Saturday, October 31, 2009

All Saints

The success of our parish photo directory depends on the participation of a majority of the parishioners. So two weeks ago I made a pitch from the pulpit, asking everyone to sign up.

To make my point—and get a laugh—I begged people to have their picture taken for my sake, explaining that the directory is a middle-aged pastor’s only hope of getting to know all his parishioners’ names.

Well, it back-fired. Several people have been heard to say “No, I’m not going to be photographed. Monsignor Smith already knows my name.”

So much for my marketing strategy.

Let me, then, look at the photo directory from an entirely different angle—to be precise, from the perspective of the Last Judgment.

Now I really have you worried! Sign up for the photo directory or else… big trouble on the Last Day. Boy, our pastor sure takes things seriously.

Relax: the Last Judgment I’m talking about is a painting, by the Dominican artist Fra Angelico. The original is in Florence, but a detail of it hung in the dining room when I lived at St. John the Apostle parish. That’s the part of the painting I want to talk about this morning, because it shows something remarkable—angels and saints playing the game we called ring around the rosy. For those of you not familiar with the game or the nursery rhyme, it gathers children together in a circle, holding hands.

The painting reminds us that we’re not going to heaven by ourselves: we’re holding hands with our brothers and sisters. I am not going to heaven; we are going to heaven.

As you might already suspect, I am not using my homily to promote the photo directory—I am using the photo directory to remind us that we’re far more than an odd collection of people who happen to attend the same church. We are men and women, boys and girls, babies and even unborn children all moving together toward Paradise. We’re together because, together, we want to be saints.

Which brings us to All Saints Day. It’s not a day for complicated theology—Cardinal Vanhoye, one of the Church’s great scholars of the Bible, says simply “Today is a great family feast day: we’re united with our brothers and sisters, the saints. They’re close to us, they understand us, they love us, they light our way, and they guide us to true happiness.”

A simple thought, but electrifying! The cardinal continues on the same vein: “In the saints the love of our heavenly Father is easier to see, easier to feel, more lively.”*

But don’t we have enough saints already on the calendar to keep us happy and close to God? Think about the ones whose names we know—St. Francis, St. Therese, St. Anthony, St. Mary Magdalene, and so on and on. Why this nameless group we honour today?

I think there are three reasons why “today we rejoice in the holy men and women of every time and place,” as our opening prayer says.

First, so that we can be assured that heaven is a crowded place! The dramatic stories of apostles and martyrs can leave us feeling like we’re golfing with Tiger Woods, or trying to skate with Sidney Crosby. Many medieval and renaissance artists painted scenes from heaven. But it’s usually our Lord flanked by a few favourite saints. I like Fra Angelico precisely because his vision of heaven is packed with people.

It’s important to remember that we’re all of us—every one, no exceptions—called to be saints. Not, perhaps, St. Gregory of West Vancouver, complete with stained-glass window, but saints nonetheless. And God does not call us to the impossible. God did not become man so that a trickle of his brothers and sisters could join him in the kingdom. No-one is denied sufficient grace to become holy, and no-one should settle for less.

Second, the feast of All Saints calls to mind the men and women we’ve known who, as far as our human judgment can place them, truly deserve to be imitated as much as canonized saints. While we should not go around ‘canonizing’ everyone who dies—the archbishop recently remarked that eulogies that virtually canonize a deceased person are seriously flawed, since it is our job to pray for the dead, not to decide they are already in heaven—it’s nonetheless true that most of us have known someone in our family or in our parish who appeared to possess heroic virtue.

To recognize that friends and family who have passed away may very well be among the number we celebrate today is consoling and joyful.

The third reason is one I have already touched on. We’re here because we want to be saints. We recognize there is something better—much, much better—than what the world promises. But it’s not always that easy to see, as Cardinal Vanhoye warns as he contrasts this world’s thinking with today’s Gospel:

“The world says ‘blessed are the rich, for they shall possess whatever they desire.’ The Gospel says ‘Blessed are the poor.’

