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

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.
 

Monday, May 8, 2017

The Blue Mass


On Sunday I had the great joy of gathering at St Albert parish for their annual "Blue Mass", offered in thanksgiving to God for the first responders who protect us.

The timing was right. Just this past week we commemorated the first anniversary of the Fort McMurray fire. Looking back, we were reminded not only of the enormous danger faced by the residents of that city, but also of the heroism, professionalism, competence and selfless dedication of the first responders. It was a moment when the profound respect, admiration and gratitude of the citizens of this province for the men and women willing to stand in harm's way was on full display and expressed in a variety of ways.

What was experienced at the moment of the Fort McMurray crisis can give us important insight into the message of the Gospel proclaimed on Sunday (John 10:1-10). As I reflect on all that unfolded during that tragedy, what stands out is the importance of the voice of authority: the voice that alerted to danger, the voice that called people from their homes, the voice that gave direction, the voice that diverted people away from peril, the voice that showed the way to shelter, the voice that kept the population updated, and so on. In each case, the voice was listened to and followed, because the voice was trusted. The voice of authority was spoken by one in authority and therefore was trusted to speak only that which would lead away from harm and toward security.

The Gospel passage speaks precisely of a voice of authority that can be trusted with absolute confidence, and which is therefore the voice to be followed. It speaks of the voice of Jesus Christ. Using the familiar imagery of the Good Shepherd who loves and cares for his sheep, Jesus says that his sheep know and recognize his voice and follow his direction to pastures of safety, protected from the thieves and bandits who seek only to steal and destroy. At issue here is the pasture of eternal life and unending safety in the presence of God. In the course of our earthly lives we encounter many evil voices that attack not only the body but also the soul, seducing to spiritual danger. As we listen to the voices of our first responders who seek to protect us from bodily harm, we need also to be attentive to the voice of the One Good Shepherd, Jesus, whose voice leads us to spiritual security.

And why Jesus? Why his voice and not another? In the course of the Fort McMurray rescue, the voices of authority gave direction in accordance with an overarching plan that was formulated by those who could see the whole picture and assess the entire situation. The One who sees the whole picture of our lives, the One who, indeed, can assess the entire situation of world history, the One who sees clearly where danger lies, who knows the "escape routes" that lead away from peril, is Almighty God, who loves us beyond all imagining. He has fashioned a plan of escape for us, which in more theological language we call his plan of salvation. To carry out that plan, he has sent his well-beloved Son to be the voice of authority. So, when we listen to Jesus Christ, we can have full confidence that he is shepherding us in accord with the mysterious and loving plan of our Heavenly Father. His voice is worthy of our full trust, and in following it we find safety and peace.

One final thought about the Fort McMurray event. We were all particularly impressed by the bravery and skill of the firefighters. Yet, for many days they were forced to admit that the fire was beyond their control in spite of their best efforts. Often, we find things "out of control" in our own personal lives. Things "get away from us" in spite of everything we try to do to bring order and control. This can cause great stress and heartache and bring heavy pressure to bear on family and professional relationships. At times like these it is helpful to recall that there is one who is always in control and can turn all to the good if we but consciously surrender control of our lives to him. That is Jesus, our Good Shepherd, who loves us, speaks to us, and leads us to freedom. Let's listen to his voice and follow.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Where is Emmaus?


Slightly more than twenty years ago I made my first pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Like any pilgrim, I wanted to visit the holy sites. Among the places I wanted to see was Emmaus, on the road to which two disciples had encountered the Risen Lord Jesus (Sunday’s Gospel - Luke 24:13-35). What stands out in my memory is having been informed that there are actually three places today which tradition identifies as the possible site of that ancient locale. In other words, unlike with many of the other holy places, the precise location of Emmaus cannot be pinpointed with certainty.
 
This fact renders “the road to Emmaus" symbolically significant for the times in which we live. It now stands for a path to an unclear destination, and thus represents the life situation of many people today. With our attention drawn to an increasing variety of banal messaging and our time spread thin over myriad demands, little focus is trained upon life’s ultimate questions, such as: Where is my life headed? What is its true meaning? By what measure do I assess the rightness of my decisions? What is real and true? Or, what is my true destination? When the answer to this is unclear, then life loses any sense of confident direction. This is precisely the “road” on which many are walking today. It is a directionless path, which leads nowhere but to the confusion and unrest that bring with them the collateral effects of anxiety and frustration and hopelessness.
 
