Reflection by Patrick Salah
Weekend of January 5/6, 2019 — Epiphany of the Lord
Before I preach the homily, I am going to share an important letter from His Grace, Anthony Mancini, Archbishop of Halifax-Yarmouth, dated January 1, the Feast of Mary, Mother of God:
The Feast of Mary the Mother of God celebrates the new divine life brought forth by Mary’s collaboration with God’s plan for humanity. Mary’s essential role, however, was not without its concerns. The gospel tells us that Mary pondered what she heard in her heard. Her thoughts, I have no doubt, were marked by numerous concrete questions; her feelings, I am sure, were mixed as she struggled to make sense of her changed life; and surely, she reflected on the future outcome of this journey she accepted to go on. We can all imagine and appreciate that Mary gave much time and attention wondering, “what happens now”?
This same question is also a significant one for our Archdiocese and it has been on the minds of many of us, for the past few years, as we pondered the future of our local Church and what new life might look like at this point in our journey of faith.
On this feast day of Mary, which celebrated the new life and hope given to us all, I chose to inaugurate the plan for the reorganization of our Archdiocese.
What happens now begins today with the first steps for transitioning our existing diocese from its 65 parishes and 25 missions to a new Archdiocese made up of 20 new parishes. This process is being initiated so that we can become more effective in proposing Jesus Christ, so that we can better face the challenge of relevancy for today’s circumstance. The conversion of our structure also calls for a conversion of mind and heart as well as a conversion of our ways of doing and being.
New Parishes: Stronger Together, therefore, is an essential part of “Equip the Saints”, the three year plan to renew our Archdiocese.
Today, we move from consultation to implementation of a vision which requires the collaboration of many in the one mission of Chris. This means bringing out people of faith together and identifying their gifts and talents so that in our new parishes we will have the people necessary to draw upon for transparent models of leadership, shared ministry, in improved structures, focused on becoming missionary disciples.
As I announce today the groupings, which will merge into the 20 new parishes, I am conscious of the work that needs to be done through 2019 so that the new parishes can all be in place by January 1, 2020. Clearly the implementation of this reorganization will take place in phases.
The first phase of implementation requires existing parishes to form transition teams within their new grouping. These teams of 6-8 people will be made up of pastors and representative parishioners from each church in the grouping. Their task will be to lay the groundwork for a merger of the separate entities that will take place throughout 2019 and be completed by December 31, 2019.
After the new parish comes into existence a moderator will be appointed to lead the new parish on the path of growth toward becoming a community of missionary disciples. The moderator will work with the clergy, leadership team, pastoral council, and finance council to realize this new vision for parish life.
In Psalm 127, we are reminded that “unless the Lord builds the house, those who build labour in vain.” Transition and renewal are impossible if they are not built on a foundation of prayer. Thus, on this feast day of Mary, patroness of our diocese and of the New Evangelization, I beg her intercession for our whole diocesan church as we make the necessary steps to make her Son more known in our diocese. I also call on each and every one of the faithful to turn their hearts to God in fervent prayer for our local Church, for those in the Church, and for those far from the Church. Please take the opportunity to pray, with me, in all of our personal and communal devotional times.Sincerely in Christ,
+ Anthony Mancini
As was said in the letter, this phase of implementation comes after three years of consultation. Much work has been done by the archbishop and his team, by the priests and deacons, and by lay-people in all of our parishes. Many of our own parishioners have been involved in the process of prayer and consultations, participating in pastoral planning meetings, and the annual diocesan gathering; the Assembly of the People of God. Concretely, in our context, The Parish of St. Thomas More, the Parish of St. Vincent de Paul, and Mission La Sainte Famille (the French Mission), will become one new parish. Such a unification requires two important pieces, the canonical or legal piece, and the pastoral piece.
The canonical piece is quite simple. To become one new parish, all that is required is a single pastoral council, a single finance council, a single bank account uniting all the existing assets and liabilities, and a new parish name. Let me be clear – this building will continue to be known by the patronage of St. Thomas More, and this applies to the other buildings, but our new community, the living Church, that is the parish, will come under a new name. The process of choosing that name will be determined by the transition team. That is the canonical piece, which for the most part is mere paperwork. And, while we could do just that and satisfy the legal requirements of becoming one new parish, we would be shortchanging ourselves, and so many others.
