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39th Annual Cardinal’s Dinner – Keynote address from Cardinal Thomas Collins

Posted : Nov-09-2018

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On Thursday, November 8, more than 1,600 guests came together in celebration of the 39th annual Cardinal's Dinner. The event has raised more than $6 million for charity since its inception and helps to build bridges between the corporate, political and Catholic communities.

39th Annual Cardinal’s Dinner – November 8, 2018
Address from Cardinal Thomas Collins, Archbishop of Toronto

It is a joy to be with you as we gather this evening for the 39th annual Cardinal’s Dinner.

As always, I begin by extending my sincere gratitude. To our dinner chair, Tom Woods, who is the chair of the board of the newly united Catholic health care institution comprising Providence, St. Michael’s, and St. Joseph’s. Thank you Tom, to you and the planning committee for your tremendous work.

I also extend a warm welcome to our distinguished head table guests and those among us this evening who represent leadership in the religious, political, corporate, and community sectors.

I bring warm greetings to the religious leaders here from other faiths that strengthen our community by their engagement and involvement. In particular, I wish to express appreciation for the ministry of Archbishop Johnson, who is completing his service as Anglican Archbishop of Toronto. Many blessings on your retirement.

Finally, I would like to extend greetings to the clergy, religious men and women, and parishioners from across the Archdiocese of Toronto. I am deeply grateful for your example of fidelity and commitment. In a special way I thank you for your generosity to so many charitable causes, especially ShareLife, which allows us to serve those most in need.

This evening I would like first to reflect briefly on some of the difficult struggles we currently face, and more extensively on Catholic health care, which is a beacon of hope for us all in turbulent times.

Our Journey through this Valley of Tears

In one of the most beloved prayers of Catholics, asking Mary for her intercession, we humans are described as those who are “mourning and weeping in this valley of tears.” Anyone with eyes to see and ears to hear can recognize the truth of that image of our present state. We have our hearts set on the heavenly Jerusalem, but we clearly are not there yet.
There is such violence unleashed in this world. We have seen just recently the terrible evil of the attack upon the synagogue in Pittsburgh. May eternal rest be granted to all who died, and may perpetual light shine upon them, and may God bless and console all of those who suffered so terribly.

We think also of the Coptic pilgrims killed a few days ago in Egypt, and of so many people all over the world who suffer religious persecution. This is one of the reasons that there are so many refugees, and many have found refuge in our area. May we do all that we can to support them, and to seek to assist those who remain in their homelands, for no one should be forced to flee their home. The Catholic Near Eastern Welfare Association is most worthy of our support, as it seeks to help people who remain in their homeland, as does Aid to the Church in Need, which has recently begun its mission in Toronto.

For those who must leave their homeland, the Office of Refugees of the Archdiocese of Toronto continues its great work, and I thank all of those who support it through prayer, through financial assistance, and through their personal welcome of refugees.

We have recently again been reminded by the report on several dioceses in Pennsylvania from the late 1940s to the present, of another cause of profound suffering: the scourge of abuse by some priests and the grievous failure of some bishops. We must always be vigilant and continue zealously to eliminate corruption from the Church. Above all we must remember that the pain of what was suffered in the past continues into the present for those who endured this great evil. We must never cease to do whatever we can to help all victims of abuse.

In a few days we will commemorate the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I, and tragically only one of the cataclysmic horrors of the last century. We honour those who have given their lives for our country.

These are some, and only some, of the sorrows that mark the pathway through this valley of tears on our way home to the heavenly City of God. May the Lord give us courage and wisdom in our common journey.

Catholic Health Care: A Beacon of Hope on our Journey

As we sadly ponder the undeniable reality of evil in the world, we realize that there is also great good in evidence all around us, in the loving example of so many good people. Last year I highlighted the blessings of Catholic education, and particularly Catholic higher education. Catholic education enriches the life of our whole community, and I thank all of those who are engaged in it. I also thank the Government of Ontario and the other political parties for their steadfast support for publicly funded Catholic education.

This evening I will highlight another bright sign of hope in this valley of tears: Catholic health care.

