It started in a manger ...
Christmas Eve Midnight Mass 2018
St. Andrew's Cathedral
First of all, I want to just thank you for coming tonight to celebrate Christmas. It’s really nice when our home is full. Thank you. And I thank you in a special way also, because your participation in our liturgy, whether you’re Catholic or not, is a participation in the mystery of Christ’s birth. I’m going to explain how that participation happens, but I just really had to thank you for coming tonight. It’s really nice.
There’s a lot of people here, and every time I celebrate here in a full cathedral, it brings me back 12 Christmases ago, when I was just a brand-new bishop in the Diocese of Whitehorse. That’s in the Yukon. The first Christmas Mass that I celebrated in the Diocese of Whitehorse was in a little place called Beaver Creek.
It was a 560-kilometre drive from Whitehorse, and if you’ve ever driven the western end of the Alaska highway near the Alaska border, you know that you go airborne several times. The road has got lots of frost heaves in it. I arrived there safely, and realized that little church is a Quonset hut. The little church would fit into a corner of our cathedral: just picture it. And at that Christmas Mass, my first Christmas Mass as a bishop, there were five people. Two Catholics and three Protestants.
I have never, ever experienced, so far, a more amazing experience of midnight Mass than in that little Quonset hut in Beaver Creek. It caused me to consider deeply the experience of the Holy Family in the little town of Bethlehem, and the small number of participants at the first midnight Mass: some shepherds.
The second experience of Christmas that has endeared itself to my heart, and is right up there with Beaver Creek, was the second Christmas in the Diocese of Whitehorse, when I went to the Whitehorse jail. The Warden was a parishioner; he’d asked if I could go to the jail and celebrate Mass on Christmas Day. I said, “Sure.” So I got there, and celebrated Mass, and then he said, “Would you have time … we have a small population of women.” There were six women in the Whitehorse jail. I said, “Sure, I can stay. I’ve got nothing else to do except eat turkey all day.”
I will never forget the experience. We didn’t celebrate Mass, but I had some hymn books, and I opened up the hymn book and I thought, Well, we’ll start with Silent Night.Why not; everybody knows Silent Night. So, we just started singing. We didn’t get through the first line, and they’re all crying. And then I’m crying. We spent a whole hour crying.
That was a place of utter darkness on Christmas Day. We hear in the First Reading that the light will come into the world to dispel the darkness—and that was the darkness that was dispelled on that Christmas Day, as we cried together. There is nothing more dark, more lonely, more isolated, and more impoverished, than a prison on Christmas Day. Especially a women’s prison, as they shared with me about their grandchildren and their children—and they weren’t going to see any of them on Christmas Day.
Jesus has been born for us to dispel the darkness, and to invite us into a marvellous light; a light that can illumine our minds and our hearts to be able to see the world for what it is, and to see the beauty of each and every person for who they are—made in the image and likeness of God. The great message of Christmas, the birth of a Saviour, a Messiah, the Lord, is found in the words of Paul to Titus. At the end of that reading, he says that God will choose a people who will be zealous for good works. You’re it! You showed up, and so you’re chosen!There’s no getting out now. You’re it!
To acknowledge Jesus Christ, to accept and to hear this message of his birth, and then of his death and resurrection, changes our hearts and our minds, and we are transformed. Let me show you how this transformation happens: it happened with the shepherds.
The angels showed up, and they weren’t just sort of flying around the earth looking for somebody who might be awake, to whom they could tell the good news. These shepherds were chosen. They were picked. And the angels announce this good news—and look what happens. They could not resist this good news. They had to respond. Their response was: Let us go and see this thing that has taken place, that has been revealed to us, and they go in haste. They became the first participants of God-made-man. The ancient fathers of the Church used to say that in God becoming man, man became God. We are now irrevocable participants in the saving, life-giving, healing peacemaking mission of Jesus Christ. You can’t leave. You’re in.
We participate in a multitude of ways. A smile to someone who’s sad. A handshake, a kind deed. Christmas is just so amazing. I love all those beautiful Salvation Army folks who stand in front of the liquor store ringing their bells. Not that I’m at the liquor store all the time, but I did buy a few bottles of wine for gifts! Radio stations sponsor collections of food and goods to help the poor. It just seems that this time of year just pulls us out of ourselves to a profound encounter with the other, and that’s because Jesus was born: he entered a world of darkness, and continues to be reborn again and again, in our world, creating opportunities for new life, for peace, for justice, and for love.
Are we there yet?No! Does the road have a lot of frost heaves in it?Absolutely. But we’re on the way, despite everything, to what God desires for everyone. To be all that they can be, to be the best version of themselves in the image and likeness of God. And once we’ve encountered Jesus Christ, and he’s encountered us, there’s no turning back.
