Cardinal Thomas Collins’ presence during the COVID-19 pandemic, whether celebrating the Daily TV Mass or his own livestream from St. Michael’s Cathedral Basilica, showed leadership to Catholics. Mickey Conlon

Charles Lewis: Cardinal sets example of real leadership

By 
  • July 15, 2020

This column is a shout out to a good man. No one can accuse me of trying to curry favour with him. I do not need a job or need to borrow money.

Those who know me will tell you I am the least likely person to fawn over anyone. When I see a smiley face emoji or decal I inwardly groan.

But it is worth noting what Cardinal Thomas Collins, our archbishop, did for us during the past few months. He will, of course, reject the compliment but that is what a humble priest or bishop will always do.

We have lived through an utterly tragic and frustrating time. I do not need to list the reasons why these past months have been a challenge. Everyone has his or her own list — from job security to the loneliness that comes with isolation.

For Catholics there has been another element: being away from the sacraments. We are a sacramental church. We do not just gather to sing hymns. Having no confessional alone was difficult. I kept hoping for something like 1-800-CONFESSION but that was never going to happen.

When I heard that Mass would be online I was skeptical but I did not want to completely be on my own in terms of my spirituality.

It turned out to be a gift, a blessing. Even though I attend St. Michael’s Cathedral Basilica on many Sundays I do not often see Cardinal Collins at the ambo. So this was a chance to really see the man at work … day after day.

There are other priests at the cathedral but for the most part he did every homily. I was told by those who know him that it was his way of showing the flag — of being present to his flock.

Every day, as his fine head of grey hair grew longer and more unkempt, I watched and wondered: Will he tie it into a ponytail? Will he part down the middle ’60s-style? Would he wear a bandana?

I assume he could have gotten a haircut. Being an archbishop should have some privileges and no one would have blamed him for getting a trim. This too, I believe, was his way of saying: “I am going through this with you.”

It is important to contrast what he did with what was happening elsewhere. Especially in the U.S., there were priests and Protestant ministers stomping their feet that it was an impingement on religious freedom to keep the churches closed.

It seemed the opposite of the Christian charity to purposely risk the health of congregants and those they might infect outside the parish. There were also the indoor political rallies and the anti-racism demonstrations that threw common sense out the window.

Cardinal Collins stood firm. He made it clear that while we all wanted to get back to Mass there was a greater good to consider. Catholics, he noted, are part of the world.

For those who read my columns they will have sensed a certain frustration on my part with what is going on in this country in terms of social change. I think it is also clear I have expressed frustration with the Church and the way she fights these changes.

However, I am often guilty of forgetting that the Church is not a political weapon. Her ultimate goal is to get us to Heaven. And given the state of humanity, that is about as lofty a goal as you will ever find.

So watching our bishop talk about the faith every day, hair threatening to fall over his eyes, was a calm, assuring reminder that we are made for the supernatural life. Through his reflecting on the readings of the day, day after day, I got to see what makes him such a good teacher of what in the end will really matter.

We owe him our gratitude.

(Lewis is a Toronto writer and regular contributor to The Register.)

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