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, 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.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Our Passport

The passport is proof of identity. It identifies citizenship, the sovereign territory to which I belong. As I cross a border to another country, the customs official will have me open the passport to the photo page. Then the official looks back and forth between the photo and my face with the unspoken question: is it really the same person?

On Easter Sunday we renewed the promises made at the time of our Baptism. This moment of renewal is like showing our passport. We are announcing the sovereign territory to which we belong. At Baptism we crossed a border into not just a new territory but a new life. We traversed the frontier separating sin from holiness, death from life. We left the land of self-reliance and entered the realm of dependence upon Christ. Our sovereign ruler is Jesus the Risen Lord; we are citizens of his kingdom. By his death and resurrection Jesus has been made Lord - Ruler - of heaven and earth. Since by Baptism we are given union with Christ (cf. Romans 6:5), we became through that sacrament citizens of heaven, even as we continue on our earthly pilgrimage. That's why we heard St. Paul tell us in his letter to the Colossians: "If you have been raised with Christ seek the things that are above... Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth." (cf. Colossians 3: 1-4) In other words, don't forget your true citizenship and set your priorities accordingly.

As we renewed our baptismal promises, we were led through the Creed, the great summary statement of Christian faith. First, we recalled the territory we left behind Do you reject Satan and all his empty promises? I do! Since Jesus by his resurrection has vanquished the power of sin and death, those who follow him give a resounding No to the Evil One and to all that is wrong. We've crossed that border and there is no going back! Then we professed our citizenship: Do you believe in God the Father? In Jesus Christ His Son? In the Holy Spirit? In the Church? To each we said, I do! By his resurrection from the dead and gift of the Holy Spirit, Jesus has revealed the truth about God - Father, Son and Holy Spirit - and has made it possible for us to share in that very divine life! He makes us members of his Body, the Church, called to be his people, fellow citizens with the saints, even as now we are on pilgrimage to the fullness of life in his heavenly kingdom. Those who follow Jesus give a resounding Yes to God and to his saving purpose. This is where we belong. This is our homeland.

Now, giving those answers was like opening our passports to the photo page. As we proclaimed our faith we presented the Christian image. It is good always to ask the question: as others look at the reality of my life - how I act, how I think, how I speak - how does the reality compare to the photo? Is it the same person?

Truth to tell, even though at Easter we proclaim our Yes to God and No to evil, in our daily lives we often get it backwards, saying Yes to evil and No to God. The photo doesn't match the reality. If that happens at a border crossing we are refused entry and sent away. But that is not how God acts. When we acknowledge in humility and contrition that our lives do not correspond with our words, we are not kicked out of his territory; we are forgiven. Such is the steadfast love of God; such is his unfailing mercy.

So, having renewed our baptismal promises, let's remain aware of our true homeland, the boundaries of which are marked out by our faith in the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. Let's humbly admit our tendency not to live up to what is expected of us as citizens under Christ's sovereignty, and thus our need for God's constant help. By the gift of his mercy, may our Sovereign Lord enable us always to say No to evil and Yes to God, not only with the picture of our words but also with the reality of our lives.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Rock Solid Fidelity

What a joy it was to dedicate the new church and altar of Corpus Christi parish in Edmonton on Saturday. The event was nearly sixteen years in the making, so everyone was understandably bursting with excitement.

The ceremony involves consecrating the altar and church walls with sacred Chrism. The action brings about a permanent consecration - or setting apart - for a sacred purpose. The building is dedicated for the sole purpose of the worship of God. The altar is made of stone and is not to be moved from its place. In this way is symbolized that the centrality of the Eucharist in the life of the Christian is never to be displaced by anything else. Fundamentally, the altar symbolizes Christ, and its immovability stands for the rock solid fidelity of the Lord to his Church.

That self same fidelity is on dramatic display throughout the sacred liturgies of Holy Week. The steadfast love of God led to the gift of His Son, whose faithful love of the Father and fidelity to his people brought him to the Cross.

What of our own fidelity? Faithfulness to Christ is the centre of Christian discipleship. Yet, like Peter who denied the Lord, we, too, have lives marked by varying degrees of infidelity. Yet God is merciful. Let us ask Jesus to do for us what he did for Peter at the time of the latter's betrayal: let's ask him to look at us with eyes of mercy to reveal our need for repentance and renewal. By that same mercy may He make us ready to renew at Easter our baptismal promises of fidelity.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Let Go

As we review prayerfully the Scripture passages from Sunday, we realize that the Lord is calling us to a lot of "letting go" of things that keep us from freedom and joy.