So, from this moment of utter poverty and vulnerability, when only a few shepherds showed up at the first midnight Mass, let me just give you a couple of statistics of how things have been transformed.
One quarter – that’s 25% – of all delivery of health care on this planet is delivered by the Roman Catholic Church. One quarter! It started with some shepherds, and they caught the fire. Once the encounter with Jesus Christ happens, it means that we are no longer alone, and must share the joy by making a difference. Eighteen thousand health care clinics. Sixteen thousand care homes for the elderly and the vulnerable. Fifty-five hundred hospitals. Catholic health care, globally.
It started in a manger. The largest non-governmental educational organization on the planet is the Roman Catholic Church. Forty-eight thousand secondary schools, and ninety-three thousand primary schools, globally.
It started in a manger. Jesus Christ transforms everything. You’re here because you want to be transformed, or are transformed, and will transform, and change our world so that we become shepherds. That’s why the angels picked the shepherds. We’re all invited to be good shepherds. Shepherds of our beautiful earth, shepherds of our children, shepherds of our grandchildren, shepherds of whoever needs taking care of. It’s not rocket science. It’s really simple, and that’s why it was shepherds who were the first witnesses to the birth of the Saviour. For it has marked the very nature of how we are Christian. It is by shepherding, by taking care, by bringing the joy, the love, the peace, and the mercy of our God made visible in Christ Jesus our Lord.
It is a Merry Christmas. It is a Merry Christmas every day of the year. It is Light dispelling darkness, it is the Prince of Peace, and we’re all part of it.
Thank you for coming. Merry Christmas.
Homily from Mass at the Diocesan Pastoral Centre
December 20, 2018
But you can just imagine the utter transformation of our lives, and of the world, if we actually, really could hear the truth of those words, spoken to us. Greetings, highly favoured one.
It would be an explosion of joy.
As you can very clearly see, the image of Isaiah, as named the fifth evangelist, is so very clear today as he prophesies the Virgin will be with child, and his name will be Emmanuel, God With Us, and this is what of course we are preparing for, the God With Us.
The greeting of the angel to Mary is absolutely pivotal. Greetings, highly favoured one, or in older translations, Hail, full of grace. And this is the moment of absolute transformation of the whole earth. The whole earth is transformed by that greeting.
Greetings, highly favoured one. This word is spoken to the world. This is spoken to you. Greetings, highly favoured one. This is the most amazing greeting, for it now, in the light of Christ’s saving action, is absolutely true. There’s no “Yeah, but …” No one can say Yeah, but … and then start listing off all of their vices and wayward ways. This greeting is spoken to the world, and this is the quintessential Gospel proclamation to everyone: Greetings, highly favoured one. The great challenge is to overcome the Yeah, but … This is the thing.
If I could get a dollar for every Yeah, but … that I’ve gotten from people, I would be a billionaire. The response to this is again transformational. It’s never happened before. Here I am, the servant of the Lord. It’s only Mary, and therefore, then, every other person who now has this incredible ability to respond without a Yeah, but … To respond with absolute clarity OK God, if you say I’m the highly favoured one, OK. Now that’s the proclamation. That’s the whole Christmas Message, and it is so hard to get that message through to people.
But you can just imagine the utter transformation of our lives, and of the world, if we actually, really could hear the truth of those words, spoken to us. Greetings, highly favoured one.
It would be an explosion of joy.
The Horizon of Advent
Homily from Mass at the Diocesan Pastoral Centre
December 4, 2018
Jesus, in this Advent season, will slowly but surely reveal the way.
Well, yesterday was the opening salvo of the intention of Advent, as I mentioned. The wonderful challenge before us of going up to the high place, up to the mountain, and the sort of over-arching theme of Advent of the new horizon, looking to the light, to the new horizon. God’s eternal love. Jesus comes to even heal the Roman centurion’s servant. All of this is this expansion of what it’s going to mean for the Saviour’s coming.
So now, we get a little bit more detail about what that will look like. Isaiah is the prophet of Advent. Isaiah is often called the fifth evangelist, so closely does the prophet Isaiah speak about what this Saviour will look like, what he will do, what will this message be. If you read Isaiah, you can sort of say, “Isn’t this in the Gospel some place? This sounds like Jesus.” So that’s why we call Isaiah the fifth evangelist.
So here in this beautiful reading from the book of the prophet Isaiah, we find again the intention of God in sending his son. Isaiah paints this picture of complete opposites somehow getting together. The wolf will live with the lamb. The leopard shall lie down with the kid. The calf and the lion and the fatling together. And a little child shall lead them.(Isaiah 1:6-7) We need a lion tamer, not a little child!
