St. Joseph Basilica
October 29, 2016
[Isaiah 43: 1-5; 1Thessalonians 4:13-18; John 14:1-6, 12-14]
On February 4, 2010, Sister Annata Brockman approached the sanctuary of this Basilica and sat down in a chair prepared for her in front of the altar. Before hundreds of people, she gave a witness presentation as part of our Nothing More Beautiful series. Her first words that night were these:
"When Jesus was on earth he said that he spoke only the words that his Father told him to speak. (John 12:49-50) In preparing for this "witness," I have asked God to let me speak only the words that Jesus tells me to speak, so I hope that some of you will be able to identify with the action of Jesus in your life as I reveal his action in mine."
With those words, she summarized not only what she was about to say in the presentation, but also what she had been saying for many years by the example of her life. Her centre was Jesus, and she wanted nothing other than for people to know his love and the transformation of life that happens when we live in and from that love. I cannot remember any conversation I had with Sister Annata in which she did not speak of Jesus and his tender love, of her wonder that God had poured into her heart a great love for others, of the needs of God's people and her desire to be of some help to them, and of her readiness to do whatever the Lord asked of her. And no conversation ever ended without a word of encouragement. I expect that anyone whose life was touched by hers has had the same experience.
Each of us instinctively knows that God has given to this Archdiocese an extraordinary gift in Sister Annata Brockman. The passages from Sacred Scripture proclaimed at this mass help us appreciate just how much we have been blessed by her presence and her ministry. Chosen by Sister Annata herself, the readings give us not only some insight into her life as a follower of Jesus but also in so doing remind each of us of the call that is ours as disciples of the Lord, the call to holiness and service, the call that Sister incessantly invited us to embrace.
The wonder of God's call was given early voice when the Lord spoke to his people through the prophet Isaiah: "Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.... Because you are precious in my sight, and honoured, and I love you..." (Isaiah 43: 1, 4) In Sr. Annata, those words found a receptive heart. By God's grace, she allowed them to transform and shape her entire life. By that same divine help, she accepted the further testimony of Scripture that this wondrous divine love has become incarnate in Jesus Christ and in no other, and that it is thus the will of God that she respond to his call by a life of communion with his Son. So it was that Jesus became the centre of everything for her. In him she knew, and accepted, that she was, indeed, precious in the eyes of God, not because of any merit on her part but solely due to God's mercy. Yet in Jesus, she also knew that each and every person was equally treasured in the heart of God. That awareness settled into a deep conviction that she was called by the Lord to let everyone she met know that they were loved by God and that they need never be afraid.
Moved by the love of Christ and impelled by this unshakeable conviction, Sister Annata allowed the Lord to make of her an ambassador of his Gospel and an instrument of his mercy. In consequence, she found herself walking with untold numbers of people in education as a teacher and principal, in parish work, particularly through the RCIA, in counselling persons who were sick and dying, and recently through her presence to the students and staff at the school named in her honour. Nothing could hold her back from making the trip across the city to that school, so that she could greet each of the students personally. She would be so happy and honoured to see those same students here at this mass. They were very precious to her, and she wanted nothing more than for them to know that they - each and every one of them - are precious in the eyes of God.
Central to her ministry of love and service was the knowledge that, in Jesus Christ, God had bestowed on every human being not only a dignity but also a destiny. We are each created for a life of eternal communion with God, and she wanted everyone to know that and to be prepared for it. In the last while, Sister Annata grew increasingly aware that her own God-given destiny was drawing near. She spoke quite openly with me about her approaching death, as I expect she did with others. Particularly striking was her deep serenity. "Whenever the Lord chooses to call me to himself, I am ready to accept his will," she would say.
This serenity is really no surprise in one who chose long ago to accept the Word of God as true, who believed that God is always faithful to his promises. The divine Word and promise regarding death was spoken by Jesus, whom we hear in today's Gospel telling his disciples of what awaits them when they die. He told them not to be afraid because he was going ahead of them to prepare a place in heaven and would return to take them to himself. (cf. John 14: 1-3) St. Paul encourages us to accept this truth with certainty, when he says: "[Since] we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have died." (1Thes. 4:14) Knowing these words to be true, and placing her trust in Jesus, Sr. Annata faced her dying in great peace.
Yet even in what she knew were her final hours, her thoughts went to others. Her niece Bernice shared with me that Sister began her final conversation with these words: "I have offered my whole life that every person in the whole world would come to know the Lord and that His Love is unconditional.” Well, many persons have been blessed because of that self-offering, especially the people of this Archdiocese in which she worked for more than fifty years. Her many family members gathered here mourn her loss. So do we all. Yet at the same time we cannot help but rejoice for her and with her as Jesus now leads her by his mercy to the goal of her life's course, toward eternal communion with the Lord she long has loved.
Most Reverend Richard W. Smith
Archbishop of Edmonton
St. Joseph's Basilica, Edmonton
October 29, 2016