Edifying Ministry in Midland
I’m up at Martyrs’ Shrine in Midland, Ontario. I was here in the spring, offering the Spiritual Exercises to several seminarians from Saint Augustine’s Seminary in Toronto.
I offered to return and help the local Jesuits with their ministry to the thousands of pilgrims who come here to pray with and through the Canadian Martyrs (AKA, the North American Martyrs), the Jesuits and their companions who ministered here in the 1600s.
I’ve been coming here on and off over the forty years that I have been a Jesuit. More about that in a later post.
I’ve been edified by the men and women and families who come here to this sacred ground. They walk around and participate in activities that have been lined up for them by the Shrine or by their organizers. Or, they simply move about as self-guided pilgrims.
The weekends are very busy here. There are organized pilgrimages of various ethnic groups. The major pilgrimage of the season takes place this weekend (August 11). It’s the Polish pilgrimage and involves seven thousand or more pilgrims.
Last weekend’s group was the Filipino community from Toronto. Along with the Poles or Filipinos or other groups, there will be many others who come for a visit. Many people come here each year.
Others have heard about the place and plan a visit. Others are driving through the area and pop in. Others have a cottage in the area and have a regular habit of coming for daily Mass.
My ministry this month has been relatively simple priestly activity, at least compared to some of the assignments I’ve had over the years ). Simple, but important! There are at least four Masses a day, so I often get assigned. I’m assigned to help with Confessions, the Sacrament of Reconciliation, for at least two hours each day. I’m usually sitting in the Information Office for a couple of hours each day.
That involves blessings of people, especially families, with the relics of the Canadian Martyrs. And they usually bring religious objects that they have purchased from the gift shop. I also bless those with the relics. I also occasionally sit outside on a park bench (donated by the area’s Knights of Columbus).
To sit outside dressed in clerical attire is an invitation to conversation with visitors, many of them of a spiritual nature.
As I sa d, I’ve been edified by this ministry. I can set aside the reality of the institutional church and its ongoing scandals. I can forget about the craziness of our world and its politics. I can ignore the inanity of political leaders (elected leaders, if not true leaders).
I can briefly set aside the reality of climate change and how it is roaring out of control (like the wildfires that are blazing all over the world this summer). This ministry is simple. It invites me to be present to ordinary women and men and children who are in need of being reminded of hope.
I often think of the Gospel story of Jesus coming ashore and encountering people who were like sheep without a shepherd. That’s the story of each of us!
I’ve been scouring today’s scripture for a relevant verse, a verse that inspires me. The one that comes closest is from the Responsorial Psalm, Psalm 34: “Taste and see that the Lord is good.” I see that goodness so often in pilgrims to Martyrs Shrine.