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

Monday, December 10, 2018

Grandin Media at One

Time flies, etc. Well, it does, indeed, feel as if time has flown by when I consider that Grandin Media is already one year old. And I do think that the denizens of our Communications Department have been having fun in not only getting this digital news portal launched but also keeping it flying at what is, in my estimation, a very high altitude.

Grandin Media exists to serve the Church's mission of evangelization by telling stories of how the beauty and truth of the Gospel is "landing" in people's lives and transforming them. Whether in news reports, columns, vlogs and blogs, interviews, social media posts, or quirky shows (have you seen Leftfooters?), Grandin Media seeks to tell the Catholic story.


One of my principal preoccupations and worries over recent years has been the fact that, even though the Church has an enormously important story to tell, others are telling it, and not always accurately or fairly. We must tell the story ourselves. Of course, Catholic media has existed a long time, and has exercised its ministry with dedication and skill. Indeed, the Archdiocese of Edmonton was blessed for fifty years with the Western Catholic Reporter. Yet, we realized, as have many others, that the time had come to change our approach and embrace the reality of news delivery in an increasingly digital world. From that awareness, Grandin Media was born.

Grandin's first anniversary falls within the season of Advent. This underscores the urgent necessity of the Catholic communications ministry. On the Second Sunday of Advent, Scripture brought to our minds once again the call of John the Baptist to be a voice crying in the wilderness, summoning people to prepare themselves for the coming of the Lord. That same vocation rests now with the Church of Christ. In the increasingly vast wilderness of the human soul made arid from lack of hope, we, too, cry out and invite people to turn their attention to Jesus and anticipate his transformative coming into their lives through faith. To do this, we must speak in places where people can hear us; we need to be present where people gather. Grandin Media strives to meet this challenge by its embrace of all digital platforms.

Bishop Vital Grandin
We've moved from snowshoes to cyberspace. The namesake, Bishop Vital Grandin, our first Bishop, went wherever his people were to announce the Gospel. In his day, that meant traversing enormous distances on snowshoe. People now, especially our young people, "gather" in the Internet and there learn what is happening, share their own stories, etc. Bishop Grandin taught us to go to the people, and that is what we've done in our digital presence and outreach.

I am enormously proud (not in a sinful way, I hasten to add!) of what Grandin Media has accomplished in a short time. In my estimation, their work is world class. Skill and professionalism are present in abundance. What impresses and edifies me most deeply, though, is the faith in Christ and love for the Church that animates all that they do.

Happy first anniversary! Let's pray that, by God's grace, we shall celebrate many more!

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Cross and Altar

This weekend I had the wonderful blessing of visiting St. Agnes and Our Lady of Perpetual Help parishes. On Saturday, at the newly and beautifully renovated church of St. Agnes in Edmonton, I dedicated its new altar. Then on Sunday, while visiting the parish of Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Sherwood Park, I blessed a stunning new crucifix, recently installed in the church's sanctuary. These events, although distinct, nevertheless were inwardly united because of the inseparable and mysterious bond that exists between the Cross and the altar.

Taken by Cathy Ehm at St Agnes.
What I'm getting at here is the teaching of the Church that what happened on Calvary is rendered present at mass. On the Cross, Jesus gave himself for the salvation of the world. His death on the Cross and resurrection from the dead happened once and for all. We are given a share in this victory by participation in the sacraments, in which Jesus, in the power of his paschal mystery (death and resurrection) is present. The supreme instance of this is the Eucharist, in which the very same self-sacrifice of Christ on the Cross of Calvary is rendered present on the altar of the mass. When we receive from that altar Holy Communion, we are drawn by Jesus into his very act of offering himself to the Father. This is so that we, too, - through, with and in him - might make of our lives a complete offering to God.

When we understand the unity of Cross and altar, we can appreciate the teaching of the Lord we heard in the Gospel passage for the first Sunday of Advent (Luke 21: 25-28, 34-36). There, Jesus is looking ahead to his promised return at the end of time. He prophesies that his Second Coming will be signalled by events that will leave many people terrified. Many, but not all. To those who are his followers he says: "Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near." (21:28) That is to say, don't be afraid. Since, as Christians, we live from the unity of Cross and altar, we know that his final return is not something to meet with terror but to welcome with joy. Neither do we fear the unsettling events that beset us even now in our daily living.



