Homily of the Apostolic Nuncio, Mgr. Luigi Bonazzi
Mass of Thanksgiving
60th Anniversary of Establishment of the Diocese of St. Catharines
November 26, 2018
My dear brother bishops,
Dear priests, deacons, religious and lay faithful of this diocesan community,
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
I am very pleased to be with all of you this evening, in this venerable Cathedral Church, which began its history as a parish church for the many settlers who had come to this region in the middle of the nineteenth century, to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the creation of this Diocese and which was established by Pope Saint John XXIII on November 9, 1958.
I bring with me the greetings and affection of our Holy Father Pope Francis and I assure you of his closeness in communion and in prayer. The Holy Father loves Canada and looks forward to the opportunity of one day, God permitting, visiting this nation. He has already met with the bishops of Canada as also the leaders of this country and he follows closely the events that mark its progress and its well being.
I greet your beloved pastor, Bishop Gerard Bergie – the fifth bishop to sit in the chair of this Cathedral Church – and I thank him for his leadership and for the diligent and attentive care he gives to this diocesan Church. I greet the clergy, religious and lay faithful who, in their respective callings, help to strengthen the mission of the Church on this beautiful Niagara peninsula. There is not a single spiritual gift that has not been given so as to build up the Body of Christ. As St. Paul says in his letter to the Ephesians: “And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the Body of Christ” (cf. Eph. 11-12). Tonight, we thank God for the gifts given and the service extended through the employment of these gifts over the past sixty years!
Sixty years may not seem long when we consider the history of the Church – there are dioceses that trace their origins to apostolic times. But it would be next to impossible to make an accurate record of the innumerable graces and blessings that have been bestowed through the ministry of this diocesan Church. How many have come to know Christ and love Christ on account of this Church’s fidelity to the mission Christ entrusted to her? How many in distress or in illness and decline, who were comforted? One has only to reflect upon the many works of service and outreach that this Diocese of St. Catharines is extending in religious education, parish life, family and youth ministry, and outreach to the poor and those in need. And not only here, in this beautiful part of Canada. Like many dioceses in the more populous and prosperous regions of Canada, St. Catharines comes to the generous assistance of the dioceses in Northern Canada and beyond. The influence and effect of the ministry of this diocese far transcends sixty years.
Much has been accomplished in this Diocese of St. Catherine’s, much has been given, much you yourself have received from your parents, your mothers, the priests who educated you, those parish priests from whom you learned life’s teachings, your beloved Bishops. And you? And we? We know that it is not enough to preserve, to maintain, to conserve, it is necessary to produce good deeds.
In this regard, the well-known parable of the talents comes to my mind. We know that in this parable there is a Lord who entrust his possession to his servants “To one he gave five talents; to another, two; to a third, one – to each according to his ability” (Mt 25.15). And we are told that the two first servants did invest and trade the talents they have received, while the third one simply “dug a hole in the ground and buried his master’s money” (Mt 25,18)
I confide to you, that when I was a young boy, this Gospel passage struck me for the “provocation” that ran through it. Yes, because by reasoning with only human categories, the rebuke of the master to the servant who had buried the talent received, seemed to me not entirely deserved (see Mt 25,18). In other words, I was sensing in that condemnation an excess of rigor. In fact – I was saying to myself – that man did not waste the wealth that was entrusted to him (as, instead, in another parable, we see the prodigal son did (see Lk 15: 11-32). As a matter of fact, he did not throw away the talent, nor did he spend it senselessly: he hid it under the ground, for fear of seeing it taken away, and when his master came back, he returned it “safe and sound” (we would say!), thinking of being approved for this prudent conduct. Contrarywise, the reprimanding of the master strikes down with harshness on that poor manager, who is branded as an “evil”, “lazy” servant (see Mt 25,26) and “useless” (see Mt 25,30).
I then understood, with time, that this burning judgment was well founded, if we assumed biblical categories of thought and evaluation. In fact, the “talents” are entrusted to us by the Lord so that they may be invested and multiplied in Love. It is not enough, therefore, not to waste them, it is necessary to make them bear fruit in communion, and in a way proportionate to their value. In fact, in the logic of the Kingdom of Heaven, it is not enough “not to do evil”, but we must “do good”, to the extent and in the ways that correspond to God’s will. For this, the one who having well administered his treasure of grace, presents himself before God rich in charity, will receive even more ” For to everyone who has, more will be given and he will grow rich; but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away “(Mt 25,29).
