Bishop's Blog

Grace To You And Peace from God Our Father

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

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A Bishop's Visit to Rome

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ:

The "ad limina" visit made every five years by diocesan Bishops entails venerating the tombs of the holy Apostles Peter and Paul and meeting the Successor of Peter, the Bishop of Rome.

After warming up with visits to the Congregation for Bishops and the Congregation for Clergy, which were pretty boring, the "ad limina" began in earnest on Wednesday with the celebration of the Eucharist on the altar above the tomb of St. Peter early in the morning. The question that Jesus repeatedly put to Peter, "Do you love me?," was the focus of the homily. Our own lives mirror Peter's in so many ways with their ups and downs and yet we are still loved and called.

I skipped breakfast in order to visit the tomb of John Paul II and Pope John XXIII and reflected on their graced history and my own. Finally, I made my way to the entrance of St. Peter's Basilica and claimed a seat in the front row, immediately to the left of the papal throne, in a reserved section for bishops and cardinals on the raised dais with a canopy overhead, and watched the crowd of 50,000 assemble in the square.

The weather was a bit overcast and it started to rain gently but the umbrellas of people resembled a colourful procession of banners and the sense of excitement and expectation lifted everyone's mood. A band from Switzerland played several lively selections but each reminded me of a beer hall we used to frequent and how good the German beer tasted.

A helicopter flew over head signaling the arrival of Pope Benedict and before very long the pope-mobile (a wide-open roofless all-terrain vehicle) snaked its way through the crowd. I marveled at the animated outreach of the Pope and the warmth of the people's response to him. The atmosphere was electric. After his catechesis in five languages and greeting special pilgrimage groups, I had the honour of having my picture taken with the Pope and thanked him for his clarity of teaching and assured him of the love and prayers of the people of our diocese.

Although the Bishops from Western Canada make their "ad limina" at the same time, it is the individual Bishop who gives an account of the situation of his diocese and the hopes, joys and challenges of his pastoral ministry, meets the Successor of Peter personally, and retains the right and the duty to communicate directly with him and the Heads of Dicasteries.

It is also an opportunity to receive helpful counsel and guidance on the problems of his flock and to discuss issues concerning the mission of universal church. Over the two week period of our visit, we visited with the Cardinal Prefects of more than 25 Congregations and Pontifical Councils of the Curia and dined one evening at the residence of the Canadian Ambassador to the Holy See.

My private audience with the Holy Father began as a wonderful photo op as both L'Osservatore Romano and Felici were there snapping away and vying with one another for the best shots.

The Pope was in fine form, very hospitable and quickly put me at ease. Utilizing the enormous atlas on his desk, he asked me to trace the boundaries of the Diocese of Calgary. As I did so, he quipped: "You have to do a lot of driving, I hope that you have a good car!"

He asked about the number of parishes, priests and about their morale. I told him that the morale was pretty good but that there is always the loyal opposition to contend with. He laughed and said, "Yes, I know all about that myself."

We talked briefly about same sex-marriage, ecumenism and interfaith dialogue with the Muslim community and Catholic education. When I suggested that the educational challenge for us is to become who we say we are, i.e. Catholic, he said, "We have the same problem in Germany." He was very interested, even excited, to learn about St. Mary's University College and our plans to offer a bachelor of education degree. He suggested that education is the key to so many pastoral realities and, as an aside, applauded the African Bishops for prioritizing Catholic education.

I realized that my time was just about up and asked him about a dispensation that had been repeatedly turned down by one of the Congregations. He listened attentively to my presentation and said that the local bishop's opinion should prevail in these situations and he gave me the dispensation on the spot. Although laden down with a large envelope of rosaries, as I left, I felt like I was walking on air.

At the Western Bishops Conference, we also have the venerable tradition of meeting every evening after supper to pray together, review the events and exchanges of the day, prepare for the various meetings of the next day, and conclude with a night-cap. These sessions are extremely popular events and attendance is nearly 100%.

Although the Bishops from the four regions of Canada made their "ad limina" at different times, the Pope's four reflections are really one unit as he treats of a number of important topics for the Church's mission in Canadian society, marked by pluralism, subjectivism and increasing secularism.

With the Bishops of Quebec, the central role of the Eucharistic celebration in the life of the Christian community and the essential character of the ministerial priesthood were highlighted.

With the Bishops of the Atlantic Region, the Pope commented on the negative effects of secularism and its closure to the transcendent and the collapse of the birth rate as one of the symptoms of this reality. The Pope also referred to the restructuring of parishes and dioceses not as a social reality but as "an exercise of spiritual renewal" and spoke at length about the importance of catechesis.

Next, with the Bishops of Ontario, the Holy Father described the rupture between the Gospel and culture. In the name of 'tolerance,' the basic pillars of human history, life and marriage are being changed and destroyed. He underlined the unacceptable dichotomy between personal faith and the action of Catholics engaged in political life.

Finally, with the Bishops of Western Canada, the Pope commented on the loss of a sense of sin and the various aspects of mercy, conversion, reconciliation, and restoration of broken relationships. He also expressed his appreciation and his encouragement for the work of reconciliation with the First Nations.

This was my fourth "ad limina" so I was inclined to approach it with the attitude of "been there, done that" but this fraternal exchange with the Successor of Peter is one that I will never forget.

