Celebration of the Jubilee Year of Mercy
St. Andrew's Cathedral

December 8, 2015

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“God never tires of forgiving. God never get bored with our failures. God’s forgiveness cannot be exhausted. There is nothing that you will see on the news that God does not forgive. And the amazing thing, and something that we all struggle with, is that God’s forgiveness is not dependent on me or you. It is given."

~ Bishop Gary Gordon

My brothers and sisters,

It is a grace for us: Bishop Remi is the last remaining bishop in Canada who was part of the Council and all the sessions. Today we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the closing of the Second Vatican Council, which was held from 1962 – 1965. We’ve all been marked by that. We know that St. John XXIII opened our doors so that the whole world could know the love that’s been made visible in Christ Jesus.

Bishop Remi, I’d like you to share a few words with us as a Father of the Council.

*****

Bishop Emeritus Remi De Roo

Thank you, Bishop Gary, and I want to commend you on having planned this magnificent joint ceremony where we celebrate not only the formal closing and promulgation of one of the most important events the Catholic Church has known for several centuries, namely the Second Vatican Council, but also the opening of the Year of Mercy, which is very closely aligned with the Council, and I’ll come back to that in the moment. But if you’ll allow me a short digression as a Vatican Council Father … when I arrived here at the beginning of Vatican II, one of the first groups that officially welcomed me were the Native peoples, and the First Nations brothers and sisters gave me a name and adopted me into their family. So, I too, have been honored as you have, to be recognized as a member of the First Nations. An honorary member, but a very meaningful and very powerful symbol, and it really made my heart tremble, as it were, to be here tonight. I thank my brothers and sisters of the First Nations for their gracious hospitality.

Thank you for having invited me to participate in this ceremony, and to say a few words about Vatican II. I’m going to do that very briefly. One of the reasons is that the editor of the Island Catholic News, Patrick Jamison, very graciously invited me to write an article on the occasion of the 50th anniversary. So rather than repeat what I say there, I’ll spare you the time. I’m just going to remind you very briefly that when St. John XXIII, back in 1959, told the Bishops of the world that he planned to call a Vatican Council, everybody was taken completely by surprise. Then in his opening address to the Council he reminded all of us brother bishops from around the world (there were some 2500+ present there) that this Council would be a ‘pastoral Council’. In other words, a Council relating to the needs of the people, to their experiences, to their faith worked out in their living day by day. And he said, “We don’t need new doctrines; we have a good sound doctrinal basis. We don’t need to reject errors; there are no grave errors affecting the Church at this point, but what we do need is a medicine of mercy.” So it came as a very pleasant surprise also to hear Pope Francis name for a Year of Mercy. It’s the perfect complement to the vision that St. John XXIII had given.

During the Council, which lasted longer than anybody had expected, over four years from 1962 1965, we spent a couple of months each fall in Rome deliberating with bishops from around the world. We basically performed the triple work and I was delighted to hear use of the word ‘work’. We are gathered here for a very special work; that word has a very profound meeting, because it’s really, ultimately, the work of God. It’s a work that is recognized by our Native sisters and brothers of the First Nations, and it is the work that is recognized also by all of us as being at the heart of our mission.

There were three dimensions to this work that we performed in the course of those four years from 1962 –1965.

First of all, there was the dimension of going back to our roots. Going back to our sources, which meant going back to the Scriptures, going back to the teachings of the Church, of the early Church, the teachings of the great theologians, the Saints and the mystics, who marked the life of the Church. It was indeed very gratifying to me as a Council Father to see Pope John XXIII himself now recognized as a saint, along with Pope John Paul II, who himself, speaking about the Second Vatican Council, said, “It is a reliable compass to guide the Church, to lead the Church into the future.” I am delighted … it makes me feel very good, as a Council Father, to see that you are indeed leading this Diocese along those same lines.

The second orientation was that of a bringing-up-to-date. The Italians use a word, adjournamento. It means bringing up to date, adapting, modifying. We did that out of fidelity to the Scriptures and our own traditions, because the Scriptures are firm and our traditions remain solid down through the centuries. But cultures evolve. Many peoples of different cultures think, and act, and dance, and sing and pray in a variety of ways. Consequently, we have to have intellectual leaders like the theologians and saints and mystics to help us to understand the revealed Word of God in the light of our own culture so that it makes meaning to us today. One of the great challenges, and one of the great pains that we experience today, is that currently it would appear that the older members of the church, of which I am one, have not yet found the language whereby we can speak to the younger generations, to the rising generations. And if we don’t succeed in teaching the younger generations, what happens to our traditions as the cycles of life go by?

The third dimension that Pope John XXIII invited us to pursue is the dimension of development. Because while the substance of what the Church teaches us is one thing, how it is presented is another. And as a result, we need to develop according to the new traditions, the new experiences, how things are going. Our world is changing tremendously. We used to talk about ‘going up into the sky’, and ‘down below’, and that’s the image you still find which is in the Bible. But today, and in terms of modern science, we have to say ‘we go out’ and ‘we come in’, because we are living in spheres. Enough of that, I’m not going to give you any lengthy observations along that line. Simply to say once again, while God is love, and the first name of God is Love, the second name is Mercy. So we are very much along that tradition and I join you in prayer as I invite all of my sisters and brothers here assembled and throughout the Island, that we will catch that vision of Pope John XXIII, bring it to life and continue to bring it to life, because it is already obvious here on Vancouver Island that Vatican II is alive and well. Not maybe in the categories of yesterday’s understanding, but in terms of the many people who come to worship as we are doing here tonight with our sisters and brothers of the Native traditions. And I hope to continue for years to come to create and work with you, and under your guidance, to make that vision come alive.

