MASS (FRONT MOUNTAIN ROAD)
"If our life in Christ means anything to you, if love can persuade at all, or the spirit that we have in common, or any tenderness and sympathy, then be united in your convictions and united in your love... That is one thing which would make me completely happy. There must be no competition among you... so that nobody thinks of his own interests first but everybody thinks of other people's interests instead. In your minds you must be the same as Christ Jesus" (Ph 2:1-5).
These words, originally addressed by Saint Paul to the Christians of Philippi, are also addressed to you, dear brothers and sisters of Moncton, of Acadia and of the entire province of New Brunswick. I encourage you to form human communities, that will be examples in their practice of solidarity. I urge you to maintain in your church communities the dignity vested in them by Christ. Draw your inspiration in this from the Gospel; look for what is just in the eyes of God. Have the courage of faith, the dynamism of charity and the strength of Christian hope, whatever be your trials. Yes, open your communities to the Spirit of Christ.
To deepen this appeal I commend to you the example and the words of the holy bishop whom we are celebrating today, one of the most famous bishops of the first centuries of the Christian East. The text of the psalm admirably expresses his soul:
"My God, I have always loved your law from the depths of my being. I have always proclaimed your righteousness in the great assembly; nor do I mean to stop proclaiming, as you know well" (Ps 39(40), 9-10).
This great pastor spoke again and again in order to enlighten his people, to educate them, to incite them to follow their Christian vocation. They called him "Chrysostom", which means "golden mouth". His teaching, steeped in the Word of God and the contemplation of Christ's mystery, was expressed in clear, convincing, concrete terms, challenging Christians of all centuries to make those choices essential to their salvation and to the bringing about of "justice".
At the end of the fourth century, at a time when the Church was in full growth, John lived in Antioch of Syria. He would undoubtedly have been successful in the world of the courts, of the theater, of literature, but following his baptism, around the age of twenty, he preferred to devote himself to the study of Sacred Scripture and to the service of the Church. He experienced a life of contemplation and asceticism in remote mountain wildernesses. Then, for eleven years, as deacon and then priest, he tirelessly preached the Gospel to the crowds in Antioch. He was called in 397 to become the Patriarch of Constantinople but was only able to exercise freely his episcopal responsibilities for six years. The milieu was a believing one and sensitive to piety, but it was also given over to passion, to courtly intrigue, to worldly manifestations, to the pursuit of luxury and to the neglect of priestly and monastic duties. But he refused to reduce in any way the vigour and clarity of the Gospel, the requirements of Christian baptism and of the Eucharist, of the priesthood, of charity, of the dignity of the poor. In truth, "he never ceased to proclaim justice". Nor did he do so when twice he was deposed and driven into exile by the Empress Eudoxia. She made his lot even more difficult on the second occasion on the road to the Caucasus, on which he died on September 14, 407. We can indeed consider him a martyr of pastoral courage. But what we will remember above all is that he succeeded in forming a Christian people, Christian communities worthy of the name.
His "golden mouth" drew its eloquence from the power of his faith. He could repeat after Saint Paul: "I believed and therefore I spoke" (2 Co 4,13). And his faith, filled with love, called forth his apostolic zeal: "You see, all this is for your benefit, so that the more grace is multiplied among people, the more thanksgiving there will be to the glory of God" (2 Co 4,15).
In fact his pastoral zeal was based on union with Christ. This relationship was particularly close when the great bishop of Constantinople was exposed to suffering and persecution. He too could say following Saint Paul: "We carry with us in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus, too, may always be seen in our body" (2 Co 4,10). This union to Christ's suffering and dying on the Cross made his apostolic service efficacious and a source of supernatural life for others: "So death is at work in us, but life in you" (2 Co 4,12).
John Chrysostom had no fear of unjust judgements, of harassment, of defamation, of persecution. These merely made him more firm in his proclamation of the requirements of the Gospel, both because of his loyalty to Christ and because of his love for those he wished to convert. Yet, unshakeable as his strength was, it never caused him to go against charity. He truly lived the words of Christ recorded in the Gospel of Luke and which we have just heard: "Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who treat you badly" (Lk 6,27-28). His eloquence made him popular with the crowds in Antioch, in Constantinople, even in exile in Asia Minor; his frankness, however, drew down upon him the hatred of some. He had devoted his gift of speech entirely to the service of justice and charity, for which he paid dearly, in heart and body. Yet he did not allow this to turn him away from loving others and from seeking to do them good. He gave with no thought of return. "Do good and lend without hoping for anything in return... Give and it will be given to you" (Lk 6,35,38). Rather than see his followers spill the blood of his fellow citizens, he chose to surrender himself to the soldiers.
