Bishop's Blog

Good Friday 2016 Jubilee of Mercy Message

Good Friday 2016 Jubilee of Mercy Message

Headline in the Windsor Star - September 27, 2013 - "Removal of Cross Triggers Sadness"

A large steel cross which loomed high above the Ouellette Avenue entrance of Hotel-Dieu Grace Hospital since the building's 1962 grand opening came down Friday, while a group of about 50 protesters expressed their sadness by reciting prayers, psalms and the rosary… The religious artifacts were removed because starting Tuesday the downtown medical site will become Windsor Regional Hospital's Ouellette Campus and will no longer be connected to its roots of the past 125 years with the Catholic religious community.

Many today cannot bear to look at the cross and the crucified one. They regard displays of the cross in public to be no longer appropriate and they want to remove them.

But such attitudes of advanced secularization in a pluralistic society must be questioned -it is not only a denial of the importance of history but it raises a series of questions:

Has suffering no longer a place in a world of wellness?

Do we push suffering away and suppress it?

What would our world be missing, especially what would the many who suffer be missing if this sign of love and mercy were no longer permitted to be publicly visible?

Should we no longer be reminded that: "By his wounds we are healed?"

To believe in the crucified son is to believe that love is present in the world that it is more powerful than hate and violence, more powerful than all the evil in which human beings are entangled.

"Believing in this love means believing in mercy"

Calvary sets in consoling relief the experience of all who suffer, whether the nightmare of physical pain or the emotional trauma of significant loss or the prospect of imminent death.

The human Jesus, struggling to come to terms with the reality of his predicament, echoes every human experience of suffering and of loss and reflects the complexity and confusion of emotions that attend all those caught in the slipstream of pain and loss and death.

Today, in homes and in hospitals all over Canada, those who experience pain and desolation in whatever form, all those who like Mary stand at the foot of the cross, will sense something of the complexity of emotions that were present on Calvary: the same confusion, the same disillusionment, the same desolation, the same anger, the same reproach.

How many indeed this Friday will, in whatever shape or form, echo the great lamentation of Jesus as he died on the cross: My God, what have you done to me, answer me?

All who are suffering in whatever form this Good Friday, all who struggle to make sense of what, by any human estimate, seems to be senseless will find an echo of their pain in the sufferings of Jesus because the contradiction of the cross is that what it represents, the sufferings of Christ, continues to save and to heal and to comfort.

Contemplating Jesus on the cross brings comfort and resilience and strength to those who need it. And it reminds us that it is through his suffering that everyone and everything is redeemed, that the power and the presence and promise of God are now accessible to us in our suffering and in our need.

In the pierced heart of his son, God shows us that he went to extremes in order to bear, through his son's voluntary suffering unto death, the immeasurable suffering of the world, our coldheartedness, and our lack of love, and sought to redeem them.

By means of the water and blood streaming from Jesus' pierced heart, we are washed clean in Baptism of all the dirt and muck that has accumulated in us and in the world; and in the Eucharist, we may always quench our thirst for more than the banalities that surround us and, in a figurative sense, satisfy our thirst for more than the "soft drinks" that are offered to us there.

Thus with Ignatius of Loyola's prayer Anima Christi (the Soul of Christ) we can say:

Soul of Christ, sanctify me

Body of Christ, save me

Blood of Christ, inebriate me

Water from the side of Christ, wash me

Passion of Christ, strengthen me

Good Jesus, hear me

Within the wounds, shelter me

from turning away, keep me

From the evil one, protect me

At the hour of my death, call me

Into your presence lead me

to praise you with all your saints

Forever and ever


Kiss the cross on this Good Friday, not for God's sake but for your own.

☩ Frederick Henry
Bishop Emeritus

Related Offices Bishop's
Related Themes Easter Suffering

Martyrdom in the Middle East

On Monday, 30 June 2014, the Feast of the First Martyrs of the Holy Roman Church, Pope Francis reminded us that today is still the time of martyrs.

