What is a Catholic education anyway?


Regardless of background, ethnicity or faith tradition, almost everyone in our society today would argue that education is important.  We all acknowledge that becoming an “educated” person is worthwhile.  We spend a huge portion of our earnings and savings (or all of them and more!) on achieving that goal.  But, what does it mean to be an educated person?

This is an especially important question for those seeking a “Catholic” education.  What does a “Catholic education” look like in 2014?  What is its goal?  How is it unique?

There has been a trend, of sorts, developing in the area of Catholic institutions across North America and particularly in the United States whereby a school tries to be more Catholic by becoming more isolated or removed.  An attitude of protectionism from the disintegrating culture drives these initiatives.  Granted, there aren’t many of them, but there are enough to draw attention and sway popular opinion towards a presumption that the attitude behind them is, in fact, that of the mainline Catholic Church.

In his address during the plenary session of the Congregation for Catholic Education in February of this year, Pope Francis warned that this kind of isolationism is not the answer to the problems facing our societies today, but rather, Catholic institutions must “know how to enter, with courage, into the Areopagus of contemporary cultures and to initiate dialogue, aware of the gift they are able to offer to all.”  He went on to say that “education in our times is guided by a changing generation, and that, therefore, every educator – and the Church as a whole is an educating mother – is required to change, in the sense of knowing how to communicate with the young.”

When the topic of education arises, especially regarding Catholic education, it is important to be aware of these two approaches: the isolationist and the dialogical-adaptive.  Catholics must ask themselves – not least because we are frequently being asked by others – what is a Catholic education?  It is clear how Pope Francis would answer the question.

This question is also the theme of one episode of Salt and Light’s series The Church Alive.  In the episode, we go to the foundation of the Church’s teaching on education and discuss how it must adapt to the modern world in order to effect change.  This program is essential for educators at the high school and university levels, and for adult faith formation groups at parishes.

Purchase The Church Alive at the Salt and Light store

Deacon-structing: The Word Part Four

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Proclaiming the Word: Part Four

Last time we looked at why a homily must be scriptural, pastoral, catechetical and liturgical and that there should be one key message (focus) and one suggestion as to how we can respond to that message (function). These are great suggestions for organizing your text. However, no matter what, the preacher must ultimately stand in front of a group of people and communicate. This is where I see most homiletics courses failing (and I’m sad to say was missing in the preaching conference at St. Augustine’s).

Being a great writer of homilies and a great reader of texts, does not make one a great preacher. The first talk at the conference was by Fr. James Sullivan, OP. I will never forget when he said that, “to read someone else’s text is not preaching.” He added, “don’t read at all, even if it’s your own text.” I will deal with this during our last installment of this series.

Before we get to that, after we’ve zeroed in on a focus and function and have an idea of how to make it scriptural, catechetical, pastoral and liturgical, we still need to be able to communicate this message in a way that people will listen and can relate.

Fr. Guerric DeBona, OSB uses another homiletic model that he has taken from best-selling business and executive education writers, Chip and Dan Heath that is labelled, “SUCCESs.” This model is one that makes sense to me and so I’d like to explore how I can prepare a homily to make sure that all  (or most ) of the SUCCESs elements are present.

S – Simple: I have addressed this above. Focus on one point. This is the purpose of having a key statement or a focus. I must add that it does not need to be complicated. Sometimes the fact that it is just one idea does not guarantee that the message will be simple. I am a great fan of children’s homilies. I think most people are. The children understand. The teens understand. The parents understand. By force, these homilies have to be simple. It’s not a bad idea to keep this in mind.

U – Unexpected: This is a classic communications strategy. It is important to keep in mind that it is not done for the purposes of being gimmicky. It can only be done if it makes sense with the focus and function. I think the best example of using something that is unexpected is when a preacher does not have an answer, or begins a homily with, “I don’t understand…” or “I hate this about Christianity…” (I can see how I can “hate” having to love everyone, or the fact that being a Christian means that we will be criticised or persecuted, or that we have to carry our cross.) This can be an effective tool, because many people sitting in the pews will identify with our struggles.

C – Concrete: Again, having a clear focus will help with this. To me, being concrete means that the images and examples that I use have to be tangible. It is not very easy for people who are listening to grasp nebulous, abstract ideas or concepts. We have to give them concrete examples, things that they can relate to. For an idea or image to be concrete it has to be specific. It’s not enough to say, “In some countries they deal with some challenges when it comes to education.” That is too general. Tell them which countries and what the challenges are: “In Panama, most kids quit school before they get to highschool…” for example. Furthermore, it is my experience working in drama and as an actor, that when we have a concrete image of what we are talking about (as when speaking about something personal), it gets communicated best. It is as if the image that we have in our mind, is formed in the minds of the listeners. A good question to ask is, “how does this look, smell, feel, taste or sound.”

C – Credible: To me credibility has to do with the authenticity of the preacher and with the language he uses. If I am using words that no one can understand or language that is condescending or authoritative, I will not be credible. If I am not able to bring myself into my preaching (not that I have to talk about myself), then it will be hard for the listeners to believe me, to relate to me. In many ways, communication is about relationship and as such, a homily is not a monologue but a dialogue. People in the congregation may not verbally respond, but they are listening, reacting; images are forming in their minds. A good preacher is looking at them, his non-verbal language nuancing how his message is being received (this is why I don’t believe that reading a text, no matter how brilliant the text is, is good enough). The CATH White Paper suggests as one of the Preaching Competencies that a homily must be personal. I believe that this is what it means. It has to be authentic and loving.

E – Emotions: This is why movies, TV, music, video games, pictures and advertising are so effective: They are not intellectual; they are emotional. A good movie or song may have an intellectual message, but what makes it connect with people, what makes it move people, is that it speaks to the heart. Advertising works because people are not supposed to think about the ad. If people think about the ad, it no longer works. A good documentary or even newspaper story is most effective when it incorporates something emotional. The easiest way to use emotion is to be specific and to tell stories.

S- Stories: People love stories. Jesus himself used stories to explain ideas that cannot be explained. Some of the most memorable homilies for me have been stories (another reason why children’s homilies are effective).

The CATH White Paper lists that one of the Preaching Competencies, is “Clarifying.” While I have already covered elements of this category (doctrinal, pastoral, simple), I’d like to expand a bit, since this is an important goal of a homily: A homily needs to make a point that is worth making. It is not just giving good advice or a good bible study. A good homily helps the Word come alive in people’s lives and does so responsibly, pastorally and theologically. This is good news. It should be life-changing. People should leave the Church moved to action, like the wise men who “went another way” after they met the Christ, or the disciples of Emmaus whose hearts were burning within them.

Using the above model, in preparing for a homily, I will always ask myself, is it simple, is it unexpected, is it concrete, is it credible,  is it emotional and did I use stories. Lastly, I will ask myself, is this a message that I would like to hear and that is news to me. I have amassed quite a list of questions to help me prepare, but I think that it is a good way to stay focused on the purpose of a homily.

Come back next time and I’ll give you some tips that I learned in Theatre school about communicating a message and bringing a written text to life.

