Cardinal Thomas Collins spoke to 1,800 people at the annual Cardinal's Dinner on Nov. 10 in Toronto. Photo by Evan Boudreau

Beware of 'false mercy' in helping to end a life, Cardinal Collins tells annual dinner audience

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  • November 11, 2016

Showing respect for human dignity should never include the "false mercy" of helping someone prematurely end their life, Cardinal Thomas Collins told a packed audience Nov. 10 at the 37th annual Cardinal's Dinner in Toronto.

Addressing an audience of 1,800 that included the Ontario premier and Toronto mayor, the Toronto archbishop called so-called mercy killing a "merciless assault on human dignity." He said the practice is wrong regardless of what euphemism is attached to it, whether it is "falsely called mercy killing, or even more falsely medical assistance in dying and most falsely of all dying with dignity."

The dinner, billed as the largest of its kind in Canada, came five months after Canada legalized assisted suicide in June and as statistics have begun to show that hundreds of people have used the new law to be legally killed. A head table 40 government, religious and corporate leaders included Premier Kathleen Wynne, Mayor John Tory and the Vatican Apostolic Nuncio to Canada Archbishop Luigi Bonazzi.

When people are dying, particularly from a long illness, they will probably lack the "wholeness of mind" to make good decisions, Collins said in his address. But failing health should not be equated with waning dignity and used to justify extinguishing a life.

"Everyone dies with dignity, and it is not right to hasten death in the mistaken belief that doing that is what is needed to allow a person to die with dignity," Collins said.

True mercy is not found in killing but in recognizing "the dignity of the human person, and to acknowledge that each person we encounter is a who, not a what," Collins said. "Each one of us has dignity, worthiness, which is inherent within us, despite any superficial weakness or inadequacy."

He warned against falling into the trap of falsely believing dignity "depends on us being good looking, healthy, dynamic, successful, rich, in control, on top of our game, and so on."

"In that case, the man at the side of the road who was helped by the Good Samaritan in the very paragon of acts of mercy, had no dignity: naked, beaten up, bloody, and repulsive to look at or touch."

Society should embrace the example of the Good Samaritan and extend mercy "not only to the homeless, to the sick, to those suffering or in prison, to any victims of violence, and to refugees, but especially to those who are dying," Collins said.

"We do that through true palliative care, by using the best medical expertise available to control pain, and by surrounding the one who is dying with the love."

Human dignity has nothing to do with being in control or looking good, he said.

"The homeless have dignity, the same as anyone else. Those suffering from addictions have dignity. All those who for any reason do not match some standard of physical and psychological and mental acceptability have dignity. Those who drool have no less dignity than those who do not.

"If we don’t understand that deeply, we are in real trouble as a society and individually."

Although the main purpose of the dinner is to bring diverse parts of the community together, the event has raised more than $6 million to support local charities. Last year, 33 charities shared $125,000 from the dinner's proceeds.




Below is the full text of the speech delivered Nov. 10 by Cardinal Thomas Collins at the 37th annual Cardinal's Dinner in Toronto.

First of all, as we gather on the vigil of Remembrance Day we offer our prayers for those who have sacrificed their lives in war for the protection of us all. Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them. May their souls, and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.

It is wonderful to be with you once again this evening, as we share in fellowship at the 37th Cardinal’s Dinner.

I would like to begin by expressing my deep gratitude. First, to Frank Morneau, Chairman of this year’s dinner, along with Dan Sullivan, Vice-Chairman. Frank, I understand this is one of the largest dinners we’ve had in 37 years with more than 1,800 in attendance. Thank you so much for your tremendous leadership and commitment to making this evening such a great success.

I extend warm greetings to our distinguished head table guests who represent leadership at the political, corporate and community levels. We continue to pray for all of those in positions of leadership.

There are a number of elected members from municipal, provincial and federal governments with us this evening. The vocation of political office is a noble one, yet in today’s world it is both demanding and challenging. Elected members sacrifice much – especially time away from loved ones: I always hold you close in prayer; be assured of my appreciation for all that you do.

