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

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Celebrating Our Identity

A couple of wonderful events to share with you this week.

First, on Sunday I joined with hundreds of members of the Franco-Albertan community to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the founding of the town of St. Albert. The celebration of the Eucharist was the summit of an intense programme of activities, which also marked the 22nd fete franco-albertaine.

This momentous anniversary allows not only the Franco-Albertan community but also the entire province of Alberta to acknowledge and celebrate its roots. Indeed, without an understanding of one’s heritage, one cannot fully grasp the full significance of one’s identity as it is lived in the present and will unfold in the future.

The founding of St. Albert makes it clear that our roots here are established firmly and deeply in the Christian faith. Together with many other Oblate missionaries, Father Lacombe travelled to the West of Canada and established Saint Albert and other missions for the purpose of announcing the Gospel of Jesus Christ. These missionaries were francophone. This means that both the Christian faith and the francophone community were implanted here in Alberta through the one and same action. Familial and communal roots define us. “La francophonie” in this province is defined inescapably by its roots in the Christian faith. So, too, is the life of this entire province influenced by those same roots. The missionaries laid the foundation for the wonderful systems of healthcare and education that we enjoy today.

The Scripture passages proclaimed at Mass that day take the awareness of our identity further still as they unveil our deepest roots in the love of God. In love God has fashioned us; out of that same love, God has redeemed us in his Son. In the Gospel Jesus speaks of the infinite communion of knowledge and love that he shares with the Father. That communion is extended to us by the gift of the Holy Spirit. Saint Paul teaches us in his letter to the Romans that this Holy Spirit is the true source of our life. By its bestowal we are given a share in God’s own life and are drawn into communion with one another. From simple human experience we know that identity is inseparable from relationship. Our deepest identity springs from the relationship that God has given us with Himself in the gifts of His Son and Holy Spirit.

By revealing our rootedness in the love of God, Jesus also makes known the “genetic code”, if you will, that shapes the way we live. From our sharing in the very life of God we know that our DNA is missionary. Jesus was sent by the Father, and the Holy Spirit was sent by the Father through the Son to the Church. Empowered by this Spirit, the missionaries such as Father Lacombe were sent here to the West. In virtue of our Baptism we continue in that line. Our call is to be the voice by which Jesus issues today the same invitation that he gave to his contemporaries: “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.”

And in our day we do not have to travel far to be missionaries. The overburdened are all around us; they are also among us. It may be the burdens life and its trials place upon us, such as sickness, financial hardship or grief. It might be the burdens we place upon ourselves, such as unrealistic expectations or the inability to forgive ourselves for wrongs we have done. Whatever the burden, Jesus wants to lift it from the shoulders of those he calls his friends and set them free, give them rest. Today, He sends us to be the carriers of His invitation, just as He sent those missionaries that brought it here one hundred and fifty years ago. Our identity is Christian; our identity is therefore missionary.

The second event occurred yesterday, July 5th. More than 160 golfers gathered together for the 19th annual Newman Golf Tournament. (That's Ave Spratt pictured beside me in the photo.) It was a great time, in spite of the mosquitoes that are plaguing this area in record numbers right now. St. Joseph Seminary and Newman Theological College receive support annually from this tournament. One great sign of the depth of love for and commitment to these two institutions is the large number of participants who have participated in the tournament every year from its inception. I take this opportunity, once again, to thank the sponsors, particularly the Allard foundation, and the many volunteers who gave of themselves to plan and successfully execute this great event.