“We are companions on the journey. We are a pilgrim people.”
Each generation must retell for itself the story of the past from which it comes, and the storyteller is the instrument through which this is accomplished. The storyteller does not merely recount the story of the past, he recreates it, and in doing so he sometimes loses many of the details of the past. This is not the only factor at work to dim the memory of historical facts; there is also the inevitable variation in reporting and transmitting the reports.
Consider for a moment some answers given on history tests by children between 11 and 12 years of age. The answers collected over a period of three years by two teachers.
Ancient Egypt was old. It was inhabited by gypsies and mummies who all wrote in hydraulics. They lived in the Sarah Dessert. The climate of the Sarah is such that all the inhabitants have to live elsewhere.
The Greeks were a highly sculptured people, and without them we wouldn't have history. The Greeks also had myths. A myth is a young female moth.
Socrates was a famous old Greek teacher who went around giving people advice. They killed him. He later died from an overdose of wedlock Which is apparently poisonous. After his death, his career suffered a Dramatic decline.
Julius Caesar extinguished himself on the battlefields of Gaul. The Ides of March murdered him because they thought he was going to be made king. Dying, he gasped out "Same to you, Brutus."
Queen Elizabeth was the "Virgin Queen," As a queen she was a success. When she exposed herself before her troops they all shouted "hurrah!" and that was the end of the fighting for a long while.
Sir Francis Drake circumcised the world with a 100 foot clipper which was very dangerous to all his men.
The greatest writer of the Renaissance was William Shakespeare. He was born in the year 1564, supposedly on his birthday. He never made much money and is famous only because of his plays. He wrote tragedies, comedies, and hysterectomies, all in Islamic pentameter.
I would like to share with you another example of creative story telling which confuses some of the facts.
A certain individual felt that God was calling him to ministry. He went to see the Bishop and was told that he would have to appear before a committee and be examined. He said that he was willing to be tested and so he went before the examining board. He was asked: “Do you know the Bible?” He said, “ I certainly do, I know it from cover to cover.” He was then asked what part of the Bible he liked the best and he replied: “The New Testament”. “What part of the New Testament do you like the best?” He answered, “The book of parables, I know it by heart from cover to cover.” He was then asked if he could give it and he began:
Once upon a time a man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho and fell among robbers, and the thorns grew up and they choked that man, and he had no money and he met the queen of Sheba, who gave him a thousand talents of gold and a hundred changes of raiment, and he jumped into a chariot and he drove so fast that as he passed under a great Oak, his hair got caught in one of the branches and left him hanging there, and the ravens brought him food to eat and water to drink; one night while he was hanging there, his wife Delilah, she came and cut off his hair and he fell to the stony ground, and it began to rain, and it rained for forty nights, and he hid himself in a cave; when came out, he met a man who said to him, “Why don’t you come in and have supper with me?” and he said, “I cannot come, I’ve married a wife and therefore I cannot come.” And the man went out to the hedges and highways and compelled him to come and have supper with him, and he went on to Jerusalem and he saw there the Queen Jezebel sitting high up on a window and she laughed at him, and he said, “Throw her down seven times!” and he said “Throw her down some more!” And they threw her down seventy times seven, and they took up the fragments twelve baskets full. Now whose wife will she be in the day of judgment. Huh? Amen.
Sometimes we need to study the Bible and biblical history in order to get it right.
If we get it right, the remembered past is a wonderful gift.
We often say the past is behind me and the future is in front of me, the biblical idiom is the opposite: i.e. the past is in front of me (before my face) and the future behind me (at my back). The image is visual, something like rowing a boat across a lake. The receding shoreline is “in front of you” - where you are heading is at your back, behind you. You view the past - receding shoreline - in order to fix your course for where you are going.
We view our sacred past not out of nostalgia but to find there the footprints of God, the traces of our religious roots in order to give us direction for the future which we cannot see but which we know God holds out for us.
I like this approach to envisioning the future. First, it grounds our visioning process in our sacred or graced history.
Secondly, this approach to the future provides a measure of trust and humility. As Isaiah puts it, “God’s ways are not our ways.”
Thirdly, the idea of “putting your back into it” connotes hard work. We need to put our back into facing the challenges of today.
As we celebrate the 100th anniversary of the province of Alberta, I would like to remember a bit of our past and by way of a few historical vignettes:
1. Katherine Hughes
Working in concert with Bishop Legal, Katherine Hughes called a meeting of existing women’s societies in the Edmonton diocese in November 1912. These associations were invited to affiliate into a federation of women’s societies, modeled after the Catholic Women’s League of London, England, that would be directed by a central executive board to handle the larger social problems in the community. The hope was to enroll every Catholic woman from the parishes of the diocese. The apostolate of the league was to promote the spiritual welfare of its members and to be engaged in social concerns of the community, especially the care of young girls living away from home. Volunteers were delegated to meet the trains arriving in Edmonton and provide temporary lodging. A downtown home was purchased as a hostel, and a lay matron was placed in charge of the home. Free employment and fund-raising bureaus were also operated from the home.