Sincerely yours in Christ,

☩ Frederick Henry
Bishop Emeritus

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Homily: Funeral for Len Hagel

Is.40:25-31, 1 Jn.3:1-3, Jn.15:11-17

Gospel reading is part of the high priestly prayer of Jesus - unpacks for the disciples the image of the vine and the branches

“I call you friends, because I have made known to you everything I have learned from my Father. You did not choose me, no, I chose you and I commissioned you to go out an bear fruit, fruit that will last...”

Each year at the end of January, I send out a three page questionnaire to al the priests of the diocese asking about their pastoral assignment and their degree of satisfaction - measured on a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 indicating a high degree of satisfaction. Other questions pertain to whether they would like a change in assignment, type of ministry preferred, context, etc. The last question is an open ended catch-all called “Hopes, Needs, Expectations”. Fr. Len’s response has always been predictable and interesting. He circles 5, skips the rest of the questionnaire until he gets to Hopes, Needs and Expectations and usually offers some good advice. IN 2004, it was “getting people into the word of God, especially “lectio divina”

This reflects very much the orientation of his own spirituality. “Lectio divina” is a slow, contemplative praying of the Scriptures. Time set aside in a special way for “lectio divina” enables us to discover in our daily life an underlying spiritual rhythm. Within this rhythm, we discover an increasing ability to offer more of ourselves and our relationships to the Father, and to accept the embrace that God is continuously extending to us in the person of his son, Jesus Christ.

Very often our concerns, our relationships, our hopes and aspirations, naturally intertwine with our meditations on the Scriptures. We can attend "with the ear of our hearts" to our own memories, listening for God's presence in the events of our lives. We experience Christ reaching out to us through our own memories. Our own personal story becomes salvation history.

The same orientation is reflected in Pastores Dabo Vobis 26:

“The priest is first of all a minister of the word of God. He is consecrated and sent forth to proclaim the good news of the kingdom to all, calling every person to the obedience of faith and leading believers to an ever increasing knowledge of and communion in the mystery of God, as revealed and communicated to us in Christ. For this reason, the priest himself ought first of all to develop a great personal familiarity with the word of God. Knowledge of its linguistic or exegetical aspects, though certainly necessary, is not enough. He needs to approach the word with a docile and prayerful heart so that it may deeply penetrate his thoughts and feelings and bring about a new outlook in him "the mind of Christ" -- such that his words and his choices and attitudes may become ever more a reflection, a proclamation and a witness to the Gospel. Only if he "abides" in the word will the priest become a perfect disciple of the Lord. Only then will he know the truth and be set truly free, overcoming every conditioning which is contrary or foreign to the Gospel. The priest ought to be the first "believer" in the word, while being fully aware that the words of his ministry are not "his," but those of the One who sent him. He is not the master of the word, but its servant.”

As a minister of the Word, the priest speaks a human word. But it is filled with divine truth. And what a priest says is very, very old, still not yet grasped; a priest says the truth - which is the only thing that never fades, never wears out, never gets used up. What does he say:

Is 40 - “Yahweh is the everlasting God, he created the remotest parts of the earth. He does not grow tired or weary, his understanding is beyond fathoming. He gives strength to the weary, he strengthens the powerless ... those who hope in the Yahweh will regain their strength, they will sprout wings like eagles, though they run they will not grow weary, though they walk they will never tire.”

He says that God - God of eternal majesty, God of eternal life - is our life; that death is not the end, the world’s cleverness is foolishness and shortsightedness, that there is a judgment, a justice, and an everlasting life. They always say the same thing. Monotonous to the nth degree. No wonder our homilies are so boring. They say it to themselves and to others; for both have to confess that neither has yet grasped what is being preached - we are such slow learners - God, the living God, the true God, the God who has revealed Himself, God the Father of Our Lord Jesus, God who with shameless prodigality pours His own infinity into our hearts without our noticing or appreciating it.

“You must see what great love the Father has lavished on us by letting us be called God children - which is what we are!”

This is what this priest as messenger says. This is what they have studied and meditated over, and struggled, sometimes desperately, to put into their own minds and hearts. And all their life they remain God’s apprentices. And yet God bids them to speak about what they themselves have only half grasped. So they begin.

And no matter how long they preach and speak about God, it seems to them that they stutter, they are embarrassed, they realize that everything they have to say sound so odd and improbable on the lips of a mere man.

But they go and deliver the message. And the miracle happens: they actually find men and women who hear the word of God in this odd talk, men and women into whose hearts the word penetrates, judging, redeeming, and making happy, consoling and dispensing strength in weakness, even though they say it, even though they deliver the message badly.

But God is with them.

With them in spite of their misery and sinfulness. They preach not themselves but Jesus Christ, they preach in His name. To the marrow of their bones they are ashamed that He said, “Whoever hears you, hears me; whoever despises you, despises me,” but He said it. And so they go and deliver the message.

They know that it is possible to be a sounding brass and a tinkling cymbal and to be oneself lost after having preached to others. But they have not chosen themselves. They were called and sent. And so they go and preach. In season and out. They traverse the fields of the world and scatter the seed of God.

They are thankful when a little of it grows. And they implore the mercy of God for themselves , so that not much of it remains unfruitful through their fault. They sow in tears. And usually it is someone else who reaps what they have sown. But they know this: the word of God must run and bring fruit; for it is God’s blessed truth, the hearts light and delight, comfort in death, and hope of eternal life.

“I call you friends, because I have made known to you everything I have learned from my Father. You did not choose me, no, I chose you and I commissioned you to go out an bear fruit, fruit that will last...”

☩ Frederick Henry
Bishop Emeritus

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