Thursday, January 30, 2014
St. Joseph's Basilica
Recently I had occasion to visit the website for this cathedral parish, and there I was invited to take a virtual tour of our Basilica, which I did. From the comfort of home I was able to visit via my computer screen practically every nook and cranny of this magnificent edifice. When we consider this technological marvel in the light of our centenary as a parish, we realize rather dramatically the enormous changes that have taken place in our society over the past one hundred years. When this parish was founded, even the television did not yet exist, let alone a computer and the wizardry of Google. From the day when my predecessor, Archbishop Legal, established this parish under the patronage of Saint Joseph, the succeeding century has witnessed change of a breadth and rapidity that in retrospect is truly astonishing.
Within the Church as well we have experienced rather remarkable change, but for theological, not technological, reasons. In virtue of the Incarnation, God in Christ has entered time, has stepped into history that evolves. From this it follows that the Body of Christ, his Church, will experience change as it journeys along its pilgrim way to the Kingdom. Indeed, this very building in which we celebrate our centennial Mass has been witness to profound change. For most of the early years of the parish's life, parishioners gathered for worship in the basement, in what we call the crypt church. Since its completion in 1963 this upper portion has itself undergone significant alteration, especially following the fire in 1980. Particularly dramatic have been the changes to liturgy and parish life that unfolded in the wake of the Second Vatican Council. Many people here tonight will hold in their memory for years to come the change in status accorded to this building by Blessed Pope John Paul II, when, on the occasion of his pastoral visit here, he granted to it the title of Basilica.
At the same time, though, and also in virtue of the Incarnation, the Church proclaims that there is another, deeper dimension to history, an inner current that remains ever the same, even as time advances and changes multiply, and that operates as history's unifying and directive principle. I speak here of God's loving plan of salvation, his determination to save the world in Jesus Christ. Within the vast array of change, God is forever one and the same; his love never changes; his desire that his people be one and with him forever allows of no alteration; and Jesus, who meets us in the varying circumstances of our lives, is the same yesterday, today and forever (cf. Hebrews 13:8). It is necessary to stress this. Many people today have grown so accustomed to rapid change and constant development that the idea of something changeless, permanent or stable seems almost impossible to comprehend, and they are left as a result with no reasonable basis for hope. As the people of God we are called to announce that there is, indeed, reason for hope! The reason is Jesus, in whom God's never changing love has been revealed and remains ever with us. This mystery of divine love is the heart of the Church. It stands, therefore, as the deepest reason for our joy as we celebrate one hundred years as the parish community of St. Joseph's.
No virtual tour with a computer will show the various facets of this mystery, but an actual journey through the Bible will. In fact, the readings we have heard proclaimed this evening are among the key passages of Sacred Scripture pertaining to the unchanging divine purpose. The first reading is an ancient prophecy spoken by Nathan to King David. The king had determined that he should build a grand house of cedar for the ark of the covenant, or divine presence. In reply God says that he himself will build a house, founded on one who would be a descendant of David. St. Joseph was of that house of David, so by identifying him as the husband of Mary, the Gospel tonight announces that Jesus is the fulfillment of Nathan's prophecy of old. It is upon him that God will build his house. Christian faith proclaims that God, has, in fact, done so by the paschal mystery of Jesus. By the death and resurrection of our Lord and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in the sacraments, God draws his people together and fashions them as a house made not of cedar but of living stones, the divine dwelling known as the Church. This is how God chooses to save us.
Sacred Scripture also reveals that the door granting access to this house is faith. What is revealed about faith by both St. Joseph and St. Paul is of special relevance for us celebrating a centenary. Together they give witness to faith as a stepping into an unknown future with complete trust in the wisdom and providence of God.
St. Joseph is told to take Mary as his wife since the child within her has been conceived by the Holy Spirit. Such an announcement would have filled our patron saint with astonishment beyond words, and a deep wonder at what it all might mean. Perhaps only slightly less astonishing was the promise made to Abraham. St. Paul reminds us of God's pledge to make of Abraham in his great old age a father of nations, even though his wife Sarah had been unable to conceive. Yet the response in each case was to surrender to the mysterious designs of God, without knowing all that lay ahead, moved by a trust that God would be present and would bring about what he promised.
From these teachings of Sacred Scripture we gain an appreciation of the deepest reason for the existence of this parish and of the great faith that animated its founders. The parish was erected as a local instance of the people of God drawn together in Christ and as a sign of the communion God wills for all people. In laying the foundations of this community, the first parishioners entered by faith into an unknown future. They were sure of only two things: on the one hand that they would face many changing circumstances and a whole array of challenges; and, on the other, that they would be carried by the unchanging love of God, who delights in doing great and surprising things for his people as he leads them to salvation. Those pioneering parishioners went forward in faith and were not disappointed. That same faith now fills us with confidence and hope as we step into our future, into our next 100 years.
Before long a virtual tour through cyberspace will no longer surprise us. New marvels will capture our attention, but only for a time. What always astonishes and what delights without end is that which does not change and remains ever the same: the presence of our loving God working in the midst of his people to accomplish his saving will. In our mass tonight we do give thanks to Almighty God for the countless blessings that have come to us in and through the multiplicity of changes we have known. Even more, we are grateful for the lack of change in God's love and his desire to save us. This alone has sustained us in the past and this alone will carry us into the years that lie ahead.
Most Reverend Richard W. Smith
Archbishop of Edmonton
January 30, 2014
St. Joseph's Basilica, Edmonton