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


This picture shows one of the panels on the holy door at St. Peter's Basilica in Rome. I have always loved it, and it speaks beautifully of the Good Shepherd reaching out to save the lost. That's the reason for hope.

Monday, May 25, 2015

There's Beauty and then There's Beauty

I spent the past week in Jasper with the priests of the Archdiocese for our annual days of study and renewal. The natural beauty of the area never fails to take my breath away. Having an opportunity for two rounds of golf there added immeasurably to the enjoyment!

At the end of the week I encountered another - and deeper - form of beauty that left me deeply moved. I met it in the people of the Aseniwuche Winewak Nation, when we met together for a few hours at the Jasper Yellowhead Museum and Archives.

These wonderful people came by bus on a two-hour journey to meet with me. The gathering was one of a series of listening sessions I am hosting with the various First Nations whose land falls within the territory of the Archdiocese. The Aseniwuche Winewak (or Rocky Mountain People) told me very moving stories of both sadness and forgiveness. The sadness arises from the story of their removal from their traditional land as Jasper National Park was coming into being. As this tale was recounted, what was particularly striking was their willingness to come to the table of reconciliation and extend forgiveness. Therein lies the beauty. The dignity of this people shines forth in their readiness to be servants of healing and reconciliation.

To their great credit, the officials of the Jasper Yellowhead Museum and Archives are working hard toward this same end. For some time they have been working with the Aseniwuche Winewak Nation to ensure that their story be told with accuracy and sensitivity. It is a story which must be made known, and I am edified by the efforts undertaken to make this possible. Also present was an official from Parks Canada, who was greeted with great warmth and affection by the elders. Clearly much is happening toward reconciliation, and I pledged my willingness to participate in these endeavours.

The Rocky Mountains are truly beautiful. Of yet greater beauty are the hearts of the Aseniwuche Winewak people. It is an honour to know them and a blessing to have been able to spend time among them.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

The Choice by Which We Live

This week's provincial election is all the talk around here in Alberta. What has left many people astonished is the choice made by the people of an entirely new government. The one political party that had dominated provincial politics for more than forty years has been decimated and replaced by another. For this reason many are drawing attention to the change introduced into this province's history by the choice made on election day.

In the democratic sphere, governments depend upon the choice of the people, and the exercise of that choice can bring about change, at times unexpected and astounding. In the ambit of faith, we recognize our dependence upon choice at a deeper, and far more important level. Humanity exists because of a choice made by God to create us. Humanity's history was changed - dramatically, astoundingly and irrevocably - by God's choice to re-create us in His Son (cf Ephesians 1: 4-5).

Political choice is made either on the basis of merit (I judge this candidate to be worthy of my vote) or party loyalty. Hopefully the two coincide! God's choice of us, however, has nothing to do with the former, but is an expression of divine fidelity. In no way can we merit to be saved by God; we cannot earn salvation. God's choice of us arises from his love, pure and simple. That love finds expression in his fidelity to the promises he made to save the world in the gift of His Son. God is love; God is faithful. This is the basis of the choice he has made to create and redeem us.

We live by this choice. It is truly astounding, because we know we are unworthy. We know our sinfulness, weakness, infidelity and so on. Yet the astonishing truth remains: God loves us unconditionally and will never take back his choice to make us his children in Christ.

In the midst of all the political analysis of Tuesday's choice of a new government, let us not fail to reflect with humility, gratitude and joy on the choice made from all eternity by our all-loving, all-powerful and all-merciful God - the choice to give us life.

Monday, April 27, 2015

The Cry for Mercy

In Sunday's Gospel passage we heard Jesus speak of his sheep, his followers, as those who listen to his voice. Where do we hear that voice? Jesus speaks to us, we know, in Sacred Scripture and through the teachings of His Church. We need also to remember that he speaks to us through the cries of the poor and suffering.

Many are the cries coming to us now from the people of Nepal. I'm hearing reports of more than 4000 dead from the recent earthquake, with the number expected to rise. And how many more are homeless!!!??? Let's not forget them. The Canadian Catholic Organization for Development of Peace is now receiving donations for emergency relief, which will be channeled to those in need through the Church's Caritas Internationalis network. You may help via their website: www.devp.org.

You will likely know by now that Pope Francis has declared a special Jubilee Year of Mercy. It will begin December 8th of this year and conclude November 20, 2016. He recently presented the Bull of Indiction for this special year. This is a document that gives an overview of the principal themes and initiatives for the year, together with desired spiritual outcomes. Among the latter, the Holy Father makes clear that he hopes all Christians will learn to adopt mercy as their lifestyle. A lifestyle of mercy! Think of that. What would it be like if our lives were marked not by aggression but by mercy; not by bitterness, but by mercy; not by selfishness, but by mercy? This would represent a beautiful and much-to-be-desired revolution in our relationships with one another, both locally and globally.

