Cardinal’s Dinner – October 11, 2012
Address by His Eminence, Thomas Cardinal Collins
As has been the tradition in our Archdiocese for the last 33 years, we come together this evening for the annual Cardinal’s Dinner, to break bread, to enjoy fellowship, and to raise important funds for charity.
I am grateful to Mr. Patrick Keenan for chairing this year’s dinner, and for his guidance and leadership in preparing for this evening. We are also grateful for the leadership of Joe Barnicke, who with Cardinal Carter founded the Cardinal’s Dinner, and has devotedly fostered its growth over the years.
I also extend my gratitude to our head table guests and, in a special way, to the representatives from the many levels of political leadership in our Archdiocese and beyond. Be assured of my prayers for all of those who hold political office. It is a sacred trust. We should all pray for our politicians, that they may always act with wisdom and concern for the common good, in the imitation of their patron Saint Thomas More, as they make the difficult decisions which are inherent in their vocation.
We are also honoured to have with us many representatives of others faiths. Welcome. As we face the challenges of a world that so often seems to be hesitant about the light of faith – and at this moment a Synod of Bishops is gathered in Rome to address this very issue – we work together, and pray together, joined in a bond of love and mutual respect.
This evening, as at every Cardinal’s Dinner, the clergy and religious of the Archdiocese of Toronto, and lay representatives of our parishes, come together as an archdiocesan family of faith. You serve faithfully and vigilantly, bringing the Gospel to life in more than 220 parishes throughout our Archdiocese. I am continually inspired by what I see in my constant travels throughout the archdiocese. Thank you for your witness to the Gospel.
For the leaders from the world of business who join us each year at the dinner, thank you for your presence. I know that for so many of you the thread of faith is woven through your work and I am grateful that we have the ability to share this time together.
This past week we celebrated thanksgiving day. While that is not a church holiday or feast, the theme of thanksgiving is one that appears often throughout the Bible.
I am personally thankful to the Holy Father for calling me to enter the College of Cardinals, as the Cardinal Priest of the parish of Saint Patrick in Rome. I will be formally installed in my Roman parish on October 23rd. The naming of the Archbishop of Toronto to the College of Cardinals is a recognition of the key role played by our Archdiocese and our country in the life of the universal Church. The experience of being made a cardinal is truly inspiring, and I was grateful to be joined by many pilgrims from Canada for the ceremony.
Visually, the scarlet robes of a cardinal are quite spectacular, but they speak of something more profound which I also experience very much as Archbishop of Toronto. They are bright red to represent the blood of martyrs which is the seed of the Church, and great Cardinals, including one of my heroes, Saint John Fisher, have shed their blood for Christ. In my office I regularly meet people from around the world who are courageously witnessing to their faith. I have on my desk a relic of the Syriac Catholic cathedral in Baghdad, where many were martyred not long ago. We should be thankful for their witness, and made more resolute as we face the various challenges, less dramatic but also severe, which we confront in our own situation as we seek to be faithful.
We are always thankful for the example and for the prayers of the saints. On October 21st I will participate in Rome in the Canonization of Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha, the Lily of the Mohawks, great saint of the first nations people of Canada and the United States. On the 21st in Midland, at Martyrs’ Shrine, there will be a celebration of this great model of holiness for us all.
We should also be thankful for those who serve the most vulnerable among us, imitating Christ who called His disciples to recognize His face in those who suffer. This evening, Catholic Charities commence their 100th anniversary celebrations. Throughout the coming year, there will several events to recognize this anniversary, culminating in a special Mass next September.
One year prior to the outbreak of World War I, Archbishop Neil McNeil saw the gaps and overlaps in the assistance being offered to the needy of the Archdiocese. In response, he established Catholic Charities in 1913 to provide guidance and oversight. Today there are 29 member agencies, many of which will be recipients of the proceeds of tonight’s dinner. They are truly making a difference.
We live in difficult economic times, with corporations, families and parishes all under great strain in many different areas. That is why I was so heartened to see this year’s ShareLife appeal raise close to $15 million, a record amount. It is testimony to the generosity of our Catholic community, and we are mindful that these funds will help people of all faiths or no faith at all.
