Nov 19, 2014

Coffee with Mary

While she didn’t arrive on donkey, as she is historically known to do, the Archdiocese of Toronto was pleased to welcome Mary of Nazareth this week as she entered the chancery office on foot.

To be more specific, Alissa Jung, the actress who plays Mary in the film Mary of Nazareth, stopped by to chat about a new book, Mary of Nazareth: The Life of Our Lady in Pictures, which features still images from the movie. Jung included Toronto as her last stop on a North American promotional tour, organized by Catholic marketing company, Carmel Communications.

Alissa Jung shows off the book at the Archdiocese of Toronto's Catholic Pastoral Centre

The hardcover, over-sized, glossy volume features more than 60 photos and a series of reflections written by Marian scholar Fr. Donald Calloway, MIC. It’s the sort of book you could leave on the coffee table during the Christmas holidays as a reminder of the true reason for the season. The attractive and reverent images are sure to spark impromptu tree-side catechesis this Advent. Even the younger members of your family will appreciate the striking and colourful graphics.

But this is not just a book for the Christmas season. Those who have seen the film know it follows the whole life of Mary, from her life as a young girl right through to the Resurrection of Jesus. So if the book hung around on that same coffee table after the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, when Christmas officially ends, its images and reflections will remain relevant in every liturgical season.

Essentially, clear a permanent spot on your coffee table.

Jung says the book can serve a different function for different readers. Some may be drawn to the reflections while others may just focus on the beautiful pictures. “People who have seen the film will like this book and people who like this book should see the film,” she said.

As Jung flipped through the book during her visit, she recalled some behind-the-scenes moments that took place while filming Mary of Nazareth.

Jung pointed to the photo of Joseph leading a donkey carrying pregnant Mary. Five minutes before they filmed the scene, the donkey stepped on the foot of Joseph (Luca Marinelli).

“He was really injured but was trying to say ‘I’m ok, I’m ok!’ and continue the scene.”

Jung’s recollection of these human aspects of filming ties in with her call to humbly portray the role of Mary. In the book’s foreword, she speaks of some of her hesitations in initially saying yes to the role:

How will I portray the mother of Jesus? What if I’m not precise? What if I’m not able? 
But then, after this period of sinking feelings and self-doubts, I suddenly recognized and was inspired by the idea that I was not supposed to portray an untouchable icon, but rather to portray Mary as a real human being.

This humility shines through in both the book and the movie. Is it strange to have a book of images of your face that are supposed to draw people into prayer? For Jung, that’s all part of the job.

“I am just an actress. I try to do my best in my portrayals, but it’s not me. It’s Mary. Still, it’s an honour.”

Mary of Nazareth: The Life of Our Lady in Pictures is published by Ignatius Press. For more information on how to order and a preview of the images, visit http://www.maryfilm.com/book.

Marlena Loughheed is a communications coordinator in the Archdiocese of Toronto's Office of Public Relations & Communications.

Nov 14, 2014

Typhoon Haiyan: One Year Later

November 8, 2014 marked the one-year anniversary of Typhoon Haiyan. The record-breaking tropical cyclone devastated parts of Southeast Asia, killing 6,300 people in the Philippines alone.  

This week seemed an appropriate time to look back in thanksgiving at how our local community assisted our brothers and sisters in need on the other side of the world.

Toronto-area Catholics responded with overwhelming generosity, raising $2.5 million dollars for Caritas Philippines, the official Catholic presence assisting victims on the ground. 

We also gathered as a faith community, uniting in prayer for those affected by the disaster. A Mass in support of typhoon victims was celebrated by Cardinal Thomas Collins on November 15, 2013 at Our Lady of the Assumption Catholic Church, a spiritual and community hub for many local Filipino Catholics. Considering the significant Filipino population in our city and our parishes, this was a disaster that struck close to home for many in the GTA.

Thank you to all those who offered prayers and material support. Although making a donation or saying a prayer seems like a small gesture, we've been blessed to have local representatives who have seen firsthand how your efforts have significantly benefited those in need in the Philippines.

This week, Development and Peace (CCODP) released a report on the organization's response to the disaster in the year that has passed since disaster struck. CCODP is the official international development organization of the Catholic Church in Canada and the Canadian member of Caritas Internationalis.

Arthur Peters, Executive Director of ShareLife, had an opportunity to travel to the Philippines with representatives from CCODP this summer to visit some of the sites benefiting from Canadian aid. We invite you to visit the ShareLife blog to read more about Peters' experience.

Speaking about his opportunity to visit homes that had been rebuilt using Archdiocesan-raised relief dollars, Peters shares the following reflection:
You could see the happiness in the faces of the people in having us visit them as we learned of their plight and their gratefulness to have a new place to live. In Giporlos, the community lined the main road into the Barangay, and greeted us with songs as we exited our vehicles. 
Your contribution means that you have ‘purchased a home’, so to speak – made possible because we contributed to a humanitarian relief appeal that took place to help people we will never know or meet. 
This week, I met some of the people who have directly benefited from our generosity, and I am proud to be part of a Catholic community whose care for one another has made it possible to bring home ownership and hope to those whose lives were impacted by the strongest typhoon ever to cross the Philippines.
Typhoon Haiyan devastated the Philippines, leaving thousands homeless.
Photo courtesy of Arthur Peters.

A church in ruins nearly a year after Typhoon Haiyan struck the Philippines.
Photo courtesy of Arthur Peters.
 
Although a year has passed and we can see the tangible results of significant relief efforts, those affected will spend much longer rebuilding their lives. Please continue to keep the people of the Philippines in your prayers.

Marlena Loughheed is a communications coordinator in the Archdiocese of Toronto's Office of Public Relations & Communications.

