Fr. Raymond J. de Souza

Fr. Raymond J. de Souza

Fr. Raymond J. de Souza is the pastor of Sacred Heart of Mary parish on Wolfe Island, and chaplain at Newman House at Kingston, Ont.’s Queen’s University.
The Oct. 17 canonization of Brother André of Montreal is a moment of pride for Canada’s Catholics, but something of a challenge too. How best to take advantage of the grace of this occasion?

Often a new saint is rather obscure, little known outside of a local place or religious order. That’s not the case with Brother André, who is well known across the land. At the same time, though, one does not see in parishes a visible devotion to Brother André, as one does with Padre Pio or Mother Teresa. Our new saint is also one who is difficult to imitate. The work that he did, serving as a doorkeeper, is not very much done today, and his miracle-working sets him apart from the life of the ordinary Christian disciple.


Yet the advice that Brother André gave to the thousands upon thousands who came to see him remains valid — Go to Joseph! Devotion to St. Joseph was the heart of Brother André’s specific charism. The great Oratory of St. Joseph on Mount Royal gives extraordinary witness to that.

Herewith then a proposal to apply the new saint’s advice to the life of the Church in Canada today: Make the Feast of St. Joseph a holy day of obligation. St. Joseph is the patron saint of Canada, and of the universal Church, so it would be fitting to declare his feast as a holy day throughout the country.

A faithful Catholic is obliged by canon law to attend Holy Mass every Sunday, as well as on special feasts — the holy days of obligation. There are 10 such days for the universal Church. Four are feasts of the Lord Jesus: Christmas, Epiphany, Ascension and Corpus Christi. Three are feasts of Our Lady: Immaculate Conception (Dec. 8), Mother of God (Jan. 1), and the Assumption (Aug. 15). Three relate to the other saints: Joseph (March 19), Peter and Paul (June 29) and All Saints (Nov. 1).

Each country’s bishops are permitted to make adjustments and reductions. For example, in Ireland the feast of St. Patrick is a holy day. In Canada, the bishops decided years ago to reduce to the absolute minimum the number of holy days. The Church insists on Christmas, but permits the other three feasts of the Lord to be transferred to Sunday, so Epiphany, Ascension and Corpus Christi are observed on Sunday in Canada. One feast of Our Lady must be kept, so in Canada we opted to keep only one, the feast of Mary, Mother of God. The three feasts of the saints can be abolished as holy days, and so we have.

The result is that Canada has the fewest number of holy days possible —  Dec. 25 and Jan. 1. Along with the Australians, we are the bottom-dwellers of the Catholic world when it comes to holy days. But even the Australians are slightly better off, in that their Marian day is the Assumption, Aug. 15. Ours is Jan. 1, poorly attended by even faithful Catholics, and confused in the minds of many with New Year’s Day, a civic observance.

It’s rather embarrassing to explain to Catholics in other countries that we Canadians opt for the fewest possible holy days, which ought to be days to celebrate the richness of Catholic liturgical and devotional life.

So why not add St. Joseph’s feast to our list of holy days? The national patron’s feast is kept as a holy day by the Irish (St. Patrick) and the Americans (Immaculate Conception). The canonization of Brother André highlights that praying to St. Joseph is rooted in the history and popular piety of our people. As the largest and most imposing shrine in Canada, the Oratory of St. Joseph could easily become the focal point for the principal Mass in the country, drawing pilgrims and prelates from one coast to the other. And it would make concrete the advice of Brother André, Canada’s best known saint.

The establishment of a third holy day would also be an important liturgical signal, namely that doing the bare minimum is not the operating principle of Catholic life in Canada. Most vibrant parishes already have what one might call unofficial holy days — feasts that are kept with greater solemnity, often accompanied by processions and parish socials. There is already a desire to keep such feasts, and to have a national feast kept across the country would build upon that desire, and build up the unity of the Church across Canada.

St. André of Montreal, pray for us — and lead us to Joseph!
It’s called the dies natalis — the day of birth. For saints it refers to their birthday in heaven or, in the eyes of the world, the day of their death upon Earth.

When assigning feast days to saints, the Church usually chooses the dies natalis; for example, the feast day of soon-to-be canonized Brother André is Jan. 6, the day of his death in 1937, even though that day is also the great solemn feast of the Epiphany of the Lord.
It used to be the only news. Apparently it is now old news. But there was something new when Pope Benedict XVI visited Britain.

The issue is sexual abuse by priests. In the run up to the papal visit to the United States in April 2008, it dominated the commentary. What would the Pope do? What would the Pope say? The Holy Father addressed the issue forthrightly on the plane en route, spoke about it a half dozen times in his formal addresses, and then met with a group of victims in a private, prayerful and emotional meeting. He did the same thing in Australia later that summer. His approach was well received by most.
LONDON, ENGLAND - As per usual, it went better than expected. For veterans of papal travel, the routine is now well known. In advance of one of Pope Benedict’s trips, there is much wringing of hands about how badly things will go, how difficult things will be, how hostile a particular country is. Then the Pope arrives with his shy gestures and kindly manners, no one is frightened and everything is pronounced a success.
A country pastor from Wolfe Island doesn’t get to offer the Holy Mass in the private chapel of the archbishop of New York without good reason. On Sept. 8, I had the best reason of all — to give thanks to God for a great priest, valued mentor and dear friend, who became Catholic on that very spot.

Richard John Neuhaus, who died in January 2009, was received into full communion with the Catholic Church on the Feast of the Nativity of Mary (Sept. 8, 1990) 20 years ago by the then-archbishop of New York, Cardinal John O’Connor. Richard would be ordained a priest by Cardinal O’Connor a year later.

