By Most Rev. Richard W. Smith, Archbishop of Edmonton

Monday, June 26, 2017

The Temptation of the Rear-view Mirror


There are many students graduating now from high school. It is a time in their lives when their gaze is focused in two primary directions: past and future. A lot of time is spent “looking in the rear-view mirror,” i.e., remembering their time in school, what they have learned, the friends they have made, happy and sad moments, and so on. At the same time, they know instinctively that they cannot keep their gaze fixed on that mirror. We are accustomed to glancing occasionally at this mirror when we are in a car moving forward. Looking solely at what is behind us as we move ahead will lead to serious crashes. So, as the students look back, they know their primary focus needs to be on what lies ahead.

Yet, looking ahead might well be a source of anxiety. We cannot know what the future holds, and events unfolding in the world right now do not always leave us with a sense of confidence. In such a situation it becomes very tempting to keep our eyes only on the rear-view mirror, in the sense of remaining in the past, in what we know, in what is comfortable. But such a stance, motivated by fear, leaves us stuck where we are, paralyzed, unwilling to move ahead.

This can happen in the life of faith, too. Pope Francis, since the beginning of his pontificate, has been summoning us to live as the missionary disciples our Baptism makes us to be. He challenges us to look ahead, not back, to be bold, to go out of ourselves, to step out from within our comfort zones, to reach out to the unfamiliar, especially to our brothers and sisters living on the edge not only of society’s concern but also, perhaps, of our own notice. Here, the temptation of the rear-view mirror can come upon the followers of Christ. We know that the message of Christ is not always welcome, often ridiculed and rejected, in a culture that has in many ways grown allergic to the Gospel. The fear and anxiety this can arouse within our hearts can lead us to stay within the familiar, to remain rooted in what we feel we can control, to look backward and not forward, to be transfixed, that is to say, by the view in the rear-view mirror.

In fact, this is nothing new. Jesus Himself, in Sunday’s Gospel, summons his followers to have their view firmly fixed on what lies ahead, and not to be afraid of anyone (cf. Matthew 10:26-33). The Church has a mission; the Church is a mission. As followers of the Lord, we move forward in and through history with the life-affirming and world-transforming message of the Gospel. The Lord Himself warned that this would not be welcome. The persecution faced by the Church, in both the past and present, attests to this. Jesus knows that fear of rejection and harm is a natural reaction, so he reminds us that, in God’s eyes and heart, we are precious. God will never abandon us. We may indeed suffer emotional and, perhaps, even physical harm, yet such hurt is perpetrated by those who have no power to harm our immortal souls. Fear cannot be granted the determinative word. That which shapes our lives and impels them forward is trust in the living God.

It is good to look back from time to time, to glance occasionally in the rear-view mirror, if it helps us learn from what we have experienced or reminds us of the ways in which the Lord has been accompanying us on the journey. Indeed, his presence is often only recognized in hindsight. But if that glance becomes fixation, we need to avert our gaze and look steadfastly forward. We are people who are on mission; followers of the Lord who are sent. Let us move forward, trusting in the love and power of our God.

Monday, June 19, 2017

The Ultimate Re-Charge


It’s really annoying when I forget my chargers. I confess to having a few of what we generally refer to as “devices”: laptop, smartphone, iPad. They travel with me, and when the chargers don’t, I’m in trouble. Why is it that the power runs when I need the gizmos the most?! Or why is it that, when I do remember to bring the chargers, the charging stations at airports are always occupied?? If someday you pass me in an airport and see me sitting on the floor next to an outlet, be sure to take pity and say hello.
 
Portable devices are not the only things that need “re-charging.” More importantly, we do. There is so much that drains us not only of energy, but also of joy, indeed, even of life. Think of the “draw down” occasioned by anxiety, guilt, hurt, hopelessness and so on. Where do I go for the “re-charge,” i.e., what can restore me to myself, to hope, to life? I know that, like the devices, that new energy needs to come from outside of myself. I cannot be my own re-charger. Where do I turn?
 
 
 
On Sunday the Church celebrated the solemnity of Corpus Christi. At this sacred time, we focus, in a spirit of awe, praise and gratitude, upon the mystery of the Eucharist, Christ’s gift to the Church of his own Body and Blood. There is much that can be said about this wondrous sacrament. The Scripture passages for Sunday highlight its dimension of nourishment. As food is to the body, refreshing with renewed energy, so the Eucharist is to the soul. The Eucharist gives the ultimate re-charge.
 
