Sunday, January 31, 2010

Talk to CCO "Meet the Movement" Dinner in Saskatoon

What a joy to be in Saskatoon—even in the winter! You won’t hear any complaints from me about this cold weather, since the anxious organizers of Vancouver’s Winter Olympics have asked me to bring some of it back with me. With the temperatures we’ve had lately they may have to add water skiing to the program.

There are many reasons why I am happy to be in Saskatoon, including old friends and my soft spot for the birthplace of Catholic Christian Outreach,the movement that brings us together tonight.

But there’s a special reason why I’m delighted to be in this fine city tonight: a man I much admire and whom I count as a friend has just been named your bishop. Monsignor Don Bolen was in Rome during my studies there a couple of years back and we had some very happy times together.

He is a man of prayer, a scholar, and a much-respected ecumenist. He is modest in manner and profound in thought. And besides, he is one of the best cooks I’ve ever met! This may be the first time in the history of the Church that a bishop will be more in demand as a host than a dinner guest!

I can also tell you that working in Rome didn’t take your new bishop very far from his Prairie roots. As you know, bishops are expected to have a coat of arms. During the past few weeks, I have been helping the bishop-elect with this fussy job, and I suspect that it’s made him a bit uncomfortable. The first sign of that came as we discussed the elaborate tasseled hat that goes on the top of the coat of arms of a Catholic bishop.

“Are you sure I can’t use a Saskatchewan Wheat Pool baseball cap?” he asked.

The appointment of Bishop-elect Bolen means that I have met more than forty years worth of your bishops, starting with Bishop James Mahoney, who was a regular visitor to Vancouver. If I hadn’t missed Bishop Klein in between, I could have boasted of meeting 65 years worth of your bishops, since when I lived in Toronto I met Archbishop Philip Pocock, who became Bishop of Saskatoon in 1944.

Mentioning Bishop Mahoney and that long line of bishops reminds us of the stirring theme of this special evening: “A new generation of builders is needed to build brick by brick the city of God within the city of man.” The builders of the past have left a legacy; Bishop-elect Bolen inherits that legacy, and will build upon it.

The diocesan bishop plays an indispensable role in the local Church. Sometimes I wonder whether the very “democratic” age we live in doesn’t lead us to take the office of bishop for granted. Some of the statements made by the Second Vatican Council are startling; the constitution on the Church says that Jesus willed that bishops, as successors of his apostles, “should be shepherds in His Church even to the consummation of the world.” (LG 18)

In that same dogmatic constitution, the council declared that “bishops in an eminent and visible way sustain the roles of Christ Himself as Teacher, Shepherd and High Priest, and that they act in His person.” (LG 21)

The council does not mention the role of Christ the Carpenter! This too is a bishop’s role; bishops must be builders too.
But what can a carpenter build alone? A chair, perhaps, or a table. Great undertakings—houses, buildings, cities—require many builders; various trades and skills are all put to work in a common enterprise, with lasting results.

So it is with the Church. The great plan of Christ—the plan of the perfect mind of God—provided for an army of builders, the baptized. Bishops are not invited but commanded to respect the duty and right of all the baptized to collaborate actively in building up of the Mystical Body of Christ.

This seems obvious enough to most of us, but let’s not forget it wasn’t that long ago that many Catholics saw the priests, Sisters and Brothers as the construction crew for the City of God. Why this was is a matter for historians—it may simply have been that Christian cultures had laid such strong foundation that fewer brick-layers were required.

Now—I don’t need to remind you—those foundations are crumbling. Strong fortifications of social consensus on moral values lie in ruins. In some respects, Western culture has been shaken by an earthquake no less devastating than the one that levelled so much of Haiti. Just when it was needed most, the witness of the clergy and religious was weakened by the twin demons of dissent and infidelity.

I mention Haiti quite deliberately. Earthquakes are dramatic; social changes are more subtle and rarely produce the shock and dismay that greeted the disaster in Haiti. But the destructive force of social change, when sin is at work, can be just as great. Internet pornography, acceptance of abortion, attacks on the family—these and many other forces have come in waves.