Death comes for the archbishop, as the novel puts it. Death came for three of them this summer in Canada. Three retired metropolitan archbishops died in the space of a few weeks — my own archbishop emeritus in Kingston, Francis Spence, in late July, followed a few weeks later by Austin-Emile Burke of Halifax, and then just last week Cardinal Aloysius Ambrozic of Toronto.

They were all in their 80s, and had served long years as bishops —Archbishop Spence for 44 years, Archbishop Burke for 43 and Cardinal Ambrozic for 35. Their episcopal service began at a difficult time, in the years after the Vatican Council, inaugurated with so much hope, but quickly inundated by the tsunami of secularism that submerged the culture and washed over the Church. Their years were not full of great triumphs for the Gospel, for there were few of those to be had. Instead, their task was, as I wrote about Archbishop Spence upon his death, the “long fidelity.” They lived long enough to see that the Lord would begin to restore the years that the locust hath eaten.

Archbishops Spence and Burke were ordained just in time for the worldwide rejection of Pope Paul VI’s teaching on marital love in Humanae Vitae. They would have been surprised then to know they would one day see enthusiasm in parishes and in campus chaplaincies for the Theology of the Body. They were new bishops when the Canadian bishops published their Winnipeg Statement of 1968, deciding to take a pass on the unpopular teaching of Humanae Vitae on chastity and contraception. As retired bishops, they saw their brothers publish Liberating Potential, a pastoral letter for the 40th anniversary of Humanae Vitae, which defended and celebrated Paul VI’s wisdom in teaching the ancient faith.

KRAKOW, Poland - The local Church here takes great pride in her saints and in the 20th century no city produced more important ones. Fr. Maximilian Kolbe studied here and died at Auschwitz, part of the archdiocese of Krakow. Sr. Faustina Kowalska’s convent was here, and the Divine Mercy devotion began here. The summer of 2011 has added Blessed John Paul II to the honour roll, and every single parish, shrine and souvenir stand is bedecked with images celebrating Krakow’s most noble son.

At the great Divine Mercy shrine here — the enormous basilica consecrated by Blessed John Paul himself in 2002 — the current archbishop of Krakow and John Paul’s lifetime secretary, Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, is building an enormous spiritual, cultural and intellectual centre called the Pope John Paul II “Be Not Afraid” Centre. It is a massive undertaking and will serve as the largest monument to the Polish pope in his native land.

For a Canadian visitor to Krakow, it is impressive to see the love the city has for her former bishop. And it is clear that Cardinal Dziwisz understands his mission to be that of securing the legacy of the great man that he served in life, and continues to serve in death.

AUSCHWITZ, Poland - It was 70 years ago this Sunday, Aug. 14, 1941, that St. Maximilian Kolbe was martyred here.

It was nine years ago that I was here last, on a pilgrimage just before my priestly ordination. I wanted to come and pray at the death block of Auschwitz, to kneel at the threshold of the bunker where Maximilian Kolbe died. I came again this year, to the horror of this hell on Earth, made into the antechamber of heaven by the man — a writer and publisher who sent millions of words into print — whose most famous words were: “I am a Catholic priest.”

Is it possible to be a pilgrim in Auschwitz? In 1998, in preparation for the great jubilee, the pontifical council for migrants would suggest exactly that: “Among these (pilgrimage) cities should also be included those places desecrated by people’s sin and later on, almost out of an instinct of reparation, consecrated by pilgrimages. Let us think for instance of Auschwitz, emblematic place of torture of the Jewish people in Europe, the Shoah....”

What does the Catholic pilgrim say in this place, emblematic of the six million Jews who died in the Shoah, three million of whom were Polish — half of all the six million Poles who died in the Second World War? In this place of great evil, is it possible to speak of Jesus Christ?

A few weeks back I wrote in these pages that the new Roman Missal, which will come into effect this Advent, should be beautiful, worthy of being on the altar during Mass. The missal is the book used by the priest which contains all the Mass prayers. A new English translation of the missal has been done, and so new missals are required in every Catholic parish.

The current missal produced by the publications service of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) is most unworthy, lacking even the creative design of a low-end recipe book. Canadian priests were hoping that the new missal published this fall would be a true work of art, not a mere functional instruction manual. We saw that publishers in England, Australia and the United States had sample pages posted online, drawing upon the long tradition of Catholic art adorning the altar missal. I wrote that if the CCCB version was as unimaginatively plain as their existing work, Canadian parishes should consider buying a British or American missal. All the prayers are exactly the same and the minor adaptations for Canada — local saints and variations in the rubrics for Mass — are easily enough obtained elsewhere.

Cardinal Kazimierz Swiatek died on July 21, bringing to a close one of the most noble chapters in the history of the Church. He was 96 when he died, having been ordained a bishop at 76 by his eventual successor in Belarus. Made a cardinal at age 80, he served as archbishop of Minsk until he was 91. His was one of the heroic lives of our age.

I encountered the great cardinal only once, in Wroclaw, Poland, during the 1997 international Eucharistic Congress, and then at a distance. As part of the congress, dozens of bishops administered the sacrament of Confirmation to thousands of young people in an enormous Mass at the local arena. With such a large crowd it was a somewhat noisy affair, but there was total silence when Cardinal Swiatek addressed the newly confirmed at the end of the Mass. He spoke in Polish, but even without understanding a word I could see that his story was enormously powerful, with teenage eyes widening, and many filling with tears. He was telling them what it meant to be a Christian witness, to fight for the Church, to remain faithful. Imprisoned in the Soviet gulag for nine years, he did brutal labour by day and whatever clandestine priestly work he could by night, including offering the Holy Mass secretly, using a matchbox as a ciborium.