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 23, 2016

Cold and Wet - Great!!!

Cold and wet. That's been the weather throughout the long weekend here in Edmonton and other parts of Alberta. Everyone's happy about it! Keep in mind this is the time of year many are setting out for the first camping trip of the season or opening up the cottage. Typically, we want the weather at such a time to be warm and sunny. It's been the opposite, and everyone welcomes it. The reason is obvious. The terrain has been dangerously dry, and we have been living daily with worry about damaging fires and low crop yields. We needed moisture desperately and are now happy to receive it, even when our plans and hopes might be inconvenienced or dashed by it.

In this situation, present hopes and desires have been weighed against greater and future needs; personal plans for recreation have been recognized as having less urgency than the requirements of others; what is unwelcome from one point of view is recognized as a good when placed within a larger perspective. It is a moment of recognition that the world does not revolve around me; that I am part of something bigger than myself, a something that calls me to a vision far broader and more expansive than my normal sight line that rarely extends beyond the tip of my nose.

Sunday's celebration of the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity had implicit within it a summons to an infinite vision. The mystery of the Trinity reminds us that the need to look beyond ourselves and the demands or hopes of the moment is not periodic but perennial. God, who has revealed Himself as a perfect communion of love - Father, Son and Holy Spirit - wills that we share in that very same divine life for all eternity. That this might be possible, He sent to us His Son and Holy Spirit. These wondrous gifts by which God, in fact, communicates His very self, draw us out of ourselves and towards God; they grant us a participation, even now, in God's own life! This astounding truth of God's desire for us fashions the horizon against which we view our lives correctly. We live not for the moment but for eternity; we are concerned not with the fulfilment of self-centered and transient desires but with allowing God to fulfil His will in us.

Within this perspective, even suffering and difficulty find meaning. Regularly we have to grapple with things far worse than cold and wet weather. Yet, when we recognize that, by the water of God's grace and mercy, suffering can lead to the blossoming of a soul desiccated by self-absorption, that it can thus further us along the journey out of ourselves and towards God, then even the hardship can be welcomed as a good. To be sure, this is a perspective that is granted only by faith, yet this does not render it unreal. On the contrary, by the gift of faith we perceive things as they truly are and are enabled to order our lives, and our response to adversity, accordingly.

Bad weather is not necessarily bad. A truth to bear in mind in the pilgrimage of our souls.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Change Is Possible

As I entered a church on the weekend, I was greeted warmly by a parishioner, who said, "I hope you give us a long homily this weekend!" He was serious. I thought to myself, "Now, that's a first." Usually the sentiment moves in the opposite direction. In fact, I remember one time years ago a parishioner offering "an extra twenty in the collection if you keep it short!" Jokingly, of course. (I think.)

As we celebrated this past weekend the Solemnity of Pentecost, the homily did not need to be long at all to convey a point necessary for our times. In fact, that point can be summarized in three simple words: "Change is possible."

This message arises from the experience of the apostles when they received the promised Holy Spirit. They were transformed by this wondrous gift from on high. Simple, fearful and uneducated men all of a sudden became filled with clear understanding and remarkable boldness. They who had remained locked behind closed doors for fear of the authorities now were stepping forth with great courage to proclaim the truth of Christ.

Change is what we seek today, in many ways. We know that, as Christians, we are called daily to holiness, expressed in our embrace of God and his commands and through our rejection of Satan and all that is bad. Yet due to our inclination to sin we often get it backwards and, in our actions, say yes to Satan and no to God. This leaves us wondering, "Will I ever change?" Similarly, we are aware of our call to be witnesses before the world of our faith in Christ. Yet, in a society which seems increasingly allergic to the Gospel, we are tempted to shrink back in fear and to stay quiet. Will I ever change and start to speak and act in accordance with my faith?

More broadly speaking, we can crave change in our family lives. Difficulties with employment, with relationships, with children and so on can at times seem intractable. WE wonder if and how it could ever change. Think, too, of our culture and the trends within it that are opposed to what is true and right. We anguish over the usurpation of God's rule by the will of the autonomous self. The forces behind this are powerful and we wonder if anything can be done to reverse the situation. Global unrest is pervasive and massive. It is tempting to give into despair when we see the enormity of the problems and the inability of world powers to stem the tide. Can any of this change? Is hope for change realistic?