Bishop Gary Gordon

Thank you, Bishop Remi. The grace of this moment in time, as you say, is a continuation of what Pope St. John XXIII indicated as he declared the opening of the Second Vatican Council. To bring mercy—the mercy that is revealed in Jesus Christ to the whole world.

This Jubilee Year is a new beginning, or maybe you could put it in a broader way: it’s like pushing the ‘reset’ button. The reset button. Our standing together on this new ground is the reset button to once again remember the covenants that God has with all of creation, the promises God has made through the prophets, and indeed the great promise God has made in the incarnation of Jesus Christ. That is, in Jesus Christ, mercy is incarnate in the clay of the earth and mercy is revealed in a multitude of faces, and is incarnate in his body, the Church. Mary, the highly favoured one, whom we hear of in the Gospel, indeed put all of humanity on the new path by her decisive ‘yes’ to God’s will, by her decisive ‘yes’ to participate directly in the incarnation of mercy on the earth. It is true: she is the one conceived without sin—the immaculate conception. It is also true that she was much perplexed and troubled by the greeting of the Angel. And yet, her decisive ‘yes’ has put all of us on a new path. It is no longer possible to hide in the forest as Adam and Eve did because of shame and guilt, and fear of their Creator. Mary’s ‘yes’ has dispelled all fear of God; this new path that was set before her is now set before us, in the Year of Mercy.

It is the path of forgiveness and tenderness. We all watch the news every night, and we see incomprehensible crimes, destruction of the earth, atrocities against whole peoples, religions and nations. And we may wonder “what is this Bishop talking about? Forgiveness and tenderness?” My dear family, it is the only path forward. All the other paths of retribution and revenge have failed, and even different forms of justice have struggled to create a path forward. Our Holy Father Pope Francis is inviting us to turn towards the one true path, which is mercy. It is turning towards the unchangeable mercy of God, the power of God’s mercy made visible in Jesus Christ, the absolute necessity of this mercy which is poured out in forgiveness, regardless of acknowledgment.

This is our God. This is Jesus Christ, crying out from the cross, “Father, forgive them; they do not know what they are doing.” This is the announcement that we have for the world in the Year of Mercy. Tenderness. To walk in awe and wonder of our brothers and sisters. To reach out in tenderness as a mother reaches out for her newborn child. It is always tenderness.

And Forgiveness: to seek forgiveness is only possible when we know that God never tires of forgiving. God never get bored with our failures. God’s forgiveness cannot be exhausted. There is nothing that you will see on the news that God does not forgive. And the amazing thing, and something that we all struggle with, is that God’s forgiveness is not dependent on me or you. It is given. And when we acknowledge that it is given, we too, like Mary, are able to say a decisive ‘yes’ to the plan of God in our lives and in the world.

One of the foundational works that a shepherd has is to always be seeking forgiveness from the sheep. Whether that forgiveness is given is not up to me. But as shepherd of the Church in the Diocese of Victoria, it is my work to humbly seek forgiveness. You could say I am an experienced sinner. As successor of the Apostles, as your Bishop, it is my responsibility to seek forgiveness, personally, collectively and historically in the life of the Church in the Diocese of Victoria.

I need forgiveness from the lost sheep who remain lost because of my indifference. I need forgiveness from the Catholic communities on this Island who on three occasions said to me, “Bishop, the Catholic Church abandoned us.” I need forgiveness. I need forgiveness from God’s people that I have not listened to, or shown tenderness to because I’m busy. I need to seek forgiveness from my brother, Bishop Remi, and my brother priests for not always being a good brother, sensitive and supportive. I need forgiveness for the situations and people that I have not forgiven from my heart. Indeed, it is my firm belief that it is in seeking forgiveness that the true strength of the Body of Christ is measured. It is to live the humility of Jesus Christ so very imperfectly, and yet to know that it is in weakness that Christ is strong.

The Jubilee Year of Mercy is inviting us in this Diocese to seek out the power of God’s forgiveness, to experience it in new ways. To know that no one is excluded. To join Mary with our decisive ‘yes’ to a new path, opening the doors of mercy to all.

Finally, brothers and sisters, Bishop Remi, my brother priests, religious sisters and brothers, with Mary we ask,”How can mercy be incarnated? How can the Word become flesh?”

“How can this be?” Mary asked the Angel. There is only one answer: and it is my prayer for our Church. It is my prayer for everyone gathered here on this solemn occasion. It is my prayer for my brothers and sisters in the First Nations communities of this Diocese. It is my prayer for the refugees who will be landing here shortly. It is my prayer for all the nations that make up our family in this Diocese. It is the words that Mary received when she wondered how can this be?

How can the Word become flesh? How can Mercy, Tenderness and Forgiveness be, when the hurts are often so great? And she heard the words of the Angel, and the words that we’ve heard tonight, the words that I will repeat and conclude with:

The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.

Amen.

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Nov 16, 2017

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