An Update from Campus Ministry

Campus Ministry Events Postponed – Sunday Masses held via Facebook

Don't Have a Facebook account? No problem, please see the following steps:

1.  Click the following link which will take you to our Facebook page

2. A  Pop-up will ask you to sign into Facebook or create a new account. Under "Create New Account" click "Not Now"

3. You will then be able able to scroll through the page and view our Live Stream of Mass. Masses are held Sunday at 11am.

For all COVID-19 updates from the University of Manitoba, please visit umanitoba.ca/coronavirus 

 


Dear friends of St. Paul’s College,
 
This is to let you know that this coming Sunday, June 27, we will be allowed to have 25 people in attendance at Mass, in addition to musician, cantor, lector, videographer and presider.
 
This will be our last Sunday Mass before the summer break. Masses will resume on Sunday, August 29.
 
There will be one final mid-week Mass next Wednesday at 11:45
 
We wish all of you a safe and peaceful summer and look forward to seeing more of you face-to-face when September rolls around.
 
God bless from Campus Ministry!
 
 
Father Colin, Eliude and Michael


Reflection 40 from Fr. Colin
Updated: June 13, 2021
   

There’s a good chance this will be my last, or maybe my second last, reflection before the summer break. I don’t know if I will resume writing them in September. If life has begun to return to normal it may be that whatever pastoral help or entertainment they have provided will no longer be required.
          Today I’d like to talk about sin. I know, I know, it’s not exactly a topic that its likely to bring cheer into the lives of people who are tired of all the doom and gloom. Yet it seems to me a timely topic, given everything that’s going on in our world these days.
          In the early 70s the famous psychiatrist Karl Menninger wrote a book entitled, Whatever Became of Sin? I have to confess, I never read the book, but those who have read it and reviewed it in recent years claim it’s as relevant as ever. So, what became of sin?
          Although the word “sin” may persist in a colloquial way in today’s world, the concept of sin has been detached from its Judeo-Christian moorings. I believe its absence from our consciousness has had devastating consequences in the social and political realm and, in a more general way, in every kind of social discourse.
          The obvious explanation for its disappearance is that the influence of the church has diminished significantly in the last 50 years. As the church has diminished in influence so has many of its traditional teachings regarding human nature and the need for redemption.
          It’s a chicken and the egg conundrum, in some respects, because I think it is likely that the decreasing influence of the church was not the cause, but rather the result, of a diminishing importance of traditional doctrines and beliefs, precipitated, in part, by the growing influence of science and technology and popular psychology. As the “doctrine of human nature” began to change in post-modern western society, so did the need for grace and forgiveness and ultimately salvation. For a growing number of people, the need for what the church was offering gradually disappeared. If you didn’t believe you were a sinner why would you need an institution that forgives sinners? Why would you need to be saved?
          Whole books have been written about this topic so it’s impossible to say everything that I would like to say in these few short paragraphs today. But at the very least I want to remind everyone that, according to the scriptures, sin is not simply an unlawful action, some sort of errant behaviour, or some sort of omission, it is a condition, almost like a medical condition, that afflicts every member of the human race.
          Back in my United Church days, I remember preaching on the third chapter of St Paul’s letter to Romans in which he tells us that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. After the service one of the parishioners approached me and said, “Geez, Reverend, you make it sound like we’re all a bunch of sinners.” I pointed out that it was St. Paul, not me, who was levelling this indictment!
          In the mind of this parishioner, to say, “You are sinner” was the same thing as saying, “You are all bad people and you do bad things.” In her mind, the real sinners were the murderers, rapists, robbers and thugs. Good, law-abiding citizens were not sinners.
          Of course, to say that we are sinners is not to say that we are bad people, it is simply to say what is self-evident, that we are all human, we all make mistakes and, at that there is something in each of us that causes us to betray even our own deeply held beliefs. Once again, St. Paul expresses it beautifully in Romans 7:19 when he says, “For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do.”
          Related to this, is the notion of sin, not as an action, but as a force at work in our lives and in our world. This “power” is present in institutions of all kinds, including the church, it taints even the greatest and most noble human undertakings. As Baldwin of Canterbury reminds us, “For there are certain imitations of true virtues as also of vices which play tricks with the heart and bedazzle the mind’s vision. As a result, the appearance of goodness often seems to be in something which is evil, and equally the appearance of evil seems to be in something good.” Picking up on this notion and borrowing heavily from St. Paul, American theologian, Reinhold Niebuhr, wrote about the “demonic” which is present in the “principalities and powers.” This is a topic worth pursuing at a later date.
          Nowadays, there is tremendous resistance to describing human beings, corporately or individually, as sinful. It would be seen as an affront to our self-esteem and a blow to human dignity. There are those who struggle to utter the words of the Prayer of Humble Access, recited at every Mass, “Lord, I am not worthy…” for precisely the same reasons. But to speak of our “unworthiness” in the context of the Mass is simply to claim what has always been the truth, that the presence of Christ comes to us a sheer gift and grace. It is not predicated on our worth but on the mercy of God. It is not something we “deserve” but something freely offered to us because of the unconditional love of God.
          I think it is badly needed and very healthy to think of ourselves as sinners. To be aware that we are born with this propensity to err, to stumble, to succumb to self-interest, to hurt others intentionally or inadvertently, to be callous, or moody or judgemental, is to make us morehumble and forgiving. And it’s the absence of those two qualities, humility and forgiveness, that is causing such destructive polarization around so many of the social and political issues of our times, not least, the very emotional debate around the coronavirus pandemic.
          To be humble, to be mindful of our sinfulness, is to appreciate the significance of the old Good Friday hymn, “Were You There When They Crucified My Lord” which, in my opinion, invites us to consider the possibility that, had we lived in ancient times, we may well have stood among the throng that cried out “Crucify him! Crucify him!” Would we have joined the cheering of the crowds when a charismatic Hitler captured the heart of his people? Would we have joined the progressive people of past generations in supporting the very popular cause of creating residential schools? It is only when we ignore or deny our own brokenness that we can give ourselves permission to vilify good people who made terrible mistakes. It is only when we believe that we are without sin that we can cast the stones of hatred at those who were bereft of the insights and knowledge that we now possess.
          The concept of sin allows us to be both humble and forgiving. It is an acknowledgement that it may well be your statue or the statue of your heroes that will be defaced or toppled by future generations. It is to understand that the causes we support so vigorously today, might be considered atrocities and injustices by those to whom we pass the torch. It is to realize that we will all stand in need of forgiveness for the sins we will unwittingly commit for the sake of sort of worthy cause and for our complicity in social programs or political movements that inadvertently cause great pain and suffering.
          In times of unfettered self-righteous, the need for this humility is greater than ever. To remember that we are beloved sinners might help us put an end to the unjust vilification of the sinners who went before us and help us to offer them the same kind of forgiveness that we will one day covet for ourselves. As one wise person once said, “The people who cannot forgive, destroy the bridge over which they too one day must pass.”
 
Fr. Colin


Reflection 39 from Fr. Colin
Updated: May 18, 2021
     

My father owned and operated a small plumbing company here in Winnipeg from the 1950s until the early 1980s. It was working for him on Saturday mornings and during summer vacations that I learned to repair faucets, clear plugged toilets, swear and smoke cigarettes. All of these were useful skills that served me well in the ensuing years, especially when it came to offering ministry to the so-called common folk, working-class people and the vast majority of people living in the farming communities of rural Manitoba. Add to that summers spent working in logging camps and mining camps and, by the end of it all, I had acquired a versatile vocabulary to say the least. Unlike many of my colleagues, I never felt the Holy Spirit calling me closer to the theatres, concert halls and shopping malls of the city. Not that there’s necessarily anything wrong with any of those things, but I was happy to be close to nature and in daily contact with people for whom it seemed common sense, not ideology, was the final arbiter when it came to contentious matters of a social, political or ecclesiastical nature. Besides, what parish wouldn’t want a priest who can can fix his own faucets?
            I gave up smoking many years ago and, as a clergyman, I’ve learned to temper my swearing, especially in sacred places. I’ve also managed to nurture a deep love for Bach and Mozart without forsaking Bob Dylan or Conway Twitty. Mostly, I’m grateful to have been “formed” for priestly ministry, not only by great academics and wise theologians, but also by plumbers and farmers and homemakers.      
            A few months ago I wrote a reflection in which I lamented what could be called the idolatry of novelty, the persistent and somewhat silly notion that what ever is new must be better. For example, not long ago I heard a person observe that the Catholic Church was two hundred years behind! “Behind what?” I thought to myself. And if so, was it necessarily a bad thing?
            I felt a certain amount of pride in my son and his fiancée when they bought a house because it had an 80s feel to it. It was good to know that not all real-estate purchasers insist on having contemporary “updates” that will be out of fashion in a decade anyway.
            But the modern world has also produced what could be called the idolatry of expertise. Don’t misunderstand me, we need experts! I’m grateful to inhabit a world in which various kinds of advances, especially those of a technological or medical nature, are in the hands of those who know what they’re doing. There’s no substitute for a good education and, of course, plenty of experience when it comes to matters of life and death. But where did we get the idea that expertise in a particular discipline, including theology, lends credence to a person’s comments about the day-to-day struggles of life in the real world?
            In Luke’s gospel Jesus prays, ““I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.”  When you think about it, that’s a scandalous notion. It flies in the face of much conventional wisdom about how human life should progress. It seems to say that when it comes to matters of faith and morality, expertise is to be found in those who are not expert. When it comes to much of what we consider social or political, the light showing the way ahead, will shine from those who are not necessarily considered “bright” by worldly standards.
            I am grateful to have received a good education and to live and work among those with whom I can share ideas of tremendous substance. I find much pleasure the world of academia and great joy in those things that might be considered good and beautiful. But the remarkable thing about the human capacity to trust in the promises of God is that it flourishes in fields of humility and reaches toward life-giving light when it is removed from the shadows of self-assuredness.      
            The frightening pandemic by which we are surrounded has become more perplexing because of the conflicting viewpoints of so many experts. Doctors, including highly trained epidemiologists, can’t seem to reach consensus on many critical issues. It is made worse by the ubiquity of social media granting access to opinions from a thousand different sources. Most of us are content to trust the family doctor and follow the advice of those who appear to have our best interests at heart.
            The ones Jesus speaks about, the ones who aren’t wise or intelligent by worldly standards, won’t be much help to us when it comes to epidemiology. But maybe they have something to teach us about finding peace amid the danger and the chaos. Maybe they can point us toward a brightness that will never be extinguished.
 
Father Colin


Reflection 38 from Fr. Colin
Updated: May 1, 2021

Out of all the many weather conditions with which we human beings must contend, it’s wind I hate the most. Maybe it’s because all the outdoor activities I enjoy the most - kayaking, fishing, cycling, walking, and bird and wildlife photography are all made much more difficult when the winds are blowing. I’m not talking about a gentle breeze which can be soothing and pleasant on a hot summer day. I’m talking about the kind of winds we’ve been getting lately, winds that cut through the warmest clothing and bring a chill to our bones. When I walked in the dead of winter, even if it was thirty below, I could bundle up and stay warm as long as it wasn’t too windy. But the cold north wind penetrates the sturdiest of barriers and leaves one shivering from its assault. Then there’s those warmer winds from the south that stir up the dust and conquer the silence with a roar. Those who lived in the “dirty thirties” will recall the ugliness of the wind.
            I know there’s no point in complaining about the weather. No government program, no technological or scientific breakthrough, can do anything about it. Jesus could. At least, we read about him calming the wind and the waves. But this does not appear to be a power that he has passed on to his followers. My attempts to change the weather, with either a curse or a blessing, are consistently ineffectual. As I’ve often pointed out, when it comes to the business of heaven, I’m in sales not management.
           Beyond our responsibility to care for the earth and to ensure that we protect its life-giving ecosystem, it’s probably best that we can’t control daily weather conditions. We need rain so it’s a good thing that the faithful servants of our Lord who are planning a trip to the beach cannot “turn off” the rain that has come to water the crops of the faithful farmers who are producing the grain that will make the bread that the beach-goers will use to make egg salad sandwiches for the picnic they will have when the rain has gone and the sun returns. No, there seems to be a purposefulness in most weather events, except the most severe, and we are wise to let nature take its course.
            But aside from whisking away the mosquitoes and helping sailors make good time I have not been able to think of a single purpose for the existence of strong winds. Perhaps it’s not surprising that wind, more than any other weather condition, is seen as something of an omen, usually a bad omen. It seems it never comes unaccompanied. There is always something with it, whether it’s a simple storm, a tumbleweed, or a catastrophic event. Maybe I’m imagining things, but here in Winnipeg it seems to me that the wind has gotten much worse since the arrival of the coronavirus. I know the meteorologists and climate experts could offer a scientific theory, but I’m persuaded that there is something metaphysical about this concurrence of the wind and the virus, some spiritual meaning, perhaps some sign or warning, that we would do well to heed. If nothing else the high winds and the relentless virus confront us with a potent symbol of a world that shows signs of disintegrating into chaos. 
            Jesus often reminded his followers that if they could predict the weather by paying attention to the wind and the sky, so they could learn something about the course of history by being attentive to the signs of the times. In a world that seems increasingly polarized as it contends with a virus that produces anger and fear along with illness and death, I’m not surprised that the winds blow stronger. I’m not sure what it means but I find comfort knowing that somehow God is present. Not in the wind nor in the virus, but as a gentle whisper, a still small voice of calm.
            I pray that all of us will know this calm, this reassuring voice, as the chaos around us continues to swirl.
 
