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
Once upon a time there was a very successful business owner. His company had faithfully served millions of customers for many, many years. But lately, business had not been so good, and his competitors were just waiting for him to fail. For weeks and months, the man pondered the crisis, but the problems were so complex, and solutions seemed nowhere to be found.
Everyone was wondering what would happen to this great company, so finally the businessman announced that he was hosting a dinner for all of his employees to unveil a plan that would save the company and return it to its former glory. He wanted to convey to them how important each person was to the future success of the organization.
The morning of the dinner, he was sitting in his study at home working on his speech, when his wife came in and asked if he would mind watching their son for a few hours while she ran some errands. He was about to say, "I really need to focus on finishing my speech," but something caught his tongue and he found himself agreeing, reluctantly.
His wife had only been gone about ten minutes when there was a knock on the study door, and there appeared his seven-year-old son. "Dad, I'm bored!" he exclaimed. The father spent the next couple of hours trying to amuse his son while also trying to finish his speech. Finally he realized that if he could not find some way to entertain his child he was never going to get his speech finished in time.
Picking up a magazine, he thumbed through the pages until he came to a large, brightly colored map of the world. He ripped the picture into dozens of pieces, and led his son into the living room. Then, throwing the pieces all over the floor, he announced, "Son, if you can put the map of the world back together I will give you twenty dollars."
The boy immediately began gathering the pieces. The father returned to his study, thinking he had just bought himself a couple of hours to finish working on his speech, because he knew his seven-year-old son had no idea what the map of the world looked like. But five minutes later, just as he was settling into his speech, there was another knock on the study door. There stood the young boy holding the completed map of the world.
The father said in amazement, "How did you finish it so quickly?" The boy smiled and said, "You know, Dad, I had no idea what the map of the world looked like, but as I was picking up the pieces, I noticed that on the back there was a picture of a man." The father smiled, and the boy continued. "So, I put a sheet of paper down, and I put the picture of the man together, because I knew what the man looked like. I placed another sheet of paper on top, then holding them tightly I turned them both over." He smiled again and exclaimed, "I figured, if I got the man right, the world would be right."
The man handed his son twenty dollars. "And you've given me my speech for tonight. If you get the man right, you get the world right."
If it were "my" story, I would have changed it to: "If you get the family right, you get the world right."
God's pedagogy is relational. We are not made to be alone. Human beings need and complete each other. Friendship and community satisfy that longing with bond of common interest and love. Marriage is a uniquely intimate form of friendship that calls a man and a woman to love each other in the manner of God's covenant with His people. Married love is fruitful and offered without reservation.
St. John Paul II famously said: "As the family goes, so goes society, and so goes the world in which we live." Pope Benedict XVI said, "The family is the cradle of life and of every vocation."
The past year has been a remarkable time in the life of the Church. Pope Francis has captured the world's attention not by great gestures, but by simple ones emphasizing relationships: riding a bus, kissing persons with disabilities, washing the feet of poor women, embracing prisoners and meeting with penniless immigrants, leaning against a wall in the Holy Land, kissing the hand of a Holocaust survivor.
Many have been attracted by the candor and willingness of Pope Francis to face hard questions - especially in his apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium. In this document, he reminds us that there are areas where we can do better as Christians, both as individuals and as a community. It is clear that the pope's directness arises from a confidence that/is grounded firmly in the "joy of the Gospel."
One of the Pope's most important actions so far has been scheduling a synod of bishops in 2015-16 for the pastoral care of the family. Pope Francis has decided to centre his first synod on the family, reflecting both his confidence and pastoral spirit.
Today we face several challenges engaging the family. Most of them were raised during our diocesan consultation and have been reported on in the media: permanence, communion, breakdown, homosexuality, same sex "marriage", marriage tribunals, blended families, domestic violence, impact of poverty, etc.
There are also some immediate and practical challenges that we can begin to work on. These challenges include hectic schedules and divided attention, which have become more problematic over the last few decades.
Studies indicate some telling data re family life over the past twenty five years:
- a shocking decrease in the amount of time devoted to family conversation,
- a 33 percent decrease in families eating dinner together,
- a 28 percent drop in family vacations.
In the same period, the time children spent in structured sports doubled, and passive spectator leisure time increased fivefold. 28 percent say that they are spending less time with their families than in the previous year, this rise appears to be related to more time on social media, such as FaceBook, Twitter, and the internet in general.
Another challenge to engaging the family is the increasing secularlization of modern society, which can lead to a compartmentalization of the faith so that it is seen as an extracurricular activity rather than a central aspect of one's life that impacts all others.
However, there are also stepping stones in our modern culture for the church's wisdom: the working for the equal dignity of men and women, of the rejection of violence against women and children, the greater awareness of the dignity of each child and respect for communication.
Catholic parishes and schools should help in forming the human person for relationship by offering sound teaching on communication, interpersonal problem-solving skills, human sexuality and chastity, and the Sacrament of Marriage.
It is also necessary to encourage prayer within the family. This prayer allows the creation of moments of encounter, sharing, and ultimately intimacy which the family needs so much if it is to be a home of love. Prayer has a privileged place in faith education of children because it is faith lived out.
We must accompany "wounded" families, welcome them and support them, and encourage all families to make their own family life a priority by focussing on shared life, mutual presence, listening and support.
I would like to conclude with a brief story about family life.
Why Parents Drink
The boss wondered why one of his most valued employees was absent but had not phoned in sick. So he dialed the employee's home phone number and was greeted with a child's whisper:
'Is your daddy home?'