Deacon-structing: The Word Part Three

Last time  I wrote about what makes a good homily and what is an image of a preacher.  At the preaching conference, most of the presenters dedicated their talks to how a homilist should prepare. “Prepare the homilist; not the homily” was a phrase used by Cardinal Thomas Collins of Toronto during the keynote opening address. This, of course, does not mean that a preacher should not prepare the homily. Here’s how I think a homilist should prepare.

A good preacher must first be a person of the Gospels. Both Fr. Guerric DeBona, OSB in his book Preaching Effectively, Revitalizing Your Church as well as the USCCB publication, Fulfilled in Your Hearing speak of being “listeners of the Word” and “listeners of the people.” Not only do I have to be knowledgeable of Scripture, but I must pray the Scriptures. I must let the Scriptures speak to me – not just while preparing a homily, but all the time. The practice of Lectio Divina and the Office of Readings as is the Liturgy of the Hours, are an integral part of this. In fact, out of the eight presenters during the conference, five of them spoke of the importance of Lectio Divina.

When I approach the Scriptures I am not just reading and/or praying. I also go to the Scriptures to look for hope. I must ask myself, where is the hope in this reading? Where is the good news? Fulfilled in Your Hearing suggests that preachers go to the Scriptures asking four questions:

1-What is the human situation to which these texts were originally addressed?

2-To what human concerns and questions might these same texts have spoken through the Church’s history?

3-What is the human situation to which they can speak today? And

4-How can they help us to understand, to interpret our lives in such a way that we can turn to God with praise and thanksgiving?

In order to help the People of God find meaning for themselves in the Gospel message, I must ask these questions. I must ask these questions every time I read Scripture, so that they become second nature to my relationship with the Scriptures.

But, I began last time, by defining a homily as a witness that is honest, truthful and authentic. It needs to be clear, simple and concrete. It also needs to be pastoral, sacramental, liturgical and doctrinal. And so, I need to ask myself all these questions. I also need to zero in on the key message that I hope to share. This will force me to have one message and not a confusion of ideas. I need to think of concrete ways to share and interpret this message. It may require research. It may require looking at current affairs or examples from popular culture. The key message needs to be something about Christ or God. It is not enough to say, for example, that “today’s message is that we need to go to confession.” That is not Christ-centred. The Christological message about confession is that Christ forgives all our sins! That is good news! But, it may not be sufficient to say that Christ forgives all our sins – how do we respond to this good news?

And so an important approach for me is to find a key message. Fr. DeBona calls it the “pearl” or “focus.” The focus has to be about Christ or God. Then I have to find what Fr. DeBona calls the “function.” The function has to be an action with which the congregation can respond to the “focus.” For example, if the focus is that Christ forgives all our sins, the function can be that we need to be repentant and approach the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

In 1999 the Catholic Association of Teachers of Homiletics (CATH) updated its 1992 “Report on Homiletics Curriculum and Preaching Professor Certification”. The resulting document is titled, Roman Catholic Homiletic Preaching Competencies, but is referred to as the “CATH White Paper”. According to the “white paper” the homily needs to be sacramental and liturgical. One way of achieving this is to find part of the “function” (the response to the “Focus”) in how we respond through the Sacraments and through the Liturgy. It is always appropriate to lead out of the homily inviting people to enter into the next movement of the Liturgy. This should not be hard if the homily is indeed inviting us to praise and thanksgiving.

Lastly, I think that the homily needs to be doctrinal. This can simply mean that the truths that are being shared are not the preacher’s personal truths, but the truths of the Church. We have to be sure that what we are sharing is part of the Teaching Office of the Church. And so, to use the above example – to tell people that Christ will forgive our sins in the quiet of our bedroom, may need some further explanation if we are to be true to the fullness of the Church’s Teaching on the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

Being doctrinal may mean, on occasion, that the preacher has to teach an important point of doctrine. This sometimes takes place on a special feast, where it may be appropriate to share briefly about a historical point (why we celebrate the Triumph of the Cross, or the Chair of Peter, for example). It is important, if we do so, that this is not the main focus of the homily. We have to remember that the focus needs to be Christ or God-centred.

And so we agree that the preacher has to be a man of prayer and a man of the Gospels. I spoke the first time that the preacher has to also be a listener of the people; the preacher must know his congregation. Today we looked at some ways a preacher can help focus on what the message of a particular homily is. Next time we will look at some more tips for making your homily effective and memorable.

Deacon-structing: The Word Part Two

As I wrote last Sunday, last week I attended a preaching conference as part of St. Augustine’s Seminary 100th anniversary events. It was a who’s who in preaching, with all the talks by homiletics experts from all over North America.

I think about homilies all the time. Not so much because I have to prepare one at least once a month, but because I have to listen to one at least once a week. I’m also a public speaker, and TV and radio host, so I am thinking about communication all the time.

After the conference I dug out a paper I wrote when I was in formation for the Permanent Diaconate for our homiletics course. One of the main questions we had then (and that I still have now) is “what is a homily?”. How would you respond to that question?

Here’s my definition: A homily is a joyful, loving, passionate, clear, simple and concrete teaching/learning, challenge and witness that empowers and encourages to action and to growth the people of God through the power of the Word. A good homily needs to be truthful, authentic and honest, as well as sacramental, liturgical, scriptural, pastoral, doctrinal and Christological. Our homiletics professor, Deacon Peter Lovrick thought that was a tall order.

But I think that an outstanding homily has to be authentic, personal, loving and honest. If I want to be an outstanding preacher, I need to speak with authority and joy. I have to use concrete images, stories and other tools, such as music or art to share the Good News.

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has a very helpful little document on preaching called “Fulfilled in Your Hearing”. According to that publication, a preacher is a “mediator of meaning, representing both the community and the Lord”. This makes sense to me. It means that the preacher is so much more that someone who interprets Scripture: “The preacher acts as a mediator, making connections between the real lives of people who believe in Jesus Christ but are not always sure what difference faith can make in their lives, and the God who calls us into ever deeper communion with himself and with one another.” The document continues, “Especially in the Eucharistic celebration, the sign of God’s saving presence among his people, the preacher is called to point to the signs of God’s presence in the lives of his people so that, in joyous recognition of that presence, they may join the angels and saints to proclaim God’s glory and sing with them their unending hymn of praise.”

To me, while the above deals with the purpose of a homily at a higher level (that a preacher’s job is really to lead people to thanksgiving and praise) the role of the preacher is much more specific. Homilies that move me are ones that are personal and spoken with honesty and truth. They are pastoral in that they help me make connections between the realities of my life and the realities of the Gospel. A good homily doesn’t always give answers, but helps us see how God is present and acting in our lives, in the midst of whatever reality we may be facing. Fulfilled in Your Hearing clarifies this: “What the Word of God offers us is a way to interpret our human lives, a way to face the ambiguities and challenges of the human condition, not a pat answer to every problem and question that comes along.” In this way, in order for a homily to be pastoral, it has to be scriptural and also Christological.