Father Colin


Reflection 37 from Fr. Colin
Updated: April 19, 2021

 

  Those of you who grew up in Manitoba know that the recent bad weather is nothing new. It never fails! Just when we’re beginning to enjoy the sunshine, green leaves and singing of the birds, we are hit with one more onslaught of snowfall, north winds and cold weather. We are a hardy bunch and we manage to survive, but there’s no denying that it can be discouraging. We get through it, I think, because we know that spring is inevitable. We know that the grip of winter will finally relinquish its hold.
            It’s interesting that this surprise attack of winter weather has paralleled the emergence of a so-called third wave of the coronavirus pandemic. Like the winter weather, the news of a third wave leaves us feeling discouraged, coming, as it has, just when we thought things were getting better.  But unlike a late winter storm, there is no indication that some sort of “spring” is just around the corner, no assurance that the pandemic is almost over.
            We find it hard to endure difficult circumstances when there is no end in sight. We grow weary of the social distancing and the face masks and hand sanitizer. We grow tired of our inability to spend time with family and friends. We grow tired of the prolonged disruption to our normal routines and daily activities. We grow tired of the squabbling among the politicians and the conflicting advice from medical experts. Even the peace of mind that comes with a vaccination is tainted by frightening reports of side effects. There comes a time when we want to give up - even when giving up is not an option. 
            The English language is replete with idioms that describe this phenomenon. It’s the last straw or the straw that broke the camel’s back or reaching our limit or coming to the end of the road or fed up. In twelve-step programs they use the expression “hitting-bottom” to describe that moment when the addict has had enough of his or her addiction. All of these describe that point at which we are ready to surrender.
            Yesterday my daughter sent me photos of her two little girls, aged 2 and 4 outside playing in the deep snow that had accumulated in their backyard over the last week. They were having a wonderful time! Nobody had taught them that you’re supposed to be despondent and annoyed when spring weather has been postponed by a persistent winter. They have responded in a similar way to the many disruptions that have come into their lives because of the coronavirus. They know about the “bad germ” and why they can’t get big hugs from grandma and grandpa right now, but they continue to face each day with an admirable joy and trust. As Jesus taught us, children epitomize faith.
            In the aforementioned twelve-step programs the first step to recovery is admitting one’s powerlessness over one’s addiction and turning to a higher power as one embarks upon the road to healing. I sense that one of the reasons children are such good role-models for faithfulness is that they find it relatively easy to admit their powerlessness and readily place their trust in a higher power, whether it’s God or mom and dad. In a good home they feel loved and protected, allowing them to encounter most of life’s challenges and discouragements with an innate curiosity and confidence.
            It seems to me this child-like faith is a big part of what we need if we are to continue to endure this pandemic without losing hope. For some reasons that word “surrender” has been in my mind lately. Ordinarily, we use that word in a disparaging way to describe giving up in our battle with some sort of enemy. Perhaps it’s on my mind because of our recent celebration of the Easter Triduum in which we heard about Jesus “surrendering” to death on the Cross. But was his cry from the Cross, “It is finished! Father, into your hands I commend my spirit!” a cry of defeat or victory? If nothing else it was a declaration of radical trust in the One in whose hands he was placing his spirit. The day of resurrection reminds us that this trust was not misplaced.
            As much as we need the doctors and the politicians to assist us in this time of crisis, in the end, we place our lives in the hands of the One who created us. Trusting in such Holy Love, we know that spring will always come, that there will always be an Easter, and when the late winter storms arrive, instead of being discouraged, we can go outside and play.

 


 

Reflection 36 from Fr. Colin
Updated: April 1, 2021

   I am writing this reflection on Holy Thursday with thoughts of the Triduum filling my mind. Although our annual celebration of Holy Week and Easter can be a lot of work, it can also be a time of great rejoicing. Last year, our usual Easter celebrations were cancelled. Oh, sure there were live-streamed masses in near empty churches, but the festive nature of our Easter celebration was missing as we struggled to make sense of the pandemic that had taken hold of our world. Huddled in our homes, unable to gather, many of us lamented the absence of Easter as we’ve always known it. Yet, in the absence of joyful celebrations, the deepest truths of Easter persisted in a marvellous way. With the spectre of death around us like a shadow every day, perhaps the light of the risen Christ shone even more brightly. In the presence of enemies like sickness and death, the Eucharistic Table was set, invoking the Paschal Mystery which rendered hope even as the darkness seemed to deepen. This year we will gather in small, safe numbers. Perhaps our shouts of acclamation will be less gleeful, our songs of rejoicing more muted, but we will lay hold once again of the great truth that offers lasting and ultimate hope in the face of this world’s transience.
            When I get my vaccine a week from now, it’s true that a certain kind of hope will be given to me along with the promise of immunity. But if I’m honest, I know that it’s not the same kind of hope we’re given through our celebration of the Lord’s resurrection. Not only is there considerable debate about the efficacy of various vaccines, I know my coronavirus vaccine, even if 100% effective, will not make me immune to all the other serious illnesses that could afflict me. It will not make me immune to life’s tragedies. It will not protect me from my own foolish sinfulness and the heartache and emotional suffering that comes in the course of every human lifetime. Only the presence of the Risen Christ assures me that I will not be conquered in any ultimate way by any of these things.
            However, despite this great assurance of an ultimate victory over sin and death and the promise of heavenly joy and peace, Easter is also a profound affirmation of earthly life. The Christian truth of a God who came among us in a body and rose from the dead in a body, is a perennial reminder that these earthly bodies, these human selves, are of great worth and it is our duty to honour and care for them, not only as gifts that are entrusted to us as individuals, but as gifts we offer to one another in families, friendships and faith communities.
            A few weeks ago I had a hearing test and was told that I might benefit from wearing hearing aids. It seems it’s the higher pitched sounds that I’m having trouble hearing. My wife, Sandy, has been telling me this for several years! I was in denial, of course, not wanting to wear these strange devices which would make me look even more like an old man! Yes, and if my silly pride and vanity were the only arbiters, I would have never considered such humiliation! But I love the high notes. I love the sound of my wife’s voice, and the sweet whispers and laughter of my little grandchildren, the soulful moan of a violin, and the singing of the songbirds that serenade me as I take my daily walk. Buying hearing aids is not just about self-preservation, it’s about caring for my aging body so that I might continue to participate, as fully as possible, in the gift of life by which I am surrounded. It is to prolong and enrich my encounters with the people God has given me in family, friendship and faith. In many ways, taking care of ourselves is a gesture of love, because it is an acknowledgement that others have a stake in what happens to us, that life is not a private possession but a gift that we share with one another. It is also the means by which we see, hear, taste, touch and smell the presence of a world filled with the glory of God.  
            So, whether it’s getting hearing aids or a coronavirus vaccine, I want to do what I can to cherish, respect and preserve the gift of life God has given me. At the beginning of time, God declared that all that he had created was good, including us! It seems to me that the resurrection of Christ on Easter morning was not only a reiteration of that great truth but a sign of the new creation in which all of us will share. Knowing that we are all of such inestimable worth, my friends, let us treat these mortal bodies with great care until that day when we are raised with Christ to everlasting glory.


 

Reflection 35 from Fr. Colin
Updated: March 23, 2021

This reflection comes a little later than usual, partly because the well was running a little dry, and partly because the subject that was uppermost in my mind was one that required a little extra thought and preparation. Maybe because I’m growing older (it was my birthday Monday) or maybe because my conversion to the Catholic faith has dramatically changed the lens through which I view the world, but I’m finding it especially difficult to understand, let alone respect, many of the assumptions that guide social and political commentary in the post-modern era.
            One notion that I find particularly disturbing is the notion that the flow of history is almost always progressive. A few years ago when the debate around medical assistance in dying was heating up, I recall one commentator saying, “Once again the Catholic Church is on the wrong side of history.” I didn’t know history had a right side or a wrong side. I didn’t know that the unfolding of history could always be relied upon to lead us to the truth. Had this same commentator been alive when the German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer was imprisoned for his opposition to a charismatic Adolf Hitler and the growing popularity of the Nazi movement, would the commentator have said that Bonhoeffer was on the wrong side of history?
            In Joni Mitchell’s famous song Both Sides Now she declares “Something’s lost and something’s gained in living every day.” Her words remind us that as one generation gives way to another the changes that come will be both positive and negative. We know all too well the ways in which advances in technology, science, and medicine can be applied in ways that enhance or damage the human community.
            A few years ago, not long after I retired from prison ministry, I met an author who claimed that the world was a demonstrably better place than it was fifty years. He cited several examples of the way in which the world had improved, especially for visible minorities. As I listened, I thought about my experience working in the prison system, the epidemic of suicide, especially among indigenous people and the ever-increasing use of alcohol and hard drugs among young people from all walks of life. Despite the progress, the social changes, it seemed to me that people were more unhappy than ever before. The increase in mental health challenges, addictions of various kinds, and increasingly unstable domestic situations, all seemed to suggest that the emergence of a better world was largely illusory.  
            When I was about 8 or 9 years old my friend and I came upon one of those green metal locked boxes where letter carriers would pick up the daily mail. Sitting on top of this particular storage box was a liverwurst sandwich neatly wrapped in wax paper. One of the homemakers on our street, in a spirit of generosity, had obviously prepared it for our hard-working “mailman” and left it on the storage box for him to enjoy upon his arrival. That would never happen these days. We’re more likely to find bombs in mailboxes than liverwurst sandwiches!
            When Sandy and I began our married life in the little town of Miami, Manitoba, she was horrified to discover that nobody locked their doors at night. I’ll never forget her reaction when the church caretaker walked into the rectory early one morning to grab the vacuum cleaner. We were still in bed. Startled, she sat up with a gasp thinking it was a burglar. “It’s just Jimmy.” I assured her, and we went back to sleep.
            It would be easy enough to dismiss these stories as the sentimental ramblings of an old man who has been left behind by an increasingly enlightened world, an old man crying out in protest from the wrong side of history. But the stories are true and they bear witness to a way of life that produced people who were mostly healthier and happier than people today.
            Don’t misunderstand me. I rejoice in many of the advances that have been made in the last fifty years. I am grateful for opportunities that now exist for people who were once discriminated against. But what I rail against, is the judgement of the past simply because it is the past; the so-called “cancel culture” that self-righteously condemns our forbearers for not believing what we now believe; the lack of humility that fails to acknowledge that much of what we now see as progressive social or political policy may be judged harshly by future generations; that the statues of today’s heroes may one day lie in pieces on the ground.
            Interestingly, in the great book The Chosen of the Land by the late indigenous anthropologist Robert Thomas he claims that there is no word for “progress” in most indigenous languages. He would suggest that very notion of “progress” is foreign to a culture which does not share our predominantly European view of history, or our current contempt for the past, or our gleeful pride and unwarranted confidence in what we’ve now achieved. I suspect he would endorse Joni Mitchell’s notion that there’s something lost and something gained in living every day…every year…every generation, and that the past, like the future, is filled with great accomplishments as well as abysmal failures.
            I could write a book about how all this relates specifically to the challenges we now face as a Church. At the very least, I would suggest that it’s not always a bad thing to be on the wrong side of history. It’s evident that Jesus and his followers were greeted with considerable hostility by the world in which they lived and so it stands to reason that those who seek to follow him should expect no less. 
            Sometimes I think the coronavirus pandemic has somehow intensified the ideological battles that are being waged in our world today. The world seems to be a humourless and oppressive place and, even though the word has gone out of fashion, the presence of “sin” persists in individuals and institutions. As we journey through the pandemic toward a time of physical wellness, may we be mindful of a parallel journey through Lent toward Easter, and a time of spiritual wellness, when human hearts will once again be guided by love, respect, courage, honesty, wisdom, humility and truth.
 
