Speaking to more than 1,700 attendees at the 38th annual Cardinal's Dinner in downtown Toronto Oct. 26, Cardinal Collins urged the largely Catholic audience to evangelize a culture in which life and tolerance for contrary views are increasingly being devalued. Photo by Michael Swan

Use your faith to battle ‘coldness’ of the world, Cardinal Collins urges

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  • October 26, 2017
Christians need to actively engage modern culture with "the profound wisdom of our faith tradition" to combat the emptiness and loneliness in our modern world, said Cardinal Thomas Collins.


Speaking to more than 1,700 attendees at the 38th annual Cardinal's Dinner in downtown Toronto, the cardinal urged the largely Catholic audience to evangelize a culture in which life and tolerance for contrary views are increasingly being devalued.

Collins described "a coldness in our modern world" and spoke about a rising "intolerance of tolerance" that shuns "the free and respectful exchange of differing ideas upon which a healthy society depends."

He said society allows this to happen because "we are all too fragile, like snowflakes, to engage in a courteous encounter with viewpoints that differ from our own."

"Our society is poorer for that, as is our capacity to live together and learn from one another as mature adults," he said.

"So we need to engage the culture, and offer the sometimes challenging insights and the profound wisdom of our faith tradition, in which we see faith and reason as the two wings with which we fly through this life on our way home to the heavenly Father."

Chaired by David Mulroney, President and Vice Chancellor of University of St. Michael's College, the dinner was attended by the Apostolic Nuncio Archbishop Luigi Bonazzi and Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne.

Collins used the occasion to reflect on some of the accomplishments during his 10 years as Toronto archbishop, including the launch of a pastoral plan for the archdiocese, "extraordinary developments" at the University of St. Michael's College and the rejuvenation of St. Michael's Cathedral Basilica. He urged people to become active stewards in their parish communities to work towards the common good, beginning with a commitment to honour life.

"We do not own other people’s lives, and we do not own the life entrusted to each of us," he said. "Because we do not own human life, ours or another’s, we have no right to take another person’s life, and we do not have the right to take our own life.... It is fundamentally wrong to take another person’s life or to take our own life, calmly and freely with full awareness and determination.

"We must not take what does not belong to us. Human life must be respected, from the first moment of conception until natural death, when each of us returns to the home of the Master. In other words, no one has the right to play God. We are only stewards, not the Master."

To that end, he called on parishes to promote stewardship and "to increase even more their already significant efforts to offer loving assistance to those who are sick and suffering, some of whom may perhaps contemplate suicide: drugs can conquer physical pain, but love alone can conquer the pain of loneliness and the false sense of uselessness that can tempt the vulnerable to give up on life."

He also urged people to "advocate for the protection of conscience for those who care for the dying as we face an increasingly dark culture of death."

——————

Here is the full text of Cardinal’s speech:

It is wonderful to be with you once again this evening, as we come together for the 38th annual Cardinal’s Dinner.

As always, I begin by expressing my profound gratitude. To our dinner chair, David Mulroney, President and Vice Chancellor of the University of St. Michael’s College: I am grateful for your commitment to making this a successful evening and for your involvement in the planning of the dinner over the last several months.

It is a pleasure to welcome our distinguished head table guests who represent leadership at the political, corporate and community levels. We continue to pray for all of those who are called on to serve as leaders.

This evening we have with us a number of elected officials from municipal, provincial and federal governments, both at our head table and among our many guests. We must always be mindful of the tremendous sacrifices made by those serving in all levels of government. This vocation is a challenging one – be assured of the prayers of all of us.

I bring warm greetings to the religious leaders here from other faiths that strengthen our community by their engagement and involvement. Welcome.

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

And last but certainly not least, I extend greetings and gratitude to the clergy, religious men and women, and parishioners from across the Archdiocese of Toronto.

