WCR PHOTO | GLEN ARGAN
Bishop Douglas Crosby of Hamilton addresses Nothing More Beautiful on Dec. 9.
My sincerest thanks to Archbishop Richard Smith for the kind invitation to come to Edmonton to participate in this extraordinary program which has been given the title Nothing More Beautiful. I was living in Corner Brook, Nfld., when he invited me, and now, as you may have heard, I was recently installed as the bishop of Hamilton; not as long a trek, but a journey just the same.
Bishop Gerald Wiesner often reminds us that the Wise Men came from the East, and he adds, the wiser they are the sooner they come. I am pleased to have the occasion of this brief visit to see the wonderful signs of life and growth which have occurred in the Church here in Edmonton over the past few years - you have been richly blessed by the Lord, reason to celebrate, rejoice and give thanks.
During this present series of presentations, you are invited to reflect on the great signs that identify our Church - the four marks of the Church: one, holy, catholic and apostolic. I understand that the last session focused on the oneness of the Church.
My task tonight is to begin a reflection on the holiness of the Church. Please note my careful use of the words "to begin a reflection. I cannot say everything that I want to say about holiness in a half-hour.
But I hope that my comments will stir your memory and imagination, and provide opportunity for you to come in touch with instances of holiness that you have experienced in your own lives.
And even more importantly, I am being followed by Agnes Bedard, former national president of the Catholic Women's League of Canada, a living icon of holiness. Those of you who know her will know that I mean it.
We believe that the Church is holy. After the people pray the Lord's Prayer at Mass, the priest continues with a short prayer, called the "embolism," and here is what he says: "In your mercy keep us free from sin and protect us from all anxiety as we wait 'in joyful hope' for the coming of our Saviour, Jesus Christ." We wait in joyful hope. Joy, a fruit of the Holy Spirit, is a clear sign of holiness.
A rather outspoken young priest was invited to a parish to celebrate an early Sunday morning Mass in the Easter season a few years ago. He noticed that the people did not greet one another before Mass and only begrudgingly at the Sign of Peace; they were unenthusiastic in their responses to the prayers, and had long, sad faces.
After the final blessing and before the dismissal, he said to them, "If you believe that Jesus has risen from the dead, and has saved us and given us the promise of eternal life with him, inform your face."
As direct and perhaps rude as the young priest was, he does have an important point - inner holiness is usually reflected in our outer attitude toward life. We say that we wait in "joyful" hope - making a clear difference in our world by how we do what we do. It was such an attitude that drew people to the faith in the beginning: "See these Christians, how they love one another!"
The council fathers at the Second Vatican Council spoke about the "universal call to holiness" - that holiness is not something reserved to the Holy Father, the ordained (bishops, priests, deacons), or those in consecrated life, rather, everyone is called to holiness and given the grace required to live holy and good lives.
A few simple stories that might demonstrate a bit what I mean:
I was driving with two other priests down the Great Northern Peninsula from St. Anthony to Corner Brook one Friday evening. We were close to Rocky Harbour, a spectacularly beautiful community on Newfoundland's west coast, when we developed a flat tire.
I pulled into the community and drove to a small one-bay garage. It was almost five o'clock in the afternoon and the garage owner was closing the garage door and turning out the lights, probably looking forward to a cold beer and nice Friday evening dinner with his family at home.
When he saw us - three hapless priests - he came over to the car, listened to our tale of woe, opened the garage door and directed us in. Then, without fanfare, he removed the offending tire, picked out a new one from his small stock, put the tire on the rim, put air in the tire, and sent us on our way. He charged us $35.
Throughout the entire process he chatted to us about this and that, making us feel right at home. We didn't talk about "holy" things; we talked about life - about his family, about his doctor who had recently suffered a heart attack, about the community and recent occurrences there. (Well, maybe they were "holy" things.)
Here was a man who was engaged in life - and who was a holy man. Following the command of the Lord, he "gave himself" for the good of others.