These are precisely the sentiments that inhabited the hearts of the two disciples on the road to ancient Emmaus. It is important to observe that their road did have a clearly known destination at the end of it. Yet, they were nevertheless downcast and without hope. They thought that Jesus was dead and forever absent from their lives. When he appeared to them, sadness gave way to joy and despair yielded to hope. From this we understand that clarity of destination is to be found not in a place but in a person. Our destination is Jesus. He who came from heaven to lead us to our Father in heaven is one with the Father (cf. John 10:30). In Jesus, our lives are given true direction and meaning. In him, our restless hearts find rest (St. Augustine) and we are at peace.
 

What is more, Jesus accompanies us on our pilgrim way as he leads us to himself. The reaction of those two disciples to the presence of the Lord with them on the road tells us clearly that there is no greater joy than that which arises from knowing he is near. I particularly love the image of the “hearts burning within” the disciples as Jesus explained to them everything in Sacred Scripture that pertained to himself and his place in the accomplishment of God’s saving plan for the world. That “burning” is the hope that arises from the clarity of God-given understanding of the divine purpose centered on and achieving fulfillment in Christ Jesus. It is the joy that issues from the awareness that the Risen Lord is with us at every moment of the journey, rendering himself particularly present in the sacraments of the Church, above all in “the breaking of the bread,” the Eucharist. The “burning” at the Lord’s presence leaves despair in ashes as it ignites within us an energy that impels us out of ourselves toward others to tell what we have experienced.
 
So, let’s put an end to time wasted on unnecessary searching for direction and meaning. These are given in Christ Jesus, who draws near to us as our companion and destination. Let’s open our hearts to him, that they, too, will burn with love for our Lord and the desire to announce his presence to others.
 
Join me on the next Holy Land pilgrimage in December. Visit here.
 

Monday, April 24, 2017

The Love that Heals is the Mercy that Restores

Archbishop Emeritus Lavoie and Archbishop Smith receiving gifts at St Kateri celebration Mass

On the weekend, I had the great joy of gathering with First Nations parishioners and other people of the Archdiocese to honour St. Kateri Tekakwitha. This gave us the opportunity to reflect upon her story and example. What a wonderful saint the Lord has raised up for the world in this first Native North American to be canonized!
Statue of St Kateri at the Catholic Campus

Among the many things that have been recounted of her, what has often struck me is the miraculous event of healing surrounding her death. Throughout her life, she bore on her face terrible scarring, the result of the smallpox from which she had suffered. As she lay dying, the only words she uttered repeatedly were: “Jesus, I love you.” These words gave expression to the great love she had borne throughout her life for the risen Lord; a love out of which she had turned her entire life over to him. Moments after her death, witnesses testified to the disappearance of the scars as her face was restored to its original beauty.

We may not bear external scars, but we certainly know what it is like to carry internal ones. Humanity today is deeply wounded. Psychological and emotional scars are borne by many people, the result of hurts, disappointments, betrayals, addictions, abuse, bitterness and so on. When left unaddressed, the interior wounds in the individual person fester and give rise to communal collateral damage: in the family, the civic community and even among nations. St. Kateri’s example has left us a teaching that must be heeded with great urgency: the handing over of one’s life to Christ in a relationship of love opens the heart to the healing for which every human person and our entire world is clearly longing, and that only our Risen Lord can give.
Divine Mercy Sunday at Our Lady Queen of Poland
The Kateri celebration was followed the next day by Divine Mercy Sunday. The coincidence of events is providential. It underscores what we know from experience: the divine love that heals reaches us as mercy. St. John Paul II, who established Divine Mercy Sunday, opened his great encyclical on mercy thus: “It is ‘God, who is rich in mercy’ (Eph 2:4) whom Jesus Christ has revealed to us as Father…” (Dives in Misericordia, 1). God our Father is all-loving and most merciful. When, in Christ and out of love for Christ, we present our wounds and scars to him, he heals us by the divine mercy that restores us to the beauty that is ours as his children.

St. Kateri, pray for us. By your intercession, may we all be fully open to the gift of divine love and mercy, and thus know the joy and peace that flow from God’s gift of healing.

Read the full story on the St Kateri Celebration here.

