WCR PHOTO | GLEN ARGAN
Seminarian Kristopher Schmidt leads the procession for the celebration of Vespers during the Dec. 6 session of Nothing More Beautiful.
The Church is "the yeast of the Gospel," a community engaged in bringing about change, Calgary Bishop Fredrick Henry said Dec. 6.
And the change it strives to bring about affects everything – "human persons, cultures, social structures, public relationships, everything!" Henry said in an address at St. Joseph's Basilica in Edmonton.
Henry asked whether the efforts of Christians should be directed toward the next world, to finding a place in heaven, or to this world, "toward making this world a better place."
"Clearly, it is about both and, indeed, both together," he said.
There can be no "firewall" between the personal and the public aspects of a person's life, he insisted. "A firewall between the personal and public dimensions of our lives is a secular fiction, and it is dangerous to both people and politics."
For the person of faith, there is "a healthy congruity between one's inner and outer lives," the Calgary bishop said.
Henry, an outspoken advocate on a wide variety of public issues, gave the catechesis talk to a session of Nothing More Beautiful, the archdiocesan program for the New Evangelization, while Sara Michel, Alberta-Mackenzie animator for Development and Peace, gave the witness talk.
The theme of the evening was Evangelizing the Social and Political Order.
Henry said politicians must do more than present the right public policies. They must also be trustworthy people.
"Ethics and integrity do matter and not just superficially. Leaders need to be believed. They have to engender trust, not only in their policies, but also in their judgment."
Moreover, public leaders need a moral foundation and vision. They cannot be driven solely by pollsters and public opinion. "Some leaders have the moral and political authority to shape, and even change, public opinion."
As well, leaders must rise above "a sexual ethic based on the consumer model." Advertising and entertainment are turning sexuality into a commodity to be exploited. Such exploitation is sinful "because such an ethic can be so abusive and destructive of the human spirit.
"Value-free sexual ethics," he continued, "have had devastating consequences for our society, especially for the young, and most brutally for the poor.
"Leaders don't create the nation's declining sexual ethics, but it's tragic when their actions merely reveal and help support them."
Henry called on public leaders "to articulate vision, build trust and create an open climate of integrity that facilitates decisions."
Leaders, whether they are principals, executives, parents, prime ministers, pastors or popes, must lead by their behaviour as much as by their skill. "Effective leadership is sustained not just by what people say but by who they are."
Archbishop Richard Smith paid tribute to Henry's "unhesitating readiness to be there and to speak publicly wherever there is injustice, to speak publicly to bring the light of the Gospel to bear on our society."
Bishop Frederick Henry
Smith also spoke of Michel's encounter with Jesus Christ as having led her to "dedicate her entire life to serving the poor, seeking to transform the political and social structures of our society."
In her witness talk, Michel spoke of her journey to being an advocate for social justice as having begun in her home and in the Social Justice Club at Edmonton's Archbishop MacDonald High School.
Graduating from the University of Alberta with a degree in history, she found work as a policy analyst with the Department of National Defence. It didn't take her long to feel uncomfortable in that job. While she was engaged with the social and political order, she found that political decisions were motivated more by personal and national self-interest than by moral principles.
Michel volunteered to work with a non-profit organization in Cuba to work with students on social and community projects. "It was one of the happiest times of my life as I learned the beauty of simple living, working with my hands, appreciating the land, relating to people and community."
She was so changed by the experience that she took a leave from her government job to volunteer in Bolivia.
There, Michel came to realize that her search for the simple life and to do good was built on an assumption that she was capable and the poor were incapable of coping with their situation. She came face-to-face with real poverty and realized that often aid organizations serve those who are most visibly poor, but not those who are most vulnerable.
"I was engaged in working with communities to fulfill my emotional and spiritual needs. Was I really serving anyone but myself?"
It was by working with Development and Peace "that I finally understood what it means to effectively evangelize the social and political order," she said.
CCODP supports partners in the Global South to address the root causes of poverty and it educates Canadians about those root causes so that they can act to bring about sustainable change for the common good, she said.
(The full text of Michel's talk is on Pages 14 to 17. The text of Henry's talk will be published in next week's WCR. The Nothing More Beautiful session will be broadcast on Salt + Light television several times between Dec. 15 and Dec. 21.)
(The next session of Nothing More Beautiful will be on Feb. 7 with Archbishop Gerard Pettipas of Grouard-MacLennan and Sherwood Park pharmacist Rob Taylor speaking on Evangelizing the Workplace.)