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, July 28, 2014

Our Chances are Better than Fifty-Fifty

Just back from some holidays in Halifax. It is certainly a precious gift to be able to spend time with family and I am very grateful for the opportunity.

Not long after I returned I found Edmonton in the grip of a frenzy of excitement. Minds, hearts and imaginations were gripped by a phenomenon called “the 50/50 draw”. It was to take place at a football match between the Edmonton Eskimos and the Calgary Stampeders. Normally this long-time rivalry would be enough to bring in the crowds. The real attraction this time, though, was the chance to win approximately $350,000.00. From media reports it seems there were almost as many people in the ticket lineups as in the stands. A lot of money was handed over in the chance to win this prize, and it was talked about for days afterward.

Would that we were as enthusiastic about a far more important prize! It is not limited to one winner but available to all. Its reward is not transitory but eternal. The “prize” is that spoken of by Jesus in Sunday’s Gospel, namely, the kingdom of heaven (cf. Matthew 13: 44-52).

Our Lord speaks of this as the “pearl of great price”. He tells in the parable about one who finds it and, in order to purchase it, sells everything he has. He likewise in an adjacent parable speaks of the kingdom as a treasure hidden in a field. The one who finds it sells all that he has in order to purchase the field and the treasure therein. Football fans spent a few dollars in order to attain a substantial sum, but their lives were not likely changed much by what they sacrificed. The Lord is teaching, however, that the “prize” he makes available to us is so precious that, once we have found it, we are willing to give “all that we possess”, i.e., give all that we are, undergo a radical change in our lives, so that this “prize” is ours forever.

The kingdom of heaven has broken into our world in the very person of Jesus Christ. In him the full revelation of God’s love and the perfect human response of loving obedience meet. To encounter Christ and to be drawn into a living union with him by the working of the Holy Spirit is to participate, even now, though imperfectly, in the kingdom of heaven. This encounter with our Lord awakens us to the truth that there is nothing more precious than a life lived in union with him. Jesus is the pearl of great price, the unparalleled treasure. Let us not hesitate to give our all in order to enter fully into this wondrous mystery. We will, in truth, lose nothing of import and gain everything that really matters!



Thursday, July 3, 2014

Celebrating a Covenant

Just back from Yellowknife. I made a quick trip there yesterday in the company of Deacon Pat Hessel and Roger Plouffe, who are working with me on the furtherance of the covenant partnership that now exists between the Archdiocese of Edmonton and the Diocese of Mackenzie-Fort Smith. While there we met through the day with Bishop Mark Hagemoen, Fr Joe Daly and Gerri Fletcher. This gave us an opportunity to consider aspects of the partnership and how we might work together for the furtherance of the new evangelization to which the Church is called.

This partnering initiative grew out of the invitation given by St John Paul II to the Church in America (i.e. Western Hemisphere) to look for opportunities for dioceses to work together in support of our common mission in Christ. Last evening, at the end of Mass, we sealed our partnership through a formal signing ceremony of a covenant statement, and an exchange of drums, each so painted as to represent facets of our respective Dioceses.



Each features a depiction of Saint Kateri Tekakwitha, to whose intercession we are entrusting our new relationship. It was a joyful encounter and we all look forward to discerning together where the Holy Spirit is leading us in this endeavour.

The covenant statement is as follows:



Please keep this in your prayers. Thanks.

I will be on holidays next week and the following. I will get back to "blogging" toward the end of July. I hope you have a restful summer! God bless.

Monday, June 16, 2014

To Visit the Poor

Last Saturday evening I had the great blessing of celebrating Mass with members of the National Council of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. They were gathered in Edmonton for their national convention.

I make no secret of my long-standing admiration for this organization, having known of it since my days of youth in Halifax. It is essentially an organization of Catholic laypersons dedicated to caring for the poor. Of course, there are many such movements in the Church. What is distinctive of SSVP is their commitment to visit. They do not insist that the poor come to them, but when they learn of a need they go out, two by two, to visit them in their homes and assess their need so as to make provision.

Our Eucharistic celebration occurred on the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity. Both the Scripture readings for that feast, as well as the occasion itself, underscored the importance of the visitation that stands at the heart of the SSVP ministry.

The readings spoke of the wondrous truth that God has visited his people. The first, from Exodus, spoke of God "visiting" Moses on Mt Sinai and making known his essence as tenderness and compassion - as love, in other words. This love became incarnate in Jesus, who is God's ultimate visitation to his people through the wonder of the Incarnation. In the Gospel passage from John Jesus made clear that this divine visit is motivated by love: "God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son..." (John 3:16). God's visit is a manifestation of concern and an assurance of nearness. The visits undertaken by members of SSVP, known as Vincentians, mirror this love and thus bring both assistance and hope.