An evocative context within which we can appreciate this dimension of the gift is provided in Sunday’s first reading (Deuteronomy 8.2-3, 14-16). It recalls how God fed the Israelite people with miraculous “manna”, or “bread from heaven,” to give them the strength they needed to journey, often exhausted and suffering, through the wilderness toward the promised land. That experience of wilderness finds an echo in our own lives whenever we experience the aridity of sinful behaviour, destroyed hopes, broken relationships, lack of meaning and purpose, i.e., anything that leaves us drained of a zeal to carry on. The real “bread from heaven” is Jesus Christ, given to us in the Eucharist. (cf. John 6:51-59) He feeds us with himself, gives us a participation in his own life - his risen life! - and thus restores to us the spiritual strength and real hope that energize us to continue the journey toward eternal life.
 
Forgetting my phone charger is an inconvenience. Neglect of the Eucharist is of far greater consequence. May nothing separate us from receiving and celebrating this great Gift.





 

Monday, June 12, 2017

God Must Not Be Eclipsed!

Our Archdiocesan Pastoral Council met on Saturday. As our guest we welcomed Gary Gagnon, the Coordinator of our Office of Aboriginal Relations. He gave us a very beautiful and moving presentation on some aspects of Indigenous culture.

As I have been in the past, I was struck once again by the centrality of the Creator in the life and thought of Aboriginal people. The Creator is acknowledged and praised as the author of life and the source of all good gifts. Personal relationship with the Creator is foundational to all human relating. In the life of our First Nations, Metis and Inuit brothers and sisters, God is not eclipsed. His light is allowed to shine to make clear the path to follow.

Here we find that Aboriginal culture points in its own way to what Saint John Paul II long ago identified as the root cause of the tragic suffering affecting the people of our day: "the eclipse of the sense of God and of man." (Evangelium Vitae, 21). When God is eclipsed, the light of truth gives way to the darkness of falsehood. We lose sight of the full meaning of human existence as created by God. Stumbling in the darkness, we end up on paths that lead away from clarity and happiness toward confusion and misery.


This brings us to the urgent importance of the mystery celebrated on Sunday: the Most Holy Trinity. St. Paul teaches that the light of the knowledge of God shines in the face of Christ (cf 2Cor 4:6). So, in Christ, the mystery of God has been revealed to us, has shone forth. The one and only God is a Trinity of Persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The light of this knowledge enlightens the mystery of the human person. Since God is, in himself, a perfect communion of love, his choice to create us arose not from need but out of desire. Pope Benedict XVI drew from this the beautiful conclusion that every person is "willed, loved and necessary" in the sight of God.

This message, arising from the very mystery of the Trinity, of the beauty of all human life is urgently needed today. Far too many people, especially among our youth, feel that they do not matter or count, that they are less worthy of consideration than other persons. Small wonder. Messaging abounds to the effect that one's "worth" is conditioned by wealth, beauty, talent, achievement and so on. The mystery of the Trinity enables us to see that the truth is just the opposite: our worth and dignity is inherent, not conditioned by any illusory external standard. We are the beloved children of God. Therefore, every life matters!

Rather than eclipse God, may we reflect his light by fully acknowledging and honouring the beauty and dignity of each person, at every stage of life and in all circumstances.



Monday, June 5, 2017

The Touchdown of the Holy Spirit



The other day a tornado touched down about 250 kilometres south of Edmonton. Awesome and terrifying. Witnesses spoke of its power, which, as we know, can bring great destruction in seconds.

On the Solemnity of Pentecost, celebrated on Sunday, we recall another experience of a powerful wind. “When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting.” (Acts 2:1-2) This was the coming of the Holy Spirit upon the Church as Jesus had promised. As the gift of God, the Spirit is infinitely more powerful than any earthly phenomenon. Yet, the effects of the bestowal of this gift are not destructive but transformative. Hearts are changed, understanding is granted, and hope becomes the motor force of human lives.

