Bishop's Blog

Homily on the Feast of the Birth of John the Baptist

40th Anniversary of Development and Peace 07

The fourth grade teacher distributed sheets of paper to the class. She asked her students to write down all of the things they believe they could not do but wished that could do or wanted to do. Each student went to work writing down their I can’ts: I can’t kick a soccer ball past second base. I can’t do long division with more than three numerals. I can’t get Debbie to like me.

Even the teacher made a list: I can’t get Dan’s mother to come for a teacher conference. I can’t get my daughter to put gas in the car. I can’t get Allan to use words instead of his fists.

Students and teacher wrote for ten minutes. Then the students were instructed to fold their sheets in half and bring them to the front of the room. There they placed their I can’t lists in an empty shoe box. After adding her own list, the teacher put a lid on the box tucked it under her arm and, with her fourth graders in tow, marched out the door, down the hall and out into the playground,

In the furthest corner of the playground, each student took a turn digging a hole. They were going to bury their “I can’ts”. When they finished, the box was placed in the centre of the freshly dug grave. Then the teacher announced, “Boys and girls, please join hands and bow your heads.” the teacher then delivered the “eulogy”:

“Friends, we are gathered here today to honour the memory of I Can’t. While he was with us here on earth, he touched the lives of everyone, some more than others. We have provided I can’t with a final resting place and a headstone that contains his epitaph. He is survived by his brothers and sisters, I Can, I Will and I’m Going to Right Away. They are not as well known as their famous relative and are certainly not as strong and powerful yet. Perhaps some day, with our help, they will make an even bigger mark in our world. May I Can’t rest in peace and may everyone present pick up their lives and move forward in his absence. Amen.”

The teacher then marched her students back to their classroom and held a “wake” for I Can’t with cookies, popcorn and juice. As part of the celebration, the teacher cut a large tombstone out of paper and wrote the words I Can’t at the top with RIP in the middle and the date at the bottom. The paper tombstone hung in the classroom for the rest of the school year.

On those rare occasions when a student forgot and said “I can’t,” the teacher simply pointed to the tombstone. The student then remembered that I Can’t was dead and tried again.

While our hearts and spirits yearn to do what is right and good, for any number of reasons we hesitate, we shrug our shoulders and walk away: I can’t do that . I can’t be like Mother Theresa. I can’t really teach. I can’t be a saint - I’m a mom, I’m a kid, I’m a salesman, I’ve got a past. I can’t make a difference in the world - the problems are to big and I’m too little.

In 1967, Pope Paul VI recognized that extreme disparity between nations in economic, social and educational levels provokes jealousy and discord, often putting peace in jeopardy. He affirmed that development is the new name for peace. Peace on earth is founded on justice, solidarity and unwavering respect for the dignity of human life at every stage, in every condition, in relation to the common good.

This call of Pope Paul VI moved the Catholic Bishops of Canada to create the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace in 1967, with its twofold role to provide development assistance in the Global South as well to educate and sensitize Canadian Catholics about peace and justice issues.

In their subsequent pastoral letter to mark this achievement, the Bishops of Canada insisted the new organization was not to take account of “the religious belief or ideologies of the people to whom aid is given. The only consideration will be the intrinsic value of the projects, their conformity with criteria of priority, and the evaluation of their human and social effectiveness.... We are convinced that we who dare to call ourselves [Christ's] disciples must share his universal love and compassion, embracing generously the sacrifices that love entails.”

We must discover the richness of our past and the possibilities for our own future, come to realize that the love and values of our families now exist within ourselves and in our own young, and some times not so young, lives. We must begin again and again to deepen our own identity.

Is: “The Lord called me before I was born, while I was in my other’s womb he named me. He made my mouth like a sharp sword, in the shadow of his hand he hid me; he made me a polished arrow, in his quiver he hid me away. You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will be glorified. .... I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”

On this feast of the birth of John the Baptist, how many of us have ever thought of our baptism as a vocation to be a prophetic sign of God’s love in the wilderness of modern society?

All too frequently, we respond: I Can’t. -------- instead of I Can, I Will and I’m Going to Right Away.

I want to identify three specific challenges facing our world, challenges which I believe can only be met through a firm commitment to that greater justice which is inspired by charity.

1. The first concerns the environment and sustainable development.

We must recognize that the world's resources are limited and that it is the duty of all peoples to implement policies to protect the environment in order to prevent the destruction of that natural capital whose fruits are necessary for the well-being of humanity.

Also needed is a capacity to assess and forecast, to monitor the dynamics of environmental change and sustainable growth, and to draw up and apply solutions at an international level.

If development were limited to the technical-economic aspect, obscuring the moral-religious dimension, it would not be an integral human development, but a one-sided distortion which would end up by unleashing man's destructive capacities.

2. The second challenge involves our conception of the human person and consequently our relationships with one other. If human beings are not seen as persons, male and female, created in God's image and endowed with an inviolable dignity, it will be very difficult to achieve full justice in the world.

Despite the recognition of the rights of the person in international declarations and legal instruments, much progress needs to be made in bringing this recognition to bear upon such global problems as the growing gap between rich and poor countries..

3. The third challenge relates to the values of the spirit. Unlike material goods, those spiritual goods which are properly human expand and multiply when communicated. Unlike divisible goods, spiritual goods such as knowledge and education are indivisible.

There is an urgent need for a just equality of opportunity, especially in the field of education and the transmission of knowledge.

The social challenges of justice and peace can never be kept at arm's length from one's life as a Christian. Faith demands the gift of one's whole being through works of love, as so well stated by Pope Benedict XVI:

“Practical activity will always be insufficient, unless it visibly expresses a love for man, a love nourished by an encounter with Christ. My deep personal sharing in the needs and sufferings of others becomes a sharing of my very self with them: if my gift is not to prove a source of humiliation, I must give to others not only something that is my own, but my very self; I must be personally present in my gift.”

☩ Frederick Henry
Bishop Emeritus

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