A couple of weeks ago when the parish had that birthday reception for me after the 12:30 Mass, one of the highlights of the celebration was when they sang ‘happy birthday’ in six different languages. My first year here at St. Gabriel’s was in 1960 – such a thing would not have happened back then. Our parish was pretty white and squeaky clean. It’s wonderful how the parish has changed through the years – we are a real ‘catholic’ – universal parish.
This past week I was at the annual workshop put on for the priests of the Archdiocese. Every year I seem to know fewer and fewer priests. I met one young priest who has been in Toronto for three months. He is from Mexico but studied in Brazil so he speaks Spanish, Portuguese and English and works in St. Anthony’s Parish down on Bloor. Years back St. Anthony’s was all Irish, then it became an Italian parish and now it’s Spanish and Portuguese. I think I may have mentioned before that Sunday Mass is celebrated in over 50 different languages in Toronto.
Today is mission Sunday. It’s a day we pray for and support the missionary works of the universal church. For years Canada has been sending priests, brothers and sisters to many countries around the world bringing the gospel to people of many lands. I remember the Breen family down the street from us in Saint John. Two brothers, George and Harold were priests. They were Holy Cross Fathers. In the 1920s they went of to the missions in India. The understanding was that they would never come home. They had one way tickets. That’s the way it was in those days, men and women made a life time commitment to the missions. They built churches, opened schools and hospitals, ran orphanages – they spread the faith through good works.
In those days the Canadian church was on the giving end of things. Now, the truth of the matter is, we are on the receiving end of things. The church in Toronto could not function without the presence of priests from Africa, India, the Philippines, Latin America, and Indonesia.
In our own Passionist Community, we have few vocations in Europe or North America. But the Passionist communities we established in the Philippines, India, and Indonesia and throughout Africa are strong and healthy. We are blessed to have Fr. Brando with us from the Philippines for another year. Every now and then I hear people from other parishes complaining about a new priest they have who is struggling with English. We can’t understand a word he says, they’ll complain. Passionists from the States went to Hunan Province in China in the early twenties. Can you image what the good Christians of that area had to endure as our men tried to learn and preach in Chinese? What goes around comes around. Because there are so few vocations to the priesthood and religious life here in Canada we need priests from other lands to keep the Canadian church alive.
In the second reading from today’s Mass Paul is encouraging Timothy to be faithful to what he was taught as a child – Paul’s words to Timothy can be addressed to all of us, “proclaim the message, be persistent whether the time is favorable or unfavorable, convince, rebuke, encourage. We have been blessed with the gift of our Catholic Christian faith. We are meant to share that gift with others. It doesn’t mean going to another country or culture but it does mean living one’s faith right here, right now. Often when people come to take Mary Landry’s course of becoming a Catholic, the reason they give for making such a decision is how a Catholic friend or acquaintance made such a deep impression on them.
Years ago when I could shop at K Mart in the plaza there was an elderly gentleman who stood at a windy corner offering the Watchtower – the Jehovah newspaper. He would be there in all kinds of weather trying to share his faith with others. I always admired that man. How many of us would be willing to stand on a street corner and pass out information about our Catholic faith?
Mission Sunday is one day a year, but our mission, our responsibility to share our faith is a day by day reality. By the way we live our lives; by the way we relate to other people, we are to bear witness to our Christian Catholic faith by what we say, by what we do, always in the ordinary living of our ordinary lives.
I like going back to those words St. Francis of Assisi spoke to his friars. “Preach the gospel at all times and when necessary use words.”
As we continue to celebrate this Eucharist we thank God for the gift of our faith, we pray for the men and women around the world involved in missionary activity and we ask for the willingness to bear witness to our faith by what we say and by what we do, every day of our lives.