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, November 24, 2014

Hangers and Hope

The other day I was speaking with a couple of people who work in one of our soup kitchens in Edmonton. It is a place that provides not only food but also clothing, and among the people who come for help are the homeless of the city.

Recently a man came to them who had been provided with housing under the city's plan to end homelessness. On this day he had a new sense of hope because he had a place to call is own, and he asked for something he had not sought before: hangers! Up until that time he had for clothing only what was on his back and a change carried in his backpack. He wouldn't ask for more because he had no place to keep it. Now he did, and so he asked for hangers. When he received them, I am told his face lit up. They represented for him a new beginning and thus new hope.

This real-life episode is a stark reminder of the sad fact of real poverty in our midst, a situation that cries out for our response. It comes to mind as I listen to the teaching of the Gospel for Sunday, the feast of Christ the King. It speaks of the Last Judgment, and makes clear the basis on which the Lord Jesus, our King and Judge, will pronounce upon our eternal state: "I was hungry and you gave me food..."

The love of our God, revealed in Jesus and announced in the Gospels, calls us to service not only of the poor but also of the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick, the prisoner, and to recognize that, in serving these, the "least", we serve him.

These situations of need are real and multiple. We know that many in our midst are hungry; our food banks are busy. At the same time we are conscious of a widespread hunger in our society for meaning and truth. The thirsting are not only those seeking a drink of water but also the too many people who thirst for healing in their families. With the rise in immigration to our province, there are many new people, strangers in our land, who seek a welcome. Yet even in our homes loved ones become estranged from one another through anger and bitterness and an inability to listen. The naked are not only those who, like our friend looking for hangers, have just what they wear on their back, but also any who have been stripped of their dignity by unemployment or abuse. We know that there are many sick in our hospitals we can visit; we need also to be conscious of people suffering the less visible but perhaps more debilitating diseases of loneliness and despair. When I go into prisons to visit the inmates I see many locked behind bars longing for freedom. Yet outside of those institutions I often encounter people incarcerated by addictions and hatred, yearning to be set free from those shackles.

The rule of Jesus, our King, is that of a good shepherd, who seeks out any in need to bring them the healing of God's love. Indeed, that love is so great that he identifies himself with the needy: "As often as you did this to one of the least of these, you did it to me." He calls those who would follow him likewise to be in search of the hurting and to be merciful toward them, and thus be of real service to our Master.

In response to this call, Catholic Social Services came to birth in our Archdiocese more than fifty years ago. In many ways it serves Christ in his poor and needy, offering many "hangers" upon which those in need can reliably depend. Its annual fund-raising campaign, called Sign of Hope, raises needed funds to make many of their services possible. If you have not already done so, I heartily encourage you to make a donation. You can find out more at

Monday, November 10, 2014

Living the Cross

Last week I visited Holy Cross Academy, one of our Catholic schools in the city of Edmonton. Given the name, I used the occasion to ask the students what they understood by the Cross. The answers, I must say, were very moving. They understood well that it was the perfect sign of the extent to which they are loved by Jesus Christ. They also appreciated that the act at the heart of the Cross - self-sacrifice - was one that called them to do the same. I explored with them what that would look like in their own lives, and the responses were spontaneous, even from the younger grades: doing my chores at home, cleaning up my room (some found that especially challenging!), helping friends at school and giving to others. We spoke together about how the Cross teaches us that we are most fully ourselves when we give ourselves away.

Through self-sacrifice we make visible our appropriation of the truth of the Cross. This week our country remembers those who lived out the meaning of the Cross in a particularly dramatic way by the sacrifice of their own lives for the sake of the life and liberty of others. We stand in awe before the bravery, courage and concern for others that led men and women to "stand in harm's way" in defence of their country and fellow citizens. As we reflect upon this particular living out of the meaning of the Cross, we realize that we are each called to make of our lives a sacrifice for others in our particular circumstances.

We think, too, of the families of our war heroes. Their sacrifice also is great and deserving of our thanks. I find it always very moving to see pictures of spouses and children taking leave of their loved ones as they depart for dangerous missions. This, too, is a living out of the meaning of the Cross. On Remembrance Day we also embrace them with our respect and esteem.