But this is again the horizon to which Jesus invites us in Advent. And then, in the Gospel: he’s sent out the seventy, and they’ve gone ahead of him, casting out demons and healing the sick and proclaiming the Good News. It’s this horizon of healing what seems to be totally opposite. It’s a wonderful sort of vision, and maybe a kind of intentionality of What is the Church about? What are we about?
Jesus, in this Advent season, will slowly but surely reveal the way. It’s an ongoing work to continue to see the horizon of God’s desire, the horizon of God’s hope for humanity, the horizon of God’s justice, the horizon of God’s peace.
So now, just a little story of wild animals, doing something that is totally out of character. One day, and it was a June day, driving to Telegraph Creek, which was about a ten-hour drive from Whitehorse. It was a horrible road, it was an off-roader’s paradise. I came around a corner at Ten Mile Hill, which was basically, in the rainy season, about 2km up a greasy one-lane slope, on which if you stopped, you would slide backwards; it could be like that.
I came around a corner, and I saw a bear. Of course, whenever I saw bears, I would stop, and sit and watch them. I saw a bear. And the bear was playing with a fox. Bears and foxes don’t get along! And then, a coyote came into the picture. I watched this for half an hour. There was a bear, and a coyote, and a fox. They weren’t in any fear of each other; it was amazing. At one point the fox actually jumped over the bear. And the coyote was running around in circles. Then the fox would chase the coyote, and then the coyote would chase the fox, then the fox and the coyote would chase the bear! Then the bear would turn around and chase the fox and the coyote.
This was play! I share that with you as a true story, and I leave this with you: the horizon of Advent is that all things are possible with Christ.
Ordained to Serve
Ordination to the Diaconate
I want to leave a few words, John, Michael, Dion, and Philip; Heather and Cynthia, Kerry and Marie, and your families, and all who are gathered here, about this grace-filled, historical moment in the life of our Church in the Diocese of Victoria. This is a first. We know that firsts, pioneers, are wont to make mistakes, and sometimes get a little lost, and perhaps even get in to some trouble. It’s all OK.
The Word of God today in the beautiful Second Reading of the Acts of the Apostles, speaks of the ministry of Jesus Christ as the bringer of healing, and of peace, and to liberate all who are oppressed by sin and the devil. And that is a ministry of the whole Church, and in particular, the ministry of service to the Church and to all people. To bring peace. The word peace is mentioned in the Gospel, where Jesus says, Wherever you go, whatever house you go to, bring peace. Bring the peace of Christ. And so one of the great hallmarks of this particular ministry of deacon is to be a wonderful instrument of peace, a witness of peace.
Now, this is the peace of Christ. This is not the peace of a détente, or some kind of negotiated deal. This is the peace of Jesus Christ. It’s a peace that brings healing, because it is a peace that is meant most particularly for the poor and the vulnerable—the ones in our society who cannot protect themselves, whose lives are on the very edge and fringe of existence. The ones in our society who are the poorest and the most vulnerable, for this the Diaconate was instituted by the Church, by the Apostles, to bring peace to the widows and the orphans: those most destitute at the time of the Apostles. To bring peace to those who cannot insulate themselves from the tragedies of life. To bring peace to those who have no protection because they sleep rough, as we would say, on the streets. This is the peace of which the Diaconate is most profoundly invited to be a sacrament. St. John Paul II said that the Diaconate, the deacon, is the sacrament of Christ’s service to the poor. It is the sacrament of the Church’s constant presence to the poor and to the needy.
Now: I have great expectations! And as you have gotten to know me a little bit over the last four years, I have some pretty out-there ideas! You just ask the staff at the Pastoral Centre! But let me contain myself, at least now, with just a few of these ideas, and my hopes for this wonderful ministry in the life of our Church.
You have received from God many talents, and many gifts, which you have used in the service of your families, and have used in the service of the community, and of the Church. Many, many gifts. Most preciously, you have the gift of your wives and your families. This is the gift that you bring to ministry. Your closest collaborator in this ministry of service of Christ to the poor is going to be your wife. She is your collaborator. This is the one who is going to say, How are you doing? How are those poor people doing? Have you been able to advocate for them? Have you been able to create opportunities of justice and peace and mercy? So, wives, you have a very important job to do. Your job is with a fairly gentle toe and foot: Get going! I’m so grateful for that support.
What is our Church in need of, more than anything else, at this particular time, in this particular age, in this particular country, Canada, and this particular Diocese? Well, let me use an example from the year 258. Way back.
In 258, in the city of Rome, Valerian the Emperor had just started a new persecution of Christians. The reason was they had been declared as enemies of the human race. This is what Valerian and the Senate of Rome said, that Christians are enemies of the human race. And, well, the best thing to do, is let’s round up all the clergy, especially the Bishop of Rome, and the deacons, and we’ll execute them. So in 258, Pope Sixtus II lost his head, along with the other seven deacons of Rome, except for one: Lawrence.