Father Colin

 


Reflection 34 from Fr. Colin
Updated: March 1, 2021

 

 

It’s Lent, so I have a confession to make - most of the time, I don’t like rules. Now, that’s not necessarily the kind of thing I would confess sacramentally, even though I’m quite sure my occasional disregard for the rules has rendered a fit subject for a reconciliation room. When I was younger and more foolish there were occasions when I was accused of being one of those people who thinks that the rules don’t apply to him. That wasn’t entirely true, but I will admit that I have trouble with rules that don’t seem to make much sense.
            When I lived in west Winnipeg I used to drive over to St. Vital Parish Church for Mass every Sunday morning. The last leg of my journey took me down Waverley to Chevrier where I would turn left toward Pembina Highway. There is a traffic signal at this intersection that provides a very brief green light for southbound cars turning left. Even though the light remains green for “thru” traffic, those turning left must wait a full cycle for the next opportunity to make the turn. It all makes sense, of course, when it’s a busy weekday afternoon and the traffic is heavy and vehicles are headed in all directions. But it doesn’t make any sense at all on a Sunday morning at 7:30 when the streets are deserted. It’s frustrating to sit and wait when your eyes and your common sense tell you that it’s perfectly safe to make that turn. Though the temptation was strong, I never actually broke the law, even though there was no one, let alone the police, who would have actually witnessed the violation.
            Many years ago I volunteered for local access television in rural Manitoba. On one occasion, I was asked to interview a RCMP officer who was leaving the community. He had been a police officer for many years so I asked him what he felt had changed the most during his years of service. I’ll never forget his answer. He said, “In the old days people used to obey the law out of a sense of civic duty and as a matter of pride. Now they mostly obey the law because they’re afraid of getting caught.”
            You see, I couldn’t make that left turn on a red light because I’m old school enough to realize that laws have a purpose and a place even if I won’t get caught breaking one of them. There are exceptions, of course, but when we begin to believe that rules are optional, when we think that we can use our own discretion to decide when we should follow them, then we begin to open our world to all kinds of confusion and disorder. Not every one uses discretion responsibly, and all too often justifying self-interest is the motivation for acting unwisely or even dangerously.
            This is a hot issue lately as some people wage war with governments over the rules and restrictions that have been in place to keep people safe during this deadly pandemic. I’d be the first to admit that some of the rules don’t make a lot of sense. As the pandemic has progressed rules have evolved as governments and medical experts have learned more about the coronavirus and its various strains. Different jurisdictions have responded in different ways and often decisions have been based on shifting medical opinions instead of scientific facts. But one thing is clear, even if they change, even if they don’t make sense, the rules help maintain order in the face of a potentially chaotic situation. I’ve come to appreciate the expression “erring on the side of caution.” It’s a way of saying, even if it turns out they were wrong, the rules helped us feel safe.
            These principles can apply to moral decision-making as well. I have witnessed in so many ways how the permissiveness and moral relativism of our age have left many young people feeling unsafe. The Catholic Church has taken a lot of heat for upholding traditional views of marriage and sexual behaviour, yet I believe there is a tremendous longing for the clarity and guidance that such rules bring, especially to those who are young and vulnerable. Enforcing such rules isn’t always about controlling. Almost always, it’s about loving and caring.
            I’ll close with a story that I think makes the point with considerable clarity. Once I was visiting the Victoria Hospital I was asked to visit a patient who was dying of cancer. “Are you sure he wants to see me?” I asked the nurse, “He’s not a Catholic.” She replied by saying that he had specifically asked to see a Catholic priest. When I got to his room he told me that he was near death and was thinking about medical assistance in dying. Understandably, his wife, teenaged children and friends, were reluctant to tell him what to do. “What do you think I should do?” he asked, knowing full well what my answer would be. I told him what the church taught and why. We talked about the mystery of suffering and the sacredness of moments he had been sharing with his loved ones. A few days later he died naturally, peacefully and without much pain. As I thought about it later I realized he wanted to see a priest because he wanted to know right from wrong. He wanted someone to tell him what to do. I’m guessing that what I told him to do was what he really wanted to do anyway, but, even so, he longed for guidance and clarity. He wanted to feel safe.
 
Father Colin

 


Reflection 33 from Fr. Colin
Updated: February 16, 2021

 
            I suppose it’s a sign that this pandemic has gone on long enough when I’m starting to run out of ideas for these bi-weekly reflections. Or, worse yet, when I’m starting to recycle ideas that I’ve written about before.
            The overarching theme of these reflections has been “life in the pandemic” and I’ve tried to focus as much as possible on the very real challenges and occasional blessings that have come to us because of the coronavirus. A recurring theme has been the importance of faith as we make our way through these bewildering and frightening times. Speaking personally, it would be difficult to make sense of all this if not for my conviction that God is present in our wilderness, as the Holy One who both sustains and guides us. But I hasten to add that this God is the God who is encountered in concrete ways in the sacramental and communal life of the Church.
            What a relief it is to learn that we will once again be able to gather in person to celebrate the Eucharist. Even though we will only be able to welcome fifteen worshippers to our Mass at Christ the King Chapel at St. Paul’s College, it will be a foretaste of that day when the doors can be flung wide open and all who wish to enter will be welcomed. But where has the church been these last few months? Did the closed doors represent the absence of the Church from our lives?
            It’s true that our access to the church has been severely limited by the restrictions imposed to keep us safe, but the Church didn’t disappear! In the same way that we are in communion with the Saints and all who have gone before us in the faith, we have been connected with one another as sisters and brothers in what is sometimes called the Mystical Body of the Christ.
            This community to which we belong is not like a secular organization in which like-minded people choose to associate with one another because of a common interest. We are members of a mystical body breathed into being by the Holy Spirit and inseparably bound together by forces that are beyond our aegis. To quote the legendary Flannery O’Connor, “For us the Church is the body of Christ, Christ continued in time, and as such a divine institution…if the Church is not a divine institution, it will turn into an Elks Club.” This was not a condemnation of the Elks Club by Flannery O’Connor but a bold affirmation of the distinct nature of the church. It is a reminder that this Body, like the risen body of our Lord, cannot be destroyed by the things of the world including the coronavirus.
            Vestiges of the Church as it used to be have been present in the live-streaming of Masses and through the spiritual communion offered there. But the presence of the church in our lives has continued in invisible ways through the power of prayer, through our longing for its return and through our connection with the brothers and sisters from whom we have been separated.
            In recent years the word “religion” has fallen out of favour in some circles. You sometimes hear people describe themselves as “spiritual but not religious” which often means that they have distanced themselves from “organized” religion which usually requires some sort of participation in a community and the acceptance of certain obligations. But I’m suggesting that it is precisely our religion, our membership in the community of the church and the fulfilment of its attendant religious obligations, that has sustained us in these difficult times. A private or personal spirituality on its own cannot provide the resources that come to us through our membership in the Mystical Body of Christ which, like it or not, manifests itself as an organized religion. I suspect many private spiritualities, in the absence of community or commitment, often become disorganized religions.     
            None of this is to disparage the practice of private prayer or spiritual practices that sustain strength and inner peace. My daily walk, even on the coldest days, is a private spiritual practice. But it is a private spiritual practice undertaken not “instead of” but “alongside” other religious practices and always in communion with my sisters and brothers in the Church. In other words, it is a religious practice on my own, but not alone, because your love, my brothers and sisters in Christ, the love of all the angels and Saints in heaven, and the love of our merciful God, is always invisibly and wonderfully present.

 


Reflection 32 from Fr. Colin
Updated: January 30, 2021

In the last few weeks I’ve been trying to get outside for a long walk almost every day, even when it’s thirty below! Over the years I have often been negligent when it comes to the care and maintenance of this aging body. In the old days, when it was still socially acceptable, maybe even cool, I used to smoke cigarettes, cigars and a pipe. I smoked a pipe as a young seminarian. In those days, mostly male, mostly European theologians were popular, and almost all of them smoked a pipe. Oddly enough, it seemed to help. When I smoked a pipe it produced an almost trance-like meditative state from which profound theological ideas flowed at an alarming rate. I’m kidding about the profundity of course, but smoking a pipe was relaxing and, if nothing else, it at least made you look like a German theologian capable of profundity.
            But there were other times when the urge to become physically fit took hold of me. I quit smoking for a while in 1973 and began swimming laps at the university pool. Then, for a few months in the summer of 1977 I became a jogger and ran six or seven miles every night. In the ensuing years, I have spent time swimming, lifting weights, walking around an indoor track, but never for more than a few months. When I worked at the Manitoba Youth Centre in the first decade of the new millennium I rode my bike in the summer months. It was about 12-13 kilometres so it was a good workout! But again, it only lasted for a couple of seasons.
            During my first year at St. Paul’s College, weather permitting, I often rode my bike to the office. Needless to say, working from home during the pandemic has disrupted that routine. Now, I find myself walking, almost every day, and I love it. A friend of mine in Toronto walks every day but, in the winter, he uses a treadmill. I think that’s a good way to continue exercise when the weather is nasty! But I’ve come to realize that for me walking is more than getting exercise. It is getting fresh air after months of being mostly indoors. It is seeing the deer along the river, rabbits seeking the shelter of the woodpiles, and the birds nestled in the trees of the forest. It is time spent away from the cell phone, the computer and the television.
            So, why all this talk about exercise?
            As Catholics we stand in a religious tradition that acknowledges the importance of these physical bodies. We believe in an astonishing God who became flesh and lived in a body just like yours and mine. Our liturgies are liturgies that invoke the senses that come with these physical bodies - we see, we hear, we taste, we touch and smell. We understand the body to be a gift through most of life, although we know it can feel like a prison when we contend with unruly appetites or the aches and pains of aging. St. Paul calls the body a temple of the Holy Spirit, as something to be treated with care and respect. But not worshipped.
            There are times when people seem to worship their bodies, when exercise seems to be a frantic effort to escape mortality rather than the pursuit of pleasure. St. Paul talked about people for whom the stomach is their god. We’ve often taken that to be a reference to people who are gluttonous. But I wonder if it can also refer to those who have such an idolatrous attachment to their bodies that they never allow themselves to simply enjoy the pleasures of good food and drink. I’m not talking about fasting or eating simple foods as a spiritual discipline, but avoiding good food because one is clinging, almost fearfully, to one’s own existence. Underlying much Catholic teaching, especially regarding issues like MAID and abortion, is the notion that life is not a possession, but a sacred gift, a mystery and a miracle, to be nurtured and enjoyed.
            This last year, with the spectre of COVID-19 hanging over our heads, our bodies and their attendant mortality have been on our minds perhaps more than ever before. How hard it is to find that balance between hanging on so tightly that we are paralyzed with fear, and letting go so much that we put ourselves and others at risk. In the end, it has been a spiritual battle as much as a physical battle.
            In a strange way my daily walking (which I hope to continue indefinitely) has helped to understand that I need to tend to both. The fresh air and the deer, the time away from technology, brings joy and hope to my heart, while the steps, registered daily on my Fitbit, help it to keep on pumping. I hope that all of you will discover your own ways of continuing to be healthy both in body and in spirit. - FC

 


Updated: January 13, 2021

My father’s mother died from the Spanish flu just a few days after he was born in 1918.  There’s an interesting story to be told about the way his life unfolded after his birth, as the world around him continued to deal with the devastating effects of a world-wide pandemic, not unlike the pandemic we’re facing in the world today. My Dad’s story can be told some other time, but I’ve been thinking about the Spanish flu pandemic and how much different it must have been in those days. Aside from the medical advances that have enhanced our response to COVID-19, there was relative silence in the world surrounding those Spanish flu sufferers. By silence, I mean the absence of radios, televisions, and the world-wide web with its vast array of platforms, social media, blogs and podcasts. I’m guessing that the only medium available to my dying grandmother in a small town in rural Saskatchewan would have been the local paper. If it was around in those days, maybe the Regina Leader Post would have given occasional information about the scope and consequences of that deadly virus. But there would have been no reports of the daily numbers from around the globe. There would have been few, if any, debates about the best way to protect yourself from infection. The pandemic would have been much less politicized, and conspiracy theories, which aren’t always necessarily false, would have been few and far between.
            So, I’m wondering. Is all the communication a good thing or a bad thing?
Certainly, contemporary methods of communication have made it possible to respond more quickly to the presence of the virus, but they also made it possible to speculate in a hundred different ways about how it started and who’s to blame. The daily briefings have allowed us to receive information that has enhanced the safety of our communities, but they have also added to the fears and anxieties of the most vulnerable, especially when the advice of the experts has not always been clear or consistent. They say “ignorance is bliss” so I wonder if my grandmother would have been helped or hindered by the lack of information coming to her way back in 1918.
The truth is that the greatest scientific, technological and social progress, can be applied in ways that are divisive and destructive. Theologians like Reinhold Niebuhr and William Stringfellow both wrote extensively about the presence of the “demonic” amid the principalities and powers.
I don’t know about you, but lately I’ve felt as if the world-wide web has become a bit of a tangled web and, ironically, enhanced communication seems to have deepened the divisions between human beings. There’s not time to explore this whole argument in this short reflection, but, personally speaking, I’m finding it almost impossible to find reliable information about any topic, especially topics of a social or political nature. Perhaps it has always been this way, but we seem to be more oppressed by information these days, much of it contradictory, and, in the end, we’re required to take a “leap of faith” when it comes to choosing our sources of authority, often driven by ideological not pedagogical motivations.  
Sometimes the options are so mendacious and bewildering that I’ve looked with envy at some cousins who belong to a very small Mennonite sect. They believe that Christians should withdraw from the world and eschew any involvement in politics. They don’t vote or belong to political parties. They believe in respecting the authority of governments but believe that ultimately all worldly powers and institutions are subject to sin and evil. In the end, I will choose to “duke it out” amid the chaos and confusion, knowing that these human institutions, however flawed, can also accomplish great good.
Yet, as we reflect back on the Christmas Season that the Church has just celebrated, we think about the Word that became flesh and lived among us. It is that Word, and only that Word, that I am ultimately willing to trust. It is that Word, and only that Word, to which I will bow the knee, finding in him hopes and promises upon which I can always depend. In his gospel, John called him the true light. It’s a light that shines in our darkness whether it’s 1918 or 2021.
Fr. Colin

