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125th Anniversary of the Faithful Companions of Jesus in the Archdiocese of Edmonton

Sunday, September 8, 2013
St. Joseph's Basilica, Edmonton 

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! As the Sisters contemplated this invitation, I would not be surprised if they included in their discernment the admonition given by our Lord in today's Gospel. There Jesus makes very clear that following him involves cost. Discipleship is inseparable from the embrace of the Cross and thus a life of sacrifice. Furthermore, he invites anyone who would follow him to reckon carefully with these truths before making a decision.

 Neither would I be surprised if they took into consideration the warning from the Book of Wisdom that human logic and reason are insufficient as guides for our decisions. What matters above all is trust in divine wisdom, and confidence that God, who acts in ways contrary to our own and who surprises with new and unexpected calls, will always be present and provide for our every need.

Indeed, human reason alone would have argued against the Sisters accepting the invitation. If they had acted along the lines of the builder contemplating the construction of a tower or the king considering whether to do battle, and decided that only when resources were sufficiently guaranteed would they come to this diocese, we would perhaps still be waiting. No, the Sisters chose to rely not on human logic 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, and that which is most precious, comes to mind as we read the passage from St. Paul's letter to Philemon. There he appeals for Onesimus, whom he extols for having been to him a faithful companion. We know from his other writings that while St. Paul certainly valued highly the friendship and fidelity of his collaborators in the service of the Gospel, there was no more faithful companion than Christ Jesus Himself. So it is with the community of Sisters we honour today. 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).

 This lesson is necessary for all of us who strive to follow Christ, but it is of particular importance for our Catholic schools. One hundred and twenty-five years ago, three Sisters from the Faithful Companions of Jesus came to Edmonton to open a convent and school. That school was St Joachim Catholic school, the first of the newly formed Catholic school district. This is recognized as the beginning and foundation of our current Edmonton Catholic School district. To this day and beyond, the legacy of our Sisters must remain the beginning, foundation and end of all that we do, not only in the Edmonton district but also in Catholic schools everywhere. The sisters of the Faithful Companions of Jesus have taught us from the start that the very centre and heart of the educational enterprise is to help our young people meet Jesus, know Jesus, love Jesus and follow Jesus as his faithful companions. In no other way can we lead them to happiness and peace in this life and beyond.

 Sisters, I wish to take this opportunity to offer you and your sisters elsewhere our gratitude and express to you our esteem. I do so in the name of all who are gathered here. As successor to Bishop Grandin I do so as well in the name of the entire Archdiocese. Your presence and ministry have impacted enormously upon the life of this local Church. 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.

Most Reverend Richard W. Smith
Archbishop of Edmonton
September 8, 2013

When in 1977 Father Joseph Ratzinger was named Archbishop of Munich and Freising, he chose this phrase as his episcopal motto. It is taken from the Third letter of Saint John, which was proclaimed in part today as our second reading. In that letter Saint John makes clear his love for the truth and the joy that is his when his children, fellow Christians, walk in the truth. When we support one another in our fidelity to the Christian mission, he says, we become "co-operators of the truth," cooperatores veritatis.

The Holy Father explained the reason for this choice of motto as twofold: first, truth was the link between his former mission as a theologian and the new one entrusted to him as Bishop; second, he saw that the very theme of truth had become practically absent in the world of today, a condition that placed everything in danger of collapse. As now the world looks back over the life of the man who became Pope Benedict XVI, we recognize that we are giving thanks to God today for the gift of one of history's great co-operators of the truth. In the face of what he once famously and memorably labelled the "dictatorship of relativism," the Holy Father dedicated his papacy, as he had consecrated the entirety of his theological and priestly work, to the elucidation of the truth, the truth who is Jesus Christ, for the edification and guidance of the people of God.

