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

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Thank You Sisters, Faithful Companions of Jesus

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! The Sisters contemplated this invitation carefully and accepted. Human reason would have argued against the Sisters doing so. It would have insisted that only when sufficient resources were guaranteed should they come to this diocese. The Sisters, though, followed a higher logic. They chose to rely not on human reason 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 is indicated by their name. 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).

Sisters, Faithful Companions of Jesus, thank you from us all! 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.