We might be tempted to think of remembering as an act of looking backward. In fact, it is actually an act by which we bring the past to the present so that we might learn from it for the sake of a better future. When we apply such remembrance to the Cross of Christ, the lesson is hope. Christ's death from his self-sacrifice led to the Resurrection; it led to life. By living the meaning of the Cross of Christ, our fallen heroes gave their lives moved by the hope that Jesus has shown to be real. May this same hope inspire us to give of ourselves for others.

Monday, November 3, 2014

A Great Presbyterate

Here in the Archdiocese of Edmonton we are about to enter our annual "Mid-Term Assembly", in which our priests gather for a time of study and reflection. It "kicks off" this evening with a mass and dinner in honour of those priests celebrating a significant jubilee anniversary this year. This provides me and their brothers in the priesthood an opportunity to celebrate these men and thank them for their faithful service.

In truth, the presbyterate here in general is worthy of celebration. We are gifted in this Archdiocese with a community of dedicated and faithful priests. When I visit parishes it is a joy for me to have people make a point of telling me how much they love and respect their priests, and that happens often. (And, no, the priests aren't paying their people to tell me those things!!)

In Sunday's Gospel we heard Jesus issue an invitation to all who are weary and heavy-burdened to come to him for rest. This invitation is made concrete through the ministry of the priest. He acts in persona Christi capitis, that is, in the person of Christ, the Head of the Church. Many people do, in fact, carry heavy - very heavy - burdens: loneliness, addiction, family tension, caring for a sick child, unemployment and so on. True hope arises from our encounter with Jesus Christ, and it is the role of the priest to manifest the Lord's concern for his people and give voice to his invitation.

Perhaps we could all take a moment today to offer our personal thanks to God for our priests. Each day they offer their personal weakness and limits to God as they ask Him to work in and through their ministry for the sake of His people. May we all be open to the grace of God that comes to us daily through our priests' dedicated service.

Monday, October 27, 2014

A Voice that Speaks of Peace

As commentator after commentator dissected the horrible events in Canada this past week - the killing of Canadian soldiers by what are believed to be "radicalized" Islamists, I found my mind going often to a beautiful - and now very timely - expression in the Psalms: "Let me hear what God the Lord will speak, for he will speak peace to his people, to his faithful, to those who turn to him in their hearts." (Psalm 85:8). Among the questions asked in relation to these tragedies is that of the voices to which the killers had been listening. Who are they listening to? Who is influencing and warping their understanding of things? Clearly, they are voices of hatred, influences which have so twisted their minds as to lead them to kill, messages that turn their hearts to desire and effect acts of aggression.

Particularly perverse are the voices that justify and encourage violence in the name of religion. In stark contrast is the teaching of the Psalmist, who seeks to listen to the voice of the Lord, a voice that speaks of peace.

That divine voice has become incarnate in Jesus Christ. As we listen to this voice of the Lord, he makes clear what leads to true peace: love of God and love of neighbour. These two inseparable commandments are at the centre of his teaching in the Gospel of Sunday past. This love is not a "warm fuzzy" but a commitment that is truly "radical", i.e. from the very roots of our being. Love of God with all one's heart, mind, soul and strength means to accept God, his love and teachings as the foundation of our lives. Likewise does love of neighbour call forth from us a commitment that engages the entirety of self. Love of neighbour means to give of oneself fully to the other so that a society of true justice is formed. Love of God and love of neighbour is true religion. It leads to peace and allows absolutely no room for violence.

Who am I listening to? The events of this week underscore with dramatic clarity just how important a question this is. Let us collectively listen to - and follow (!) - that one voice that both speaks of peace and fashions it.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Let’s Band Together to Do Good

My day yesterday was marked by the same experience shared by all Canadians: shock and horror at the tragic events in Ottawa. I might have surrendered to the natural temptation to fear before the ugly face of evil, were it not for another experience that announced hope. Earlier in the day I attended a community breakfast in support of the Alberta Association of Community Living. There I heard wonderful stories of hope. People carrying crosses of unbearable weight due to family members suffering severe disabilities shared how they found hope from members of the community banding together to help them and give much needed support.

