Papal Nuncio to Canada, Archbishop Luigi Bonazzi, speaks with Cardinal Thomas Collins at the annual Cardinal's dinner. Photo by Evan Boudreau.

Cardinal delivers message of joy to packed audience

By 
  • November 7, 2014

TORONTO - Christians must pay attention to the reality of evil but do so with hope-filled joy, Cardinal Thomas Collins told a packed hall at the annual Cardinal's dinner.

Speaking on Nov. 6 to some 1,600 religious, business and political leaders, including Minister of Employment Jason Kenney, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne, Toronto Mayor-elect John Tory and the Papal Nuncio to Canada, Archbishop Luigi Bonazzi, Collins said it would be naive to ignore the evil that abounds today. The modern world is not always a "jolly place," he said. But we must respond with an ability to "see all events, no matter how evil, in the hope-filled context of divine providence."

"A grim, fanatical faith is one that accurately sees the evils around us, but lacks trust in the provident hand of God, and is too consumed with a vain concentration on our limited human ability to make good happen," Collins said.

"There is great truth in the words of a holy spiritual director at the seminary where I prepared for the priesthood: 'The faith that is sad, or mad, and not glad, is bad.' ” 

Collins reminded the audience of  St. Thomas More, who was "famous for cracking jokes on his way to the scaffold," and More's friend, Bishop John Fisher, who, "when awakened at 5 a.m. on the morning of his beheading, and told that the king’s command would be carried out at 9 a.m., smiled, rolled over, and went back to sleep for a couple more hours."

"Such a serene spirit comes from a joyful trust in providence, and ultimately is irresistible," Collins said.

Joy reminds us to be grounded in what is truly real, "since no joy can be found in a world of smoke and mirrors," Collins said.

The cardinal told the audience that Mother Teresa understood joy. She insisted that her novices retain a joyful sprit, not to foster unwarranted optimism, but because their work in the slums was so difficult that, without a joyful attitude, the young women would be crushed by the burden.

"As true joy gives fruitful energy to the individual, a joyful spirit is also the foundation for advancing the common good," Collins said. 

"People of faith who are grimly fierce can be dismissed, but not those who reveal the breadth of their vision and the depth of the foundations of their life through a serene and joyful spirit. Tragedy is pagan; comedy is divine."

Collins also spoke briefly about the recent Synod of Bishops on the family. He praised the "wise guidance found in the teachings of Vatican II, and in the letters of popes such as Blessed Paul VI and St. John Paul II," as well as the work of many lay movements that support family life. And he urged people to pray for the initiative of Pope Francis which will be continued next year in a full Synod dedicated to family matters. 

"Almost 50 years ago, the prophet pope, Paul VI, who recently was declared Blessed by Pope Francis, foretold the troubles that have afflicted family life in recent decades," Collins said. "May these days be ones in which the loving bonds of the family may be strengthened, for the benefit of all, and especially of children, who are so vulnerable and need a loving home."

Now in its 35th year, the annual Cardinal's Dinner was founded by the late archbishop of Toronto, Cardinal Gerald Emmett Carter, who sought to bring together Toronto's religious, political and business communities for an evening of fellowship. Over time the dinner added a fundraising component and has raised close to $6 million for local charities. 

 

Below is the text of the speech delivered Nov. 6 in Toronto by Cardinal Thomas Collins at the Annual Cardinal’s Dinner

Good evening. I am so pleased to be with you this evening and grateful for the presence of each one of you as we come together for this year’s Cardinal’s Dinner. This tradition began 35 years ago with the intention of bringing together the corporate community, political leaders and the faithful from our parishes to share fellowship and to raise important funds for charity. 

I begin with an expression of gratitude to the Honourable Michael Wilson, this year’s dinner chair, along with Dan Sullivan, Vice Chairman.  I am deeply grateful for your tireless efforts to support and lead this event that has, this year, brought together more than 1,600 guests. A truly amazing accomplishment! 

A special word of gratitude to dinner founder Joe Barnicke, who worked so closely over the years with Cardinal Carter and others to ensure the success of this annual event that has generated close to $6 million for charitable activities. For the first time Joe is not able to be present at the Cardinal’s dinner; let us all pray for the good health of this great man who has served so faithfully and generously over the years.

I also would like to remember in prayer former dinner chairman, philanthropist and most faithful Catholic, Patrick Keenan, who died earlier this year. May he rest in peace.

