This dramatic title was the name given by the Concordia University Catholic Students Association for a talk they asked me give. I have a special place in my heart for students, and am always especially happy to encourage those of my alma mater, so I gratefully accepted. Still, it was a tall order. Here is [...]
This dramatic title was the name given by the Concordia University Catholic Students Association for a talk they asked me give. I have a special place in my heart for students, and am always especially happy to encourage those of my alma mater, so I gratefully accepted. Still, it was a tall order. Here is the blurb they added to the event:
Bishop Thomas will explore one of the hardest – and most important – questions we all make at a given point in life: the problem of evil. How can there be a good, omnipotent God who co-exists with so much suffering, pain and misery? If you want to hear a deep and satisfying solution to this apparent paradox, don’t miss this talk!
A solution to the problem of evil, in 2 hours? That’s a tall order! So I made sure to open with these words of the Catechism of the Catholic Church:
309 If God the Father almighty, the Creator of the ordered and good world, cares for all his creatures, why does evil exist? To this question, as pressing as it is unavoidable and as painful as it is mysterious, no quick answer will suffice. Only Christian faith as a whole constitutes the answer to this question: the goodness of creation, the drama of sin and the patient love of God who comes to meet man by his covenants, the redemptive Incarnation of his Son, his gift of the Spirit, his gathering of the Church, the power of the sacraments and his call to a blessed life to which free creatures are invited to consent in advance, but from which, by a terrible mystery, they can also turn away in advance. There is not a single aspect of the Christian message that is not in part an answer to the question of evil.
Hopefully no one was disappointed that I was not able to present “Christian faith as a whole” in only 2 hours… :-)
Seriously, though, the question of evil, suffering and disasters is one which obviously vexes the heart of man, particularly when one accepts the existence of an all-powerful God. Like Ivan in The Brothers Karamazov, many people, faced with evil and suffering, actively refuse faith in God. I remember reading that book as a young adult, after having providentially picked it up second hand at an outdoor market, and I remember how one chapter in particular, called “Rebellion”, challenged my own understanding of this question. The name of this blog is in some ways an answer to Ivan: I have come to see that the true opposite of Evil is Love, and that Evil is able to exercise its dark mastery wherever Love has grown cold. For me, being a Christian is about living the “civilization of love” as we wait in joyful hope for the coming of Christ.
This evening I was a guest speaker at the Newman Centre, as part of a panel to discuss Doug Farrow’s recent book Ascension Theology. The chapter we discussed in particular this evening is called “The politics of the Eucharist”, which opens with the provocative idea that each celebration of the Eucharist is, by its very [...]
The chapter we discussed in particular this evening is called “The politics of the Eucharist”, which opens with the provocative idea that each celebration of the Eucharist is, by its very nature, a political act. I must admit that I agree, in that every Eucharistic celebration is, by its nature, a declaration of the supremacy of Christ. In a State what recognizes its own limits, this is not a problem, but the more a government tends to totalitarianism, the less the supremacy of Christ can be tolerated.
As I began my own presentation, I asked the audience to stand up. Together, we sang the refrain to the Christmas hymn O Come, All Ye Faithful: “O come let us adore Him, Christ the Lord!” I chose this line because it evokes the Biblical episode of the visit of the Magi to the infant Jesus. While we often translate the words of the Magi as “we have come to pay him homage”, or “we have come to worship him”, the passage in fact says “we have come to bend the knee to him”. This physical gesture is full of meaning: it is a declaration of obedience and reverence, offered in both liturgical and political contexts. If the Magi had come only to “worship” Christ in some spiritual sense, Herod the Great might not have flown into the murderous rage that he did after the Magi went home by another road. Herod had, in fact, picked up on an important reality: that the worship of Christ was also a political statement, and one that he (to put it mildly) could not tolerate.
One particular insight I gained from reading Dr. Farrow’s book had to do with his reflections on the realms of Christ and Antichrist. In the Christian understanding of history, the spreading of the Kingdom of God by the disciples of Jesus eventually leads to a final conflict with an opposite power, i.e. that of the Antichrist. What Dr. Farrow points out is that the power of Antichrist is, by nature, parasitic. The power of evil cannot create, it can only imitate or destroy. In other words, the spread of the Gospel throughout the world encourages human progress but also sets the stage for even greater evils. It has been said, for example, that atheism would have been impossible without Christianity to create an intellectual framework for it. That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t try and spread the Good News, of course, but it does mean that in doing so raise the stakes in the drama of human history.
