Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
“…God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” (John 3:16.)
Our Gospel passage for today, taken from St. John, is a summons to joy and hope. It announces the love of God for his people, and describes that love as active and near. God does not remain distant from his people, indifferent to their needs. On the contrary, God comes to us and steps into our human reality, complete with its joys and sorrows, hopes and pains, in order to lift us up, to be our strength and to save us from all that endangers us.
Throughout history this love of our God manifested itself in great deeds of rescue. When our ancestors in faith were suffering the hardship of slavery in Egypt, God intervened in their lives through Moses and led them to freedom. After this deliverance from slavery, God continued to sustain his people with miraculous gifts of food and water in the desert wilderness. And as we heard in the first reading, God even rescued his people when they brought suffering upon themselves as a result of their rebellion against him.
God’s greatest act of love and rescue is celebrated in today’s solemn feast of the Triumph of the Cross. We proclaim that, through the Cross of Jesus Christ, God has won victory over sin and, yes, even death itself! Jesus is the Son of Man “who has descended from heaven” (John 3: 13) and become one with us, one of us, so that, in him, we, too, might one day “ascend” to heaven and enjoy eternal life.
St. Paul describes this beautifully in the passage we heard from his letter to the Philippians. Out of love for the Father and for us, and in complete obedience to the Father’s will, Christ Jesus “emptied himself” by descending from heaven to assume our weak and sinful human nature. In his humanity he humbled himself even further through submission to the most shameful and terrifying of deaths, death on a cross. The passion of Jesus on the Cross was his perfect and obedient self-offering in love to the Father. By raising Jesus from the dead, the Father accepted the self-offering of our Lord and, in his Son, restored humanity to communion with himself. This is why we speak with joy of the triumph of the Cross. What was once a terrifying symbol of death has become the sign of God’s victorious love that leads to life!
Today’s proclamation of the Triumph of the Cross is, truly, gospel, that is to say, “good news”. It is an announcement that begs to be shared, so that all who suffer may find in God’s love, revealed and active in Jesus Christ, the unshakeable foundation of real hope. This is the mission of the Church: to announce to the world the good news of God’s love in Christ, to proclaim that, in Christ Jesus, we have found the reason for true hope. Such a proclamation to the world is what is meant by the term “evangelization”. The Church exists to evangelize, to make known the person of Jesus Christ and the life that the Father offers us in him.
Sadly, many people in our world today, even in our own country, province and city, have yet to hear this good news. Many do not even know who Jesus Christ is. This is why our beloved popes, most notably John Paul II of blessed memory and now Benedict XVI, have been calling the Church to a new evangelization. By “new” we do not mean to say that evangelization has yet to take place. It means acting with new zeal to find new ways and a new language, suited to the circumstances of our day, to proclaim Jesus Christ. For this to happen in a manner which is at once convinced and convincing, the members of the Church must also be renewed in their love for the Lord and their embracing of the faith of the Church.
This is why last May, in a pastoral letter issued for the feast of Pentecost, I announced an initiative by which the Archdiocese of Edmonton will respond to the call to a new evangelization here in Alberta. Beginning this December, we shall embark upon a five-year process of celebrating the beauty of the Church’s faith. Here at our Basilica Cathedral, a number of presentations will take place, in which catechists and witnesses will unveil the splendour of the faith we share as followers of Jesus Christ. Details will be provided through the parishes and institutions of the Archdiocese. My hope and prayer is that everyone in the Archdiocese will experience in these events a new and life-transforming encounter with Jesus Christ, who is always present whenever two or three gather in his name (cf. Matthew 18:20). Such an encounter cannot fail to inspire within our hearts a deep desire to tell others of the love and hope we have found in Jesus. As Pope Benedict has said, “There is nothing more beautiful than knowing Jesus Christ and telling others of our friendship with him.” (Homily at the Mass to Inaugurate the Petrine Ministry of Pope Benedict XVI). From these words of our Holy Father comes the title of our initiative: Nothing More Beautiful.
How ought we to prepare for this endeavour? In the three months that now separate us from the launch of Nothing More Beautiful, how do we get ready? As for any encounter with the Lord, we prepare through self-examination and prayer. Accordingly, I am today asking every member of the Archdiocese to pray for the light of the Holy Spirit and, in that light, to examine honestly and hopefully their relationship with Jesus Christ and His Church.
With respect to the person of Jesus Christ, let us ask ourselves: How would I describe my relationship with Jesus Christ? Do I truly know him, or do I simply know something about him? What am I doing, and what more can I do, to open my heart to his love: reading Scripture, praying before the Blessed Sacrament, actively participating in the Eucharist, doing works of charity? In what areas of my life do I need the Holy Spirit to touch me with the triumph of the Cross?
In relationship to the treasury of faith, we could ask ourselves: Am I truly living a Christian life? What witness do I give before others? How is the Lord calling me to repentance and change? Do I know the teachings of the Church? Is there an area of doctrine with which I struggle and need the help of the Holy Spirit? What am I doing, and what more can I do, not only to know but also to be transformed by the rich treasure of faith that has come to us from the Apostles?
Above all else, I ask for the prayers of the people of God in the Archdiocese. Please pray each day that this endeavour will give rise within the hearts of each of us to a renewed relationship with Jesus Christ. May this in turn deepen the joyful communion we share in him within the Church, and impel us to a new proclamation of hope to our world, by announcing the good news of the triumph of God’s love through the Cross of Jesus Christ. Amen.