Nov 10, 2014

Full Text: Cardinal Collins' Address, The Theologian with the Smell of the Sheep

University of Toronto St. Michael’s College Theology Faculty Convocation: November 8, 2014

I: The Ecclesial Vocation of the Theologian

At his first Chrism Mass, Pope Francis spoke of the mission of priests to be true spiritual shepherds of the people of God: “This I ask you: be shepherds, with the “smell of the sheep”, make it real, as shepherds among your flock ...”.He emphasized that the pastors of the Church have an ecclesial mission: they must not be self-referential, but always act, and be internally disposed deep in their hearts, in a way that shows that they are aware that they are in the service of others, of their brothers and sisters in Christ. They, and not only the Pope, are called to be “servants of the servants of God.”

But this is not a Chrism Mass, or a pastoral assembly of priests or of bishops. This is the convocation of a Theology Faculty. It is a time to celebrate the years of fruitful intellectual labour that have led to the granting of the degrees and other signs of recognition which have been bestowed in this solemn academic ceremony. It is a time to rejoice with those who are completing their studies, or at least a significant stage in their formal studies, to wish them well, and to pray for God’s blessings upon them in the years ahead. This is a time to thank all of those in the Catholic Christian academic community which is the University of Saint Michael’s College who have assisted those who are graduating today, and to thank our friends and academic colleagues in the Toronto School of Theology and the University of Toronto, many of whom are present today to share in this celebration.

Nonetheless, on this celebratory academic occasion, it is most fitting to reflect, not perhaps on the image of the priest or bishop with the smell of the sheep, but of the theologian with the smell of the sheep. This is because all who are engaged in theological studies, or in the different ways in which the fruits of those studies are shared once the student graduates, have an ecclesial vocation. They too have a responsibility for the flock which is the People of God, which is the local Church (in parish or Diocese), or which is the Universal Church.

Teachers and students of theology come from among the people of God, and go to the people of God, to help them grasp more fully the deeper meaning of the action of God in their lives and in the world. I recall that in the foyer of the ancient theological University in which I studied there is a statue of Christ the Teacher, with the words “Go make disciples”, and those same words are written over the tabernacle in the University Chapel. The final exhortation of Jesus at the end of St Matthew’s Gospel is addressed to us all, but in a most emphatic way to those engaged in the study of theology: “Go therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the Age.” (Matthew 28: 19-20)

When faith seeks understanding, the natural gift of reason is treated most reverently when it used most effectively. The method of theology must reflect the most stringent requirements of academic integrity. The academic standards of the secular universities which have developed over the centuries from those which centuries ago arose out of the heart of the Church need to be met and surpassed by the theological faculties of the Church.   We must not trifle with God’s gifts, and especially the gift of reason. But theological faculties need not be intimidated by the narrow secular field of vision that can be encountered in the academic world. Pope Benedict jokes, in one of his writings, that the German secular intellectuals he encountered in his professorial life were puzzled at the existence of two theological faculties at the university at which he taught: why have even one, they mused, to study a reality that does not exist?  Theology of the highest academic standards has a rightful place in academia, but its mission encompasses more than academic legitimacy or productivity. Its mission is to help nurture the community it serves.

When the community which is the Church created universities in the Middle Ages for the service of the people of God, the consciousness of ecclesial vocation was strong. Universities are not for self but for other; to use another favourite expression of Pope Francis, they are not to be self-referential. If that communal identity and mission is true of Universities -  and for a profound examination of this theme I refer you to “The Idea of a University” by Cardinal Newman - then it is even more true of theological faculties. It is noteworthy that a good portion of Newman’s great work is devoted to insisting on the importance of theological study in any University worthy of the name.

Theology does not exist in a vacuum; it is an ecclesial vocation. Indeed the 1990 Instruction “Donum Veritatis”, of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, is subtitled “ On the Ecclesial Vocation of the Theologian.” Referring back to the great commission at the end of the Gospel of Matthew, the Instruction notes that “… the Lord sent forth His apostles to make "disciples" of all nations and teach them (cf. Mt 28:19 f. ). Theology, which seeks the "reasons of faith" and offers these reasons as a response to those seeking them, thus constitutes an integral part of obedience to the command of Christ, for men cannot become disciples if the truth found in the word of faith is not presented to them (cf. Rom 10:14 f.). ” ( Donum Veritatis 7) A key mission of theology is to use the gift of reason to reflect upon the truth of the word of faith, and to offer to fellow disciples and to all people the service of presenting that truth more clearly. This is an ecclesial service, not an self-enclosed intellectual endeavour .

That is why, building on the image used by Pope Francis, I will offer some reflections on the theme of “The Theologian with the Smell of the Sheep.”

II: There are two ways

I have always loved the opening line of the Didache, that great early Christian text. It is even more striking than “It was a dark and stormy night.” The Didache begins: “There are two ways, the way to life, and the way to death, and there is a great difference between them.”  We must not be simplistic, but from the blessings and curses of Deuteronomy, to the two paths outlined in Psalm 1, to the beatitudes and woes and the sheep and the goats of the Gospels, to the contrast of Jerusalem and Babylon in the Apocalypse, to the Didache, and beyond that to the Ignatian choosing which standard to follow in life: the highlighting of contrasting paths helps us to navigate through life. Like the dye used in medical tests to reveal what is happening in the body, such artfully constructed contrasts reveal a reality which might otherwise escape recognition.

So here are a few contrasts chosen to reveal something about the ecclesial mission of theologians, and of a theological faculty.

The way of individualism and the way of community. This contrast touches on the idea of an ecclesial vocation. There is a solitary dimension to the scholarly life, and that is both necessary and healthy; the scholar, the theologian, reflects as an individual on what he or she studies. To be fruitful, however, the theological enterprise must be set in a communal context. Obviously, in one sense, that is true of all scholarship: the scholar engages in discussions with colleagues and students, and so refines initial ideas, benefits from the intellectual cross-pollination of scholarly discourse, and must be ready to submit to the critique of scholarly peers.  There is a further communal dimension, however, to theological scholarship: the theologian is engaging in the study of the common faith of the Church, and often is preparing laity and clergy for the service of the community of faith.  Not only that: in these days theological speculations are communicated instantly, unlike in the past, when professors debated one another Latin in the enclosed context of academia. This communal dimension places a burden of responsibility upon the individual theologian.