It is. Hope for change is reasonable not on the basis of our limited capacities but on that of the unlimited power of the Holy Spirit. Consider the supreme confidence of the Psalmist who praised God for the power of the Spirit to "renew the face of the earth!" Change is, indeed, possible, in all aspects of our lives. As it was with the apostles, so it is with us. Change is possible. Complete, radical change.

All that is needed of us is one little yet powerful word: "Amen." When at Confirmation the Bishop says to the recipient "Be sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit," the response given is "Amen." That is to say, "So be it; I open my life here and now and every day thereafter to the power of the Holy Spirit in my life." Let this be the prayer on the lips of all believers as we commemorate Pentecost. God wills to clothe us with his power so as to renew us and, indeed, the face of the earth." May our hearts and lives be fully open to this transformative gift so as to experience the truth that change - real, profound and surprising - is possible.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Merciful Communication

It has been an extraordinary week in Alberta. Enormous and terrifying wildfires cover a vast area of land in the northern part of the province, and have necessitated mass evacuations of the city of Fort McMurray and surrounding areas; about 90,000 people! This is no small feat of coordination, and officials have carried it off with wonderful efficiency, patience and dedication. The hearts and homes of Albertans have opened wide in response to the needs of the evacuees. First responders battle the blaze at great personal cost and remarkable heroism. Civic officials have demonstrated impressive and necessary leadership at all levels of government. Above all, the evacuees themselves have shown edifying resilience, particularly those who, in spite of having lost literally everything, refuse to give up hope as they find their lives in an instant turned upside down.

Not to be overlooked in this is the role of the media. In my view, all dimensions of modern social communication are offering an invaluable service to the common good at this time of tragedy. They are using their considerable resources in the service of fostering unity, encouraging hope and doing good. Where to find help; how to make a donation; what are the latest updates; who is in charge; what supplies are needed; these and many other questions find answers through the combined resources of television, radio, newsprint, Internet and social networking. They are uniting our population by providing vital information and connecting need with response.

This experience underscores the enormous potential of modern communication technology to do good and bring people together in ways that strengthen society. I highlight this as we mark World Communications Day on May 8th. This year is the fiftieth anniversary of this annual commemoration. For his 2016 message in honour of this day, Pope Francis has highlighted the need to understand communications as an agent of mercy. It seems to me that this is exactly what Albertans are seeing played out, as they stay tuned in to their TV's, radios, computers and smartphones. The fostering of unity and the provision of real reasons for hope are among the greatest acts of mercy towards any people feeling cut off, isolated, or on the verge of despair. How could one not feel all of these sentiments, and more, as one's home and/or livelihood goes up in smoke? Yet the communications industry has stepped up to the plate and provided the information necessary to keep hope alive. It is truly a wonderful act of mercy.

The communication is, it must be noted, two-way in a manner important for all of us. Those directly impacted by the tragedy are also sending messages to the general population. The first responders, by their selfless actions, are communicating the responsibility we all share for one another. More than anyone else, the evacuees themselves are communicating the need to keep life in its proper perspective. I have lost count of the number of people who, in interview after interview, have shared that nothing is more important than having their loved ones safe and with them. All else, they say, is just "stuff" that can somehow always be replaced. They are not diminishing the sense of sadness and shock at the losses, of course. Yet they are demonstrating great strength and wonderful insight as they stay focused on what is truly necessary. The communication of this message is something we should all hear and keep always in mind.

Probably the most frequent communication happening right now is that of prayer, not only in our province and country but also around the world. The situation has come to the attention of our beloved Holy Father, Pope Francis, who on Friday sent to Bishop Paul Terrio of the Diocese of St. Paul (in which Fort Mac is situated) a message of solidarity, prayer and hope. We continue to unite our prayers to his for the good of everyone impacted by this terrible tragedy.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Hydration

The thermos of water; it seems to be everywhere. In the office, at school, while out for a walk - many people are carrying with them some form of container filled with water. The need for regular hydration - and lots of it - seems to be catching on as necessary for the enjoyment of good health. Simply put, we cannot live without water.