Choosing as the motto of your 60th Anniversary the word spoken by Jesus to Peter after a night of fishing without drawing anything, after a night of failure: Duc in altum – Put out into the deep water and let your nets down (Lk 5.4 ), you have chosen to make your talents fruitful, and you proclaim your faith in the certainty of new miraculous fishing, of abundant new fruits.
You may remember that precisely this word: Duc in altum – Put out into the deep water and let down your nets is the confident exhortation with which at the end of the Great Jubilee of the year 2000 St. John Paul II has invited the Church to cross the threshold end enter the Third Millennium.
With the icon of the “miraculous catch”, St. John Paul II exhorts us all – pilgrims of the third millennium – to keep alive an ever-renewed hope, assuring us that the Lord calls us to an inexhaustible experience of grace. The Pope strongly invites us to look deeper: this is not the time for a final assessment, but for a more profound attention to the Word of God and to the promises of God. This is the time to listen to what the Lord is saying to our Church (particularly through the voice of the Bishop of Rome, our Holy Father), this is the time for trusting and for casting the nets into the deep. Therefore: Do we see a troublesome picture before us? Yes! Days, months and years without apparent results? This too! Does the Church seem sometimes moribund? That also! But all of this is accompanied by the certainty – if we trust in the word of Christ and we cast out the nets – that a miraculous catch lies ahead, the birth or rebirth of a Church more evangelical (and therefore more joyful, more free, more human…).
We know that for our Pope Francis this “more evangelical Church” is “A Church which goes forth”, that does not look at itself nor live for itself. “All of us are called to take part in this new missionary ‘going forth’.” (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.” (24). These words make spontaneously arise before our eyes the images of Pope Francis in the midst of people, without barriers, totally immersed, a living image of how he and we would like the Church to be. “Going forth” does not mean opening the doors for people to enter into the Church; rather it means bringing Christ into the world and – according to the missionary vocation of a Christian – bringing him to those who do not know him. “Let us not allow ourselves to be robbed of missionary enthusiasm!” (80). “Let us not allow ourselves to be robbed of the joy of evangelization!” (83). “Let us not allow ourselves to be robbed of missionary vigour!” (109) Hence the call, or even better, the “dream”, as Pope Francis has put it, of the “Church’s Missionary Transformation.” (EG, Chapter I).
Of course, it is not possible to have a “Church that goes forth” unless there is a solid “Church that enters”, a Church that is profoundly rooted in God. As the page of the Gospel read today reminds us, Jesus does not say “You are the vine”, but: “I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing” (Jn 15:5). Never forgetting that inasmuch as we belong to Christ – as the branches are joined to the vine – we also belong to one another. Yes, the Christian faith is profoundly personal but as illustrations such as the vine and branches disclose, it is also communal and corporate. That is because it reflects the very life of God who is Love, the eternal Love which circulates among the Father, the Son end the Holy Spirit.
We are gathered together not only to mark the 60th anniversary of the creation of this diocese, but to honor your heavenly patroness. St. Catherine was from the great city of Alexandria, renowned for its culture and learning. She devoted herself to the pursuit of knowledge and from a very young age surpassed all her contemporaries in wisdom. With courage she approached the Emperor over the plight and persecution of Christians, upbraided him for his cruelty and with convincing reasons demonstrated the need of the Christian faith. Astounded by her wisdom the Emperor ordered her to be confined, and summoning the wisest of philosophers, promised them magnificent rewards if that could confound Catherine and turn her from her away from Christ. Far from being successful, a considerable number of them, swayed by her eloquence, became believers.
What a timely patroness for this diocesan family as it endeavours to evangelize in an age very much like that in which St. Catherine found herself. Where will we find persons willing to undertake so fruitful an evangelization? Believe it or not, we will find them among our young people. Many of them are dissatisfied with the consumer society and are seeking another way. They want something more. Tradition tells us that St. Catherine was but 18 years of age when she gave heroic witness to Christ. We pray that the good Lord will raise up a new generation of “Catherines” who will be able to say with St. Paul: “I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (Phil. 3:8).
May the Lord visit this vine and protect it, the vine that is the Diocese of St. Catharines. Through the celebration of this Eucharistic Liturgy which expresses and nurtures the union of disciples to Christ and to one another, may the Lord give you faith, courage and confidence to continue to “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets”, and to bear abundant fruits for the glory and joy of God and for your plentiful joy. Amen.