The world thinks and says ‘blessed the strong and the violent, for they shall impose their will on all, and take over whatever they want.’ The Gospel says ‘Blessed are the meek.”

The world thinks and says ‘blessed are those who laugh, who enjoy life.’ Christ says ‘Blessed are those who weep.’

Who’s right, the world or Christ?”*

Today is a good day to answer that question. Or to use a common expression, “who has the last laugh?”

I’ll put my money on the smiling people playing ring around the rosy with the angels. In fact, I’ll put my money on you, the women and men, girls and boys of this parish who are striving and struggling, working and praying in faith.

Discouraged? Sometimes. Failing? Sometimes.

But all the while holding on to the hope of heaven, where a surprising number of sinners have found themselves to be saints after all.
*Albert Hanhoye, Il Pane Quotidiano della Parola (2002) 965.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Is "Busy" Bad??

No homily this week... as the following message from this week's bulletin explains to the parishioners, I am in Ottawa, doing a whole lot more than looking at the beautiful autumn colours. The "apologia" below is an effort to respond to concerns that individual parishioners express, usually unintentionally, about my busy-ness when at home, and my not-infrequent absences from the parish. Not sure how successful the letter is, but it's a sincere effort to help folks understand the fact of, and need for, my duties and activities away from the parish.

When I was a boy, I loved my father’s business trips—we always got a small gift on his return. (Many years later I learned that some of the souvenirs we received from exotic places were actually purchased much closer to home, to make the trip a little less pressured!)

I’m not so sure that the parishioners are equally pleased by my travels, or indeed by my apparent “busy-ness.” Some say “away again?” while others seem surprised that they cannot always get same-day appointments. Even the most understanding often preface a request with “I know you are awfully busy…”

Unfortunately, I cannot afford to bring souvenirs back for all of you! So I thought a few words of explanation might be helpful. A conversation today with a friend who is a doctor gave me a few thoughts about this “problem” that I’d like to share with you as I prepare for a week’s absence.

This hard-working physician told me that he will be in Victoria next week to give a talk, returning to Vancouver in time to run a course for other doctors, just before leaving on vacation. This means no office hours for a significant period, which distresses both him and his patients. But as we talked over his situation, we realized there is no “solution” to it. He is an excellent doctor because he is a constant learner; medicine in our province is better because he is a committed medical educator. Yet, if he doesn’t take time off, he will soon be a patient rather than a doctor.

There’s a parallel with my situation. As most of you know, I have spent five years studying canon law. I have an obligation to provide some return on the Church’s investment in me by assisting whenever I am asked; at the same time, I must keep up the knowledge that I have acquired by a certain amount of ongoing study.

Among the responsibilities the Archbishop has given me are membership on the College of Consultors and the Presbyteral Council, bodies that provide advice to him through regular meetings. I am also a member of the national boards of Catholic Christian Outreach and Renewal Ministries, two Catholic organizations that do much good with which I have been associated for many years.

In every way that is consistent with the Archbishop’s wishes and my own sense of responsibility to the Church at home and elsewhere, I put the parish and parishioners first. I routinely decline requests to be involved in other groups and activities that do not involve canon law. But I am convinced that my work and study outside the parish help to make me a better pastor, and better able to serve you.

“You’re soooo busy.” Yes, I am busy. But my doctor friend and I chuckled when we talked about this, wondering what people would say if I wasn’t busy... We also wondered whether parishioners would want doctors, counselors, and other helping professionals who have lots and lots of spare time—it might suggest they aren’t much in demand, which doesn’t seem like a very good sign!

Yes, I am busy. But I am busiest when seeing parishioners, attending parish meetings, and preparing and delivering homilies and talks at the parish. I always have the time to meet parishioners about any issue that concerns them, to hear confessions (scheduled and not), to anoint the sick, and to offer spiritual direction. It’s simply that arranging an appointment sometimes takes several days, especially since I have to prioritize requests according to urgency.