But God, whom Augustine called “ever ancient, ever new” always shows a way to those who wish to remain faithful. He is the master rebuilder of ruins, and the architect of future fortresses. And he has already begun this work, even as the enemy’s shells continue to land.

Having prepared us by the teachings of the Second Vatican Council, having inspired the young by the wisdom and person of Pope John Paul, God has called a new generation of builders for the Kingdom through Catholic Christian Outreach.

You know you’re here because we ask for and need your support. But please know what you are supporting—not some kind of youth group, not a chaplaincy program, not even a movement, really. You are supporting the rebuilding of Christian culture in our time; you are supporting the construction of the City of God.

Many of you, I know, have given generously to the relief of Haiti. We were moved by the sight and sounds of those trapped in rubble, or waiting helplessly for medical help. Our donations will not, however, help those people—they need help now, and governments are providing it. The outpouring of support will be directed to building some kind of infrastructure so that from the ruins can emerge a viable society.

There’s a parallel with your support for CCO tonight. You are not so much donating as investing—investing in the future leadership for our parishes, schools, and families. Of course I want you to be excited about what’s already happening—six full-time CCO missionaries on the campus of the U of S, and 63 CCO staff from coast to coast, with full-time missionaries on eight campuses.

I have to tell you that CCO may be a university student movement, but that’s only its launching pad. Our experience in Vancouver is that CCO is like yeast, leavening the whole diocese, extending its influence well beyond the campus through special events open to all.

Of course I want you to feel hopeful about what is already happening, but also to sign up for a future that will see the Church become ever more vibrant and alive in Canada.

Monsignors may indeed be crosses for their bishops, but the young people who have dedicated themselves to the work of evangelization are their crowns. Young people aren’t the only ones that CCO touches; well, even bishops have been given fresh heart by the energy and awesome love for the Church—and for her priests and bishops—that CCO displays.

Older people—I reluctantly add “like myself”!—are saved from discouragement when they balance the problems we face with the optimism of these young missionaries. Parents who had given up on the Church’s ability to speak to their kids in these confusing times find hope in the movement.

There are more than a few people who may even have given up on the younger generation, like the boss who interviewed someone for a job and asked whether he had any special talent or ability. The young applicant said “Sure I do. I got a prize for making a YouTube video and also topped the standings in three computer games.”

The interviewer said “That’s very impressive, but we need people who are smart during office hours.”

“That was during office hours,” the young man replied.

That sort of stereotype doesn’t fly when you meet the focused and effective staff of Catholic Christian Outreach.

Well, I think it is time that I draw my talk to a close—get me going on CCO and it’s hard to stop. I don’t want to set myself up like I did last Sunday, when I had an unusually long homily. Towards the end, I said “I could go on and on” which tempted one of the teenaged servers to say quietly “you already have!”

But as a loyal Vancouverite, I can’t end my talk without a final mention of the Olympic games, just 13 days away. The founder of the modern Olympic games, Baron de Coubertin, chose the Latin motto Citius, Altius, Fortius—Swifter, Higher, Stronger.

We haven’t heard that motto a lot as Vancouver prepares for the games. A lot more common is the Olympic slogan “Go for the gold.”

Much as I like Latin, I like the idea of going for the gold. And so do the churches of our area—they’ve formed an organization called “More than Gold” to offer the world what they’re calling “radical Christian hospitality” during the games. The name echoes the words St. Peter spoke to a lame beggar at the gates of the temple: “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.”

CCO goes for the gold—striving for the same excellence and dedication that marks the Olympics. CCO does not dilute or dumb down the Gospel or the demands of discipleship. The Eucharist, the Sacrament of Penance, the Magisterium, the importance of daily prayer—CCO calls students to all of these once they have heard the basic Gospel message.

Tonight, I invite each of you to go for the gold by supporting the young men and women who carry the torches that will light the way for the future of our Church and country.

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