When Jesus offered himself on the Cross, he was subsequently raised from the dead by his heavenly Father. In other words, the resurrection was the response of the Father to the self-gift of his Son. On the altar, what is rendered present is the self-same sacrifice of Jesus, who now reigns in heaven as Risen Lord. This means that, on the altar, what is truly present is not only the self-offering of Christ but also the response of the Father! Therefore, when we, by receiving Holy Communion, offer our lives through Christ to the Father, we share also in the Father’s response, His answer of life and hope. Living thus from the unity of Cross and altar, we are enabled to "stand up and raise our heads" no matter what befalls us. Our redemption is always near at hand. Let us welcome it with hope and joy.

Blessed Advent!

Monday, November 26, 2018

The Reigning Champion


On Sunday, Edmonton played host to the Grey Cup championship of the Canadian Football League. The days leading up to the championship game were quite the festival! Fans came in from across the country, and Edmontonians, no slouches themselves in the "fan" category, put on a great show, by all accounts. This generous local spirit, while not surprising, is nevertheless remarkable, given that our archrival - Calgary - played for the championship on our own turf, and our Edmonton team didn't. Ouch. And Calgary won. Double ouch. Well, all right - congratulations to our friends in Calgary. But, still. Ow.

Grey Cup Sunday coincided this year with the liturgical feast of Christ the King. This suggests some instructive comparisons that help us to appreciate who is, really, the "reigning champion" and how we are to understand this.


At Edmonton's Commonwealth Stadium, the football players were on display before thousands of people. What was demonstrated was talent, skill, strategy, strength, speed, top physical condition, in short, everything that one would expect of potential champions. At the headquarters of Pontius Pilate, Jesus is put on display before the governor in seeming weakness (cf. John 18: 33b-37). He has been arrested, is entirely in the hands of Roman and Jewish authorities, and will soon be flogged by soldiers and mocked by the crowds. Few could have discerned here the making of a champion in any sense.

At the football match in Edmonton, one team was victorious by the other going down to defeat. On the Cross in Jerusalem, Jesus won the victory precisely through defeat. In the sporting event, championship and loss are opposites. In the death of Jesus, they unite; defeat becomes the means of victory. By his willing acceptance of death on the Cross, Jesus took to himself the misery of sin and death. By rising from the dead, he rose victorious over the power of evil, so that now he might present to God our Father "an eternal and universal kingdom, a kingdom of truth and life, a kingdom of holiness and grace, a kingdom of justice, love and peace" (from the Preface for the Mass of Christ the King).

Jesus Christ is our King. He is the true champion, who now wills to reign in our hearts. We speak of the Grey Cup victors as reigning champions, but I'm never quite sure in what that "reign" consists apart from holding the title. Well, Jesus holds the title of King and his reign is to consist in real sovereignty over our lives.

On Grey Cup Sunday, the champion team is "crowned", as it were, there are many celebrations that follow in the immediate wake of the victory, and then life for the fans goes back to normal, unchanged in any substantial way by the event. To acknowledge Christ as King is entirely different from this. It means complete and lasting change in the lives of those who acknowledge and follow him as Sovereign Lord. In practical terms, it means that we allow no sin to rule in our hearts. It means permitting no falsehood to take directive control of our mindset. It means living not in the lie but in the truth and taking all direction for our lives from the One who alone is Truth. "Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice," Jesus told Pilate (John 18:37). It is what he tells all of us today.

The reigning champion is Jesus Christ. May he reign as King perpetually in truth and love in the minds and hearts of each of us.

Monday, November 19, 2018

Proper Alignment

We are approaching the end of the liturgical year, so the Scripture readings we listen to these days address another end, that of history. They point to that time when Jesus, as he promised, will come again to gather all of his chosen people and bring history to its culmination according to the plan of the Father.

As we listened to one such passage on Sunday from the Gospel of Mark (13:24-32), typically filled with symbolic apocalyptic language, I was drawn to the signs that Jesus said will accompany his coming: "the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken." What is the meaning of this?


At the time of Jesus, it was commonly held that the celestial bodies (sun, moon, stars) exercised a determinative influence over the course of history. People would observe their alignment and draw conclusions as to what would unfold in their lives. To announce that, at the coming of Jesus, these celestial powers will be "shaken" is to say that they, in fact, have no determining force whatsoever. The power to guide the events of history belongs to God alone, a power he has entrusted to his Son, whom he has constituted Lord of all time.