My latest duties takes me to Ottawa, where I will spend three days doing research at St. Paul’s University, and then attend a Catholic Christian Outreach function, before returning early next week.

When I get back on Wednesday I’ll be… busy! But happy to see you.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Secondhand Suffering (29th Sunday, Year B)

Some of you in church this morning are dear friends of mine. Others are active members of the parish for whom my heart is filled with thanks. Still others are parishioners I don’t know personally. But everyone here is my brother or sister in the Lord.

It’s not surprising, then, that I pray for your wellbeing and happiness. I wish you good health, I wish you freedom from financial worry, and I wish you peace.

But I do not wish you never to suffer. For never to suffer means never to have loved.

Does that sound shocking? It shouldn’t. It’s possible, with good fortune and good genes, to get through life without ever facing serious illness. I heard someone complain once that her mother died in perfect health!

Getting through life without financial worry is getting tougher, but it’s still possible. The best way, I’m told, is by inheriting a lot of money. I haven’t tried that myself, but I have the blessing of a very secure job, which is the next best thing.

Finding peace and keeping it in our hearts is not easy. However, many people do achieve this through prayer, positive attitudes, and the practice of acceptance.

But avoiding all suffering is impossible: because even if you are spared personal suffering—even if your own life is running like a well-oiled machine—the odds dictate that someone you love will experience illness or misfortune. And their suffering will become yours. Unless you have a very small family, a very limited circle of friends—worse, unless you keep others at an emotional arms-length—you will experience suffering vicariously.

Vicarious suffering occurs when another’s suffering becomes our own. And sometimes that’s worse than anything that could happen to us directly. We’d be happy, in fact, to be the one with the cancer or the one battling depression—especially when we’re bound to the sufferer by family ties.

Someone said that when we marry, we give hostages to fortune.* What that means is that marriage and family—the place where most of us love most—is a place where suffering is almost inevitable.

So what do we make of “secondhand suffering” in light of the Scripture we have heard this morning?

It’s a key question. Even the Catechism notes that suffering is one of the experiences that seem to contradict the Good News and can shake our faith and become a temptation against it (CCC 164). I think we’d all agree with that—it’s used as a standard argument against Christianity. When the one who suffers is a child, it’s even easier to see the problem.

But if suffering does contradict the Good News, then we are in deep trouble. This really is one of the questions we can’t afford to ignore—because if we’re not facing it now, we’re going to, sooner or later. So let’s see what the Lord is trying to teach us.

Because it seems to me this a problem only Christ can solve. You can make a pretty good case for the existence of God using your head alone—in other words, with the tools of reason or philosophy. Try to do that with the suffering of children or the torture of innocents, or the maddening experience of unanswered prayer for healing of a loved one. It won’t work. Only Jesus can answer the problem of pain.

I was quite surprised, to tell you the truth, to find that the Catechism says very little about human suffering. Then I figured out why: it says little about suffering but lots about Jesus. And he is the answer.

Notice I say that “He is the answer,” not “He has the answer.” Jesus resolves the apparent contradiction between suffering and the Father’s love more by what he does than by what he says.

Who is the suffering servant crushed with pain in our first reading this morning? The Church has always identified him with Jesus.

We cannot know our Lord or understand his mission if we will not know or understand his suffering. Isaiah’s prophecy contains a simple statement of this truth: “The righteous one… shall make many righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities.” His life is an offering for sin.

It sounds so dark. Yet “Out of his anguish he shall see light,” the prophet tells us, and “he shall see his offspring and prolong his days.”

This is not human reasoning. Anguish is anguish. Being crushed with pain is not a good thing. But this is the way God chose to ransom the world.

And although Jesus has redeemed the world, he has chosen to allow us to share in his work of redemption until the end of time. As St. Paul says, “in my flesh I am completing what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church” (Col. 1:24).