I was eager to meet Fr. Guerric DeBona, OSB at the conference because we studied with his book Preaching Effectively, Revitalizing Your Church. In it he offers four models of preaching, as described by Robert Waznak (who has written many books on preaching, the most popular, An Introduction to the Homily). The four models are: The Herald; the Witness; the Teacher and the Interpreter. (Preaching Effectively, pages 156-162)

HERALD: The word herald is taken from the New Testament Greek word, “kerusein”, which literally means, “to proclaim”. I like the image of the proclaimer (more so than the word herald) which really does not mean much to me. After all, Jesus himself sent us to the ends of the earth to proclaim the good news (Mark 16:15) and the Second Vatican Council Document, Decree on the Ministry and Life of Priests, states clearly that the primary duty of priests (and deacons) is the proclamation of the Gospel to all. (Chapter II, Section 1, #4)

John the Baptist is the image of the herald for me. While other prophets, like Isaiah or Jeremiah are also proclaimers of the Word, John the Baptist literally proclaims THE Word, who is Christ. He is the voice crying out in the wilderness. (Mark 1:2-3) Like John the Baptist, a proclaimer is more than just someone who speaks. To proclaim is to announce passionately; to declare publicly. Proclaim it from the housetops  (Matthew 10:27) was Pope John Paul II’s message in 2005 to those responsible for Communications. (Apostolic Letter, The Rapid Development, John Paul II) and a message he repeated to pilgrims at World Youth Day 2002. To proclaim requires something important that has to be said. We cannot proclaim in secret. Proclamation requires a large voice, for the message is monumental. If proclamation required a musical instrument, it would not be a flute, but a trumpet!

WITNESS/TEACHER: If the Gospel of Mark ends with Jesus‚ command that we are to proclaim the good news to the whole creation, (Mark 16:15) the Book of Acts tells us how we are about to do this. The author of the Book of Acts describes the same event slightly differently: Before his ascension, Jesus tells the disciples, that they will be clothed with power from on high and they will be his witnesses throughout the ends of the earth. (Acts 1:8) If Mark says that we are to proclaim, Luke in Acts tells us that we are to do so by witnessing! Fr. DeBona uses a wonderful explanation of the power of witness, taken from Paul VI’s On Evangelization in the Modern World. Paul VI wrote that people are looking for authenticity, truth and honesty and therefore they respond more to witnesses than to teachers. In fact, if they respond to teachers, it is because these teachers are witnesses first. While the image of teacher is not entirely a bad one for me, sometimes we associate teachers with someone who is authoritative and who speaks above the listeners. Sometimes teachers are more concerned with being heard and with teaching than they are with relating. It is because of this that I prefer to use the image of proclaimer and witness, than that of teacher, although, I do believe that there is a place for teaching during a homily.

INTERPRETER: The last image Robert Waznak proposes is that of an interpreter. This is an image that is also found in Fulfilled in Your Hearing, as we saw above. While the meaning of the word may be accurate, it is not an image that for me conjures up warmth and relationship. To me, an interpreter is merely someone concerned with meaning and ideas. I think that a preacher is much more. A preacher interprets the Gospel into the realities of the listeners, but more importantly does so in a spirit of hope.

ANOTHER IMAGE: The end of the Gospel of Luke leaves us with a wonderful image of a preacher: Jesus himself. On the road to Emmaus, Jesus opens up the Scriptures to the two travellers. (Luke 24:13-35) At the end, they were left with hearts burning within them. (Luke 24:32) Every outstanding homily has left me with my heart burning within me. How do we do this? I think that first of all the preacher’s heart has to be burning. Fr. Guerric DeBona offers a wonderful image: John Wesley was once asked about the source of his effective preaching. Wesley said, “I set myself on fire and people come to watch me burn.”

MY IMAGE OF PREACHER: To me, a preacher is like a bon-fire that signals to a great distance and also gives warmth and invites people to gather. A preacher is also like a trumpet playing a warm melody. It carries importance and royal authority. His message is moving and touches the heart. It proclaims and witnesses to the good news. For these reasons, the word that best conjures up the image of a preacher for me is evangelisor.  The word evangelisor, by definition, is someone who shares or spreads the good news, the Gospel. An evangelisor is a proclaimer and a witness. An evangelisor sometimes teaches and sometimes interprets (as Jesus did on the road to Emmaus). I hope to be a preacher who, first and foremost is the bringer of good news. But not just any good news: the Good News of Jesus Christ. I hope to proclaim it, as it is the most important news there is to share. I hope to do so passionately and with joy. I hope to be a voice crying out in the wilderness. I hope to set myself on fire with the Word and, by the Grace of God, this fire will spread to those all around.

Come back on Sunday to find out how I think all homilists should prepare and please, tell me what you think. What do you think defines a good homily? What is your image of a preacher? Share your thoughts with us.

Deacon-structing: The Word Part One

Pope Benedict wrote in the Apostolic Exhortation Verbum Domini that “the homily is a means of bringing the scriptural message to life in a way that helps the faithful to realize that God’s word is present and at work in their everyday lives.” (VD 59) Add to that the 18 pages that Pope Francis dedicated to preaching in his Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium. In it he writes: “The homily is the touchstone for judging a pastor’s closeness and ability to communicate to his people. We know that the faithful attach great importance to it, and that both they and their ordained ministers suffer because of homilies: the laity from having to listen to them and the clergy from having to preach them!” (EG 135) It was with these thoughts in mind that I attended the preaching conference held at Toronto’s St. Augustine’s Seminary last week. The conference was titled, “How to Make Catholic Preaching Better.”

I’m a deacon. I am the minister of the Word. I think homilies are important. But before I was a deacon, I thought homilies were important (I went to theatre school and have spent the last 30 years of my life doing live theatre, film and TV, so I’ve always been a bit critical of public speakers in general) and I suspect that most of you “attach great importance” to the homily, but did you know that according to the Church, preaching is the main duty of deacons, priests and bishops? Fr. Guerric DeBona, OSB of St. Meinrad Seminary made this point very clear. In the Vatican II decree on the ministry and life of priests it says, “The People of God are joined together primarily by the word of the living God. And rightfully they expect this from their priests. Since no one can be saved who does not first believe, priests, as co-workers with their bishops, have the primary duty of proclaiming the Gospel of God to all. In this way they fulfill the command of the Lord: “Going therefore into the whole world preach the Gospel to every creature” (Mk 16:15) (Presbyterorum Ordinis #4) On the last day of the conference, Toronto Auxiliary Bishop, John Boissoneau reminded us that since the Council of Trent it has been the primary duty of Bishops to proclaim the Word of God.

So why is it that so often we come out of the Liturgy of the Word uninspired and unmoved? When was the last time you heard a good homily? Or better yet, what is a good homily? Toronto Deacon Peter Lovrick, who organized the conference began by telling us the results of a survey of  conference participants: 50% said that generally in North America preaching needed improvement; however 43% of the respondents claimed that their preaching was “good”. Fr. James Heft, SM of the Institute for Advanced Catholic Studies of the University of Southern California also shared the results of a survey he used to do with seminarians. Commonly they would say that 90% of homilists were poor preachers. At the same time, 90% of these same seminarians would often claim that they were good preachers.

