On Thursday, March 27, 2003, the Bishop of our diocese, the Most Reverend François Lapierre, of St. Hyacinthe, Que., came to visit our headquarters in Rougemont, and to celebrate the Holy Mass during our “Siege of Jericho”, our week of prayer. Here is the homily he gave to us on that occasion:
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ. It is a great joy for me to be with you this evening to celebrate this Eucharist, at this time when you live this so-important event of the “Siege of Jericho”. We have just heard the Word of God. All of today's liturgy invites us to pay attention to this Word of God.
You know, when one becomes a Bishop, one of the first things we are asked is to have a few words that will guide, give a meaning to the episcopal ministry that we are about to begin. For my part, if you look at my coat of arms, I have chosen as my motto: “According to Thy Word.” (In French: Selon ta parole.) I chose this motto because, first of all, I received this appointment as Bishop of this beautiful diocese of Saint-Hyacinthe just a few days after the Feast of the Annunciation, which we just celebrated two days ago. This Feast of the Annunciation ends with these words of Mary: “Be it done unto Me according to Thy Word – Fiat mihi secundum verbum tuum.” So, we can therefore think that this Word of God is very important.
You know, as I told a few people during supper, I spent many years as a missionary in South America. After my ordination, I was sent to Peru. I was stationed in a town in southern Peru where there were about fifteen to twenty thousand people in my district. And I said to myself: “What can I do to announce the Word of God in this district?” An old Peruvian priest, who lived in Lima, said to me: “You must give much importance to the Word of God, because this Word of God is no human word; it has the capacity to transform the human being, to create a new reality, to change the world in which we live.”
Then I first undertook to give a biblical class. The first evening, there were five people who came. After the class, a young couple who were present said to me: “We did not think it was going to be about the Bible. We want to get married.” “Well, that's all right. There is no opposition between the Bible and marriage. On the contrary,” I said.
The second evening, only three people came, and a few minutes after the class began, I realized that one of them had fallen asleep, and then another one, so there was only one person still awake! So I said to this person, “Why are you not asleep like the two others?” He replied: “Because I suffer from insomnia...”
You will say, “Why does the Bishop tell us this story?” Well, it is because I discovered that the great challenge we face when we take the Bible is to make sure that this word becomes the Word of God, words that move our hearts, that can convert us, and not only words that remain purely intellectual.
This is why we sing in Psalm 94 — which was sung so magnificently by your choir: “Today, let us not close our hearts, but let us listen to the voice of the Lord.” I would like you to sing it together again with me... To listen to this voice is a great challenge, this Word of God that is addressed to us today, like a friend speaks to his friend. This Word of God makes us experience God's friendship. When we listen to this Word of God, we live with other friendships; the Christian community is gathered by the Word of God.
We see, in the first reading, that we have sometimes a tendency not to listen to this Word of God. Like you who strive to develop a greater awareness of the problems that exist today, problems of injustice, of poverty, you also see the great importance of prayer, which is a great power to change the world in which we live. We can see it today, in this world where there is war, where there is no peace. You certainly experience the fact that, often, this message of yours is not heard, is not listened to by all the people whom you address. So, one may also think that this Word of God is not heard, is not listened to. Yet, this Word of God opens our hearts, when we know that, often, we are brought to close our hearts. Sometimes, one person may tell us unpleasant things, and this is enough for us to close our hearts.
But the Word of God opens our hearts, opens our ears. We see it in today's Gospel where it is reported that Jesus chased out a demon that kept a man mute. This text comes immediately after the teaching of Jesus on prayer. Many people today know nothing about the reality of prayer. Last evening, I had the opportunity to meet a young catechumen of our diocese who is getting ready for his baptism. He had discovered prayer for the first time in his life — he is 21. He said to me: “I have just discovered the most powerful reality in the world.”