I had a chance this evening to attend the annual Friendship Dinner of the Intercultural Dialogue Institute here in Montreal. Founded by Turkish Muslims, this Institute seeks to promote good relations between people of different religions and cultures. Among their many activities are these special dinners means to encourage friendship between people from varied backgrounds. [...]
I had a chance this evening to attend the annual Friendship Dinner of the Intercultural Dialogue Institute here in Montreal. Founded by Turkish Muslims, this Institute seeks to promote good relations between people of different religions and cultures. Among their many activities are these special dinners means to encourage friendship between people from varied backgrounds.
One thing I appreciate about the IDI is their constant attempt to get religious leaders involved in their work. To be honest, the Executive Director in Montreal, Mr. Fehmi Kala (a go-getter if you’ve ever met one) has been after me to attend an IDI event from before I was ever a bishop. Now that I do have this leadership role, I figured it was now time to step into this part of the job.
There were many speakers throughout the evening (including, interestingly, lots of politicians). When my turn came to offer a few words I didn’t want to just mouth a few general platitudes about how we should all just get along. Instead, I spoke about the positive role religious institutions can play in intercultural dialogue. The simple fact is that people coming to Canada as immigrants need a place to “land” where they don’t feel completely cut off from their roots. Very often, the do so through a religious institution, be it a church, temple, mosque, or whatever. They meet people who understand them, and who perhaps have already succeeded in adjusting to the local reality. I know this was the case for many members of my family, coming to Canada from Germany after the Second World War: the German parish in Ottawa wasn’t just a place to pray once a week, it was a lively social reality that helped people keep their connection with where they were from.
I also pointed out that religious believers can also help in the inter-religious dimension of this cross-cultural encounter. True, religion does divide people, in the sense that if one is a member of religion X it likely means one is not a member of religion Y. That being said, the simple fact of being a religious believer itself is already an important point in common. I have often found myself in conversation with religious believers from various backgrounds, and in the process I have discovered that I often had a lot more to talk about with my faithful believing Muslim interlocutor than I did with even a fellow Christian who was a lot fuzzier about his faith. The religious experience itself, as well as the experience of personal commitment to a religion, was a powerful common bond.
In my view, the best definition of the Catholic participation in the dialogue process can be found in the encyclical Ecclesiam Suam of Pope Paul VI (my hero in this area). Dialogue, of course, can be a tricky thing — you don’t want to lose your own specific identity in the process. At one point during the dinner I actually got out my smartphone and looked up the encyclical again, especially part III, which explains what the Catholic Church means by dialogue. My favourite paragraphs are 81 and 82, which read:
81. Dialogue, therefore, is a recognized method of the apostolate. It is a way of making spiritual contact. It should however have the following characteristics:
1) Clarity before all else; the dialogue demands that what is said should be intelligible. We can think of it as a kind of thought transfusion. It is an invitation to the exercise and development of the highest spiritual and mental powers a man possesses. This fact alone would suffice to make such dialogue rank among the greatest manifestations of human activity and culture. In order to satisfy this first requirement, all of us who feel the spur of the apostolate should examine closely the kind of speech we use. Is it easy to understand? Can it be grasped by ordinary people? Is it current idiom?
2) Our dialogue must be accompanied by that meekness which Christ bade us learn from Himself: “Learn of me, for I am meek and humble of heart.” It would indeed be a disgrace if our dialogue were marked by arrogance, the use of bared words or offensive bitterness. What gives it its authority is the fact that it affirms the truth, shares with others the gifts of charity, is itself an example of virtue, avoids peremptory language, makes no demands. It is peaceful, has no use for extreme methods, is patient under contradiction and inclines towards generosity.
3) Confidence is also necessary; confidence not only in the power of one’s own words, but also in the good will of both parties to the dialogue. Hence dialogue promotes intimacy and friendship on both sides. It unites them in a mutual adherence to the Good, and thus excludes all self-seeking.
4) Finally, the prudence of a teacher who is most careful to make allowances for the psychological and moral circumstances of his hearer, particularly if he is a child, unprepared, suspicious or hostile. The person who speaks is always at pains to learn the sensitivities of his audience, and if reason demands it, he adapts himself and the manner of his presentation to the susceptibilities and the degree of intelligence of his hearers.
