St. Paul’s Basilica, Toronto
2008 International Catholic Media Convention
Thank you for the privilege of presiding at this Eucharistic Celebration in the magnificent Basilica of St. Paul in downtown Toronto. St. Paul's was the first Roman Catholic Church in Toronto, begun in 1822. Initially the congregation was mostly Irish but eventually immigrants from Scotland and French Canada started using the church.
Fr. Michael Power was appointed first bishop of the diocese of Toronto in 1842, prior to which time one bishop presided over the whole of Upper Canada. Power died in 1847 at the age of 42 while attending to the sick members of his flock, many of them recently-arrived famine immigrants from Ireland who had contracted typhoid fever. Bishop Power was truly a saintly man walking these very streets, including the Distillery District that you will visit later this evening. While healing and doing much good in a time of crisis, took on the infirmities of his people and died so young.
The present church at the corner of Queen and Power Streets was built in 1889 and modeled on the Basilica of St. Paul outside the walls in Rome. As you can see, the interior of this church is covered with stunning frescos that are unlike any that you can see in all of Canada. St. Paul’s was declared a minor Basilica in 1999 by Pope John Paul II.
Tomorrow morning I will have the opportunity to address you in your professional roles as the people who bring Catholic news to the world. This evening I would like to speak to you as Christian brothers and sisters in faith, colleagues in the vineyard of the Lord, lovers of Jesus Christ, our cornerstone.
In that marvelous first reading from the First Letter of Peter (I Peter 2:2-5, 9-12), Jesus is depicted as a living stone, and Christians as living stones. The significance of the material building lies in the fact that it speaks to us of that superior reality which is “God’s building” (I Cor 3:9) “made of living stones” (cf. I Pt 2:5). Here the holy liturgy is celebrated, in which the pilgrim Church on earth expresses the spiritual bond which unites her with the Church in heaven through the communion of saints.
On the basis of Baptism, the First Letter of Peter urges Christians to gather round Christ to help build the spiritual edifice founded by and on him: "Come to him [Christ], to that living stone, rejected by men but in God’s sight chosen and precious; and like living stones be yourselves built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ" (2:4-5).
Just a few weeks ago, on April 19, 2008, I had the privilege of concelebrating a magnificent liturgy with Pope Benedict XVI in St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Manhattan. I cannot help but recall the powerful images evoked by the Holy Father in his homily that Saturday morning- words that were inspired by the great Gothic structure of America’s premier house of prayer- St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Pope Benedict XVI referred first to the stained glass windows of St. Patrick’s Cathedral, which flood the interior with mystic light. He said:
“From the outside, those windows are dark, heavy, even dreary. But once one enters the church, they suddenly come alive; reflecting the light passing through them, they reveal all their splendor. …It is only from the inside, from the experience of faith and ecclesial life, that we see the Church as she truly is: flooded with grace, resplendent in beauty, adorned by the manifold gifts of the Spirit. It follows that we, who live the life of grace within the Church’s communion, are called to draw all people into this mystery of light.”
Benedict continued his reflections to the gathered priests and religious: “…You, who have devoted your lives to bearing witness to the love of Christ and the building up of his Body, know from your daily contact with the world around us how tempting it is at times to give way to frustration, disappointment and even pessimism about the future. In a word, it is not always easy to see the light of the Spirit all about us, the splendor of the Risen Lord illuminating our lives and instilling renewed hope in his victory over the world (cf. Jn 16:33).”
Dear friends who work in the important world of Catholic media and communications, these words are so appropriate for you as well, in your mission and vocation. You have no easy task in being excellent journalists and communicators when you work in a world that often looks at the Church “from the outside”, - a world which deeply senses a need for spirituality, yet finds it difficult to “enter into” the mystery of the Church. Even for those of us within, and those who “cover the Church on a daily basis,” the light of faith can be dimmed by routine, and the splendor of the Church obscured by the sins and weaknesses of her members.
This leads me to my second thought that I wish to share with you on this evening’s moving Gospel story from St. Mark- the healing of Bartimaeus the blind man. Healing stories in the Gospels never seem to be simply a reversal of physical misfortune. A paralyzed man stands and walks. A man stretches out a withered hand to Jesus and sees it become useful again. A girl who was pronounced dead awakens.
Particularly suspicious are the stories of those who "once were blind, but now they see." The connections between seeing and believing are so strong in the Gospel accounts that these miracles worked through Jesus almost always seem more about growing in faith than taking off dark glasses. Though Bartimaeus was blind to many things, he clearly saw who Jesus was. But Bartimaeus is not blind; he is only sightless. He sees better with his heart than many of those around him, because he has faith and cherishes hope. More than that, it is this interior vision of faith that also helps him to recover his external vision of things. "Your faith has made you well," Jesus says to him.
Seeing "who Jesus is" is the goal of faith, and it leads to discipleship. At the end of the story we're told that this is exactly what happened. Bartimaeus regained his sight and followed Jesus on the way. Given that the very next verse in Mark narrates the entry into Jerusalem, the way Bartimaeus followed was the way to the cross.
Bartimaeus, like every good communicator and journalist, does not miss an opportunity! He heard that Jesus was passing by, understood that it was the opportunity of his life and acted swiftly. His quick thinking and action brought about a life-changing, prophetic encounter for this poor beggar on the road to Jericho. Blind Bartimaeus calls from the gutter until the Lord hears him. Then he returns to the Lord and is restored. I can easily picture him, the last recruit in this fledgling army of disciples, marching toward Jerusalem with palm branch in hand.
We disciples of Jesus have vision problems. We sometimes describe our blindness as an inability to see the forest for the trees, but that's a benign analysis. More worrisome is the inherited blindness of each generation, which so often assumes it is the best generation of all, with no lessons left to learn, only an inheritance to enjoy. This arrogance is the root of our blindness. We still need the miracle of restored sight each day.
Sisters and brothers, dear friends, you are the "living stones", as the Apostle Peter wrote, living stones of the spiritual edifice which is the Church. The work you do as journalists and communicators in the service of Christ and the truth must flow from your own faith and conviction in the Lord’s saving power throughout history.
Without that firm conviction and deep hope, you simply remain as outsiders and bystanders, peering into the church from the outside world, and living under the myth of objectivity that does not necessarily give life, beauty and hope to the world! Raw objectivity will often lead us to reading without repentance, knowledge without devotion, research without the impulse of wonder, prudence without the ability to surrender to joy, action divorced from religion, learning separated from love, intelligence without humility, thought without the wisdom inspired by God. You cannot simply peer into the reality of the Church as outsiders. Allow yourselves to be enveloped by the beautiful light and enduring grace that is Christ!
Tonight, I urge you with the words of Peter and Mark: “Come to him, a living stone, rejected by human beings but chosen and precious in the sight of God, and, like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”
“Take courage; get up, Jesus is calling you.” And when the Lord asks you what you wish from him, respond to him with joy and conviction: “Master, I want to see.”
Together let us follow Jesus joyfully along the way!