So the first answer Jesus gives to our heartfelt question about why he can allow human suffering is “because it permits us to drink the cup that he drank.” To suffer—firsthand or secondhand—is an invitation to become a partner in the saving mission of Christ.

Suffering that is offered to God is a work of atonement—for our own sins, the sins of others, and sin in the Church. We’re still reeling from the thought that a bishop right here in Canada could fall so far from grace; yet we can’t forget the example of Cardinal Bernadin—falsely and publicly accused, he spoke only kindly of his accuser, and gently forgave him everything before he died. Cardinal Pell, who visited our parish last year, was similarly the victim of a false accusation, which he bore with courage and grace.

(I am not saying this by way of comment or contrast with the present case, but rather to illustrate the fact that atonement is a powerful and necessary force in the Church, wounded by the sins of her members.)

While thinking about my homily yesterday afternoon, I asked myself this question: Can we know Jesus without knowing suffering?

I’m not sure—it’s a difficult question. But the more I thought about it the more one thing struck me: Jesus himself said the disciple is not greater than the master. I think, then, that Jesus’ second answer to why God permits suffering is “so that you might know me.”

The passage we heard from the Letter to the Hebrews is both consoling and instructive. We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has in every respect been tested as we are… Jesus was not Superman, unfeeling and immune; he wept, he bled, he grieved. To know his sacred humanity is essential to knowing his divinity.

In other words, Jesus stands beside all who suffer, in complete solidarity. Knowing this is a huge help to knowing him.

I have used a lot of words to say much less than a crucifix does about Christ’s answer to our questions about suffering.

One final word about unanswered prayer—because that topic often comes up when we’re talking about suffering, especially of loved ones.

The foot-in-mouth disease of James and John in today’s Gospel reminds us that we sometimes pray for things without knowing what we’re asking. Let’s give the two brothers a break, and assume they really didn’t have a clue. Perhaps they just wanted to be close to Jesus. They asked for crowns, he gave them the cross. They got what they really needed, not what they asked for.

I will never tell anyone not to pray for miracles, especially for others. But as the years go by, I’m more and more convinced that our first prayer in tough times should be for greater understanding of the mystery of suffering—and for the grace and courage to accept it.

* In fact, it was Sir Francis Bacon, who wrote in Essay 8 “He that hath wife and children hath given hostages to fortune; for they are impediments to great enterprises, either of virtue or mischief.” He was actually talking about the consequences of celibacy in society, but the quotation is now used more in the sense in which I have paraphrased it.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

I Get By With a Little Help From My Friends (28th Sunday, Year B)

I got a little bit emotional listening to a Canadian politician the other day. It’s been a long time since that happened!

During my political youth, I listened spellbound from the gallery of the House of Commons to legendary figures like John Diefenbaker and Pierre Trudeau. But on Friday, I listened with equal admiration to Stephen Harper—singing a Beatles’ song!*

And, believe it or not, I was moved by the song and by the singer. (I can’t say his piano-playing did that much for me!)

When it was written, “I Get By With a Little Help From My Friends” was probably about drugs. But it is also a modern anthem to the fact that we can do nothing alone. In this light, it can be seen as a hymn to community—to our basic human need for others.

And when a Prime Minister who is considered by many to be a bit of a loner, who rarely hears a flattering word from the media, can take to the stage in front of the Ottawa elite, you have to figure he might just mean what he’s singing.

On this Thanksgiving weekend, I thank the Prime Minister for his moment of vulnerability, and for accidentally reminding us of one of the central truths of Christian faith: we can’t live it on our own. We get by, with a little help from our friends.

Brothers and sisters in the Lord are one of the greatest gifts God gives to us. Jesus promises Peter he will not lack brothers and sisters just because he has left home to follow Him. The Church is a family—a big and sometimes dysfunctional family—but a family nonetheless. Experts say that the first sign of a healthy parish is the sense of belonging.

Each brick of this building and the school next door tells a story of belonging. The generosity and sacrifice of individuals made it possible, while the recent renovations remind us that the story of stewardship continues.