For two thousand years the world has been blessed by Catholic Health Care, and we in Canada have been most richly blessed. There are many Catholic health care institutions throughout our province and country, often founded by religious communities of women, going right back to the days of New France when these courageous witnesses to the Gospel built the foundations of modern health care in Canada. Sometimes this took the form of hospitals, but sometimes it was expressed in home care, as when early in the last century Archbishop McEvay asked four nurses to come together to provide care for the poor, for new mothers and babies, and for others in need, and so founded St Elizabeth’s Health Care, which has flourished ever since, to the immense benefit of those who are suffering.

We also think especially of Mother Delphine Fontbonne, and her successors in the Sisters of St Joseph, who established in Toronto three great Catholic health care institutions – Providence Health Care, St. Michael’s Hospital, and St Joseph’s Hospital – each unique in its particular way of making present among us the healing mission of Jesus, but united in a common mission rooted in the Gospel. They are now also united organizationally, under the leadership of Tom Woods, the Chair of the Board, and Dr. Tim Rutledge, the President. My thanks to all who have made this transition so effective.

I often say that the only questions worth asking are encountered when we cross a border: Who are you? Where are you coming from? Where are you going? In life, we must particularly be able to answer the first question – who are you? In any worthwhile enterprise, we must be clear about our identity: about who we are. That is true as well of Catholic health care. Some here present are directly engaged in this great work, but all of us benefit from it, and all of us need to consider what makes it what it is.

One obvious fact that defines Catholic health care is that it is absolutely inclusive: it reaches out in the service of everyone, without any distinction, and has done so for two thousand years; it is able to do that with integrity and effectiveness only because it has a precise focus: if it is clear about its identity. Let me elaborate on that.

I read a book recently about the massively expensive Hubble Telescope, designed to peer deeply into the most distant corners of the universe. That is about as inclusive as one can get. It was only after it was sent into space that they discovered that because of a tiny error in grinding the lens, it was out of focus, and so the telescope was useless. The stars of the whole universe were spread out before it, but it could not take them in. With great ingenuity, and at great expense, the engineers fixed the lens, and then the telescope functioned superbly.

The precisely focused lens that allows Catholic health care, and any other worthwhile enterprise, to be effective is its identity: the answer to the question: “Who are you?”

So who are we, in Catholic health care? To answer that, we must go back to the Gospel. On almost every page we see Jesus healing body, mind, and soul, and that full vision of the human person continues to define Catholic health care. Who are we? We are servants of Christ the Healer who, like him, care for body, mind and soul.

In the vision of the last judgment at the end of the Gospel of Matthew, the care of the sick is one of the things that Jesus expects of those who are his disciples: “I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you visited me. … Truly I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me” (Matthew 25:35-36). That is why Catholic health care is especially dedicated to caring for those who are marginalized – “the least of these my brethren”. That is what motivated Mother Delphine, and Bishop Michael Power, and all who have shaped the identity of Catholic health care. They saw the face of Christ in each person they served, and they literally offered their lives. Both Bishop Power and Mother Delphine died at the age of 42 caring for victims of typhus. Who are we? We are servants of Christ the Healer who, like him, care for those who are most vulnerable.

In letter of James we hear “Is any among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the Church, and let them pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord; and the prayer of faith will save the sick man and the Lord will raise him up; and if he has committed sins he will be forgiven.” (James 5:14). In the wider context of the physical and the spiritual that reveals the scope of Catholic health care, the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick, is an essential element. It brings a healing of the spirit which goes deeper that even the most marvellous of modern medical technologies for which, of course, we also are grateful. Who are we? We are servants of Christ the Healer who recognize the fundamental importance of the spiritual dimension of truly humane and holistic health care.

I will now reflect upon two basic themes that guide us all, whatever our role in life, but which have a particular significance for those who serve as stewards of the healing mission of Jesus, and shape the lens that focuses our efforts in Catholic health care:

  • Reverence for the human person
  • Practical sacrificial love of strangers

1. Catholic Health Care is Based on Reverence for the Human Person

Throughout the healing ministry of Jesus, he is gently attentive to the dignity of each person he meets. As Pope Francis reminds us, we do not treat people as if they are disposable, like so many things in our materialistic society.

Reverence for the dignity of the human person determines the way we treat the beginning, the middle, and the end of life:

The beginning: we revere the awesome mystery of procreation – by which a man and a woman share with God in creating an immortal human being, whose life has a beginning but no end. In Catholic Health care that means that we show reverence for the human person from the first moment of conception. This is the “Yes” that is the foundation of our “No” to abortion.