When Cardinal William Levada was Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith I heard him say that a good homily had to be scriptural, catechetical, pastoral and liturgical. That means that first, it has to be based on the readings of the day. Not necessarily that they have to be a Bible study, but it should be rooted in the readings. But it also has to be an opportunity for teaching us something about our faith and our relationship with God. They need to be pastoral because everything we do as ministers of the Word (which is not just preaching, by the way) is pastoral. That’s why Pope Francis keeps reminding us that we need to smell like the sheep. The pastoral component of the homily is the part that connects with the listeners, helping them make sense in their lives what is being proclaimed. Lastly, the homily is not separate from the liturgy. There’s a reason why the homily happens in the Mass; it’s not just a speech, lecture or sermon. The homily should invite us to respond to the Word through the Sacraments and through the Liturgy. It is always appropriate to lead out of the homily inviting people to enter into the next movement of the Liturgy. This should not be hard if the homily is indeed inviting us to praise and to thanksgiving. Outgoing rector of St. Augustine’s, Mons. Robert Nusca reminded us in his talk that a homily is not an academic exercise; it is rather a conversation between Christ and the people. The homily should lead to prayer, but also to thinking. Many of the other presenters said the same thing.

In Verbum Domini Pope Benedict also wrote: “[The homily] should lead to an understanding of the mystery being celebrated, serve as a summons to mission, and prepare the assembly for the profession of faith, the universal prayer and the Eucharistic Liturgy.” (VD 59) I guess that’s why I’ve been trying to say.

Several of the speakers at the conference made the point that while the preacher must be a listener of the Word, he must also be a listener of the people. A preacher must know the congregation. A preacher must be with the people; a shepherd must be with the sheep. Fr. Guerric DeBona who is also the author of the homiletics book that I studied with, Preaching Effectively, Revitalizing Your Church (Paulist Press), said that the shaping of your homily text must be determined by who is listening: “If the text is not geared to the particular congregation, the word is not “fulfilled in their hearing.” He added that the text needs to be brought to life. The preacher needs to put flesh and bones to the message for that particular congregation. It sounds like something I would have learned in Theatre school.

The opening keynote address was given by Toronto’s Archbishop, Cardinal Thomas Collins. One of his comments was that we must prepare the homilist before we prepare the homily. In fact, most of the speakers dedicated their talks to this very thing: helping prepare the homilist. The homilist has to be a man of prayer. The homilist has to in relationship with Scriptures. The homilist must be in constant study and prayer with the Word. As well as Cardinal Collins, four other of the eight presenters spoke about Lectio Divina and how important such type of prayer is for a homilist. Lastly, as I just wrote above, the homilist must be with the people.

The main question that I still have is what makes a good homily. I’m curious to know what you think. Do you believe that content is more important than style; that the medium is the message? Is it enough to have a great message if the preacher is not a good communicator? To read or not to read? To walk around or to stand behind the pulpit? If you are a preacher, how do you prepare? Write a comment; share with us what you think.

Attending the conference made me go back to a paper that I wrote for our homiletics class while I was in formation for the permanent diaconate. Come back on Wednesday and I’ll share with you what I found.


To listen to a conversation I had with Fr. Guerric DeBona on this very subject, listen to the May 31, 2014 edition of the SLHour.

Photo credit: Jesuit Father Gregory C. Chisholm, pastor at St. Charles Borromeo Church in the Harlem section of New York, delivers a homily at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York. (CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz)

“When in Rome….and when in Calgary…”

ecumenical service

By. Rev. Dr. Karen Hamilton (Canadian Council of Churches)

Given that the focus country of the 2014 Week of Prayer for Christian Unity was, for only the third time in the Week’s one hundred year history, Canada, it was no surprise that I should be invited to preach in a number of places.

It was a great honour to preach in Calgary on January 19th. Twice actually as I was invited to preach in an Anglican parish in the morning and then for the Week of Prayer service sponsored by the Calgary Council of Churches in the afternoon. Ecumenism abounded! And it abounded the next day as well as at a Calgary press conference we launched the new CCC resource on Human Trafficking in Canada and around the world. A dire subject. A calling for all of us who believe that all people are made in the image of God to eradicate this form of modern-day slavery. The resource is available on the CCC website.

Please educate, please act, please pray.

It was also a great honour to be invited to preach at the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity English language service in Rome. Yes, that Rome!

His Holiness Pope Francis was, of course, giving the homily at the Italian Week of Prayer service held in St. Paul’s Outside the Walls. I was invited to preach at the English Week of Prayer service, January 26th in San Silvestro. What an awesome privilege it was to be there with brothers and sisters of all Christian denominations – Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican, Church of Scotland, Evangelical as we prayed, sang, lit candles and heard and experienced the Word calling us forward in our unity in diversity, in our witness to the world. We reminded each other that the Church exists for the sake of the world, God’s world and we strive for unity in order to better manifest Christ, in order to better serve God’s people. The sermon I preached is posted on my Facebook page and is available to all.

 As the General Secretary of the focus country for the Week of Prayer, I was invited to be a special ecumenical guest at Pope Francis’ service as well. Ecumenism abounded there as His Holiness prayed at the tomb of St. Paul together with the representatives of the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Ecumenical Orthodox Patriarch. There were many Orthodox, Protestant and Anglican sisters and brothers there in prayer. We sang together, we lifted our hearts together.

And at the end of the service Pope Francis came to greet the ecumenical guests. I was able to tell him who I was, my position and my country. He asked me, as he does, simply and directly, to pray for him and so I have every day since.

After both services, after being special guest for the 125th anniversary celebration of the Pontifical Canadian College, which was where I was most graciously hosted, I was asked by a number of people what colour the Pope’s eyes are. Of course, we could all just look that up. It must be on Google somewhere, if not just evident from pictures. But my answer to the question was my experience – his eyes sparkled and shone with the love of Christ, with the love of the World.

May ours do the same every day, whether preaching in Rome or serving soup in an out-of-the-cold programme or holding the hand of a friend struggling with depression.

Pray for the Pope, Act in unity for the World.

Photo Courtesy of Dr. Karen Hamilton

IEC Day 2 – Maria Voce: ‘Communion in one Baptism’


Below is the full text of the catechesis by Maria Voce, leader of the Focolare Movement, as delivered on Day 2 of the 2012 International Eucharistic Congress in Dublin, Ireland.

Communion in one Baptism

Ten years ago I visited Ireland for the first time. I came to be with a dear friend, Lieta Betoño, who was dying. She was from Argentina and had spent thirty years of her life in Ireland in the Focolare community. I had often heard her speak of the warm welcome she had received in this country. During my brief visit here, I too, as well admiring the wonderful rainbows, enjoyed the warm family spirit in the communties I met.

I find the same spirit here among you and it is a joy to be here for this International Eucharistic Congress. I have been asked to share a short testimony on the topic of “Communion in one Baptism”.

Baptism is the sacrament that links all Christians. It is the sacramental bond of unity.
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The Cardinals: Embracing a logic of humility and service


By Fr. Thomas Rosica, C.S.B.