The way of abstraction and the way of concreteness. By its very nature, intellectual activity is abstract. It is a matter of ideas. But more than in the case of subjects such as mathematics, theological intellectual activity engages the whole person. We do not live from the neck up. So theological activity, if it is to be fruitful, and truly of service to the community, needs a leavening of experience and a broadening of perspective. Newman was a better theologian because he did not focus entirely on theology, and indeed saw much of his most profound intellectual work as a humble effort to help people in their daily struggles as believers in the midst of an increasingly secular world. The work of the theologian will be fruitful as theology to the degree that the theologian is not simply learned or intellectually brilliant, but is actively engaged, in parish, in family, in the service of the needy, and in the life of the diocese. Engagement in the life of the scholarly community of university or college itself is also, of course important, but the horizon afforded within academia is not, in itself, broad enough to enliven scholarly work in theology. The mixed life, the varied life, the engaged life: these are necessary conditions for fruitful theology.

The way of self-sufficiency and the way of repentant adoration. The primordial flaw of academia is pride. Smart people, and learned people, have to watch out for that. Pride, of course, is the chief of the seven deadly sins, and all of us, no matter what our vocation in life, must battle with it daily, whether it comes in its most harmless form as vainglory or whether it comes more subtly and more dangerously as an unconsciously hardened ego. Among religious folk it can be tinged with the arrogance of the false prophet, when “Thus says the Lord …”  gives added legitimacy to the enforcement on others of what are really no more than the dictates of the ego of the prophet. Whether in the pulpit or in the classroom, one can get drunk on the experience of pontificating to others. A writer on preaching describes a preacher finishing a homily, and being told by a parishioner “That was a wonderful homily!”  The preacher said “You are the second person to tell me that.” “How can that be? You have just finished speaking.” The preacher replied: “The devil told me first.”  Those who are caught in the web of words, and engage in the trade of language and ideas, need to be especially alert to the demon of pride. Pride leads to blindness, to self –absorption, to arrogant posturing, to gossip, to intrigue, to hardness of heart towards the sufferings of others, and to isolation from the wider community and its needs. So, especially because it can have a great effect upon the life of the whole community of faith, theology must be done in a spirit of repentant prayer. Priests are urged to get to confession frequently, for they suffer temptations similar to those of theological scholars. Students and professors of theology should do the same.

III: Models for Theologians

The lives of the saints instruct us, which is why the popes recently have been canonizing more saints. There are many theologian saints who can show us different aspects of how to do theology, conscious of the essential ecclesial context: to be theologians with the smell of the sheep. Here are a few:

Saint Augustine: he was learned, brilliant, and creative, and his writings have shaped western civilization. But theology was not all that he did. His theological writings are profound, not just because of his natural gifts and his diligence, but because he spent a lot of time settling mundane disputes between his parishioners. Some of his most profound writings were sermons preached while he literally sat in the midst of the congregation on Sundays in his cathedral in Hippo.

Saint Teresa of Avila: she was a sublime mystic, and was lifted up in rapture as she prayed. But she also was a hard headed administrator, constant traveller across the plains of Spain, and loving though feisty letter writer, engaged in profound affective friendships with men and women in all states of life. She is a Doctor of the Church, but she did her writing when she could, as a sideline to her day job.

Blessed John Henry Newman: not yet a Doctor of the Church, he did almost all of his writing as a response to pastoral needs. He did not set his own agenda, but used his astonishing intellect and remarkable human sensitivity in the service of individuals and of the Church. I mention sensitivity: it might more accurately be called excessive sensitivity – yet from this human flaw, from this grain of sand in the oyster, Newman by God’s grace produced the pearls of wisdom which he shared with his contemporaries, and continues to share with us. Because in his suffering he knew his own heart, he could see into the hearts of others: Cor ad cor loquitur – heart speaks to heart. He was massively learned, and astonishingly brilliant, but his theological writings were a humble offering of love for God and neighbour. That is why he is great.

III: Implications

Today we celebrate the Convocation of the Theological Faculty of the University of Saint Michael’s College, and congratulate those whose academic achievements we acknowledge with joy. It is indeed a time to rejoice, but also to think deeply of the purpose of the study of theology. A great book on the priesthood by Bishop Sheen is called “The Priest is not his Own”, a sharp reminder to priests that their life finds meaning in humble service of God and neighbour.  In a similar way, the scholarly community that forms a theological faculty finds meaning by moving outward, and by adopting a spirit of humble service to the wider community of the Church, which provides the fundamental context within which it lives and flourishes. That spirit of humble engagement of the theologian with the smell of the sheep is what we celebrate above all today, as we hear the prayer of a truly great theologian who understood profoundly the meaning of his intellectual vocation as a servant of the community of faith. Saint Thomas Aquinas writes, in his prayer before study:

Ineffable Creator,
Who, from the treasures of your wisdom,
Have established three hierarchies of angels,
Have arrayed them in marvellous order above the fiery heavens,
And have marshalled the regions of the universe with such artful skill,

You are proclaimed the true font of light and wisdom,
And the primal origin raised high beyond all things.
Pour forth a ray of your brightness into the darkened places of my mind;
Disperse from my soul the twofold darkness into which I was born:
Sin and ignorance.

You make eloquent the tongues of infants.
Refine my speech and pour forth upon my lips the goodness of your blessing.

Grant to me
Keenness of mind,
Capacity to remember,
Skill in learning,
Subtlety to interpret
And eloquence in speech.

