Cardinal Collins, Archbishop of Toronto, delivers an address at the 43rd annual Cardinal's Dinner, Nov. 15, 2022. Photo courtesy Archdiocese of Toronto

What have ‘we’ become?

  • November 24, 2022

About mid-way through his speech at what conceivably might be his last Cardinal’s dinner, Toronto Archbishop Thomas Collins paused and seemed to lean into the podium just after articulating the word homeless.

“What have we become?” he asked, his voice dropping to a semi-whisper. “What have we become?”

You could almost hear the silence from the 1,300-plus guests at the Toronto Convention Centre Nov. 15 as they grappled with the quiet enormity of the question the Cardinal had placed before them. Because of his gifts as a communicator, Collins had his audience’s full attention from the opening moment of his talk, making them laugh, bringing them along on a historical refresher through the archdiocese since COVID forced the event to go virtual in 2020.  But this was something different: an impromptu moment of almost painful intimacy as he expressed a subdued moral outrage afflicting him but more, much more, challenging them. 

What have “we” become? The first person plural pronoun implicated everyone in the room, and any outside it who might have been listening at the door. Repetition ensured no one missed the fullness of the transition to calamity. What have “we” become?

The simple rhetorical answer is that we as Canadians have become a people prepared to use the health care system to kill the suffering, then the mentally ill, and now it seems even the homeless who would rather accept an injection of medically administered poison than live on the street. In a word, we have become MAiD itself: the grinning skull memento mori of a community that has abandoned life.

As he continued, it became clear the Cardinal meant even more than the gruesome euphemism “medical assistance in dying” portends. We as Catholics, as Christians, as people of religious faith, he said, have become “strangers in a strange land” for daring to “affirm the inherent dignity of the human person from the first moment of conception to natural death.” We have become, by virtue of our commitment to life, socio-cultural orphans, oddballs, outcasts as “the deadly cloud of euthanasia spreads across our own country, and limitation after limitation drops away.” 

It is not “active persecution” such as afflicts people of faith elsewhere. Yet it demands the courage to live “the life of discipleship… against a background of materialist ideologies antagonistic to the principles that are fundamental for people of faith.” The peril is no less real for being an ideological attack on our theology rather than physical cruelty, he warned. The evil of “what we have become” as a society portends ever greater darkness for what could befall us as people of faith.

“Under pressure to conform to the materialist world view by which we are all unconsciously influenced, we often are tempted to create a false Jesus who fits smoothly into that world, and who validates accommodation with secular humanism,” he said.

His was the voice of Catholic faith and reason speaking clearly, incisively, directly to those before him, and those beyond the walls. It was the voice, too, of one speaking with authority: the authority of a true pastor, the authority of the Church, the authority of the Gospels. The authoritative voice, in other words, of hope.

Hope he gave. Practical counsel for what can be done to keep the darkness at bay, to keep our faith from capitulating to very understandable fear. For starters, the Cardinal said, we must “engage effectively the secular and materialist world in which God has placed us” by keeping always in mind that “He has commissioned us to witness with clarity and charity to His truly compassionate love.” 

Wouldn’t you know? He who has commissioned us has also given us the exact tools needed to undertake the task at hand. At a minimum, we need only read a chapter a day of Matthew, Mark, Luke or John so “we can encounter Jesus, the real Jesus, who shakes us out of our complacency, strips away our illusions and calls each of us to personal conversion, and to the counter cultural heroism of holiness.” In that encounter with “the real Jesus” we are opened to reason, to wisdom, to the spirit of prayer for the gift of faith.

So that when we come face to face with the question “what have we become?” we can lean in and answer steadfastly: “Catholics, Christians, and you will know us by our love for life.”

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