Homily given by Most Rev. Peter A. Sutton, O.M.I.
on the 150th Anniversary of St. John The Baptiste,
Ile-a-la Crosse, Saskatchewan, June 30, 1996.
For 150 years the faithful of Ile-a-la-Crosse have been "coming to mass" "la Messe" or celebrating the Eucharist primarily to thank God for who we are - Sons and daughters of our loving Heavenly Father. Today we come together from near and far answering the invitation to come home and celebrate the today of Ile-a-la-Crosse. Many people are to be recognized for preparing hospitality and it has been done with generous and excited heart. That the invitation has been answered and hospitality enjoyed makes for a climate of peace and proclaims peace for the future. In just a few years we will celebrate the turn of the century - the year 2000. Already hotels are being booked by the rich and famous. For us who call ourselves Christian, it becomes a privileged time to consider just who we are as followers of Jesus the Christ. We will call it a Jubilee - a time of great joy because our religious roots and our lives are intertwined with the promise of Christ to remain with His people. Specifically in this area, for these 150 years, men and women have laboured to live in faithfulness to the Gospel which at its heart is about hospitality. This weekend is a gift from God - a privileged opportunity to stop and recognize the men and women who have made their home here and whose strength and wisdom have been recognized as in the FIRST READING:
A great lady - possibly a rich lady, recognized the Prophet Elisha for what he was - a man of God, and in a very familial way offered hospitality. Husband and wife provided the room - the bed, table, chair, lamp. They had often welcomed Elisha to their table. They had no children and the prophet promised that a child would be born to them.
The point is that we open our hearts and our homes in generosity to welcome men and women of truth. We must consider how often we have constructed walls that keep us apart - walls of intolerance and suspicion; walls of jealousy and bitterness; walls of pride that have kept us locked into ourselves; walls that have prevented others from bringing their blessings, their wisdom, their comfort.
Perhaps, symbolically, we come today without material walls - open to one another and to God's gentle prodding to recognize the presence of God amongst us, in the truth we live and in the poor to whom we attend.
The life and history of Ile-a-la-Crosse and of you, the people, have been told in picture and in story. The recent 50 years especially are being put into focus with elders who are still among us. A multitude of young children are in our care and our hospitality must never be underestimated. We are to be prophets and teachers and caretakers, elder brothers and sisters in the faith.
ST. PAUL'S LETTER TO THE ROMANS speaks eloquently about Baptism and of much more than a mere pouring of water or just getting baptized. He writes words of renewal - the old parts of our lives must die if we are to experience a new life and a new journey. For so many, Baptism is a ritual only, behind which we seem to hide - just enough to let the Lord know that we've learned what to do, if not what to live. Our timely challenge is to know and explain to others why we do what we do as Christians. Are we creating a better world by living the Gospel into which we have been baptized?
Recently I read about an adult candidate for baptism who had been very well prepared for Baptism. At the end of his journey of preparation, he decided that he could not be baptized. The reason: "I am not ready to die for this faith."
St. Paul speaks to us as adults who have much to die for. He speaks to our sinfulness, selfishness, jealousy, and discrimination if we are to be the family of God at home, and in God's house of the Church and of the world.
On Friday we began our celebrations at the grotto built in 1944. We prayed at the graves of our beloved. It is good for us once again to reflect on this sense of mystery that we celebrate and deepen our understanding of this journey corresponding to the familiar mysteries of our faith.
The joyful mysteries of the people of Ile-a-la-Crosse are contained in countless stories of God's many blessings to our families:
- good news of the birth and maturing and success of these many generations;
- the development of the area - the succession of missionaries, the multiplication of families who have spoken God's Word and handed on the tradition of the Church;
- the evolution of school and health care facilities,
- the multiple organizations that have brought people together and continue to touch the ordinary lives of ordinary people to give them recovery, healing and direction.
You have called to your community many professional teachers and instructors. Like Jesus in the Gospel as a young man, you sat at their feet, too. They have been influenced by your thirst for knowledge and you're caring enough to share your culture and way of life. We've all gone home to grow in wisdom, age, and grace before God and each other. We give thanks for the countless joys of our lives.
Reading the history of Ile-a-la-Crosse over these years one cannot help but point out that there have been SORROWFUL MYSTERIES ALONG THESE YEARS. It is our belief that to set people free, God has consistently put his people to the test. The early history was marked with fires and floods and influenza. For example:
On September 21, 1921 "There was great consternation among the residents when 3 young schoolboys drowned along with Sister Cecile Nadeau (29 years old) who attempted to save them.
On March 19, 1964, yet another fire on the mission grounds. The boy's boarding house and hall built in 1946 were destroyed in 2 hours.
There were some 21 tragedies recorded up to 1980. There was an exile; there was tuberculosis and even a plane crash.
Tragedies are not the exclusive story of Ile-a-la-Crosse but it is at times like this that we recall the patient persistence and faithful carrying of the cross of suffering. In these latter years, we have been better equipped to control floods, dominate forest fires and to live in relative security in our modem homes and comfortable places of work. Your outreach to the poor and suffering of an ever-more accessible world must start at home. It is promoted through the parish and eventually gets translated into help for children, for the elderly, the stranger, the victims of war and violence. We are not immune to suffering but together we learn how to travel the way of the Cross.
Today, and on this weekend, we allow ourselves to live the glorious mysteries moved to faithful expression of the resurrected Jesus amongst us. Today's gospel squarely puts before us the choices we have made and must continue to make into the next 50 years. There is no doubt that we change as we grow older and change is a necessary part of our existence.
THE ONE CONSTANT IS THE LORD's FAITHFULNESS TO US HIS PEOPLE.
As a Catholic Christian people we are stewards of the great mysteries of faith which call for a more personal effort of active involvement in the life of the faith community. Our share in the glorious mysteries is the teaching of the truth to all generations by dedicated men and women. Our responsibility is to be indispensable to this teaching - using the opportunities for adult faith education and leadership. It will be a glorious event when young men and more young women accept to serve this and these communities as priests and religious. Few seeds have been planted but the garden must be tended with faith and prayer to be rightfully appreciated.
If we appreciate this glorious mystery, should we not make this invitation more visible and accessible to the young Church?
It is not by accident that we accept hospitality at tables of plenty in your homes and in the community. We confirm this need to come together to tell our story of faith and family and to share food and drink and sing our song. This is familiar to the Church which is faithful to the Lord's command in the breaking of the bread and the sharing of the cup in the Eucharist.
We often hear it said when justifying the alternate choices we make: "We all follow the same God". This is both selling God short and selling ourselves cheaply. Our God has spoken of himself as ever-present to us as the God of Love. He has shown himself to us in the person of Jesus before whom we choose to kneel. In describing ourselves as followers of Jesus, we take upon ourselves the rights and obligations of followers and disciples. Our particular Catholic Christian tradition recognizes Him in the Eucharistic celebration and in the broken and poor bodies of human beings. Our faith is touchable in this sense that we are nourished by His very presence.
Over all these years the people of Ile-a-la-Crosse have raised a succession of churches to house the people of prayer. You have exercised the works of mercy in caring for the sick, the weak, the fragile young, and the feeble elderly.
IN ALL OF THIS YOU HAVE CARED FOR THE BODY OF CHRIST - OUR MARVELLOUS AND GLORIOUS MYSTERY.
It is no wonder that we take upon ourselves the obligation to come together for thanksgiving and for the praise of the God who has come to our door and who has looked kindly on us.
May we, in turn, identify ourselves as people of the Word of Life and of the bread and wine destined to be the very body and blood of the one who is Good News to men and women of God's will.