Why the transformation when the Holy Spirit “touches down” on the soil of earthly existence? Because the mission of the Holy Spirit is to draw us into a living union with Jesus Christ. By this gift of the Spirit, bestowed now in the sacraments of the Church, the very life of Jesus becomes the principle of our own. As St. Paul once put it, “It is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me.” (Galatians 2:20)

An immediate consequence of this is the banishment of fear. One of the most beautiful phrases from the mouth of Jesus is this: “I will not leave you orphans.” (John 14:18) Remember that he is the only Son of God. Through our union with him by the gift of the Holy Spirit, we are adopted by God (!!!) and thus become, truly, children of our Heavenly Father. It was precisely as orphans that Jesus found us when he came from heaven. We had been “orphaned” from God by the lies and deceptions of the devil, and thus made vulnerable to all the many ways the evil one seeks to lead us astray. No wonder a world that does not know God or has eclipsed Him from consideration experiences deep anxiety! It is the angst of orphans!!! The reason Christ came and was revealed to us was to destroy the works of the devil (1John 3:8) and make manifest the love of God. By overcoming in us all that “orphans” us from God, Christ has drawn us to himself and given us the gift of adoption. His Father has become Our Father, the One who knows us, cares for us, understands our every need and will never abandon us. We are orphans no longer!!! Be not afraid!!



While the tornado’s touchdown has immediate effects, that of the Holy Spirit usually brings about change only gradually. That is because the gift of the Spirit interacts with our human freedom. We need to choose to open our hearts to receive the gift and surrender to the Spirit’s power. Yet even such a choice is ours only by the Spirit’s gift, so let us not fail to call daily upon the Holy Spirit, asking Him to unite us ever more deeply to Christ, that we may live in true freedom as the children of God.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Communicate Hope and Trust

That’s the heart of the message issued by Pope Francis for World Communications Day of 2017. This year the event falls on May 28th, which in the liturgical calendar is the Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord. The two - hope and Ascension - are clearly linked, and touch the core of the reason why Christians have - and communicate - hope.

For a number of years now, on or near World Communications Day, our Archdiocesan Office of Communications has been hosting a media breakfast. This gives me a chance to sit down with local media professionals to discuss, first of all, the Pope’s message, as well as important local issues. Within the framework of the Pope’s message, we can understand the unparalleled opportunity that modern means of communications have to give a message of hope to our world. I see this played out particularly not only when a “good news” story is conveyed, but also when reporting sheds light on difficult and painful issues and thus provides the impetus for responsive action and positive change. In Alberta we need think only of the coverage one year ago of the Fort McMurray fire. Media both warned us of the danger and helped us to see the good that issued forth from the people as they hurried to help. From that unspeakable tragedy, the last word actually belonged to hope because of the way the story was covered by all media.

Yet the message of the Pope, even though it is directed in the first instance to media professionals, nevertheless has broad application to all of us. We know we are confronted daily by what the Holy Father strikingly refers to as a cycle of anxiety, to which we must put a stop. The antidote is hope. What opportunities do we have to offer hope to the people we encounter in our daily lives?

It is very important not to offer our response to suffering and anxiousness on the basis of some kind of naive optimism or a refusal to acknowledge the real evil that is at work in our world. As followers of Jesus Christ, we must look at our world situation squarely in the eye and offer a message of hope thoroughly imbued with realism. Only thus will it be received as credible.

The message offered by the Church throughout her existence has been - and always will be - that God’s loving purpose for humanity cannot be overcome by evil. The power of God’s mercy over sin and evil, even over death, was on full display in the Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. As we celebrate the Lord’s Ascension we see clearly the reason for which the Son of God became one of us and conquered death: to lead us to God. Life eternal with God is the destiny that God himself has bestowed upon us. That destiny is now a living and real hope because of what Jesus has done for us. As we pray in the liturgy, where Christ has gone we hope to follow by the power of his grace at work within us now, especially in those moments when evil and suffering appear to have the upper hand.

They never have the upper hand. The Lord’s departure to heaven does not translate into absence from this earth. As he himself promised, “… remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt 28:20). Through the gift of the Holy Spirit, Jesus remains with us, acting in the power of that same Spirit to bring to fulfillment in each of us the saving will of the Father. Therefore, have no fear; cast off anxiety. Jesus is with us. He is the reason for our hope.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Beware the Waterfall




I’m in Niagara Falls this week, leading a retreat for some of the priests of the Hamilton Diocese. I’ve been to these Falls a number of times, yet they never cease to take my breath away. Extraordinarily beautiful, awesome and … dangerous. One would not want to be carried away by the current and over the Falls!
 
One striking feature I’ve often noticed is the contrast between current and Falls; what seems to be a rather calm looking current upstream leads steadily and inexorably to the immense and life-threatening cascade. Unaware of the Falls ahead, one could easily allow oneself to be carried along by the flow of the river. Once aware of the lurking danger, however, a mighty effort of paddling upstream, against the current, would begin. At that point one would be instantly aware of just how powerful is that “gentle” stream.