In December of this year, we will complete a year-long celebration of the 175th Anniversary of the Archdiocese of Toronto. Looking back at our history allows us to recognize the hand of God guiding those who have gone before us, using their gifts in the service of the Gospel. I thank all of those who have been engaged in making the celebration of this anniversary such a meaningful experience.

On a more personal note, I have been looking back over the ten years that I have been entrusted with the ministry of Archbishop of Toronto.

We all need to take stock from time to time, and anniversaries great and small afford us the occasion to do so. That is what I propose to do this evening.

Shortly after becoming Archbishop I consulted the priests of the archdiocese and many deacons, religious and laity, and asked them to identify the three things to which we should devote attention in the years ahead. Using the insights many people had provided, and after much prayer and reflection, I issued the pastoral plan for the archdiocese, to guide us in applying the Gospel to our local situation.

The four guiding principles of the pastoral plan are: first, develop vibrant parishes; second, foster the vocations of the members of the church, both lay and religious; third, reach out to those in need, in justice and love; and finally, evangelize our culture.

The principle that is most obviously important for a religious community is reaching out to those in need, in justice and love, and indeed all of the various faiths are at the forefront in doing that. If you are suffering in our society, you are most likely going to be helped by someone motivated by religious faith. The many social service agencies and hospitals founded by believers are an obvious sign of that. We celebrate this gracious reality that enhances the life of our whole community, and enriches the lives of so many.

Believers serve so generously because of their faith, with no reference at all to the faith or lack of faith of those whom they serve. The great Catholic hospitals, founded by the religious sisters, are evidence of that, and this year we have seen the coming together of St Michael’s Hospital, St Joseph’s Hospital, and Providence Healthcare – all founded by the Sisters of St Joseph – so that they may more effectively offer the loving witness of Christ the healer to anyone in need of health care in our community.

Among the many services which they offer, each of the three health centres offers superb palliative care. In our secular age, in which the cold shadow of euthanasia is spreading through the land, palliative care is the true way to offer not only medical assistance but above all love to those nearing the end of their earthly journey.

Those who are homeless are particularly vulnerable, and St Elizabeth’s Healthcare has launched a program of palliative care for the homeless which deserves our appreciation and support.

I call upon all of our parishes to increase even more their already significant efforts to offer loving assistance to those who are sick and suffering, some of whom may perhaps contemplate suicide: drugs can conquer physical pain, but love alone can conquer the pain of loneliness and the false sense of uselessness that can tempt the vulnerable to give up on life.

We must also remember to advocate for the protection of conscience for those who care for the dying as we face an increasingly dark culture of death.

Each year ShareLife, which achieved a record fundraising result this year, assists numerous agencies who offer practical assistance and, in a smaller way, so does the Cardinal’s Dinner. We have also seen the immense generosity of the faithful in supporting our Family of Faith campaign. We are grateful for this outpouring of charitable support.

Our Refugee Office is well known for its excellent service to those who are fleeing the violence that has engulfed their homelands. We are eager to co-operate with all levels of government in serving refugees. We have much underused capacity, and can serve many more than are made available to us.

The second guiding principle of our mission is the formation of people to fulfil their vocation in life, whatever it may be. Certainly the word “vocation” most often is taken to mean the call to the priesthood and religious life. We have 52 seminarians, and our two seminaries, St Augustine’s and Redemptoris Mater, offer excellent programs of preparation for the priesthood.

Education is the key to the intellectual, spiritual, and human formation of everyone. As always, we celebrate the excellence of publicly funded Catholic education which, working in fruitful collaboration with the other forms of publicly funded education in our province, has made Ontario’s education system a model for the world. The system works, and works well. We appreciate the solid commitment of the government of Ontario, and of the opposition parties as well, to publicly funded Catholic education.

Private Catholic education, and home schooling, provide other valuable models of education to prepare the young for their service to society.