May you guide the beginning of my work,
Direct its progress,
And bring it to completion.
You who are true God and true Man,
Who live and reign, world without end. Amen.

Nov 7, 2014

Full Text: Cardinal Collins' Address, 35th Annual Cardinal's Dinner


Cardinal Collins address the 1,600 guests present at the 35th Annual Cardinal's Dinner, November 6, 2014
35th Annual Cardinal’s Dinner – November 6, 2014
Cardinal Thomas Collins, Archbishop of Toronto


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Good evening. I am so pleased to be with you this evening and grateful for the presence of each one of you as we come together for this year’s Cardinal’s Dinner. This tradition began 35 years ago with the intention of bringing together the corporate community, political leaders and the faithful from our parishes to share fellowship and to raise important funds for charity.

I begin with an expression of gratitude to the Honourable Michael Wilson, this year’s dinner chair, along with Dan Sullivan, Vice Chairman.  I am deeply grateful for your tireless efforts to support and lead this event that has, this year, brought together more than 1,600 guests. A truly amazing accomplishment!

A special word of gratitude to dinner founder Joe Barnicke, who worked so closely over the years with Cardinal Carter and others to ensure the success of this annual event that has generated close to $6 million for charitable activities. For the first time Joe is not able to be present at the Cardinal’s dinner; let us all pray for the good health of this great man who has served so faithfully and generously over the years.

I also would like to remember in prayer former dinner chairman, philanthropist and most faithful Catholic, Patrick Keenan, who died earlier this year. May he rest in peace.

I recognize our distinguished head table guests who represent political, corporate and community leadership in our city, province and country. Your contributions are numerous and make a profound impact on us all. You have our continued prayers.

I extend a special welcome to those religious leaders here this evening who represent our friends and neighbours of other faith communities. Often unheralded, people of faith work together daily to serve others, especially the most vulnerable.

In a special way, we welcome the Apostolic Nuncio, Archbishop Luigi Bonazzi, the personal representative of Pope Francis in Canada. You are most welcome.

To the many businesses that support the Cardinal’s Dinner year after year, I thank you for your presence. Faith and the boardroom might not seem to interact, yet we know that many of our corporate leaders and those whom they employ are inspired by their faith, and motivated by their personal beliefs to make valuable contributions to society in their work.

Finally, I welcome the many parishioners, religious men and women, and clergy from across the Archdiocese of Toronto who are here this evening. Be assured of my gratitude for all that you do.

As we come to the end of this special evening, I offer a few thoughts on some of the issues that both confront and invigorate us in these days:

Our Pastoral Plan, of which I spoke at length last year, is challenging our parishes and diocesan ministries to renew the vigour and engagement of all of us Catholics throughout the Archdiocese of Toronto.

Most of the Pastoral Plan is free, as it simply means focusing more effectively our efforts as a faith community. But some elements require funding, and so we are also in the midst of an ambitious fundraising campaign, our Family of Faith initiative, with the goal of raising over $105 million to expand our ability to engage people of all ages in the joy that comes with being an active Catholic. We’re almost halfway toward the goal at present. I must admit it’s tempting to have a collection with a crowd this size, but we won’t be doing that this evening.

Each year we continue to reach out to those on the margins through our annual ShareLife appeal, raising more than $14 million this past year. In addition, $2.5 million was also raised in one month at almost this time last year to support Philippine Typhoon relief efforts, a truly remarkable achievement.

In a few days, actually on November 11th, we celebrate the feast of Saint Martin, a Roman military officer who rode out from camp one winter evening and saw a beggar shivering at the side of the road. Martin cut his cloak in half, and wrapped the man in it. Later that night, Martin saw Christ in a dream, wrapped in his cloak. Like Saint Martin, we do what we do in the service of others because in doing that we serve Christ.

You will also see in your program more than 30 worthy recipients of the proceeds of this dinner.

The more than 500 publicly funded Catholic schools throughout the Archdiocese of Toronto educate almost 300,000 students. I am grateful to the Premier and to all our provincial elected officials, including our Catholic School Board trustees, for their support of an educational system that has a long-standing tradition of strengthening our province through both academic excellence and student achievement, inspired and nurtured by our faith. A hearty thanks to all who work in Catholic education, and especially to the teachers in the classroom who care for that most precious treasure, the students entrusted to them by our parents. I extend an invitation to our elected officials to visit our Catholic schools, to see first-hand the wonderful work that is taking place each day across our archdiocese and province.

In this archdiocese, we continue to expand and refine our sacred spaces. The Archdiocese of Toronto has opened 14 new churches since 2000, with 3 more on the drawing board, and extensive work continues on many of our heritage properties, including St. Michael’s Cathedral, our first church, both historically and symbolically. Construction of the cathedral began in 1845. To prepare for that work Catholics and Protestants worked side by side for one week, excavating 95,000 cubic feet of earth by hand. That co-operation, at a time when there was significant rivalry among different religions, foreshadowed the harmonious relationships found in our days among people of faith in our community. As one indication of that, I was delighted a few weeks ago to be invited once again by Yorkminster Baptist Church to lead a session of Lectio Divina, the method of praying of the Word of God that I engage in the first Sunday of the month at St Michael’s Cathedral from September to June.

On a more sombre note, this year we mark the inauspicious centennial of the beginning of World War I, and the thought of that leads to a painful recognition of the ubiquity of folly, and the foolishness of a naïve belief in an inevitable march of human progress. Things do not automatically get better; they can quickly and unexpectedly get worse. In that extraordinary book, The Guns of August, Barbara Tuchman chronicles the slide to war a hundred years ago in the summer of 1914 as the leaders of nations, cheered on by their populace, committed their armies to what everyone believed would be a short conflict, over by Christmas. What fools we mortals be.