 


 

Updated: December 23, 2020

I wanted to send out one more reflection before the Christmas break, so that I could wish all of you a Merry Christmas, a Happy New Year, and for those of other faith traditions, a very joyful holiday season.
Those words - merry, happy and joyful - seem a little odd and out of place when the world around us is filled with so much fear and sadness. Even without the coronavirus, we know that the holiday season is often decidedly un-joyful and unhappy for a lot of people. We get set up by all the hype for an emotional high that the season, even on a good year, never quite delivers. Often it’s the intangible things, the things that draw us closer to God, that become the source of true joy.
This year Christmas and the holiday season may be harder than usual for many people and perhaps, for some, it will be a little easier, especially if you’re one of those who find the usual festivities more stressful than joyful. In any case, we are not only surrounded by the coronavirus with all the loneliness, worry and death it brings, but we are mindful of a passing year that has brought with it the loss of beloved people from our wider community. It’s true, I think, that the absence of a departed loved one is felt more keenly at Christmastime, but it also a time when we lay hold once again of the good news that gives us hope especially in the face of our most profound losses. 
I’ve always found it interesting that many of the old, favourite Christmas carols, make reference to the fact that the coming Saviour will save us from the power of death. I won’t list them here, but if you pay attention to the words of the carols you’ll discover that many do not avoid the fact of our mortality or the condition of our world. All of this is simply to say that it’s possible to find in this Holy Season some comfort, if not a cure, for the sorrow of our hearts.
Traditionally, the coming days would be days of joyful celebration. At Christmas, through the holidays, on New Year’s Eve, it would not be unusual to pop the cork of something bubbly and drink a toast to life and its abundant blessings. If that has been your custom, I sincerely hope that all of you will find a reason to do so again this year. The blessings may be harder to find, but they’re there. Perhaps some of you will even discover, as I have, that there are blessings to be found in the fact that we are not able to celebrate Christmas in the usual way.
Even if you’ve lost a loved one, or suffered through illness, or struggled with the challenges that come with being a student, or growing old, or raising children, or caring for an ailing loved one, or managing the challenges of the workplace, I hope you will find a reason to celebrate.
If nothing else, we celebrate the Good News of a God who has responded to the cries of the people and sent a light to those who walk in darkness.           
God bless you all!
Father Colin
 
Please join us for the live-streamed broadcast of our Christmas Eve Mass at 8:00 p.m. on the St. Paul’s College Facebook page.
There will also be live-streamed masses on Sunday, December 27th and Sunday, January 3rd at 11:00 a.m.

 


Updated: December 15, 2020
Reflection #29 from Father Colin

          
            They say every picture tells a story. Well, I saw a picture a few days ago that told an intriguing story, a story about the fragility of life, a story about the struggle for survival which, in one sense, is what every life is about. It was a picture of a meadowlark with only one leg. Balanced perfectly on its remaining leg and singing its familiar melody, one wonders how it happened. Had it been attacked by a bird of prey or a marauding cat? Had it struggled mightily for its fragile life, escaping alive but wounded like Jacob after wrestling with the angel? For me the photo was an emblem of survival, the resilience of life in the face of death and perhaps a sign of hope for all of us surrounded these days by so much danger.
            We know that, at some level, living is a dangerous business. I remember attending a community Christmas gathering many years ago when our oldest son was just over a year old. He had only been walking a few months and was still unsteady on his feet. That evening all the kids were herded into a roped off play area where they could interact safely with one another while the adults socialized a short distance away. Those of you who are parents will remember the anxiety that comes with your first born and so, on this particular night, we kept a watchful eye on our little guy as he played with the other children. At one point, an older child, without apparent provocation, pushed our little son down. He burst into tears and, of course, we ran to comfort him and rescue him from further malice. Maybe you’ll think I’m crazy, but I was deeply troubled by this incident. I was silent, but in a sense grieving, not so much because my little boy had been hurt in any physical way, but because, for the first time in his life, he had been hurt by an encounter with the human condition. In my mind, he had begun that unavoidable journey through life’s labyrinth of social interactions that can bring great joy, but often cause considerable pain. It troubled me to realize that he had discovered at such an early age that the world is not a trustworthy place. He and our other two children have gone on to live relatively happy lives, but my point in telling the story is to simply underscore the fact that life is fragile and we are vulnerable in so many different ways.
            Many of us are fortunate enough to have experienced amid the vulnerability the protectiveness of God. Sometimes the protectiveness comes in mitigating the effect of pain and suffering and at other times in nothing less than sheer rescue. As I look back over my life I’m grateful to have had “a guardian angel” who had to work a lot harder than other guardian angels. On one occasion, I was horseback riding on a farm near the small town where I began my life in ministry. The horse was galloping full speed toward a barb wire fence and I, foolishly, made the rookie mistake of thinking I was smarter than the horse. Instead of allowing the horse to jump the fence, I reined back hard, causing the horse to slam on the brakes. The sudden stop sent me flying over the horse’s head and, after completing a mid-air somersault, I landed very painfully on my back. Winded and embarrassed I slowly got to my feet, mounted the horse, and rode very slowly back to the barn. I survived. I could have just as easily broken my neck and died, but for whatever reasons, my life continued. It’s hard to know why, because so often the story ends in different ways. I only know that in the face of life’s dangers we sometimes experience the protective hand of God.    
            But, as this Advent Season reminds us, our hope ultimately is not only that we would be spared an inordinate amount of suffering in this world, but that we can look forward to an end to all suffering, the reign of everlasting peace, and the ultimate victory of life over death. Advent comprehends our human vulnerability and opens us to sheer rescue - the coming of God to save us.            
          That brings us back to the one-legged meadowlark. There is hope in knowing that despite its wounds it continued to sing, just as all of us, with our various physical and emotional wounds, will continue to sing, as we move toward our Christmas celebrations. No, we might not sing in packed churches as we usually do, or even gathered around a piano in someone’s living room, but though the songs be not on our lips, may they ring courageously in our hearts - for they are songs of hope, songs of confidence and courage, songs of indestructible love.                             - Father Colin


Updated: December 4, 2020

Reflection #28 from Father Colin
 
            There’s a pretty good chance that COV-19 and the associated lockdowns and restrictions are not only going to ruin Christmas but Advent too. After all, what is Advent but standing in sweltering line-ups in crowded department stores, baking fruit cakes and Santa-shaped cookies and covering walls and windows and doorways with festive decorations? I’m being a little facetious, of course, because we know that Advent is so much more than all those things, and even though we will miss some of these traditional pre-Christmas activities, the fact is, the coronavirus may actually help us to see the meaning of Advent more clearly by allowing us to set aside some of these cultural distractions so that we can see the poverty of the world instead of its plenitude.
            In the Catholic tradition the focus of Advent is primarily on the two comings of Jesus Christ. The first coming was his birth in a Bethlehem stable over two thousand years ago. This coming Sunday we would have celebrated our annual Barn Mass which always reminds us, in very vivid ways, the rustic conditions under which our Saviour entered the world. Even if Jesus wasn’t born in a barn, as some scholars suggest, the main point is that God didn’t become flesh at the Hyatt Regency. On the contrary, the Incarnation, from start to finish, was literally and figuratively down-to-earth.
            The second coming refers to the Christian hope of the day when Jesus Christ will return in glory to establish the Kingdom of God and its attendant shalom. Many of the Advent hymns and prayers focus on this second coming of Jesus Christ and, not surprisingly, rely heavily on images that come from the ancient prophets, particularly Isaiah, and the Messianic hopes of Israel.
            Many Catholics speak of a third coming, namely, the personal experience of Jesus Christ descending into their lives through the Eucharist and other sacraments, through prayer and meditation and, not least, through the signs of the kingdom of God that appear among us when we live in faithfulness to the prophetic vision of a world at peace.
            But my purpose today is not to explore these christological questions, but to talk about the way in which the presence of the coronavirus enhances our ability to understand their importance. The fact that undergirds our celebration of both Advent and Christmas is that this is a world in need of salvation. Sometimes that truth is obscured by the fact that we live in a relatively prosperous country, most of our basic human needs are met regularly, and there are various technological, social and political advances that delude us into thinking we might be able to save ourselves.
            The coronavirus reminds us of our vulnerability, our mortality and, as we listen to the feuding of politicians and scientists, the precarious nature of nascent medical research and a variety of other social and political initiatives. But the coronavirus also has exposed human brokenness and fragility, our propensity to bicker, the near occasion of sin, and in a very beautiful way, our need for human community. Perhaps the promise of the coming Christ will ring a little more clearly, and taste a little sweeter, and fill our hearts with a greater hope, because of all we’ve been through together these last nine months. Advent is the time to remember that God knows what we’ve been through. God knows our deepest longing and has heard our plaintive cries. At Christmas, we remember God’s response and rejoice together in our salvation.
 
Father Colin        

 


 

Updated: November 27, 2020
Reflection #27 from Father Colin                             

 
                                 When I was a young minister back in the late 1970s and early 1980s I used to write my sermons on lined yellow paper. It was not even good yellow paper. It was newsprint because, by the end of the sermon-writing process, the waste basket was full of crumpled pages. In those days, “cutting and pasting” meant crumpling up and starting over. So, you can imagine the joy I experienced when, some time in the mid-1980s I acquired my first computer. It would be a stretch to call it a computer these days, but back then it was a boon and a blessing! It was an Adam made by Coleco and it stored information on a cassette tape that whirred and clattered as it searched for available space. I didn’t have a proper monitor so I hung a transparent sheet of green acetate over the screen of an old twelve inch black and white television. It had two very primitive games, including the legendary Pong. These games helped me to develop the skills I would need to save the Princess when we acquired the Mario Brothers on Nintendo a few years later. But, most importantly, the Adam allowed me to write sermons with the ability to cut and paste and move and edit without crumpling up and starting over. It’s hard to say whether this change in the writing process had much impact on the finished product. The process was certainly quicker and the freedom to move and edit text allowed me to produce a more carefully crafted piece. Although I hasten to add, well written sermons are not necessarily good sermons, and part of the craft of sermon writing is the ability to write text that is meant to be proclaimed not read.
                                 Now, over forty years later, we’re hard-pressed to imagine a world without computers and various other technological advances. But, speaking personally, I’ve also discovered that sometimes technology isn’t too bright. In many cases, technology is only as bright as the people involved in its development. It’s nice to have spell-checking but my word processor doesn’t know the difference between “it’s” and “its” and if you’re writing a blessing that begins with “may” such as “May peace be with you!” it will place a question mark at the end, perhaps a sign of its agnostic tendencies. I’ve noticed that some theological words are not in the word-processing lexicon and it’s annoying to be told you’re wrong when you know you’re right. If you have an auto-correct feature be prepared to proof read!
                                 I hasten to add that technology can even become an agent of evil when it is used to produce destructive weapons, spread hateful ideas, provide access to dehumanizing images, or impede literacy.
                                 Nevertheless, we know that technological change has made life in this time of pandemic much easier. You can FaceTime with loved ones, mitigate boredom by watching television or surfing the net, and meet with colleagues through Zoom. I can only imagine how much different life during the pandemic was in 1918 when the local paper may have been the only source of information. I believe there are ways in which it would have been better - not knowing the death totals, the number of cases, the political squabbles. But, when push comes to shove, I think most of us would prefer to endure a pandemic with the assistance of technology.
                                 The point of all this is to encourage us to be reasonable and wise when it comes to technology. Technology is inherently neutral, but the way in which it is used can be life-giving or death-dealing. It can be almost angelic or destructively demonic. It can produce freedom or bondage. Unwittingly, the pandemic has put us at something of a crossroads when it comes to technology. Will it permanently change the way in which we meet and work? Will life-styles, daily routines and social interactions be altered forever? Will it have a lasting impact on church attendance?
                                 We have a choice about all these things. I suggested that we may have to consciously resist the temptations that technology will set before us as the pandemic gradually begins to recede. We will have to consciously claim back the things that technology has taken away from us, even as it has helped and supported us.
                                 The Christian belief in the God who became human, reminds us that our fleshly humanity is a sacred gift that must be cherished and protected. God did not become a Coleco Adam computer. We believe God became one of us, and in doing so, taught us to cherish the warm and tangible humanity that we find in one another.
                                 - Father Colin

