Homily of the Apostolic Nuncio, Msgr Luigi Bonazzi
Timmins, June 12, 2016
My dear brother bishops,
Dear brothers and sisters of the Diocese of Timmins,
I cordially thank your dear Bishop, Msgr. Poitras, who kindly invited me to be a part of and to share with you, this special anniversary of the Centenary of your Diocese, erected on January 7, 1916.
By my presence, I wish to bring you the greeting, friendship, closeness – in a word – the spiritual participation in your celebration, of His Holiness Pope Francis, Bishop of Rome and Pastor of the universal Church; together let us reaffirm our filial affection and fidelity towards the Holy Father. In this moment I also wish to transmit to each and every one of you, to those closest to you, to your families and in particular to the young and to the aged, and to those who have a great need to be encouraged and helped, the prayer and the blessing of Pope Francis. I assure you of his prayer and I ask you in return, not to forget to pray for him.
- One hundred years of history. It is an anniversary which we celebrate on the very day of your Patronal Feast of St. Anthony of Padua. You do not see him with your physical sight but he is here. Yes, St. Anthony is here with us. He is present among us in that consoling truth, unfortunately often overlooked, which we profess in the Creed: the communion of saints. Yes, dear brothers and sisters, faith assures us that there is a vital link between the Church triumphant in heaven and the Church militant on earth; the inhabitants of heaven continue to take care of things on earth; they are interested in what we do, our needs, world events, the life of the Church. Consequently, as we celebrate the centenary of the Diocese, St. Anthony is with us!
With him there is also a great multitude of friends, relatives, consecrated men and women, priests, persons known and those we were not able to know and who, through their generosity and sacrifice, have helped give birth to what is now in your hands: this community of faith, hope and charity which is the Diocese of Timmins, present throughout the territory in its parishes, associations, its communities, in its educational and charitable works.
This great multitude accompanies us actively, interceding for us before the Lord, asking the graces that you – who are their heirs – have need of in order to continue the mission that the Diocese of Timmins is called to carry out in this beautiful part of Northern Ontario. Grateful for the legacy you have received, you can have the confidence necessary to preserve, develop and – if you remain faithful to Jesus and his Gospel – to perform “even greater works” (John 14:12).
One hundred years, in communion with all those who have come before us and who are here with us, especially in communion with St. Anthony of Padua, your heavenly Patron. I like to recall the title by which he is honored as a “Doctor of the Church”, with the specific title “Evangelical Doctor”. Why? Precisely because in St. Anthony the Gospel was his very life. When he was speaking he was always using the words of the Gospel. He was deeply convinced that “man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4). We can understand why St. Anthony of Padua is represented as holding the Child Jesus in his arms: not only did Anthony hold Jesus in his arms but imitated him in his entire life. He was, in a manner of speaking “Anthony-Jesus.”
Like Jesus who was always in prayerful dialogue with the Father in order to understand and fulfill the Father’s will, Anthony considered prayer as a fundamental aspect of an authentic Christian life. He taught that prayer consisted of lifting the heart towards God. It is a relationship of love between the Creator and the creature, a dialogue full of affection between the person who loves and the one who is loved. When praying, St. Anthony invites us first of all to seek “God from God”; to ask not only for health or for the goods of the earth, but “to ask God from God” because with God we receive everything. “Seek first the Kingdom of God and his justice, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:33).
Without ever separating the love of God from the love of neighbor. In this regard, St. Anthony liked to recall a teaching of St. Isidore of Seville who calls our attention to the fact that having laid three eggs in its nest, the eagle throws one out since it knows that it could never feed three eaglets. Similarly we cannot nurture the love of God and neighbor and self-love. Christians must banish self-love in order to mature the other two loves. St. Anthony concluded: “Two things make perfect the human being: love of God and love of neighbour.”
Turning more directly towards all of you, gathered here in the name of your brothers and sisters scattered over the vast territory of this diocese and who could not join us today, you might ask: what are the sentiments that should fill our hearts on this occasion?
The answer is obvious and spontaneous. Since the first and primary word of the Dictionary of the Christian Life is “to receive”; yes, to truly receive the love of God, to open ourselves to the love of God that always precedes us, in fact as St. John says: “In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins…We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:10; 19). So for people who have “received” (…), the first word can only be “thank-you”. Thank-you Lord, for having created me; thank-you for everything!