Sister Kateri played a role in the canonization of St Kateri

Monday, April 17, 2017

Hindsight Grounding Foresight



The Easter Vigil is a liturgy of extraordinary depth and beauty. The solemn proclamation of Easter (Exsultet) unfolds beneath the flaming paschal candle and announces the Risen Christ as the light that dispels all darkness. The expanded Liturgy of the Word traces the awe-inspiring course of salvation history leading to the wondrous event of the Resurrection. The Baptismal Liturgy extends to the recipients of this sacrament the gift of new life in Christ, and welcomes them into his embrace through membership in his Mystical Body, the Church. The liturgy culminates with the sacrament of the Eucharist, in which the Risen Lord renders himself truly present in fulfillment of his promise always to be with us and as food for our journey toward the fullness of life in heaven.

I'd like to focus briefly upon the Liturgy of the Word proclaimed at the Vigil. The proclamation of the many Scripture passages is an exercise of what I like to call holy hindsight. This part of the liturgy looks back over history and sees it anew in the light of the Resurrection of Jesus. In this light, we see a history of wondrous and ineffable love. After God created the human family we abandoned him through sin. Yet he never abandoned us, but walked with us always, intervening in our history, both collective and personal, in order to draw us back to himself. When we erred, he did not turn his back on us, but worked to turn all to our good by transforming our wrong turns into right ones and our mistakes into blessings. His definitive and decisive intervention is what we celebrate at Easter. Jesus, the Son of God incarnate, after having taken to himself all of our sins and dying on the Cross, rises from the grave, triumphant over sin and death. In this way, he reverses forever the downward trajectory on which our sin had launched human history.
 
This holy hindsight announces the steadfast love and mercy of God as always present and perennially victorious over evil. In this way, the holy hindsight grounds our hopeful foresight. We cannot see all that lies before us, but we are certain that in every event and circumstance our Risen Lord will be there, in the full power of his resurrection, to love us by guiding us, correcting us, forgiving us and leading us to eternal life. It is no wonder that our Easter liturgies resound with "Alleluia!" Christ is truly Risen and with his people. We are not alone; never alone. Let this conviction banish all fear as we place our faith fully in our Risen Lord and surrender our lives to him.
 
 

Monday, April 10, 2017

Follow or Flee?



The liturgy of Palm Sunday is dramatic. Recounting events in Jerusalem in the last days of our Lord's earthly life, it traces a path from triumph to shame. Scripture recalls that crowds of people hailed him as king upon his entry into the city, but that a few days later he was left abandoned as he hung upon the Cross. 

This commemoration poses a question that we would do well to carry with us into Holy Week: follow or flee? The crowds were quite happy to follow the Lord into Jerusalem when all seemed well. They wanted to benefit from the triumphal liberation that they supposed him to be bringing. At some point, though, it became clear exactly where the Lord's particular path was leading. The shadow of the Cross began to loom very large, and the enthusiasm for Jesus quickly evaporated. They fled. 

Entering Holy Week means entering Jerusalem with him. We follow him into the city through our participation in the solemn liturgies of the coming days. The story of the crowds in Jerusalem of old raises for us today the question of just how far we are willing to go. Will we follow or will we flee? Will we go where he leads us or will we choose to forge our own path? 

Faithful following of Jesus Christ leads to the Cross. We know that. Yet we also know that the journey does not end there. This Holy Week will culminate with the joyful celebration at Easter of the Lord's resurrection from the dead. The path of Jesus leads to the fullness of life, indeed, to eternal life. This is where he is leading us. Yet his journey also makes clear that this path passes inevitably through the Cross. The path followed by the disciple of Jesus is that of self-denial, self-sacrifice, indeed death to self so as to live for God and for others.

In our age that exalts personal autonomy to the point of idolatry, any idea of self-sacrifice or abnegation, even for the sake of a greater good, is for many incomprehensible. It is, indeed, something to flee. What Jesus teaches, though, is that flight into the self leads nowhere. That path finishes in a dead end. In light of the Resurrection we see clearly that only the Cross opens our lives up to a limitless future, to an infinite horizon. It is not something shameful from which to flee in terror but a wondrous mystery to be embraced with hope.

May the grace of the Holy Week celebrations free us from fear and strengthen our faith, so that we may follow the Lord in all things and never flee from his love.