This often begs the question: if God guides history, why are we in such a mess? Here we must consider the wondrous truth that the unfolding of history, guided by God, also mysteriously hinges upon the exercise of authentic human freedom. This brings me to the issue of alignment. Whereas the people of old sought to align their conclusions and projections with the alignment of stars, our call is to cooperate with the plan of God by aligning our wills with his. Only in this way will we have hope of seeing history unfold in accord with the divine purpose.

This insight brings into high relief the drama we are presently living. In our day, the tracking of the stars has been replaced by the monitoring of the self. The multiple messages we receive hourly through the vast panoply of social media platforms unite in a common call: align your life not with the stars, and certainly not with God, but with your own desires. In our age of radical individualism, the human person is understood not only as self-determining but also self-creating. The tragic fallout from this, often lethal, is obvious. If I am entirely self-referential, if I am my own moral compass, then the only way I can relate to others is via a conflict of wills. A profound misalignment vis-à-vis the truth of things is extraordinarily pervasive in Western culture today, and it is causing widespread fracture.


We need a radical realignment. It begins by aligning myself, in my particular time and circumstance, with the love and vision of Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all time and of every circumstance. In Christian terms, such alignment is called the act of faith, the decision to believe in Christ as Lord, and to surrender the entirety of my life to him.

Monday, November 12, 2018

Remembering


On November 11th, our country united with many others in an act of remembering. We called to mind the millions of men and women who, in the course of war, gave their lives in defence of freedom. They died that others might live. Extraordinary. Rightly do we wish to keep the memory of their sacrifice alive. The preservation of our fundamental freedoms has come at a great price, and we must never forget that. The memory of the great heroism of those who fell in war evokes in us sentiments of silent awe and deep gratitude.

Remembrance Day this year fell on a Sunday, when the Christian community gathers in another act of remembering. At the heart of the Eucharist we hear the words of the Lord himself, "Do this in memory of me." We remember Christ and the great act of his sacrifice on the Cross, and, in so doing, call to mind the astonishing and steadfast love of God the Father for each of us, his children.


This, too, is a memory we must keep alive as the source of great hope. Everywhere today we encounter forgetfulness of God and its immediate consequence: fear. Anxiety and dread are gripping the hearts of many people and families. The common denominator lying beneath it all as the ultimate source of this fear is the absence of trust. When God is eclipsed, is there anything else in which we can place our trust with absolute certainty? We may try to rely on money, possessions, reputation, other people and ourselves, but we know the reality of human weakness and often experience the emptiness of what the world offers. Trusting in anything other than the rock-solid love of God gives rise inevitably to deep anxiety, which we encounter all around us and perhaps within us.

On this same Sunday, we heard the narrative of what tradition has come to call "the widow's mite." It is a striking story, and very instructive for us. When the widow put her two small coins in the Temple treasury, she gave everything she had. It was an act of casting off any and all means of self-reliance in favour of a decision to trust entirely in the providence of God. What lay behind such trust? The story does not give the answer, but I like to think her act of self-abandonment to God was motivated by the memory of all that God had done for his people. God had supported both her and her people in their need, and had thus manifested his steadfast love. She knew she could rely on God never to let her down, never to abandon her, always to be with her, and on this basis made the decision to trust.

This is the antidote to the anxiety around and within us. Remember the love of God, and allow that memory to give rise to a deep trust in his providence, which does not fail.

Monday, November 5, 2018

Q&A with Jesus

In my school visits, I welcome the opportunities for question and answer sessions with the students. It gives me a sense of how they are doing, what their concerns are and how the Church can teach and accompany them. The questions will, of course, vary with the age group. The young ones will wonder about my age, if I have a pet, what my favourite colour might be, and pose such sleep-depriving questions as: "How come ya gotta wear two hats?!" As they grow older the questions become more serious. They want to know about human sexuality, the nature of marriage, issues around sanctity of life, the relation between religion and science, matters of social justice, etc. Quite often my answers to one student will lead to more questions from others who are listening.

This dynamic of Q&A is at the heart of the Gospel passage we heard proclaimed on Sunday (Mark 12:28-34). A scribe approaches Jesus with what has to rank among the most serious of all questions. "Which commandment is the first of all?" It is clear that obedience to the commandments is important to the questioner. By asking which is first he seeks to know what commandment among all the precepts of the Jewish law gives light and coherence to the whole. Jesus provides the answer by uniting love of God with that of neighbour and asserts: "There is no other commandment greater than these." In his heart the questioner can recognize that Jesus has spoken the truth and voices his acquiescence.