Lawrence had the marvellous thought that before the Christians were rounded up and martyred in Rome, they should try to help the poor, in the image of Christ. And so he collected from those who had property or wealth, and distributed it to the poor. Well, the Emperor heard about this, and he thought, “Oh boy! Those Christians are rich! I’ve got to get my hands on all that money, on all that property. I need it!”
And so Emperor Valerian called Deacon Lawrence in, who hadn’t quite met his end yet, and said, “Lawrence, we’re going to do a deal! You bring me all the wealth of the Church, and I will spare your life, and I’ll let you go on being a deacon.”
So Lawrence—he’s a smart guy—says, “We’ve got a deal, Valerian. Give me three days.” Off Lawrence goes, and in three days, he gathers up the total wealth of the Church. They set a meeting place in Rome. Lawrence sends a message and says, “Valerian, come on over, I’ve got all the wealth of the Church, and it’s piled up in the Square. Come on over and get it.”
When Valerian got there, Lawrence presented to the Emperor of the Roman Empire the lame, the destitute, the prisoners, the slaves, and the poorest of the poor in the City of Rome, and said, “This is the wealth of the Christian Church.” Well, that didn’t go over too well, and Lawrence was also martyred. I hope that doesn’t happen to you! This is not my plan, it is not my hope, and it is not my expectation.
But my expectation is this: my hope is that with this Order of Deacon, which is to serve the poor, that you will open the doors of our churches to the poorest and the most marginal in this city and in this Diocese. My hope is that you will open the hearts of the faithful to the poorest and the most marginal so that our hearts become homes for those who are suffering greatest. My hope, and this might be where it might be a wild idea, is that you set up your tent in a tent city, in this city. My hope is that your ministry is going to enliven our Church to become what Pope Francis has invited us to: I want the Church to be a field hospital.
My great hope for this Order of Deacons in our Diocese is that your ministry will open the hearts of all the faithful in our parishes, and that you will knock on the hearts of our Church to be a place of refuge, and that the whole people of God in this Diocese will be so committed to the impoverished, to the vulnerable, to the poorest, to the weakest, to the addicted, and to those who are simply excluded from society that our Church, every parish in this Diocese, will truly look like a field hospital.
That’s a big call. You’ve got your assignments, and each one of your assignments is going to put you in close proximity to the most vulnerable in our Diocese. As ordained ministers, my hope is that you will open my heart, and their hearts, and these doors, so that we truly begin to be the field hospital that Pope Francis has invited us to be as a Church.
God bless you. I will be with you all the way. If you have any questions, don’t guess at the answers. Pick up the phone. Call. I am so pleased to be your Bishop. I am so pleased to have this great ministry of the Diaconate in our Diocese: a ministry established by service in Jesus Christ by the Church for the whole people. Just to give you an idea: there are 750,000 people in this Diocese, and at least 150,000 – 200,000 are truly, truly hurting. We’ve got a lot of work to do, brothers, and sisters, and we’re going to do it together. The service of Jesus Christ to the world will continue in our hearts, and in our lives, through our hands, and our feet.
God bless you, in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
Seeds for the future
160th Anniversary of the Sisters of St. Ann
Well, I don’t often have the Sisters of St. Ann in the front row. This is really nice. It’s not frightening, to have the Sisters in the front row, not for me. And the reason is, the Congregation of St. Ann is family. Going back almost to the very beginning of the Congregation, there have been members of my family that are part of the Sisters of St. Ann. So, in a very beautiful way, it’s like being with my aunties.
Sr. Rita, Congregational Leader; Sr. Marie, Sr. Joyce, Sr. Judy, the Provincial Leadership; respected Elders, Ecumenical guests, Bishop De Roo, my brother priests, our Interfaith guests—all of you, welcome.
One of the beautiful gifts that 160 years of the Sisters of St. Ann, and a continued grace, is that all of us here can say, The Sisters have made us family. These are the stories that I have heard from many who have crossed paths with you in ministry, and in service, and love; that there is something uniquely special about the Congregation of St. Ann. Maybe that’s the ‘grandmotherly’ patroness, St. Ann; that wherever you have, and are, living your consecrated life, all feel like we are family.
And isn’t that the intention of Jesus, when he came with that beautiful message: Love one another. It wasn’t just Be friends, it wasn’t just Be comrades, it was, as St. Paul speaks to the Corinthians—which were a little bit of a divided family—and appeals to them, that with all of their gifts of prophecy, and tongues, and moving mountains, have to be rooted in a profound love. Not just the love of a nice agreement—that’s what an NGO does, or a social enterprise—but rather the love of Jesus Christ, and that creates family. It’s a profound love, and that’s what Paul appeals to in the First Reading.
