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175th Anniversary of the Diocese of Saint John: Cardinal Lacroix's Homily

October 2, 2017
Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, (Imperial Theatre)

Saint John, New Brunswick, October 1st, 2017

Dear brothers and sisters,
In the three Bible readings we have just heard, we see that it is always the Lord who takes the first steps. It is always God who takes the initiative. He is always the One who comes to us. The entire Bible is the History of a God who never tires of making covenants with human beings, even though they keep spoiling the relationship, breaking it, turning away from it. No matter what humans do, God constantly remains their Ally, their Rock, their Shepherd, their Liberator. That’s who our God is. The Living God! The faithful and merciful God, slow to anger and full of love!
In the first reading, drawn from the Book of Deuteronomy, we heard: “You are a people holy to the Lord your God; the Lord your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on the earth to be his people, his treasured possession”1. God is in love with the people he has chosen. God never lets them down but always cares for them.
I recently read a true story that happened in one of the many coal mines in Europe in the 19th century. In those days, mining equipment was not what it is today. Picks and shovels were the tools used to extract coal from underground mines. You can just imagine how the miners came out after a day’s work, covered with soot. Clothes, faces and hands blackened with soot. They were unrecognizable! Most mines offered showers for their employees to wash and change before going home, but not all.
One day, a seven-year-old boy wandered to the entrance of a mine shaft to wait for his father coming out at the end of his shift. The boy stood there looking at each miner attentively. One of the miners stopped and asked him, “Little boy, what are you doing here?” “I’m waiting for my dad to come out.” “Poor kid, look at us, we are unrecognizable. You will never recognize your father!”
“I know,” said the little boy. “I won’t recognize him. But he will recognize me!”
God always recognizes us. We are his children. We may be covered with the soot of sin and scarred from years of worldly living. We will always be God’s beloved children and God not only recognizes us, but invites us to renew our relationship with him and allow him to renew us.
The 175-year history of the Saint John Diocese forms part of the Sacred History that God continues to write since Genesis. Here, for 175 years in your Diocese, the Lord chose and continues to choose men and women to continue saving the world “through Him, with Him and in Him.” We recall the eternal fidelity of the Lord toward your ancestors in the faith—a fidelity that still stands and is renewed every morning. Indeed, from the time of your founders and ancestors and since the first stone set in your Diocese, never, for a single instant has the Lord stopped loving, guiding, consoling, strengthening not only the baptized of the Saint John Diocese, but all the people living on its territory.
All of you here are God’s elect, his consecrated people. In the 2nd reading St. Paul writes these admirable words: “Just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love [...], so you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you are built spiritually into a dwelling place for God” 2
That is no small affirmation from Paul in his prison! He firmly believes it. Through his Letter to the Ephesians, St. Paul addresses all the diocesan members of Saint John. Your Diocese is holy because its cornerstone, the stone supporting the entire edifice is Christ Jesus himself. Now if the cornerstone is holy, all the stones it supports are holy as well. It happens that stones in our buildings are fragile and shaky. Even the stones and the ceiling of a cathedral can be unstable. But the cornerstone of the Church is solid, for it is Jesus Christ, the Risen One, the Living One who journeys with us to leads us to life in abundance, to eternal life.
That being said, if we are holy because we share in the very holiness of God, how do we live that holiness? How do we translate it in the everyday circumstances of our lives?
The answer is precisely given in the Gospel we have just proclaimed, taken from the “Farewell Address” of Jesus to his apostles on the night of the Last Supper. Jesus summarizes his wishes for them. He goes over and condenses the essential aspects of his message. At the table with his apostles, Jesus reminds them of the basic requisites they are to take up, in order to proclaim his message to the world.
“You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last” 3
We are chosen ones, we are called—just like the apostles whom Jesus chose and invited to be with him. By our Baptism, we became disciples of Jesus. We seek to know him better and to follow him. Throughout our lives, we never cease to discover all the beauty, the depth and the wealth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the power of his teaching which frees and sets people on their way.
