Thursday, May 11, 2023

First Words at Holy Name of Jesus Parish


Although I will not become pastor until mid-July, I visited my new parish this weekend to celebrate First Holy Communion with eight children. I preached a special homily for them, of course, but at the other Masses I gave the homily below. I will be back to celebrate Confirmation at Pentecost, but otherwise generous replacement priests will hold the fort in the meantime.

Catholics in Toronto have something in common with the members of Holy Name of Jesus Parish in Vancouver—they are both welcoming new shepherds. Of course, the new pastor in Toronto is a bishop! But that’s not the only difference. Archbishop Frank Leo is 24 years younger than his predecessor, while I am about that much older than mine!

On top of that, Toronto’s new shepherd has a great big head of curly black hair while I have... well, you can see for yourself.

I am mentioning this not only because the contrasts are fascinating, but because I intend to shamelessly borrow from Archbishop Leo’s homily at his Mass of installation in Toronto. That’s the bad news. The good news is that my homily will only be one-quarter the length of his.

Archbishop Leo’s first thought was the same as mine: gratitude. Gratitude to God for the faith that unites us, the salvation that we celebrate, and the joy that we share.

Gratitude to Archbishop Miller who has entrusted this parish family to my care. And gratitude to Father Rodney who in his time at Holy Name did much good. I particularly wish him good health and spiritual blessings.

The young archbishop went on to introduce himself to his new flock. I can’t really introduce myself to you without making some reference to our first reading, which tells about the call of the first deacons. Only once every three years do we hear this reading on a Sunday, so today is very special for me, because deacons are very special to me.

It has been a great privilege for me to have served as the first Director of the Permanent Diaconate Office in the Archdiocese, and to have implemented Archbishop Miller’s vision for the ministry of permanent deacons from the very beginning.

My new assignment as Vicar General means I must sadly give up the diaconate this summer, but I will certainly never lose sight of the importance of this ministry to the Church. I wasn’t completely convinced at the start, but then I read what Saint Ignatius of Antioch, martyred in 107, wrote. He said “one cannot speak of the Church” without the deacons, the bishop, and the priests (St. Ignatius of Antioch, Ad Trall., 3,1).

The effective restoration of this order through the permanent diaconate is a tremendous gift to the Church throughout the world and to our own Archdiocese. During my years at Christ the Redeemer three parishioners applied to become deacons; one was ordained and the other will be ordained in a year. I have every hope that Holy Name will beat Christ the Redeemer’s record during the coming years.

I also hope and pray it will be possible at some point that we will have the support of a deacon in this parish, given my other responsibilities and the importance of this ministry.

Archbishop Leo said that there were certainly going to be many questions in the minds of those he is called to lead and serve. “Who is he? What’s his story? What makes him tick?” I can’t answer all that today, but you already know that I do have a very significant time commitment to the Archdiocese, one that I have prepared for during many years studying canon law, the law that guides the Church. So Holy Name will need to share me with the Pastoral Centre, just as Christ the Redeemer did with the Permanent Diaconate Office.

I felt that the parishioners of Christ Redeemer were blessed by my dual role in many ways and I am confident that the same will be true for you. God always repays our generosity to His Church.

And of course I want to know who you are! What your story is, and what makes this community tick. You’ll need to be patient with me “as I strive in the coming months, and hopefully years, to understand more deeply the strengths and weaknesses, opportunities, and challenges” of this parish community.

So that’s another way of saying that I don’t have an agenda! As Archbishop Leo told Torontonians, I will take the necessary time to come to know you, and to listen to you. I want to learn from you about the history of Holy Name, its diversity, changing trends, and new challenges. I have already seen ministries which exist and are thriving and I am filled with hope and gratitude.

But even though I do not have a personal agenda, there are some aspects of parish life that are already clear, and which will not change. We are called to outreach—to concern for the poor and refugees; we are called to defend human life at every stage from conception to natural death; to promote and strengthen marriage and the family; to draw youth and young adults into the heart of parish life; to cooperate with Catholic healthcare and education; to work for reconciliation with indigenous communities; to protect children and vulnerable adults and prevent all forms of abuse; and now, more than ever, to evangelize—to proclaim the Gospel to those who have not heard it.

Although by the time I become pastor the Easter season will be over, these days of listening to the apostles preaching in the Acts of the Apostles have been a wonderful reminder to me that we need to proclaim what we believe and not to keep it to ourselves.

Cardinal Raniero Cantalamessa, the preacher to the papal household, reminds us that two occupations were central to the lives of the apostles. Jesus called them to be shepherds, and showed them what a good shepherd looks like. But he also called them to be fishers of men.

It’s often easier to be shepherds rather than fisherman—to nourish and care for those who already come to church rather than to go out in search of those who are far away. The Cardinal says the parable of the lost sheep is reversed today: ninety-nine have strayed and only one remains in the sheepfold. “The danger is that we spend all our time nourishing the remaining one and have no time ... to go out and search for the lost ones” (Raniero Cantalamessa, Navigating the New Evangelization, pp. 49-50).

Not surprisingly, Cardinal Cantalamessa says that the laity’s contribution to this massive task is providential—and I would add, essential.

Holy Name of Jesus is possibly the parish most filled with potential in the entire Archdiocese. The development that has already happened up and down Cambie Street, the massive Oakridge Park project eight blocks away, and the development of the former RCMP property three blocks away will bring a surge of new residents to our community—new residents, who will in many ways be different from the old ones.

How do we prepare for such a daunting task? Pope Francis makes it somewhat simple, as he often does. He says there are three challenges to evangelizing today, first, to make Jesus known; second, to witness to him; and third, fraternity.

As I’ve already suggested, the first challenge requires that we return to the initial proclamation of the Gospel—to communicate the core message of Jesus with such programs as ALPHA. Archbishop Leo adds that this calls for “pastoral creativity” that can reach people where they are living—not waiting for them to come.

Proclaiming the Gospel demands that we be credible. And there is the second challenge the Pope gives us: witness. The Gospel is preached effectively when how we live and act is in line with what we say. We must begin with ourselves, showing respect for each and every individual. Effective witnesses are like living Gospels that all can read.

And finally the third challenge is fraternity, or, if you prefer, community. As Jesus said, “by this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). In the early Church, Tertullian tells us how non-believers reacted to the witness of Christians. “See how they love one another,” they would say. If our own community does not mirror the communion of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, if it is not capable of quality relationships and respectful dialogue, the words we preach to others and even to ourselves, will ring hollow.

Toward the end of his remarkable homily, Archbishop Leo called his appointment to Toronto “an arranged marriage, with Pope Francis as the matchmaker.” Something of the sort could be said of my impending arrival here, with Archbishop Miller as our matchmaker.

With arranged marriages it is hoped that in due time the spouses get to know each other and then come to love one another. Archbishop Leo reminded the people of Toronto that since he was 51 years old he had about a quarter of a century for them to get to know one another and fall in love.

We don’t have that much time! We’ll have to make the process move a little more quickly. But what Archbishop Leo said about his situation is true of ours: “as in all successful marriages, commitment, and patience, forgiveness and sacrifice will be required.”

This welcome chance to say hello to you is also something of a “goodbye for now”: until my appointment here becomes effective in the middle of July I am still responsible for Christ the Redeemer and the diaconate. I will be back on Pentecost Sunday for the Confirmation of our young people, but other than that my existing commitments require that I simply keep an eye on the parish while generous replacement priests provide you with the pastoral care you need.

I know that you will continue to pray for me, and for one another, as I will for you, until the day when we are indeed a family together.

Archbishop Francis Leo
Installed as Archbishop of Toronto March 25, 2023

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