82. In a dialogue conducted with this kind of foresight, truth is wedded to charity and understanding to love.
I think the world could learn a lot from this mode of dialogue the Pope proposed.
As I concluded my remarks, I saw a lot of people nodding. Some had crosses around their necks, while others had turbans or hijabs on their heads. I’m grateful for the positive reception for these remarks, of course, but the point is not just to say them, but to live them. Broad-based inter-religious dialogue is really in its infancy, and there will be many pitfalls ahead. That said, I honestly believe that the rewards will be even greater.
Today I had the pleasure of hosting some visitors from NET Ministries Canada, among them being Joe Vogel, the Executive Director. They came because they wanted to understand the Quebec milieu a bit better. We discussed a great many elements of Quebec history and culture, and among those subjects was the Quebec reality surrounding charitable [...]
Today I had the pleasure of hosting some visitors from NET Ministries Canada, among them being Joe Vogel, the Executive Director. They came because they wanted to understand the Quebec milieu a bit better. We discussed a great many elements of Quebec history and culture, and among those subjects was the Quebec reality surrounding charitable giving. Simply put, statistics regularly demonstrate that Quebecers rank quite poorly as donors to charity. This table from Statistics Canada shows it quite clearly: the median donation in 2010 was merely $130, well behind the next lowest (Northwest Territories) at $290.
People from outside Quebec sometimes shake their heads at these numbers, wondering how the people here can be so cold. I often get a bit defensive when these sorts of attitudes are expressed, because while I am an English-speaking Quebecer this has always been my home and I’m proud to be from here. Those who get to know the Quebecois culture discover that the people are actually quite kind and warm and willing to help. So what is really going on with these sorts of statistics? While they do demonstrate the challenge charities in Quebec face, I am not sure these numbers tell the whole story.
An important element of Quebecois culture is its strong sense of solidarity, a strong sense of “US”. French Quebecers in particular are raised with a strong sense of common responsibility for the preservation and advancement of the French language and culture. Yes, there is also a sense of individualism and autonomy as well, as in the rest of North America, but all things being equal it has less of an impact here. For example, there is no conservative political movement in Quebec to really speak of. Yes, there are people who are more traditionally-minded, but conservative ideology, which generally favours the state getting out of the way of private initiative (charitable or otherwise) just doesn’t have a lot of traction here.
I have come to see that this collective mentality helps explain things like patterns of charitable giving. It is as though people say to themselves, “Given that charitable services are actually offered for the benefit of everyone, it wouldn’t be fair if only some people give to charity while others don’t.” Charitable donations tend, therefore, to be lower. That being said, it seems to me to be no coincidence that Quebecers are also the most highly taxed population in North America — and that they are generally OK with that, as long as the state provides services from those tax dollars. Again, it is as though people say to themselves, “If I give to charity, and my neighbour doesn’t, that isn’t fair. But as we both have to pay taxes, it is a better mechanism to collect the monies necessary for support to the poor, to education, and to social services.”
I first hit on this notion back during the 2007 provincial election, when the finance minister at the time tabled a pre-election budget that included important tax cuts for individuals. Pre-election budgets normally contain goodies meant to boost the governing party in the polls, but this case their poll numbers actually went down! The general criticism boiled down to this: “We don’t want tax cuts, we want better social services.” So while I don’t have the sociological studies to prove it, I don’t think it should be a surprise to discover that Quebecers give less to charity — because, in general, there is an unspoken belief that one’s social responsibility has already been taken care of through taxation.
Of course, this sort of model of collective generosity can leave certain areas out in the cold, such as — you guessed it — the area of religious giving. The principle of separation of Church and State as often interpreted here in Quebec typically means that no religious institution can get any government money — even if that money is destined for non-denominational services like the relief of poverty. Interestingly, I also have met many Quebecers coming from an opposite perspective, i.e. who erroneously believe that the churches receive direct funding for their operations from the government. Even if they don’t make this mistake, though, I often hear the opinion voiced that the fact that churches don’t pay taxes is a form of subsidy anyway. There is some truth to that, of course, particularly coming from a model where taxes are not just a revenue-generating mechanism for the State but a form of solidarity among citizens. Still, not having to pay taxes does not pay the heating bill in the winter, or put food on the table.
