Toronto Archbishop Thomas Collins spoke at the 32nd Annual Archbishop’s Dinner, Oct. 27

Archbishop Collins looks forward to three 'great' Church events

  • October 27, 2011

The following is an address delivered by Toronto Archbishop Thomas Collins at the 32nd Annual Archbishop’s Dinner, Oct. 27, at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre, Toronto.

This evening, as we come together for this great annual dinner in support of so many worthy causes, our joy is tempered by our sadness at the recent death of His Eminence, Aloysius Cardinal Ambrozic, who so faithfully served our family of faith as its spiritual leader from 1990 until 2007, and who now has completed his earthly journey. We continue to benefit from the blessings that flowed from his wise leadership, and I in particular will always be grateful for his warm welcome when I came from Edmonton to succeed him here as Archbishop. May his soul, and the souls of all of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.

Once, when I was facing a difficult pastoral issue, a few years after I was ordained a bishop, I remarked jokingly to a senior bishop: “They didn’t teach this in bishop school.” He replied: “For a bishop, each day is bishop school.” That certainly is true, as the best school is experience, if we wisely reflected upon it in the light of the stars we steer by, faith and reason. When I was ordained a bishop, 14 years ago, personal study and prayer, and consultation with others, especially other bishops, formed the foundation for growth in the episcopal ministry. But for the last 10 years there actually has been a “bishop school”: a conference in Rome to which newly ordained bishops are invited each September by the Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, currently the former Archbishop of Quebec and Primate of Canada, Cardinal Marc Ouellet.

Last month I finally got to attend Bishops’ School. Cardinal Ouellet asked me to lead some informal discussion sessions with the 25 new bishops who were English speaking, from the United States, England, Holland, Gibraltar, Australia, and the Philippines. These discussion groups are meant to supplement the talks by various people from the different departments of the Vatican, which make up most of the program. I was delighted to engage in conversation with the new bishops, and to try to share with them some of the practical lessons I have learned over the years. As always in such situations, you learn more than you teach.

The high point of the week was the visit of all the 115 new bishops to the Pope, who was staying at his residence at Castel Gandolfo, outside of Rome. The Holy Father spoke to all of us of the responsibilities of a bishop. Cardinal Ouellet presented to him a copy of a new book in which were gathered the first ten years of  talks by Pope John Paul and Pope Benedict to the new bishops. It is a treasure of pastoral wisdom.

We look forward to three great events next year in the life of the Catholic Church.

In June the 50th International Eucharistic Congress will be held in Dublin. Many who are here this evening participated in the Eucharistic Congress in Quebec in 2008. Eucharistic Congresses are gatherings of people from around the world who come together at the invitation of the Pope to deepen their appreciation of the Holy Eucharist. They have been going on for many years, and one even is mentioned in the first of the Father Brown detective stories by G.K. Chesterton, written at the beginning of the 20th century. They are not as spectacular or as dramatic as World Youth Days, such as the wonderful one recently held in Madrid, in which hundreds of thousands of young people came together with the Pope to celebrate their faith. What a sign of hope that is for the life of the Church. A Eucharistic Congress is smaller and more subdued, focused on sessions in which teachings on the faith are combined with the testimony of those who have witnessed to their faith. In addition, there are smaller workshops on particular themes, as well as other ways of deepening our appreciation for the great gift of the Eucharist.

We should pray for the success of the Dublin Eucharistic Congress: may it be a rich blessing for the people of Ireland, and for those who come to Ireland from around the world. Just this week I met with Father Doran, the Director of the Dublin Eucharistic Congress, who briefed me on what will be happening. I will be going to Dublin next year, along with others from the Archdiocese. I certainly encourage you to consider joining us. You can find information about the Eucharistic Congress on our Toronto Archdiocesan website, or from Father Pat O’Dea, who is our liaison person.

The second great event next year will be the Synod on the New Evangelization, in which Pope Benedict has called together bishops, and many others, to reflect on the path ahead for the Church in this increasingly secularized world. I have been a delegate to two Synods, the one on the Eucharist, in 2005, and the one on the Middle East, in 2010. At our dinner last year I spoke of how participation in that synod helped me to become more aware of the sufferings faced by Christians in that part of the world. Our archdiocesan refugee efforts are one way in which we seek to assist those who are suffering, and I am grateful for those who are seeking to help those who must flee from their homeland.

The theme of next year’s Synod deals with issues that in some ways are closer to home, for we in this part of the world are very familiar with the challenges of secularization.

The Popes from time to time assign a theme to a year, as recently in the Year of the Priest, or before that the Year of St Paul. This is a useful device that allows all of the members of the Church to focus together on one aspect of their faith, so that they can come to appreciate it more fully, and translate it into action more effectively. “One thing at a time” is wise advice. Pope Benedict, in conjunction with the Synod on the New Evangelization, has proclaimed a Year of Faith, to run from October 11th, 2012, the fiftieth anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council, until November 24th, 2013, the Feast of Christ the King.

Since we have a year to prepare for the Year of Faith, we will have the opportunity to plan ways in which we can make it more fruitful. In facing the challenges of a secular society, Catholics, and our brothers and sisters of other faiths have many opportunities for working together, and the Year of Faith can be an occasion for that. Though we may disagree on particular and important matters of faith, we all agree on the importance of a vision of the providence of God as the only proper context for confronting our daily struggles in this world. This is true in the ecumenical relationships among Christians, who seek to fulfil the will of Jesus that all his disciples be one, but it is also true in a different way in the co-operation between Christians and those of other religious traditions.