In saying “thank-you” today we are called to make this inner act with maturity and increased responsibility. It is normal and in fact quite easy to say thank-you when we have received a gift, a piece of good news, when things are good and going well. But when a misfortune happens? When suffering enters our lives? In the one hundred year history of your Diocese there were indeed personal and family events known perhaps only to those who experienced them but there were also collective moments of great suffering and distress. We think of the fires of 1916 and 1922, the first devastated the region of Matheson and Val-Gagné; the second destroyed most of the town of Haileybury.
Faced with these tragedies is it still possible to say “thank-you”? The matter is very delicate and the answer is not easy. A luminous response however is possible for those who have received the gift of faith, a faith that allows the light to shine through, even in the darkness. To illustrate this point I relate what I heard a few years ago from a great man of prayer. He said, “If you receive a grace, a consolation, a pleasant surprise, say “thank-you!” But if you are given a cross to bear, offer thanks twice for it. The first act of thanksgiving can be offered because the Lord, by having you meet the Cross, gives you a sign of the supreme love he had for you when, on the Cross, he loved you to the end (John 13:1). Then you can offer the second one because He calls you to open your heart to the measure of His love, to experience it, and to bear witness of it to others.”
Dear friends, dear faithful of the Diocese of Timmins, on the occasion of your centennial celebration I hope and pray that the Lord will grant you the grace of “thank-you” said twice! May the memory of this day imprint itself upon your soul and give you by faith, the ability to “say thank-you twice.” In a word, what we are seeking is the grace to say thank you always, in all circumstances but especially when the Lord calls us to witness – as his disciples (cf. Mt 4:24; Mk 8:43; Lk 9:23) – a love capable of embracing sacrifice, willing to “renounce self”, in a word to live a love that goes even to the cross.
- Each anniversary and in a special way, yours, is not only the occasion to give thanks for what has been received from the past, but becomes immediately a commitment, full of conscious responsibility, of building the future. I am confident that your Pastor, ably assisted by his collaborators (whom I greet and thank) will surely offer “new pathways” to guide you.
For my part, to help make this your diocese even more beautiful, I would like to leave you four programmatic words: communion, formation, participation and mission. They all revolve around the central understanding of “the Church as communion”, of a Church that “lives together” and in which all “journey together”. These are words that call for each other and refer to each other: where one of them appears, the others also appear; when one is missing, the others disappear.
We can give many definitions and descriptions of the Church. For me, the most simple and also the most beautiful and real: The Church is “communion”, a family of sons and daughters of God who live with “one heart and one soul” (Acts 4:32), in perfect agreement, in sympathy, brotherly love, compassion and the spirit of humility (1 Pt 3:8). The solid foundation of the “Church of communion” are the four main works that describe the first Christian community and which should characterize each Christian community: “They devoted themselves to the Apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” (Acts 2:42). This is what your Bishop recalled in his homily at the inauguration of the Centenary celebrations.
“Ecclesial communion” should not be confused with human friendship. In fact ecclesial communion includes and demands human friendship but also infinitely exceeds it. “Communion” is a gift that comes from above. “Communion is the fruit and demonstration of that love which springs from the heart of the Eternal Father and is poured out upon us through the Spirit which Jesus gives us” (cf. Novo Millennio Ineunte, no. 42). This is an immense grace which enables us to live “on earth as in heaven” (cf. Mt 6:10), and which manifests itself in an amazing network of human-divine relationships, animated by faith, hope and charity. Thus, the mobilization of the best human resources is essential to communion but human effort alone cannot generate Evangelical unity (cf. 1 Cor 3:9). It is the work of the Spirit, invoked humbly and perseveringly, following the example of Mary.
According to your heavenly patron, St. Anthony of Padua, communion or unity requires knowing how to live the virtue of patience. He taught: “If on the altar of our heart there is no patience, the wind will come to disperse the sacrifice of good works. Where you do not lose patience, there unity is preserved”. Therefore, asking the gift of communion means also asking for the gift of that patient love which “bears all things, believes all things hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Cor 13:7). Basically, it is asking the gift of mercy. There is no communion without mercy, without being merciful. In this Year or Mercy let us ask St. Anthony to obtain for us the gift of Mercy.
“The formation of the lay faithful must be placed among the priorities of a diocese. It ought to be so placed within the plan of pastoral action that the efforts of the whole community (clergy, faithful and religious) converge on this goal” (Christifideles Laici, no. 57).
The esteem and respect for the “popular religiosity” that characterizes our communities and many of our faithful must be accompanied by an educational wisdom and intelligent catechetical animation that helps to mature an adult faith, conscious, capable of finding in the Gospel the responses to the cultural challenges of the contemporary world.
