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, June 22, 2015

Respecting Nature - Including Our Own

Well, the long-anticipated encyclical of our Holy Father, Pope Francis, has finally been issued. Entitled Laudato Si', it deals with our duty to care for creation, which he calls "our common home". It is an extraordinary document in many ways, especially because of the manner in which he poses questions that are not normally asked. In so doing he enriches and broadens the discussion by proposing the long-held wisdom of the Church. I earnestly hope that people will give this document the serious read it deserves and ponder deeply the points he makes. Failure to do so will simply leave us in our present state, unable to move forward.

Particularly striking is the manner in which he takes the question of "respect for nature" to a new level. Following upon the teaching of St John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI, he points to the necessity of applying to our own nature the respect we say we owe to the physical world around us. What he calls an "integral ecology" will recognize that just as the natural world manifests a delicate order and balance that must be honoured, so, too, does human nature have a "givenness" with which we must not tamper. In this regard he cites a beautiful statement from St. John Paul II: "Not only has God given the earth to man, who must use it with respect for the original good purpose for which it was given, but, man too is God's gift to man. He must therefore respect the natural and moral structure with which he has been endowed. (cf. Laudato Si', n. 115).

The original sin, represented by the eating of the forbidden fruit, was precisely this: a failure to respect our nature as reflective of the divine purpose and therefore as a gift to be honoured and respected. Our nature is that of a creature; God alone is Creator. To be a creature is to have limits and to be dependent. God calls us to respect these limits with trust in his wisdom and providence.

So, the encyclical is a call to each of us to examine our consciences to determine if we are living in accord with our God-given nature. The summons to respect nature, especially our own, has implications that challenge many of the assumptions we see prevalent in our culture today.

It also gives us pause to reflect on how we live daily. Do I accept my limits or try to push beyond them? Am I getting enough rest? Do I balance work with my responsibilities to family? Is my diet a healthy one? Do I care for the body through exercise? Do I nourish my mind with beauty (art, music, literature)?

Most importantly, how do I care for my soul? We are created for a relationship with God, who loves us, and with one another. Do I acknowledge every day my dependence upon His goodness by giving priority to prayer in my daily activities? Am I celebrating the sacraments of Eucharist and Penance regularly? Do I examine my conscience each day? Do I give of myself (time, finances, etc) in service to others, especially the poor?

Care for creation necessarily involves recognizing our own creatureliness in its many dimensions and respecting its beauty and limits, both our own and that of others. 

Monday, June 15, 2015

Be Ready For It

Take note that on Thursday of this week the Holy Father, Pope Francis, will be issuing what has to be one of the most eagerly anticipated encyclical letters in quite some time. He confirmed this himself in the course of his Sunday Angelus this past weekend.

An encyclical letter is addressed not only to the Church but also to all people of goodwill. In the one to be released this week His Holiness will address the topic that is among the most pressing for people everywhere: ecology. This is not the first time a Pope has directed his attention to environmental issues. Popes Paul VI, St John Paul II and Benedict XVI have all brought their voices and insights to bear. Now will be the moment for Pope Francis to add his contribution.

Some might wonder what a Pope would have to say about this. In fact, his is a perspective that the world needs to hear. For decades people have considered the scientific, economic and technological dimensions of the environmental question as we grapple with climate change, deforestation, desertification, rising water levels and so on. What is often absent from the discussion is that aspect which is, indeed, more than just another aspect but truly the foundation of all other reflection, namely, the moral. Since creation is God's gift, we have a moral responsibility to steward it in accord with God's purposes. More, care for the environment and the just use of the resources it provides impacts directly upon human life and the common good of all. The environmental issue is, in essence, a moral one. This is why we need to hear from the Holy Father.

To know what he will, in fact, say we need to wait for the official release of the document. What we can anticipate, though, is that he will offer the Church's unique contribution not by weighing in on particulars of scientific debate but by providing the moral principles and parameters that ought to shape our common reflection: the dignity of the human person; the priority of people - particularly the poor - over profit; the universal destination of the earth's resources; the relation of natural to human ecology; solidarity in the service of the common good and so on. These have long been pillars of Catholic Social Doctrine and I look forward to learning how the Holy Father wishes us to apply these in our current circumstances.

God be praised for the gift of all creation. By the help of His grace, may we be its faithful stewards.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Eat Healthy!

How many times do we hear that, or say it to others? We hear it all the time from our doctors, and rightly so. What we eat has a profound effect upon our health. More and more people seem to be heeding this message, if only to judge by the wild popularity of diet programs constantly advertised in the media.

When we celebrated yesterday the Solemnity of The Body and Blood of Christ (Corpus Christi), we heard from Sacred Scripture the same message - eat healthy! - but at an entirely different level. God's Word was addressed to the nourishment we give to our soul, that is to say, to our relationship with Christ and with His Body, the Church.

In this perspective, we can recognize the prevalence of a diet which is very unhealthy, indeed. Think of the banality and emptiness of the messaging in television programming today; think of the pornographic imagery that comes to us across television and computer screens or via material on magazine racks in grocery stores; think of the wanton violence portrayed in video games; or consider the way social networking has become the new form of sometimes malicious gossip.

What happens when we "consume" all this, and allow it to form our mindset and behaviour? Clearly, it moves us away from Christ and his teachings, and distances us from His Church. Anything that produces such an effect is junk food and should be shunned.

By way of dramatic and beautiful contrast, Sacred Scripture speaks to us of the sacrament of the Eucharist, the true Body and Blood of the Lord. This is true nourishment; it produces real spiritual health. It was Jesus himself who said: "For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink." (John 6:55) This is a wondrous mystery that affirms the love of Jesus for his people. He gives himself to us as the nourishment that brings forgiveness and leads to eternal life! 

On Sunday I participated in our annual eucharistic procession through the streets of Edmonton. This traditional Corpus Christi practice is a wonderful way to announce to our city and world the hope that is ours in Jesus, who gives himself to us in this manner and remains with us through his abiding presence in the Blessed Sacrament. As I've said before, this should also be a reminder to believers to make of our lives a "eucharistic procession", by serving others as agents of love and mercy, and thus of hope.

Let's be very attentive to our "diet". Physical health is good; spiritual well-being is better.

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:

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.