I was ordained a bishop on the Feast of the Birth of St. John the Baptist, June 24, 1986 (please note that it was the “Birth” and not the “Beheading”). It seemed particularly appropriate that the later part of Chapter 1 of John’s Gospel should be proclaimed during the Eucharistic liturgy on the day of my episcopal retirement, January 4, 2017.
John the Baptist saw Jesus coming toward him and declared, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’ ”
Saint Augustine makes this contrast between John and Jesus, highlighting the humility of John, whose role was to prepare the way of the Lord: “John is the voice, but the Lord is the Word who was in the beginning. John is the voice that lasts for a time; from the beginning Christ is the Word who lives forever.”
Take away the word, the meaning, and what is the voice? The voice without the word strikes the ear but does not build up the heart.
…When the word has been conveyed to you, does not the sound seem to say: The word ought to grow, and I should diminish? The sound of the voice has made itself heard in the service of the word, and has gone away, as though it were saying: “ My joy is complete. Let us hold on to the word: we must not lose the word conceived inwardly in our hearts.”
John saw where his salvation lay. He understood that he was a lamp, and his fear was that it might be blown out by the wind of pride.
In today’s gospel we find John directing two of his disciples away from himself and towards the one whom he proclaimed as the Lamb of God. As a result John’s two disciples became disciples of Jesus. Having responded to John’s invitation to go towards the Lamb of God, they subsequently responded to Jesus’ invitation to come and see. John was not possessive about his group of disciples. He encouraged them to go towards someone else who had more to offer them than he had.
To love others in the way God loves them is to want what is best for them, and that will often mean letting them go to others who can help them to grow as human beings and as children of God in ways that we cannot. It is above all the Lord who can help us to grow fully as human beings and as sons and daughters of God. The greatest act of love we can show to others is to let them go to the Lord, to direct them to the Lord as John the Baptist directed his own disciples: “look, here is the Lamb of God.”
There was only so much John could do in leading his disciples to Jesus. They had to make their own personal response to the call of Jesus to come and see. There is only so much any of us can do to lead others to the Lord. At some point, we all have to make our own personal response to the Lord’s personal call to each one of us: “Come and see. They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day” (John 1:39).
✠ F. B. Henry
Apostolic Administrator for the Diocese of Calgary
February 6, 2016
His Holiness Pope Francis
Greetings and prayerful best wishes! I started writing this letter on August 21, 2013. The time has now come to update it and send it to you.
I will celebrate my 73rd birthday on April 11, 2016. I was ordained to the priesthood in 1968 and to the episcopacy in 1986, and have been the Bishop of Calgary since 1998.
After considerable prayer and reflection, I have come to the conclusion that I should step down as Bishop of Calgary and retire in accordance with Canon 401.2.
The principal reason is my medical condition. I suffer from a type of arthritis known ankylosing spondylitis for which there is no cure. AS is also an autoimmune disease meaning that the body's immune system becomes confused and begins to "attack" the body. In AS, the joints in the spine are the target of the immune attack resulting in pain and stiffness (inflammation) in the neck and back.
The first symptoms of AS typically start in late adolescence or early adulthood. Although I have suffered from a sore back from my early 20s, it wasn't until about 35 that I was diagnosed as having this disease. The inflammation of AS usually starts at the base of the spine, where the spine attaches to the pelvis. This inflammation can spread upwards to involve other parts of the spine. As the inflammation continues, new bones form as the body tries to repair itself. As a result, the bones of the spine begin to “grow together” or fuse causing the spine to become very stiff and inflexible. The discs in my lower back ( lumbar region ) and my neck have fused limiting my basic mobility. I can no longer turn my head sideways but must turn the whole upper body to look left or right. In addition, I can’t really look up but have a permanent stoop and my feet are much more familiar to me than the sky.