Placing the work of SSVP against the backdrop of the mystery of the Most Holy Trinity deepens our appreciation of what they do. God the Father sent His Son and Holy Spirit to the world with the precise purpose of freeing us from sin so that we might participate, even now to a degree, in His own Trinitarian life! In other words, God's visitation is made with a view to communion. This, too, is mirrored by the visits undertaken by Vincentians to the poor. How often has our Holy Father challenged us to go out to the peripheries of society - to the poor, the needy and the forgotten - with the love of Christ! When SSVP members visit the poor they are saying to them, in effect: "You may find yourself on the margins of society but you are never on the peripheries of God's love or of the Church's concern. On the contrary you are at the centre and you are of great value." God's visitation affirms the truth that each person is of inestimable dignity regardless of circumstance. This affirmation is made concrete in the visitation of Vincentians to the poor and to anyone in need.

I give thanks to God for the ministry of the members of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul and pray that their work continue to expand and the support they receive from the People of God be strengthened.

Monday, June 9, 2014

The Antidote to Stress


Stress!!! It's everywhere. Time and again I hear people speaking of being "stressed out". Parents are anxious about making ends meet, problems with the children, the challenges of work, caring for aging parents or, not uncommonly, a combination of all of the above. (I recently was told that forty percent of professionals - yes, 40!!! - are medicated in order to deal with their pressures.) Even children experience stress because of problems in the home, at school or with their peers. When I visit schools I learn very quickly that some of our beloved young people are carrying burdens of worry that no child should ever be expected to bear.

What's going on? It seems to me that the root of much of it is surrender to the illusion of self-reliance. It all depends upon me. This leads in turn to the felt need to control things and to fix problems. The difficulty with this, of course, is that much of the time the circumstances in which we live are beyond our control, and our challenges lie outside our capacity to resolve. If I come at this out of the presupposition that I am my only resource, then nervousness, fear and worry arise, and from these is born stress, and lots of it!

But I am not my only resource. In fact, I am not even my first resource. There is one who is already at work in my life before I am even aware of it, who loves me beyond imagining, and who seeks to use all that unfolds in my life, and in the lives of the ones I love, in order to turn everything to the good. All that he asks is that I transfer my trust. He invites me to trust no longer in myself but in him, to give up the illusion of self-reliance and to rely instead on his love and wisdom. The one of whom I speak is Jesus. He is our Lord, crucified out of love for us and risen from the dead so that we might live in the power of that love.

This transfer of trust is in part what is meant by faith. It is an act of the will, a deliberate decision on our part to place our complete trust in Jesus. Yet we know from experience just how difficult it is to let go of illusions of self-sufficiency and control. Faith, though, is a gift of the Holy Spirit. At Mass on Sunday, the Solemnity of Pentecost, we heard St. Paul teach us: "No one can say 'Jesus is Lord' except by the Holy Spirit." In other words, no one can surrender in faith to Jesus, no one can place their trust completely in him, no one can make the decision to allow him to reign in their life, unless the Holy Spirit gives the ability.

So, let us pray for a new outpouring of the Holy Spirit in our lives. He is the antidote to our stress. He leads us to Jesus and enables us to place our complete trust in him. When we do this, we will witness Jesus doing for us what we cannot do for ourselves, often in surprising ways, and our stress will give way to peace.



Monday, June 2, 2014

The Richest Guy in the Cemetery

Last week I was in Nova Scotia to lead a mission in St. John the Baptist parish in New Glasgow. A great experience with truly wonderful people. One evening I went out for dinner. Somehow the conversation with the restaurant's server turned to the rather large question of life's meaning. Using a very striking turn of phrase, she observed that many people today seem quite intent on becoming "the richest guy in the cemetery". Seldom have I come across a more poignant manner of describing the futility of materialistic pursuit as the only thing that matters. Sadly, her observation is probably very accurate. For many, meaning in our day is discerned solely within a this-worldly context. This turns us in upon ourselves and drives us to pursue illusory goals, which leave us profoundly unhappy as we discover their inability to fulfill our deepest longings. The context has to shift. When we place life's achievements against the stark reality of death, we soon realize that there has to be something more than becoming the richest guy, the best athlete, or the most beautiful person in the cemetery.

Of course, there is more. This comes immediately to view when we discern meaning within the context given by Jesus. That framework is made clear with the Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord, celebrated yesterday. On that solemn feast we commemorated with joy his return to the Heavenly Father from whom he had come to earth in his Incarnation. Jesus is the Son "who is close to the Father's heart" (John 1:18), and who came to us both to make the Father known and to lead us back to Him. The First Preface for the Mass of the Ascension speaks beautifully of this mystery: "Mediator between God and man, judge of the world and Lord of hosts, he ascended, not to distance himself from our lowly state but that we, his members, might be confident of following where he, our Head and Founder, has gone before." In his Ascension, Jesus returns to the Father to prepare in heaven a place for us so that we might be where he is forever (cf. John 14:1-3). This is the mystery that gives ultimate meaning to our lives. From that meaning derives true direction and hope.