The charitable giving statistics therefore only tell half the truth. Yes, Quebecers give less to charities, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t living their responsibility of social solidarity in other ways. Whether the State is really the best and most efficient vehicle to produce the fruits of that solidarity is another question (I have my doubts, as do many others). As well, we can certainly always be challenged to become ever-more generous people. Finally, we will need to eventually face the elephant in the room, namely the question: “What positive role does religion play in society?” There are plenty of people out there making the case that religion as such does not, in fact, play any kind of positive role at all (or even makes things worse). I, as a religious believer, need to have an articulate answer to this question. And I, as a religious leader, need to help people provide that answer, for the sake of the healthy development of this society which I truly love.
Today I had the pleasure of hosting a meeting of priests to follow-up on the Presbyteral Day that was held on December 1. We discussed how we could build greater solidarity between us as priests. This, however, led into a more general discussion of what priestly solidarity itself means. You see, from a Catholic point [...]
Today I had the pleasure of hosting a meeting of priests to follow-up on the Presbyteral Day that was held on December 1. We discussed how we could build greater solidarity between us as priests. This, however, led into a more general discussion of what priestly solidarity itself means. You see, from a Catholic point of view, priests and bishops are united by a special spiritual bond that goes beyond the simple fact that they were ordained to the same ministry. Bishops are united with each other all across the universal Church in a body called the College of Bishops, making us co-responsible for the pastoral leadership of the entire Church (with the Bishop of Rome, the Pope, as the head of this body). Priests of a particular diocese are also united with their diocesan bishop and with each other for the pastoral leadership of their diocese. This latter reality is called the “presbyterium”, and it represents a profound spiritual and theological reality. No priest can be a wandering lone ranger: all are members of some local church or religious order, and a priest who refuses to acknowledge that kind of association is missing out on part of his priesthood.
It is easy to understand, therefore, why these priests here in Montreal expressed a desire to live an even greater solidarity among themselves — it is part of the very nature of their priestly life and ministry! I see this as a good and holy desire. Of course, the trick is to figure out *how* it might be lived in a practical way. After all, the presbyterium is not just a professional association or some kind of trade union.
From my point of view, the presbyerium can be seen as a kind of body, similar to the way that the Church itself can be described as the Body of Christ. A human body is made up of many cells, with new ones replacing older ones over time, but with the integrity of the body being nonetheless retained. The same process exists in a particular presbyterium: new priests join by either being ordained or by coming from a different diocese or religious order elsewhere, and priests leave that presbyterium to join another one elsewhere, or may pass away, or may be laicized. Within the body of the presbyterium itself, one must also recognize that different priests have different talents which they contribute to the life of the body, and their particular weaknesses (because let’s face it, nobody’s perfect in everything) are hopefully compensated for by others’ strengths.
Taking this view, the signs of a healthy presbyterium would include things like:
Vocations, i.e. men preparing for ordination to the priesthood, and their inclusion in activities of the presbyterium even prior to ordination.
The welcoming of new priests coming from outside the diocese, and their integration into the existing body.
Mentorship of newly-ordained priests, to help them discover their ministry gifts and their place in the presbyterium.
Continuing education and formation of priests, in terms of their knowledge and skills, but also their personal and spiritual growth.
Evaluation of pastoral assignments, to help make sure people’s gifts are being put to good use.
Support to priests who are sick or are otherwise living special difficulties.
Support to priests who are getting on in age, that their retirement or semi-retirement years might be a time of blessing for themselves and for the community.
If (sadly) necessary, challenging a priest exhibiting behaviours which are at odds with healthy Christian life and priestly ministry.
Honouring those priests who have died, remembering them in our prayers.
Within all of this activity, there is also the critical role the bishop must play. What I have described above is work, most definitely, but it isn’t just toil. Properly lived, leadership in these areas is meant to also be an expression of love, the fraternal love that priests have for each other and that a bishop has for his priests. It is possible to delegate many of these tasks *as tasks*, it is true, but one must be cautious that it doesn’t go too far. Simply put, a bishop cannot delegate the task of loving his priests to someone else. No one can, because love necessarily involves a sharing of oneself. That’s part of why love can be so costly sometimes, but what also makes it so beautifully human (and even divine!).
I’m hoping that this process of consultation will result in our body of priests giving itself instruments to help favour priestly solidarity, but I’m also hoping that this won’t become a mere technical exercise. Ideally, we should be empowering our ability to love one another as brothers in this beautiful ministry, so that the world will truly be able to say, “See how they love one another! They must be disciples of Jesus.”