Cardinals are chosen by the Holy Father to serve as his principal assistants and advisers in the central administration of church affairs. Collectively, they form the College of Cardinals.  Some believe that the College of Cardinals is nothing more than an intention of a papacy of the Middle Ages, simply in need of a consultative body in a more turbulent period of the Church’s history.  Others believe it to be the embodiment of the self-aggrandizing Papacy of the High Renaissance. 

Although the theological origins of the Cardinalate might be traced loosely to Moses, the historic bonds are surely deeply rooted in the early Christian Church of Jerusalem.  The role of a Cardinal, as well as his title, is ancient.  For two centuries prior to the Christian era, Roman society had been organized hierarchically, with senators and patriarchs holding the highest office, each having assistants to carry through on their edicts or decrees.  Simultaneously, the Church continued to flourish, and its structure clearly mimicked that of the Roman Empire.  The original seven assistants chosen by the apostles in Jerusalem passed on, many martyred for their own faith.  They were replaced, in turn, by others who were consecrated as the need for these special assistants continued to grow alongside the growing infant Church.  This is in keeping with the original function of the College.

In the first centuries of the Church, the Bishop of Rome was surrounded by his presbyterium, or local priests and deacons along with the bishops of dioceses neighboring Rome. The presbyterium helped the Pope carry out his duties as bishop of the capital city of the Roman Empire. As those duties, over the centuries, began to increasingly involve all of Italy, then all of Europe, then the entire world, some of the priests and deacons who assisted the Pope began to be chosen from among non-Romans.  Today the body that was once limited in membership to the clergy of the city of Rome includes members from dozens of different countries.

The word cardinal is derived from two early Latin terms, cardo and cardinis.  The English translation has rendered these two words as “hinge,” to signify that important device that serves as a juncture for two opposing forces and that affords harmony as a result. As a hinge permits a door to hang easily upon a framed portal, it was believed that the cardinals facilitated an easy relationship between the theological and governmental roles of the hierarchy of the Church. The role of the College of Cardinals remains a pivotal one in the Church of our time.   

Cardinals have been called “the Princes of the Church,” “the Sacred College” and “the Senate of the Church.” Each of these terms tells us something about who they are.  If the cardinals are “princes,” they are not kings. They have a secondary role to that of the one who is above them: the Pope.

If they are a “sacred college,” they are not a secular one.  Their functions are in the religious sphere, not in the sphere of politics or economics or any other secular endeavor.  Their decisions are rooted in and spring from their faith; they have an essentially ecclesial, not societal horizon. At times their deliberations and decisions do affect politics and society. 

If they comprise “the senate of the Church,” they have some kind of deliberative function in the preparation and passage of legislation pertaining to the life of the Church. Their role is that of a group of senior Church members who can advise the Church’s leader, the Pope, on the right course of action in various situations affecting the life of the Church.

The College of Cardinals has one over-arching task: to elect the Bishop of Rome. This task has been entrusted exclusively to the College for almost 1,000 years, since 1179, about the time the College’s structure was formalized.

Cardinals do not “rank” one step higher than bishops because there is no higher spiritual “rank” in the Church than that of the bishop, which is itself simply the fullness of Holy Orders (the priesthood).  Even the Holy Father is Pope in virtue of the fact that he is the Bishop of Rome and for no other reason.  Bishops individually have full powers to lead their local Church communities in communion with one another and with the Bishop of Rome; the Bishop of Rome has this type of authority over Rome and over the entire Church, because of the Petrine commission.

The role of the College of Cardinals, though made up of bishops from around the world is clearly limited to advising the Bishop of Rome on the exercise of his universal Petrine mission, and its authority is entirely derivative. The cardinals are his closest advisors, helpers, councilors, friends, his eyes and ears around the world, and, sometimes, his voice. They share in his mission because they have been personally chosen by the Pope for that task.

There are three ranks of cardinals: cardinal bishops, cardinal priests and cardinal deacons, reflecting the fact that originally not all cardinals were bishops, or even priests. The cardinal bishops include the six titular bishops of the “suburbicarian” sees (the episcopal sees bordering on the city of Rome) and the Eastern patriarchs.

First in rank are the titular bishops of Ostia, Palestrina, Porto-Santa Rufina, Albano, Velletri-Segni, Frascati, Sabina-Poggio Mirteto.  The cardinal bishops are engaged in full-time service in the central administration of Church affairs in departments of the Roman Curia.

Cardinal priests, formerly the priests in charge of leading churches in Rome, are bishops whose dioceses are outside Rome.  Cardinal deacons, formerly chosen according to regional divisions of Rome, are titular bishops assigned to full-time service in the Roman Curia.

The dean and sub-dean of the College are elected by the cardinal bishops — subject to approval by the Pope — from among their number. The dean, or the sub-dean in his absence, presides over the entire College as the first among equals.

Since the time of BONIFACE VIII (1294-1303), cardinals have worn scarlet robes. The red hat dates back to the time of Innocent IV (1243-1254); in November 1246, while meeting with the King of France at Cluny, Innocent IV conferred the red hat on his cardinals.  The red hats given to the cardinals are the color of blood, signifying that they are expected to witness to the faith “usque ad sanguinis effusionem” — “even unto the shedding of blood” — that is, even as martyrs.  The color red symbolizes the blood shed by martyrs and witnesses for the faith.  Giving public, clear witness to the faith lies at the heart of the Cardinal’s mission. 

At the consistory of Cardinals in November 2010, Pope Benedict XVI addressed the new Cardinals at the Eucharistic celebration inaugurating their new ministry with these words: 

“This ministry is difficult because it is not in line with the human way of thinking — with that natural logic which, moreover, continues to be active within us too. But this is and always remains our primary service, the service of faith that transforms the whole of life: believing that Jesus is God, that he is the King precisely because he reached that point, because he loved us to the very end.  And we must witness and proclaim this paradoxical kingship as he, the King, did, that is, by following his own way and striving to adopt his same logic, the logic of humility and service, of the grain of wheat which dies to bear fruit.”

(CNS Photo/Paul Haring)





Catholic Christian Outreach at 25: Eight hopes and dreams for the next quarter century

Fr. Rosica at Rise Up 2013
On Tuesday evening, December 31, 2013, Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB delivered the keynote address at the concluding banquet of the 25th Anniversary convention for Catholic Christian Outreach, a lay organization that specializes in university chaplaincy, especially on secular university and college campuses across Canada. Over 900 people were in attendance at the banquet, including a majority of young men and women who are lay missionaries with this outstanding ecclesial movement in the Canadian Church. 

Dear Friends,
Thank you for inviting me to address this evening’s 25th Anniversary Banquet of Catholic Christian Outreach in Ottawa. What a stunning, awesome sight this is before me: over 900 young adults from the entire country and many of your benefactors who have made this movement into such a beacon of hope and power for good!

It was here, in this very room, that I first addressed CCO 12 years ago at your 2001 Rise Up.  That cold winter night, I came to stoke the fire for World Youth Day 2002 and asked you to help me with many aspects of that great event in our land.  You did not let us down, and I have said before and say it again that CCO played a major role in embracing World Youth Day 2002 in Canada – a true Pentecost for the Canadian Church.  More important, you have kept the memory of World Youth Day 2002 alive in this country over ten years later.