I bring warm greetings to the religious leaders here from other faiths. Welcome.

To the countless businesses that faithfully join us each year at the Cardinal’s Dinner: we very much appreciate your generosity and presence this evening.

Finally, I extend a warm welcome to the clergy, religious men and women, and parishioners from across the Archdiocese of Toronto who are here tonight. I thank you for your commitment, unwavering dedication, service and faithfulness.

As American Presidents give an annual “State of the Union” address, my talk at the Cardinal’s dinner is an opportunity to review the “State of the Catholic Church” in this archdiocese.

We have recently celebrated a most significant event when on the Feast of St Michael, on September 29th our cathedral was rededicated. After 168 years it was in urgent need of serious repair, and now it is structurally sound, expanded in capacity to serve our mission as a diocese of two million members, and astonishingly beautiful, a real sign of the presence of God in our world.

Looking forward, next year we will be celebrating the 175th anniversary of our archdiocese.

As we proceed in our mission of proclaiming the Gospel, for several years now our efforts have been co-ordinated through our Pastoral Plan, which applies the eternal principles of the Gospel to our particular situation. Its four pillars are:

1) building vibrant parishes which nourish the faith of those who are gathered, and reach out to those who are scattered;

2) helping everyone to live to the full the vocation to which God calls them;

3) caring with practical love for those who are in need; and

4) bringing the good news of Christ to our secular culture.

I thank all of the clergy, religious, and lay faithful of the archdiocese for their creative and zealous implementation of the plan.

Most of our pastoral plan simply involves focusing our efforts more effectively, but some elements of it cost money. This is why we engaged in the Family of Faith campaign, hoping to raise at least $105 million as a minimum goal; as a result of the remarkable generosity of the people of the archdiocese, and the immense hard work and dedication of clergy and parishioners, almost $170 million has been pledged. As this money is received, I assure you that it will be put to good use. I am deeply grateful for your sacrificial generosity in the service of the Gospel.

This evening I want to highlight two of the four pillars of our plan: vocations, and practical service of those in need.

First, vocations.

Each of us is called to serve as a disciple, and to contribute to the common good of the society in which we live. Education helps all of us to do that. We have a wonderful publicly funded Catholic education system in our province that has been successful for 175 years now. I thank Premier Kathleen Wynne and the leaders of the other parties for their steadfast support of this constitutional cornerstone of our nation. Of course, we should not forget the great work done as well by private Catholic schools. I am most appreciative of the thousands of educators who each day journey with our young people.

We very much appreciate Catholic Higher Education, and in a special way the service provided since the earliest days of our diocese by the University of St. Michael’s College, whose president, David Mulroney, is with us this evening. It is a real gift to have this Catholic institution of higher learning in our midst.

We also, of course, in a particular way, pray that those who are called to serve all of us as religious sisters or brothers, deacons or priests, will respond to that vocation.

Last weekend I was delighted to participate, as I regularly do, in the Come and See Weekend at St. Augustine’s Seminary. Twenty-seven young men considering the priesthood spent the weekend meeting with our seminarians, praying and learning about the path to the priesthood.

We are very blessed with an excellent vocation program, led by Fr. Chris Lemieux and a council of seven other priests who are actively engaged in meeting with young men considering a priestly vocation. Our approach is to root our vocation ministry in prayer, and to have a slow and most thorough process of accompaniment: our pastors send potential candidates to the Come and See Weekend, and to several other vocation initiatives in which we are involved, such as Quo Vadis, for those at an earlier stage of vocational discernment.

Absolutely crucial is the great work of the Serra Club, in many initiatives but especially in the yearly Ordinandi lunch, at which almost 900 high school students hear the vocations stories of those entering the priesthood and religious life, and in the evening the Ordinandi Dinner, which is about the same size as this Cardinal’s Dinner, with over 1,800 participants, at which the deacons about to be ordained speak of the call of God in their lives.

A key component of our priestly vocation ministry is the Associates Program, for those who are in the period just before making a decision to enter priestly formation in the seminary. We currently have 22 associates. There are 50 Toronto seminarians, who are engaged in formation for the priesthood at Serra House, St Augustine’s and the Redemptoris Mater seminary of the Neocatechumenal Way.