Today (December 3) I had the chance to give a talk to our Adult Faith Formation group on the subject of stewardship. This is a subject that I am personally passionate about, and one that I believe will be critically important for our Church as part of the renewal called for by Vatican II, in [...]
Today (December 3) I had the chance to give a talk to our Adult Faith Formation group on the subject of stewardship. This is a subject that I am personally passionate about, and one that I believe will be critically important for our Church as part of the renewal called for by Vatican II, in which all the baptized are co-responsible for the Church’s mission.
While I did not record this talk, I did use the same basic format that I used in 2009 when I spoke at the Montreal Stewardship Conference held that year. For those interested in a basic introduction to the concept of stewardship, I have uploaded that older file to my YouTube account:
I gave a talk at Concordia University this evening, entitled What the Heck is the Trinity (go to this blog entry to see the poster). There were about 60-70 students, professors, and other guests in attendance, which I consider pretty good. The talk was audio recorded, and turned out fairly well — the sound is [...]
I gave a talk at Concordia University this evening, entitled What the Heck is the Trinity (go to this blog entry to see the poster). There were about 60-70 students, professors, and other guests in attendance, which I consider pretty good. The talk was audio recorded, and turned out fairly well — the sound is a bit scratchy in a few places, unfortunately, so I guess it is time to buy a portable microphone! The audio with the slides can now be found on YouTube:
I really enjoyed giving this talk, even if I found it a bit tricky. I knew my audience would have a lot of people who knew next to nothing about the doctrines surrounding the Trinity, so I had to try and approach the subject in as simple a manner as possible. That being said, any sort of reduction of the terminology or expressions classicly used to teach on the Trinity can easily sound like heresy! Even Saint Patrick’s famous metaphor of the shamrock could be misunderstood in such a way. My basic goal, then, was quite modest: to help the audience see that the doctrine of the Trinity is, in fact, intelligible, and to help them have the tools to continue their own research and reading on the subject. Of course, another goal was also to help them fall in love with the Triune God, discovering the beauty and wonder of what it means for God to be a Trinity, but for that I relied a little less on formal teaching and more on my own personal witness. In some ways that may have seemed out of place in an academic environment (one of the students even thanked me at the end for the “sermon”), but how could I not have done so? After all, I had been asked to speak for an hour about my three best friends — I think I’m entitled to a little enthusiasm!
This week I had the chance to visit my spiritual alma mater, the Grand Seminary of Montreal. Monday I was there to preside the patronal feast day mass, and Tuesday was the annual alumni banquet. It was good to be able to visit with the seminarians, as well as see so many old friends. The [...]
This week I had the chance to visit my spiritual alma mater, the Grand Seminary of Montreal. Monday I was there to preside the patronal feast day mass, and Tuesday was the annual alumni banquet. It was good to be able to visit with the seminarians, as well as see so many old friends.
The patronal feast of the seminary, I should add, is the feast of the Presentation of the Virgin Mary. This is a most curious liturgical feast, because it commemorates an episode in the life of the Virgin Mary that is not found in the Bible. For this reason, it has been challenged at different times in history, with people wondering what value this feast could have, or whether or not there is any real historical basis for the feast.
As I was preparing for my homily, mind you, I did notice something interesting. Very often, the spirituality of the Presentation is based on the idea that the little girl entering the Temple was herself destined to become a “temple of God”, receiving the Son of God in her womb. We are encouraged, in turn, to become temples of the Holy Spirit. Simple, no?
A quick reading of the New Testament rapidly reveals that Jesus himself claims the title to being the New Temple. This is a point Pope Benedict brought out quite strongly in his second volume on Jesus of Nazareth. The claim of Jesus to himself take the place of the Temple is found as well in the notion of the Church as both the Body of the Christ and the Temple of the Holy Spirit — notions whose mutual coherence comes out strongly when we understand Christ himself, in his body, as that Temple.
So if Jesus is the Temple, what is Mary?
As I prayed on this question, I found myself reflecting a combination of the two creation accounts. In the first account, God sees all that he had made, and declares that it was very good. And yet, according to the second account, God planted a garden withing that creation, in which he would walk. Without taking anything away from the goodness of the whole of creation, which he is present to in his capacity to see, he nevertheless reserves a special place for him to walk. It is in this garden that he places man.