I would like to highlight this evening in a particular way the contribution of the University of St Michael’s College. When in 1853 Bishop Charbonnel established St Michael’s College in his residence, and entrusted it to the Basilian Fathers under Father Soulerin, he began a remarkable tradition of Catholic higher education. The great contribution of the Basilians over the years must be acknowledged with gratitude, and also that of the Loretto Sisters, and the Sisters of St Joseph.

In the last two years extraordinary developments have been occurring at St Michael’s. Under the academic leadership of Principal Randy Boyagoda, St Michael’s has made a tremendous investment in its students with the hiring of six new assistant professors who have begun to make their contribution to the intellectual life of our community. The new first year Gilson Seminar in Faith and Ideas explores the intersection of faith with today’s most important questions on topics such as ecology, science, literature and politics. The program features lectures, small group discussions, community events, guest speakers, and a two week international learning experience in Rome.

Most people do not realize that the Catholic Church is a community of many distinct Churches. The largest of the eastern Catholic Churches is the Ukrainian Catholic Church. A great spiritual and intellectual treasure of that Church is the Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky Institute of Eastern Christian Studies. The Sheptytsky Institute has now moved to the University of St Michael’s College. This is a glorious enrichment of the theological, cultural, intellectual and spiritual life of our whole community.

Many, many people have contributed to these marvellous developments at St Michael’s, and I thank them all. But the one person to whom most credit is due for these and numerous other most fruitful initiatives is President David Mulroney, whose inspiring leadership has made all of this possible. We all owe him a debt of profound gratitude.

The fourth guiding principle of our mission is the evangelization of our culture. There is much to celebrate in the technological accomplishments of our secular culture, and also in the spirit of generosity and caring which we find evident all around us.

But there is an emptiness, a loneliness, and a coldness in our modern world, and sometimes what can only be described as the intolerance of tolerance, in which the free and respectful exchange of differing ideas, upon which a healthy society depends, is abruptly terminated with the excuse that we are all too fragile, like snowflakes, to engage in a courteous encounter with viewpoints that differ from our own. Our society is poorer for that, as is our capacity to live together and learn from one another as mature adults.

So we need to engage the culture, and offer the sometimes challenging insights and the profound wisdom of our faith tradition, in which we see faith and reason as the two wings with which we fly through this life on our way home to the heavenly Father.

Beauty, truth, and goodness: these are the transcendental signs of God’s presence. They attract and elevate those who encounter them, and in a natural way lead to the deeper vision of faith. The one that is most accessible to those without faith is beauty. That is why music and art are so central to our Catholic faith. That is why we have spent so much time, talent, energy and money on the mother Church of our community, St Michael’s Cathedral Basilica, which has just won the 2017 Toronto Heritage Award for the excellence of its renovation. It is a treasure for our city, our province, and our country; but it is also a beacon of faith, hope, and love: beauty can be the gateway to all three.

And that is why we are committed as well to the renovation and development of St Michael’s Choir School, which has an international reputation for musical excellence, evident in its European tour this year, and in the recent reciprocal visit to Toronto of the Sistine Chapel Choir, the Choir of Pope Francis.

Reaching out in justice and love, preparing people for their various vocations in life, and evangelizing the culture: these are three foundational principles that underlie our life as the Archdiocese of Toronto.

But the first of our guiding principles is the fostering of vibrant parish families. The parish is the family of families where we live our faith.

In our parish life, and in our personal and family life, and also in the public and working life of all people, a central biblical theme that should guide us is that of stewardship. I believe that ever deeper reflection upon that will be most fruitful in fostering vibrant parishes, and in filling our lives with joyful apostolic energy that can help all of us to be more effective in our individual vocations in life.

A steward is a servant, and we are all servants of God, called to serve others. For all his many titles, the most important title by far of the Pope is “Servant of the servants of God.” Only one person is called to be Pope, but we can all be servants of the servants of God, and to the degree that we do that, our lives will be filled with purpose and profound joy.

A steward is a servant who is entrusted with the possessions of the master. We see the idea of stewardship throughout the Bible.

