Eucharistic Celebration at Birds Hill Park – Homily
WINNIPEG/ST. BONIFACE, MANITOBA
SEPTEMBER 16, 1984
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might” (Dt 6:5)
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
This commandment, the greatest one, was proclaimed in the Old Testament to Israel alone. It was the first and the greatest commandment of the Old Covenant that God made with the Chosen People. He gave it through Moses after the liberation from slavery in Egypt. The Covenant, which was linked to the commandments, placed on all Israelites the obligations inherent in belonging to the People of God.
The first reading of today’s liturgy speaks to us in a very detailed way of how the Israelites were to know and put into practice “the commandments, the statutes and the ordinances” (Dt 6:1) which God had taught through Moses. The Israelites were to pass them on and teach them to their children and to all the generations to come, both during the journey towards the Promised Land and when they would be living there.
“You shall bind them as a sign upon your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. And you shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates” (Dt 6:8-9).
The Covenant with God became a fundamental source of the spiritual identity of Israel as a nation among the other peoples and nations of the earth.
The second reading, from Saint Paul’s First Letter to the Thessalonians, introduces us into the dimension of the New Covenant. This Covenant is new and everlasting. It was brought about in the flesh and blood of Christ, by his death on the Cross and by the Resurrection, and it is universal. It is open to all the peoples and nations of the earth. For the Apostles have been sent to everyone to proclaim the Gospel: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Mt 28:19).
Saint Paul can therefore write to the Thessalonians saying: It was God who decided that we were fit to be entrusted with the Good News, and when we are speaking, we are not trying to please men but God, who can read our inmost thoughts. … We felt so devoted and protective toward you, and had come to love you so much, that we were eager to hand over to you not only the Good News but our whole lives as well” (1 Th 2:4,8).
The Gospel has become – and always continues to become – the source of spiritual culture for men and women of different nations, tongues and races. It has also become the basis of the individuality and cultural identity of many peoples and nations throughout the world.
This statement takes on singular eloquence in Canada, where, through immigration, a varied inheritance of peoples, nations and cultures becomes the common good of the whole of society.
God’s commandment to Israel expresses the good of society. Its fulfilment is the condition on which all cultural identity is consolidated, and without which there can be no lasting and effective multicultural community. God’s word expressed through Moses brings with it a promise and constitutes a charter of hope for all society: “If you keep all his laws and commandments which I lay on you, you will have a long life … Listen then, Israel, and keep and observe what will make you prosper and give you great increase” (Dt 6:2-3).
It is in the perspective of faith that we perceive how much the Word of God – brought to fulfilment in the Gospel – contributes to the building and preservation of cultures. And we see how necessary it is to fulfil the Gospel message in order to succeed in harmonizing cultures in a pluralistic unity. In the civil order too, the Gospel is at the service of harmony. To detach culture from its link to the Gospel commandment of love would be to make impossible the multicultural interplay which is characteristic of Canada. The Church speaks to us repeatedly of the need to evangelize in depth man’s culture and cultures, “always taking the person as one’s starting-point and always coming back to the relationships of people among themselves and with God” (Evangelii Nuntiandi, 20). At the same time we are alerted that “the split between the Gospel and culture is without a doubt the drama of our time” (ibid.).
The historical experience of the two founding peoples of Canada who bound themselves to live in mutual respect for the unique cultural identity of each other has providentially created that atmosphere of respect for cultural diversity which characterizes Canada today. In her own multicultural interaction, Canada not only offers to the world a creative vision of society but she also has a splendid opportunity to show consistency between what she believes and what she does. And this is accomplished by applying Christ’s commandment of love.