In Alberta, this point is underscored dramatically right now by the lack of moisture in the earth. The winter has been unusually mild and dry, and this leaves us worried about the crops our farmers can expect their fields to yield this year. Rain would be very welcome right now.

So, when it comes to the body and the earth, we get it. Regular and sufficient hydration is a must. Yet, what about spiritual hydration? Are we allowing our souls to wilt? It seems to me we need to take a look at this, and urgently. The legalization of assisted suicide and euthanasia is but one indicator of the spread of a spiritual desert in our nation.

When Jesus encountered the Samaritan woman at Jacob's well, he promised her "living water", indeed, a spring "gushing up" to eternal life. (Cf. John, chapter 4). This promise of spiritual hydration was fulfilled in the gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, which will be commemorated and celebrated this year on May 15. In the immediate lead up to Pentecost, perhaps we could examine our lives and consider to what degree our souls have become desiccated and are in need of re-hydration by the Holy Spirit.

St. Paul can help us in this regard. Take a look at Galatians 5: 16-26, where the Apostle contrasts the "works of the flesh" with the "fruits of the Spirit." Struggles with any of the former are clear signs of a wilting soul. A soul well watered by the Holy Spirit becomes a fertile field yielding the fruits of peace, truth, love, justice, charity, mercy and so on.

The irrigation system bringing us this water that is the Holy Spirit is comprised of the gifts Christ himself left to the Church, namely, his Word and the sacraments. Do we ponder daily the Word of God with hearts ready to be challenged and transformed? Are we participating with regularity in the sacramental celebrations of the Church, especially Eucharist and Penance? If the answer to either of these is negative, it is no wonder that we find our souls parched; we are closing ourselves off from the wellsprings. Let's return quickly to these sources of spiritual hydration and know the fullness of life Christ wills for each of us.








Monday, April 18, 2016

Know that the Lord is God


This is the command we heard as Psalm 100 was proclaimed on Sunday. Know that the Lord is God. The timing is providential. This past week saw the tabling by Canada's federal government of legislation to make legal in some cases assisted suicide and euthanasia. Known as Bill C-14, it bears the title: "An Act to Amend the Criminal Code and to Make Related Amendments to other Acts (medical assistance I dying)." A subtitle could be: Forget that the Lord is God.

Strange. Our Charter of Rights and Freedoms begins with this statement: "Whereas Canada is founded upon principles that recognize the supremacy of God and the rule of law..." Yet the legal permission granted to assisted suicide and euthanasia is founded upon arguments that substitute the supremacy of God with that of the individual. We have moved from Know to Forget. The consequences are tragic.

When the Psalmist says "Know that the Lord is God," the call is not directed only to our intellect but to our whole lived experience. It means so fully to appropriate the truth of God's supremacy that it shapes the entirety of our lives. God is God; we are not. As the Psalm continues: God made us (we did not make ourselves); we are His people (we are not our own). Within such "knowing" that the Lord is God, there is obviously no space for the assertion of any right to take our own lives (suicide), to assist another person to take his or her own life (assisted suicide), or to kill another person (euthanasia). From this it follows that justification for these practices is premised on a denial of the supremacy of God, and this is a false premise.

Yet this is exactly what we see playing out in our beloved country right now. It is not difficult to detect a present echo of the ancient deception by the serpent, who seduced Adam and Eve into allowing their trust in God's love, wisdom and providence to die and thus into asserting themselves over against God.

The Psalmist continues: "For the Lord is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations." In the light of revelation brought to the world by Jesus Christ, St. John takes the assertion of God's love and goodness further: "God is love." (1John 4:8). Acknowledging the supremacy of God is no cause for fear. On the contrary, it is surrender of our lives into the hands of our Creator, who, in Jesus Christ, has manifested His tender mercy and loving desire to provide for our every need.