"How is it that this seed of God's word grows and becomes the Kingdom of God, it grows and becomes the Church?" He identified two sources that accomplish this task: the Holy Spirit and Christian testimony or witness. When historical circumstances call for strong witness, there are martyrs - the greatest witnesses! The Church is watered by the blood of martyrs. This is truly "the beauty of martyrdom: it begins with testimony day by day, and may end with blood, like Jesus, the first martyr, the first witness, the faithful witness".

Examining the history of the Church, which grows, guided by the blood of martyrs, Pope Francis encouraged consideration of today's many martyrs. "If in Nero's persecution, there were many, today there are no fewer martyrs, persecuted Christians". The facts are well known and we should think about " the Middle East , about the Christians who must flee from persecution, about the Christians killed by persecutors" .

The week prior to the Feast of the First Martyrs, members of the ISIS (the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria) captured parts of Iraq and declared a new caliphate and began going through the northern Iraqi city of Mosul and marking the homes of Christians with the Arabic letter :Nun."

"Nun" stands for "Nazara," from "Nazarenes," a word that refers to Christians.

The implications were clear. Christians were offered three choices: convert to Islam; accept the dhimma contract - involving the payment of a poll tax and various strict social and religious restrictions, accepting secondary subserviant status; or the sword. In short, convert, pay or die. Many Christians opted for a fourth 'choice' - to leave.

For the first time in 2,000 years Mosul is devoid of Christians. The religious cleansing is wide ranging. Christians were forced to leave their homes. ISIS took down all the crosses from churches. They blew up the tomb of the prophets Jonah. An orthodox Cathedral has been turned into a mosque and some Christians were crucified, others beheaded.

Louis Raphael Sako, the Patriarch of Babylon and the Chaldean, has written an open letter appealing for help: "The Christians of Mosul, horrified, have fled the city with only the clothes on their back. Their churches have been profaned ... As for the church, she finds herself completely alone, more than ever .... We are equally shocked and indignant by the absence of a vigorous position taken by Muslims and their religious leaders, not the least because the actions of these factions represent a menace for the Muslims themselves.

In fact speeches are good for nothing, so too declarations that rehash condemnations and indignation; the same can be said for protest marches. In addition, while appreciating the generosity of donors, we would say that donations and fundraising too will not solve our problems. We have to demand a large scale administrative (governmental) operation on an international level. There is in fact the necessity for a position of conscience to this simply human principle: the demand for real actions and solidarity because we are before a crisis of our very existence, confronting the fact that "we will be or we will not be".

Our suffering brothers and sisters wonder why we don't speak out? Why is the Western media so silent about this crime against humanity? Why are governments, their own and those in the Western world, sitting on their hands? We must do something to express solidarity in heart and action.

Our first response must be, of course, to pray; to raise up with one voice a ceaseless prayer, imploring the Holy Spirit to send the gift of peace to the Middle East.

I would also encourage you to join with Christians and others in urging your Member of Parliament to encourage the Government of Canada to do even more for the Middle East - by providing Canadian emergency and reconstruction assistance, by making it easier for our country to accept refugees, by participating in international efforts to foster justice and peace in the region, and by insisting on respect for freedom of conscience and religion , as well as the rights of all minorities, including religious minorities.

In particular, we need to lobby Minister Chris Alexander to give the same Priority Processing status to Iraqis as he has done for Syrian refugees. Syrian cases are being processed at the Case Processing Office Winnipeg in approximately three weeks while all other applications are currently backlogged. If the government accelerates the process, Calgary Catholic Immigration Society will find sponsors through parishes for Iraqis that don't have relatives in Calgary but have some connection and want to settle here.

Three Canadian Catholic agencies are fundraising for the suffering people of the Middle East. These are CNEWA Canada, CCODP, and Aid to the Church in Need - Canada. Up-to-date reports on the Middle East are provided by Caritas Internationalis on their web site at

☩ Frederick Henry
Bishop Emeritus

Related Offices Social Justice Bishop's
Related Themes Peace Suffering

Care at the End of Life

One December night in 2000 as part of our supper conversation, Fr. Ian McRae shared that he visited Fr. John Weisgerber in the hospital earlier that day and that he was concerned. John was facing the prospect of yet more surgery due to his diabetes and a whole host of other medical issues, and Ian wondered out loud if John was ready to die. His wondering sparked something inside me. Was this a veiled hint or suggestion that I was supposed to do something? I decided that I'd visit John the next day.