At the heart of the restructuring of our archdiocese is the call to pastoral conversion and renewal. Look around. Our buildings are not full anymore. Parishes are struggling to stay afloat. Our congregations are aging, and it seems that fewer and fewer young people are keeping their faith or taking an active role in the life of the faith community. And we have to ask the question, why? Why is this the case? Because unless we get to the cause – it doesn’t matter how many canonical restructurings we do – we will continue to fade away. This restructuring is not merely our grasping at self-preservation, it is not an attempt to detain the inevitable, nor is it an elaborate display of smoke and mirrors to obscure the truth. Yes – we must become a new canonical parish, but this parish has to be a new kind of parish that effectively presents the person of Jesus Christ as intensely relevant, as God – who knows and loves each of us – and who desires to be in right-relationship with us.
While His Grace published this letter on New Years Day, the Feast of Mary, Mother of God, He instructed that it be read today, on the Feast of the Epiphany of our Lord. And, I am struck by how beautifully this letter and this Feast dovetail together.
When we think of the word, “Epiphany,” we think of an “aha” moment – Eureka! – a light bulb turning on. Indeed – the Epiphany of our Lord – is just that. It is the occasion by which the divinity of Jesus Christ is made manifest. Traditionally, three biblical stories are associated with this manifestation. The Wedding Feast at Cana, the Baptism of the Lord, and the arrival of the three magi, which we heard in today’s gospel. At Cana, the son of the carpenter performed his first miracle. When John baptized Jesus in the Jordan, the heaven’s opened, and the Father’s voice was heard by all who were present, saying, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” We will hear that passage proclaimed next Sunday.
In today’s Gospel – three magi come from afar to worship Jesus. They are not Jews seeking the long-awaited Messiah, they are Gentiles, who have come to recognize in the child, wrapped in swaddling clothes, in the midst of barnyard animals – the Redeemer of all mankind. For God sent His Son into the world, not just for the Jewish people, for all flesh, and for all time. And though the magi were learned men, who heard that such an event would transpire – it was only by the light of the star that they were able to come to Jesus – to encounter Him in the flesh. As we heard in today’s Gospel Acclamation, “We observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay homage to the Lord.”
In Fr. Toochukwu’s Christmas homily he spoke of the action of the star; its necessary role in leading the magi to Jesus. Fr. Toochukwu then challenged each of us to consider by what means we participate in that same action of the star, leading others to Jesus. Building upon this idea I offer you three points for reflection. We cannot lead others to Jesus, unless we ourselves are in fact with Jesus. If we are with Jesus, we cannot remain in His presence without offering our own gift to Him, like the magi. Not because our Lord demands of us in anyway, but because an encounter with the generous love of God for us manifested in the person of Jesus Christ necessitates in us a means of reciprocating that love back to the Father, through His Son. And we cannot come to such a profound encounter with Jesus, unless like those wise men – we in fact get up and go to seek Him. To seek Jesus, to offer Him our gifts, and to become the star by which others may seek Him. This journey of faith is contained in our parish vision statement: Come Encounter Christ, Joyfully Share His Love, Go Make Disciples. This pastoral vision for the 3 Church is what the second piece of the restructuring is all about. Becoming parishes that serve as the star shining in the midst of our local community, drawing all to seek and find Jesus. Jesus did not come just for you and me. He came for everyone else too. For our family and friends who have yet to encounter Him. But if we are to become all the Holy Spirit is calling us to be in our world, in this place, in this time, if the Holy Spirit is truly to fulfill His mandate of renewing the entire face of the earth, you and I must open up our own hearts, to allows such a renewal to begin within us.
In less than a year we will take care of the legal work of becoming one canonical parish, but it will be in the coming years of prayer and work that we will slowly and intentionally undergo this pastoral conversion – so that as we sang in today’s psalm response, “Every nation on earth will adore You, O Lord.”
I wish to conclude by praying a prayer in unity with our Archbishop, which he included at the end of his letter:
As our Archdiocese enters a decisive time of transition, we ask you to sustain our efforts to be faithful to what you are asking of us so that we become better equipped to meet the challenges of the New Evangelization.
Give us the courage and insight to take on the task of purification and renewal necessary to become a more credible Church.
Grant us the knowledge and understanding required to respond to the call of pastoral conversion and the demands for a more missionary and mature expression of Christian discipleship for our time.
May your Holy Spirit release in us the gift of wisdom to make the necessary choices and decisions to make of our new parishes: centres of evangelistic outreach, united communities of communities, welcoming centres of prayer, learning, ministry and worship; environments of healing, reconciliation and care of the poor.
Provide for us clergy and laity who are skilled in leadership to guide this transformative journey of faith.
We ask all this thought our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.