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Will Pemberton, RIP

My first encounter with Will Pemberton was in December 1997 in the snowy wooded landscape of Combermere, Ontario. We were working at Madonna House, where the days were spent splitting firewood, shovelling snow, and peeling large amounts of vegetables. Only 18, he was the youngest of the male guests, but he was also among the most thoughtful and articulate. While the rest of us played cards or Scrabble during our moments of free time, Will usually played his violin, to himself or to whoever would listen. Music was just one of his many languages. I met Will again a few years later while visiting a seminary in British Columbia. It was the annual school concert, and rising from the sea of talent was the tall, ruddy man from Parry Sound. He led a schola in sacred polyphony and played some raucous folk songs on guitar, his melodious voice and booming laughter filling the gymnasium. He once told me that during seminary he decided to learn one Irish song per day for a whole year. Consequently
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From an Ancient Homily on Holy Saturday

"Something strange is happening … there is a great silence on earth today, a great silence and stillness. The whole earth keeps silence because the King is asleep. The earth trembled and is still because God has fallen asleep in the flesh and he has raised up all who have slept ever since the world began. God has died in the flesh and hell trembles with fear. He has gone to search for our first parent, as for a lost sheep. Greatly desiring to visit those who live in darkness and in the shadow of death, he has gone to free from sorrow the captives Adam and Eve, he who is both God and the son of Eve. The Lord approached them bearing the cross, the weapon that had won him the victory. At the sight of him Adam, the first man he had created, struck his breast in terror and cried out to everyone: “My Lord be with you all.” Christ answered him: “And with your spirit.” He took him by the hand and raised him up, saying, “Awake, O sleeper, and rise from the dead, and Christ will give you li

A Remaining Christmas

As Christmas approaches, I try to read an essay that captures some important aspect of the great feast. One stand-out essay, by English writer Hilaire Belloc, is "A Remaining Christmas". Belloc, a brilliant author, a feisty apologist, Member of Parliament, and good friend of G.K. Chesterton, bought a house in 1907 called "Kings Land", in Shipley, Sussex, for which he paid £1000. It was an old English house on five acres, which also had a working windmill. He remained there the rest of his life. His essay is about home and belonging to a specific place and community; as such, it anticipates themes in the writing of Wendell Berry. It is also about local Christmas customs which memorialize and celebrate the permanence of eternal things. His reflection has an indelible sacramental quality. It also has a literary quality to be savoured. Like much of Belloc and Chesterton's writing, it speaks something timeless to our times. A Remaining Christmas By Hilaire Bel

Vocation and Discipleship

By John O'Brien, S.J. One of the main graces sought from the visit of the St. Francis Xavier relic to Canada is "vocations". While the word "vocation" is not itself in the Bible, the pattern of God calling individuals certainly is. There is a particular dynamic at work when this happens. Consider the story of the calling of the first prophet, the boy Samuel, who will play such an important role in Israel. God calls him out of his sleep – an important detail often overlooked.  When God’s call comes, it wakens us, alerts us, moves us from the fog of unknowing and into the clear light of knowledge and wakefulness. The call of God is thus like a good cup of coffee, instilling a bracing sense of awareness and purposefulness. Of course Samuel hears the call but does not know right away who has called him. At that time “Samuel did not yet know the Lord, and the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him.” This intriguing description should also give us

Welcome to Our World

By John O'Brien, S.J. (with apologies: it's a somewhat longer homily-essay) This evening we celebrate the vigil of Christmas. It is a Mass that is different from the Midnight Mass to be observed later tonight or the Christmas morning Mass tomorrow. All three Masses are different and have different readings. If you are a spiritual diehard, you can attend all three and derive different intellectual and spiritual benefits; but if this present Mass, the Vigil, is the only Christmas Mass you are attending this year, you are fortunate to have heard one of the significant Gospels in the Church calendar year: Matthew’s genealogy, which ends with the dream of Joseph. You know the story: the Angel of Lord tells Joseph not to be afraid to take Mary as his wife, for against all odds of probability, she has conceived her child by the Holy Spirit, and that they are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins. Matthew, whose Gospel was written primarily for

Prepare the Way of the Lord

On this second Sunday of Advent we hear the opening lines of Mark’s Gospel. Mark is believed to have been the secretary of Peter and Paul and wrote his Gospel in the year 70 from Rome. A writer. some say, will put his most important idea in the first line of his text. Here the first line is “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, Son of God.” Mark is telling us what his whole Gospel is about: that there is something new to know, and it is profoundly good. So what is the evangelion, the good news of Jesus Christ, anyway? The Jews experienced exile for much of their history. And now, although they were in their homeland, they were under the occupation of the Romans. Israel is waiting for a messiah to restore her to her true mission and identity of being "a light to the nations". "A people who walked in darkness have seen a great light". Mark’s news is that Jesus Christ is the messianic figure they have been waiting for. But the enemy, says Mark, is not

Kurelek in Niagara Falls

For a period of six years, 1957-1963, Canadian artist William Kurelek gave himself the task of painting the story of the passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Nobody, to our knowledge, had ever painting a Gospel sentence by sentence, and the finished series consisted of 160 paintings, called The Passion According to Matthew . A  book  was published in 1975 (now out of print), whose images I contemplated when I was growing up. Kurelek went to the Holy Land to research the project, and painted steadily, on average completing one painting per week. The paintings would be purchased by the Niagara Falls Art Gallery , a small exhibition space not far from the falls, where they have remained ever since. The gallery is easy to find, but only open for certain restricted hours. I had always wanted to see the paintings, and finally made my pilgrimage last week. The artist honoured the gallery by making a sketch of its exterior that appears the book: Most of the major exhibi