I recognize our distinguished head table guests who represent political, corporate and community leadership in our city, province and country. Your contributions are numerous and make a profound impact on us all. You have our continued prayers.

I extend a special welcome to those religious leaders here this evening who represent our friends and neighbours of other faith communities. Often unheralded, people of faith work together daily to serve others, especially the most vulnerable.

In a special way, we welcome the Apostolic Nuncio, Archbishop Luigi Bonazzi, the personal representative of Pope Francis in Canada. You are most welcome. 

To the many businesses that support the Cardinal’s Dinner year after year, I thank you for your presence. Faith and the boardroom might not seem to interact, yet we know that many of our corporate leaders and those whom they employ are inspired by their faith, and motivated by their personal beliefs to make valuable contributions to society in their work. 

Finally, I welcome the many parishioners, religious men and women, and clergy from across the Archdiocese of Toronto who are here this evening. Be assured of my gratitude for all that you do.

As we come to the end of this special evening, I offer a few thoughts on some of the issues that both confront and invigorate us in these days:

Our Pastoral Plan, of which I spoke at length last year, is challenging our parishes and diocesan ministries to renew the vigour and engagement of all of us Catholics throughout the Archdiocese of Toronto. 

Most of the Pastoral Plan is free, as it simply means focusing more effectively our efforts as a faith community. But some elements require funding, and so we are also in the midst of an ambitious fundraising campaign, our Family of Faith initiative, with the goal of raising over $105 million to expand our ability to engage people of all ages in the joy that comes with being an active Catholic. We’re almost halfway toward the goal at present. I must admit it’s tempting to have a collection with a crowd this size, but we won’t be doing that this evening.

Each year we continue to reach out to those on the margins through our annual ShareLife appeal, raising more than $14 million this past year. In addition, $2.5 million was also raised in one month at almost this time last year to support Philippine Typhoon relief efforts, a truly remarkable achievement. 

In a few days, actually on November 11th, we celebrate the feast of Saint Martin, a Roman military officer who rode out from camp one winter evening and saw a beggar shivering at the side of the road. Martin cut his cloak in half, and wrapped the man in it. Later that night, Martin saw Christ in a dream, wrapped in his cloak. Like Saint Martin, we do what we do in the service of others because in doing that we serve Christ. 

You will also see in your program more than 30 worthy recipients of the proceeds of this dinner. 

The more than 500 publicly funded Catholic schools throughout the Archdiocese of Toronto educate almost 300,000 students. I am grateful to the Premier and to all our provincial elected officials, including our Catholic School Board trustees, for their support of an educational system that has a long-standing tradition of strengthening our province through both academic excellence and student achievement, inspired and nurtured by our faith. A hearty thanks to all who work in Catholic education, and especially to the teachers in the classroom who care for that most precious treasure, the students entrusted to them by our parents. I extend an invitation to our elected officials to visit our Catholic schools, to see first-hand the wonderful work that is taking place each day across our archdiocese and province.

In this archdiocese, we continue to expand and refine our sacred spaces. The Archdiocese of Toronto has opened 14 new churches since 2000, with 3 more on the drawing board, and extensive work continues on many of our heritage properties, including St. Michael’s Cathedral, our first church, both historically and symbolically. Construction of the cathedral began in 1845. To prepare for that work Catholics and Protestants worked side by side for one week, excavating 95,000 cubic feet of earth by hand. That co-operation, at a time when there was significant rivalry among different religions, foreshadowed the harmonious relationships found in our days among people of faith in our community. As one indication of that, I was delighted a few weeks ago to be invited once again by Yorkminster Baptist Church to lead a session of Lectio Divina, the method of praying of the Word of God that I engage in the first Sunday of the month at St. Michael’s Cathedral from September to June.

On a more sombre note, this year we mark the inauspicious centennial of the beginning of World War I, and the thought of that leads to a painful recognition of the ubiquity of folly, and the foolishness of a naïve belief in an inevitable march of human progress. Things do not automatically get better; they can quickly and unexpectedly get worse. In that extraordinary book, The Guns of August, Barbara Tuchman chronicles the slide to war a hundred years ago in the summer of 1914 as the leaders of nations, cheered on by their populace, committed their armies to what everyone believed would be a short conflict, over by Christmas. What fools we mortals be.