 


Updated: November 16, 2020

Pastoral Reflection #26 from Father Colin
 
            The Red Code restrictions being implemented by the province are coming into effect as I write this reflection. It is disappointing to be sure. Most of us believed, or wanted to believe, that the situation would gradually improve until life would be normal again. The summer months afforded a bit of a reprieve. In our family, we spent time at the lake with children and grandchildren. We began to go to restaurants again. We engaged in unnecessary shopping. As the number of cases stabilized, we dared to believe that our time in exile was coming to an end.
            And now? Well, we stood at the front door of our son’s home when we delivered his birthday present on Tuesday afternoon, our daughter and her two little girls are in isolation at home because there was a possible case at the daycare, Campus Ministry finds it difficult to maintain any regular contact with our students, and our Sunday Masses must be live-streamed with a small crew of workers. All of you could cite your own examples of how this setback is affecting you, both personally and professionally.
            In some ways, what’s happening now, reminds me of what sometimes happens in Winnipeg when spring is approaching. The snow begins to melt, the sun begins to shine, the winter coat is put away and then, out of nowhere, a horrendous blizzard arrives, extinguishing our reviving hope, and thrusting us back into winter’s icy grasp. But this is different. When winter persists we all know that it won’t last long. We’ve been through it enough times. When I still had a driveway, I rarely shovelled after a spring blizzard because I knew that Mother Nature would shovel it for me. But I’m pressed to know when the winter of coronavirus will give way to some sort of spring. There’s talk of a vaccination. There are signs of hope and, as we’ve discussed before, we’re sometimes forced into disruptions of daily routines that can be life-giving. Today, for example, I stood and talked for about twenty-five minutes to my neighbour down the hall in our condo building. We’ve been here three years and this is the first time I’ve talked with him for more than two or three minutes. Good things happen, even in our exile.
            I think one of the most challenging things about the coronavirus is precisely its novelty. We’ve never dealt with anything like this before and we’re hard pressed to know how to respond. I’d hate to be a politician these days. No matter what course of action you choose there will be harsh criticism. If you chose to lock things down you’ll be accused of taking away freedoms, violating rights, and destroying the economy. If you’re slow to impose restrictions you’ll be accused of being negligent and irresponsible and ignoring the science. 
            I suppose it doesn’t help that the scientists and medical experts are not of one accord. They are learning about this “on the fly” so to speak and their advice has changed and evolved with each passing month. They sometimes disagree in fundamental ways, especially when it comes to effective strategies for prevention, the timeline for vaccines, and the efficacy of various treatments. Preferring to err on the side of caution we wear our masks and sanitize and stay at home as much as possible. But our unease and bouts of paranoia are worsened by the sense that we continue to deal with something we don’t completely understand. In some ways, we’re dealing with an invisible enemy, against which there is no sure defence.
            It’s our nature to fear the unknown. I think that’s why the fear of dying is so intense. It forces us to make a journey we’ve never made before. It’s a journey that takes us through unfamiliar territory toward a destination that is completely unknown to us. We are unable to look it up on the internet or talk to someone who has been there, and so we journey toward it with little more than our confidence in God’s unfailing promises.
            These times are a bit like that. The lack of clarity, the unfamiliarity of the surrounding territory, and the uncertainty of the future, produce a fear and trepidation that cannot be abated by the science alone, but by the unfailing promises of a loving God.

 


Updated: November 2, 2020

Reflection #25 from Father Colin
 
            A few weeks ago I came across a video of a Swedish musician performing the John Lennon classic Imagine on an episode of America’s Got Talent. It was advertised as a performance that “just might make you cry.” In some ways it did make me want to cry, but not for the reasons the promoters had in mind.
            I’d be the first to admit that I really liked John Lennon’s version of Imagine when it first made the hit parade in 1971. In some respects, it was an anthem for the movements that had begun to influence the world in the 60s and 70s. The vision of a world filled with peace and harmony was hardly something to be sneezed at and, not surprisingly, the song had very broad popular appeal.
            Despite its popularity, I’ve been told by people who know more about music than I do that Imagine isn’t exactly a musical masterpiece. I’ll let you form your own opinions about that but, speaking personally, I got tired of it about 40 years ago. But when you consider its message, can anyone seriously claim that it is a song of hope? Or when you reflect upon Lennon’s lyrics, do they really paint a picture of a brighter, better world?
            Imagine. Imagine that you are lying in a hospital bed with the coronavirus. Imagine that your loved one has just been diagnosed with a terminal illness. Imagine that the person that you shared your life with for 60 years has just died. Then imagine there’s no heaven.
            “It’s easy if you try.” Lennon says. But I say, it’s disturbingly frightening. It’s frightening if the hope of heaven has been a source of comfort in the face of death. It is disarming and heart-breaking if the prospect of heaven has helped you accept your own mortality and the mortality of those you love. I suspect even the atheist would admit that someone facing the coronavirus, or cancer or inevitable death, would be better off using the imagination to envision the beauty of heaven than its abysmal absence. As St. Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians, “If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.”
            Imagine no religion. Imagine no circle of family and friends lighting candles for you as you endure your dark night of despair. Imagine no community of faith singing hymns, reading scripture and standing by your side, when your loved one is laid to rest. Imagine no parish including you in the prayers of the faithful, or starting a prayer chain for you as you face your tests and treatments. Imagine no priest offering a mass for your departed loved one or anointing your elderly spouse or parent or grandparent with oleum infirmorum, the oil of the sick.
            Imagine there’s no countries. Well, aside from being a bad grammar, that sounds a little more hopeful, until you examine the history of western civilization, and discover that ancient Greece, despite the existence of some practices that we might now find abhorrent, was mostly a place of great progress: intellectually, artistically, and technologically. It was also a place of great happiness. As the famous classicist, Edith Hamilton, writes in her famous book The Greek Way, “what most set the Greeks apart from all prior societies was joyful living.” She says this was something new and claims,”The Greeks were the first people in the world to play, and they played on a great scale.” But here’s the interesting thing. Ancient Greece was comprised of city-states that were politically independent. Despite a few conquests and alliances along the way, Ancient Greece was mostly a diverse and independent set of small societies. In the ensuing ages, it was the monolithic empires that generated poverty and human misery. So, it seems a world with borders, a world comprised of smaller political units, a world of diverse societies, is most likely to promote the health and happiness of its inhabitants.
            The Christian community, and the Catholic Church in particular, is no stranger to this concept. For example, the principle of subsidiarity, which was developed as part of Catholic Social Teaching, believes that what individuals can accomplish by their own initiative and efforts should not be taken from them by a higher authority. In practical terms, this means that social and political matters should be handled by the smallest, lowest or least centralized competent authority. Similarly, Catholic social teaching endorses the economic concept of Distributism, which is the belief that the means of production should be spread as widely as possible rather than being centralized under the control of the government. Anyway, this is all a roundabout way of saying that John Lennon’s vision of a world with no countries can very quickly become a vision of a world of a bland and fragile uniformity, a world that produces neither happiness, productivity or meaningful progress.
            Contrary to popular opinion, Jesus Christ’s appeal for unity was not a demand for uniformity or an attack on individualism. His first followers came from diverse backgrounds - fishers and tax collectors, zealots and a thief. Although this motley crew was united in a common cause, none was asked to leave behind his delightful individuality. Jesus offered love and acceptance to people from all walks of life, including beggars and prostitutes. I think he would have been deeply disappointed by the way in which voices of dissent are often silenced in our contentious and increasingly polarized world today. As Paul teaches us 1 Corinthians 12, the body’s health and effectiveness exists because of, not in spite of, diversity.
            Anyway, this has been a longer than usual reflection. I missed last week so I guess I can get away with it. Just for the record, I love the Beatles and John Lennon was my favourite. But as people of faith, especially those facing a frightening pandemic, let’s ignore John for a moment and dare to imagine the beauty of heaven, the empowering love and support of our religious communities, and a world that finds wholeness, fruitfulness, and dignity, not in some sort of amorphous monolith, but in the splendour of our diversity.
 
Father Colin


 

Updated: October 18, 2020
Reflection #24 from Father Colin

 
            Lately, we’ve been watching old episodes of The Beverly Hillbillies. Those of you who were around in 1962 when the popular television series first appeared, will remember Jed Clampett, the hillbilly who accidentally discovered oil on his property and moved to a mansion in Beverly Hills with 25 million dollars in his bank account. There was much humour to be found as Jed and his family discovered the bewildering existence of modern conveniences. Ironically, modern conveniences like running water, electricity and the telephone, brought consternation instead of relief.
            In the very first episode, Jed has just learned that he’s a millionaire and his cousin Pearl is trying to persuade him to move to California. Jed is having trouble making a decision so Pearl says (and I’m paraphrasing) “Think about it Jed. You’re living out here in the middle of nowhere, eight miles from your nearest neighbour. You’re surrounded by wilderness, opossum and wildcats. You have to hunt for your food and fetch water from a pond. You cook your meals on a wood stove and your outhouse is fifty feet from your cabin.” Jed thinks about this statement for a moment then says, “By golly, Pearl, I see your point. A man would be a darn fool to leave all this!”
            Over the years I’ve often fantasized about living out in the wilderness. In fact, we briefly considered selling our home and living year round at the lake we visit every summer. The lake is near Kenora in Ontario so the thought of being away from children and grandchildren put an end to that notion. Still, I enjoy watching films and reading books about wilderness survival and canoe trips and mountain men. But I’ve spent enough time in the outdoors to know that mosquitoes, frozen feet, inclement weather and hungry predators can soon turn the wilderness dream into a terrifying nightmare. Moreover, as physical ability and stamina subside, most of my forays into the wilderness will be limited to city parks and lakeside cabins.
            Jed Clampett’s comment reminds us that our sense of what is required to have a happy existence is certainly a relative thing and, as this pandemic is teaching us, it’s possible to live without many of the amenities that life in the city affords. But what if we were to think of this pandemic, this time of isolation, not as a time exile, not as a crisis to be overcome or a period of suffering to be endured, but as a gift and an opportunity? Notwithstanding, all the very real difficulties brought about by COVID-19, including illness and death, what if we began to allow this time to be a time in the wilderness? And what if this wilderness offered, not only an escape from the world, but a place in which to encounter the living God?        
            I just started reading Henri Nouwen’s book, The Way of the Heart: Desert Spirituality and Contemporary Ministry, inspired by the lives of the Desert Fathers and Mothers. In the book he quotes from Thomas Merton who tells us that, “society was regarded by the Desert Fathers as a shipwreck from which each single individual man had to swim for his life…these were men who believed that to let oneself drift along, passively accepting the tenets and values of what they knew as society, was purely and simply a disaster.” I find Merton’s image profoundly accurate as I think of contemporary society. The notion of “fleeing” from our world, not only because of the coronavirus, but because of frightening social and political realities, is tremendously appealing at one level. But Nouwen makes it clear that fleeing to the solitude of the desert was much more than a self-serving escapism. Referring to the likes of St. John the Baptist, St. Anthony, St. Benedict , Charles de Foucauld and the brothers of Taizé, he says, “Solitude is not a private therapeutic place. Rather it is the place of conversion, the place where the old self dies and the new self is born, the place where the emergence of the new man and the new woman occurs.” He points out that, “Without solitude we remain victims of our society and continue to be entangled in the illusions of the false self.”
            For Nouwen this isn’t about simply enjoying our privacy, our time away from the demands and pressures of daily life. It is about seeing the  desert, the wilderness, as a place in which something happens. He says: “We have, indeed, to fashion our own desert where we can withdraw every day, shake off our compulsions, and dwell in the gentle healing presence of our Lord.”
            Well, most of us don’t have to fashion our own desert because we’ve had one presented to us in the reality of the pandemic. I suspect, even without knowing it, many of us have been changed, if not transformed, by our prolonged distance from the busy world from which we’ve been cut off. Many of us spend a lot of time and energy trying to get back into that world, to shrink the distances created by our isolation. We use Zoom meetings, text messaging, emails and and telephones to try to overcome the barriers. But what if we were to see amid the heart-breaking separations and the agony of exile, an opportunity, a gift and a blessing, as the imposition of a wilderness, a desert, offers us the opportunity to grow deeper in faith, and, as Nouwen puts it, “to shake off our compulsions, and to dwell in the gentle healing presence of our Lord.”