And how do we live that love, but by a beatitude life? A beatitude life gives us the way and the means to living that God love in the world. This is the witness of consecrated life. It is the living of the God love in the world. And it is a love that, throughout British Columbia, Alaska, and the Yukon, and Alberta, which politically is called Cascadia, this grace of your consecrated life is a seed planted, which will ignite God’s love in these places.
It’s important that we take a moment just to reflect on that seed of God’s love. For sometimes, as we know in life, we may toil and work and establish and found and build, and then we look back, and we say, “Where is it? What happened?” Well, that’s what a social enterprise does. An NGO. But the family of God has an amazing trust that God brings life in God’s time.
I’d like to give you a couple of examples from nature, from the nature of the world, from the world of seeds … not that I’m a great gardener … but in these territories where you’ve been for 160 years, there are pine trees. Not so many on Vancouver Island, but certainly in the Yukon, and Alaska, and the Interior of British Columbia, and Alberta … there are pine trees.
Did you know that for some species of these pine trees, the seed remains completely dormant for years, until there’s a forest fire? It takes a forest fire to release and germinate that seed for new life. Now, I’m not wishing forest fires on anybody here, or anywhere, but it’s an indication of a kind of patient waiting that we are invited to by virtue of our baptism, and the Sisters, by virtue of consecrated life: this amazing gift of trusting God’s providence. And so, the seed all of a sudden just happens, because of a forest fire. Well, let’s consider it the fire of the Holy Spirit. When the fire of the Holy Spirit comes down, stuff happens, but it’s not in our time. It’s in God’s time. So we wait in patience.
Another wonderful image of the seed is shown in a place that I visited a few times in Southern Peru, the driest place on the planet, Northern Chile and Southern Peru, the Atacama Desert. The whole desert is covered in seeds that have been blown, or dropped by birds, and there they sit, withering and dying, exposed to the elements of unmerciful sun, for 25, 40, 50 years.
And then the fog rolls in. A deep fog, a fog that is cool, and so moist that it will cause those seeds to germinate. And I’ve seen it! That whole desert blooms in the most amazing colour for two or three weeks. All the farmers from the highlands bring all of their flocks down to graze, and they will literally be able to feed a whole flock of llamas, and sheep, and alpacas, for three weeks on what is always seen as desert. And yet, all of a sudden, by the mystery of God’s grace, the fog rolls in, and there is life.
But our waiting upon seeds to flourish is not the waiting of a stagnant pool of tears. This waiting is waiting upon a living spring that is ever flowing and ever nurturing: God’s love, creating family out of diversity. If we could all move to that place that I have been so privileged to have, to be able to say that the Sisters of St. Ann are my aunties, that we could say that of all of our family, here. The living spring is how we wait, not in a stagnant puddle of tears. And it is living because we are here, and we are living because of God’s grace, and that grace is a love that upon which, from time to time, comes the moist dew of God’s love, and causes a great bloom.
We are living in beautiful times, and so in this 160th Anniversary, consecrated women, witness to the enduring presence of the life-giving spring of God’s peace, mercy, justice, and love, in a world that we know God will not permit to become a desert forever.
Thank you, Sisters. Blessings and peace, and I will drop in for tea at my aunties’ homes.
A Voice for the Voiceless
Homily from Mass for the 2018 March for Life
Thank you, Fr. Michael, for proclaiming the Gospel. Fr. John and dear brother Priests, Sisters, holy people of God—Welcome! A special welcome to the folks who are across the water … a special welcome to the time that you have taken in your own busy lives here in the Diocese of Victoria and the Archdiocese of Vancouver, and perhaps beyond. I see some Yukoners here, but I think they relocated to Victoria.
I’m really gratified that you’ve taken the time to show your respect for the dignity and the sacredness of life from conception to natural end. My hands go out to you. It’s beautiful.
At the end of the Gospel, Jesus says that the world will rejoice, and you will have pain, and be mourning and weeping. This doesn’t sound like a very good throne speech for government. It doesn’t sound like an exciting message to rally behind, and yet you are here, because you, as believers in Jesus Christ, have decided to follow Jesus, even though it has often historically, for us as Christians, and particularly today, meant a mourning and a weeping, and certainly significant pain in the present political climate.
But let me invite you to a radical Pro-life stance in this particular time and place, on the West Coast of Canada. I suggest that a radical Pro-life stance is the invitation to accompaniment, to drawing close to, and indeed, embracing in a powerful and real and tangible way, those who weep and mourn. Those who are in pain. In fact, as this rally today is about raising our voices—to be the voice of the voiceless, to be an authentic voice of the voiceless, the vulnerable—is to embrace the mourning and weeping of the voiceless. To embrace in real terms, the suffering.