Our principle is to take our time, and to be extremely thorough in our process of priestly formation; the fruits of that approach are evident in the excellent candidates who are preparing to serve us as priests.

The third pillar of our pastoral plan — caring for the vulnerable with practical love — is especially connected to a theme which our Holy Father Pope Francis has made central to his pontificate: the importance of mercy. His very motto makes this clear. It is a quote from the Venerable Bede describing the call of St. Matthew: “It is in the experience of mercy that we are chosen.”

As we conclude the Year of Mercy, we look to the Parable of the Good Samaritan, who noticed the man who was beaten and left to die at the side of the road — and we recall the constant urging of Pope Francis that we notice and care for those who are on the edges of life, who are cast aside, and whose plight is so often treated with indifference. The Holy Father has spoken of the "globalization of indifference.” We need to be like the Good Samaritan who cared and took action to help the wounded man, and not be like those who were indifferent to his suffering, and walked by on the other side.

Last year at this dinner I spoke of the tremendous work taking place across the Archdiocese of Toronto in the area of welcoming refugees to Canada. We were in the midst of the Project Hope campaign to raise $3 million in 100 days to welcome 100 families to our community. I’m pleased to report that we surpassed the fundraising goal with $3.7 million collected to support refugee sponsorship. So many of you present this evening, from parish volunteer groups to corporations, school boards and individual donors have been part of this magnificent effort.

But even more impressive than the funds raised is the personal commitment that you have made to journey with a refugee family. One hundred and five volunteer groups have stepped forward not to just help for a few hours but to commit to accompany a refugee family for a full year. That is our faith in action. This is practical love, and the mercy which Pope Francis reminds us is at the heart of the Gospel.

Our commitment to become engaged in practical love, in the mercy which our Holy Father urges us to make our priority, is focused each year on the ShareLife appeal. It is our annual call to action to reach out to the vulnerable in society. The Catholic community continues to generously support our annual ShareLife appeal, raising more than $13 million in the past year. ShareLife supports more than 30 social service agencies that reaches out to 200,000 people annually, caring for all those in need, regardless of their religious background or affiliation.

In your program tonight, you see the beneficiaries of the proceeds of the Cardinal’s Dinner — these charities are quietly working away to make a difference in our community.

We always look to the example of those who founded our diocese, and especially Bishop Power. Two buildings are signs of his life. Obviously, his cathedral, which we have now restored according to his intention: this is an outward sign of God’s presence in our suffering world, and of the vision of divine mercy that guides us as we move outward from worship to service, and of the strength and direction which we receive in word and sacrament as we serve our neighbours, and especially those who are suffering. It is a holy place, containing the tomb of Bishop Power, and of Loretto Sisters who served the people of the diocese in its earliest days, and of many early parishioners.

And the second symbol of Bishop Power’s merciful love are the fever sheds where he gave his life ministering to the sick and dying. They now, thankfully, are demolished, but the tradition of care for the sick continues, the heritage especially of the religious sisters who founded health care in our country. On the Feast of St. Michael, before rededicating the cathedral, I celebrated Mass, as I do each year, across the street at St. Michael’s Hospital, like St. Joseph’s Health Centre and Providence Health Care, founded by the Sisters of St. Joseph. Each one of them offers the highest level of medical care, and does so with a spirit of love and compassion that arises out of the mission of Christ the healer.

All three are committed, among other things, to the service of the dying, and offer splendid palliative care, combining the best that modern medicine offers, with an environment of compassionate love. I recently blessed the new facility at Providence Health Care.