When I compare this Q&A session with the ones I have with students, what jumps out at me is the response of the crowd that has been listening to the exchange between Jesus and the scribe. Students listening to answers given to a colleague usually respond with their own questions. Not so with the crowd in the Gospel passage. Of them it is said, "After that no one dared to ask Jesus any question." It is important that we understand why.

Upon hearing the answer of the scribe to his teaching, Jesus looked at him and said, "You are not far from the kingdom of God." In other words, "You are drawing near, but you are not there yet!" Jesus had just confirmed for him that God must be loved "with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength." Genuine love of God is a total gift of self to God, so to the scribe Jesus is saying that there is more of him he has yet to give. The crowds, hearing this, realize that, were they to ask Jesus a question, he would likely point out to them where they need to change, what more they need to give of themselves if their love of God is to be perfect. So, they fall silent. They choose not to risk the question.

There are many questions we long to put to Jesus. What has happened to my life? Why is their tension and strife in my family? What is the reason for this anxiety that grips me? How did my life go so far off the rails? What am I to do with this guilt that inhabits me? The Gospel passage invites us to pose the question with serenity and faith, and to accept, in trust and obedience, whatever Jesus will answer. It is sure that the answer of the Lord will always challenge us and call us to deeper conversion. It is equally certain that the Lord's answer will always be given in love and will lead us only toward the good.

Ask the question. Don't be afraid of the answer. Honest and trusting Q&A with the Lord is what leads us to light and life.

Monday, October 29, 2018

Take Heart!


Halloween happens this week. It's a time when people's attention gravitates toward what is scary. Horror and fright are featured in radio interviews and television programs. Houses are decorated with the obvious aim of instilling fear in the hearts of all who visit, particularly the young trick-or-treaters. Most of this is done in good fun. However, there is a real fear that is gripping the hearts of people today, not only in the period around Halloween, and that is no laughing matter.

I encounter this constantly. Among young adults, they will speak of the fear of not measuring up to expectations, both real and illusory. In speaking with older adults, I have come across what is referred to as FOMO, the fear of missing out. This is causing considerable angst and tension in many individuals and families. Of course, there are many other things which engender fear: job insecurity, family dysfunction, geopolitical upheaval and so on.

What frightens you?

The Gospel passage from Sunday (Mark 10: 46-52) issues a call to each of us as we struggle with fear and anxiety: Take heart! To us who often lose heart because of the difficulties that face us, the Gospel cries: Take heart! In other words, don't be afraid.

In the Gospel narrative, the words are addressed by the disciples to a blind beggar, Bartimaeus. The encounter between him and Jesus gives insight into how to deal with our fears.

Bartimaeus at first cries out to Jesus ("Son of David, have mercy on me"). Jesus then calls for him to draw near. At the encouragement of the disciples ("take heart; get up, he is calling you"), Bartimaeus throws off his cloak and goes to Jesus. He asks Jesus that he might see. Jesus restores his sight in response to his faith ("Go; your faith has made you well"). Then, Bartimaeus follows Jesus "on the way".

This brief episode is instructive. It summons us, like Bartimaeus, to acknowledge at the outset our need for Christ and to cry out to him. When Bartimaeus threw aside his cloak, he was casting off that upon which he was dependent. We, too, come to Christ by setting aside all illusion of self-reliance and by casting away all the falsehoods in which we uselessly place our confidence. As we approach the Lord, sometimes we don't know what to say or what we should be asking for. Bartimaeus knew. He asked to see. That, too, needs to be our request. We implore the Lord not for physical sight but spiritual vision. In other words, we ask that we might see the truth of who Jesus is. We want to see that Jesus is not only the Son of David but also the Son of God; that he is the One sent to fulfill God's plan of salvation (Jeremiah 31:7-9); that he is our high priest, who knows our weaknesses because he assumed them himself (Hebrews 5:1-6) and draws near to us in mercy; that this same Jesus is present with us in the sacraments and walks with us in our daily lives. When we see this clearly, what else can we do but follow him "on the way" to our Heavenly Father?

Following the Lord does not mean our lives will thereby be rendered free from difficulties. When we can see, though, the truth of the presence of Jesus and his love for us, we have found our reason for hope. We have found the antidote to our fears.

Take heart. He is with us. Do not be afraid.