Let me, in the middle of this homily, quote something from our Holy Father Pope Francis in his most recent Apostolic Exhortation (Gaudete et Exsultate, Rejoice and Be Glad, published April 9, 2018), which is the call to holiness in the contemporary world. None of us would be here unless we had heard that call, and in some measure in our lives, have been trying to live out a holy life, and that’s why we’re here.
Our Holy Father, speaks very clearly about the defense of innocent life; of ideological errors; and of the tremendous harmony that people like Mother Theresa made between the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and the living of the Gospel in real terms with real people. Pope Francis says that sometimes we get divided. I suppose in ordinary parlance, we’d say, You gotta walk the talk. And so, Pope Francis:
The other harmful ideological error is found in those who find suspect the social engagement of others, seeing it as superficial, worldly, secular, materialist, communist or populist. Or they relativize it, as if there are other more important matters, or the only thing that counts is one particular ethical issue or cause that they themselves defend. Our defense of the innocent unborn, for example, needs to be clear, firm and passionate, for at stake is the dignity of a human life, which is always sacred and demands love for each person, regardless of his or her stage of development. Equally sacred, however, are the lives of the poor, those already born, the destitute, the abandoned and the underprivileged, the vulnerable infirm and elderly exposed to covert euthanasia, the victims of human trafficking, new forms of slavery, and every form of rejection. We cannot uphold an ideal of holiness that would ignore injustice in a world where some revel, spend with abandon and live only for the latest consumer goods, even as others look on from afar, living their entire lives in abject poverty. (Gaudete et Exsultate, 101)
The late Cardinal Bernardin would have described this as the seamless garment of a Pro-life stance in life.
The invitation in this particular time in Canada to a Pro-life stance is an invitation to profound encounter and accompaniment. Our voice is only credible, and can only be credible, when we are close to the voiceless: when we feel the pain of those in addictions, in those suffering illness, in those in long-term care institutions. The voice of the voiceless is heard through our own personal witness of encounter.
Marches are nice, on pleasant spring days in the capital of our province, and I’m glad we’re here. But the real voice for us as Christians, and the real impact, is when we can say, I have a friend who is addicted to drugs. I have a friend. I have a family member who is in a long-term care facility, and I sit with them every day for two hours. The real voice is expressed when each of us can personally say that this circle of family and friends, the ones who are most vulnerable, is my circle of friends. We don’t have to go too far because most of us live in a rather urban setting. The streets and sidewalks of our urban settings have many people that are voiceless. The poverty is grinding; the homelessness is real. The opioid addiction crisis is taking so many, every day.
The real challenge for a Pro-life voice is that between this day and next May’s March for Life, we’ve made a friend of the vulnerable, the marginal, and those that our society would just as soon see disappear. It is the only voice that we have left as a Christian church, that is credible in this country. I’ll say that again: it is the only voice that the Christian church has left in this country, that is credible—that we have a friend who is voiceless because of the marginalizations of addictions, homelessness, poverty, and grave sickness.
So if I can leave you with a challenge as we go out the doors of this amazing cathedral, St. Andrew’s, it is that we start to think about our own sidewalks in our own village, and discover ways of creating closeness and encounter. I can tell you with every honesty that then your voice will be heard, and will resound to the heavenly halls where our Lord has ascended and continues to weep and to mourn with those who weep and mourn.
I’ve got notes this time! I don’t usually have notes, but there’s a few things that I want to be very accurate about. And sometimes my memory fails me just momentarily. But I wanted to begin this homily in this beautiful moment of the Chrism Mass with a quote from the First Reading, and then to continue to look at the First Reading and the Gospel, particularly for what it means to be anointed ones.
This is where I’ll begin: All who see them shall acknowledge that they are a people whom the Lord has blessed.
That’s you! All who see them shall acknowledge that they are a people whom the Lord has blessed. Don’t look over your shoulder! It is you. All of us, here. The Word of God goes on to describe God’s people as anointed. Anointed. We are the anointed ones by virtue of our baptism and confirmation, and the Sacrament of Holy Orders. Anointed.
And we are anointed and consecrated in the same way that Jesus Christ was anointed and consecrated. And the question, of course, is: For what? Why?
Well, first of all, let me remind you and our brother priests, and myself, that this home here, our home, St. Andrew’s Cathedral, at this moment, is filled with amazing gifts, contained in us. One of the wonderful things about being here for a little more than three years, is, I actually know some people! I actually know my brother priests quite well. Better than you think!