When the immune system is confused, it can attack other parts of the body than the joints and tendons. Over the years, I have had several bouts of inflammation in my eyes, a condition called uveitis or iritis. These attacks – requiring the taking of two different types of eye drops (atropine and pred forte and sometimes an eye injection ) to deal with the iritis, with good management this is usually short term. I have not had an attack for the last six months – thanks be to God.
It also affects the lungs and the heart. My lung capacity is severely diminished and walking any distance, I am breathing hard after walking only one or two blocks, or climbing stairs is difficult, as is sitting in one position for any length of time.
Although my doctor was concerned about my heart, all the tests turned out negative and my heart condition is comparable to other persons my age. My hearing is also greatly diminished and getting worse.
I have been on the anti–inflammatory drug Naproxen for 37 years and Humera, a new biologic self–injected drug for about 5 and 1/2 years which has brought some pain relief. However, I live with severe chronic pain and stiffness of the spine affecting both posture and daily activity. My condition cannot be reversed. I have jokingly said that “pain is my best friend, we are always together” but it is wearing me out and limiting my ministry.
I believe that someone younger with more energy, stamina and pastoral vision should take over the role of Ordinary for the Diocese of Calgary. The needs of this ever-expanding diocese are enormous. I have given it my best and I am past my “best due date” – it is time to retire. I would like to propose that my retirement take place effective December 31, 2016.
Wishing you all the best, I remain,
Sincerely yours in Christ,
✠ F. B. Henry
Bishop of Calgary
The Church’s Christmas liturgy presents the birth of Jesus, the Saviour, as the light which pierces and dispels the deepest darkness.
Over the centuries “Christmas” has become a comprehensive word. It includes religious traditions which celebrate the mystery of God’s coming to live among human creatures: “Do not be afraid; for see – I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord”( Lk10:11-12 ). Christmas also includes all the secular traditions associated with the season.
With the Father’s gift of Jesus as a model, Christians also celebrate the mystery of giving and receiving both with and without Christian faith. Christmas incorporates numerous pre–Christians traditions concerning the winter solstice along with the legends of St. Nicolas that gives rise to the modern creation of Santa Claus.
A mixture, and even confusion, of the sacred and the secular characterizes the Christmas Season.
Most people are comfortable with this situation, as Silent Night sometimes alternates with Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer.
We can even find salvation stories buried in what appear, at first blush, to be purely secular creations.
We all know Rudolph’s story and how all of the other reindeer used to laugh and call him names. They never let poor Rudolf play in any reindeer games. But one day, all that was turned upside down. For on a foggy Christmas eve Santa came to say: Rudolf with your nose so bright, won’t you guide my sleigh tonight?
The story of Rudolf is modelled on the story of salvation and has even been called the “Reindeer Gospel” (Munachi Ezeogu).
To begin with, Rudolf was a misfit. Compared to the image of the ideal reindeer, we can say that something was definitely wrong with him. What is more, Rudolf could not help himself. All his fellow reindeer only made things worse for him. Only one person could help him, Santa, the messenger from heaven.
Similarly, St. Paul reminds us: “… all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Furthermore, we are not in a position to help ourselves. At Christmas, we celebrate the birth of the real Messenger from heaven. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God … And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:1, 14). He comes to free us from our predicament of sinfulness. For it is sin that mars and disfigures the beautiful image of God that we all are.
The heavenly Messenger has the ability to turn the defects and red noses of our tainted humanity into assets for the service of God. Jesus is this heavenly messenger.
Like Rudolf’s yes, we too are called at Christmas “not to be afraid” but to listen to what the Child Jesus asks of us: “For to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God” (Jn 1:12).
In 1975, Robert L. May, the creator of Rudolph the Red–Nosed Reindeer, in a column “Rudolph and I were something alike” wrote: Today children all over the world read and hear about a little deer who started out in life as a loser, just as I did. But they learn that when he gave himself for others, his handicap became the very means through which he achieved happiness (Gettysburg Times).
Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!
☩ F. B. Henry
Bishop of Calgary