Tonight I do not wish to look back over the high and low moments of the past quarter century, for that has been done at various moments throughout this historic conference.  Rather I would like to look forward to the next 25 years and share with you some hopes and dreams for this amazing ecclesial movement.

This past August 28, we commemorated the 50th Anniversary of a great man’s dream – the late Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King.  When he stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and looked out over a quarter of a million people who marched on Washington, he electrified the nation with his magnificent rhetoric in the now famous “I have a dream speech. Dr. King didn’t say, “I have a complaint.” Instead, he proclaimed to the massive crowd, “I have a dream.”

Dr. King had a voice that inspired you to listen. His message was so well crafted and so powerfully delivered. Throughout that famous address, King repeated many times, “I Have A Dream.”    That message still brings tears to the eyes of any of those who listen whether they are black or white, young or old, American or Canadian, French or Italian, Palestinian or Israeli.

You see, there was much for Dr. King to complain about for black Americans at that critical moment in American history. But Dr. King taught us that day that our complaints or critiques will never be the foundation of movements that change the world – but dreams always will. To spend our time constantly saying what is wrong will never be enough to change the world. Nor will it change the Church.

Earlier this month, the world mourned the death of the great Nelson Mandela of South Africa.  He, too, had a dream and spoke about it in his Inaugural Speech as President of his country in May 1994.  In that memorable address, he strove to motivate his people to move past the pain of their past so they can build their future. There had been a change in South Africa including the release of Mr. Mandela from prison. He has chosen to fan the flames of this change and move his country forward. Mr. Mandela wanted his people to understand that they are all important to their country, no matter what their origin.  Through his speech Mr. Mandela united his people together in an attempt to further the needs of the country as a whole. He inspired them to remember their dedication to the country they love and to work together to move forward.

Let me tell you about another great dreamer, a man born with the name of Jorge Mario whose named changed to Francis on the night of March 13 this past year. On Pentecost weekend 2013 last May, Pope Francis gathered together in Rome the Ecclesial movements from around the world. He expressed his hopes and dreams for these new sources of life and energy in the Church today.  The Pope spoke to the throng of people in St. Peter’s Square with these words, and they are words addressed especially to us tonight in Ottawa as members and friends of CCO:

“At this time of crisis we cannot be concerned solely with ourselves, withdrawing into loneliness, discouragement and a sense of powerlessness in the face of problems. Please do not withdraw into yourselves!” the Pope challenged thousands of people from the ecclesial movements.

“This is a danger: we shut ourselves up in the parish, with our friends, within the movement, with the like-minded… but do you know what happens? When the Church becomes closed, she becomes an ailing Church, she falls ill! That is a danger. Nevertheless we lock ourselves up in our parish, among our friends, in our movement, with people who think as we do… but do you know what happens? When the Church is closed, she falls sick, she falls sick. Think of a room that has been closed for a year. When you go into it there is a smell of damp, many things are wrong with it. A Church closed in on herself is the same, a sick Church.”

Francis continued: “The Church must step outside herself. To go where? To the outskirts of existence, whatever they may be, but she must step out. Jesus tells us: “Go into all the world! Go! Preach! Bear witness to the Gospel!”. But what happens if we step outside ourselves? The same as can happen to anyone who comes out of the house and onto the street: an accident. But I tell you, I far prefer a Church that has had a few accidents to a Church that has fallen sick from being closed.”

Francis ended his words: “Go out, go out! Think of what the Book of Revelation says as well. It says something beautiful: that Jesus stands at the door and knocks, knocks to be let into our heart (cf. Rev 3:20). This is the meaning of the Book of Revelation. But ask yourselves this question: how often is Jesus inside and knocking at the door to be let out, to come out? And we do not let him out because of our own need for security, because so often we are locked into ephemeral structures that serve solely to make us slaves and not free children of God.

In this “stepping out” it is important to be ready for encounter. For me this word is very important. Encounter with others. Why? Because faith is an encounter with Jesus, and we must do what Jesus does: encounter others.”

Those words are so appropriate for us on the 25th Anniversary of CCO.  When Pope Francis published his Apostolic Exhortation, “Evangelii Gaudium”, “On the Proclamation of the Gospel” several weeks ago, he shared with us his dream for the Church. “Evangelii Gaudium” is Pope Francis’ own ringing response to prophets of doom of our age.

“I dream of a ‘missionary option,” Francis writes, “that is, a missionary impulse capable of transforming everything, so that the church’s customs, ways of doing things, times and schedules, language and structures can be suitably channeled for the evangelization of today’s world, rather than for her self-preservation.”

Francis criticizes forces within the church who seem to lust for “veritable witch hunts,” asking rhetorically, “Whom are we going to evangelize if this is the way we act?”

The pope’s toughest language comes in a section of the document arguing that solidarity with the poor and the promotion of peace are constituent elements of what it means to be a missionary church.

Francis wants the church to be an instrument of reconciliation and welcome, a church capable of warming hearts, a church that is not bent over on herself but always seeking those on the periphery and those who are lost, a church capable of leading people home.

Section #106 of the Exhortation seems to be tailor made for CCO:

106.     Even if it is not always easy to approach young people, progress has been made in two areas: the awareness that the entire community is called to evangelize and educate the young, and the urgent need for the young to exercise greater leadership. We should recognize that despite the present crisis of commitment and communal relationships, many young people are making common cause before the problems of our world and are taking up various forms of activism and volunteer work. Some take part in the life of the Church as members of service groups and various missionary initiatives in their own dioceses and in other places. How beautiful it is to see that young people are “street preachers”, joyfully bringing Jesus to every street, every town square and every corner of the earth!

 Je me permets de citer cela en français parce que c’est très important pour CCO:

106. Même s’il n’est pas toujours facile d’approcher les jeunes, des progrès ont été réalisés dans deux domaines : la conscience que toute la communauté les évangélise et les éduque, et l’urgence qu’ils soient davantage des protagonistes. Il faut reconnaître que, dans le contexte actuel de crise de l’engagement et des liens communautaires, nombreux sont les jeunes qui offrent leur aide solidaire face aux maux du monde et entreprennent différentes formes de militance et de volontariat. Certains participent à la vie de l’Église, donnent vie à des groupes de service et à diverses initiatives missionnaires dans leurs diocèses ou en d’autres lieux. Qu’il est beau que des jeunes soient “pèlerins de la foi”, heureux de porter Jésus dans chaque rue, sur chaque place, dans chaque coin de la terre !

In the end, “The Joy of the Gospel” amounts to a forceful call for a more missionary Catholicism in the broadest sense. The alternative, Francis warns, is not pleasant. “We do not live better when we flee, hide, refuse to share, stop giving and lock ourselves up in our own comforts,” he writes. “Such a life is nothing less than slow suicide.”

Tonight on this momentous anniversary for CCO, it is very important for us to dream, for when we stop dreaming, we die.  Through our dreams we lift up a vision of what is right, what is good, what is beautiful, what is holy and what it true. That is what brings about change and conversion.  That is how dreams are realized. Are you open to “God’s surprises”? Or are you closed and fearful before the newness of the Holy Spirit? Do you have the courage to strike out along the new paths which God’s newness sets before us, or do you resist, barricaded in transient structures which have lost their capacity for openness to what is new?”

