Archbishop Francis Leo delivers an address at the 44th annual Cardinal's Dinner, Nov 14, 2023.

Editorial: A candle to dispel the darkness

  • November 26, 2023

In what would be his farewell address to his Catholic audience at Toronto’s annual Cardinal’s dinner last year, Archbishop Thomas Collins challenged those present with the haunting question: “What have we become?”

In his inaugural address at the same event on Nov. 14 this year, Archbishop Francis Leo illuminated his predecessor’s thought in complementary words that were surely borne from past to present by the Holy Spirit.

Where Cardinal Collins bid goodbye by urging Catholics to recognize with unflinching honesty and unfailing courage the human face of the abyss, Archbishop Leo entered calling on all of us to now dispel the void with the light of committed Christian love. One properly plumbed the depths. The other proceeded to apostolic action.

“One candle that can and must be lit to help dispel the darkness is that of intentional engagement by persons of faith in the public square,” Leo told the 1,400-plus attendees at the dinner.

Coming from the lips of a man who has spent half his 52 years on earth as a priest, teacher, Vatican diplomat, facilitator of Canada’s implacably various and fiercely independent bishops, there was not a single shred of naivete in his words. This was not a moment of rah-rah-sis-boom-bah, let’s all just get involved. As Saint Paul might say: “By no means.”

After specifying the disorienting trials that beset us as faithful citizens in 2023 — from “shattered commitments” to “broken families” to “radical secularism” to “indifference and individualism” to “the rise of anxiety among the young” to “big brother overreach, moral and religious relativism, confusion, uncertainty,” and “abuse of office” just to start the list — the Archbishop melded our eternal destinies with our now and present obligations.

“Though eternal life is our ultimate goal, our faith is incarnational and thus engaged in this world: the impetus of why we must get involved, why we must care about our present world. Faith gives purpose and hope to our lives and our living in society,” he said.

In the context of his entire speech, it’s self-evident Leo was not banging the drum for Catholics to flood the streets waving protest signs or, alternatively, sign up in states of evangelizing fervour to contest various levels of democratic office. Of course, neither did he de-legitimize those actions — or any others on the continuum of peaceful political engagement — as somehow unbecoming for Catholics. He was neither preaching quietism nor advocating the quixotic.

His message was that the tragedies of our times are, top, bottom, and in-between, spiritual tragedies that our faith gives us the ways and means to transfigure. If our faith is a mustard seed, then we must “intentionally engage” its precepts and its holy spirit in the process of diagnosing, binding, healing, restoring, growth and flourishing.

The message is a cardinal call for each of us to heed in our unique spiritually directed ways but from The Register’s perspective it would a misstep to limit Catholic responses to the purely political or even active social service realms. These are necessary goods but they are not, of themselves, sufficiently good enough to overcome Cardinal Collins’ indictment of what we have become as a broader, broken culture. Such a task demands a focused fostering of explicitly Catholic artists — in literature, painting, sculpture, music, video, photography and more — to be infused into our current desiccated cultural disorder.

Their absence from Catholic public life, never mind within the wider culture, was never more abundantly present than at the Cardinal’s dinner itself. Celebrity politicians, including Mayor Chow and Premier Ford, trooped up to the podium as an oblivious, self-parodying, platitude spouting warmup act for Archbishop Leo’s address. For 45 minutes, they were an empty, clanging gong show of exhausted nostrums and weary cliches neither they nor the people of faith assembled before them could be expected to believe.

What candle might have been lit if the time had been given instead to an emerging Catholic poet, an established Catholic writer, sculptor, musician et al to contrast the tragedy of what we have become with the glory of what Grace promises we will be?

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