A few years later, in the midst of a bitter civil war in his native land, the Irish poet William Butler Yeats wrote words that still instruct is:

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.”

W.B. Yeats “The Second Coming”

The century that followed bore out the prophetic words of the poet, and we ourselves would do well to be attentive.

Far away we see the murderous regime of ISIS in the Middle East, and the iniquities of Boko Haram in Africa, and are conscious of the grim fact that there are more martyrs in these days than in the earliest centuries. It is no wonder that Pope Francis recently called together the leaders of the Church in the Middle East to reflect on the path ahead.

For us in this archdiocese, the violence far away is not simply a news story – and, indeed, this story of suffering is lost in the media, as the restless eye of journalism flits from one event to the next, trivial or significant. No, the reality of distant violence touches us personally, for many of the victims seek refuge here, and they and their families and friends are our neighbours. Of course, they should not need to seek refuge, since evil triumphs when people are driven from their homes, but if the only alternative for them is death, then we need to help.

Many faith communities in our area are working together harmoniously and effectively to care for the refugees who come to us. Our own archdiocese has been committed to helping those fleeing oppression since the heroic ecumenical effort led by our first bishop, Michael Power, to assist the Irish refugees of the summer of 1847. Over 160 of our parishes, under the leadership of the Office of Refugees of the Archdiocese of Toronto, have welcomed families and individuals fleeing persecution. As in the days of Bishop Power, so also now, caring for the afflicted is a mission of people of faith, whatever their religion, and I regularly meet with leaders of other faith traditions to advance this work.

            Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;

            Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.

We need not look far away to find suffering, perhaps less dramatic than the violent persecution in distant lands, but also real. I live in the center of Toronto, and daily encounter the homeless, so much a part of our social environment as to be almost invisible  because sadly so familiar. Pope Francis reminds us to care for those who are on the peripheries of society, and we are trying as best we can to do that, and not only in the down town but in other places where the need is even greater.

The suffering caused by violence, or by homelessness, is grave and evident. Less obvious, but no less real, is the pain that is felt intensely, behind closed doors. Sometimes it takes the form of spousal abuse, and the abuse of children. But often it is found in the tensions that wear away at family life, and contribute to the breakdown of marriage.

The Church as a wider community of faith is committed to assisting the “domestic church” which is the family. Wise guidance is already found in the teachings of Vatican II, and in the letters of popes such as Blessed Paul VI and Saint John Paul II. The various ecclesial movements of lay people in the Church offer support to families, as well as assisting individuals in the life of discipleship. Movements such as Engaged Encounter and Marriage Encounter specifically offer help to those preparing for marriage, and to those seeking to live to the full the great sacrament of married love. When tensions grow, and the marriage is at risk, the Retrouvaille movement is there to offer the wisdom and assistance of couples who have themselves faced marital struggles and can help others to overcome them. Next September, the World Meeting of Families will be held in Philadelphia; it will be an occasion to deepen the life of the family, foundation of civil society as well as of the Church. Catholic Family Services of this archdiocese, supported by ShareLife, is committed to strengthening families, and to helping those who struggle.

In this context we need all to pray for the initiative of Pope Francis, in the Synod on the Family, which began with a consultation of the wider Church and later of the College of Cardinals, and was advanced through the recent special Synod in Rome, which prepared the way for the full Synod on the Family next year. Almost 50 years ago, the prophet pope, Paul VI, who recently was declared Blessed by Pope Francis, foretold the troubles that have afflicted family life in recent decades. May these days be ones in which the loving bonds of the family may be strengthened, for the benefit of all, and especially of children, who are so vulnerable and need a loving home.

Both Pope Paul and Pope Francis have clearly highlighted the evils that afflict our world; the words of William Butler Yeats are prophetic in ways the poet could not have imagined: “Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.” When we look at the news, or honestly reflect on the social situation in which we live, there is no room for naïve optimism: “Every day, in every way, things are getting better and better.”  I think not. That way madness lies.

But it is instructive that Pope Paul and Pope Francis, those two most realistic and clear sighted popes, accurately analyzing the abundance of folly and iniquity in this world, are known for their joy. One of the greatest writings of Paul VI, who suffered so much, is “On Christian Joy.” And Pope Francis has written an encyclical “The Joy of the Gospel”.

Joy? In light of the grim realities of this last century, and of our current age, how can that be?

I am not sure that the essentially pagan William Butler Yeats would have appreciated Christian joy; his epitaph “Cast a cold eye on life, on death” contains only part of the truth. He was right; we must not be naïve, and must look with unflinching attention at the reality of evil. But we are called to do so in a spirit of joy that does not rise out of the illusion that this world is a jolly place, but out of the ability to see all events, no matter how evil,  in the hope-filled context of divine providence.

A grim, fanatical faith is one that accurately sees the evils around us, but lacks trust in the provident hand of God, and is too consumed with a vain concentration on our limited human ability to make good happen. Religious people can be tempted to feel that God cannot quite manage without our help; that leads to debilitating testiness and ferocity in religion, that limits the ability to “evangelize”, that is, to bring the “good news” of God’s love to a world so much in need of that. There is great truth in the words of a holy spiritual director at the seminary where I prepared for the priesthood: “The faith that is sad, or mad, and not glad, is bad.”  In light of that, when I was ordained in 1973, at a time when the priesthood itself seemed to be coming apart, and society was in turmoil (its natural state), I chose as the motto for my life as a priest the words of Psalm 100: “Serve the Lord with gladness; come before him singing for joy.”

This is the way of the saints, whom we should imitate. Saint Thomas More, who was hardly naïve, is famous for cracking jokes on his way to the scaffold. His friend Bishop John Fisher, when awakened at 5am on the morning of his beheading, and told that the king’s command would be carried out at 9am, smiled and rolled over, and went back to sleep for a couple more hours. Such a serene spirit comes from a joyful trust in providence, and ultimately is irresistible.

