Saturday, October 27, 2007

From the TO Desk

After the annual Cardinal's Dinner in Toronto wrapped the other night, it didn't take long for the lauds to flow in for the event's main address, Archbishop Thomas Collins' first since taking the helm of Canada's largest local church earlier this year.

A crowd of 1,800 showed up for the annual funder for local charities, including the papal nuncio Archbishop Luigi Ventura and contingents from the business, political and media communities of Canada's commercial capital.

TC's address -- drawing on the upcoming Pauline Year -- is up as an mp3... and, for the more text-friendly, fullcopy.


The life of St. Paul is an adventure story, and so is ours. We need to recognize that. Like Paul, we are engaged in the grand adventure of winning the world for Christ.

Paul experienced a profound conversion when the Lord appeared to him on the road to Damascus. He courageously set out through dangers of all kinds to witness to his new found faith – to his new found Master. He faced down all kinds of opposition, and found creative ways to keep moving forward despite daunting obstacles outside and within the Christian community. There is nothing timid in St. Paul. He launched into Europe, and planned to go to distant Spain. He returned to mortal danger in Jerusalem, and gave the ultimate witness of martyrdom in Rome. Paul was not a man of small plans. He did great things for Christ. He shows us the way.

The spirit of Paul was found in the Jesuit martyrs whose shrine in Midland is the spiritual heart of our archdiocese. They left the comfort of their homeland, for the love of Jesus. They died for Christ, but first of all they lived for Christ, and Paul did both.

As I pray in the tiny chapel in the rectory of our Cathedral, I am conscious of the example of the saintly Bishop Michael Power, who prayed there in 1847, and who set out daily from there to celebrate Mass at St. Paul’s, and then walked to the fever sheds where he ministered to the Irish immigrants, ultimately giving his life for them. Like other generous men and women in those early days of Toronto he lived and died in the courageous spirit of St. Paul.

When we, as a family of faith, engage the secular world we too face challenges and opportunities. We can miss the opportunities, and be disheartened by the challenges. St. Paul shows us the way to rejoice in the bold adventure of discipleship. He never missed an opportunity to reach out to the world around him with the Good News of Jesus, and he was not intimidated by the magnitude of the task at hand. When he came to the Athens, he went to the meeting place of the Areopagus, and engaged the sceptical Athenians in conversation about the Risen Lord. He did not shy away from the marketplace, nor should we if we follow in his footsteps. He did not retreat into the security of the inner world of believers, but entered into dialogue with the alien world of unbelief. So must we, with humility, and with the confidence born not of natural bravado, but of the serene faith that gave courage to Paul.

Some practical implications for us in our archdiocese:

  • We need to become involved wholeheartedly in the world of popular culture and the media. People spend more time at the computer and TV than in Church. We should also not be shy in engaging in the public conversation regarding social issues, and Christians need to be encouraged to engage in public service as politicians.

  • We need to give a reason for the hope we have to the people we meet day by day. That means we have to know our faith, and also be ready to explain it and, if necessary, defend it.

  • Paul did preach to the choir, but not only to the choir. We too need to seek creative ways to shine the light of the Gospel into every corner of our society. We can do this most effectively by the witness of a life well lived in our families and in the wider community, and amid the activities of the secular world of work and entertainment. Vatican II spoke of the universal call to holiness, and whatever our role in society or the Church we can make our baptismal commitment real by living day by day with Christian integrity as we go about our tasks in the world. All that we do, we do well, for we do all for the Lord.
St. Paul was apostolically energetic as he established communities of faith around the Roman world, but all his activity was fruitful because it arose out of his encounter with Christ the Lord. He certainly had an unusually dramatic experience on the road to Damascus: someone as strong-willed as Paul needed quite a jolt. But he also went away for prayer and study before embarking on his apostolic labours, and he speaks of the spiritual communion with the Lord that was granted to him. In Paul we see a man of action who is fundamentally a man of prayer.

In our lives as individual disciples, and as communities of faith, we should like Paul be contemplatives in action. Through our lives and our example we proclaim the Lord whom we have first encountered in prayer. All our bold apostolic initiatives – so necessary if we are to follow in the footsteps of St. Paul and engage our world as effectively as he engaged his – will be mere busyness if we do not like Paul root our creative action in the experience of Christ. Fruitful action flows out of adoration, and in adoration we realize that all life-giving action is a response to the grace of God. We do not save the world. We are only servants, and we must be attentive to our Master, in whom alone we find our strength....

As we look to the path ahead, St. Paul shows us the way. He helps us to build Christian communities that are shaped by faith, hope, and love, while recognizing the turmoil that can arise because of the inner struggles Paul describes in Romans 7: “For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do.” (Romans 7:19). Our communities, like his, need to get beyond being absorbed with our internal issues, in order to reach out practically to help the needy, and to witness to Christ in this world, boldly, and creatively, and joyfully, in the adventure of discipleship.

If we learn from Paul, we will root our work of Christian witness, whatever form it takes, in continual prayer. And we who follow in the footsteps of Saint Paul face all challenges with the serene courage that comes from the vision of faith. Paul gave to the Christians of Philippi the energizing vision that shows us how to live. He wrote to them:

“If there is any encouragement in Christ, any incentive of love, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.

Do nothing from selfishness or conceit, but in humility count others better than yourselves.

Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interest of others.

Have this mind among yourselves, which was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.

And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross.

Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name,

That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,

And every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

The Cathedral Lectio Divina might've taken October off -- due to scheduling issues -- but TO's rolled out its new Vocation site... with the archbishop YouTubing it up.

And, speaking of those who go beyond the choir in Toronto, the latest installment of Salt + Light's "Witness" features a real treat: Fr Tom Rosica's sit-down with Stephan Moccio, a star Canadian songwriter and pianist.

As those of us who bask in the "et et" that is Joni Mitchell and John Paul II are in rather short supply, check it out.