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Mass of Dedication of St. Francis Xavier Church

26 October 2019

It is a great joy and blessing for us to be able to gather this morning for the dedication of this new and beautiful church. This day has been long awaited, and, like you, I am sure, I find myself looking back in my mind to all that has brought us to this moment. In particular, I remember the meetings held in my office to consider plans, discuss vision, to review blueprints, and to wonder how we would ever pay for all of this - a question now very lively in the mind of your pastor. Within the parish, too, there would have been meetings to imagine, design, furnish, and fundraise. We gather in a church that has been many years in the making, and give thanks to God for inspiring the generosity and creativity that has brought us to this moment. Lots of plans, and now fulfillment.

When we hear God's Word addressed to us in this mass, our retrospective lengthens. Sacred Scripture reminds us that this church has, in fact, been in the planning and preparation stages from before time began, arising from the very heart of God. At the same time it teaches us something very important about what it means not to be in a church but to be the Church. Being in this church is the result of our careful planning. Being the Church demands a readiness to put human plans aside and yield to the plans of God.

Consider the first reading. Through the prophet Nathan God is making a promise to King David. It is a promise to build a house. The king had been devising some plans of his own. He wanted to build a dwelling for God, a magnificent edifice of cedar to house the ark of the covenant. The blueprints were probably already taking shape in his mind when God said, Put your plans aside. I have plans of my own. In the passage, we heard God say to David, it is I who shall build you a house. I will raise up from your descendants an heir, and he shall build a house for my name.

That prophecy is fulfilled in Jesus Christ and in his Church. Jesus is that promised heir of King David. By his death, resurrection and gift of the Holy Spirit he has fashioned a people in whom God dwells, that is, the Church. We are in a church today, but because of our union with Christ in Baptism, we are the Church, the holy people of God. This particular edifice is held together by mortar, bolts and so on. The mortar uniting us as God’s people is the gift of faith, by which we daily lay aside our own plans and surrender to God's purposes.

St. Paul lifts up Abraham as a model for us. When Abraham was very old and his wife Sarah far beyond childbearing years, God promised that from them he would raise up a multitude of nations. Abraham placed all his hope in God's promise to do the impossible, he hoped against hope, we are told, and on the basis of his faith in God looked forward in confidence to a future he could scarcely even imagine. Abraham teaches us that, by faith, we trust not in our thoughts but in God's Word, we rely not upon our capacity but on God's power, we place our hope not in our ability to complete a project but in God's fidelity to his promises.

To the example of Abraham, we would wish to add today that of our patron saint. Whatever plans St. Francis Xavier had as a young man, he was called to lay those aside and embrace God’s plan for him to be a missionary of the Gospel. In fact, his is a very fitting example to recall in these days of October, which Pope Francis has designated as Extraordinary Missionary Month. The Holy Father wants us to remember that our Baptism has made each of us missionaries. While our Western society in many ways encourages us to plan a life that is entirely self-centered, our Baptism calls us to lay that kind of planning aside and embrace God’s plan to send each of us forth with the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ.

Now, this distinction between being in a church and being the Church does not mean that being in a church is unimportant or unnecessary. Consider the example of Jesus himself. As the fulfilment of the ancient promise to David, Jesus would become the new Temple. He himself would be the dwelling place of God, in which we all participate by Baptism. Yet, in the Gospel passage we are reminded that he who would be the new Temple nevertheless went to the temple. In fact, he was there often, even from an early age. Prior to his death and resurrection, it was “his Father’s house”, as he put it to his mother. Similarly, we are the Church, God’s missionary people united by faith, yet we still must be in the church, go to church, because it is here that God is encountered, above all in the celebration of the Eucharist. It is the Eucharist, celebrated in the church, that enables us to be the Church.

The people of St. Francis Xavier parish understand this well. This is why, when the former church needed replacement, the decision was made to construct a new one. We need to be in this physical church in order to be the Church. And you have created a beautiful one, which itself will now stand forth to the community as a beacon reflective of the light of your faith. You have fashioned a beautiful legacy that for years to come will teach people that faith is beautiful, faith is necessary, and that the faith of those who made possible this particular building was very strong indeed.

Today we dedicate this church building to the glory of God. By God's grace and the intercession of St. Francis Xavier, may we likewise dedicate ourselves every day to living as members of the Church, the Body of Christ, the dwelling God planned from all eternity.

Richard W. Smith
    Archbishop of Edmonton

October 26, 2019
Camrose, Alberta