As we prepare for the Season of Joy, it is helpful to look back once again at the year past and to recall the moments of grace along the way, moments which our Lord brings to us in so many ways in addition to the assured graces of the sacraments and the wonderful grace of the Church – the Body of Christ. Yes, the Bride of Christ, despite her struggles with the world the flesh and the Devil, continues to nurture her children with hope along with faith and love.
Looking at our calendar, Jane and I are highlighting some of those moments this year. Of course, the year began with the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God which we celebrated, as is our custom with the good folk of the Parish of St. Thomas More (STM) in Toronto. Though I am no longer the pastor or administrator of the mission parish, Jane and I are there most Sundays. Jane oversees our hospitality hour after Mass each Sunday, a very important time for those who come from all over the GHTA and beyond to share in Divine Worship, The Missal, which is the distinctive liturgy of the Ordinariate, a mixture of traditional (BCP) prayers along with English Hymnal music. ‘All in all, a unique offering for Catholics and others who join us.
Currently we have people attend who are from many Christian traditions, both eastern and western – a man from the Coptic Church of Egypt, a family of Croatian origin, our Italian/Scottish administrator, a young woman who is a PK from a Seventh Day Adventist family. Over the years these folks have joined with Mennonite friends and even a few Anglicans who have found their way into the fullness of the Catholic Church.
In late January Annie and I explored some of the real estate possibilities in downtown Toronto. The thinking is that the combined rents we pay with Kathryn and Efren would allow us to share a mortgage. But because Toronto has some of the highest real estate values in North American, you can imagine the figures to buy even a modest triplex are quite astounding. We continue to look, pray and discern.
The big event of January was Jane and Judy’s marking 140 combined years on the planet! People gathered from far and wide at the lovely reception room of 2 St. Thomas, a stone’s throw from the U. of T. and St. Basil’s Church. This elegant and cheery space was provided by our good friend, Paola Leon, who has a condo there. Annie, Kathryn, Efren, Julia, and Clare were the gracious hosts who managed the food and drink along with the decorations. About 80 people attended during the afternoon event and the twins were duly launched into their eighth decade going strong! Jane still teaches most days.
I continue with chaplaincy work at the UHN (University Health Network) downtown hospitals, hearing confessions, bringing Holy Communion to patients and anointing large numbers, some of whom are recovering and others in prayer for their final journey to God. We chaplains truly see “all sorts and conditions” and it is a privilege to share these moments with many families.
In February Jane and I took some time off to travel to the Seminary of St. Vincent de Paul in Boynton Beach, Florida for a week of retreat and rest. The Archdiocese of Toronto maintains a couple of rooms there for priests needing a break from winter. So, we took our initial flight as snow birds and very much enjoyed the seminary and the truly remarkable young men preparing for the priesthood who made us so welcome and with which we shared a lot in a few days. Daily Mass, at which I concelebrated, and the Liturgy of the Hours marked the day for everyone in their bright and airy Chapel. It was nice for both of us to not have to cook or do dishes. And we had the pool all to ourselves, as the seminarians said it was too cold to swim! Canucks.
In April a new head of the UHN mandated that we could celebrate monthly Masses in each of the six hospitals and so I, along with the three other priest chaplains, share in these celebrations which are for families and the staff as well as anyone who wanders in. This is a bit of a challenge logistically as only Sick Kids has a chapel, where I say Mass on Sundays at 9 am before heading west to STM and the 12:30 Sung Mass in the church in which we rent space on Roncesvalles Ave.
On April 27, Jane’s family gathered for the funeral of Aunt Judy (Echlin) Wilson in Huntsville. Tony, Jane’s Mom, was there, now the last of that generation. At 92 she is going strong still swimming every day, sending off messages and browsing the web. Quite remarkable.
On May 26, Jane and I marked our 40thanniversary with Annie and Kathryn acting as hostesses. Our landlords and good friends, Stephanie Martin and Andrew Sabiston, invited us to use their lovely back patio and newly renovated main floor for the day. The 26th was lovely. We were thankful that so many were able to attend and for many messages from those unable to join us.
In June we celebrated the Patronal Festival of STM with the Sacrament of Confirmation and a full choir. The STM liturgies are streamed on YouTube, just go to stmtoront.ca and push the red button. You can fast forward through the homily.
August brought annual vacation time. It was initially a bit of a busman’s holiday as we went to Barry’s Bay for me to make a presentation on the Divine Worship liturgy at Our Lady Seat Wisdom’s Wojtyla Summer Institute’s “The Splendour of the Liturgy.” From there we went on to Shawville to visit with brother Steve and his family. Ayden just graduated from the University of Ottawa, Tynesha is a university student, and Dee Dee is in high school.
From Shawville to L’Abbaye Sainte-Marie des Deux-Montagnes for a few days with our good friend and advisor Dom Charles Gilman, OSB (Fr. Chip). He celebrated and I preached at the Sung Mass of the Assumption (August 15) for the nuns and others who attend the beautiful chapel on the hill in the bilingual town of Sainte-Marthe-sur-le-Lac. Fr. Chip translated the short homily and read it in French for those who do not speak English. The Benedictine nuns of this cloistered community are, for the first time, welcoming English-speaking postulants with the goal of becoming a thoroughly bilingual community. They have moved to celebrating the liturgy in Latin with French and English readings.
On the way home we had a 40thanniversary treat with a stay in the Laurentians for a few days in Sainte-Adèle and traveling the countryside. Taking the long way home, thus avoiding the busy freeways near Montreal, we went north through Mont-Tremblant and Mont-Laurier which neither of us had ever visited even though I grew up in the Ottawa Valley. Travelling south we once again came into the lush forests and rich farmland of the Valley and then through Renfrew and down to Peterborough to stay overnight in a hotel overlooking the Otonabee River. Home again, we had time to settle back in, just in time for the beginning of school and to reconnect with Newman Centre at the U of T where I regularly celebrate Mass to assist the Chaplain there.
John Henry Cardinal Newman was canonized in Rome in October as St. John Henry Newman. Annie and I were very privileged to attend on October 13. Jane chose to stay home to avoid the trans-Atlantic flight, squashed in like a sardine, and the crowds in Rome! It was a great joy to sit in the centre of St. Peter’s Square with 400,000 others on a cloudless Sunday morning and to hear the words of one my spiritual mentors pronounced with approval by the Magisterium of the Church. I had never dreamed of being there and it was so meaningful to share the day and the trip with Annie. While there, I attended two related symposia at the Gregorian University and at the fabled Angelicum, leaving Annie free to explore Rome and the excellent shopping there, including the purchase of a red leather purse for her mom.
So another year rolls to a close and after yet another conference in Toronto, this one for the Ordinariate’s 10thanniversary, we begin a new year this Advent, thankful for the many blessings and graces of the past year. God is so good . . . and always a surprise.