The Lord is, indeed, God. Let us know this fully, and never forget it.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Heal the Family


I have been hosting throughout the Archdiocese a number of what we call "Conversations with the Archbishop". The urgent issue before us is the legalization of assisted suicide and euthanasia, and we call this particular series of conversations Every Life Matters (ELM). These conversations allow opportunity for the voicing of questions or concerns and the reception of helpful feedback. On Friday last, right in the middle of the-ten day period over which these conversations are taking place, the apostolic exhortation of the Holy Father was released. Entitled Amoris Laetitia (The Joy of Love), it deals with the issue of family life. This coincidence of themes - assisted suicide and family - underscores the relation between them.

Pondering the issue of assisted suicide and euthanasia brings to the fore the urgent need to heal the family. Our ELM session yesterday in St. Mary's parish, Red Deer, involved presentations by a hospital chaplain and a physician who specializes in chronic pain management. As I listened to their presentations, I was struck by the frequent references to family and the influence that familial relationships have upon a person's decision-making in the midst of suffering or at the end of life. Particularly telling was the assertion by the physician that the reason most frequently given for an assisted suicide request is the fear not of suffering but of being a burden. I, too, have heard that often, together with the sad fact that many who seek such an end to their lives feel alone or abandoned by family members.

The legalization of assisted suicide and euthanasia highlights our move as a society away from what should be the unassailable principle of the sanctity of every human life at every stage and in every circumstance. It is also bringing to light the urgent need to heal the family. This renders the release of Amoris Laetitia very timely for our country.

I hope you read this document from Pope Francis. It is lengthy, yes, but well worth the effort. Indeed, the Holy Father himself encourages us to read it slowly and reflectively, taking the time needed to appropriate prayerfully its teachings. I have read it through once, and want to return to it. Throughout this exhortation, the well-known pastoral heart of our Holy Father beats strongly. As I said yesterday in an interview with Salt and Light Catholic TV, reading it is like sitting down at the kitchen table with your grandfather, who knows what you are going through and who can offer sound counsel. The direction offered by Pope Francis is rooted in Scripture and our Catholic teaching, and is informed by his own experience as a pastor who has walked with many families in their difficulties.

It is a tragedy that abandonment or worry about being a burden is leading people to seek assisted suicide to end their lives. This sad reality gives dramatic urgency to the need to heal family relationships and help family members to discover and live the joy of authentic love. Pope Francis is helping us to do just that.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Led to Faith

"My Lord and my God!" This is the cry of faith exclaimed by St Thomas. We heard the familiar account of his encounter with the Risen Lord in the Gospel of Sunday. It was quite a journey for Thomas to get to that point of acknowledging, with joy and awe, the truth of Christ. It began with his doubt concerning the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. For that reason we often refer to the episode as the narrative of "Doubting Thomas".

Yet the account is not, in the final analysis, about him. It is rather about the Lord. The primary actor is Jesus. He led Thomas to faith. Thomas did not get there on his own. Appreciating this, the episode becomes an important instruction to guide our own lives.

Doubt is not foreign to many of us. Many developments today tempt us to it: illness, family strife, worrisome societal change such as assisted suicide and euthanasia, world terrorism and so on. In the face of suffering, we might doubt the love of God, his power over evil, or his presence among us.

Thomas's experience teaches us two foundational lessons for those moments when we are plagued by doubt. The first is to stay within the Church. Thomas's doubt first arose because he had not been with the other apostles when the Risen Lord first appeared to them. His journey to faith took as its first step a return to apostolic communion. The second lesson is to allow Jesus to lead us to faith. By placing the hand of Thomas into his wounds, Jesus healed Thomas's wound of disbelief.

From this encounter of Thomas with the Lord and with the apostles there arise questions we can ask ourselves in times of doubt. Have I ceased thinking with the Church? Do I accept instead other voices as my standard of measure? Do I think that faith is something I have to achieve on my own? Have I forgotten that faith is a gift, and therefore neglected to ask the Lord to heal my wound of doubt by his own wounds of love?

Jesus longs for our faith. He will lead us to it if we but surrender to his prompting and seek him in that communion of apostolic faith called the Church.