The middle: throughout life – we are “temples of the holy spirit” and deserve to be treated as such. We are not objects to be controlled, but persons to be loved, and therefore as we care for the physical dimension or the “what” of a patient, we do so with reverence for the personal dimension or the “who” of that patient.

The end: We all come to the end of this journey of earthly life. We are destined to die. But we must never take a human life – another’s or our own - for it is not ours to take: we are stewards, not owners, of the life entrusted to us by God. With the tragic introduction into our country of euthanasia, we must insist that we do not do that. Bringing about the death of a patient is just plain wrong.

And we must also insist that no medical practitioner anywhere in the health system be pressured to go against his or her conscience by being required to personally kill a patient, or to arrange for the patient to be killed, which is the same thing.

The time for review of the federal euthanasia law is upon us, and there is great pressure to eliminate the so-called “safeguards” which made it seem to be not so terrible. One such safeguard is that euthanasia is to be only for adults. Now we hear arguments made that the concept of “adult” is to be made so elastic that even minors are to be eligible for euthanasia, even without the consent of their parents. The cold shadow of euthanasia is spreading further in our land, and we must resist that.

Everyone should have access to excellent palliative care. That, not euthanasia, is the way forward. Where people are in pain, we must be sure that alleviation of that pain is provided, but we do not kill the patient to kill the pain. When people are lonely and feel that they are useless, and that life is not worth living, we must reach out, in practical love and support. Each person is worthy of life and of our love.

2. Catholic Health Care is motivated by the Practical Sacrificial Love of Strangers

There are many kinds of love, and all of them enrich our lives. There is the love of husband and wife, the love of family, the love of friends, and the love of country, as we especially recall each Remembrance Day.

But the love which most characterizes Christian life, and which is certainly at the foundation of Catholic Health care, as its motivating force, is the love known in Greek as “agape”, or the practical sacrificial love of strangers. We must keep it always before us as we reflect on the identity of Catholic Health care.

First, it is sacrificial – as in laying down one’s life for one’s friends. When we sacrifice we let go of the ego, and forget ourselves in order to serve another.

Secondly, the love that is the motivation for Catholic Health care in the imitation of Christ the Healer is practical: not a matter of pretty words, but of practical action. The model here is Jesus at the last supper: he gets down on his knees and washes the feet of his disciples, and invites them to do likewise. [John 13: 3-20]. Our love must be down to earth and practical.

Finally, the love that especially defines Catholic Health care is the love of strangers. This is what we find in the Parable of the Good Samaritan, and in most of the healing miracles of Jesus. We are called to go out of our way to offer sacrificial practical love to another person not because that person is a friend or family member, but simply because in the stranger we recognize one to be loved. In the context of Christian faith, it is because we see the face of Christ in every stranger, and must act accordingly. That is central to the mission and identity of Catholic Health care. It is who we are.

The Kingdom of God is Near

Jesus uses the expression “the Kingdom of God is near” first of all as a call to repentance, to prepare for the coming of the Lord, by turning from anything that makes us unready to meet him. Early on he says: “Repent, for the Kingdom of God is near at hand.”

But he uses this expression also in the context of the healing ministry he entrusts to his disciples: “Whenever you enter a town and they receive you …heal the sick in it and say to them, “The kingdom of God has come near to you.” (Luke 10:8-9) In the midst of suffering, those who engage in healing of any kind, physical and spiritual, are a consoling sign of the kingdom of God already present in the valley of tears. So it was for the dying Irish immigrants in the fever sheds as Michael Power cared for them; so it was for the poor and the homeless who encountered Mother Delphine in their midst; and so it was a few years later and far away when that Anglican saint, Florence Nightingale, the Lady with the Lamp, cared for the wounded soldiers during the Crimean war.

Evil is undeniable, and this our earthly journey does indeed lead us through a valley of tears on our way to the heavenly city. But we already experience here what it means to be there, and the kingdom of God is near at hand, when individually or through communal apostolates such as Catholic Health care and other similar endeavours, we forget ourselves and show reverence for each person, and offer practical sacrificial love to the stranger we meet on our journey home through this valley of tears to the heavenly Jerusalem.