Mercy is something active. It is not a vague feeling of pity that we hold temporarily in our hearts while we continue living the way we have always lived. Mercy means taking the needs of the poor and suffering, such that we actually go out to them to offer assistance and seek to change their lot. Mercy moves us out of ourselves and towards the others. We see in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus how God is merciful toward us, and we hear from Jesus that we are to be merciful to one another.

So, let's be attentive to the cries of the suffering in Nepal. Neither may we forget the suffering elsewhere in the world, such as the Christians persecuted and killed in various parts of the world just because they are Christian; the victims of aggression in Ukraine; the migrants drowned in the Mediterranean; the millions of refugees fleeing war and terror, and so on. We can reach out to them in mercy when we give support to the work of agencies dedicated to bring help, such as Development and Peace, Aid to the Church in Need and the Catholic Near East Welfare Association.

Mercy must characterize our familial relationships, too. In fact, the home must be the primary place of mercy. Too often do we hear of violence in the homes, or of the inability of family members to love and forgive one another.

Jesus, the Good Shepherd, does not cease speaking to us. His voice reaches us through the cries of the poor. Are we listening and responding?



Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Better than a Lottery

There is great excitement in the hockey world this morning, especially among Edmonton Oilers fans. Yesterday the team won the NHL draft lottery, thus enabling the Oilers to choose the top draft pick in June. All eyes are on one player in particular, one of immense talent, and the Oilers are widely expected to choose him. It is giving rise to great hope for the future prospects of the team.

"Great hope" is what is announced in the Gospel passages of the Easter season. It is hope related not to a particular group of people, but to all of humanity. Furthermore, its foundation is immeasurably more secure that those grounding NHL team prospects.

The hope is for eternal life, announced in the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. Its foundation is the love and fidelity of God, who has promised from of old to save his people from their sins and lead them to life with Him forever, a promise fulfilled in the dying and rising of Jesus.

On what foundation am I placing my hopes? It is an important question, because we all need hope as we face a myriad of challenges. Is it on chance? The NHL lottery is not the only one on which many people generally are pinning their hopes. Is it on someone else's giftedness? This would certainly be more reasonable than "luck", and yet we know from experience that talent is but for a time and that people are not always "at the top of their game".

The reason for real hope is not any of these things. It is within us. And by that I do not mean that we can rely upon ourselves. Quite the opposite. I am referring to the wondrous mystery of Christ living within us by the gift of his Holy Spirit! Our hope is Jesus, period. He remains with us, as he promised. By the act of faith, we draw strength and hope from the power of his Cross and Resurrection. In short, faith in Christ is the only reliable basis for the hope that brings peace in the midst of our many difficulties and challenges.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

A Campaign of Eternal Import

Today in Alberta a provincial election has been called to take place May 5th. That means a month of campaign speeches, advertising campaigns, door-to-door visiting, and so on. All of this is aimed at winning votes. The political parties all hope to be elected to govern the province, and in the campaign can be expected to make more than a few promises. It is not unusual to hear people question the reliability of such pledges. More than a few say that such elections do not excite them.

It is ironic that the election call took place early in Easter week. What will capture the attention of Albertans over the next month is in stark contrast to the “election” celebrated by Christians in the fifty days following Easter. The former is aimed at securing a victory in political terms that will last but a time; the latter celebrates a victory already won and lasting into eternity.

From the beginning of time, God “elected” us to be with him forever. Therefore, in response to the sin of Adam and Eve, which separated humanity from God, he set in motion a “campaign”, a plan, whereby he would continually communicate to his people the message of his love and mercy, knocking without cease on the door of their hearts, promising again and again to bring them salvation. God is absolutely true to his promises. His pledges are, without doubt, fully trustworthy. So, true to his word, God the Father “elected” his Son to come to earth as our Saviour, born as Jesus of Nazareth from the Virgin Mary. In his turn, Jesus “elected” to be obedient in all things to the will of his Father, even to the point of death on the Cross. The resurrection of Jesus from the dead manifests God’s definitive victory over sin and death, and makes Jesus the fulfillment of the Father’s promises, “the source of salvation for all who obey him.” (Hebrews 5:9).