Adam and Eve are richly blessed: they are entrusted with the Garden of Eden. They do not own it; it is simply entrusted to them, though they are very free to develop it and enjoy the experience of tending the garden. But they are stewards, and not masters, and so there are limits to their power: there is a tree in the center of the garden which they must not touch. We are all richly blessed, but also limited in our powers, and the sooner we all recognize that the better. Adam and Eve get in trouble when they forget that they are only stewards, and want to control it all. For them, and for us, that is the sure path to disaster.

Pope Francis, and Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople, have both emphasized that we are only the stewards of this beautiful world which has been entrusted to us. We must care for it, and not abuse it, or suck out its riches for personal gain, or turn the garden into a dump.

In the Gospels, the most famous of the many stewardship parables is that of the talents. The master entrusts his servants with sums of money, which is what the word “talent” originally meant. Then he goes away. He leaves the stewards free to use the talents as they wish; freedom is always at the heart of stewardship. The master does not micromanage.

Some of the servants make fruitful use of what was entrusted to them, but one of the servants timidly hides it in the ground. His stewardship is sterile. So is ours, if we do not creatively use the gifts that God has given us.

All of us are richly blessed with talents, though sadly we may not recognize the talents we have, or we may be jealous of the talents enjoyed by others. The joy in life comes from using our gifts creatively and fruitfully, for the glory of God and in the service of our neighbours, and from celebrating the differing gifts of those around us.

Stewardship is a rich theme, rooted in divine revelation, and in life. It can even be helpful in the lives of those without faith, but really the power of stewardship comes in our recognition that we have been entrusted by God with many gifts, as individuals above all, but also as communities. The joy in life comes from using them well; that itself is reason enough to be a good steward of the gifts we have received. If that is not enough motivation, however, we must recognize that the master will return, at a day and at an hour that we do not know, and hold us accountable for our stewardship.

Often the focus is placed on the stewardship of money. Fair enough. This world has expenses and money must be used responsibly. But that is the most superficial level of stewardship: necessary, but far from sufficient.

More important is our stewardship of talent: fruitfully using our own talents, and encouraging others to do the same with theirs, for the common good. What vibrant parishes we have, joyful to live in and attractive to others, when we all encourage and focus effectively the diverse talents of the members of the parish.

But the most important stewardship, by far, is the fruitful use of the time that is entrusted to each of us in our brief journey through life. When we give time, we give ourselves: our lives are woven out of time, and so how we make use of the limited supply of time entrusted to us defines our experience of life.

A reflection upon our limited supply of time reminds us that we are not masters, but only stewards, of our own lives. We do not own other people’s lives, and we do not own the life entrusted to each of us. Because we do not own human life, ours or another’s, we have no right to take another person’s life, and we do not have the right to take our own life. Sometimes people do that, in a moment of passion or despair, and moral culpability may well be limited in those cases. But it is fundamentally wrong to take another person’s life or to take our own life, calmly and freely with full awareness and determination. We must not take what does not belong to us. Human life must be respected, from the first moment of conception until natural death, when each of us returns to the home of the Master. In other words, no one has the right to play God. We are only stewards, not the Master.

Our archdiocese has been developing according to a pastoral vision rooted in the Gospel, and designed to allow us to live our faith effectively in a way most appropriate to the situation in which God has placed us, by evangelizing the culture, by reaching out to those in need, by growing in our particular vocations, and by fostering vibrant parishes.

But now I call on all of us to go deeper in our living out of each of the principles of our pastoral plan, by reflecting upon the theme of stewardship. Stewardship is not some new thing, some new program, something we should do in addition to what we are already doing. Stewardship is a profound disposition of the heart and mind which transforms everything we do: it is an awareness that each of us has been entrusted with many gifts, and that all will benefit if we fruitfully develop them.

May God bless each of us as, each in our own path of life, we seek to be faithful stewards of the manifold gifts which have been entrusted to us, for the glory of God, and for the service of our neighbour.

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