The parish spiritual committee suggested that Thanksgiving weekend would be a good time to pray and give thanks for the benefactors, living and dead, who built and sustain our community.

I wonder whether the committee had read today’s Gospel before they got this idea. Because whether you call them benefactors, donors or stewards, those who made and make this church possible are first and foremost our brothers and sisters in Christ. They are men and women who felt part of a parish family. It is rarely philanthropy or community service that prompts people to support a parish; it’s usually the sense of belonging that gives birth to stewardship.

Do you know, for instance, that one of the largest donors to our parish is someone who has been unable to attend Mass here for years?

Our Gospel gives another reason why we should be thankful to those whose sacrifices built and sustain our parish. Many of them display the spirit of detachment from this world’s goods to which Jesus invited the rich young man. Whether in a family or in a parish, sacrificial giving means letting go.

Sometimes it means letting go of money. Benefactors of our parish have asked themselves the tough question “What do you own and what owns you?” And their answer was stewardship and sharing their resources.

But let’s never forget that a parish needs much more than money: the stewardship formula of time, talent and treasure puts the financial in third place. One of the best parts of being a pastor is watching our small army of volunteers help people make the jump from being “members” of the parish to being brothers and sisters in Christ.

I wish there were time to tell some stories, but I can only say that those who organize and perform the many ministries of the parish, those who serve coffee, those who calm down the parking lot, those who calm down the pastor—all of these and more are helping Christ fulfill his promise to Peter. They’re helping Christ provide brothers and sisters for each one of us. There are no only children in the Body of Christ.

On this Thanksgiving Day, our first priority is to thank God for His many blessings, and to renew our commitment to share them with others. But let’s make it our special prayer to thank God for those who have shared with us.

We do much more than “get by,” and we receive much more than "a little help" from our friends. They are a sign of God’s love for us, and part of the promised reward for those who follow Christ.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Good News About Sex and Marriage (27th Sunday, Year B)

Two kinds of disasters made the news this week. The first kind were natural ones: typhoons and earthquakes that threatened the lives and welfare of people in the Philippines, Indonesia, and the South Pacific. The second disaster was closer to home—allegations in Antigonish that once again send Catholics reeling, asking ‘what’s next?’

There’s no avoiding the fact that these are difficult and painful days.
The natural disasters will, judging by past experience, have a positive side amidst the terrible human tragedy. Generous people will bring material aid and comfort to the victims, making visible the basic goodness of the world even in the face of suffering.

Moral disasters, however, rarely have an upside. They bring only discouragement and confusion, and when they involve the Church they make it that much more difficult to carry on the saving work of Christ.

The failures of Church leaders—and in the current case it’s important to mention that we’re dealing with charges still to be dealt with—lead both believers and non-believers to ask many question.

Today, I’d like to tackle just one set of questions: Why is the Church so concerned about human sexuality, about the institution of marriage, about what people do in their private lives? Why can’t the Church—and its celibate clergy—stick to a “religious” message? Why does it need to make an issue of “political” things, things like same-sex “marriage” and the like?

Aren't we just setting ourselves up for a fall, for the charge of hypocrisy?

I’ve heard these kind of questions often enough, even from loyal Catholics. So today I want to answer them by speaking about the Church’s mission; calling; duty; and obligation to preach a message about human sexuality and its place in securing the good of both individuals and society.

Of course we all know folks who consider themselves Catholic but disagree with various moral teachings of the Church. I’m not really talking to them today, but to rather to those Catholics who don’t see that the Church is compelled by her Founder to preach a message about the plan of God for all creation.

Do I fault people for that? I certainly do not. I can tell you that much of what I know about the Church’s divine calling to preach about God’s plan, about the natural order, about the natural law, I did not know until well into my seminary years and even later. We don’t do a good job of getting this message out.