The "richest guy in the cemetery"? I think not. Jesus invites us to set our sights higher, infinitely higher, than that! He calls us to have as our goal eternal life, and summons us to weigh all of our decisions and make our every choice with that objective in mind. This is not to say we do this on our own. No, we need the love and mercy of Jesus. He alone is the way to the Father (cf. John 14:6). Only he can bring our hope to fulfillment. As we prepare our hearts for the celebration of Pentecost next Sunday, let us pray that the gift of the Holy Spirit keep us united to Jesus so that, in him, we shall one day see the Father and be fully satisfied.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Treasure and Protect the Gift

Yesterday the Church celebrated what we traditionally call "Good Shepherd Sunday". We listened to Jesus, the Good Shepherd, teach us that he has come from the Father so that we might have life in abundance. This wondrous gift of life is something to treasure and celebrate. Recent attacks on life through both violence and indifference underscore the need to do so.


A beautiful celebration of life occurred in Edmonton last Thursday. Hundreds gathered to hear speeches at our provincial legislature and City Hall and to march through the streets of downtown. Our action coincided with that of thousands of others in cities across Canada, united in our annual March for Life. The spirit among the participants - a great many of whom were youth! - was peaceful and joyful. Life is precious and we are ready to take any opportunity to celebrate it and speak out in its defence whenever it is attacked or threatened.

A violent and senseless attack on human life occurred the day after the march in the tragic murder of a priest in his rectory in Saint Paul, Alberta, about a three-hour drive northeast of Edmonton. At the time of writing this blog, the motive and other details are not known. What is clear is that a 32-year-old priest, who had made a sacrifice to leave his home country in Africa to serve us here, and who was appreciated by all parishioners as a kind and loving man, was brutally gunned down. Please pray for the repose of his soul, as well as for consolation for his family, religious community and the people he served. His alleged assailant was later killed, and we must hold him and his family in our prayers as well. Statements from the Archdiocese as well as from the Diocese of Saint Paul can be found at www.caedm.ca.

On the very day of the march we witnessed an entirely different threat to life: indifference. One of our federal party leaders used the occasion to state that, henceforth, members of his Parliamentary caucus would have no choice but to vote "pro-choice" in any proposed legislation dealing with abortion. The obvious inherent contradiction in such a stance manifests rather confused thinking, to say the least. Worse, it unmasks a callous indifference to the most vulnerable among us - children in the womb - and a wanton trampling upon the fundamental human rights to life and freedom of conscience.

The March for Life demonstrates a growing willingness of citizens to speak out in defence of life and to celebrate its beauty. I pray that it continue to grow and bear fruit in real protection of God's gift of life at every stage of existence.



Monday, May 5, 2014

A Visit to L'Arche

This morning I had the opportunity to visit L’Arche Edmonton. For a long time I have admired this movement founded fifty years ago by the Canadian, Jean Vanier. It is dedicated to the care of persons with mental and other developmental issues, and offers them communities of love and support. Staff and volunteers are people of extraordinary dedication. It is clear they cherish deeply the persons entrusted to their care.

L’Arche Edmonton began forty-two years ago, and now operates six homes in the city, together with an administrative and programming centre. It is the latter I was privileged to visit this morning. After I was greeted and treated to coffee and cake, we all gathered together for the “morning circle”. We sang together, and then each one of us took turns offering prayers for one another and for whatever needs we wanted to bring before the Lord.

During the prayer I was struck by the number of times prayers were offered to God in thanksgiving. There was a lively sense of the goodness and providence of God, and that we can trust that God will – and does – give us great things, especially family and friends, and provides for all of our needs. When I arrived for the visit I was thinking that this kind of outreach is a beautiful example of the Christian call to go out to the “peripheries” with the joy and beauty of the Gospel. While this is obviously true, as I listened and offered my own prayers I found myself wondering: who really is on the “periphery” here? A self-reliant society such as ours places itself on the periphery, even outside, of the joy and peace that come from trust in God. This is a terrible alienation that gives birth to sadness and despair. At L’Arche I found persons who, in respect of communion with God and his people, are very much at the centre of things and are joyful as a result, even in the midst of quite remarkable challenges. We need their example. I am grateful to God for this world-wide movement, and in particular for their presence in this Archdiocese.

If you are not familiar with L’Arche, I invite you to get informed. You can visit them at www.larche.ca/en/communities/edmonton-shalom‎.