By Most Rev. Richard W. Smith, Archbishop of Edmonton

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Let Us Continue to Pray for Peace

Last Saturday Catholics - and, indeed, many people of different faith traditions - offered a day of prayer and fasting for peace in Syria and gathered in intense communal prayer for the avoidance of military strikes from world powers and an end to hostilities within the country. Pope Francis, in his Sunday Angelus six days before, had called for the special day. In response, Catholics gathered in cathedrals and churches throughout the world, including hundreds who joined with our own Auxiliary Bishop Gregory Bittman at St. Joseph's Basilica in Edmonton. Only a few days after the event we now hear of a diplomatic proposal acceptable to the Syrian government and received positively - even if with hesitation - by the U.S. and others, in the light of which the possibility of a missile strike has been called off ... for the moment. What is being widely reported is the flurry of diplomatic activity that has brought us to this moment. People of faith are recognizing a deeper and prior agency at work - the power of prayer. At the call of Pope Francis, countless thousands implored the Lord for peace at a time when a military strike seemed certain to occur. Now there is real hope that it can be avoided.

The situation in Syria remains horrible. Our hearts continue to weep for the people who suffer and are forced to flee their country. We recoil in horror that the use of chemical weapons could even be contemplated yet alone used on innocent people. From the depths of our hearts we must continue to pray, confident that the Lord alone has the power to change hearts, to bring about surprising new possibilities and to lead us to reconciliation and peace.

Please continue to pray. Recall that this coming Saturday is the national day of prayer and fasting called for by Canada's Bishops last June. It is the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross, by which Jesus Christ broke down the barriers of hostility separating his people from one another (cf. Ephesians 2:14). Please offer prayer and sacrifice throughout the day that the power of Christ's Cross will bring a true and lasting reconciliation and peace to the people and nation of Syria and throughout the Middle East. I will be celebrating Mass at St. Joseph's Basilica at 5:00 pm that day and invite you to join me.

We. are grateful to our Holy Father for his summons to prayer. It is a call we must continue to heed.

Thank You Sisters, Faithful Companions of Jesus

In a letter dated March 26, 1882, Bishop Grandin wrote to the Mother General of the Faithful Companions of Jesus, inviting them to come to his diocese of Saint Albert for the purpose, primarily, of educating the young. If they were able to accept this invitation, the good Bishop promised them a welcome of poverty, lack of resources generally and inhospitable living conditions. He was evidently an early proponent of truth in advertising! The Sisters contemplated this invitation carefully and accepted. Human reason would have argued against the Sisters doing so. It would have insisted that only when sufficient resources were guaranteed should they come to this diocese. The Sisters, though, followed a higher logic. They chose to rely not on human reason but on trust in divine wisdom and providence. With faith in the Lord, they took the very bold step and accepted the invitation. The subsequent 125 years of their presence and ministry among us gives ample proof that their trust was not misplaced.

In my view, we have here one of the most important and timeless dimensions of the legacy the sisters bequeath to all of us. Time and again we come face to face with the reality of human weakness and limit and the question this imposes: will I rely upon myself or trust in God? Families face daily a bewildering variety of pressures and challenges. Contemporary society continues to be marked by large numbers of poor, homeless, vulnerable and otherwise marginalized persons. The world community remains plagued by war and violence, and is frustrated at the seeming inability of leaders to end conflict, such as the horror we witness currently in Syria. In these and countless other situations, the limits of human wisdom and competence are in painful evidence. And yet we continue to rely upon it! We persist in the illusion that we can solve our own problems. Those Sisters, who so long ago chose to come to this part of the world to serve, show us another way, namely, taking refuge not in our own weakness but in the power of God. Reliance upon self leads to frustration and despair. Reliance upon God gives birth to opportunity and hope.

As significant as this particular lesson is, it is not the most important dimension of the legacy that the Sisters leave us. The very heart of the heritage we receive from them is indicated by their name. As their foundress, Marie Madeleine Victoire d'Houet was discerning her call, certain interior illuminations made clear that, as the foundation of all the work she was to do, she was to live as a faithful companion of Jesus. Furthermore, she would do so in the "companionship" of humility, poverty, obedience and gentleness. Union with Christ fashions unity with others, and thus her acceptance of the call to be a faithful companion of the Lord gave rise to a community of sisters who adopted this name and lived henceforth as faithful companions of Jesus and of one one another in the service of the Gospel. In this example of the Sisters we have revealed the very heart of the Church's life and mission. All flows from our relationship with Christ and back to it. We are all called to be his faithful companions and to draw all of our inspiration, strength and accomplishment from his love. Indeed, we can love and follow him as companions, as friends, only because he has loved and chosen us first to be his companions and friends (cf. John 15:15).

Sisters, Faithful Companions of Jesus, thank you from us all! Thank you for your witness and for the legacy of fidelity you bequeath us. May the Lord bless you all richly as you draw comfort and peace from His abiding companionship.