Furthermore, the victory of Jesus over death makes clear the full wonder of God’s original design for us. From the beginning, St. Paul tells us, God “chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.” (Ephesians 1: 4-5) God chose us to be one with Jesus Christ so that, in Christ, we might be his children! Now and into eternity!! We have been elected by none other than God!!! He has chosen us, not for any merits on our part, not for our track record or on the basis of things we promise to do, but solely because of His love and mercy toward us.

And THAT is an election, which is truly exciting!!!



Monday, March 30, 2015

Clear a Path

At the beginning of the Palm Sunday Mass, we hear the familiar story of the entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. In the background is the ancient prophecy of Zechariah: “Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem! Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” Jesus comes as the long-awaited and deeply desired king who would deal with the enemies of Israel and bring liberation.

This is exactly what Jesus did. He entered the city and brought freedom, but in a way no one would have expected, in a manner no one could possibly have anticipated. He did so by going to the Cross, so that by his dying and rising he would defeat the greatest of all enemies, Satan, and bring freedom and new life to all people.
As we recall both the entry and the Cross, an important invitation arises for each of us: to allow Jesus to enter our own personal lives with his liberating power. The crowds prepared a pathway for his entry to the city. Let us prepare the way for him to enter the reality of our lives. His acceptance of the Cross teaches that there is no human situation, however dark, into which God will not enter in order to save his people. Nothing lies outside his concern; nothing is beyond the reach of his love and mercy.

So let us prepare the pathway for him to enter our hearts, in order that he may dispel our fears, heal our guilt, free us from all forms of enslavement, and cure our indifference to the needs of the poor. Let us prepare the path for him to enter our families, so that he may end estrangement and help loved ones forgive each other. Let us clear the road for him to enter our workplace and our society, so that his truth will overcome the lies holding people bound and thus set them free. Jesus who entered Jerusalem with the power of his love wants to come with that same power to the “city” which is every human heart and give once again the gift of life.

My prayer is that this week will be for all of us truly a holy week. Let us together pray daily to be set free of all that is contrary to the Gospel of Christ. Let our hearts truly be open and receptive to receive Christ Jesus, hear his word and be ready for its transforming power. Bring to each of this week’s celebrations not only your personal needs, but also those of the world, bearing especially in mind our brothers and sisters living in dire poverty or in situations of war and terror. May the Church’s proclamation of the power of Christ’s love lead the entire human family to open their hearts to its true King, to let him enter, and thus to taste the gift of the salvation he brings.



Monday, March 23, 2015

Snow Banks

I'm in Halifax for a couple of days. As you may have heard, the folks here have had more than just a skiff of snow to contend with. It's hard to know where to put it all as roads and driveways get cleared. The plowing and the winds have left wondrously high snow banks, and this makes driving very treacherous. The high walls of snow block vision. One has to inch out of the driveway because it is impossible to see what might be coming down the street. Intersections are navigated with difficulty, and exits from highways are perilous, all because it is not possible to see around the obstacles created by the snow.

The weather conditions stand as a helpful metaphor for those obstacles to clear vision that make it difficult to navigate the various intersections encountered daily through normal human interaction.

Human beings are created by God to be interdependent. We need one another. When we understand and accept this, we learn to yield to one another so that life's "traffic" flows smoothly. When our vision of the truth of humanity is blocked, collisions and conflict ensue.

In Sunday's Gospel reading for Mass (cf. John 12: 20-33), we heard Jesus say: "Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies it bears much fruit." This applies first of all to the death and resurrection of Jesus. His death to self brought life to the world. It is applicable also to us. We see the road clearly and travel along it without collision to the degree that we live less for ourselves and more for others.

In this light we can understand well the massive snow bank that has been piling up over the last number of years. It has so blocked our vision of truth that we are now colliding into one another in ways that truly do threaten life. I am speaking of the illusion of human autonomy. Our individualistic culture has been feeding us the illusion that all that matters is the fully autonomous self. What are no more than desires are presented as "rights" that can be pursued at the expense of others. The most egregious and frightening example of this is the recent decision of the Supreme Court of Canada allowing physician-assisted suicide and euthanasia, about which I commented in a recent pastoral letter. The decision is predicated upon this false notion of autonomy, which blocks from view the sovereignty of God and our collective responsibility for the common good. This will cause collisions that are truly lethal in consequence.

The snow banks here will recede when they are touched by the warmth of the sun, and then people will once again have a clear view restored. Our distorted anthropology will fade away as it encounters the truth of things revealed in Christ. If we allow ourselves to receive both him and his message, then he who healed the blind will restore our sight and enable us to live no longer for ourselves but for him and for one another.