This is the pastor, dear brothers and sisters, who formed a generation of Christians in a large part of the East, through his preaching and by the example of his life. This is the witness that is presented to you today as you seek to strengthen your church communities.
Vatican II spoke of the "Christian community" as a sign of the presence of God in the world. "By the eucharistic sacrifice it is on the way to the Father with Christ; carefully nourished by the Word of God, it bears witness to Christ; it walks in love and glows with an apostolic spirit" (Decree on the Missionary Activity of the Church, No. 15). May your parishes and your various communities carry out this program! But that it may be done according to the Gospel, it might be well to listen once again to John Chrysostom expressing his faith: "Am I relying on my own strength? I possess his word; that is my support, my security and my harbour of peace" (cf. homily delivered before his departure into exile, 1-3; PG 52, 427-430). Steep yourself in this word, he added, "you must continually find your strength in the Scriptures". He also asks us to pray unceasingly, everywhere, in that temple of God which is the human heart.
John Chrysostom took great care in preparing candidates for baptism and above all in helping the baptized to understand the greatness of the gift given them by God in the sacrament. He speaks in enthusiastic terms of the Eucharist by which we share in the victory of Easter. But he never forgets that "the first road to conversion is the condemnation of our faults. Begin by confessing your faults in order to be justified" (cf. PG 49, 263-264).
This insistence of John Chrysostom on the gift of grace, on faith, prayer and the sacraments, invariably issues in a statement of the requirements for Christian living; if not we would be faced with a lack of logic or with hypocrisy. And it is in this connection that he speaks with surprising vigour of charity, of the love of neighbour.
This love is reconciliation: "Let no one who has an enemy come to the holy table... go first and be reconciled, then receive the sacrament" (cf. homily to the people of Antioch).
This love is will for unity and for fraternity. "The Church does not exist so that we will remain divided when we come to it, but rather so that our divisions will be overcome there - that is the meaning of the assembly. If we come for the Eucharist, let us do nothing that contradicts the Eucharist" (cf. homily Co 24,2; 27,3-5).
This love is respect and welcome for the poor. "You wish to honour the body of Christ? Do not hold it in contempt when it is naked. Do not honour it here, in the church, by wearing silken robes while you allow it to remain outside suffering from the cold and lack of clothes... God needs no chalices of gold, but golden souls... Begin by feeding the hungry, and with what is left, you may decorate the altar" (cf. PG 619-622).
Love is a search for what is useful for our neighbour. "Nothing is colder than a Christian indifferent to the salvation of others" (cf. PG 60, 162-164). "We neglect the salvation of our children. We are looking for nothing but profit. We are more concerned with asses and horses than with our children... What is comparable to the art of shaping a soul?" (PG 58, 580-584).
Love involves apostolic work; it is missionary zeal that extends to the ends of the earth. "God does not ask us to succeed, but to work... If Christ, that model of pastors, worked until the very end to convert a man in despair (Judas), what must we not do for those for whom we have been commanded to hope?" (cf. homily on the Canaanite woman, 10-11). "As the leaven is absorbed into the mass, it loses none of its strength; on the contrary, it communicates it little by little... It is Christ alone who invests the leaven with its power... and when the dough has risen it becomes leaven in its turn, for all that remains" (Cf. homily on Mt 2-3).
These few strong words from Saint John Chrysostom are evidence of the faith, charity, apostolic courage and hope which he sought to share with his brothers and sisters.
Dear brothers and sisters of New Brunswick: is it still necessary for the progress of your communities for these exhortations to be articulated in terms of challenges adapted to our times?
I know that your community spirit already allowed you to overcome many early difficulties in Acadia; still today you are known for your sense of fraternity, cordial hospitality and sharing. But your region, like many others, is undergoing a profound transformation which is a new test. Urban life is developing, an economic crisis affects the local communities, and likewise a spiritual crisis, a crisis of values. Meanwhile, you can look to the future with serenity if you stand firm in the faith of the Risen Christ, if you allow his Spirit to form within you the responses to the new challenges, if you show solidarity with one another, if you accept being a leaven in the Church and in society.