This initiative was replicated in Eastern Canada and a national organization was formed in 1920 “to unite Catholic women ... to secure the influence needed for promotion of Catholic Social Action, Catholic Education, and Racial Harmony.”By nature of their volunteer commitment, members were called upon to transcend the initial goals of personal morality and parish piety to embark upon the self-development necessary for Catholic Action and public service in the civic arena. Member Paula Kane used the term “social feminism” to encapsulate the league’s attitude of personal spiritual growth deployed by women to better their society. The first national president spoke about how this Catholic feminism should guide women to face their problems and, with sound judgment, decide what is best for our families and ourselves and carry the women’s influence to the scale of justice whenever righteousness demands.
2. Reminiscences of Msgr. N. Anderson 1925
“My first view of Drumheller came shortly afterwards, within two months of my arrival in the West . It was night; and as the train pulled through the valley from Wayne, through Rosedale to Drumheller, I could see burning slack on the hillsides. The strange sharp odour of the burning debris assailed my nostrils when I stepped off the coach. The occasion of the trip was the burial of four Catholics who had been killed in a mine explosion a few days earlier and Bishop Kidd’s resolve to attend the funeral. The pastor met us at the station and directed us on foot through the main streets to the rectory some four blocks away. Whether it was due to the unsettling circumstances caused by the mine tragedy or to a customary habit of seeking excitement through watching the nightly arrival of the train, I really do not know, but the streets were thronged by men whose heavy tread on the wooden sidewalks resounded weirdly in the frosty November air. The funeral mass and the burial the next day were sad experiences - the crowded little church with the four coffins, the weeping mourners and, at the grave side a scene almost out of Hades itself: a cemetery bereft of vegetation, four graves dug out of bentonite - a kind of sickly white clay - the loosened mounds of which loomed huge in the dull, grey day. It was a very depressing sight, the very opposite of what an easterner had known of burials in park-like surroundings.”
Later in the mid-1930s as pastor Msgr. Anderson wrote:
Under pressure of circumstances, Ecumenism was practised in Drumheller long before Vatican II. The Anglican Rector, the Protestant Ministers and I formed a Welfare Council which became the active arm of governmental agencies and local service clubs to bring relief and organize aid for needy families to cut through red tape. Men and women of all parishes worked together on various committees to accomplish much good. There were many poignant moments and at times some minor comedy, one instance of which is worth recalling.
At one of the first meetings a service club representative announced that his group was prepared to set up hockey teams and to arrange schedules among the grades school boys and to equip players with complete hockey outfits, skates, sticks, goalie pads, etc. and uniforms patterned on the N.H.L. teams, a truly wonderful imaginative gift for kids living in a marginal existence, and for their parents. The games were to be played on Sunday afternoons, - the only time available to their fathers, working six days a week in the short working season and too weary at night to do anything other than to go to bed. The next evening a group of ministers visited me to secure my signature on a petition to the city council asking that permission to play hockey on Sunday be refused as against the Lord’s Day Act. I tried to point out the folly of their attitude and the harm it would undoubtedly do to religion; and I warned that I would get the Anglican Canon to join me in a counter petition. The good men were genuinely stunned. Later that night Canon Griffiths heartily agreed with my proposal, colourfully saying “They must be utter damn fools!” The matter was quietly dropped, - and kids and parents had a grand time.”
3. The Congregation of the Sisters of St. Martha
In 1928 Bishop Kidd invited the congregation to establish a hospital in Lethbridge. On May 11, 1929, Sr. Francis Teresa and Sr. Mary Daniel arrived in Lethbridge to complete arrangements to take over a small private hospital owned by Mrs. Van Haarlem. Until they rented a small cottage near the hospital the sisters stayed at the Convent of the Faithful Companions of Jesus. Before the end of the year the staff included Sr. John de la Salle, Sr. M. Bernadine, Sr. M. Dionysius Chisholm and Sr. Mercedes.
The following year plans were made for a 125 bed hospital on a new site which was completed in 1931. Approval for School of Nursing was given in November, 1951.
In 1933 the Sisters of St. Martha began to supply teachers to St. Basil’s School, Lethbridge and then to Assumption and St.Patrick’s and Picture Butte, eventually supplying sisters as Reading Consultants and Art and Music Supervisors.
In 1930 Bishop Kidd also appealed to the Sisters to take over and staff a hospital in Banff, the former Brett Sanatorium which became the Mineral Springs Hospital.