A merciful life is one in which we recognize the fundamental fact that the people around us are brothers and sisters to be loved, not things to be used and, once no longer useful, to be disposed of. Mercy calls us to recognize the dignity of the human person, and to acknowledge that each person we encounter is a “who,” not a “what.” Each one of us has dignity, worthiness, which is inherent within us, despite any superficial weakness or inadequacy. “What I am in the sight of God, that I am indeed; no more, no less”

Yet we can so easily become merciless towards others, treating them as objects not as persons, as we are distracted and led astray by some superficial characteristic: perhaps physical appearance, or psychological struggle, or social ineptness, or language, or race, or cultural difference, or religion, or political position, or any number of things. And the language we use can be harsh and merciless, especially when we cannot see the face of the person about whom we speak or write. One reason to pause before you hit the ‘send” button. It is so easy to demonize people with whom we disagree. Their dignity is forgotten. And then mercy dies.

The worthiness, the dignity of each person around us comes from the fact that each is a person to be loved, not an object to be used. All people should be able to recognize that. People of faith recognize further that each person is made in the image and likeness of God, and is to be revered because of that.

True human dignity comes from within. The false, and dangerous, counterfeit of dignity is external propriety: the idea that our dignity depends on us being good looking, healthy, dynamic, successful, rich, in control, on top of our game, and so on. In that case, the man at the side of the road who was helped by the Good Samaritan in the very paragon of acts of mercy had no dignity: naked, beaten up, bloody, and repulsive to look at or touch.

But everyone has dignity, independently of circumstance. Christ, naked and bloody on the cross, had dignity, as did the thieves crucified with him. Dignity comes from within, and it has nothing to do with external propriety, or being in control, or looking good. The homeless have dignity, the same as anyone else. Those suffering from addictions have dignity. All those who for any reason do not match some standard of physical and psychological and mental acceptability have dignity. Those who drool have no less dignity than those who do not. If we don’t understand that deeply, we are in real trouble as a society and individually. It is not our appearance, or capability, that gives us dignity. It comes from within, and ultimately it comes from God.

This is also relevant, of course, to the fact that each one of us, over time, falls apart: we disintegrate. We do not retain the vigour and strength and agility which we had in the prime of youth, though cosmetic technology can disguise that hard reality for a while, and medical technology and a healthy lifestyle can slow it down, for a while.

Shakespeare lights the path of wisdom for us, as in “As You Like It” he describes the ages of man: first of course is the innocence of childhood, and then the vigour of youth, and the prosperity of middle age, and then old age. And finally, he writes:

Last scene of all,

That ends this strange eventful history,

Is second childhood and mere oblivion,

Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.

(As You Like it II, vii, 19-28)

Much earlier than Shakespeare, the sacred author of Ecclesiastes warned us: “Remember your creator in the days of your youth, before the days of trouble come, and the years draw near when you will say “I have no pleasure in them.” (Ecclesiastes 12: 1-8)

It is our mission to show mercy to all of our brothers and sisters, and in doing that to recognize in a concrete way their human dignity, and especially when they are experiencing the effects of suffering that come to us all in various ways and at various times as we head for home through this valley of tears.

We have been made more aware recently of the merciless assault on human dignity which is sometimes falsely called “mercy killing”, or even more falsely “medical assistance in dying” and most falsely of all “dying with dignity”. When we are dying, especially if it is as a result of a long illness, we may well not have, and probably will not have, the propriety of wholeness of mind and body which we had when young and in good health. But everyone dies with dignity, and it is not right to hasten death in the mistaken belief that doing that is what is needed to allow a person to die with dignity.

It is essential, however, that we show the mercy of the Good Samaritan not only to the homeless, to the sick, to those suffering or in prison, to any victims of violence, and to refugees, but especially to those who are dying. We do that through true palliative care, by using the best medical expertise available to control pain, and by surrounding the one who is dying with the love that we all hope to sustain us as we come to that crucial moment which we Catholics constantly mention in our most frequent prayer: "the hour of our death.” I have already mentioned the Catholic hospitals that do this, and I want also to thank all health care facilities that do that, the St. Elizabeth visiting nurses, and the Ontario government which is helping increase the availability of palliative care.

Pope Francis calls on us all, especially in this Year of Mercy, to reflect deeply on how we treat other people. They are persons to be loved, not things to be used, and we must show reverence for each of them because of their human dignity, that natural and supernatural gift. And then, in all that we think, and say, and do, we must act accordingly.

Thank you for joining us this evening.

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