As a result, there are sincere Catholics who think that the Gospel message is an exclusively — in quotation marks — “religious message.” They don’t realize that the Good News of Jesus Christ embraces both the truths we tend to think of as religious — forgiveness of sins or the saving sacrifice of the Mass, for example — and truths which are more broadly speaking natural, indeed pre-Christian.

Much of what the Church teaches about God’s plan for man and woman is found in the Book of Genesis. In the Hebrew scriptures—in the scriptures given to the Chosen People. Certainly we have in the New Testament an expanded and enriched understanding of the Genesis teaching. But foundationally, what is true at the order of creation, at the moment when God brought this world into existence, belongs to the deposit of Faith that the Church must preach in season and out of season.

I can’t underscore this simple point enough. The Church is called to preach the whole truth. And the Church is called to preach that truth to the entire world.

Many well-intentioned Catholics think that we should keep our nose out of public debates, and preach to our own. Many Catholics do not recognize that the Church has a mission to the world. We do not go out to the world and say, “Jesus Christ is Lord; be baptized so you can come to Mass and receive the Eucharist with us.” We say: “Jesus Christ has come to bring life, and to bring it to the full. To you, in every aspect of your being.”

There’s no such thing as a purely religious truth. Things are true or they are not true. And if they are true, if they bring life, then they are part of what the Church proclaims.

Both the first reading and the Gospel at Mass today present the divine plan written into our bodies: the creation account of Genesis reveals the distinct order of nature—man and woman we were created. Man and woman. And man and woman were created that they might be one. One flesh in the divine perfect plan of creation.

The Church must proclaim this. We cannot step back from these truths, for fear of consequences. They belong to the Gospel. They come to us from Jesus—how many times have I heard people say that the Catholic Church is against divorce and remarriage. This is not a teaching of the Catholic Church but of Jesus himself, as our Gospel passage today makes clear.

If our moral teaching is only rules and regulations, it can’t be understood as Gospel, surely. Yet I have a book on my shelf entitled “The Good News About Sex and Marriage”, and it’s remarkably popular with young adults in the parish.

Still, many Catholics have never heard a word about this kind of good news, and for that we preachers must apologize. In our defense, unless priests did nothing but talk year-round about issues of sexuality and creation and marriage, they couldn’t present from the pulpit a full and comprehensive explanation of why the Church’s teaching is wholesome and good and Good News.

It’s impossible first because we only have your attention for twelve to fifteen minutes a week—and sometimes we’re lucky to get that! Secondly, there are many other truths that must be shared in the course of a year. Finally, it’s impossible because there are limits to what one can say in a group that includes all ages. (Even today, if you’ve listened carefully you’ll notice I have used roundabout expressions to limit the questions that may come up on the drive home!)

And in fact, not everyone needs to hear every thing. At different stages in life we face different moral challenges.

The teaching on divorce, particularly, and the complex area of annulment is worthy of homily all to itself, but I’m not going to give it today. The Church’s teachings on responsible parenthood and artificial contraception … that’s really worth an entire sermon, and I will manage it someday soon, because these teachings are sometimes rejected by people who really haven’t heard them; no-one’s ever told them the reasons that might help them accept freely and joyfully what the Church proposes.

I’ll never forget Archbishop Carney talking about the controversy over Pope Paul VI’s letter on artificial contraception. “I didn’t obey Pope Paul,” he snorted. “I agreed with him!”)

This is a good moment to remind you that I’m not talking here about people who break moral laws. That’s quite a different issue. It’s possible to break moral laws—to commit sin—without rejecting the truth of the teaching or the authority of the teacher. We can choose what we know to be bad — I do it every time I go to McDonald’s!

But the fact remains: knowing and understanding is an aid to acceptance and obedience.

So let’s seek knowledge and understanding together. Give the Church a chance to share the good news about men and women and the family. Read. Talk. Express your doubts and ask your questions. Let’s exchange e-mails or have a visit. Contact our parish coordinator for natural family planning, Karen Magee; her number’s in the bulletin.