In 1939 the Sisters established St. Alphonsus Convent in Blairmore. They began a kindergarten school, and taught catechism in the parish churches and halls in the neighbouring towns and began visiting families in the district. Sr. Leo Agnes was one of the original members of the Family Service Bureau which later became part of the Pincher Creek-Crow’s Nest Pass Family Service Bureau. Sr. was an Associate Director of the Group and served as Counsellor until 1967.
As we engage in this exercise of remembering our past, it is no exaggeration to say that Alberta would not be what it is today without these wonderful faith-filled persons. They have helped to give Alberta its heart and soul. They have built a system of primary, secondary and post-secondary education that has educated hundreds of thousands of young people so they could contribute to society.
The various communities of religious women built Alberta's first hospitals. In fact, in the early days of this province in towns that never would otherwise have had a hospital. Through those hospitals, the sisters set a powerful example. By their sacrifice, prayer and their devotion to meeting human need, they showed that health care is not about money, but about people.
Faith filled people have built an enormous network of social service agencies, such as the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, homes for women in distress, and several ecumenical and interfaith ventures have also witnessed to our belief in Jesus' words, ""Whatever you did to the least of my brothers and sisters, you did to me.""
They have been involved in the professions, such as medicine, law, the media, and engineering. They have been craftsmen and labourers, farmer and ranchers. They have served in public office. Perhaps above all, they have been mothers and fathers, raising their children with the strong moral values and a sense of mercy and reconciliation needed to build a healthy society.
What should our response be to this wonderful legacy, this priceless inheritance, this sacred history?
1. Gratitude: the following prayer says it very well.
We keep forgetting all of those who lived before us.
We keep forgetting those who lived and worked in this community.
We keep forgetting those who prayed and sang hymns in this church before we were born.
We keep forgetting what our fathers have done for us.
We commit the sin, Lord, of assuming that everything begins with us.
We drink from wells we did not find,
We eat food from farmland we did not develop.
We enjoy freedoms which we have not earned,
We worship in churches which we did not build, We live in communities that we did not establish.
This day, make us grateful for our heritage.
Turn our minds to those who lived in another day.
Today we need to feel our oneness with those of every generation, whose
faith and works have enriched our lives.
We need to learn from them in order that our faith will be as vital, our
commitment as sincere, our worship as alive, our fellowship as deep, as
many of the devout and faithful who lived in another time and place.
( Prayer found on a wall in an ancient church in New Brunswick)
2. Imitation - build on the foundations laid by our ancestors:
The Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, Vatican II sets the agenda: “The joys and hopes, the grief and anguish of the people of our time, especially of those who are poor or afflicted, are the joys and hopes, the grief and the anguish of the followers of Christ as well. Nothing that is genuinely human fails to find an echo in their hearts. For theirs is a community of people united in Christ and guided by the Holy Spirit in their pilgrimage towards the Father’s kingdom, bearers of a message of salvation for all of humanity. That is why they cherish a feeling of deep solidarity with the human race and its history.”
3. The next generation - I would like to conclude with a couple more instances of our children’s historical story telling:
Delegates from the original 13 states formed the Contented Congress. Thomas Jefferson, a Virgin, and Benjamin Franklin were two singers of the Declaration of Independence. Franklin discovered electricity by Rubbing two cats backward and also declared, ""A horse divided against itself cannot stand."" He was a naturalist for sure. Franklin died in 1790 and is still dead.
Johann Bach wrote a great many musical compositions and had a large number of children. In between he practiced on an old spinster which he kept up in his attic. Bach died from 1750 to the present. Bach was the most famous composer in the world and so was Handel. Handel was half German, half Italian, and half English. He was very large.
Beethoven wrote music even though he was deaf. He was so deaf that he wrote loud music and became the father of rock and roll. He took long walks in the forest even when everyone was calling for him. Beethoven expired in 1827 and later died for this.
When you consider these examples of history story telling, we need to do a better job in passing on the richness of our sacred history to the next generation.
Is.40:25-31, 1 Jn.3:1-3, Jn.15:11-17
Gospel reading is part of the high priestly prayer of Jesus - unpacks for the disciples the image of the vine and the branches
“I call you friends, because I have made known to you everything I have learned from my Father. You did not choose me, no, I chose you and I commissioned you to go out an bear fruit, fruit that will last...”