Joy is instructive, because while it arises from a grasp of the divine context of life, which prevents us from getting too tensely wrapped up in our own agendas, and fearful when they are frustrated, it also has the effect of reminding us to be grounded in what is truly real, since no joy can be found in a world of smoke and mirrors. Augustine said, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.” Before his conversion, he foolishly sought joy in all the wrong places, but only found it when he forgot about himself, repented of his sins, and discovered the only real source of lasting joy: a clear conscience.

Joy is effective, both individually and socially. Mother Teresa is said to have insisted that each of her novices have a joyful spirit – be a joyful individual – not because she wanted unwarranted optimism or a callow attitude of positive thinking, but because the work they were doing was so very difficult that without the resilience that flows from deeply rooted joy they would be crushed by the burdens they would be called to bear. As true joy gives fruitful energy to the individual, a joyful spirit is also the foundation for advancing the common good. That is why songs at church or work unite the community in harmonious and joyful effectiveness.

Joy is also fruitfully subversive, as we see in the case of Thomas More and John Fisher, and in so many who have taken on tyrants. More said to his son-in-law, William Roper, “The Devil, that proud spirit, cannot stand laughter.” People of faith who are grimly fierce can be dismissed, but not those who reveal the breadth of their vision and the depth of the foundations of their life through a serene and joyful spirit. Tragedy is pagan; comedy is divine. 

William Butler Yeats was right, but only partly right, when he wrote that:

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;

He accurately saw the reality and the persistence of evil, but evil will be overcome by those who are deep in their faith, and therefore joyfully resolute in their purpose.

I will end with the words of a contemporary of Yeats, G.K. Chesterton, not so great a poet, but a wiser man, a gentle giant who once wrote that angels can fly because they take themselves lightly. He also said that the world is not lacking in wonders, but only in wonder. It is no surprise that a recent book on him is entitled Defiant Joy: The Remarkable Life and Impact of G. K. Chesterton.

At the end of his great book, Orthodoxy, in which he recounts the wild adventure of a life illuminated by faith, Chesterton writes:

“Melancholy should be an innocent interlude, a tender and fugitive frame of mind; praise should be the permanent pulsation of the soul. Pessimism is at best an emotional half-holiday; joy is the uproarious labour by which all things live.” (Orthodoxy 296)

As we respond to the challenges of our present age, and cast a cold eye on them all, and look to the path ahead, I am more convinced now than I was at my ordination 41 years ago that the psalmist shows us the way:

 “Serve the Lord with gladness; come before him singing for joy.” Psalm 100


May each of us here present, whatever our call in life, serve the Lord with gladness, and like Saint Martin show that our service of God is authentic by joyfully caring for those who are shivering at the side of the road.


For more photos of the event, click here.

Nov 3, 2014

Faces of Our Faith: Suzanne Scorsone, Director of Research

Dr. Suzanne Scorsone has a longstanding legacy in the Archdiocese of Toronto. She started on contract almost 35 years ago writing a report for Cardinal Carter as he prepared to participate in the 1980 Synod on the Family. After joining the Archdiocese full time in 1981, she served as Director of the Office of Catholic Family Life, Director of Communications and is currently the Director of Research. As a social anthropologist, her experience has allowed her to participate in the work for the Church by participating in various national and international commissions, boards, and ministries. Below she shares some insights from that journey.

Dr. Suzanne Scorsone

1) What do you do on a typical day as the Director of Research?

Right now the bulk of my time is given to analyzing data from the Statistics Canada Census and the National Household Survey data coming out of the 2011 Census for the area of the Archdiocese and its parishes. These numbers can be exceedingly useful in pastoral planning, in knowing where the needs, the strengths and the challenges are.

2) What would you say is the most interesting fact or stat about our Archdiocese which most people wouldn’t know?

People may be surprised to hear that the City of Toronto is now the fourth largest in North America, and it will grow for at least for two or three decades. This is also perhaps the most multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, multi-linguistic diocese on the planet.

In 2011, there were 333,390 children aged 0-4 in the total population and 87,460 Roman Catholic children that age within the area of the Archdiocese. Numbers will no doubt increase as people come here from elsewhere in Canada and from abroad. That is a huge number of children to provide with catechesis, education, health care, and all else that they need.

3) What role do statistics numbers and other research play in pastoral planning at a diocesan level?

Future numbers of seniors will be far greater than today, while the numbers of middle-aged working adults (today’s children) will be substantially smaller, even with the addition of immigrants

What does this generational change mean for the Church, not over five years, but over 50 and more? These facts--and many others which can be gleaned from the Census--will be of help to those planning ministry and all kinds of service.

Much the same can be said about immigrants coming from around the globe. While in the middle of the last century most came from the UK, Europe, the US, Hong Kong and the Islands, and many still do, now the majority come from all over East Asia, South Asia and Latin America, with many coming also directly from Africa. This brings about a proportional shift in the languages and cultures of the people within and beyond the Church. Service within our communities will naturally proceed in this awareness.

4)   In your role, you read a number of movie and television scripts for groups looking to film in our parishes. Tell us about some of the filming request you’ve received and how they are approved.

If a script shows the film is really a politically partisan tract, or if it involves horror and malice and demons who win, or if the good guys do or say things which make the film appear to condone unethical acts (such as extra-judicial killing in cold blood, or use of marginalized people for lethal experiments in a search for medical cures), or if it misrepresents the Church or Catholics, it doesn’t get filmed in one of our churches. I have seen scripts involving any of these things.

That’s not to say that a script has to be a kids’ cartoon. People may go through any number of thorny situations in a tale, and so long as the ultimate message names evil as evil, good as good, and comes down on the side of the angels, or at least of peaceful co-existence with mutual respect, it can work.

