please attend the ministry fair this Sunday afternoon from noon till 4:00 p.m. in the courtyard and learn how you can get involved when you are ready and feel safe. Our building is in need of constant repair and renovation, any financial support you are able to give the parish is much needed and appreciated. Please read the history of the parish and think about how we can continue to build on this history of active lay involvement. As more than a thousand new apartments will soon open up across the street and the area continues to develop, we will need to have ways of welcoming and serving the many new families arriving in our area. There will be many training sessions in the coming weeks for those who would like to get involved. Please consider attending and getting involved in the different parish ministries.
More than two thousand years ago, Jesus spoke to His disciples of what He would do for them as a result of His life, death and resurrection. At first, they did not get it. It was only after He had risen and appeared to them in the breaking of the bread that they understood. Even then, the twelve did not understand immediately. Jesus had to appear to them several times. The parents of Anna Warde worshipped in all three of our parish churches that the Lord might uphold them through their loss in life, as have so many others throughout our 125 year history. Despite the trials of so many different people throughout these years, because they were upheld by the Eucharist and the reality that the Lord has saved us all from death, so many have witnessed to the Lord’s presence in their lives through stewardship and discipleship. May our continued faithful celebration of the Eucharist, and of our parish anniversary, help us to reflect upon all that the Lord has done to uphold us and to build on 125 years of discipleship.
May the Lord bless all of the members of our parish community as we celebrate this 125th anniversary.
Fr. Michael McGourty,
Pastor, St. Peter’s Parish—Toronto, Ontario
P.S. Thank you to all who have worked so hard to make our parish anniversary a success.
This reflection based upon the readings for the Twenty-fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time—Year B: Wisdon 2: 12, 17-20; Psalm 54; James 3:16-4: 3; and Mark 9: 30-37)