Manitoba itself truly reflects a variety of many different cultures. Besides its population of British origin and French origin – in addition to native peoples – so many other Western countries-are represented here. Immigration from Western and Eastern Europe, Asia, Africa and South America contributes to making up the reality of this civil society. Latin and Ukrainian ecclesial jurisdictions compose one Catholic Church. Today I greet in a special way the Church of Winnipeg with its pastor, Archbishop Exner; the Archdiocese of Winnipeg of the Ukrainians led by Archbishop Hermaniuk; and the faithful of the Archdiocese of Saint Boniface under the pastoral leadership of Archbishop Hacault. Yes, you come from almost “every tribe and tongue, people and nation” (Rv 5:9). And this is expressed in our liturgical assembly today, not only through different languages but also through the different liturgical traditions of Christianity, both in the West and the East. In this Eucharist the Church in Canada celebrates her diversity and proclaims her unity in Christ and in the universal Church.
Against the broad background of history and culture, the first and most important commandment which Moses transmitted to the one Chosen People of the Old Covenant takes on a fresh eloquence in our times.
Jesus Christ says: “This is my commandment: love one another as I have loved you” (Jn 15:12).
The commandment of love is rooted, in a new way, in love of God: “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you. Remain in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and remain in his love” (Jn 15:9-10).
Therefore, love of God above all things is a sharing in Christ’s love – the love whereby Christ loves.
And at the same time: love of God is organically linked with love for others – with mutual love. This love makes us Christ’s friends. “I shall not call you servants anymore… I call you friends” (Jn 15:15)
This love is a moral and existential expression of the election and calling by Christ “to go out and to bear fruit, fruit that will last; and then the Father will give you anything you ask him in my name” (Jn 15:16).
The pluralism of traditions, pluralism of cultures, pluralism of histories, pluralism of national identities – all of these are compatible with the unity of society.
Today we pray for the moral unity of this society – since this unity is the foundation and common denominator of all “civil needs”.
From the most ancient times Christianity has educated people -witnesses for Christ – to have a sense of responsibility for the common good of society. This is equally true when society has clearly pluralistic characteristics. The importance of the Church’s teaching in this regard has been summarized by the Second Vatican Council in the penetrating words: “Let there be no false opposition between professional and social activities on the one part, and the practice of religion on the other. The Christian who neglects his temporal duties neglects his duties toward his neighbour and even God, and jeopardizes his eternal salvation” (Gaudium et Spes. 43).
At the basis of this teaching is the commandment of mutual love which today’s Gospel speaks about. Mutual love means, in its fundamental dimension, the relationship between human beings based on respect for the personal dignity of the other person and on real care for his or her true good.
Mutual love has particular importance for the formation of the community of marriage and the family. And then that mutual love extends to many different circles and levels of human coexistence: in different environments, communities, societies, and between societies.
In this sense this love is “social”, and constitutes the essential condition for the formation of the civilization of love proclaimed by the Church, and especially by Paul VI.
In this great region of Canada, mutual love between all the different communities that make up the multicultural character of this pluralistic society becomes an immense power for good. The mutual love that uplifts and unites the individual elements enables all of them, when put together, to be a particularly effective instrument of service to humanity. Love makes it possible for a vast series of talents to produce a united action. Through this united action, a multicultural society is then able to place at the disposal of others all those blessings which it has so bountifully received.
Remember, O Canada, that the greatest richness of your multicultural character is to be able to reach out and help others – your brothers and sisters in need. This is what faith makes possible; this is what love requires. In the name of love I urge that the openness shown to so many immigrants and refugees of ethnic minorities, and the generous reception given to them, should continue to characterize and enrich Canada in the future as in the past.
In this regard it is worthwhile to recall those prophetic words of John XXIII: “The best interests of justice are served by those public authorities who do all they can to improve the human conditions of the members of ethnic minorities, especially in what concerns their language, culture, customs, and their economic activity and enterprises” (Pacem in Terris, AAS 55, 1963, p. 283). This contribution of public authority must be coupled by the active efforts of all individuals and groups to continue to build a socially just Canadian society – a lasting civilization of love in which are ensured “the priority of ethics over technology, the primacy of the person over things, and the superiority of spirit over matter” (Redemptor Hominis, 16) – and all this for the glory of God, who is the Father of us all.
Let us pray for this intention, especially in this Eucharistic assembly, and through this prayer let us unite ourselves with Christ. Truly, we wish to accept his invitation: “Remain in my love”. Amen