I met Mary at a retreat day which I directed for students and professors at a university in Halifax. At noon we celebrated Mass in the boardroom. The room was packed, people standing and sitting around the board table.
When I entered, I knew immediately which place was mine, the white linens and chalice and bread and wine were there. Sitting to the right of my place was a young woman with her feet up on the table. She had a small bracelet around her ankle and rings on some of her toes.
My first reaction was disappointment, I expected more from university students. I was going to have to ask her to remove her feet - after all I would be celebrating Mass right there. I thought "hippies" had gone out in the '60's!
I sat down, turned to the person on my left and greeted him, and slowly turned to my right, speaking to this one and that one as I did. When I turned to greet the woman on my right, I saw that she had no arms. I hadn't noticed that before because she was wearing a bulky sweater. Mary was the reader for the Mass, and her feet were on the table because she used them to hold the book and turn the pages. (Try that if you think you are smart.)
I was ashamed of my original hasty judgment, and I thought to myself, "I am sitting next to "courage." I wanted to meet this woman to find out where she got her courage.
So we had lunch together. She had yoghurt - and deftly removed the top, holding the thin rim with her toes and managing the spoon with the toes of her other foot.
I asked her where she got her courage, and here is what she told me. She said that when she was growing up she was often tempted to feel sorry for herself because she could not do many of the things her friends could do.
But, she continued, "My mother and father loved me very much and they wouldn't let me feel sorry for myself. They told me that everybody had many things they could not do for one reason or another, and that if I spent my time fretting about the things I could not do, I was wasting an awful lot of precious time.
"They encouraged me, rather, to think about the things I could do, to work hard at developing them, and they assured me that I would live a full and happy life. So . . . when I was finishing high school, I had to decide what to do. I knew that I loved to read, and that I could write well, so I decided that I would become a lawyer."
I met her when she was studying to be a lawyer. I know that eventually she became a lawyer, worked in Ottawa for a time, and subsequently moved back to Halifax, where, I believe, she works today.
This is holiness: honestly recognizing your gifts and talents, gifts that we firmly believe come from God, developing them, and using them for, as St. Paul says, "the common good." Mary's parents must have been wonderful people - they not only gave Mary the gift of life, they gave her the gift of LIFE.
Then he spoke about Mary who had played the organ at the parish for years and years — every Sunday Mass, every wedding, every funeral, without fail.
serve as bishop in 2003, had been rocked by the scourge of clergy sexual abuse. There were many lawsuits. It was a very challenging and difficult time for those who had been abused, for faithful parishioners, for the parish priests, and for me. How would we, how could we ever respond to the financial claims, and how could we ever bring our faith to such a tough reality?
We really had to turn to the Lord, for guidance and for assistance. You can be sure that I prayed harder than I had prayed for anything.
I was considering that we were going to have to declare bankruptcy when I received a phone call from a young man who said these words to me: "Bishop, you don't have to go bankrupt, I can help you." Those miraculous words began a very tough process that lasted three years, and during which we raised over $13 million to settle the claims, and pay the professionals who helped us.
We reached out to dioceses, to priests, and to individuals and groups for prayers and financial assistance. We dedicated an entire year to focus on the Holy Cross, considering that we had arrived there, and we had to understand what redemptive suffering meant.
This is a very brief summary of what happened, but throughout it all the priests stayed united with the bishop, the people remained generous and faithful, and slowly we came through the greatest challenge of our brief hundred-year history as a diocese. It wasn't perfect, nothing in life is, but it was the experience of holiness that overwhelmed me.
It would have been easier to say, "Let them go bankrupt!" But the gentleman who said "I can help you" leaned in. The parish priests, many of whom didn't understand the process very well, leaned in and faithfully led their parishes.
The priests across the country (there are over 9,000) leaned in, and sent gifts of $1,000 to help us. Many dioceses leaned in and were very generous according to their means. And many individuals and groups in the diocese and from across the country leaned in, by praying and offering financial support. It all counted.
