With Canada Day celebrations taking place from coast to coast, it's an opportunity for us to take a moment and pause, give thanks and reflect on the country in which we live. In Canada, we enjoy freedoms that are the envy of many around the world. Every year, tens of thousands look to the place we call home as a beacon of hope, a new opportunity, a fresh start. There is much to offer in this vast land and at this time of year, while giving thanks for our own country, we also pray for those citizens who struggle for freedom, democracy and peace in their homeland. For us, it's just a given.
Is it a perfect country? Of course not. Just as each one of us is imperfect, there are plenty of examples of a country that has stumbled at times or is treading down a slippery slope. From a faith perspective, there is plenty to be concerned about. We've seen countless examples in recent days of the move from freedom of religion to freedom from religion, a disturbing trend. The value of human life seems to have become a political football, whether it be from the moment of conception to the end of life, with polls and special interest groups dictating where the next shoe will drop. Just like any family, we've got plenty of work to do. It requires a whole lot of dialogue, engagement and a respectful exchange of ideas.
In reflecting on our country, we also take a moment to consider the Catholic Church in Canada and the important role it plays. We represent approximately 13 million residents across the nation who make up the more than 70 Catholic dioceses and eparchies of our country. Our faith community extends from coast to coast and includes the 6,000+ Catholics in Churchill-Hudson Bay where a handful or ordained clergy serve the community to our own Archdiocese of Toronto where close to 2 million faithful reside, grateful for the hundreds of clergy serving quietly day in and out.
While those of us in the Greater Toronto Area may be accustomed to having Mass offered on four or five occasions each weekend, that's not the reality for many. Consider the Eucharist coming to town only four or five times a year, with a priest or bishop travelling 18 hours to celebrate Mass for 20 people.
In addition to our spiritual services which are at the core of our faith, for many, our parishes are not just spiritual hubs but the place where family gathers for prayer, direction and fellowship, laughter and mutual support, an exchange of ideas. In short, it's home.
On top of all that our parishes provide across the country, consider the role of Catholic organizations in every community throughout our nation. Hospitals, many founded by religious women, continue to thrive and serve people of all faith, modelling the call of Jesus to love and serve anyone in need. We also see tremendous outreach in areas of social service, from soup kitchens to counselling, daycares to residences for seniors, care for those struggling with mental illness, drop in centres, youth programs, Out of the Cold, partnerships with other faith communities on any number of initiatives. There's the Catholic Women's League, Knights of Columbus and countless other lay associations that give selflessly of their time, talent and treasure.
It's been said before that we don't help others because they're Catholic, we do it because we are.
Take the Catholic Church out of the equation and life in Canada would look very different.
This isn't an opportunity to boast, to puff our chests and suggest that we're "all that". In fact, if anything, it should be a reminder to us all that yes, we've made important contributions yet we need to push the bar even higher in the days ahead. It should push us to work harder where there is division, even within our own family, to heal wounds, to adopt an attitude of gratitude, to remind ourselves that once we're done with our earthly journey, have we left it all on the table so to speak?
It's interesting if you look at the verses of our national anthem, O Canada, ones that are rarely sung, the final verse is strikingly religious. Worth a look as we celebrate the nation's birthday.
Ruler supreme, who hearest humble prayer,
Hold our dominion within thy loving care;
Help us to find, O God, in thee
A lasting rich reward,
As waiting for the Better Day,
We ever stand on guard.
God keep our land glorious and free!
O Canada, we stand on guard for thee.
O Canada, we stand on guard for thee.
So as we reflect on Canada Day this year, I certainly am grateful for all that my country has offered but I can't help but think to myself as a Catholic Canadian, infused with the spirit of our country but equally infused with the morals and teachings of a faith that has been that shining light for so many both in our country and around the world.
I am Canadian, I am Catholic. I am proud of both. Yet there is much work to be done.