1 October 2019
Dear Pastors, Pastoral Assistants, and Parishioners,
Worldwide Mission Month This month of October has been designated by Pope Francis as an extraordinary month of Mission. The Holy Father calls on us to reflect on this reality of the Church’s identity, that we are by our very nature a missionary Church. As someone once said, “the Church doesn’t have a mission; the mission has a Church.” The very word “mission” comes from the Latin root, “missio’, which means “to send.” At the time of his ascension into heaven, Jesus sent the apostles into the world to bring the good news of the Gospel to all peoples, and to lead others to discipleship with Him (cf. Matthew 28:20-24). This missionary activity has taken many forms in the history of the Church. In the first centuries of the Church, it was by apostolic preaching and baptizing the many people of Europe, Africa and the middle East. As knowledge of the expanding world grew, so also Christian missionaries brought the message of Jesus to many peoples and welcomed them through baptism to the community of the faithful. In our western society in recent years, we have come to reflect on the need for a “new evangelization” – of bringing this message anew to our very secularized and unbelieving culture.
What does it mean for us to be missionary? This is a question that I believe we must all ask ourselves at the present time in our archdiocese. There is a crying need for a basic and fundamental evangelization among us – to be missionaries, to bring the good news of Jesus Christ to our homes and workplaces, to our families and circle of friends, to those we encounter in everyday life. Of course, we cannot give what we don’t have. It is thus essential that each of us have a well-founded relationship with Jesus Christ in our own life. As I have pondered the call for our diocese to have a renewed pastoral plan, I have become convinced that we need to see this as our most basic and fundamental pastoral need. (See my reflection in this on our website at https://archgm.ca/wp-content/uploads/2019/09/A-Process-to-lead-us-to-a-Pastoral-Plan-2020.pdf.)
Munus Docendi: Sacraments of Healing
Of the seven sacraments of the Church, two are termed “sacraments of healing”. These are the Sacrament of Reconciliation (or Confession) and the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick. The Sacrament of Reconciliation speaks to our need for moral healing. Since there are graces that emanate from all the sacraments, there is an aspect of moral strength both implied and often expressed overtly in all sacraments. Baptism overcomes the deadly effects of original sin. The Sacrament of Anointing (of which I’ll speak in a minute) has the power to forgive sin. The Sacrament of Reconciliation is our usual way of dealing with the call to conversion, to live our lives as wholly-committed disciples of Jesus Christ, on the journey to holiness. As human beings, the reality of sin is ever evident. Our hope to achieve any holiness at all is dependent on God’s mercy.
The gospel roots of the forgiveness of sins in the Church arises from Jesus giving this power to the apostles, as we read in Mathew 16:19, Matthew 18:18 and John 20:22-23.
In the early Church, it was expected that once one embraced the Christian gospel in baptism, he or she would no longer commit sin. The focus in those days rested on the three mortal sins of apostasy (denying one’s faith), adultery and murder, and that people would celebrate this sacrament only once in their lifetime. Anyone guilty of these sins usually underwent several months or years of public penance, only at the end of which they would be granted absolution and restoration to the Christian community. As this sacrament grew and developed over time, the frequency of its celebration increased and it covered many other more minor sins and offenses against the life of virtue.
There are four actions in the celebration of this Sacrament: Contrition (the sorrow that a penitent feels for their sins), Confession (the admission of one’s guilt to a priest), Absolution (the priest’s prayer that conveys God’s forgiveness) and Penance (an action by which the penitent expresses his resolve to turn way from further sin). As with all Sacraments, the focus is not on what we say or do, but the activity of the Holy Spirit on our soul.
The Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick addresses our need for bodily healing. Jesus’ own ministry on earth was marked by many instances of healings and the casting out of evil spirits. The early Church took up this same healing ministry, as we read in James (5:14-15) “Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord. The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up; and anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven.”
Prior to the renewal of the liturgy at the time of the Second Vatican Council, this sacrament was often referred to as “extreme unction”, or “the last rites”. Under that understanding, it was felt that this anointing was only for those who were very near death, and so people hesitated to receive it at all – to see the priest approach someone with the Oil of the Sick was felt to be a sign that you were very near death. The Anointing of the Sick is now more properly seen as an aid for the sick, expressing the care and healing power of Jesus and the Christian community for those who suffer from illness or the effects of advanced age.
Catholic Health Care Week.
The week of October 6th to 12th has been designated as Catholic Health Care week in Canada. In Alberta, the Catholic hospitals are operated by the Covenant Health care system, which comprises 18 hospitals and seniors’ housing facilities. While we do not have any Covenant Health facilities in our archdiocese, we look forward to having such a facility in the future. For information on Covenant Heath Care of Alberta, examine their website at https://www.covenanthealth.ca/
One of the greatest challenges we face as Catholics engaged in health care from a moral standpoint is the prevalence in Canada of MAiD (medical assistance in dying), or otherwise known as euthanasia. Doctor-assisted suicide is now permitted in Canada under certain circumstances, yet the Catholic Church believes this morally unjustifiable. While there is a protection in law for those institutions and medical practitioners to withdraw from offering such “service”, there is at the same time pressure and even legal expectations to cooperate.
I invite you to support and pray for Catholic Health Care in Canada, and the recognition of our conscience rights in this particular arena of health service. See our poster entitled Awake at http://chac.ca/awaken/docs/Awaken%20Message%20Poster%20Lettersized.pdf