I then thought of the Chosen People. God is the Lord by right of all the peoples of the Earth, and yet from among those people he chooses one man to found a new people, which he laters rescues from slavery in Egypt. They will be his people, and he will be their God, as the Bible says. Regaring where they are to live, Scripture affirms that all the earth belongs to God, and yet, within all of that, there is a special geographic location meant especially for them: the Promised Land. And within that holy land, there is a special structure where God himself is said to dwell: the Temple.
So what is Mary? She is the prototype of what the world should be. She is the context in which God’s presence is made known to us in a special way. She is a new creation, capable of being the spiritual mother of all lands and peoples. Whenever Jesus is proclaimed and received in faith, then, the also world becomes a little more “Marian”.
We had an interesting presentation this morning on various elements of canon law, and in particular what it means for a priest (or auxiliary bishop) to be named as an episcpal vicar. There are several episcopal vicars in the diocese of Montreal, each with a particular area of action he is responsible for. Yours truly [...]
We had an interesting presentation this morning on various elements of canon law, and in particular what it means for a priest (or auxiliary bishop) to be named as an episcpal vicar. There are several episcopal vicars in the diocese of Montreal, each with a particular area of action he is responsible for. Yours truly is “Episcopal Vicar to the English-speaking faithful”. But what does that title mean?
First of all, we need to understand the role of the diocesan bishop. A bishop has three main duties: he is the chief catechist of the diocese, and so he must teach; he is the chief priest of the diocese, and so he must sanctify the people; and he is the vicar of Christ for his people, so he must govern the spiritual community. These three duties (teach, sanctify, govern) extend well beyond bishops to include priests and even lay people in their relationship with the world, but the diocesan bishop is meant to exercise these roles with a certain fullness for the sake of the people committed to his care.
There are three particular kinds of authority that flow from the task of governing. The first is legislative authority: the bishop has the right to enact laws and policies that the people of God are expected, in conscience, to follow, for the sake of the common good. The second authority is judicial: the bishop ensures that decisions are made based on facts whose veracity has been arrived at with moral certainty. The final authority is executive: the laws and judicial decisions mentioned above have to be enacted somehow, with people entrusted with that responsibility.
I should immediately point out that this three-fold structure of governance exists also in secular society. In Canada, the Governor-General (note the word “governor”), acting on behalf of the Queen, possesses (in theory) all three kinds of authority. That being said, the Constitution, along with parliamentary tradition, defines what institutions exist to assist the Governor-General in the exercise of this authority. The Governor-General is most certainly the final legislative authority, as his signature is necessary for a bill to become a law, but no bills get to his desk unless they have first passed through Parliament. Judicial authority is actually exercised by the specialists known as judges, particularly those on the Supreme Court. Finally, the Governor-General appoints a Prime Minister and Cabinet (set of ministers) who head the various departments of the government, implementing the various laws.
As it turns out, the Church also adds specifics as to how a bishop is to exercise his three-fold responsibility of governance.
Legislative authority always rests with the diocesan bishop alone. That being said, the diocesan bishop will often consult his Presbyteral Council on matters of policy, as its role is to advise him in the governance of the diocese (it has often been described as a “senate of priests”). The diocesan bishop can also call for a diocesan synod, a special gathering of clerics and lay people within the diocese to discuss matters of concern. Again, the synod has only a consultative vote — the final authority and responsibility rests with the diocesan bishop — but most synods do propose some elements of diocesan legislation and policy.
Judicial authority is usually exercised through the appointment of a “judicial vicar” and a set of judges, who together constitute the diocesan tribunal. This tribunal has very strict procedures and rules of evidence, so as to be as objective and fair as possible.
Finally, executive authority is exercised in a special way through a diocesan “government” called the diocesan curia. The chief executive authority, apart from the diocesan bishop himself, is the “vicar general”, who acts like a “prime minister” for the bishop. Other officials called “episcopal vicars” can also be appointed. Each also possesses executive authority, but in a defined area. For example, in Montreal we have episcopal vicars for territorial regions, for economic matters, for canon law matters, for pastoral personnel, for cultural communities, and for the English-speaking faithful (i.e. me). Together with the diocesan bishop and the vicar general, these senior executives constitute a kind of “cabinet” for the bishop called the episcopal council. However, each possesses the authority to set executive policies within his area of competence, in order to help make the general decrees of the bishop a reality. We saw this happen in Montreal a few years ago, when the diocesan bishop decided that general catechetical preparation of children (and not just sacramental preparation) would now be the direct responsibility of the local parish. That was a general decree from the diocesan bishop, but for its practical implementation the actual choice of program for the English sector came under the authority of the episcopal vicar.