I am not afraid of dreaming, and I wish to share with 8 hopes and dreams for CCO for the next 25 years.

1. From ecstasy to institution

riseupBeing here with you in Ottawa this year is very much an Upper Room Pentecost experience for me, and for the Church. But as with the first Pentecost experience of joy, euphoria and confusion, what was ecstasy must be formed into institution.  The simplicity of missionary discipleship has to become the complexity of community. The magnificent sayings of the Master, the founders, the elders and the alumni have to be formed into a systematic faith and guidebooks.  Oral traditions must be translated into canons to be handed down from one generation to the next.

The motto of this process is never: “our way or the highway” but rather “Your will be done.”  Our theme song is never Frank Sinatra’s “My Way” but Mary’s Magnificat of humility and gratitude because it is God’s presence at work in us, through us, because of us and at times in spite of us.”

Journeying together in the Church, under the guidance of her pastors who possess a special charism and ministry, is a sign of the working of the Holy Spirit. Having a deep sense of the Church is something fundamental for every Christian, every community and every movement. It is the Church which brings Christ to us, and us to Christ; parallel journeys are very dangerous!  We are not the sun, but only the moon- a reflection of the true light.

When we are the ones who want to build unity in accordance with our human plans, our CCO manuals, we end up creating uniformity, unhealthy standardization and division. But if instead we let ourselves be guided by the Spirit, richness, variety and diversity never become a source of conflict, because the Holy Spirit impels us to experience variety within the communion of the Church.

I have a dream… of CCO collaborating closely with all existing Catholic University Chaplaincies at work in this country and those yet to be born. Some are effective, some weak; all, however try to proclaim Jesus Christ with popcorn or without popcorn.  I dream of united university chaplaincies across this country so that the day will come when you will be present on every single campus in the country, working in a spirit of newness, harmony and mission with those who are entrusted with university pastoral ministry from their local Churches.  You need each other.

In the words of the current bishop of Rome, “We achieve fulfillment when we break down walls and our heart is filled with faces and names!”

2.  Authentic Eucharistic Celebrations and Reconciliation

Pope Francis says that the Eucharist “is not a prize for the perfect, but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak,” insisting that “the doors of the sacraments” must not “be closed for simply any reason.” At another point, Francis insists that “the church is not a tollhouse.” Instead, he says, “it is the house of the Father, where there is a place for everyone.” He quips that “the confessional must not be a torture chamber,” but rather “an encounter with the Lord’s mercy which spurs us to on to do our best.”

If we are to be authentic in our celebrations of the Eucharist, we must become people who are living sacrifices; people who are grateful and live lives of gratitude. When we receive the Eucharist, we partake of the one who becomes food and drink for others. So must it be for us who receive the Lord’s body and blood: our lives, too, must become a feast for the poor. We too must become food and drink for the hungry.

 I have a dream for CCO: that your Eucharistic celebrations not only be concerned with ceremonies inside churches and chapels but also feed the spiritual hungers of human communities that we serve. Without authentic evangelization, participation in the liturgy is ultimately hollow– a pastime or a momentary palliative; without the works of justice and charity that flow from our masses, participation in the liturgy is ultimately deceptive, playing church rather than being church.  

 I dream that your Summits and deep reverence of the Lord in Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament not become a simple “Jesus and me” moment, but enable you to touch Jesus who knows the tears, pain, doubt and ambiguity of all God’s people, especially of your peers. Watching over our suffering neighbors and friends, we could be changed like the centurion at the foot of the cross into discerners of truth and heralds of faith. And hopefully when people behold how we bear others’ crosses in love, they too would see the face of innocence and the Son of God in us.

3. Theology and Scripture

I have a dream, for CCO in the next few years, that you will not be afraid of theological and biblical formation, but choose several of your key leaders from across this country to become formed in dogmatic, moral and pastoral theology, Sacred Scripture and Church history so that you may truly have a solid foundation and be able to give a reason for this hope that is within you.  There are no simple answers to the great questions of our day.  We cannot respond with simplistic, facile answers to those who turn to us with legitimate questions.  We have a rich, beautiful tradition before us and it is up to us to share it with others, especially young people.

In addition to the Scriptures, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and the entire body of teachings given through World Youth Days, required reading for every CCO lay missionary must be “Evangelii Gaudium”, the documents of the Second Vatican Council and the Encyclicals of Pope Benedict XVI.

4.  Social Justice and Pro-Life

In the past, social justice was interpreted excessively in economic terms, as if the economy were the only sphere in which social justice operates. Blessed John Paul II worked to counteract this, by declaring that nowadays the greatest social injustices to be seen in the world are those attacking human life, especially where it is most vulnerable. Pope Benedict followed suit. In his brilliant encyclical Caritas in Veritate he clearly states that “Openness to life is at the centre of true development,” calling a growing lack of respect for life a new form of “poverty and underdevelopment.”

The “big picture,” which Blessed John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI have proclaimed transcends the artificial separation of the “pro-life” and “peace and justice” camps that we often find in the Church in North America, including Canada.

To be a church for the poor, the Church must elevate the issue of poverty to the very top of its political agenda, establishing poverty alongside abortion as the pre-eminent moral issues the Catholic community pursues at this moment in our national histories. Each of those issues, poverty and abortion, constitute an assault on the very core of the dignity of the human person.

Many of you are involved with Pro-life activities in this country.  Our ability to change people’s hearts and help them to grasp the dignity of each and every life, from the first moment of conception to the last moment of natural death, is directly related to our ability to increase love and unity in the church.

I have a dream for CCO: that from now on, a constitutive part of membership in this organization is to work very closely with another great Catholic organization in this country: Development and Peace.  You need one another so that the hopes and dreams of three great popes may be realized: that we become a Church for the poor, where the issue of poverty is found at the very top of our political agendas, establishing poverty alongside abortion as the pre-eminent moral issues the Catholic community pursues at this moment in our national histories. Each of those issues, poverty and abortion, constitute an assault on the very core of the dignity of the human person.

5.  Vocation

I congratulate you for more than any other movement I know, CCO has embraced the dignity and sacredness of marriage.  Blessed John Paul II smiles from the window of the Father’s house as he looks down upon us and sees fulfilled his mantra that the future of humanity passes through the family. You have taken seriously to heart the Lord’s injunction to be fruitful and multiply, and fill the face of the earth.  Look at all the CCO babies!  Look at all this life! I have never taken more elevator rides with babies than I have these past days in this hotel!

But I have a dream for CCO in these next years.  So many of you have married and been given in marriage, multiplied and taught us about families and commitment.  Many of you are lay ecclesial ministers and lay missionaries. I beg the Lord and you to give us vocations to ministry in the Church: ordained priests, sisters, and brothers. We are a sacramental Church we need holy celebrants of the Sacraments.  We need good, holy, normal priests, good, holy, normal sisters and brothers, young women and men who are convincing because they are convinced of God, of Jesus and of the Spirit’s actions.  It is not enough to tell me: “O Father Tom, I love you, I love your priesthood, I love your ministry.”  Or “Archbishop Terry, I love your bishop’s hat!” Or to Archbishop Durocher: “O you are so cool, young and relevant”  Or “Sister, you look so cute in that habit” or to those without habits, “Sister, you are with it!”