When it comes to helping others, whether it is those suffering from a natural disaster across the ocean, or those closer to home, faith based organizations are the first in and last out. Just this past week, we have seen media reports of the Good Shepherd Refuge serving more than 1,600 thanksgiving meals. Their doors are open to all, every day of the year, the face of Christ to Toronto’s homeless.
The faithful of the Archdiocese of Toronto have responded with incredible generosity as more than 160 parishes have committed to welcoming a refugee family from the Middle East. For those seeking a new home after fleeing violence and persecution, it is only through the collaboration of people willing to welcome the stranger that a new beginning is possible.
Stop and think of the essential role which people of all faiths play in the wellbeing of our society. That should give pause to those who complain about the voice of people of faith in our democratic society, and who seek to sterilize public discourse and publicly funded institutions from religious influence. They should realize that apart from the strangely forgotten fact that people of faith pay taxes, Ontario would be a colder, harsher, darker, more cruel place without the generous action of people of faith motivated by their faith.
As always, we give thanks for Catholic Education, which from the earliest days of our province, even before the formation of our Country in 1867, has been an integral part of the educational system of Ontario. We are so richly blessed with a system in which the French and English, and the non-religious and Catholic dimensions of our whole education system work together in co-operation to make education a treasure for which all Ontarians may truly be thankful. There is more beauty in the variety of a garden than in the uniform, undifferentiated, monotony of the dull flat surface of a parking lot. The complementary variety in our educational system is an advantage for all, producing not only a healthy competition from which all benefit, but also a fruitful collaboration, and the richness of different approaches to the key issues of life. That diversity reflects the reality of the differences that exist in our province. The system works. For that we should be thankful.
Essential to the fruitfulness of that diverse educational system that is such a benefit to our province is a recognition of the legitimate identity of each partner. As for the Catholic dimension, with which I am most engaged as Cardinal Archbishop of Toronto, that identity is recognized and protected both by section 93 of our Canadian constitution – for without recognition of that identity the agreement that created Canada would not have proceeded – but also by section 1 of the Education Act of Ontario.
Both the constitution and the Education Act make it clear that the Catholic identity of the school must be respected.
This is true when it comes to the establishment of anti-bullying groups designed to make the school a better place for all, and in Catholic schools that means following the method outlined in the document Respecting Difference, of the Ontario Catholic School Trustees Association. It is our mission to speak up for all those who suffer, and especially those who are voiceless, for those who are forgotten.
It is also true when it comes to protecting the freedom of all in the school community to engage in pro-life activities in order to foster a culture of life in which the most vulnerable and voiceless among us are protected and honoured throughout their whole life on earth from the moment of conception to natural death. Defending the voiceless is our mission.
We all have a stake in assuring that the faith identity of Catholic schools is respected – not just Catholics, but also the countless people of other faiths who freely choose to send their children to Catholic Schools. In a healthy civil society it is vital that the deeply held principles that guide the lives of our neighbours are respected. Indeed, all citizens have a stake in that.
For all the difficulties we face, there is truly much for which we can be thankful, and the hope that comes from that allows us together to confront and to seek to overcome the problems that, sadly, are also part of our life.
This evening we give special thanks to God for the greatest religious event of the 20th Century, the Second Vatican Council, which began fifty years ago today, on October 11th, 1962. The Council ran from 1962 to1965, and produced 16 documents over the course of four sessions with more than 2,000 bishops worldwide participating in the deliberations.
As we begin today the Year of Faith which Pope Benedict has proclaimed to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Council, and to lead us to reflect deeply on how our faith can be strengthened by meditating on the way in which the Holy Spirit guided the Church through the Council, and how we can be revitalized in our faith, we should prayerfully study and be nourished by the fruits of the Council, including the Catechism of the Catholic Church, that great sourcebook of faith, and the shorter Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
But, especially in this year of Faith, we should systematically and prayerfully study the 16 Council documents, and especially the key ones, the four great constitutions:
1) The Constitution on the Liturgy
2) The Constitution on the Church,
3) The Constitution on the Word of God, and
4) The Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, which opens with the marvellous line that challenges us to engage in this world in which we live, with compassion and with a passion for justice: “The joys and hopes and the sorrows and anxieties of people today, especially of those who are poor and afflicted, are also the joys and hopes, sorrows and anxieties of the disciples of Christ, and there is nothing truly human which does not also affect them.”