Long ago, from the mouth of the prophet Jeremiah, God promised to give his people shepherds after his own heart, "who will feed you with knowledge and understanding." That promise is fulfilled in Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd, who as the Word Incarnate nourished us with the words of everlasting life, and who sent the Holy Spirit from the Father to lead the Church into the understanding of all that he revealed. It falls to the Magisterium of the Church, and to the Successor of Saint Peter in particular, to guide the Church in its appropriation of the truth revealed in Christ, and to hand it on faithfully, so that in every generation God's people are fed with the knowledge and understanding that come from God, and that alone grant sure direction to our lives.

In Pope Benedict XVI we have been blessed with an extraordinarily gifted teacher, who in every letter, speech, message and homily of his Petrine ministry has explained the faith in a manner at once intelligible and attractive. This wonderful servant of the truth has taught us, time and again, that the truth is beautiful, and that we must allow ourselves to be embraced by it if we are to be truly free.

Because he was fully dedicated to the truth he was not afraid to speak it, particularly at times when others were either unwilling or unable to do so. In the halls of government he challenged political leaders not to sever civil legislation from natural law, nor politics from ethics, called on them to uphold freedom of conscience and religion, and invited them to make space in the public square for voices of reason informed by faith. When the world economy entered a crisis in 2008, he was the sole world leader clearly to identify the root of the problem as a crisis of morality, and called for a complete reshaping of the economic order based on love, gratuitousness and human solidarity. In an era when many are sensitive to the need to protect and care for the environment, he agreed but went much farther than most, reminding us that genuine ecological concern must be grounded in the truth of the ecology of man himself. Within the Church, he who played an important role in the shaping of the Second Vatican Council clarified its authentic interpretation. Of particular concern to him was the truth of the sacred liturgy, whose beauty and mystery were the frequent subjects of his discourses. The truth of the Church as a communion led him to reach out to separated Christians with the invitation to reconciliation, while his many and substantive overtures to people of other faiths were impelled by the truth of God's universal salvific will.

Beneath all of this, and inspiring everything he said and wrote, was the truth of Christ's abiding friendship. In his very first homily as our Holy Father, he said: "There is nothing more beautiful than to know Jesus Christ, and to tell others of our friendship with him." This touched me deeply, and has influenced the shape of the new evangelization here in this Archdiocese. The encounter with this love of God, this offer of friendship with Jesus Christ, changes everything. We heard of such an encounter in today's Gospel passage, which recounts the meeting of Jesus with Peter shortly after the resurrection.

Pope Benedict himself commented on this encounter in his general audience of May 24, 2006. There he pointed out that our one English word "love" is used to translate two distinct Greek verbs. The first two times that Jesus poses the question, "Do you love me?" he uses agapao, which refers to a total and unconditional love. Jesus begins by asking Peter if he loves him with this kind of total love. However, Peter replies with the verb fileo, the love of a friend, implying affection, certainly, but not a total gift of self. In other words, Peter, acutely aware of his recent betrayal and his weakness, tells Jesus that all he can offer is his weak human love. Strikingly, the third time Jesus poses the question he changes the verb and asks "Fileis me?" That is to say, "Will you at least love me as you can? I am willing to accept and work with that." Pope Benedict observes how Jesus adapts himself to Peter and not the other way around. The Lord accepts us, as he accepted Peter, where we are, and works in and through our weakness to transform us, strengthen us, and make us true disciples. All he asks is that we love him as we can and leave the rest up to him.

This, I believe, points to the essence of Pope Benedict's legacy to the Church and the world. Within his corpus of extraordinary teaching is a human heart beating with a profound love for Jesus Christ, his Lord and friend. With his resignation, this Successor of Saint Peter has demonstrated that he, too, is ready to acknowledge his weakness, trusting that Jesus is at work in and through it for the good of the Church. Today we testify that, yes, the Lord has, indeed, done wondrous things through the man we have grown to love and admire as our Holy Father for these past eight years. We are profoundly grateful to God for the blessing that has been given to us in Pope Benedict XVI, and ask the Lord now to fill his heart with the assurance of the love and appreciation of all cooperators of the truth.

Most Reverend Richard W. Smith
Archbishop of Edmonton
February 28, 2013