And I know many of you quite well. I’ve had opportunity to be in your communities, and to stay awhile. You are amazing. The gifts that the Holy Spirit has poured out upon this congregation, and upon the congregations in our Diocese, are amazing, are everything that we could ever wish for. Everything that is needed in this Diocese is here. We don’t have to get anybody to come in from outside to be the fullness of the Church of God in this Diocese. Because, my experience in knowing you, in knowing my brothers, is all the gifts are here for the fullness of the proclamation of the Good News of the Gospel of joy, right here.
And now I go back to that question: For what are we anointed as a priestly people? For what are we ordained as a ministerial priesthood? Let me give two reflections on that.
The first one is that there is only one priesthood of Jesus Christ, by virtue of baptism, which is lived out, and seen, in a twofold reality of the priesthood of Christ: with giftedness, and with leadership.
The leadership of the priestly people, found in the ordained, is to be at the absolute service of the whole people that live in this Diocese. Now, the priests have heard me say this before, when I’m in their parishes, “Father, did you know that you are responsible for every living soul in your geographic boundaries? Not just the ones who show up at church: you’re responsible for all of them.” And as I say that, oftentimes they kind of sink in the chair a bit. But then, they are lifted by the fact that they look out and they see the giftedness of the priestly people of God, who together share a responsibility for all those people.
To do what, though? What’s it all about, to be a priestly people with gifts of leadership, and gifts of service, and gifts to be the body of Christ?
This is where my second point lies. And here we go directly to the First Reading and the Gospel, and we find the words that describe our collaborative effort together as the Church of God in this Diocese. Here’s the description of how the prophet Isaiah and Jesus Christ saw themselves as a priestly people, and a ministerial people, and a people of service. These are words I think would give a pastoral plan in a parish, and in a diocese, and these are definitely challenging words.
But they’re not my words, they are the Word of God, about what it is we are about. What it is to be Church, what it is to be anointed ones.
Anointed for bringing Good News to the oppressed. Anointed to bind up the brokenhearted. Anointed to give liberty to captives, release to prisoners, and to comfort all who mourn.
And in the Gospel:
Anointed to bring Good News to the poor, release to captives, sight to the blind, and let the oppressed go free, in a year of favour from the Lord.
That’s the pastoral plan of Jesus Christ! That’s the pastoral plan of our God! At every single Finance Committee meeting, and every single Parish Council meeting, this should be the Mission Statement: God’s Word about what we are anointed for. The oppressed. The brokenhearted. Captives. Prisoners. Those who mourn. The poor.
And how does that happen? The same way that Jesus made it happen. Closeness.
That’s why we use oil. You know, we don’t use a spray bomb for the oil. Oil can only be applied when we are really close. Really close. And this pastoral plan given to us by the Word of God—for the oppressed, the brokenhearted, the captives, prisoners, the mourners, the poor, the blind—this pastoral plan can only happen the same way that Jesus Christ made it happen—my dear brothers and sisters, because he was close. I think Pope Francis likens it to smelling like sheep.
This is a big challenge. I don’t want you to get the wrong idea, but nothing in this list refers to the cultic actions of the liturgy. It doesn’t talk about Mass, or Church. Not that Mass and Church aren’t good, to give us strength and grace, but if we’re going to craft a pastoral plan as anointed ones, together as God’s people, as a priestly people in the image and likeness of the priesthood of Jesus Christ, then I am holding out to my brother priests, and to God’s people of the Diocese, a vision. A vision of radical closeness, and accompaniment.
We don’t have to go too far to find the oppressed, or the brokenhearted, for sure. If I just count the number of funerals that Fr. Roger, Fr. Joe, and I have done for victims of suicide … the brokenhearted. The captives. Oh my. People’s souls are so captive. Those who mourn. The poor. The blind.
We are anointed, and as the prophet Isaiah says, All who see them shall acknowledge that they are a people whom the Lord has blessed. Let us count our blessings, the gifts that have been poured out so abundantly upon this people, this Diocese, and let us put all of our gifts at the foot of the Cross of Jesus Christ, and say:
Lord, make us a priestly people, to do Your pastoral plan, as given in your Holy Word, and the prophet Isaiah, and the Gospel of Luke. Give us grace, Lord, give us strength, to live your pastoral plan, so that all may know the year of the Lord’s favour.
The Lord’s favour, for every single person in this beautiful Diocese, where the water never freezes, and the blossoms come out early, and the sun shines, and we live a perpetual springtime.
Let us be that springtime in the pastoral plan of God’s Holy Word.
I kind of forgot how big this place was! I’ve been away for six months in Port Alberni. Did you miss me?
There’s a lot of people here. It’s really something to see this many people showing up on a Wednesday night. This is really something. I’m impressed. More than impressed. I guess I shouldn’t be amazed because I know you’ve got so much faith, and it’s really beautiful.