 


Updated: October 8, 2020
Reflection #23 from Father Colin

            As many of you know I was a graduate of the School of Art here at the University of Manitoba. You may also know that my love of the visual arts is often expressed through my interest in photography. What you might not have known is that my desire to be creative, to facilitate new ways of seeing the world around us, often leads me to take photos of peculiar things. For example, I have taken dozens of photos over the years of red or yellow leaves still clinging to a brittle branch, cattails losing their stuffing, withered berries hanging from a bush, and golden stalks of grass juxtaposed against the winter snow. It seems a puzzling subject to many people. After all, not many of us, while walking through the local park, would stop and say, “Oh, look at the dried up leaf hanging from that branch! I wish I had my camera!” No, it’s the birds of the air, the deer and the rabbits, the flowers blossoming in the spring, that make us wish we had a camera. Even so, one of these days I’d like to put some of these peculiar photos on display. The title of the exhibit would be, “The Beauty of Aging.”

            You see, I think if we look again, and perhaps more closely, we’ll see that there’s a tremendous beauty in the leaves and the flowers and the grasses as their brief season of life draws to a close. Everyone loves the fall colours! But we sometimes forget that the beauty of colourful leaves is most intense just before they fall to the ground.

Here’s the thing, I’m convinced that the same principle applies to human beings and, as we grow older, there’s a way in which we become even more beautiful. I know! I know! We don’t often feel more beautiful! And when we look in the mirror most of us are aware that signs of aging have begun to appear. But beauty is more than skin deep.

There is still a physical beauty, but it’s not beauty in the conventional sense. It’s a beauty rooted in the truth that we are wonderfully made and that the person who was miraculously knit together in her or his mother’s womb is just as much a gift and a marvel as the little child that came into this world so many years ago. We must never forget that our very existence is a miracle and that the spirit that enlivens us, though somewhat abated, is nothing less than the breath of God.

Those of you who have been in a life-long relationship with a person who is now aging will know what I’m talking about. We are witnesses to the persistence of beauty. This can be especially true in romance where, in some cases, a couple who has been together for several decades regularly rediscover that they are still madly in love with each other, and when they gaze upon their loved-one, though the years have taken a toll, the beauty remains. It is in those moments that we realize that true beauty is perceived through the lens of love.  
Another beauty that can be perceived in the elderly and the aging is the beauty of wisdom. An old prayer book refers to these people as “those of riper years.” I like that! Because it implies reaching perfection instead of passing our best before date.

In many cultures, not least Indigenous cultures, the wisdom of the elders is highly regarded and elders are always treated with dignity and respect. Such respect, not only for the person, but for their insights and ideas, is predicated on the fact that they have been around for an awfully long time. Not only have the elders had a broader perspective from which to view the passage of time, but through the sheer act of living, of perhaps raising a family, winning and losing, stumbling and prevailing, learning and growing, suffering and succeeding, they have gained an awareness and a knowledge that cannot be acquired except by life experience. Sadly, in much of contemporary western society, respect for the elders has almost disappeared. Frequently, elders are dismissed as out of touch or behind the times. There is an almost idolatrous attachment to youth and novelty and, whether it’s homes or humans, it seems as if everything needs to be updated.   
I’m not suggesting, of course, that the elders have a corner on the truth or that all elders are necessarily wise. Those associated with St. Paul’s College are well aware of some of our brilliant young students and the invaluable contribution that young people can make to social discourse. What’s disturbing is our society’s ugly failure to recognize that beauty of aging and, and in doing so, to foster suspicion and contempt for truths that appear to be rooted in the past.

Maybe I’m just old and sentimental, but I sense that, despite its many shortcomings, the era in which I grew up produced more stability and happiness than the era in which we now live. That’s not to say that we should turn back the hands of time but that, as time marches on, we must be sure that the voices that have been around the longest will continue to offer guidance. 

As we continue to make our way through the morass of covid-19, we are aware of our dependence on the scientific knowledge that will eventually give us a vaccine or a cure. But we are also aware of the tragedy of human suffering and the death of many people, many of whom were elderly. This loss may be greater than we realize, for it is when science falls short and no amount of updating can fix what has been destroyed, that the voices of the elders can often ring with the greatest clarity, declaring truths that stand above the shifting sands of time, and bringing hope to a world that could use their wisdom. Let us rejoice in their beauty!  

 

 


Updated: October 1, 2020
Reflection # 22 from Father Colin


The controversial singer Sinead O’Connor once wrote a song in which she threatened to move away from England because of civil unrest and violence. Deeply concerned about her young son, she sings, “I don't want him to be aware that there's any such thing as grieving.” It’s an understandable sentiment, and one that all parents share, but in the end, it’s not terribly realistic. As the beautiful and much more realistic Salve Regina reminds us, this life is often a valley of tears and, in the course of a lifetime, most of us can expect to face our share of grieving.
            I was first confronted with the reality of death when my grandmother died in 1961. I was nine years old and it hit me like a ton of bricks. Until that point, death had been remote, a story on the evening news or something that happened to someone my parents knew. My grandmother’s death confronted me, not only with the reality of mortality, but with the fact that everyone was mortal, including those that I deeply loved.
            I had been adopted as an infant and, perhaps due to some subconscious recollection of being taken away from my birth mother, I developed a fear of abandonment. After my grandma’s death, I often found myself fretting about the prospect of losing my adoptive father and mother and, until I was about 12 years old, I used to hate it when they went out for an evening. The fear subsided as I became a teenager and began to look forward to being left alone for a few hours. But the awareness of death with its attendant grieving, had been planted in my heart and mind. Life would never be the same.
            In the ensuing years, of course, I have encountered the reality of death and grieving in both my professional and my personal life. I have been astonished at the random way in which it appears in the lives of the young and the innocent. I have faced with horror the awareness that there is no sure way to protect one’s self from its devastating consequences. Most of all, I have begun to come to terms, however reluctantly, with the fact that my days remaining in this world are fairly quickly disappearing.     
            The coronavirus has given us greater insight into the way in which human beings respond to the threat of death at various stages of life. It’s no surprise that young people, with their proverbial sense of invincibility, have sometimes been reluctant to follow the rules and comply with the restrictions. Old guys, like me, have been more cautious, not wanting to hasten the day that will eventually come. For young and old alike, it has been unsettling.
            I hope this reflection doesn’t seemed excessively morbid. Confronting the reality of our own mortality is not without its blessings. It causes us to cherish the gift of life and to be grateful for its pleasures. It reminds us of the sacred beauty of those mortals with whom we share our earthly existence, especially our family and dearest friends. It teaches us to love better and more carefully.
At home in a drawer I have the stuffed bear that I slept with as an infant. Its ears have been chewed upon and its worn and frayed body is barely held together by wisps of failing thread. No wonder! It is almost seventy years old! But when I hold it, I feel the vestiges of its soothing comfort, and I wonder where the years have gone. I wonder where the little boy has gone.           
            Our faith teaches us that we need not fear death, because somehow, even when our days in this world come to an end, that little child, that miracle of life knit together in our mother’s womb, is undiminished, and looks forward to another birth in a place where there is no such thing as grieving.
Father Colin

 

 


Updated: September 28, 2020
Reflection #21 from Father Colin

 
            I’m beginning to think that it might be time to stop writing these weekly reflections as things begin to get a little busier with St. Paul’s College and Campus Ministry. Perhaps I can write something every two weeks instead of every week? I’m open to suggestions!
            It first occurred to me that it might be time to slow down or stop when the only topic that came to mind for this week’s reflection was frost shields. Do you remember those? I haven’t seen one in years and yet there was a time when every responsible driver had them on every car window of his or her car except the windshield. I don’t know what made me think of frost shields. Maybe it was the plastic shields many people are wearing nowadays to protect themselves from the coronavirus. Is it possible they were made in abandoned frost shield factories? If you have any unused frost shields in your garage you could always make a few masks. I’m not sure why frost shields went out of fashion. Winnipeg still gets cold in the winter. Windows still get frosted up. Is it because cars are better designed to rid the windows of frost as they warm up? Or is it because more of us have warm places to park our cars? In any case, this is a frivolous subject and if I write a reflection again next week it might very well be about interior car warmers or the feasibility of using dachshunds for dogsledding.
            All kidding aside, the thing that has been weighing heavy on my heart and mind is the persistence of the coronavirus and the weariness with which most of us are responding to it. Just when we had reached the point where it looked like we might be able to breathe a little easier, the so-called second wave has reared its ugly head and we’re on the defensive again. It’s discouraging.
            During the summer months Sandy and I had contact with our little granddaughters almost every day. Now that the little ones are back in daycare and my daughter has resumed her duties at St. Maurice School, the risks have become greater, the visits are rare and, when he appears, the funny grandpa who makes funny noises is wearing a mask. Masks hide smiles! And it goes without saying that two year olds find masks confusing. 
            It’s not just the inconveniences or the annoyance of having our routines disrupted, or the painful distance that must be kept from some of the people we love, it’s the knowledge that we are in danger and yet have lost our ability to freely access many of the rites and customs that ordinarily help us to cope with our fears and losses. Attendance at mass and other religious ceremonies has been restricted and, despite our best efforts, the mystery and the beauty are sometimes compromised when all those restrictions are in place. Some of us have been forced to miss funerals of loved ones, effectively cutting us off from full participation in the grieving process and the spiritual resources that help us find hope in the face of death.
            The discouragement is deepened by the fact that we’re not sure when life will begin to return to normal. I may have mentioned this in an earlier reflection, but when I worked in prison ministry I discovered that many young offenders would rather face a longer sentence than be forced to endure continuous remands and adjournments and other delays in the hope of eventually getting a shorter sentence. I believe we human beings can endure almost anything as long as we know there’s an end in sight. Our ability to “hang in” and be patient would be enhanced if we knew for certain that a life saving vaccine would be readily available three months or six months. Not knowing is hard.
            In the end, all we can count on is the knowledge that somehow God is at work in all this and that amid the disruption and the terror and the pain we discover blessings and glimmers of light. We are loved by God and held in holy hands - hands that shield us, not from the vicissitudes of this world, but from the despair that would extinguish our resilient hope.
 
Father Colin

 


Updated: September 18, 2020
Reflection #20 from Father Colin    
 
It’s hard to believe that it has been almost 30 years since my Dad left this world. He was only 72, not terribly old by today’s standards, but like many Second World War veterans he was addicted to tobacco, and the cigarettes succeeded in doing what the enemy forces had failed to do. After his funeral my aunt asked if she could have the tattered maroon cardigan that he wore on a daily basis. It seemed an odd request at first, but she wanted it because that sweater was a way of keeping him close. The colour, the smell of tobacco, the tattered cuffs and the missing button, reminded her of him in all his earthy humanity.

The coronavirus has taught us a lot about the importance of physical connection with one another. We marvel at the technology that allows us to continue to meet, and socialize and even worship, but we know that somehow it’s just not the same. Last week two students visited me in my office at the college and I was reminded how much physical presence, not only enhances the ability to provide ministry, but sometimes becomes the agency of ministry. As with prison chaplaincy and hospital chaplaincy, in Campus Ministry we talk about the ministry of presence. It’s a way of saying that sometimes the spiritual needs of a human being can best be met by simply being available to them. The words that get spoken, the advice that gets offered (and sometimes not taken), are not nearly so important as being a caring human presence for a lonely prisoner, a dying patient, or a homesick student five thousand miles away from home. It’s impossible to measure the outcome of such ministry because it is facilitated and sustained by the Holy Spirit and bears fruit in ways that are intangible and serendipitous.

I think it’s important to make a distinction between the Incarnation as a doctrine, as that pivotal moment in history when God entered the human realm to bring about our salvation, and the incarnational nature in which God continues to encounter the human race. The two are connected. In fact, among other things, the Incarnation prepares us to discover in our human encounters the presence of a loving God. Our gathering as the church, the Eucharist and other sacraments, are all reminders that, in this life, the fruits of salvation are mostly tangible.      

