LAST HOMILY AT CORPUS CHRISTI CHURCH BY FR. ED HAMPSON, OCTOBER 22, 2023
My name is Fr. Ed Hampson. Today, our personal histories and our communal history come together in a unique way, which, for me, started in the early spring of 2003, when Bishop Tonnos asked me to come to Corpus Christi to serve the people of this parish. He asked me to “watch the growth” and let him know. & that is what I did. I had no idea at the time, what a wonderful… & at times overwhelming adventure that would be.
I heard some folks talk about “the church we never got when Corpus Christi was built” originally with the intent for this to become the parish hall… But the growth that has begun in the parish boundaries by 2003 was changing things. We went from 2 to 5 elementary schools in just 3 years. New homes were being built, new families moving in, and we needed programs & opportunities and ministries to respond to it all.
Some of you may have seen the large map of this parish that we put up on the hall in the meeting room in the old rectory; that was just one of the ways to try to “watch the growth.” I remember clearly, at one point, we had over 300 volunteers offering their time & energy & Faith to make it all work. It was an exhilarating, stressful & rewarding time… & a big part of my own life.
For me that came to a conclusion on the 22nd of June 2010 when I needed quadruple bypass surgery. Since then, Corpus Christi has been in my thoughts & prayers, & I have occasionally preached & presided at weekend Mass here when Fr. Gatto has asked me.
Today, at some 20 years after I first came to Corpus Christi, I feel very grateful. I’m grateful for all of you & for those who have gone before you… all those who have dreamed of this day; everyone who looked forward in hope to “building a new Church,” everyone who prayed for this, to bring it to fruition.
I’m grateful for Bishop Crosby, without whose episcopal ministry & leadership, a new church could not have happened. I’m also grateful to the Bishop and to Msgr. Murray Kroetsch, the Chancellor of our Diocese, who held those ‘town hall’ style meetings at Our Lady of Lourdes & here at Corpus Christi. It was from those meetings that a plan was forged to move ahead, together, into a new & viable way for both parishes.
I am grateful for all the people who did the actual labour to bring St. Catherine of Siena Church to fruition – the roofers & carpenters & electricians & diggers & pavers & woodworkers & technical consultants & construction workers. A neighbour of mine who lives just across the street from me, installed the springler system in the new Church and then he climbed all the way up those high curving steel girders, all the way up to the very top, so he could test the amount of water pressure available to those sprinklers.
Can you imagine that?! He told me that the new Church was built so well and with so much “big steel” that “if a bomb ever went off around here, that Church is the place I want to be!” I assure him that he’d be welcome there long before anything like that ever happened.
I am grateful to Tom Vert who managed the construction process & for his efforts to keep everything on track, even contending with the restraints & limitation of the pandemic. Remarkable! And I am especially grateful for the pastoral leadership of Fr. Mark Gatto who has shepherded not 1 but 2 parishes for the past 6 years and who gently guided all of this forward towards this day. There is a lot to be grateful for and there are many to be grateful to, & it is good for us to remember all of them.
Today is the last Sunday we will be in Corpus Christi Church & this morning’s Masses are the last to be celebrated here, so this is an expecially poignant moment in our lives and in the life of the Church.
Gathered together here this morning, there are precious memories amongst us: baptisms of your children, first communions and confirmations, weddings, perhaps your own or in your families, & funerals, sacred moments of transition & grace. And other special moments too unique to you: like the time someone offered you just the right word at the right time…or when you saw something in a new way because of what had happened here in this place…or when someone reached out to you and included you & you weren’t expecting it…or when someone who had taken a photo of something that elicited in you an even deeper appreciation of the great gift that your faith really is. ALL of these memories, every one of them that you treasure, has a place in your hearts, and that is at it should be.
Like you, there are wonderful memories for me too, memories that continue to offer warmth & resilience & strength as I try to live my faith and my ministry.