Every film, every TV show, has a moral and ethical subtext, whether its creators consciously intend it or not. That message may be positive; it may be negative. If it is ultimately positive and constructive, we as an archdiocese are glad to help enable it.      

5)   As a past participant in the Holy See’s delegation at the Commission on the Status of Women meetings at the United Nations in New York, you are familiar with the Church’s teachings on women. What are some of the roles women can occupy in the Church today?

Women have always had a hugely significant role in the Church. Lay women made much of the life of the Church happen in their families and in their communities. For centuries, nuns and sisters, within monasteries and then in the active life, provided enormous service. Education of girls and young women, and later also of boys, was largely in their hands.  Women religious have cared for the sick and the elderly, founding and administering entire institutions for this. Now, they have done their job so well that, with the expansion of governmental support to education, health care and the social services over the past century, the work and the leadership is being given in large part by the lay women (and the lay men) the women religious once taught and cared for. It is still very much a Christian calling, but we don’t so readily notice the fact that it is often being done by committed Catholic women, because it is less explicit.

The roles of women in the Church and in all of society are also widening. Women serve in the law (the Catholic Tribunals and the secular courts), in scholarship (Faculties of Theology and the secular universities), and with governmental bodies (from Pontifical Congregations and Councils through Episcopal Conferences to local Dioceses and Parishes within the Church, and within all levels of secular Government and the civil service). This has vastly expanded, within just the past century and in recent decades. As Pope, now Saint, John Paul II said in his “Letter to Women”, while the work is still unfinished, “this journey must go on!” And so indeed, under the guidance of Pope Francis, it is doing, here and in the Church worldwide.


Dr. Scorsone and Archbishop Prendergast at the The Catholic Organization for Life and Family (COLF) annual seminar on biotechnology, Ottawa, March 2004. Photo: © Concacan Inc. All rights reserved.

6)   If you could spend the rest of your life researching any topic, what would you choose?

Ah! Many things, but they would all converge on the work of the Church among people of greatly diverse communities and cultures and historical contexts, now and over time. Understanding what is and what has been helps us in our work going forward.

From 2000-2004, Dr. Scorsone assisted with a project to excavate and relocate Elmbank Cemetery, which used to be within Pearson Airport. Here she is at the site of an excavated church building foundation in 2001. Photo courtesy of ARCAT.

7)   Your daughter, Caterina, is well-known for her role on the TV show Grey’s Anatomy. What is it like to be the parent of a TV star?

Every parent rejoices to see a son or daughter doing work they love, and have loved since they were young. Thorny human issues that need thinking through can be put before people in many ways; drama is one of them. As a parent I am so very glad to see her doing such meaningful work that gives her joy!

8) What is your favourite thing to do in your time off?

Well, of course, spending time with my husband and our now-adult kids and grandkids. After that, though, I have joined the great crowd of genealogy buffs. It very quickly morphs into social history, as you see real people living through the time periods you learned about in school. I call it “history with faces.”

Oct 20, 2014

Conclusion of the Extraordinary Synod on the Family

Synod Fathers from around the world gathered in Rome from October 5-19, 2014. Photo from here.

Sunday, October 19 marked the conclusion of the Extraordinary Synod on the Family in Rome. 

The proceedings garnered a great deal of attention from Catholics and non-Catholics from around the world.

Below are excerpts from the Pope Francis' final address to the Synod Fathers and the Message of the III Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops.


Pope Francis' final address to the Synod Fathers
October 18, 2014
Click here for full text on the Vatican Radio website.

[The Synod] has been “a journey” – and like every journey there were moments of running fast, as if wanting to conquer time and reach the goal as soon as possible; other moments of fatigue, as if wanting to say “enough”; other moments of enthusiasm and ardour. There were moments of profound consolation listening to the testimony of true pastors, who wisely carry in their hearts the joys and the tears of their faithful people. Moments of consolation and grace and comfort hearing the testimonies of the families who have participated in the Synod and have shared with us the beauty and the joy of their married life. A journey where the stronger feel compelled to help the less strong, where the more experienced are led to serve others, even through confrontations. And since it is a journey of human beings, with the consolations there were also moments of desolation, of tensions and temptations, of which a few possibilities could be mentioned [...]

Personally I would be very worried and saddened if it were not for these temptations and these animated discussions; this movement of the spirits, as St Ignatius called it (Spiritual Exercises, 6), if all were in a state of agreement, or silent in a false and quietist peace. Instead, I have seen and I have heard – with joy and appreciation – speeches and interventions full of faith, of pastoral and doctrinal zeal, of wisdom, of frankness and of courage: and of parresia. And I have felt that what was set before our eyes was the good of the Church, of families, and the “supreme law,” the “good of souls” (cf. Can. 1752). And this always – we have said it here, in the Hall – without ever putting into question the fundamental truths of the Sacrament of marriage: the indissolubility, the unity, the faithfulness, the fruitfulness, that openness to life (cf. Cann. 1055, 1056; and Gaudium et spes, 48).


Message of the III Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops
October 18, 2014
Click here for full text on the Vatican website.

We, Synod Fathers, gathered in Rome together with Pope Francis in the Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, greet all families of the different continents and in particular all who follow Christ, the Way, the Truth, and the Life. We admire and are grateful for the daily witness which you offer us and the world with your fidelity, faith, hope, and love.

Each of us, pastors of the Church, grew up in a family, and we come from a great variety of backgrounds and experiences. As priests and bishops we have lived alongside families who have spoken to us and shown us the saga of their joys and their difficulties [...]


[Family life] is sometimes a mountainous trek with hardships and falls. God is always there to accompany us. The family experiences his presence in affection and dialogue between husband and wife, parents and children, sisters and brothers. They embrace him in family prayer and listening to the Word of God—a small, daily oasis of the spirit. They discover him every day as they educate their children in the faith and in the beauty of a life lived according to the Gospel, a life of holiness. Grandparents also share in this task with great affection and dedication. The family is thus an authentic domestic Church that expands to become the family of families which is the ecclesial community. Christian spouses are called to become teachers of faith and of love for young couples as well.