It's important, as this story unfolds, to understand that Fr. John was a man of very few words. Sometimes you might get a "good evening" at supper and sometimes you might not. That was alright with us as we respected his space and didn't take it personally. That's just the way things were.

In any event, I visited John in the hospital and after the pleasantries and formalities were out of the way. I said to John that I wanted to review with him some moral issues so that he would be clear about his decision-making. So I eased into the subject by talking about medical assisted nutrition and hydration, rather safe ground. From there, I then got down to the main issue, namely, refusing and stopping treatment when the burdens resulting from the treatment are clearly disproportionate to the benefits hoped for or obtained.

John listened attentively, seemed to understand but didn't say anything. I thought that it was now time to move on to the even bigger issue and said: "John, are you ready to die?" Again he didn't say anything and I waited in silence for him to say something. Feeling that the silence was longer and more intense than usual, I began to question myself that I might have misread his need and the whole situation.

Then with a twinkle in his eye, he looked straight up at me and said: "I really don't know, bishop, I've never done it before!" At that point we both laughed.

Sometimes we struggle with decision regarding end of life issues, and to understand how to journey with someone to a 'happy death'.

The Catholic Health Alliance of Canada has recently published its third edition of the Health Ethics Guide and I would like to review a few of the guidelines of Catholic moral teaching.

Sickness, suffering and dying are an inevitable part of human experience and are a reminder of the limits of human existence.

Our Catholic tradition holds that we are stewards but not the owners of our lives and, hence, do not have absolute power over life. We have a duty to preserve our life and to use it for the glory of God, but this life is not our final goal and so we recognize that the duty to preserve life is not absolute. Thus we may reject life-prolonging procedures that are insufficiently beneficial or excessively burdensome. However, suicide and euthanasia are never morally acceptable options.

Advances in science and technology are dramatically improving our ability to cure illness, ease suffering and prolong life. These advances also raise ethical questions concerning end-of-life care, particularly around life-sustaining treatment.

Reflection on the inherent dignity of human life and on the purpose and limits of medical treatment is indispensable for formulating a true moral judgment about the use of technology to maintain life. The use of life-sustaining technology is judged by Christians in the light of their understanding of the meaning of life, suffering and death.

In this way, two extremes are avoided: on the one hand, an insistence on the provision of technology that cannot bring about the goal desired or that is considered overly burdensome by the person receiving the care and, on the other hand, the forgoing of technology with the intention of causing death.

Good palliative care, that is, health care that aims to relieve suffering and improve the quality of living and dying, should be a key goal of all facilities that care for those nearing death.

Here are some of the key guidelines for care at the end of life (Health Ethics Guide 2012):

  • 65. Dying persons are to be provided with care, compassion and comfort....
  • 67. The physical, emotional, psychological and spiritual care that characterizes palliative care should be available to all who have a life limited illness....
  • 68. A person receiving care should be given sufficient pain and symptom management .... it is important to note that these medications, if used appropriately, are effective, safe and do not hasten death. The goal is to alleviate pain and suffering while minimizing the potential side effects of medication. Such treatment does not constitute euthanasia but rather good pain management....
  • 69. Palliative sedation can be morally permissible within the Catholic tradition. Patients should be kept as free of pain as possible so that they may die comfortably.
  • 70. .... the wishes, values and beliefs of the person preceding care should be the primary consideration....
  • 71. Persons receiving care are not obligated to seek treatment that will not accomplish the goal for which the treatment is intended or when the burdens (excessive pain, expense or other serious inconvenience) resulting from treatment are clearly disproportionate to the benefits hoped for or obtained.
  • 87. Treatment decisions for the person receiving care are never to include actions or omissions that intentionally cause death (euthanasia.

☩ Frederick Henry
Bishop Emeritus

Related Offices Health Care Bishop's Life & Family Resource Centre (LFRC)
Related Themes Hospital Chaplaincy Pastoral Care Euthanasia Palliative Care Health Care Life Issues Old Age Suffering Seniors Death and Dying
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