But that is not all. Jesus also says, “And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last.” Every disciple is called to become one sent, a missionary going forward to share the Good News. Jesus says, “Go!” But go where? And do what? Go to those who do not know that they are loved by God. Go to those who have lost hope and do not know where to find peace and the joy of living.
We who have grown up in the Christian faith, who have been fed for so long by the Word of God, the Eucharist and Reconciliation—we should be filled with that missionary spirit which leads us out of ourselves, out of our comfort zones, in order to go toward our brothers and sisters in need. There you have the two great movements of Christian life: going toward God, toward Jesus, letting him transform our hearts and our lives; then going toward our brothers and sisters to share the new life we have experienced.
Pope Francis often insists on those two aspects of our Christian life. Here is what he wrote in his Apostolic Exhortation, The Joy of the Gospel: “In virtue of their baptism, all the members of the People of God have become missionary disciples (cf. Mt 28:19). All the baptized, whatever their position in the Church or their level of instruction in the faith, are agents of evangelization, and it would be insufficient to consider a plan of evangelization to be carried out by professionals while the rest of the faithful would simply be passive recipients. The new evangelization calls for personal involvement on the part of each of the baptized. Every Christian is challenged, here and now, to be actively engaged in evangelization; indeed, anyone who has truly experienced God’s saving love does not need much time or lengthy training to go out and proclaim that love. Every Christian is a missionary to the extent that he or she has encountered the love of God in Christ Jesus4 We are co-responsible for the mission entrusted to us by the Lord. More than ever, we need to be together, united in faith and in the realization of our mission to bring the Gospel to all.
To God’s election and consecration of human beings corresponds their fruitfulness. If the Lord first chooses us, it is in order that we may go, that we may “go out” as Pope Francis often invites us, to be fruitful and to bear fruit that lasts. And let us never forget that we can count on the light of the Holy Spirit to help us accomplish that great mission.
When I look at the assembly before me, an obvious reality strikes me: for 175 years, baptismal waters and the proclamation of the Word of God have produced lasting fruits in the Diocese of Saint John. I am aware that the presence of the Gospel in this region of the Maritimes goes back many, many years. Over 400 years ago, Micmaq Grand Chief Membertou was baptized and helped his family and community to welcome Christianity in their midst. He was a disciple who became a missionary-disciple. 300 years ago, missionaries from Quebec arrived in Maductic, bringing the Good News of the Gospel to the Maliseet Community. Then came the Irish, the Scottish, and many other groups of people who settled in this beautiful region of New Brunswick. Catholics and other Christian brothers and sisters now form God’s people, and all of you are called to become witnesses of God’s love to those who do not yet know him or have not experienced a personal encounter with the Lord of Life.
This year, you have celebrated 175 Years of Belonging... the theme of your Jubilee Year. Be proud to belong to God! Be proud to belong to this multicultural community of believers, of Christians of the Diocese of Saint John. And your theme goes on to say: Embrace the Grace. Yes! Embrace the grace by letting God embrace you! He has recognized you. He loves you. He wants to renew you, to restore you! I once read these words that touched me deeply: “God loves you just as you are, but he refuses to leave you that way.” He wants you to become better, holier, happier. Let God embrace you, open your hearts and your lives to his love and mercy, and you will be able to embrace others around you who need to be loved and helped to continue on their journey.
175 ans d’appartenance... d’enracinement dans la foi chrétienne. Il y a de quoi célébrer et rendre grâce.
Vivons de cette grâce... car comme une source qui ne se tarit jamais, ainsi la grâce de Dieu, son soutien. Avançons dans la confiance. Le Seigneur est avec nous. Soyons avec Lui pour relever les défis qui sont devant nous.
Allow me to conclude by quoting once again two verses from the Word of God in today’s liturgy—an invitation to every one of us. If you are here today it is because God has set his eyes on you, individually and as a community, whether you are a lay person, in consecrated life, a deacon, a priest or a bishop, whether you are young or old, healthy or ill, the Lord wants you to recall these words to help you continue to write history in this Diocese:
“You are a holy people. God has chosen you!” 5
“You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last” 6

  1. Deuteronomy 7: 6.
  2. Ephesians 1: 4; 19-22.
  3. John 15: 16.
  4. Pope Francis, Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii gaudium, No. 120.
  5. Deuteronomy 7: 6.
  6. John 15: 16.
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