A small voice whispered, 'Yes, he's out in the garden,'
'May I talk with him?'
The child whispered, 'No' So the boss asked, 'Well, is your Mommy there?'
'Yes she's out in the garden too.'
The boss asked; 'May I talk with her?'
Again, the answer was, 'No.'
Hoping there was somebody with whom he could leave a message, the boss asked, 'Is anybody else there?'
Yes,' whispered the child, 'a policeman.'
Wondering what a cop would be doing at his employee's home, the boss asked, 'May I speak with the policeman?'
'No, he's busy,' whispered the child.
'Busy doing what?'
'Talking to Daddy and Mommy and the police dog man.'
Growing more worried as he heard a loud noise in the background, the boss asked, 'What is that noise?'
'It's a helicopter,' answered the whispering voice.
'What is going on there?' demanded the boss, now truly worried.
'The search team just landed a helicopter'
'A search team?' said the boss. What are they searching for?'
Still whispering, the young voice replied with a muffled giggle....
☩ Frederick Henry
In the 1987 movie “Wall Street,” Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas) gave a rousing speech to the stockholders of Teldar Paper:
The point is, ladies and gentleman, that greed - for lack of a better word - is good. Greed is right. Greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit. Greed, in all of its forms - greed for life, for money, for love, knowledge - has marked the upward surge of mankind. And greed - you mark my words - will not only save Teldar Paper, but that other malfunctioning corporation called the USA.
Our society promotes the cultural sin of covetousness. Regrettably, because of our fascination with wealth, our economy has been sustained by buying things we don't need, with money that we don't have.
Furthermore, the logic of the consumer society is fundamentally at odds with the teaching of Jesus. The relentless pressure of advertising tells us that “there is never enough” and that you should “worry” constantly about what you eat and drink, what you wear, whether your future is secure, and more. They say, “Please worry all the time!” But Jesus said exactly the opposite. “Don’t worry! - Indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and these things will be given to you as well.”
Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, Chief Rabbi of London, notes: “Increasingly, we have moved to talking about efficiency (how to get what you want) and therapy (how not to feel bad about what you want). What is common to both is that they have more to do with the mentality of marketing (the stimulation and satisfaction of desire) than of morality (what we ought to desire)”.
Markets are by their very nature transactional, not moral. They are about prices, not values.
In our Catholic tradition greed or avarice is one of the seven capital sins (CCC # 1866). Greed is a vice and not a virtue; and it takes the market’s focus on self-interest way too far. The Catholic religious tradition is founded not on greed but on generosity and sacrificial giving.
From the beginning of time, God has given humankind the gifts of life and unconditional love and one day saw fit to give the sacrificial gift of an only Son, Jesus. Jesus gave his own life for us on the cross. He set an example for us of giving unconditionally and of sacrificing so that others might live. We walk in the footsteps of Christ when we give sacrificially a part of our substance so that others might live.
Everything we have is a gift from God. In gratitude for God’s generosity, we dedicate a portion of these gifts—our time, talent and money—to furthering God’s Kingdom.
If we truly believe that God gives us all that we have, gratitude is one response. Trust is another. When we realize that God has provided for us and will continue to do so, we recognize that our real security lies in God. Our God, who has given us all, will take care of our future.
There are five elements of sacrificial giving:
- It is planned:
The decision to give is just that—a decision. It requires thought and time, so that it is integrated with other financial decisions as part of a careful, intentional response to God’s generosity. Unless we consciously incorporate the amount of our giving into our regular budget, it becomes an optional expense and may be lost in the financial shuffle. Planning our giving enables us to give of the first fruits rather than some amount left over.
- It is proportionate:
Our giving should be proportionate or commensurate to what God has given us. Most people use the biblical concept of the tithe, a tenth, as a guide. In any case, our gift should reflect our level of gratefulness to God. How much should you give? Start with an assessment of your level of giving now. Most of us are dismayed to discover how little that is. There is no magic number that represents the “right” amount but the proportion you choose should be sacrificial and truly commensurate to what God has given you.
- It is sacrificial:
Our proportionate gift becomes sacrificial when it comes from our substance rather than our abundance. When we give out of our substance, we are changed in the process. We have given away something we thought we needed for ourselves, thus changing our lifestyle. We have acted on our belief that our security lies not in our material resources but in God. The element of sacrifice is present when something about your life has to change in order for you to be able to give the gift. You re-order your priorities, you reconsider your values. And every time you give the gift, you are reminded of the reasons why you have chosen to give.
- It is a prayer of thanksgiving:
Our gifts are most appropriately presented at the Offertory of the Mass. The celebration of Christ’s sacrifice is a fitting context for our own sacrificial offering which is a grateful response to the unfathomable love God has shown for us. In the offering, we can express our joy in having received and in being able to give.
- It is a gift:
No gift is truly a gift unless it is given freely without reservation or condition. The gifts of God are given to us in just such an unconditional manner, and we are called to model our giving after God’s. Sacrificial Giving doesn’t buy anything. It doesn’t buy happiness or love or a tenfold return on our investment. The motive for giving a sacrificial gift is not the expectation of getting something back. We are able to give what we give because God has already given to us.
"acrifice, surrender, and suffering are not a popular topic nowadays. Our culture makes us believe that we can have it all … that with the right technology all pain and problems can be overcome. This is not my attitude toward sacrifice. I know that it is impossible to relieve the world’s suffering unless God’s people are willing to surrender to God, to make sacrifices, and to suffer along with the poor. From the beginning of time, the human heart has felt the need to offer God a sacrifice.
Mother Teresa of Calcutta
☩ Frederick Henry