In my particular case, however, there is an additional wrinkle, in that I am an auxiliary bishop. Auxiliary bishops are (almost) always appointed as a vicar general (or at least an episcopal vicar), because bishops (as I mentioned above) share in the leadership of the Church as successors of the apostles. If I am to do my job faithfully, I must teach, I must sanctify, and I must also govern… which means that the diocesan bishop shares with me some aspect of his governance. This is true to such an extent that, even if the diocesan bishop were to die or have his resignation accepted, Bishop Christian Lépine and I would stay on as episcopal vicars, while those who are not bishops have their mandates automatically end. But what this also means is that the *way* an auxiliary bishop exercises governance is precisely in a mode united to teaching and sanctification. It isn’t just being a manager of “Church Inc.”. It is about being a leader as an apostle would be, in brotherhood with the priests, and in service to all the people of God.
I received a gentleman in my office today who is interested in possibly beginning a doctorate in practical theology (that is to say, the theological study and analysis of some practical element of the life of the Christian community). He came looking for input and suggestions, to see if his areas of interest might have [...]
I received a gentleman in my office today who is interested in possibly beginning a doctorate in practical theology (that is to say, the theological study and analysis of some practical element of the life of the Christian community). He came looking for input and suggestions, to see if his areas of interest might have practical sources in the life of the Church of Montreal, particularly among the English-speaking faithful. When I asked him about his master’s work, however, I discovered it was in a rather different area. His thesis was on the Second Coming of Christ (parousia) as found in the writing of Saint Paul, and its application to contemporary theology.
The doctrine of the Coming of Christ in glory is one that seems to sometimes almost offend modern ears. It can seem like an element of faith that should be considered more mythological than historical. And yet, the Catholic Church definitely proclaims that there will be a historical component to the Coming of Christ. Another critique of the traditional doctrine, however, is that (for the critics) it removes some of the motivation for striving for justice and the building of a better world. After all, if Christ’s coming will bring a “new Heavens and a new Earth” with it, why not just strive to “get by”, waiting for that Day? Where is our share of responsibility for improving our current age?
For me, one important piece of this puzzle is the fact that the Bible never speaks of the “second” coming, but simply of the “coming” of Christ. The coming of Christ is not simply a future moment in time, but an advent that has already started. “Advent” comes from the words “ad-venire”, i.e. “to come close to”. It is a process. Think of waiting for a person at the train station. You know the person is on a particular train, but the train has not yet pulled in. The person has not yet *arrived*, but certainly is *coming*. The arrival will be in the future, but the coming is an “advent process” — it is already happening in the present.
The Coming of Christ in glory is like that. Just as the first coming of Christ in the flesh began with the descent of the Holy Spirit upon Mary, the second coming of Christ in glory can be said to have begun already with the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the first disciples at Pentecost. Jesus spent 9 months developing in the womb of the Virgin, and while Mary and Joseph (like any other parents) had an image in their minds of what this baby might be like, his birth was still that special moment when the child was “revealed” to them and the world. The Church is like this, too. It its development in the world and progesses, waiting for the day when that development is sufficiently complete for the “revelation” of its true nature as the Body of Christ — a revelation that must include the reappearance of Jesus himself, who is the Head of that Body. It is no wonder, then, that Jesus spoke of the last days before that final revelation as “birth pangs”, or that Paul reminded his readers that when Jesus does appear in glory, that glory will be shared with those who are part of his Body.
It is a false notion, therefore, to try and build the Kingdom of God “now” without a reference to this “later” Coming of Christ, because the Coming, as a process, is actually happening now (and has been for close to 2000 years). It is also a false notion to decide to put off any present action because we are simply waiting for Christ to show up, because we are a part of this process of “now”.
I am therefore really quite delighted to know that there is a gentleman in this city whose initial work was on the Coming of Christ, but who now wants to work in practical theology. Our action, as a Church, must be connected to whatever future end it is that we envisage. A mythological perception of the end will lead to us seeking our ends elsewhere. A proper understanding of the Coming of Christ, though, will help inform all our pastoral actions and decisions, building us up for charity and justice, and getting the world ready for that Great Day.