Thursday, October 21, 2010
The Third Annual Ottawa Archbishop's Benefit Dinner
Last evening we held the 3rd Archbishop's Benefit Dinner in support this year of three centres affirming life by coming to the aid of women coping with an unwanted/unexpected pregnancy and giving aid prior to and after birth: Centre Maguerite de Prescott-Russell, Miriam Centre (Orleans), Youville Centre (Ottawa).
Here are my remarks at the close of the festivitiesDinner at the Hampton Inn (the text, as delivered, was bilingual):
SHAPING A CULTURE OF LIFE
Your Excellencies, Reverend Fathers, dear Religious Sisters, dear Faithful and Friends of the Archdiocese of Ottawa and supporters of the culture of life:
Ignatius Loyola was ordained a priest on June 24, 1537 in Venice. Yet despite his love for the Eucharist, he did not celebrate his first Mass until a year and a half later.
The reason for the delay was profound: the future saint and Jesuit founder wanted to travel from Venice to the Holy Land so that he could celebrate Mass in Bethlehem where the Word of God had been born in the flesh.
To his disappointment, military conflicts thwarted this plan to honour the Prince of Peace. Unable to travel by sea, he offered his first Mass on Christmas Eve 1538 in the church of St. Mary Major in Rome. He celebrated at an altar above what is believed to be the manger in which the Christ Child had been placed, wrapped in swaddling clothes.
On an earlier pilgrimage to the Holy Land, Ignatius had no doubt seen the inscription in the Church of the Nativity, hic ex Maria virgine Jesus Christus natus est (“here Jesus Christ was born of the Virgin Mary”).
Ignatius was obviously moved by a profound devotion to the Christ Child, born in poverty in a stable, born to a Virgin under stressful circumstances, born, as Ignatius was wont to say “out of love for me” and “for my sins.” But at the same time he was affirming the dignity of every child born or ready to be born into our world.
In a sense, this sixteenth century knight turned soldier of Christ espoused the culture of life that has brought us here tonight in support of three centres in our archdiocese that help those facing an unexpected pregnancy to “choose life”.
* * *
In April, I had the exceptional privilege of seeing the Shroud of Turin when it was displayed in honour of the Year of the Priest. It was a very moving experience, and remains a point of reference for my spiritual life.
Before lining up to pass before the Shroud, I gazed at it from the back of the Church and tried to sort out what I saw. But I needed some help to interpret it. This came by means of a special DVD presentation shown in the antechamber to the exhibition and which helped us to “read” the Shroud.
Moments later, we were confronted directly by the brutality behind the blood stains and other marks of torture. We were challenged to go back, in spirit, to Calvary; to go back two thousand years in order to picture the sufferings endured by a man tortured to death, which could leave such traces of man’s inhumanity to man.
The face of the One who suffered that brutality seems nonetheless, in the sleep of death, at once resolute, peaceful, solemn, indeed, filled with pity and goodness. We can see in his image the depths of the misery of the human condition, and thereby open our hearts to the merciful compassion of the Father who sent His Son into our world to show us how to live and, yes, how to die.
Etched onto the linen winding sheet I saw the drama of the human condition—of everyone who suffers on a hospital bed, or languishes in prison, struggles as a refugee or strains as a victim of war—and, as well, God’s answer to this pain, the word of life pronounced by the Risen One, the Lord of History, God our Saviour.
On the face of that suffering Man, we see the rebuttal to calls for assisted suicide in our day; we see acceptance. It is not a face that looked on death as a mere “exit,” as the euthanasia advocates like to call it.
Just before travelling to Turin, I had gone to Montreal to say farewell to a lifelong friend, Father David Fitzpatrick, as he prepared for a good death in the palliative care centre where, ministering in his retirement, he had visited others and helped them to die well. We shed tears and said our goodbyes, turning over in our memories and in very few words, all that our lives had meant to each other.
This tenderly human farewell got repeated many times over with some of those whose personal histories had become woven into the fabric of this lovely priest’s ministry and life. For many people, such final moments are, with good pain management, times to seek reconciliation with estranged family members, to pray together, to laugh at human foibles, to reminisce, and to experience death both as the summation and closure of a life lived well or, in the end, made well. Here is the true culture of life, indeed the culture of true life.
* * *
And what are we to make of the period in between conception and natural death? Between birth and one’s last breath?
There are many things that can be said about developing a culture of life, but tonight I would like to use the example of our newest Canadian saint, St. André of Montreal, God’s doorkeeper, one of the gatekeepers of Heaven.
According to the priest who presented his cause to the Holy See for canonization, three things that characterized Brother André were his unconditional acceptance of people, his compassion for them, and his trust in God.
From his earliest days as porter at the Holy Cross College of Notre Dame he welcomed visitors and the parents of students. People were important for Brother Andre: you see, he became expert at opening himself to others just as, from childhood, he had opened himself to God in simplicity and humility.
Brother Andre avoided falling into the habit of closing himself off from others and being interested only in isolating himself with God, something he might have been prompted to do by the many trials he endured from his frail health, lack of learning, the death of his parents at a young age, and having to go off to work in another country.
And so Brother Andre truly learned the message of the gospel of life, namely that one cannot truly love God without loving God who is present in one’s neighbour. Nor can we love others without somehow, implicitly even, recognizing God in them. Welcome, compassion and openness to others thus became central traits of his personality.
These qualities of a spirit of welcome, of compassion—and of listening ears joined to helpful hands—are also found in the three centres we focus on tonight. The beneficiaries of tonight’s fundraising banquet will help women faced with an unintended or unwanted pregnancy, their families and the men in their lives, as they seek out ways to affirm the new life that has come to them.
Brother Andre was not just a builder of structures made of wood and stone, but helped to create a vibrant community of Christian faith. He contributed to a culture of life, even if that phrase was not current in his time. May we be such builders ourselves in our time, not counting the cost but confident in the gifts we have received to assist with the great tasks ahead.
And may our newest saint intercede for us, inspire us to trust in the intercession of St. Joseph, and assist us in building a culture of life.
God bless you all.