And speaking of beauty, I thought, on this Ash Wednesday, I would talk about Valentine’s Day. It is Valentine’s Day, you know. A gentleman drove up in front of the Pastoral Centre today, and he was looking for what time Mass would be at Sacred Heart, and I didn’t know. He said, “Well, you’re the Bishop, how come you don’t know?” I said, “Because I’m not the pastor!” I rang the doorbell and got Fr. David, and found out Mass was at 6 pm. Then I said, “If you’re late for the 6 pm, you can come to the Cathedral at 7 pm!” And then he said, “Yeah, and it’s Valentine’s Day, and my wife wants me at home!”
You may all remember, when you were in grade school, we had all these little Valentine’s stickers and cards. This was a wonderful thing, and everybody had a lot of fun handing out these Valentine’s cards—and why am I speaking about this on Ash Wednesday?
Because Lent is all about the heart. Valentine’s Day is all about the heart, at least, I remember seeing the little cards with all these nice little hearts, some with an arrow through it … it’s all about the heart! That’s what Lent is about. Lent is all about the heart. God is not interested in what you look like! God is not interested in what you wear. God is not interested in whether you’re young or old, or big or small. God is interested in your heart.
And guess what? Here is something that we really need to think about during Lent: my heart and your heart look exactly the same! How about that? Did you know that? Modern science and medicine have shown us that your heart and my heart are exactly the same. Can you imagine the kind of world we would have if we just let our hearts speak to each other? Think about it. It’s beautiful, isn’t it? God is interested in our hearts.
I’d like to suggest a way in which we can approach this beautiful season of Lent. As we know from the Valentine’s Day cards, and the Valentine’s Day messages, it’s about being in love. And you often see two hearts on some of the cards, and they are very close to each other. It’s really hard to say that you’re in love if you’re far apart.
I think, and we know, that love demands a closeness, a relationship, a communion, a conversation, a dialogue, so that there is love. So here’s my suggestion for Lent: Let’s invite Jesus to be close to us. And you know what? His heart looks just like yours. He’s got the same heart as we do. Let’s invite Jesus to be close to us, allow Jesus to be close to us. It says in the first reading that God is the God of compassion, and tenderness, and mercy. So it’s a wonderful invitation: Jesus, be close to me.
The second thing—in a few moments, we’re going to sprinkle a few ashes on your head. Look at how many people have shown up to get ashes thrown on them. You guys are really something. And I invite you to get close to your frail humanity. Get close to your fragility. Get close to your weakness. Get close to this fact that unto dust we return. Get close to the weakness that is our sinfulness, our pain, our suffering. Get close to this frail dust that is us. It’s a great time, Lent, getting close to this fragility, and God, in God’s graciousness, holds that fragility, holds that frailness. God holds that heart that is your heart, and my heart.
And the third invitation for this beautiful, wonderful season of Lent — Lent is a word that means springtime, newness. Something new is happening. Jesus is coming close to our hearts; we are coming close to our own frailty; and thirdly, we need to get close to the poor. Of all the things that we are invited to as Christians, it is to become close to those who are poor, to those who are vulnerable, to those who are weak. To be able to say, “I have a friend who lives on the street.” Get close to the poor and vulnerable. To be able to say, “I have a friend who is in William Head jail.” Get close to the poor and the vulnerable.
So in this beautiful time of Lent, I invite you to closeness, the closeness of Jesus Christ, the closeness of our own fragility and weakness—and the challenge for all of us is to become close to the poor, the vulnerable, and the weak.
I want you to know that I am praying for you, all through Lent. Actually, I pray for you all year, but in a special way, I want you to know that you’re really in my heart during Lent. It’s so that your hearts may know the closeness of Jesus.
A nice thought is to let Jesus get close enough to take your pulse. It’s a beautiful thought. Jesus, taking your pulse. And if we could just get close enough to one another to take their pulse, especially close enough to the poor, the vulnerable, the people who we may not want to be close to. If we could just reach out, take their pulse—what you find is that everyone has the same pulse; it’s beautiful. So may this holy season of Lent, which just happens to start on Valentine’s Day, be a wonderful season for our hearts.
Have a good Lent. It’s a wonderful springtime. It’s a time of precious, boundless mercy, given to us in Jesus Christ, our Lord.
Watch Bishop Gary’s homily online: www.youtube.com/watch?v=6OLen8ozg9Y
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Accoradtion Demo. One of the best ways you can learn about the Catholic Faith is to contact a Catholic parish near you to let them know that you are interested in learning more about the Faith. You can also explore an Overview of Catholic Teaching on our website, or consult the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
One of the best ways you can learn about the Catholic Faith is to contact a Catholic parish near you to let them know that you are interested in learning more about the Faith. You can also explore an Overview of Catholic Teaching on our website, or consult the Catechism of the Catholic Church.