In the wake of this pandemic technology has been a blessing. Can you imagine what life would have been like without it? But we’re also aware of its harmful effects on our society: the ubiquitous use of cell phones preventing face-to-face encounters, social media platforms that inadvertently facilitate hatred and polarization, growing indolence and inactivity among the young, and the list goes on. As people of faith I think one of the ways we bear witness to the Incarnate One is by not allowing the dehumanizing effects of technology to corrode genuine human community. When this time of the pandemic begins to come to an end, how important it will be to reclaim, as much as possible, the opportunity to gather physically with one another.   

I’m reminded of the corny joke about a little boy who was terrified when his mother would turn out the lights at night. Afraid of being all alone in the dark, he would cry out for his mother to stay. As a woman of faith, she would reassure her son that God would be with him through the night. 'But, Mommy,' he cried, 'I need God with skin on!' "

My friends, we need God with skin on. We need one another with skin on, not just as images transmitted through cyber space. So, let us enjoy the opportunity to stay connected through technology, while always pressing forward with excitement toward that day when we can be “incarnate” once again.

 

 

 


Updated: September 10, 2020

MichaelJoncas

The noon hour mass on Wednesday, September 16th will be offered in Memory of Father Michael Koryluk.
This mass will begin at 11:45 sharp and will last approximately 25 minutes.
Attendance is limited to 45 people. Social distancing will be in effect.
The mass will also be live-streamed.

 

 

 


Updated: September 13, 2020
Reflection #19 from Father Colin

 
I have a virus, but it’s not the coronavirus. I first experienced the symptoms when we entered Phase 3 or 4. It was then that I noticed a steady increase in the amount of time I was spending shopping. Instead of baking bread at home and fearfully visiting the grocery store about once a week, I was beginning to go more often. Before long I began to visit other stores and look for things that I didn’t really need. Then I realized the painful truth I had been avoiding: I have the “consumer” virus. In my case, the symptoms are mild and, compared to many in our society, I spend relatively little time consuming. But there is no escaping the fact, acquisitiveness is in my blood and, if I can’t find a cure, I will need to manage the symptoms and keep myself safe. It’s my duty, as a follower of Jesus.
 
When our children were little we used to buy a family dinner special at a local Greek restaurant. The cheeseburgers were sensational, smothered in chilli sauce and heavy laden with condiments. The fries were home made and hand cut, and for less than twenty bucks, you get five of those cheeseburgers and a big bag of fries. The cheeseburgers and fries were almost as good as the ones Peter serves in the Belltower Cafe! Our kids loved those cheeseburgers and fries and yet, if you asked them where they would like to go for supper, they almost always said McDonalds. It’s not that the McDonalds burgers and fries were better, far from it, but their marketing was more effective, and while the building that once housed the Greek restaurant now sits empty, the local McDonalds franchise is alive and well. None of this is to “blame” McDonald’s or condemn the marketing that they and other corporations do. It is to remind ourselves how the consumer virus is spread and to make sure that we empower ourselves and protect ourselves from its sometimes dehumanizing effects.
 
Lately, I’ve been looking for a new winter jacket and I’ve made a couple of interesting discoveries. First of all, it’s almost impossible to find a sheepskin jacket that is actually made in Canada anymore. Even a local store that once made them is running low on stock and I get the impression that they are carrying more and more imported products. Secondly, a winter coat made in Canada costs two to three times more than one made off shore. Thirdly, a winter coat that bears a trendy name, like Tommy Hilfiger, costs two or three times more than a similar product bearing a less familiar name. Most of you know all this and I share it with you, not as a condemnation of our economic system, despite its flaws, but as a reminder of the insidious forms that marketing can take, and our responsibility as consumers to be well-informed. Children aren’t the only ones who can be enticed by effective marketing.
 
The fact that this reflection has focussed on this subject is partly because it was on my mind as I sat down to write. As people of faith, we have a responsibility to protect ourselves from various kinds of idolatry and to be aware of forces at work in the world that can dehumanize and exploit. But I also mention it because COVID-19 offers us a metaphor for the viruses set loose in the world that may not harm us physically, as the coronavirus does, but can hurt us spiritually and emotionally. So, we ask the same kind of questions. How do we diagnose these viruses? How are they spread? What can we do to keep ourselves safe? Is there some way to protect ourselves from infection?
 
Here, as with the coronavirus, we must concern ourselves with the preservation of human dignity and freedom, and the protection of the vulnerable, especially our children. Our faith reminds us that, no matter what kinds of viruses threaten us, when God is our Shepherd, we shall not want.
 
*****          
There will be a mid-week mass in St. Paul’s College Chapel every Wednesday at 11:45. Attendance is limited to 45 people and protective measures will be in place. The mass next Wednesday, September 16th will be offered in memory of Father Michael Koryluk. It will be live-streamed.

 


Updated: September 5, 2020
Refection # 18 from Father Colin

My friend Ron Smith, who is one of the musicians for our annual Folk Mass (which is postponed this year) with his wry sense of humour, will probably say that these weekly reflections are for the birds. He’s right. I know that on more than one occasion my interest in photography and bird watching has appeared amid my comments. It’s not surprising, when I think about it, because a few years ago another friend helped me to see that my interest in birds was very much connected to my vocation to priestly ministry. Also, in an email I received in response to last week’s reflection, I learned that birds, particularly goldfinches and pelicans, have a symbolic presence in Christian iconography and art. So, yes! Once again, this reflection today will be for the birds!
In sharing the following story, it is not my intention to draw attention to myself or, worse yet, to suggest that there is something unique about my journey to priestly ministry. On the contrary, I hope to remind everyone that, if we look closely, we will be able to detect the ways in which God has been present in our lives, nudging us toward a discovery of each of our own unique vocations. Perhaps, like me, you will even detect a theme, running through your vocational stories like a golden thread.
When I was about 12 years old some kids from our neighbourhood knocked on our front door and presented me with a baby robin, closer to a hatchling than a fledgling. For reasons, unknown to me, they had decided that I would know what to do with this helpless, trembling bundle of fluff. With a good deal of help from my parents, I undertook the challenge of trying to sustain the life of this fragile creature. We didn’t have the internet in 1964 so it wasn’t possible to watch a YouTube video about what to do with baby birds. So, what we did was mostly hit and miss. Pablum gave way to mashed bananas and then mushed up worms and eventually the little guy grew bigger and stronger. He became very tame and I would walk around the house and yard with him perched upon my shoulder like a parrot upon a pirate’s shoulder. Eventually I taught him to fly, a feat that I was unable to demonstrate! But he caught on, and as he reached maturity and the time of migration drew near, he had pretty much left the nest, so to speak. I was unable to teach him how to speak “robin” so he invented a language of his own, a distinctive chirp, that allowed me to tell him apart from the other robins. When the nights grew cold and the leaves began to fall, he joined the others and headed south. I believe he returned the next year and visited our yard, but I had no way of knowing for sure.
            For many years I saw this encounter with the robin as nothing more than one of those serendipitous adventures of childhood. But while kayaking with a friend a couple of years ago, he suggested to me that it might have been something more. He suggested that perhaps God was speaking to me through the helplessness of this little bird by helping me to see the capacity for care and concern that those children in the neighbourhood detected in me. Perhaps God was awakening within me, just an awkward adolescent, a receptivity to the kind of life to which I would one day be called.
            I have a photo of the robin and me in my office so when you get a chance, please drop by and take a look. I’m no Francis of Assisi, but the photo is reminiscent of the images we see of him. Francis knew that God speaks to us through the creatures with whom we share this earth, and my encounter with that robin would not have been the first time God has attempted to catch the attention of his people through the sending of a bird.
            As the pandemic provides many of us with more time to pray and reflect, I encourage all of you to look for a recurring theme, a golden thread, that winds its way through the story of your life. Sometimes it’s only when we’re looking back that we see the times and places in which God has spoken to us.  And sometimes the message comes in something as fragile as a baby bird.
Father Colin

 


Updated: August 29, 2020

Reflection #17 from Father Colin
 
            Earlier today I received an email from an associate professor, Dr. Kevin Fraser, who teaches a course in Avian Behaviour and Conservation in the Department of Biological Sciences at the University of Manitoba. He was responding to an email I sent just over month ago after taking a photo of a black-capped chickadee in the big pine tree at the entrance to St. Paul’s College. I’ll attach the photo to this reflection in the hope that some of you will be able to see it. The chickadee was hanging upside down and, if you can see the photo, you’ll notice the chickadee has three bands on its legs. After posting the photo for a Facebook Birding Group to which I belong, one of the members suggested sending it to the professor mentioned above because of a bird banding project that he had supervised here on campus. His response was delightful! Not only did he appreciate what he called the “resight and photo” but he was able to tell me that this chickadee had been banded during a Biology of Birds lab in September of 2015! The bird was likely banded along the river in the low grassy area with the white castle structure next to the Wallace Building. He indicates that the bird was an adult at the time which means that it has lived a good long life by chickadee standards!
birdWhen I was a little kid going to Sunday School in the United Church one of my favourite hymns was “God Sees the Little Sparrow Fall.” It is based upon several references to sparrows in the gospels. Most of these references, coming from the lips of Jesus, talk about God’s care for the sparrow and a reminder that even though the sparrows are valuable, we human beings are even more valuable. The important thing to notice is that God’s special relationship with human creatures, does not preclude God’s love and care for the birds of the air. In fact, in Paul’s letter to the Romans he talks about the way in which all creation is groaning in labour for the coming of redemption. Paul’s words make it pretty clear that God’s redemptive work applies to the whole created order, including the birds of the air, and not only human beings.
            All of this reminds us, as St. Francis demonstrated so clearly, that we have a kinship with the non-human creatures that inhabit our planet. The coronavirus has forced us to focus in a very particular way on the plight now being faced by the human community. But if God really does see the little sparrow fall, if God cares about the chickadee I saw in the pine tree a month ago, if God has granted that particular chickadee wellness and length of days, we can never allow ourselves to forget about our connection with these “sisters and brothers” and whatever plights they too might be enduring. If God loves them, we must love them too.
            But let us also remember that the main point of the comments Jesus made about the birds of the air is that seeing God’s solicitude for them, we can be assured that we are never beyond God’s protective and providential care. God not only sees the little sparrow fall, but has overwhelming concern for the precious lives of those who have succumbed to the coronavirus. They are most assuredly in God’s hands and will be kept safe until that day when the labour pains of creation have ended and all of us, God’s children and chickadees alike, will be set free from our bondage to decay.
 
*****
A quick reminder that Lord’s Day Masses will resume this Sunday, August 30th at 11:00 in strict compliance with the restrictions set forth by the Archdiocese of Winnipeg and the government of Manitoba. We are allowed 30% of our normal capacity which means that we can accommodate 45 people including those involved with music and other parts of the liturgy. Social distancing will be in effect, masks must be worn and hand sanitizer will be available and used as needed. We have taken strict measures to ensure that the worship space will sanitized before and after each gathering. I’m looking forward to once again being able to celebrate the Eucharist with my sisters and brothers.     
 
Father Colin
 


Updated: August 25, 2020

Message from Father Colin
Re: Resumption of Masses and Campus Ministry

* Sunday Masses at Christ the King Chapel will resume on August 30th at 11:00 a.m.
Due to the ongoing threat of COVID-19 we will be strictly adhering to the guidelines circulated by the Archdiocese of Winnipeg.
Details can be found on the Archdiocesan website. https://www.archwinnipeg.ca
This means that we must limit the number of congregants to 30% of our capacity which would be 40 people including the presider, lectors, musicians and cantors. For this first Sunday we will operate on a first come first served basis. If any are turned away after we have reached our capacity, they will be given priority the following week. We will ensure proper sanitization and social distancing for each gathering. These masses will be live-streamed via the SPC Facebook page for those who are not yet comfortable attending a public gathering.


* Eliude and I will be at the college every Wednesday. The rest of the week we will be working from home unless there is an urgent need to come to our offices. Please contact me at Colin.Peterson@umanitoba.ca if you would like to arrange a meeting for any purpose including the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Eliude can be reached at Eliude.Cavalcante@umanitoba.ca


* Weekday Mass, on Wednesday at 11:45 only, will resume after the Labour Day weekend. All those attending must enter from the outdoors and not via the SPC building. We will gather in the main chapel to ensure social distancing. 

 


Updated: August 25, 2020

Pastoral Reflection #16

It has been a windy summer. When we were at the lake it was especially bad. One notices these things when your favourite activities are affected by the wind. You notice the wind when the waves are so high that it would be perilous to go paddling in your kayak. You notice these things when the elusive finch that has finally landed on a branch is being tossed around so much it’s nearly impossible to take a decent photograph. You notice these things when the fishing boat you’ve rented has just sunk to the bottom of the lake because of the waves crashing over its stern. Luckily, the water was only a foot deep, so a quick bail with a garbage pail got the boat afloat.