Another expression of fraternal communion is charity, giving, nearness to those who are last, marginalized, poor, lonely, sick, strangers, and families in crisis, aware of the Lord’s word, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). It is a gift of goods, of fellowship, of love and mercy, and also a witness to the truth, to light, and to the meaning of life.

Oct 7, 2014

How will Francis affect the Synod?

As the Synod of Bishops on the family gets underway at the Vatican, all eyes remain on Pope Francis. Whose ideas will resonate with the pontiff? Will he steer the conversation of the assembled “Synod Fathers,” or will he maintain a quiet, listening presence?

This year’s gathering has piqued more media interest than recent synods. Much credit is due to the ever-unpredictable Francis, who has kept everyone on the edge of their seats since he assumed the Chair of St. Peter. A year and a half after the conclave, he continues to confound observers.

Salt + Light’s documentary The Francis Effect explains that, despite its many surprises, this pontificate hardly came out of the blue.

The introductory quote by German theologian Karl Rahner sets a bold thesis: Francis fulfills Rahner’s proclamation of “the period of Christianity as a fully world religion.” The case is supported by experts like church historian Fr. John O’Malley, who presents Francis as an embodiment of the Second Vatican Council’s intent to throw open the windows of the church to the world.

Beautifully shot and expertly edited, the film summarizes Jorge Bergoglio’s whirlwind first year as Pope, describing his concrete reforms to Vatican governance and finances. It also highlights the profound words and simple gestures that are inspiring legions of admirers to consider the Gospel anew.

Viewers with more conflicted feelings about Francis may feel their concerns are dismissed as mere grumbling. But while critics may debate his decisions, the film stresses that certain problems, such as the sex abuse crisis, can’t be solved overnight. The fascination with Francis won’t be enough to fill up the pews, either.

“The church somehow has to build on that credibility,” says CBC anchor Alison Smith. “It’s like he’s the headline, but the meat of the story is what’s happening in the broader reaches of the church.”

Those broader reaches, from Canada to Cameroon, are being represented at the Synod of Bishops this month. Whatever effect Francis has on them, and they have on him, the world is watching.

The Francis Effect can be purchased on DVD and Blu-Ray from the S+L website, or viewed online through Vimeo.

Kris Dmytrenko is a communications coordinator in the Archdiocese of Toronto's Office of Public Relations & Communications.

Oct 6, 2014

Faces of Our Faith: Manny Vargas, Assistant Foreman, Catholic Cemeteries and Funeral Services

Today we are featuring an assistant foreman with Catholic Cemeteries and Funeral Services. Manny Vargas is a husband, father to four and a new grandfather to a 5 month-old granddaughter. Manny is originally from Chile and came to Canada when he was nine.

Manny Vargas

1) How long have you been working for Catholic Cemeteries?  What does a typical day on the job look like for you?
I have been working here since 1994. My current position is Assistant Foreman at Holy Cross Cemetery in Thornhill. I organize the daily tasks for the labourers. It differs day to day. I very much enjoy meeting families on the cemetery grounds. I am always willing to lend an ear.

2) How does your team work together to ensure things run smoothly? How many people do you work with?
I like to think we work together like a soccer team whereby I am the coach. It is important to know your players and their personalities. For instance, you should pair a more experienced worker with someone who has less experience. You should rotate your players on a soccer team. Similarly, on the job you should rotate the staff so they are not always doing the same thing.  The number of staff varies based on the season.

3) How many hours does it take to prepare a plot for the interment before the family arrives?
To prepare a grave for burial takes many steps. It is of course very important to ensure the correct grave is marked and then check and double-check for accuracy. Digging a grave depends on factors such as the weather, ground conditions and depth. Most often, graves are dug the day before the burial. Ideally on a summer’s day in perfect conditions, it would take 30 minutes to prepare for and dig the grave.

4) What is something most people wouldn’t know about what goes on behind-the-scenes at a Catholic cemetery?
Most people wouldn’t know how much work is involved in preparing a grave for a burial.  Every grave I prepare I do to the best of my ability because I know that everyone deserves a respectful burial. After a family leaves a committal, the burial is in our hands and I treat each burial with the utmost care, respect and dignity. Everyone who dies deserves to have a decent, dignified burial.

5) Some might find being around death all day somewhat depressing. What gives you hope?
I am a Catholic and I believe in life after death. This is what gives me hope. Also, helping families keeps me positive.  

6) How has your view of death changed since you started working for Catholic Cemeteries?
I enjoy every day to the fullest. I have learned it is important to enjoy life because it is short.

7) What do you like to do outside of work?
Coach soccer. I like to work with troubled kids from broken homes. I have experience with soccer so I can work with kids to teach them what I know and it helps keep them out of trouble.

8) If you could have dinner with anyone in the world (deceased or alive), who would you choose?
I would dine with three people together: Pope Francis (I admire him because he is from Argentina which is the neighbour to Chile and he says many things which I can relate to), soccer great Lionel Messi and revolutionary Che Guevera (I admire him because he gave up his life for Latin America). We would dine on Chilean food and wine. The conversation would be about revolution, soccer, and peace and love. I have gathered the experts in each area. Che would talk about revolution, Lionel would talk about soccer and of course the Pope would talk about peace and love. We could come up with a solution to revolutionize the world using soccer to bring peace and love to all.

9) Who has been the most significant role model in your life?
My father. He was a strict man with good morals. He had a tough life and was a fighter to the very end. He passed away two years ago. I miss speaking to him about life, work, soccer, family. He brought me up with excellent standards and I admire him and thank him for that.