The Constitution on the Church, in each of its sections, offers us clear guidance about how we should live according to our particular missions as disciples living within the community of the Church.
It speaks of the Church as the People of God, with all of its members - clergy, religious, and laity - having a specific mission, but all equally called to holiness. The chapter on the universal call to holiness is a good place to start, when reading the Council documents.
Many of the other 16 documents take a section of the Constitution on the Church, and expand upon it: and so there is a separate document on the mission of lay people, on that of religious, and of priests, and of bishops.
Particularly important is what the Council says about the role of lay people. Although lay people provide invaluable support within the structure of Church organizations, and in various internal ministries, their main role, according to Vatican II, is to make the presence of God known in this world through the way in which they fulfil their lay vocation in the secular world, in their family life, in their work, and in their engagement in the life of the community. They do this as individuals, who give example through personal holiness, and sometimes through their participation in the various lay movements which flourished to some degree before the Council, but which have truly been a gift of the Holy Spirit since the Council.
The main role of clergy and religious is to provide the spiritual support which the lay people need to fulfil their mission, by preaching the Word of God, by celebrating the sacraments, and by providing the pastoral care and guidance needed by the whole community of faith.
Of course worship is essential, and the Constitution on the Liturgy helps us to appreciate the sacred liturgy more profoundly.
The Constitution on the Word of God opened up for us a clearer sense of God’s presence amongst us, in Scripture and in the living faith of the Church.
In so many ways, the Council has been a blessing for which we should be thankful. It guides the Catholic Church in its relations with our brothers and sisters in Christ, with whom we share a common baptism, but from whom we have sadly been separated over the years. It helps us to build bridges of love and respect to Jews and Muslims, and to others who are not Christians. We have seen this dialogue among believers led by the Popes themselves, most recently Blessed Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI visiting, praying and in dialogue with our friends of other faith traditions.
Fifty years after the Council, we need to be guided by its spiritual wisdom, especially in a society that has become disconnected from the vision of faith.
This revitalization is sometimes called “the new evangelization”, and presently a gathering of bishops and of others is underway in Rome to reflect upon this theme, and to suggest ways to proceed.
As I mentioned a few days ago in a pastoral letter on the Feast of St Michael, our patron saint, we will release a Pastoral Plan in the New Year that helps map out some of our key priorities, guiding the way in our own journey of evangelization in this archdiocese.
For each of us gathered here this evening, perhaps a few short suggestions on how we can bring the new evangelization to our everyday experiences:
1) Prayer – start and end your day with prayer to thank God for everything that He has blessed you with. On the subway, before an important meeting or most importantly, when you’re frustrated: give thanks, seek strength, wisdom and patience.
2) Witness – do not be afraid to discuss your faith in the public square. You may be surprised at how many others wish they could do the same. It doesn’t have to be as organized as bible study over lunch hour; but talking about how important faith is in one’s life is something that our world is thirsting for, and that we can do any time. Our world is ripe for authentic witness – let us fill that void.
3) Invitation – consider inviting someone to join you for a moment of prayer, to rediscover the Church, or to attend a spiritual service with you. I will do that now: I invite you to join me at the cathedral on the first or second Sunday of each month (look at the schedule) for evening prayer, and for the prayerful reading of the Word of God, known as Lectio Divina.
4) Forgiveness – enter into the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Confession allows us to begin again, refreshed by the forgiveness that comes from our Loving Father. We need to let go of the baggage that weighs us down. Forgive others but first seek forgiveness yourself.Conclusion
Tonight has been about breaking bread with friends, helping those in need, and coming to realize more fully all of the gifts for which we should give thanks. It is no surprise that the greatest act of worship in the Church is called “The Eucharist”, which means, to give thanks.
Particularly, in this Year of Faith, we give thanks for the gift of faith, and for the way in which faith leads to hope, which gives us the energy to love, and especially to show our love for those who are most in need through acts of practical service.
We give special thanks for the gift of the Second Vatican Council, which helps us to grow more deeply in faith, hope, and love.
The words with which good Pope John began the Council fifty years ago today were: “Holy Mother Church rejoices…” It is for us to bring that joyful message of hope, peace and love to the world. Thank you for your presence here this evening and may God continue to bless you now and always.