Whatever we do, let’s not let the daily paper and the other media distort the good news of the Church’s teaching. It’s enough that it has to be the source of bad news about the Church’s problems.

If I had the time, there's more I'd like to say at this painful moment for the Church in Canada. It is painful, certainly. But it’s a reminder that the times in which we live make it increasingly tough to remain a complacent Catholic. If we doubt that the Church has a message of truth from the Creator, and if out of embarrassment or sheer frustration over human failures in the Church we want to shrink Catholic truth to things around the altar, we will soon, I think, be dissatisfied with the broader, and indeed, true notion of Church.

Maybe more to the point, if we allow ourselves to conclude that the Church is just plain wrong about these important things, we’ll eventually love her less and perhaps stop loving her at all.

Let’s not allow that to happen. As a first step, many of us need to know a whole lot more about what the Church teaches, and why. To help with that, there’s an attractive booklet inserted in this week’s bulletin. It’s called Marriage in the Catholic Church: Frequently Asked Questions.* It tackles a whole lot of tough issues in a positive way, ranging from the Church’s view on sex to the best ways to strengthen a marriage. For the most part, it uses plainer language than most Church publications.

It offers a lot of solid information, nicely packaged, and it really deserves to be read by everyone sixteen years of age and up.

Most of all, the booklet needs to be read by all who want to understand Catholic moral teachings, particularly those most attacked today. Let’s discover for ourselves the good news about sex and marriage. And let’s be glad, not sad, that the Church can proclaim a liberating, holistic, helpful, and healing message… even in her human frailty.

*A pastoral document from the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, adapted for Canada by the Catholic Organization for Life and Family (COLF), which is co-sponsored by the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Supreme Council of the Knights of Columbus.

Anniversary of Cathedral Dedication

Today we celebrate the anniversary of the dedication of the central church of our archdiocese, Holy Rosary Cathedral.

It’s clear that this is a very significant day, since the liturgical calendar ranks it as a feast throughout the diocese.

Why is that?

An obvious answer would be the importance of the cathedral to the life of the local church. It’s there that the archbishop has his chair, or cathedra, and it’s there we celebrate great moments in the community of faith. Many of us have gone to confession there thanks to the dedicated ministry of the Cathedral priests. Holy Rosary is a symbol of the unity of the diocesan family.

But that answer alone really wouldn’t explain this feastday. After all, when we celebrated yesterday the gift of our Guardian Angels, that liturgy was a ‘memorial’, a less important rank than feast.

The reason for this is deeply theological. In all religions, the temple is the place where the divinity is thought to make itself present to worshippers. By means of the temple, they enter into communication with the world of the gods.

We see this in paganism, we see this in Buddhism, and we saw it in the Old Testament, where the temple at Jerusalem is the sign of the presence of God among his people.

But that Old Testament sign was “provisional” and passing, destined to be replaced with a sign of another sort—not, however, a building, but the Body of Christ and his Church (Xavier Léon-Dufour, Dictionary of Biblical Theology [2nd ed.]594).

That’s why the Church is the New Jerusalem—itself a sign of God-with-us. We, as members of the Body of Christ, form a spiritual temple not built by human hands. Together with Christ, St. Peter tells us, we are one building (1 Pt 2:4).

So our feast today celebrates the invisible richness that eclipses even the most beautiful art and architecture of the great cathedrals of Europe. We recall the dedication of Holy Rosary as a shining symbol of the Church with a capital C, built on Christ, the foundation and cornerstone.

We rejoice in the presence of God in our midst—not just within four walls at Richards and Dunsmuir, but in the Body of Christ, which is at one and the same time, temple, sacrifice, and priest (Xavier Léon-Dufour, Dictionary of Biblical Theology [2nd ed.]594).

At the same time, as members of this local Church, the anniversary of the dedication of our cathedral to God’s praise and glory reminds us today of our call to work together in faith and charity for its growth and upbuilding.