We must educate ourselves, therefore, “to account for the hope that is within us” (1 Pt 3:15), knowing that the Christian community, building up the Kingdom of God, equally contributes to building up the “city of man.” To meet these needs which cannot be deferred, it is necessary to activate a “creativity in charity”, a wise spirit in the catechetical approach in order to generate new forms of education in the faith and in pastoral care, always within the logic of ecclesial communion.
Never forgetting that the Church’s commitment to formation, when it is authentic, always results in seeking a “high standard of ordinary Christian living” (Novo Millennio Ineunte, no. 31): that is, striving daily for holiness and the consequent fight against all forms of spiritual mediocrity or complicity with evil in all its dark and seductive versions.
Christian holiness, as we know, finds its culmination in the perfection of charity towards God and neighbor. Therefore, it is always a ‘holiness of communion’: it is born from communion and builds communion.
For the Church entering into the Third Millennium, it is crucial to the life and apostolate of the Christian community to foster the full participation of the laity in the Church’s mission. In fact, as the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches: “Christ (…) fulfills this prophetic office, not only by the hierarchy (…) but also by the laity. He accordingly both establishes them as witnesses and provides them with the sense of the faith and the grace of the word” (CCC, 904).
From this perspective, the commitment of the laity is not only an added and therefore accidental element, but a “co-essential and therefore indispensable factor in all aspects of pastoral life, so much so that in a passage from the Second Vatican Council we read: “Their activity is so necessary within the Church communities that without it the apostolate of the pastors is often unable to achieve its full effectiveness” (Apostolicam actuositatem, no. 10).
We cannot forget that the effective exercise of co-responsibility in the Church is proportional to the degree that we learn “to be together” and “act together”: it requires the gradual liberation from private and egocentric tendencies that each of us harbour within ourselves.
The fruits of communion cannot be improvised; that is to say, it is not enough to assign tasks to the laity in order to build the Church as communion. It is essential to promote an ecclesial apprenticeship, a real pastoral training in order to form our people to live in unity, living the truth in love (cf. Eph 4:15).
In the Gospel we have just heard earlier, Jesus calls and sends “seventy-two disciples” (Luke 10: 1ff). “Seventy-two” representing the peoples of the earth according to Genesis. We are sent to the entire world, to all, without exception. “Two-by-two.” What is, in fact, the announcement that the disciples are called to bring? Peace: “Peace be to this house.” Peace is not just the absence of conflict but much more: it is the fullness of love, the fruit of the new commandment, the real novelty of Christianity, “that you love one another” (John 13:34). For the announcement to be credible and not words only, it must come from the testimony of at least two.
As we know, the “missionary Church”, “the Church that goes forth” is the constant invitation extended to us by Pope Francis; this is the fundamental theme of his Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium. The Church going forth is a Church that does not look at itself and does not live for itself: “All of us are called to take part in this new missionary “going forth” (EG 20). “The Church which goes forth is a community of missionary disciples who take the first step, who are involved and supportive, who bear fruit and rejoice” (EG 24). These words evoke the image of Pope Francis among the people, embracing and being embraced by them, totally immersed, an icon of how he would like and how we would like, the Church to be.
The missionary dimension is expressed, consequently, in the commitment to announce at large, as far as possible, the saving Word, in the awareness that the first gift we owe our brothers and sisters is Christ, the Bread of Life. In this regard, we must always remember that the path of evangelization must go through the path of mutual love, of giving and of service (Christifideles Laici, no. 10). This must be particularly witnessed with perseverance through the preferential love for the poor and little ones (cf. Mt 25:40). Without this concrete solidarity manifested in the spiritual and corporal works of mercy – so often recommended by Pope Francis in this Jubilee Year of Mercy – faith remains dead (cf. James 2:14-26). These good works require constant conversion of heart. In fact charity is much more demanding than occasional acts of kindness: Charity involves and creates bonds, while the latter limits itself to a gesture.
The world – yesterday, today and always – has need of Jesus. “Salvation is found in no one else” (Acts 4:12). Today, more than ever, the Spirit calls us to be available for the task of building communion, of living “the Church as communion” and which represents the necessary condition to build a “Missionary Church”. Indeed, “communion –that is the testimony of fraternal love – gives rise to mission and mission is accomplished in communion” (ChL no. 32).
I entrust all of you to your patron, St. Anthony of Padua, and to Mary, Mother of God and Mother of the Church so that “together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 15:6). Amen.