The contrast between the two experiences was striking, and reminded me of what the Christian tradition has long held and taught: Light and darkness are not of equal weight. Light dispels darkness and hope banishes fear. Light and hope have come to the world in Jesus Christ, and they are made both visible and tangible when people come together to overcome evil and suffering by the power of good. That is the lesson of the dying and rising of Jesus and we do well to remember it. In that light, we dare to live without fear.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Dual Citizenship

Nice to have if you can get it. Most of us have citizenship in only one country. Rarely, a person may have citizenship in another at the same time. In an important sense, though, dual citizenship is not as unusual as one might think. In fact, the Scripture readings of this past Sunday teach us that God wills dual citizenship for all of his people. While we belong to countries in the earthly realm, we are called at the same time to citizenship in the heavenly, in what we call the kingdom of God.

Citizenship entails responsibilities. We pay taxes, we participate in the political process, we craft and obey laws, etc. What about citizenship in the Kingdom of heaven? Naturally there are responsibilities incumbent upon us in that sphere also.

God's kingdom has come to us in the person of Jesus Christ. In virtue of our union with him - a union brought about by faith, repentance and baptism, we are drawn into that kingdom, even if only partially during our sojourn on earth, and are thus called to assume its responsibilities. We know these from the teaching of Jesus: love God and neighbour, have faith in Jesus, live a life of holiness, accept the call to evangelize.

Even though we know our duties as citizens, sometimes these responsibilities are not met. People will try to reduce the amount they pay in tax, sometimes even to the point of cheating; at times people do not even cast votes at election time, and we know from a drive around town that traffic laws are not always followed. Is there a similar shirking of responsibility as citizens of God's kingdom?

This is precisely what is at issue in the encounter between Jesus and the Pharisees and Herodians recounted in Sunday's Gospel (cf. Matthew 22: 15-21). They are trying to trap him with the question of payment of taxes to Caesar. If Jesus were to reply that it is not required that the tax be paid, he could have been brought up on charges of sedition; had he encouraged the payment of tax he would have lost credibility in the minds of many who hated the emperor and the oppression brought upon them by the Romans. Jesus deflects the question easily (give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar) and then takes it to a deeper level: give to God what belongs to God.

What belongs to God is the entirety of our lives. His claim upon us is absolute. Citizenship in this kingdom means the surrender of all into the hands of Jesus, in whom God's kingdom has broken into human history. The enemies of Jesus demonstrated their unwillingness to live as such citizens. They sought to keep Jesus at bay, even to the point of seeking to have him arrested and killed. They did not want to accept the radical change in their lives that would be the inevitable consequence of accepting and following Jesus.

What about us? Are we also keeping Jesus away, hesitant to accept his call to conversion? Are we afraid to live authentically as his disciples and thus as citizens of his kingdom? There is absolutely no reason to fear Jesus and his call. Discipleship is beautiful, and the acceptance here and now of the responsibilities incumbent upon us as citizens of his kingdom bring a joy and peace for ourselves and others far beyond the reach of any earthly power.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

The Missing Preposition

I listened for it but could not hear it. It just wasn't there. A radio news report during the Thanksgiving Weekend featured a number of people, young and old, rhyming off a list of things they were thankful "for". What I was waiting to hear was mention of being thankful "to", as in "to whom"? Gratitude arises from an awareness that I have received something from another. Thankfulness is therefore expressed toward the giver; it is a matter not only of being thankful "for" but also thankful "to". Why was this natural and all-important preposition absent?

St. Paul asks this arresting question: "What do you have that you did not receive?" (1Corinthians 4:7). In other words, all in life is gift, and the giver is God, who loves us beyond all imagining and who never fails to give his children what is good. So powerful is this love of God that it can transform even what is bad into the gift of something good. This is what Jesus did when he took pain, suffering and death upon himself and transformed it, through his resurrection, into the gift of eternal life. That little word "to" is of immense importance. It directs our attention - and our gratitude - toward the source of the gift, who is God.

The absence of this preposition in common discourse is perhaps a sign of the need to welcome God back into our lives. Of course, it is good to be thankful "for", but at the same time I really ought to direct my thanks to the One whose love is the foundation of all good things, even life itself. To forget this is to lose sight of the foundation of real hope.