Last Updated:Friday - 09/24/2010
July 19, 1999
A centennial we cannot forget
Pope John Paul, in a message to young people for World Youth Day 2000, has called on youth to strive to be saints. "Be contemplative, love prayer; be coherent with your faith and generous in the service of your brothers and sisters, be active members of the Church and builders of peace," the pope wrote in his message (WCR, July 12).
Young people are not alone in being called to strive for sanctity. The core of the Second Vatican Council's revolutionary message is that all the baptized are called to holiness. Holiness is not the preserve of priests and nuns while lay people can be satisfied with doing the minimum necessary to scrape into heaven. We must devote every fibre of our being to serving God. It's not an easy task, one which we cannot perform without God's constant help and without the support of our brothers and sisters in faith.
One support we find is the example of those who have succeeded. The lives of the saints embody and reveal the Holy Spirit. And by studying and reflecting on their lives, we can draw courage and inspiration.
We all need a special saint, a patron, who serves as a beacon for our lives. One custom associated with the sacrament of Confirmation - the sacrament of strengthening - which has unfortunately fallen by the wayside is the adoption by each confirmandi of a special saint who will be one's patron and guide in living out the Gospel.
What is true for individuals should also be true for a local Church. We need the example not only of far-off saints, but also of saints who walked among us, bearing a clear witness to the love of God. In the Edmonton Archdiocese, we are privileged to have two men who have been proposed for sainthood, both Oblates of Mary Immaculate - Brother Anthony Kowalczyk, a humble handyman at College St-Jean who died in 1947, and Bishop Vital Grandin, the first bishop of this diocese.
Grandin is the only Western Canadian to have been declared venerable, a recognition that he lived a life of heroic virtue. Grandin received that honour in 1966, a third of a century ago. While the cause for his beatification and eventual canonization is far from stalled, a recognized miracle is required before he is eligible for beatification.
It is now less than three years away from the centennial of Grandin's death in St. Albert on June 3, 1902. While a miracle is God's doing, not ours, this great anniversary should not pass unnoticed. We need the good bishop's prayers and his example of tireless courage. They can still be a source of new and abundant fruit in this archdiocese which arose from such humble beginnings.
Alberta is a vastly different place at the end of the 20th century from what it was during Grandin's time. But we have much to learn from this man. Local journalist Frank Dolphin's 1986 biography of Grandin was called Indian Bishop of the West. It is a sign of how Grandin, born in poverty in France, came to serve and advocate on behalf of the First Nations of Western and Northern Canada.
Grandin braved the savage cold of the North to preach the Gospel among those people and risked his life repeatedly to meet the spiritual and physical needs of native and white people in the smallpox epidemic of 1870. He himself had a speech impediment, suffered from poor health all his life and in his last decades had constant pain in his head and ears. Yet as bishop, Grandin oversaw the establishment of dozens of parishes and the Catholic school system of this province. He accomplished a lot and we owe him a lot.
Fittingly, his episcopal motto was "God chooses the weak of the world."
We too are called to holiness. Jesus has assigned each of us specific tasks in life to build up his body. We need to add our hands to those of Venerable Bishop Vital Grandin. His life is a testimony that nothing should stand in the way of our being faithful to that call.
Copyright © 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009 -- Western Catholic Reporter
Our mission: To serve our readers by bringing the Gospel to bear on current issues in the Church and in secular culture through accurate news coverage and reflective commentary.