And your Christian communities will immediately take up the challenge if they are able to form and deepen the faith of their members through the catechesis of youth and of students, through the continuing formation of adults, through courses or retreats. It is a question of a faith that is a personal attachment to the living God and takes account of the whole creed. Do not allow religious ignorance to stand side by side with the prestige of secular knowledge! Your communities will progress and be renewed if you accord greater place to meditation on the Gospel, to prayer, to the Sacraments of the Eucharist and of Penance.
Efforts in sharing, justice and charity - which one can call "social love" - run the risk of becoming simple philanthropy, if they are not rooted in the spiritual energy to which I have made reference in the writings of Saint John Chrysostom. And yet, he was speaking to a group of believers who had forgotten the ethical consequences of the faith. Today it is necessary in the first place to revive the faith which, for a certain number, has been shaken and questioned.
But it is evident that a well-understood faith involves all the commitments of charity of which the Pastor of Constantinople spoke and which today might be called:
- respect for persons, of their freedom, of their dignity, so that they may not be crushed by the new social constraints;
- respect for human rights, according to the charters already well known, and including the right to life from the moment of conception, the right to one's reputation, the right to development, the right to freedom of conscience;
- the refusal of violence and torture;
- concern for the less fortunate categories, for women, for labourers, for the unemployed, for immigrants;
- establishment of social measures for greater equality and justice, for all men and women, regardless of individual interests or privileges;
- the will to live a simple life and to share, in contrast with the present race for profit, consumption and artificial gratification, in such a way as not to be deprived of what is essential for oneself, while also permitting the poor, whoever they may be, to lead a dignified life;
- a more universal openness towards the basic needs of the less fortunate countries, in particular those that are referred to as the "South", the regions where each day thousands of human beings die because of the lack of peace or elementary care given to them; and hence concern to inaugurate, at the international level, effective solutions for a more equitable distribution of goods and opportunities on the earth;
- missionary zeal for help among the Churches.
Thus your communities will be able to provide a generous sharing that begins in the immediate neighbourhood and that then opens up, without boundaries, to the world. You will not wait to settle your own social problems - that are certainly most real, and I am thinking in particular of unemployment - before living that fullness of charity described by Saint John Chrysostom.
All this activity of solidarity you will accomplish individually, or by your Christian associations, and also taking part in the initiatives of the institutions of civil society (cf. Gaudium et Spes, 42-43). And with the Christian motivation which sees in the other person a brother or sister in God and a member of Christ, you will be the leaven that raises the dough to a level of greater justice, fraternal solidarity and social love.
Your ecclesial communities will be so much more stable and dynamic if everyone plays his or her own role, according to his or her vocation and charisms, as I said this morning in the Cathedral: Bishops, priests, religious, laity.
It is necessary without doubt that there be formed what you call the groupes-relais in order to manifest better the vitality of the Church in allowing specialized activities and truly human action. But all must be vigilant for unity within the common mission of evangelization, and here the parish plays a unique role. For all groups the parish's vocation "is to be a fraternal and welcoming family home, where those who have been baptized and confirmed become aware of forming the People of God... From that home they are sent out day by day to their apostolic mission in all the centres of activity of the life of the world" (cf. Catechesi Tradendae, 67).
Saint John Chrysostom, a disciple of the Lord, a successor of the Apostles, was strengthened during the whole course of his toilsome and difficult life by an eschatological hope - the hope of what lies beyond, of the new life promised by God - which Saint Paul announced in his Letter to the Corinthians: "Yes, the troubles which are soon over, though they weigh little, train us for the carrying of a weight of eternal glory which is out of all proportion to them. And so we have no eyes for things that are visible, but only for things that are invisible; for visible things last only for a time, and the invisible things are eternal" (2 Cor 4:17-18).
Let the voice of Saint Paul, let the voice of the great Saint of Constantinople continue to echo in your hearts, together with the voice of your own Pastors united with the Successor of Peter!
Through the intercession of Our Lady of the Assumption, Our Lady of Acadia, may the Church of Moncton and of the other dioceses grow, be strengthened and shine forth, in conformity with its eternal destiny. "Our regard is focused on the invisible, on what is eternal!"