One sees that Jesus chased out a demon that kept a man mute. We know that when we do not listen to the Word of God, we also risk becoming mute. And the Church too risks sometimes becoming mute, in front of all the realities that are taking place today. We risk sometimes of being afraid to speak out, to say a word. We see today how important it is to tell this Word of God, which is a word of peace, a word of justice in the reality of the world in which we live.
If you will, we will pray this evening so that our Church, the Church of our diocese, of our country, will become a Church ever more attentive to the Word of God. May we all pay more attention too to this word, which is not only a written word, but the word of everyday life, that is spoken by the Lord through the people we meet and the experiences we live.
This evening, after supper, I met with the directors of your community, and they spoke to me with so much enthusiasm about the latest apostolic letter of Pope John Paul II on the Rosary, that I said to myself: “The spirit of God, through these people, is certainly speaking to me, telling me that one must make this letter known to everybody so that people will discover the power of the prayer of the Rosary.” And I realized that you experience this power here.
So, if you will, we will pray together this evening so that our Church will become more attentive. Sometimes people ask, “How can the Church be renewed?” It can be renewed by listening to the Word of God, which will give a new life to the Church. I am happy to have met here children, young people, people of all ages; it shows very well the power of this Word of God. We will pray for each other, we will pray for peace. During this celebration, we will say: “Peace be with you.” Peace is in the heart of the Eucharist. In his Letter to the Ephesians, St. Paul wrote: “Christ is our peace.” He came to gather together this world, torn apart, in which we live. We will pray for peace so that this terrible war in Iraq will stop as soon as possible. We will pray together so that our faith, our hope, our charity will grow in this Lenten time, and that wherever we are, at any time, we may have the courage to move on, go ahead, and announce this Word of God. Let us pray so that today we don't close our hearts, but listen to the voice of the Lord. Amen.
After the Mass, Bishop Lapierre added these words:
Dear friends, I have been asked to add a few words... Simply, I would like to tell you again that it has been really a great joy for me to be here with you today. I have felt this faith that dwells in you. I have felt your search, your desire to create a world where there is no more injustice and war. I have felt your sense of prayer that has been expressed during the Mass we have just celebrated.
And I want to thank you for your testimony, your commitment. All that you do that is great and beautiful is not useless, but certainly serves to transform this world in which we live. So I thank you for the testimony you have given to me. As I have said at the end of supper, as you know, the mission of a Bishop is to live the second joyful mystery, the Visitation. It is a very beautiful mystery. You know, before I became a Bishop, I had not discovered yet all the deepness of the mystery of the Visitation. But when I was a child, I liked very much to pray to St. Francis of Assisi, because I have the same name (François). Later, I discovered St. Francis Xavier, the patron of missionaries. And when I became a Bishop, I discovered St. Francis de Sales. You know the story of the guy who was falling with a parachute. His parachute did not open, and he started to shout: “St. Francis, save me!” And he heard a voice that said: “Which Francis?” You see, there is more than one Saint Francis...
St. Francis de Sales had founded a congregation of nuns, the Order of the Visitation, along with St. Jeanne de Chantal, because he had a great devotion to the mystery of the Visitation. He had understood well that this mystery of the Visitation is a mystery of salvation that is very deep. When two people who seek to accomplish God's will meet, it is a power that nobody can stop. When two people who really wish to be like Mary, and act according to the word of God — “Be it done unto me according to Thy Word” — meet, it is a power than nobody can stop. We see it with the example of Elizabeth and Mary.
So we may also think about the great power of today's visitation (the Bishop who visits you). This visitation is the sign that Gods visits us. Each morning, in the prayer of the “Benedictus” — Blessed be the Lord who visits and redeems His people — we can think about this visit of God. Well, I believe that today's visit reminds us that the Lord walks along with us, that God is present, and that your commitment, all that you do that is great and beautiful for justice, for peace is, for me, a sign of this presence of God whom we seek together.