A few years later, in the midst of a bitter civil war in his native land, the Irish poet William Butler Yeats wrote words that still instruct is:

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned; 
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.” 

W.B. Yeats “The Second Coming”

The century that followed bore out the prophetic words of the poet, and we ourselves would do well to be attentive. 

Far away we see the murderous regime of ISIS in the Middle East, and the iniquities of Boko Haram in Africa, and are conscious of the grim fact that there are more martyrs in these days than in the earliest centuries. It is no wonder that Pope Francis recently called together the leaders of the Church in the Middle East to reflect on the path ahead.

For us in this archdiocese, the violence far away is not simply a news story – and, indeed, this story of suffering is lost in the media, as the restless eye of journalism flits from one event to the next, trivial or significant. No, the reality of distant violence touches us personally, for many of the victims seek refuge here, and they and their families and friends are our neighbours. Of course, they should not need to seek refuge, since evil triumphs when people are driven from their homes, but if the only alternative for them is death, then we need to help.

Many faith communities in our area are working together harmoniously and effectively to care for the refugees who come to us. Our own archdiocese has been committed to helping those fleeing oppression since the heroic ecumenical effort led by our first bishop, Michael Power, to assist the Irish refugees of the summer of 1847. Over 160 of our parishes, under the leadership of the Office of Refugees of the Archdiocese of Toronto, have welcomed families and individuals fleeing persecution. As in the days of Bishop Power, so also now, caring for the afflicted is a mission of people of faith, whatever their religion, and I regularly meet with leaders of other faith traditions to advance this work. 

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;

Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.

We need not look far away to find suffering, perhaps less dramatic than the violent persecution in distant lands, but also real. I live in the centre of Toronto, and daily encounter the homeless, so much a part of our social environment as to be almost invisible  because sadly so familiar. Pope Francis reminds us to care for those who are on the peripheries of society, and we are trying as best we can to do that, and not only in the downtown but in other places where the need is even greater.

The suffering caused by violence, or by homelessness, is grave and evident. Less obvious, but no less real, is the pain that is felt intensely, behind closed doors. Sometimes it takes the form of spousal abuse, and the abuse of children. But often it is found in the tensions that wear away at family life, and contribute to the breakdown of marriage. 

The Church as a wider community of faith is committed to assisting the “domestic church” which is the family. Wise guidance is already found in the teachings of Vatican II, and in the letters of popes such as Blessed Paul VI and Saint John Paul II. The various ecclesial movements of lay people in the Church offer support to families, as well as assisting individuals in the life of discipleship. Movements such as Engaged Encounter and Marriage Encounter specifically offer help to those preparing for marriage, and to those seeking to live to the full the great sacrament of married love. When tensions grow, and the marriage is at risk, the Retrouvaille movement is there to offer the wisdom and assistance of couples who have themselves faced marital struggles and can help others to overcome them. Next September, the World Meeting of Families will be held in Philadelphia; it will be an occasion to deepen the life of the family, foundation of civil society as well as of the Church. Catholic Family Services of this archdiocese, supported by ShareLife, is committed to strengthening families, and to helping those who struggle.

In this context we need all to pray for the initiative of Pope Francis, in the Synod on the Family, which began with a consultation of the wider Church and later of the College of Cardinals, and was advanced through the recent special Synod in Rome, which prepared the way for the full Synod on the Family next year. Almost 50 years ago, the prophet pope, Paul VI, who recently was declared Blessed by Pope Francis, foretold the troubles that have afflicted family life in recent decades. May these days be ones in which the loving bonds of the family may be strengthened, for the benefit of all, and especially of children, who are so vulnerable and need a loving home.

Both Pope Paul and Pope Francis have clearly highlighted the evils that afflict our world; the words of William Butler Yeats are prophetic in ways the poet could not have imagined: “Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.” When we look at the news, or honestly reflect on the social situation in which we live, there is no room for naïve optimism: “Every day, in every way, things are getting better and better.”  I think not. That way madness lies.

But it is instructive that Pope Paul and Pope Francis, those two most realistic and clear sighted popes, accurately analyzing the abundance of folly and iniquity in this world, are known for their joy. One of the greatest writings of Paul VI, who suffered so much, is “On Christian Joy.” And Pope Francis has written an encyclical “The Joy of the Gospel”.

Joy? In light of the grim realities of this last century, and of our current age, how can that be?