I especially note with great appreciation the presence this evening of many good friends and neighbours from other faith traditions. In our community we have an excellent history of co-operative efforts to respect one another’s beliefs, to pray together, and to work together to contribute to the good of our whole society. This is an important point, often forgotten or neglected in the public forum of the media or politics: when someone is vulnerable, or suffering, it is people of faith who are usually the first to respond.

We can think of the great medical and social service institutions founded by people of faith, and still energized by faith. But in so many other, more hidden ways, the motivating and guiding force of faith has enriched our whole society, through individual examples of generous service, and through the activities of our faith communities, to make justice and charity real on our streets. For hundreds of years people of faith have quietly brought healing and life through a hidden web of love. This is sometimes not understood. In the secularized city, it is faith that very often brings love, and in doing so brings hope to the vulnerable. We are all called to witness to that through lives of service. The many small service organizations that benefit from the proceeds of this dinner do that every day, invisible amid the distracting bustle of the secular world.

While Catholics prepare for the Year of Faith by seeking to find ways to deepen their Catholic faith, this is also an occasion for all people of faith in our community to find ways to work together more effectively, so that their actions may be more fruitful, and so that their voices may be heard.

One important way within the Catholic community in which we can help deepen our faith is by strengthening the formation of our priests. We are blessed with many seminaries for religious orders, and also for diocesan priests. Four of them work together in the formation of priests for the Archdiocese of Toronto: Serra House and St. Philip’s Seminary, and Redemptoris Mater Seminary and St. Augustine’s Seminary.

After several years of preparation, this year we have begun a special program known as the “Spiritual Year” at St. Augustine’s. The intention of the program is to provide those preparing for the priesthood, before they become immersed in the study of Theology, with a whole year in which they can put aside for a while the intense academic routine, which can become a distraction that allows a person to dodge the deeper personal questions, so that one can deepen their life of prayer, and their commitment to Jesus. It is a kind of extended retreat over 10 months, and recalls the 40 days that Jesus spent in the desert before beginning his public ministry, and the period that St. Paul spent in prayer before beginning his.

It is a time to drill down to the bedrock. Freed from the academic hurdles that can sometimes distract, the seminarians in the spiritual year systematically read the whole Bible from cover to cover, and also several spiritual masterpieces of our tradition of faith, and the documents of the Second Vatican Council. They ponder them privately, and discuss them together. They live in a special part of the seminary whose heart is a small chapel that I recently blessed.

An interesting point, and one that always draws comment: they engage in a media fast — for almost all of the week they put aside email, radio, blackberries, iphones, ipads, television, twitter, facebook, newspapers and so on. One wise young seminarian from another seminary that has instituted a spiritual year remarked to me, when I asked him about his experience: after the spiritual year, I now use my computer; before the spiritual year it used me.

The participants in the year become more familiar with the musical, literary, and other cultural aspects of their faith, and participate in several retreats, including a year-long form of the Jesuit 30 day retreat. A very important point: for about a month they will be sent out, two by two, with very few resources, to personally serve the poorest of the poor.

Our whole archdiocese is in the early stages of a systematic reflection upon how we can better strengthen our parish communities and our institutions, so as to serve better those who are already engaged in the practice of their faith, while at the same time reaching out to those who are not. This, of course, is a key element of the New Evangelization. We are concentrating on the careful development of a flexible but focused pastoral plan that will help us all to act more wisely, and which will also reveal more clearly the material challenges that need to be addressed if we are to be true to our mission as a community of faith.

We always look to the example of those who walk by faith, for faith is communicated not by words so much as by example. As Pope Paul VI once noted, people will listen to witnesses more than to teachers, and will only listen to teachers who are also witnesses. Last year, we celebrated the canonization of a great and humble man of faith, St. André of Montreal. This year, we call to mind another great hero, beatified last May, Blessed John Paul II. He had many natural gifts of intellect and personality, which were particular to him, and which he shared generously with those whom he served. But as with Brother André, so with Pope John Paul, natural gifts are not what really matters. The porter and the pope were both examples of faith in action, faith deeply rooted in prayer.

Pope John Paul serenely witnessed to his faith through much suffering, and throughout his life, and especially in his youth, he personally experienced what happens when people inflict war and desolation on their brothers and sisters, who in the absence of the vision of faith become mere objects to be exploited. In the midst of that experience of evil he was led ever more deeply into contemplation of the love of God, and was thus prepared for his ministry as bishop and Pope.

His teachings, and especially his Theology of the Body, are a permanent gift of immense benefit to us all. I earnestly invite everyone to study prayerfully the teachings of Pope John Paul, especially the Theology of the Body. We need very much in these days to deepen our awareness of the dignity of the human person, and Pope John Paul helps us to do that.

When a person is so prayerfully immersed in the life of faith, nurtured by prayer, he or she is able to confront the harsh challenges of our modern world serenely and effectively, as did Pope John Paul. He bracketed his papal ministry with two quotes from Jesus that reveal the hopeful energy that comes from real faith: “Be not afraid”, and “Put out into the deep”.

All who live by faith are called to recognize accurately the evil that so often infects our world, and brings violence, and suffering, and the coldness of rejection, but to do so with the hope that comes from a vision of faith, the vision of God’s providence, which energizes us to serve with love in the midst of the trials of life. My favourite hymn, O God Beyond all Praising, expresses well the spirit of joyful, persistent, and fruitful faith that marked the lives of St André and Blessed Pope John Paul, and that should mark our lives as well:

“And whether our tomorrows be filled with good or ill,
We’ll triumph through our sorrows, and rise to bless you still:
To marvel at your beauty and glory in your ways,
and make a joyful duty our sacrifice of praise.”

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