I remember so many people signing up to offer their time & talent & treasures in the ministries of this parish. I will never forget that. I remember those children liturgy moments when together, we discover that our “beansprouts” were our best theologians! I will never forget them.
I remember one little 4-year old girl named Victoria who was sitting in the 2nd to the last pew with her mother, sister & father. She’d been coloring a picture before Mass & I was curious to see what that was all about. After Mass I said goodbye to people at the door & then came back to their pew…she was still finishing her picture. I asked her what it was about. She pointed to the image she’d drawn and said, “that’s the new Church you were talking about at Mass. See? There’s the cross on top.” I told her how much I liked her picture & then I asked her what she would like to do with it. She looked up at the aisle towards the altar. I think I gulped. I didn’t say a word…but I did offer her my hand…& she put her little hand in mine, held onto her picture with the other & together, we walked up the aisle & up into the sanctuary right in front of the altar. I looked down to her & she was looking up the altar. So I lifted her up & little Victoria put her picture on the altar. She had wanted to give it to God! I will never forget that.
There were other pictures after that, pretty much weekly, for quite a while. I’m sure you have had & have now hopes & dreams for the new Church that you can bring to God too.
And there were other special moments. Like an RCIA program led by a whole team of volunteers that offered people an experience of Church that was new & life giving, sharing stories about their own faith & food from their own kitchens. People of this parish did that and I will never forget.
And those Christmas pageants! This building seats a little less than 500, but we had 700 people sitting & standing, jammed into every nook, cranny & vestibule, & then standing outside, all along the sidewalk, with the doors open so they can hear! The people of this parish did that & I will never forget.
And the phone call I received one morning telling me that a beautiful senior lady of our parish who had been an artist for many years, was now in the hospital & not expected to live much longer. When I went to see her, she had slipped into a coma & the doctor told me she would not be able to come out of it. Nonetheless, standing by her bedside with her family around her, I began the Rites of Anointing & Viaticum. When I reached out to touch her lips with the consecrated host, she opened her eyes, looked at me and said “Amen” 3 times, consumed the host, & then slipped back into her coma. I will never forget that.
Or like an elder couple who wanted to see me at their home. As I sat with them, they told me a little about their life, they spoke about their faith, and about a decision they’d come to. They decided to leave a substantial portion of their estate to this parish to help build the new church. I will never forget their humility, their faith and their trust in God for the future.
So many wonderful memories & so much gratitude for so very many people, here in this place. I feel like I can undertand how, in our 2nd reading today, St. Paul was expressing his gratitude for his brothers and sisters in the parish in Thessalonica.
But that is the Church, isn’t it? People who put their life into their Church because they recognize whose Life is here for them. People who discover something life-giving here, & find themselves open to growing in new ways because of that. People who invest their time & talent & treasure in their faith community because there is something here to grow and build. That will always fill me with gratitude.
In today’s Gospel reading, when some Pharisees & Herodians try to trap Jesus in their words, he draws their attention first to the image of Caesar on a coin, and then uses the occasion to draw their attention to their enduring connection to God. Like them, you & I are imprinted with the image of God on our hearts & in our souls. That image was given to us in Baptism & God sees that in us.
When I think of the people of this parish and all of those memories that come flooding back, I feel like I see God’s image in you. And I believe, with all my heart, that you will take that image, together will all of the precious memories from this place that now live in your minds & hearts, into your new parish home…. the Church that has now been built…the Church that will welcome you from this afternoon’s Mass of Blessing & Dedication on into the future.
At the beginning of this past December, Lorna & I had a tour of the new Church. It is an inspiring place. It has been designed wisely & beautifully. It’s accessible, tech-friendly, it will accomodate things you will want to do together that you could only dream of in years by…& your faith & your commitment…& yes, even the memories that you bring with you, will help you create new memories & new community in a Church that will certainly prove to be a blessing to you all. I am so happy & excited for all of you. Amen.