As I ponder the majestic sight from this particular perspective, I find myself thinking of the questions I’ve been posing to candidates for the sacrament of Confirmation. Bishops are rather busy these days celebrating many of these liturgies. In the course of the ceremony, just prior to the anointing with sacred chrism, the candidates are invited to renew their baptismal promises. They are asked if they renounce Satan and believe in God. The questions get to the heart of our Christian life. By baptism, we are a people who give a resounding “No!” to the Evil One and to all that is contrary to God’s revelation and commandments. Motivating this “NO” is a powerful “Yes!!” to God and to all that he reveals about Himself and demands of us. Often, though, we get it backwards, and say “No” to God and to his teachings, and “Yes” to evil and to what is wrong. It is easy to happen, because the “No” to God can feel like floating gently along the stream of worldly logic, while our “Yes” to God can be experienced as a rowing against this powerful current of “everybody’s doing it” morality. Yet the flow of this “river” leads to danger. The boat needs to get turned around, and quickly.

How to do this? Well, we need to accept that this current leading to peril is too powerful to row against unaided. For this reason, God Himself gives us the help we need. He sends the Holy Spirit, identified by Jesus in Sunday’s Gospel as the Spirit of Truth (cf. John 14:15-21). By the light of the Spirit we discern what is truly right from what is really wrong, and are given the grace to remain in the truth. Furthermore, the Holy Spirit actually reverses the current of our lives by uniting us to Christ, who is the Way not to death but to the Father and eternal life.
 
The Church is preparing for the great celebration of Pentecost. Let’s prepare our hearts by closely examining the current along which our lives are presently flowing. Let’s not be deceived by appearances of ease and popularity. We might very well be headed toward danger. May the Holy Sprit renew our hearts and place us in the right direction by uniting us more deeply to Christ, the river Who leads to life.
 
 

Sunday, May 14, 2017

The Archbishop in Kindergarten


It’s a wonder I ever passed this grade. Who knew it could be so difficult?
 
I spent Wednesday of last week visiting a few schools in Red Deer. In one of them I was taken to meet the children of the kindergarten class. There they asked if I would read to the kids a book written to tell the Easter story.

“Sure! I’d be delighted!”

So, they gave me a chair and all the children sat on the floor around me. I read the story aloud to them, and they listened with rapt attention … or, so I thought.

As I neared the end of the not-so-lengthy tome, one of the children hollered out, “Hey! Aren’t you gonna show us the pictures??!!”

Oops. Forgot I was supposed to do that. Another indignant little voice then piped up: “Start over!”

I thought to myself, “How is it possible to mess up something like reading a story to a kindergarten class?”

But I did. Total failure.

The principal and teachers were stuffing their fists down their throats to stifle the guffaws. I can well imagine that copious salt was poured into this wound of embarrassment when the kids later told Mom and Dad that the Archbishop doesn’t even know how to tell the Easter story. Not one of my finer moments.
 
Tell the story and show the pictures. As I think about it, that’s a pretty good way to explain evangelization. It is not enough simply to tell what God has done for the world in Jesus Christ. That story, as astonishing and beautiful as it is, needs to be illustrated by the “pictures” of lives that have been transformed by God’s merciful love, and those pictures need to be shown to all who listen.
 
A rather extraordinary “picture” wound its way through the streets of Edmonton last Thursday. Thousands marched in the downtown area in the annual March for Life. When we tell the Easter story, we announce the Resurrection of one who self-identifies in the Gospel as “the Way, the Truth and the Life.” (cf. Sunday’s Gospel passage, Jn 12: 1-12) The Easter story we tell is about life!  On Thursday we illustrated this story by the picture of the March, born of our desire to celebrate life as God’s gift and our determination to speak out in defence of all human life at every stage and in each circumstance. We showed this picture to the city by taking to its streets. Now we pray that, by God’s grace, the telling and showing will bear fruit in the conversion of hearts and the establishment of a culture of life in our land.
 
Some food for thought: What picture is formed by the way I live my life? Is it consistent with the faith I profess as a Christian? Do Gospel story and living illustration mutually reinforce one another in the “book” which is my life? Serious business. I pray that God enable me to do a lot better in my daily living than I did last Wednesday on my visit to kindergarten class.

See more pictures of my visit here on Storify.