It seems to me that wind is even more of an annoyance than rain. Rain seems to have an upside. It washes things off. It makes things grow. It forces us to stay indoors and read. It gives the birds and beasts something to drink. But other than keeping the mosquitoes hiding in the bushes, wind doesn’t seem to do much to improve our quality of life. It is something to be endured and sometimes feared. It benefits the sailors, but only if it behaves.

It occurred to me when I was on vacation that there are a lot of similarities between wind and the coronavirus. Both are natural forces that have the capacity to disrupt and destroy human life. Both can vary in severity. Both have unpredictable origins and consequences. Both can cause to go awry our best laid plans, depriving us of access to so many of the things in life that give us pleasure.

There are differences of course. Even the worst winds tend to come and go quickly, and besides, the human race has been dealing with wind since the beginning of time. The coronavirus is literally “novel” and we continue to struggle to understand how to respond to its presence.

But, if we can think of the coronavirus as malevolent wind, there are two insights from scripture that may be a source of some hope to us as the onslaught continues. As you read these, whenever there is a reference to the wind, substitute the word coronavirus.

“As for mortals, their days are like grass; they flourish like a flower of the field; for the wind passes over it, and it is gone, and its place knows it no more. But the steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him, and his righteousness to children’s children, to those who keep his covenant and remember to do his commandments.” Psalm 103

The second comes from the gospel of Mark:
“On that day, when evening had come… a great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”

I think it’s best to simply let these two readings speak for themselves. They both remind us that, in the end, our lives and the lives of those we love are held in the hands of a loving God and that ultimately neither the wind nor the coronavirus is greater than God’s holy and redeeming love.

*********
Many of us were deeply saddened to hear the news of Father Michael’s untimely death. I say it was “untimely” because, even though he was almost 76, he was so full of light and life and joy, that it seems impossible that he is gone.

When I began my journey toward ordination to the priesthood Father Michael was assigned the task of being my guide and director. That unenviable assignment marked the beginning of a great fraternal bond that has been source of much support and enjoyment.

In attempting to fill his shoes (and they were literally big shoes!) I was mindful of his legacy at St. Paul’s College and his prayerful support for me as I began.

It is my intention to offer a mass in his memory in the very near future. I am also planning to arrange a Zoom Memorial Gathering at which we can pray, share stories, laugh and cry, as we celebrate the gift of FM’s remarkable life.

Please check the St. Paul’s College website for details about Sunday Masses and Campus Ministry as we move into a new academic year.

Our first Sunday mass will be celebrated on Sunday, August 30th at 11:00 a.m. in compliance with the current restrictions circulated by the Archdiocese.

Needless to say, we will do everything in our power to ensure that we can gather safely. We understand that not everyone will feel comfortable about attending such a gathering, so we will continue to livestream Sunday masses.      

Thanks to our rector, Dr, Adams, for his support as we begin to find ways to offer ministry to our community.


Father Colin

 


Updated: June 29, 2020

Please click here to view a recording of our June 28, 2020 Mass

Homily - “Matters of Life and Death”                    June  28, 2020
Romans 6:3-4, 8-11; Matthew 10:37-42
    We learn from our readings today that when the scriptures talk about life and death they are talking about something more than life and death in a purely physical sense.
    Often when we talk about life we’re talking about having a heartbeat and being able to breathe and certainly there can’t be life in any sense of the word unless God has first animated these physical bodies of ours. Sure, we have to born, we have to be plugged in and turned on, so to speak, before we can truly begin to live in the sense that scripture means it. But when Jesus says whoever loses their life will find it, is he saying that we should all become martyrs? Or is he saying that we should lose our lives, not in any literal sense, but by committing our existence, by using the gift of our lives, to love and serve him?
    We live in an age in which a lot of people are busy trying to “find” their lives. All their time and energy is focussed on making a life for themselves, having a career, a big income, material possessions, maybe even fame and success. But Jesus tells us if that’s all they’re seeking, if the sacred gift of beating-heart and breathing-lungs is disposed only toward finding life in that very narrow and self-serving sense then, he says, they will lose their life. And I don’t think that means that they’re going to get struck down by a bolt of lightning or run over by a bus. It means that the happiness they seek will elude them. It means, as we see so often these days, that some of them will struggle with depression and despair, some will seek solace in alcohol and drugs, some will look for “life” in all the wrong places (to paraphrase the country song) believing that satisfying the appetites of the flesh, as St. Paul called them, will somehow fill the hunger in the soul.
    I’m not suggesting, of course, that all people who are discouraged or depressed are victims of their own bad choices. People of deep faith who have lived exemplary lives of faithful generosity are not immune to such suffering. But I’m suggesting that to spend one’s life worshipping false gods, to cling to one’s life as a possession instead of as a gift to be shared, to seek one’s life by focussing only on one’s self, one’s needs, often leads, not to fulfillment, but to disappointment, disillusionment, and unhappiness. As the famous Albert Schweitzer once said, “The only ones among you who will be truly happy are the ones who have sought and found how to serve.” 
    So, I think, instead of burdening us with a heavy load, Jesus is really offering us the key to freedom. Instead of demanding that we commit ourselves to a demanding servitude, Jesus is giving us the secret recipe for living with true joy and happiness in this world. Instead of telling us if we have a miserable life in this world we’ll get a reward in heaven, he’s saying that if we choose to follow him, we’ll be rewarded in countless ways, here, today, in this life.
    But at the beginning, I mentioned that when the scriptures talks about death they’re talking about something more than that moment when our hearts stop beating. Consider the reading from Romans this morning. Paul says that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again. And then he says, “Death no longer has dominion over him.”
    Death isn’t just an event that happens to us when we reach the end of our earthly life. Death is a force, a power. Death is something that can have dominion over us.
    The late William Stringfellow, a lawyer and lay theologian from the United States, in his classic book, Instead of Death, wrote these powerful words,
“The biblical lifestyle is always a witness of resistance to the status quo in politics, economics, and all society. It is a witness of resurrection from death. Paradoxically, those who embark on the biblical witness constantly risk death - through execution, exile, imprisonment, persecution, defamation, or harassment - at the behest of the rulers of this age. Yet those who do not resist the rulers of the present darkness are consigned to a moral death, the death of their humanness. That, of all the ways of dying, is the most ignominious.”
    So, you see Stringfellow is telling us that death can be more than a physical thing. He’s saying that there’s a kind of death that comes when you lose your unique identity. There’s a kind of death that comes when sacrifice your independence, your intellect, your insights and wisdom, for the sake of conformity, for the sake of fitting in, and sooner or later you blend in so well, sisters and brothers, that you begin to disappear.
    As Catholics, when we talk about respecting the sacredness of life, in addition to abortion and assisted suicide, we need to talk about protecting people from suffocating ideologies that dehumanize and diminish.
    I’ve heard people say that these days some universities are indoctrinating students instead of educating them. If you’re a student, I’d like to know if you think that’s true. And if you’re a Catholic, or better yet, a Catholic young person, I have some advice for you. This advice comes from a letter written by the legendary Catholic fiction-writer, Flannery O’Connor, to a young university student. She says,
    “If you want your faith, you have to work for it.  It is a gift, but for very few is it a gift given without any demand for equal time devoted to its cultivation.  For every book you read that is anti-Christian, make it your business to read one that presents the other side of the picture; if one isn't satisfactory read others.  Don't think that you have to abandon reason to be a Christian. To find out about faith, you have to go to the people who have it and you have to go to the most intelligent ones if you are going to stand up intellectually to agnostics and the general run of pagans that you are going to find in the majority of people around you. Even in the life of a Christian, faith rises and falls like the tides of an invisible sea.  It's there, even when you can't see it or feel it, if you want it to be there.
You realize, I think, that [faith] is more valuable, more mysterious, altogether more immense than anything you can learn or decide upon in college.  Learn what you can, but cultivate Christian skepticism.  It will keep you free — not free to do anything you please, but free to be formed by something larger than your own intellect or the intellects of those around you.”
    Sisters and brothers, living is so much more than sleeping and eating and walking and breathing. It is to know that you were lovingly knit together in your mother’s womb, that before you were even born you were the apple of God’s eye, that you are one of kind, imbued with intellect and creativity and insight that are uniquely yours. Don’t let anyone take that away from you! Don’t lose your life to the spirit of an age, to fleeting social doctrines or godless ideologies. Lose your life for Jesus Christ and you will find it. You will find a resilient peace and indestructible joy. And as this Eucharist reminds us, you will be united with Christ in his glorious resurrection! And death, death of every kind, will never have dominion over you.
    Thanks be to God!
CREED

Prayers of the Faithful
Knowing that we are wonderfully made and deeply loved, we confidently make known our prayers…
For the Church, that it might confront death in all its many forms with the life-giving power of the risen Christ…
We pray to the Lord…            Lord, hear our prayer.

For the St. Paul’s College community, our administrators, staff and students, members of various committees and boards, as we enter into the summer break, that all may be blessed with a safe and restful summer…

For those who dare to resist conformity to dehumanizing forces, that they may blessed with strength and courage…

For those at home who are unable to attend public masses, that they may sense your presence and the love that flows to them from this community of which they are an integral part…

For all those who have died, those who live in fear, and those who mourn, that they may know the Father’s care…

For a world free from racism and all forms of hatred, for responses that will heal and unify the human community…

For the safety of all people as restrictions begin to be lifted, and for effective treatments and cures for the coronavirus…

We offer these prayers to you, O God, giver of life and conqueror of death, knowing that you hear and answer them through Jesus Christ our Lord.

 


Updated: June 29, 2020

Pastoral Reflection #15

I mentioned a few weeks ago that I was planning to buy a new lens for my camera. I picked it up just over a week ago and I have been having a lot of fun with it. It allows me to see a little more deeply into the beauty of the world around me. It does that in two ways. First of all, it gets me off the sofa and into the bush. Secondly, once I’m in the bush, it causes me to pay attention to my surroundings. The movement of a branch or a distant twitter alert me to the presence of a little sparrow that will hopefully find itself immortalized in the photo library of Father Colin.

A lot of my expeditions have taken place right on the U of M campus, in and around the abandoned golf course. One of the things I’ve learned is that the natural world prevails among us, almost undetected, where life unfolds, replete with the various joys and sorrows of the creatures that remain hidden from our eyes. A few weeks ago, I was walking along the row of trees that separates the Victoria Hospital from the boundary of the U of M Campus. I’d heard a rumour that both Osprey and Peregrine Falcons have nests in that area. While walking along the edge of the bush not far from the Bomber practice field, I detected a movement high in the trees above me. I walked away from the trees looking upward and nearly stepped on a fawn hidden in the tall grass. Even though I was less than a metre away, the little deer remained motionless, eyes peering upward at one of the strange looking bipeds that mother had warned him about. If you will allow me a bit of a “Disney” spell, I can imagine her last words, before fleeing from the approaching photographer, were something like, “Look, Bambi, keep your head down and don’t move a muscle!” Needless to say, I got a nice photo.

This encounter was delightful to me, partly because it reminded me that despite the presence of the university, its daily activity and many buildings, the natural world persists among us. My camera caught a moment in the many moments that will occur in the life of that fawn. It reminded me that in this world of ubiquitous and invasive media, so much of life goes on undetected and countless stories, important and beautiful stories, go untold on a daily basis. It made me wonder what stories are unfolding in your daily lives, in the lives of our students and alumni and alumnae, in the presence of COVID-19?

We watch the daily news, we hear about the numbers, the ongoing loss of human life, the trepidation that surrounds our striving for normality, but beyond the stories told on television and the images captured by the cameras, human life persists in its own beautiful way, mostly undetected and unreported.So, we will never hear most of these stories. It would be impossible! But we need to remember that those stories exist and never never allow anonymity to give way to apathy. I’m grateful for the way in which social media has allowed some of us to catch glimpses into each other’s lives. But our involuntary estrangement can be resisted in one other way - prayer. 

In the reading last Sunday, Jesus tells his followers that even though two sparrows are sold for a penny, not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the Father. One of my favourite hymns as a little kid in Sunday school was, God Sees the Little Sparrow Fall. The first verse ends with, “if God so loves the little birds, I know he loves me too.”

It’s a great mystery, to be sure, but God’s love sustains life in all its many forms. That which is hidden from our eyes is known intimately by the God, and if God cares for the sparrows, if God sees the little fawn trembling in the grass, if God gives flight to the osprey and the peregrine falcon, if God guides the goslings who have allowed us to inhabit their terrain for a while, then rest assured God sees and loves us, especially in those hidden moments when we are left alone with our sorrow and fear. Our prayers for one another bear witness to this great truth.

Father Colin

P.S. As of July 1st, I will be away from my weekly duties, so this may be the last reflection until sometime in August. However, I don’t leave for the lake until July 5th so, if the Spirit moves, you may hear from me one more time before I join the loons.  


           


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