While all of that sounds nice for a fleeting moment, I say to you, if you love me, if you love us, if you love our priestly and episcopal ministries and gospel-rooted service and our consecrated life, imitate us.  That is the highest form of praise.  It is a sacrifice.  But it is beautiful and life giving for the Church and the world.  I will let you in on a little secret, marriage is the greatest sacrifice.

6.  Humility

As Christians we must always have an attitude of meekness, and humility, trusting in Jesus and entrusting ourselves to Jesus. It should be made clear that very often the conflicts that arise among us in the Church do not have a religious origin; there are frequently other social and political causes, and unfortunately religious affiliation is used like fuel to add to the fire. A Christian must always know how to respond to evil with good, even though it is often difficult.  How do we respond to those who disagree with us, despise us, ignore us, ridicule us and betray us?

I have a dream that CCO will be known for its meekness, authentic humility, spirit of service and ability to bring together people of all backgrounds.  I dream that you will become a common ground in the Church where charity and humility, service and generosity are modeled for the world around you. 

7.  Politics and Catholic Voices

Pope Francis rejects the reduction of Catholicism to hot-topic moral issues. He does not want to reduce the church to discussions of abortion, gay marriage, contraception and homosexuality. In his comments, he makes a distinction between dogmatic and moral teachings, reminding us that they do not hold the same weight. With Pope Francis, the church must re-enter public discourse with a full-throated defense of the common good that rises above bitter partisan divisions.

I have a dream for you, that you will become voices in the public square across this vast land.  I dream that some of you will be formed and prepared to be public voices, articulate, intelligent defenders of the faith, not ranting crusaders but reasoned, principled, joyful defenders of the faith and teachers of our tradition.  Then the world will stop, sit up and listen to us.

8.  Saints and Blesseds

The Church is carried forward by the Saints, who are the very ones who bear this witness. As both John Paul II and Benedict XVI have said, today’s world stands in great need of witnesses, not so much of teachers but rather of witnesses. It’s not so much about speaking, but rather speaking with our whole lives: living consistently, the very consistency of our lives!  

In “Evangelii Gaudium”, Pope Francis writes in section #273: We have to regard ourselves as sealed, even branded, by this mission of bringing light, blessing, enlivening, raising up, healing and freeing.  All around us we begin to see nurses with soul, teachers with soul, politicians with soul, people who have chosen deep down to be with others and for others.  But once we separate our work from our private lives, everything turns grey and we will always be seeking recognition or asserting our needs.  We stop being a people.

 I have a dream for CCO, that may not be realized in my lifetime but certainly in many of your lifetimes.  That one day, in St. Peter’s Square in Rome, a future pope will proclaim blessed or even saint a young man and woman from this blessed movement.  You might even be present here in this room tonight.  The world needs the joyful witness of saints- young ones.  Don’t worry- you can still have fun tonight.  But good, clean, Catholic fun.  Do not separate your work from your private lives, everything turns grey and you will always be seeking recognition or asserting your needs.  We stop being a people.  When this happens, there will be no saints.  The world and the Church need saints.

Last night in Angèle Regnier’s address, she made reference to that terrible year of 1968 which saw another kind of rise up of university students across Europe. Angèle also made reference to the violent activities of the student uprising in Tiananmen Square in 1989 which left thousands of Chinese students your age brutually wiped out by government forces.

Growing up in the United States, the early 1960s were a time of great promise and idealism in America and throughout the world.  But I will never forget 1968, because of the racial riots across the United States, massive social upheaval, and the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy.  But something happened at the end of that terrible year which marked me.  It was on Christmas eve.  It was on that day 45 years ago this past Christmas eve when mankind first journeyed from Earth to reach another heavenly body as Apollo 8, the first manned mission to the Moon, entered lunar orbit.  There were not only three great astronauts on board, but also the Word of God.


That evening, in a live television broadcast to the entire world, with the beauty of the Earth rising above the lunar surface, Apollo Astronaut and Lunar Module Pilot William Anders announced, “For all the people on Earth the crew of Apollo 8 has a message we would like to send you.” Then he began, reading, “In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, Let there be light: and there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness.”

Astronaut Jim Lovell followed, “And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day. And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters. And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament: and it was so.  And God called the firmament Heaven. And the evening and the morning were the second day.”

Finally, Commander Frank Borman read, “And God said, Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together unto one place, and let the dry land appear: and it was so. And God called the dry land ‘Earth,’ and the gathering together of the waters he called the ‘Seas’ and God saw that it was good.”

Borman then added, “And from the crew of Apollo 8, we close with good night, good luck, a Merry Christmas, and God bless all of you – all of you on the good Earth.”

Mankind’s greatest technological achievement to date was marked with a shared act of faith to the world.  That night my family was at the dinner table calling me to join them, and I was a little kid glued to the television set in our family room watching this heavenly Liturgy of the Word on a black and white screen. When they returned home, the three Astronauts received an anonymous telegram saying, “Thank you Apollo 8.  You saved 1968.”

No matter how dark the night – even the darkest of nights and times as were the upheavals of 1968 – that Christmas night for millions was a time of great joy.  And it remains a time of joy that can be shared anytime and anywhere, from Earth to the Moon.

Tonight, I will not send you an anonymous telegram like the one the Apollo crew received in 1968. Nor will I text you, tweet you or send you an old-fashioned e-mail!  But I will say this to you loud and clear: Thank you CCO.  No matter how dark and lonely have been the moments of the first quarter of a century, for the past 25 years you have not ceased to proclaim the Gospel from sea to sea to sea across this vast Canadian land. You have met with much opposition and indifference.  You have made mistakes and learned from them. Long before Francis of Rome gave us “Evangelii Gaudium”, you have been living it.  You have stopped the desertification of the Canadian Church, and you have saved Catholic University Chaplaincy from irrelevance, insignificance and emptiness.

My dream for you, CCO for the next 25 years, is that you join Pope Francis’ revolution of tenderness, and this revolution alone.  Become revolutionaries of tenderness, holiness and joy. Go, repair, rebuild and heal the Church. Make new disciples and bring us joy.  Thank you for saving the past 25 years in Canada.

Photos: CCO/RiseUp


The “O” Antiphons: O King…

From December 17-23, I’d like to share with you these antiphons, that you will pray with them and they will help you continue to prepare for the Advent of our Lord. May they become part of your Advent tradition as they are becoming part of mine.

For December 22, the antiphon is based on Isaiah 2:4; 11:10, Psalm 47:8; Jeremiah 10:7, Daniel 7:14; Haggai 2:8, Romans 15:12 and Ephesians 2:14, 20.

O Rex Gentium, et desideratus earum, lapisque angularis, qui facis utraque unum: veni, et salva hominem, quem de limo formasti.

O King of all peoples and their hope, cornerstone uniting Jews and Gentiles in one people: Come, and save man whom You formed from the dust of the earth. [Read more…]