The homily of Bishop Provost for the Solemnity of the Assumption, preached at St. Mary Magdalen Church for the beginning of the Fête-Dieu Procession in partial observance of the 100th Anniversary of the Founding of the Diocese of Lafayette.
“Mon âme exalte le Seigneur, et mon esprit tressaille de joie en Dieu mon Sauveur, parce qu’il a jeté les yeux sur l’abaissement de sa servante." » Luke 1 :46-48
I wish to express my appreciation to His Excellency, Bishop Douglas Deshotel, for inviting me through Father Michael Champagne to celebrate this Mass for the commencement of the procession in honor of Our Lady of the Assumption. As Bishop of Lake Charles and a native son of Lafayette, I am keenly aware that the Diocese of Lafayette is celebrating one hundred years of God’s grace as a Diocese. All of the parishes in the Diocese of Lake Charles, beginning in 1869 with our Cathedral Church of the Immaculate Conception, were carved from the Parish of St. Mary Magdalen, in whose sacred edifice we find ourselves this morning.
The history of the Diocese of Lafayette began long before 1918, for if we are to trust in the omniscient Will of God, He foresaw what He was to do in Southwest Louisiana. Part of that plan was the abiding presence of His Mother, who everlastingly points to her Son, Jesus Christ.
You cannot travel down any country road or byway, drive into any town or city, and not see a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary somewhere along your route. It is not an accident that Bishop Jules Jeanmard, our first bishop, had a fondness for naming parishes with the titles of Mary found in her Litany and our Catholic tradition—Our Lady of Peace, Wisdom, Help of Christians, the Rosary, All Saints, Star of the Sea, Seven Dolors, Immaculate Conception, and, yes, the Assumption. Mary is our heroine.
Mary is like Judith, from whom the Church borrows for her liturgy a verse of praise sung to that great heroine who defeated the leader of Israel’s enemies. “You are the glory of Jerusalem, the surpassing joy of Israel; you are the splendid boast of our people. With your own hand you have done all this; you have done good to Israel, and God is pleased with what you have wrought. May you be blessed by the Lord Almighty forever and ever!” (Judith 15:9-10).
Mary, you are the highest honor of our people! Consider how the earliest settlers of Southwest Louisiana kept the faith alive. That faith was deeply ingrained in them. Priests came only on occasion, not by design but out of necessity, because they were few, the numbers of faithful large, and the settlements isolated. The terrain was rugged, illness rampant, and safety tenuous. The Acadians, Africans, French, Spanish, and many others, including English, Germans and Irish too, exiles, soldiers, entrepreneurs, explorers, servants and slaves, all appeared in the 18th Century, meeting the people native to this land. They came and settled into their backbreaking chores, cutting through mosquito-infested swamps and lands, planting and building. Some failed, others succeeded. Winds came and waters rose and buffeted their homes but they had been solidly set on the rock of the Catholic faith.
The grandmothers knelt at home praying the rosary. The Catholic faithful, mostly but not entirely illiterate, kept the faith alive through their traditions which for the most part revolved around their devotion to their heroine and Mother. Mary’s rosary did much to preserve the faith. “You are the glory of Jerusalem, the surpassing joy of Israel; you are the splendid boast of our people.”
The people of Southwest Louisiana could recraft that verse in praise of Judith. “Mary, you are the glory of Southwest Louisiana, the surpassing joy of the people who traveled the Teche, the Vermilion, the Mermentau, and the Calcasieu. You are the splendid boast of the simple and the great, of whatever race or background, who stepped foot on the prairies or navigated the bayous of Acadiana.”
The Catholics of Acadiana can no more forget the wondrous presence of the Mother of God than the Israelites can forget the heroism of Judith beheading their enemy, Holofernes, or the early Christians the privilege of Mary to be the new Eve. “Behold, from now on will all ages call me blessed” (Luke 1:48). Bishop Maurice Schexnayder, the Second Bishop of Lafayette, was fond of quoting a poem which I now paraphrase in these words: “The waters of the Teche will drain to dry ground before the People of Acadiana will forget their Catholic faith.” I will leave you to contemplate whether that prophecy is fulfilled. May God forgive any apostasy, return those who have drifted away, and sustain the faith that remains.
Yes, Mary, we remember. Many would have us forget, but we remember. You bring into our presence the Son whom you conceived and raised in Nazareth. As our ancestors remembered your works and the redemption of your Son, as with calloused hands they prayed your rosary, may we never forget you or the faith to which your Son calls us. Assumed into heaven, you sit, crowned by your Son, who is Lord, and to you, our Queen, we entrust our needs. Strengthened for the challenges of this world by God’s grace, may we never forget you or the redeeming work of your Son. Place, heavenly Mother, before the throne of God the intentions of the people of Acadiana, who continue to sing your praises and to adore your Son, and the intercessions we implore be granted through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.