Each year at the end of January, I send out a three page questionnaire to al the priests of the diocese asking about their pastoral assignment and their degree of satisfaction - measured on a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 indicating a high degree of satisfaction. Other questions pertain to whether they would like a change in assignment, type of ministry preferred, context, etc. The last question is an open ended catch-all called “Hopes, Needs, Expectations”. Fr. Len’s response has always been predictable and interesting. He circles 5, skips the rest of the questionnaire until he gets to Hopes, Needs and Expectations and usually offers some good advice. IN 2004, it was “getting people into the word of God, especially “lectio divina”
This reflects very much the orientation of his own spirituality. “Lectio divina” is a slow, contemplative praying of the Scriptures. Time set aside in a special way for “lectio divina” enables us to discover in our daily life an underlying spiritual rhythm. Within this rhythm, we discover an increasing ability to offer more of ourselves and our relationships to the Father, and to accept the embrace that God is continuously extending to us in the person of his son, Jesus Christ.
Very often our concerns, our relationships, our hopes and aspirations, naturally intertwine with our meditations on the Scriptures. We can attend "with the ear of our hearts" to our own memories, listening for God's presence in the events of our lives. We experience Christ reaching out to us through our own memories. Our own personal story becomes salvation history.
The same orientation is reflected in Pastores Dabo Vobis 26:
“The priest is first of all a minister of the word of God. He is consecrated and sent forth to proclaim the good news of the kingdom to all, calling every person to the obedience of faith and leading believers to an ever increasing knowledge of and communion in the mystery of God, as revealed and communicated to us in Christ. For this reason, the priest himself ought first of all to develop a great personal familiarity with the word of God. Knowledge of its linguistic or exegetical aspects, though certainly necessary, is not enough. He needs to approach the word with a docile and prayerful heart so that it may deeply penetrate his thoughts and feelings and bring about a new outlook in him "the mind of Christ" -- such that his words and his choices and attitudes may become ever more a reflection, a proclamation and a witness to the Gospel. Only if he "abides" in the word will the priest become a perfect disciple of the Lord. Only then will he know the truth and be set truly free, overcoming every conditioning which is contrary or foreign to the Gospel. The priest ought to be the first "believer" in the word, while being fully aware that the words of his ministry are not "his," but those of the One who sent him. He is not the master of the word, but its servant.”
As a minister of the Word, the priest speaks a human word. But it is filled with divine truth. And what a priest says is very, very old, still not yet grasped; a priest says the truth - which is the only thing that never fades, never wears out, never gets used up. What does he say:
Is 40 - “Yahweh is the everlasting God, he created the remotest parts of the earth. He does not grow tired or weary, his understanding is beyond fathoming. He gives strength to the weary, he strengthens the powerless ... those who hope in the Yahweh will regain their strength, they will sprout wings like eagles, though they run they will not grow weary, though they walk they will never tire.”
He says that God - God of eternal majesty, God of eternal life - is our life; that death is not the end, the world’s cleverness is foolishness and shortsightedness, that there is a judgment, a justice, and an everlasting life. They always say the same thing. Monotonous to the nth degree. No wonder our homilies are so boring. They say it to themselves and to others; for both have to confess that neither has yet grasped what is being preached - we are such slow learners - God, the living God, the true God, the God who has revealed Himself, God the Father of Our Lord Jesus, God who with shameless prodigality pours His own infinity into our hearts without our noticing or appreciating it.
“You must see what great love the Father has lavished on us by letting us be called God children - which is what we are!”
This is what this priest as messenger says. This is what they have studied and meditated over, and struggled, sometimes desperately, to put into their own minds and hearts. And all their life they remain God’s apprentices. And yet God bids them to speak about what they themselves have only half grasped. So they begin.
And no matter how long they preach and speak about God, it seems to them that they stutter, they are embarrassed, they realize that everything they have to say sound so odd and improbable on the lips of a mere man.
But they go and deliver the message. And the miracle happens: they actually find men and women who hear the word of God in this odd talk, men and women into whose hearts the word penetrates, judging, redeeming, and making happy, consoling and dispensing strength in weakness, even though they say it, even though they deliver the message badly.
But God is with them.
With them in spite of their misery and sinfulness. They preach not themselves but Jesus Christ, they preach in His name. To the marrow of their bones they are ashamed that He said, “Whoever hears you, hears me; whoever despises you, despises me,” but He said it. And so they go and deliver the message.
They know that it is possible to be a sounding brass and a tinkling cymbal and to be oneself lost after having preached to others. But they have not chosen themselves. They were called and sent. And so they go and preach. In season and out. They traverse the fields of the world and scatter the seed of God.
They are thankful when a little of it grows. And they implore the mercy of God for themselves , so that not much of it remains unfruitful through their fault. They sow in tears. And usually it is someone else who reaps what they have sown. But they know this: the word of God must run and bring fruit; for it is God’s blessed truth, the hearts light and delight, comfort in death, and hope of eternal life.
“I call you friends, because I have made known to you everything I have learned from my Father. You did not choose me, no, I chose you and I commissioned you to go out an bear fruit, fruit that will last...”