January 2, 2021
Good morning everyone and a very happy new year.
I normally don’t stay up until midnight to welcome in the new year. Being the year that it was, I found myself waiting for the moment this year that indicated that we had crossed the threshold and left the old one behind us. Not everything in the year that is past was bad and as positive as we need to be about the new one, it too will have its interesting challenges as it begins to unfold. Looking back, we had a year where there was a lot of time to reflect. We became more aware of our vulnerabilities and for many, time and energy has gone into refocusing our priorities. We were challenged to focus on what is really important.
I hear a lot of people talking about their hopes for the new year. Access to the vaccine and good health top the list. Looking forward in the parish, I have been thinking about three things in particular that we would do well to put high on our list and set as priorities.
The pandemic experience has re-awakened the importance of family in society and in the church. Over the last ten months we have seen families pulled apart because of travel and visitor restrictions and the heavy toll taken on families by the sudden expectation to work from home and the education needs of children. While families are spending more time together than ever before, physical contact between children, their friends and elderly parents and grandparents is missed. Our sense of who we belong to lies very deep within us and finding ways to support and nurture family life, with all of its ups and downs, should be a priority for us.
Words like “social distancing” and “bubble” have played havoc with our friendships during the last year. Gathering together physically has been very difficult (and in many cases, impossible). Seniors and students have found themselves more isolated from one another and while we work and talk with our collogues and friends regularly, there is an isolation and loneliness that comes when the camera and microphone is switched off. We have found ways of keeping in touch and have learned to create family gatherings and communities using technology in a way we had never imagined at this time last year. But the experience of being present to one another to “see” each other is missing and sorely needed. Pope Francis, writing in his recent encyclical Fratelli Tutti speaks of our basic need for “fraternity and social friendship” and has a lovely section on the human need for people to be present to one another especially in time of need and in a time of uncertainty and crisis. Creating opportunities to welcome our parishioners back and listening to the stories of what happened during the past year are at the top of our list.
When I am out and about, I have come to realize that faith has become a topic of interest for many people during the past year. The absence of the routine of church has challenged many people, especially during the months that we were in lockdown. While the live streaming of Mass was a comfort, the absence of a living community praying together and the ability to receive the Eucharist was a great loss. The ongoing Bishop Barron series that comes into our homes each Saturday is a great way to nourish our heart and soul and we need more opportunities like it. I read and hear from others that the pandemic experience has opened a door for many people to ask questions about what faith is and how it is experienced more fully in daily life. I am encouraged by the conversations that I have had where there is an honest journey beginning for many younger people to discover anew ways to meet Christ and to build sacred moments into daily life. The Covid experience has helped many people to slow down and to appreciate more the beauty and calm of prayer and silence. We have much to offer and moving froward, a challenge for all of us is to reach beyond the wall to those on the periphery who have begun this journey of faith and honest seeking and to meet them where they are at.
Focusing on family, friends and faith encourages us to look at what we can do rather than what we cannot do in the weeks and months ahead. I see them as steppingstones into a hope-filled new year and the foundation stones for a bold mission statement for the parish’s future.
Exactly one year ago, we were mourning the passing of Fr. Peter Waters. His long life and witness to the power of prayer and the mercy of Jesus, the Good Shepherd in his life was a gift to the parish. The large number of people who came for the visitation and funeral in his beloved St. Andrew’s was a testament to the impact that he had on so many people’s lives, both young and old. The very personal stories that many of us heard were humbling and extraordinary. He truly was a good shepherd and was not afraid to have about him the smell of the sheep that Pope Francis speak of.
The church looks magnificent for the Christmas Season. We are so sorry that the shutdown resulted in so few people saw seeing it. Marie has posted some great photographs in the introduction to the Mass online. Thank you to all those who volunteered time and talent to pull it all together. It takes many hands and skills to get it looking so good. A special shoutout to Young at Flower Deco who takes direction from many and gets it right all the time. One of the nastiest jobs in the runup to Christmas was the time spent arranging and sorting the seating for Mass for Christmas eve and day. Yvette has the patience and good humor of a saint and thank you to those who made the many phone calls to confirm seats. It all worked out very well thanks to the ushers who were so kind and patient especially on a very cold night and morning. We apologize that a technical glitch cut the livestreaming of the Mass at 10.00 pm. just before the gospel on Christmas Eve. We keep learning about those switches and what goes on and off on another pre-set program. Marie informs me that we averaged two hundred connections to each of the seven Masses that were live streamed. Just a little over three hundred connections were made to the Advent Twilight Retreat. An interesting outcome of the pandemic time is that we have developed the ability to be present directly in parishioner’s homes. We look forward to exploring what this will look like as we begin to move back to a more normal routine later in the year. In a few weeks, Lynette and I will begin preparation for the sacraments of Confirmation, Reconciliation and First Eucharist with students and parents using Zoom. It is an interesting challenge that brings some trepidation with it.
Fr. Felix celebrated his birthday as we were waiting for the year to end with chocolate cheesecake. He is relieved this morning that his friend Bishop Owerri and his driver who were kidnapped in eastern Nigeria several days ago is back in his home and safe. We are grateful for the cards and gifts that we received for Christmas and were touched by your kind and encouraging words. It has been very quiet around the church and we have found ourselves back into a routine of reading, laundry, more reading and finishing up projects that were put down to attend to other things during the year. We have Mass each day which is celebrated for the needs of our parishioners and those who are ill. Please join us for prayer for the staff and residents of Wyndham Manor who are dealing with a serious outbreak of Covid 19 and for the residents and staff of the Kensington Retirement Residence where there have also had an outbreak.
Join us for Mass online this weekend at: https://www.standrewoakville.com/sunday-masses-online/
Be well and may the light of the star that led the Wise Men to the Messiah, guide you and bring you peace during the coming year.