I am not sure that the essentially pagan William Butler Yeats would have appreciated Christian joy; his epitaph “Cast a cold eye on life, on death” contains only part of the truth. He was right; we must not be naïve, and must look with unflinching attention at the reality of evil. But we are called to do so in a spirit of joy that does not rise out of the illusion that this world is a jolly place, but out of the ability to see all events, no matter how evil,  in the hope-filled context of divine providence.

A grim, fanatical faith is one that accurately sees the evils around us, but lacks trust in the provident hand of God, and is too consumed with a vain concentration on our limited human ability to make good happen. Religious people can be tempted to feel that God cannot quite manage without our help; that leads to debilitating testiness and ferocity in religion, that limits the ability to “evangelize”, that is, to bring the “good news” of God’s love to a world so much in need of that. There is great truth in the words of a holy spiritual director at the seminary where I prepared for the priesthood: “The faith that is sad, or mad, and not glad, is bad.”  In light of that, when I was ordained in 1973, at a time when the priesthood itself seemed to be coming apart, and society was in turmoil (its natural state), I chose as the motto for my life as a priest the words of Psalm 100: “Serve the Lord with gladness; come before Him singing for joy.”

This is the way of the saints, whom we should imitate. Saint Thomas More, who was hardly naïve, is famous for cracking jokes on his way to the scaffold. His friend Bishop John Fisher, when awakened at 5am on the morning of his beheading, and told that the king’s command would be carried out at 9am, smiled and rolled over, and went back to sleep for a couple more hours. Such a serene spirit comes from a joyful trust in providence, and ultimately is irresistible.

Joy is instructive, because while it arises from a grasp of the divine context of life, which prevents us from getting too tensely wrapped up in our own agendas, and fearful when they are frustrated, it also has the effect of reminding us to be grounded in what is truly real, since no joy can be found in a world of smoke and mirrors. Augustine said, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.” Before his conversion, he foolishly sought joy in all the wrong places, but only found it when he forgot about himself, repented of his sins, and discovered the only real source of lasting joy: a clear conscience.

Joy is effective, both individually and socially. Mother Teresa is said to have insisted that each of her novices have a joyful spirit – be a joyful individual – not because she wanted unwarranted optimism or a callow attitude of positive thinking, but because the work they were doing was so very difficult that without the resilience that flows from deeply rooted joy they would be crushed by the burdens they would be called to bear. As true joy gives fruitful energy to the individual, a joyful spirit is also the foundation for advancing the common good. That is why songs at church or work unite the community in harmonious and joyful effectiveness.

Joy is also fruitfully subversive, as we see in the case of Thomas More and John Fisher, and in so many who have taken on tyrants. More said to his son-in-law, William Roper, “The Devil, that proud spirit, cannot stand laughter.” People of faith who are grimly fierce can be dismissed, but not those who reveal the breadth of their vision and the depth of the foundations of their life through a serene and joyful spirit. Tragedy is pagan; comedy is divine.  

William Butler Yeats was right, but only partly right, when he wrote that:

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned; 

He accurately saw the reality and the persistence of evil, but evil will be overcome by those who are deep in their faith, and therefore joyfully resolute in their purpose. 

I will end with the words of a contemporary of Yeats, G.K. Chesterton, not so great a poet, but a wiser man, a gentle giant who once wrote that angels can fly because they take themselves lightly. He also said that the world is not lacking in wonders, but only in wonder. It is no surprise that a recent book on him is entitled Defiant Joy: The Remarkable Life and Impact of G. K. Chesterton

At the end of his great book, Orthodoxy, in which he recounts the wild adventure of a life illuminated by faith, Chesterton writes:

“Melancholy should be an innocent interlude, a tender and fugitive frame of mind; praise should be the permanent pulsation of the soul. Pessimism is at best an emotional half-holiday; joy is the uproarious labour by which all things live.” (Orthodoxy 296)

As we respond to the challenges of our present age, and cast a cold eye on them all, and look to the path ahead, I am more convinced now than I was at my ordination 41 years ago that the psalmist shows us the way:

 “Serve the Lord with gladness; come before him singing for joy.” Psalm 100

May each of us here present, whatever our call in life, serve the Lord with gladness, and like Saint Martin show that our service of God is authentic by joyfully caring for those who are shivering at the side of the road.

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