News & Events
Mass of the March for Life
St. Andrew's Cathedral
May 12, 2016
“We have the answer. It’s called life. We have the answer. It’s called love. We have the arms and the feet. It’s called witness to the glory of God, which is the human person, fully alive.”
~ Bishop Gary Gordon
Well you would almost think it was Christmas Day, or Easter—the cathedral is full. Thank you. I met some people from Vancouver—that’s nice, I’m glad you’re here. Your Archbishop is over at St. Patrick’s—I will let him know that you were here!
In this Year of Mercy, a Jubilee called by our holy father, Pope Francis, we, as the Church, have been looking particularly at the spiritual and corporal works of mercy. We know that one of the great corporal works of mercy is visiting the sick, and it is that focus of our pro-life March this year: the taking care of people. I would like to suggest to you that taking care of people in their vulnerability and weakness is at the very heart of the proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ in our particular time, and in this country today.
In the Gospel today, Jesus prayed that his disciples would see the glory that he has from the Father. I would like to leave with you the way of seeing, knowing, and experiencing the glory of the Father as disciples of Jesus Christ. It is fundamentally and primarily found in mercy, for Jesus Christ is the face of mercy, and reveals the mercy of the Father.
But in practical terms, what does it look like? It may look like a church full of people. Thank you for showing up. I am grateful that so many of the priests of the Diocese of Victoria and the Archdiocese of Vancouver are here. But what is the glory of the Father?
It is witness! It is living witness to the mercy of Jesus Christ. Let me leave with you an example.
As witnesses to life, as witnesses of the Gospel of Life, and the infinite, unchanging mercy of the Father, we have the ability to give dignity to peoples’ lives. In other words, how we gaze upon an individual and the other, with love, has the demonstrated ability to change the individual’s self-image. This is statistically borne out by those in medical care [who are] taking care of people who are profoundly vulnerable because of grave sickness, palliative sickness, those with advanced dementia, and those whom society would deem to be unnecessary—that when the gaze of the care provider looks upon the individual with love, and with care—their self-worth and dignity goes up.
That gives each and every one of us a profound power. The power of God himself to change lives and to change the meaning of life for every single person, simply by our gaze. You could say it is the ‘gaze that saves’. If you remember nothing else from this homily, remember that! The gaze that saves.
This is our ability to witness, and it is vitally important. So let me give you two examples, and then a massive challenge—for what is a Church under Jesus Christ without huge challenges to be met? I would say it’s probably just a country club. The Church lives by virtue of mission and challenge.
Last year, at this particular liturgy, on this March for Life day, I spoke about the greatest thing that I have ever done, the greatest accomplishment that I have ever made, and will ever make in my life. It was taking care of my father in his advanced years, and particularly in his last year of life, when you basically just make appointments to go to doctors, go to doctors, come home, and make more appointments. Okay—get used to it, folks, it’s coming to you, too.
There was a couple in that congregation, whom I met [again] a week ago at the BC/Yukon State Convention of the Knights of Columbus. This lovely lady came over to see me, and she said, “I just want to thank you because we heard what you said, and we did what you said. My husband went back to Ontario, and with some negotiating with other family members, decided that he would bring back to Richmond his elderly, frail, ailing father and his mother, so he could take care of them.” She said, “It’s been the best thing we’ve ever done.”
I think the Marches, the rhetoric, the politicking, all have their place, but Christianity has grown because of witness. We are witnesses by virtue of what we do, not what we say. I have a dear friend who has been diagnosed in the last week with an aggressive, fatal cancer. He’s my age, and he’s a priest, and we’ve been buddies since our seminary days. And I told him, after talking to the Vicar General … when you’re the Bishop, you always consult … I said, “When you need me to come there to take care of you, I will drop everything and show up for as long as is needed.” If I am going to preach about life, and mercy, then I’d better be ready to do it!
Friendship, and love, and family, go far beyond showing up at church and going to churchy meetings. This is the Christian faith. It is witness by what we do, and here is the challenge: every parish in this country is significantly ‘grey’. And every week, in every parish, there is someone who no longer shows up on Sunday because they have become frail, unwell, and incapable of getting there. I would say the most pressing need in every parish, along with the robust proclamation of the Word and celebration of the Sacraments provided by the clergy, is a robust healthcare navigator team so that every single person is accompanied with care. With love. T–L–C.
Last week at the Catholic Health Alliance Conference [attended by] all the CEOs of all the Catholic healthcare providers in this country, we heard some of the top clinicians in North America speak about what matters most at the end of life. Even above pain control, what matters most is that I am cared for. And this is statistically borne out by these top doctors.
Our parishes have the ability to do this. Our parish communities know their people, and I would like to suggest that our parish communities have the ability to do this kind of witness-caring beyond their own congregations. I would say that if you were the parish in Abbotsford, and there are two of them, and they are huge, you would have the ability to take care of every single person in Abbotsford.
I think that this is the time when our Catholic population can no longer show up on Sunday and say they’ve met their duty.
To all of the pastors here, I challenge you to figure this out! Who is your team leader? Because I know that you are all too busy doing the churchy stuff, and that’s good, don’t quit! But you need to figure out how your community is going to take care of the vulnerable. Right now. Today. It is the single, and I would suggest, the only answer to the particular legislation that we are facing in Canada. When people are loved, taken care of, their hair is combed, and they know that they have dignity, they will not choose assisted suicide or euthanasia. That, too, is statistical.
So, brothers and sisters, we have a wonderful, wonderful, amazing opportunity to see the glory of God. And to witness to the glory of God’s love in this world. This is what we have done from the time of Jesus Christ on the cross, throughout the centuries.
It’s our turn. As Christian people, it is our turn to witness to the power of God’s mercy, to the love, and to what Jesus has shown us most: the gaze that saves.
We have the answer. It’s called life. We have the answer. It’s called love. We have the arms and the feet. It’s called witness to the glory of God, which is the human person, fully alive.
In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit,
In communion with the country
Before we go, I want you to know that you are in communion with a whole lot of other people in the country, like the big March on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, and even a little March in the capital of the Yukon, Whitehorse. Doug and Edna Lorenzen, sitting just over there, got that started in Whitehorse about nine years ago. You may not know this but there’s about 35, maybe 40 people, on a good day if it’s not too cold, who walk to downtown Whitehorse, in front of the Federal government building. And the hostility, the anger they face, is like nothing you’ve ever seen here in Victoria. That is a brave, courageous, very tiny group that’s making a huge difference in this country.
And I also wanted to just say a word of thanks to everybody here because I know I was preaching to the choir. But every act of love and kindness that is shown to someone out there, on the streets of our cities, has a witness that is beyond all measure, and it begins with the person right in front of you. If you’re from Vancouver, you’ve got so many opportunities for the glory of God, just like we do here at our cathedral. The glory of God.
What was that one phrase you were going to remember? The gaze that saves. It’s in our power to raise the dignity of people simply by how we look at them.
Photos courtesy Connie Dunwoody