Once again, a big thank you for your testimony. Thank you for these little children who are here with us. Thank you for the testimony of your families. I would like to also thank the young altar boys who were with us and served in an exemplary fashion the Mass this evening. I thank them for being here, and I thank them for their faith. I also thank all the people who devote themselves — many work in the print shop to make known the social doctrine of the Church, and also the Rosary, as you do now with your latest publication on the letter of the Pope on the Holy Rosary, to remind us about the importance of this year dedicated to the Rosary!
Thank you for reminding our Church of this power of the Rosary. You know, I believe very much in the charismas not only for people, but also for groups in the Church. Groups have charismas. We have to learn from each other. This evening, I have felt that you have this charisma of reminding people of this power of the prayer of the Rosary. You have to remind it to a Church that sometimes tends to forget it.
Thank you for being here. Thank you to each and all of you for what you do. You may have the impression that sometimes this action of yours does not lead to a quick transformation, but all that we do that is true, beautiful, great, just, authentic, bears fruits, because as Christians, as we have seen in the recent celebration of the Feast of St. Joseph, this just man who was silent, one can see that like Mary, he had a great influence over the centuries, a great fecundity. We are also called to bear fruits, not only to be efficient, but to be fecund, to bear fruits.
Well, I wish you to continue to bear fruits, to continue to live with this simplicity that I have found here this evening, to continue to live with this sense of great hospitality that you have showed to me. I thank you for it, and I can assure you that I will keep you in my prayers and my friendship. Have a nice evening!
Before the Mass, Bishop Lapierre was received for supper at the House of St. Michael, with all the full-time Pilgrims. Here are excerpts from the welcoming words of Miss Tardif:
Your Excellency! As the dean of the House of St. Michael, and on behalf of all the Pilgrims of St. Michael, I warmly welcome you to our humble house.
At your arrival in our house, we sang the “Magnificat”, because we felt within us the same joy the Blessed Virgin Mary felt when her cousin Elizabeth, enlightened by the Holy Spirit, greeted Her and recognized that She was carrying the Lord Jesus. This “Visitation” of our Bishop, the father of our diocese, who also brings us Jesus, is for us also a source of great joy, like that of Mary's.
Now, a few words about our founders. Louis Even, the founder of our Movement and the founder of the “Michael” and “Vers Demain” Journals, was a fervent disciple of the spirituality of St. Louis-Marie Grignion de Montfort. He was born in Britanny, France, in Montfort sur Meu, the same place as St. Louis Marie Grignion. He inherited from this great saint his great devotion to Mary, and passed it on to us. We are all consecrated to Mary. By studying the life of our founder, we see that the Good God prepared him for the work he was to found, the Pilgrims of St. Michael. It is a work of the press and door-to-door apostolate to establish social justice, which would put an end to the scandal of poverty, as requested by Pope John Paul II and his predecessors. Mr. Louis Even based his Movement on self-dedication. All those who devote themselves in this Work do it voluntarily, without any salary. Our founder also showed us the practice of attending daily Mass, and taught us to pray all 15 decades of the Rosary everyday.
His first helper, Mrs. Gilberte Côté-Mercier, and her mother, gave all of their time and money to the Work. Her mother financed everything. Mrs. Côté-Mercier was a gifted speaker; her lectures gave drive to the people. She was a model administrator. After the death of Louis Even, she became the Directress of the Movement and editor-in-chief of the journal, until her death on June 21, 2002.
There was also Gérard Mercier, the director of the foundation, who died 5 years ago. He was the husband of Mrs. Côté-Mercier, and the most enthusiastic apostle of our Work. Mr. Even had nicknamed him “the ball of fire”. We feel a bit like orphans after their deaths, but we continue their Work, being sure that it is a Work of God.
In this year of the Rosary, we want to do our part in the Church to spread the great apostolic letter of the Holy Father on the Rosary, for peace in the world and in our families. We have already distributed one million copies of this document, and we will devote all our efforts and financial means this year to diffuse it as largely as possible.
Finally, Your Excellency, we thank you for your visit. We know that it took some of your precious time. May God bless our Bishop and our diocese! Thank you!