On January 4, 2017 – the feast of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton – I was appointed by Pope Francis to serve as the eighth bishop of the Diocese of Calgary. The welcome and support that I have received during these few short weeks has been a warm embrace that can only be described in terms of our faith. It has been a reception which reflects the “sensus fidelium” inspired by the Holy Spirit expressed in the living faith of the entire Church. Throughout the greetings and care extended to me during the period of transition – the installation mass and the reception which followed – there is also an important recognition and deep appreciation of the past, especially in the recent witness and service of Bishop Fredrick Henry. The old and the new are celebrated together in the blessed continuity of having a successor of the apostles to lead this local church.
I am very honoured and humbled by this appointment and grateful for the opportunity to serve as Shepherd of the Church in the Diocese of Calgary. Guided by my motto, Trust in the Lord, I have taken many leaps of faith in my life, to priesthood, to the episcopate, to service in Toronto and to the Diocese of Peterborough. Now I am about to be cast into the deep interior of Alberta, all the way to the beautiful Rocky Mountains and the fertile plains of the Bow River. I cannot help but feel daunted by what lies ahead. Nevertheless, I make a bold move forward, trusting in the sustaining power of God and the support of many people and fellow ministers of the Gospel.
I am deeply indebted to my predecessors in this diocese, especially Bishop Henry, who, like the wise master builder spoken of in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, has laid a solid foundation [1 Corinthians 10]. I honour this legacy and want to build upon it.
Although I can only walk in my own shoes, I want to be like the steward who brings out of his storeroom treasures both old and new [Matt 13:52]. I look forward to carrying on the many good initiatives begun by Bishop Henry, coming to know you and to grow with you in the love of Jesus Christ and together sharing that love with all our brothers and sisters. Together as bishop, clergy and people, we will listen to what the Spirit is saying to us in our context and discern how to live and witness as disciples of Christ.
As your new bishop, I come to this role as that of the shepherd–servant who accompanies the people in their journey of faith, pointing them to the signs of the new Blessing and leading them in the direction of the kingdom.
I am committed to serving the life of the Church in Calgary which must always be renewed through the pattern of the paschal mystery of Christ: a Church that dies to worldly power, privilege, clericalism and rises to humility, simplicity, equality and servanthood; a Church that is called to sacrifice, to become poorer and humbler but hopefully more of a light and a sacrament of God’s love to the world. A confident sign of hope and a bearer of the resurrection vision that we have received through the Spirit.
Pope Francis urges us to be a Church where everyone can feel welcomed, loved, forgiven and encouraged to live according to the Gospel. There can be no future for the living Church without there being a space of welcome for those who have been hurt, damaged or alienated; be they victims of abuse, survivors, those who are separated and divorced, the marginalized or disaffected members of our community who experience this because of their race, ethnicity, sexual identity, culture and religious belief.
I am committed to our building the Church of Calgary to be a house for all peoples, a Church where there is less an experience of exclusion but more an encounter of radical love, inclusiveness and solidarity. “Love one another as I have loved you” [13 John 34].
These words of Jesus can be fully understood not only in terms of his relationship with the disciples but also in the larger context of his engagement with the people. The world wants us to show what authentic Christian love is and we must admit at times what they find does not always reflect the words, gestures and actions of Christ. He shows love not only by his passion and death on the cross. He also demonstrates that love through his acceptance, embrace, affirmation, compassion, forgiveness and solidarity, especially towards those stigmatised by others. In doing so he has a habit of challenging ingrained stereotyped attitudes, subverting the tyranny of the majority, breaking social taboos, pushing the boundaries of love and redefining its meaning. It is his radical vision of love, inclusion and human flourishing that promotes a desire for holiness that ought to guide our pastoral response.
We cannot regain our moral credibility and Christian witness without first reclaiming that vision of the humble, powerless, loving Servant-Leader, and making it the cornerstone of all that we do and all that we are as the church.
With you, the clergy, and the Catholic people of the Diocese of Calgary, I am launching out into the deep. With you, I am embarking on a new Exodus, walking as pilgrims together, accompanying one another as companions on the journey. “There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for his friends” [15 John 13].
These words of Jesus challenge us to be the Church that we should be and could be: a house for all peoples, an oasis for the weary and troubled, a field hospital for the wounded, a refuge for the oppressed, a voice for the voiceless and faceless. To become a home that welcomes the young, assists the elderly and supports the family in the struggles that they face.
In becoming the bishop of Calgary I am reminded of the words of a sermon by St. Augustine when he said, “The day I became a bishop, a burden was laid on my shoulders for which it will be no easy task to render an account. The honors I receive are for me an ever-present cause of uneasiness. Indeed, it terrifies me to think that I could take more pleasure in the honor attached to my office, which is where the danger lies, than in your salvation which ought to be its fruit. Therefore, being set above you fills me with alarm, whereas being with you gives me comfort. Danger lies in the first, salvation in the second.”
With grateful heart, I ask for your prayer and support as I walk with you in the new Exodus to the fullness of life and love, to know and experience the gift of salvation that is found in Christ.
☩ William McGrattan
Bishop of Calgary
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,
☩ Frederick Henry