Let go of sin. The Gospel narrative is the familiar one of the woman caught in adultery. Jesus commands her to sin no more. Are we clinging tenaciously to any sinful patterns of behaviour or thought?

Let go of fear. In great love, Jesus forgives the woman. There is no sin so great as to lie beyond the reach of the Lord's mercy. Let's never be afraid to bring it to him through confession and know the joy of his forgiveness.

Let go of stones. The scribes and Pharisees told Jesus the law of Moses called for putting the adulterous woman to death by stoning. He replied with his famous: "Let the one who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her." His words are a summons to let go not only of the stones but also of the self-righteousness and hateful intentions that led to picking up the stones in the first place.

Let go of resistance to Christ. The scribes and Pharisees were actually less concerned about the woman than they were about trapping Jesus. They simply used her as a pawn. It was yet one more expression of a total refusal of the revelation of God's mercy and love in Jesus Christ. May our hearts never be closed to him!

Let go of the past. This is implicit in the act of forgiveness by Jesus, and explicit in the first two readings. From Isaiah we heard: "Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old." St. Paul speaks of "forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead." The forgiveness of God is total and aims at fashioning or re-fashioning a new person. The past is just that - past. But, oh how we cling to it! We continue to condemn ourselves for past sins, even those we have brought to confession. Or we persist in our brooding over past wrongs done to us. Let go! For as long as we hold on to our past, it, in fact, maintains a terrible grip on us. Of course, we must learn from our past - it keeps us very humble! But we risk sinning against God's mercy and the totality of his love if we continue our firm grip on past wrongs and mistakes.

What makes all this "letting go" possible is a certain "holding on" to the truth of God's love revealed in Christ. Let's consider here something else we heard from St. Paul. Compared to knowing the love of God in Christ Jesus, he says, everything else is "rubbish!" Such insight is born of encounter with the person of Jesus and renders the "letting go" not only possible but also natural.

As we carry these Scripture passages into our week, let's ask the Lord to help us be free of all "clinging" that prevents us from living fully the Christian life.

Monday, March 7, 2016


Plane travel isn't fun. The more I have to make use of the airplane, the less I like it. Occasionally, though, I have unusual encounters with people that add something interesting to the flight. Like the other evening, for instance. In the boarding process I took my aisle seat. Shortly thereafter a woman came down the centre of the plane and indicated that hers was the seat next to mine, so I got up to let her in. When she noticed my clerical shirt, she slouched her shoulders in a gesture of frustration, and gave an audible "Ugh!" When she saw my surprised expression, she explained, "I was just short tempered with the agent at the gate. Now that I see you I know I'm going to hell for sure!" Gosh. I really hadn't thought my face has a particularly menacing demeanour, certainly not enough to instill fear of eternal damnation! Guess I'll have to work on my charm.

Instructive for us is the woman's acknowledgement of guilt. No rationalization, no diminishing of the act's seriousness. Simply: I did something wrong and I admit it. This is a grace for which we can and should pray during this season of Lent, the grace of being convicted in our hearts of our need to repent, and the capacity to admit it in humility.

Of course, this is what happens in confession. We don't normally propose that it take place on a commercial jet, but in the safe and sacred encounter between priest and penitent in the confessional or reconciliation room. It is a moment of truth. Coming before Christ present and active in the words and absolution of the priest, it could not be otherwise. Speaking our truth as sinners, and hearing the truth of God's limitless mercy brings a liberation and peace beyond understanding.

Limitless mercy. One might even use the word "prodigal". This Sunday we heard the familiar and beloved parable usually called the story of the prodigal son. True enough. The son was heartlessly prodigal in the wasteful and useless spending of his inheritance. Yet, the father, too, was prodigal in his own way. He was positively and heartfully lavish in the love and forgiveness he poured out upon his son. The key to it all was the son's acknowledgement of his guilt, his sorrow and shame at what he had done, and his willingness to admit it without qualification. He had "come to his senses" and turned back to his father.

We know that the image of the father in the parable is used by Jesus to teach us about the love and mercy of our Heavenly Father. It is yet one more invitation from the Lord to return to the embrace of His love. Let's pray for the grace to come to our senses, for the gift of true contrition. May the Holy Spirit awaken us not only to our need for mercy but also to the truth of God's prodigal love awaiting our return.