I remember reading the letters that came in - one lady, who had been abused herself, offered a small financial contribution and promised prayers that God would see us through. It was at that point I knew that we would get through this challenge - that God might not hear my poor prayers, but that God would have to listen to hers.
I have learned that being mad, fleeing or quitting is not the answer when faced with similar challenges. Rather, as Christians we "lean in," and together we can see it through.
I was surrounded with holiness throughout the process, and even though I had many dark nights, wondering what other bishop would have done that to his diocese, the prayers and support of Catholics across this country kept me focused and helped our diocese carry a very heavy cross.
I have no idea if Mary, Mary's parents, the garage man, or those in and around the diocese of what is now called Corner Brook and Labrador, who are doing great good in our world, would ever consider themselves to be holy, but they are holy. God makes them holy and, by responding to God's gifts and urging, they make the Church holy.
We pray in the Eucharistic Prayer III: "Father, you are holy indeed, and all creation rightly gives you praise. All life, all holiness comes from you through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, by the working of the Holy Spirit."
The source of all holiness is God. God's holiness is expressed and experienced in and through the Church - in and through us, as we respond to the blessings and challenges of life.
As a pastor in a parish people often turn down an invitation to be an extraordinary minister of Communion or a reader because they "are not good enough." It is a natural reaction, one that I felt in spades when the apostolic nuncio asked if I would accept the pope's appointment to be bishop of Labrador City-Schefferville, then to Corner Brook, and more recently to Hamilton. "I'm not good enough. I'm not 'holy' enough."
The only response to such a feeling is the prayer of the centurion seeking a healing for his daughter: "Lord, I am not worthy that you should come under my roof, say but the word, and my daughter will be healed." It is the very prayer we pray before coming forward in the Communion line to receive the Lord.
The Church is holy because she is loved by the Lord; we are the Lord's. By following in his way, surrounded by brothers and sisters, we share in that holiness.
I firmly believe that one of the most important tasks of parish priests is to discover, point out, and nurture the holiness that is found in his parish. That is why I wasn't kidding when I said what I did about Agnes Bedard. And if you don't already know her, you soon will, and you will surely agree with me.
A few years ago, I attended the 60th anniversary celebration for Oblate Father Paul Monaghan at St. Augustine's Parish in Vancouver, where he had been pastor for several years. (I think he served here in Edmonton, at Annunciation Parish, as well.)
Speeches honoured the beloved pastor, but I learned something very important when he got up to speak. He thanked everyone for coming to celebrate the anniversary with him; then he spoke about Mary who had played the organ at the parish for years and years - every Sunday Mass, every wedding, every funeral, without fail. "Stand up, Mary. Thank you for such fine service and fidelity." Mary was delighted that she was recognized.
Then Father Monaghan spoke about Fred who was the caretaker of the parish for years and years, making sure that the furnace ran well, the paths were shovelled, the flowers were tended, the windows and floors were clean. "Stand up, Fred. Thank you for all you did for the parish over the years." Fred was all smiles.
And he went on - pointing out the contribution, the holiness, ordinary holiness which made a difference in his life and in the lives of parishioners who might not have been aware of the holiness that surrounded them.
As the new bishop of Hamilton, I am astounded by the good things that are happening there. As I speak to you, there are 100 volunteers helping the Brothers of the Good Shepherd prepare and deliver 3,500 Christmas food hampers. Holy!
Catholic Children's Aid, Catholic Family Services, Catholic Youth Organization, and St. Joseph's Health Care Services, care for thousands of people in need - some experiencing the toughest challenges of their life. Holy!
Catholic teachers in Catholic schools are preparing children for Christmas, keeping an eye out for those who may be in some kind of difficulty. Holy!
God's Holy Spirit transforms our sometimes dark, sinful and broken lives and frees us from focusing on "me," so that I can see others and share with them the gifts and talents he showers upon me - for "the common good."