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, September 26, 2016

Travel Light

There must be a knack to traveling "light". I just haven't found it yet. Quite often I end up packing in my suitcase a bit more than I need. You know, "just in case". But the "in case" seldom happens, and I end up dealing with excess baggage and more "stuff" than is necessary.

When this tendency extends beyond a simple road trip to everyday living, major societal problems ensue. When persons and nations pack into the "suitcase" of daily life more than is needed and allow their living to be weighed down by excess, it is often at the expense of others. Moreover, we can become so preoccupied with accumulating and keeping the unnecessary, that we actually fail to notice the plight of persons who do not have what is, in fact, necessary for a dignified life.

This is addressed by Jesus in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, narrated in the passage from St Luke we heard at mass on Sunday. The rich man is so totally absorbed in the enjoyment of luxurious excess that he is indifferent to the real lack from which Lazarus, present at his very door, suffers. When both die their situations are reversed: Lazarus is comforted in heaven, while the rich man suffers torment in hell. Furthermore, an impassable chasm is fixed between them.

The message is clear and arresting: we are to be the carriers in history of God's love and compassion for the poor; how we order our earthly life in view of this responsibility will have eternal and irreversible consequences.

By God's grace, may we learn to "travel light". The familiar saying puts it well: "to live simply so that others may simply live." Carrying excess "just in case" is a decision to trust more in our own calculus than in God's sure providence. May our own experience of God's goodness and love heal our blindness towards those who are in need and liberate us from indifference to their suffering.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Getting the Keys to the Car

That was a big moment, oh so long ago now. Exciting for me, definitely; nerve-wracking, I’m sure, for my father. The day he made the decision to trust me enough to take the car - HIS car - and drive it on my own not long after I had received my driver’s license. He gave me the keys, yes, but of course I knew that it was not my car, that I was expected to use it well, to drive according to the rules, and to return it to him in good shape. Of his car I was but a steward, expected to be trustworthy in the use I made of something that belonged to another. Handing me the keys was not a transfer of ownership, but an expression of trust in my ability to be responsible.

Stewardship is at the heart of the Gospel passage we heard at mass on Sunday (Luke 16:1-13). Even though it addresses itself to the issue of monetary wealth, in fact it challenges us to examine our trustworthiness as stewards in a host of contexts. In many ways, God “hands us the keys”. The foundational question is: do I understand that all is God’s gift, given for responsible care and use in accordance with God’s purposes? Keeping this truth in mind shapes the use I make of what has been entrusted to me.

The issue is urgent. Squandering God’s gifts by using them not for his glory or our neighbour’s good but for our own selfish pursuits leads to great damage. Consider the gift of life. Clearly, this is God’s gift, yet legalization of assisted suicide and euthanasia, unlimited access to abortion, artificial reproduction and so on reveals the societal presumption that we are masters, not stewards, of this wondrous gift, which we end up destroying. We wreck the car. Think, too, of the gift of the senses. We best use eyesight to contemplate the beauty of creation, yet can abuse it by leering at pornography; speech is best put to use by praising God and saying only those things which will build others up (cf. Ephesians 4:29), yet both speech and hearing are often degraded by placing them at the service of gossip. The car is returned badly damaged. Generally speaking, when we forget that we are stewards, dependent upon God’s love and goodness and entrusted with using his gifts responsibly, and act as if we were owners, able to dispose of things and people as we determine, the wheels fall off altogether and life grinds to a meaningless and painful halt.

When my father handed the keys over, I drove off on my own, and he was left wondering (stewing??) how it would turn out. When the Lord “hands over the keys” to us, he gets in the car with us. This is not a diminishment of our responsibility, but an assurance that Jesus is always with us, as he promised. A faithful steward both accepts responsibility and relies upon grace for the fulfillment of duty. Let’s accept the keys he gives us, and pray always for the gift of fidelity.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Ready for the Exam?

Back to school this past week for many children. As they resume the learning process, they will soon come up against a necessary aspect of it: the examination. Students are challenged in their growth and learning by being held to standards and expectations; the examination will enable the teacher to assess how well they are doing.

I mention this because attention was drawn this week by none other than Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI to another type of examination that will face all of us. Reports are beginning to circulate about the contents of an interview he recently gave, and that will be published in English in November under the title Last Testament. When asked how he is spending the time of his retirement, he is reported to have replied that he is now “preparing to pass the ultimate examination before God.”

This is a very important reminder to all of us. In our hectic culture, the pressure of immediate urgency can make us near-sighted; we see and concentrate only on what is before us and forget the longer view. Benedict reminds us of the central truth that must govern every aspect of our lives: God has made clear to us in His Son, Jesus, that we shall be held accountable at the end of our lives for the way we have lived. Sacred Scripture and the Tradition of the Church have passed on from Christ the moral standard given from above to guide our lives. This means that we should be constantly examining ourselves against the standard, and asking God for the strength to be faithful and for his mercy when we are not. Of course, this is something Pope Emeritus Benedict has been doing all his life, and not only in this last stage of it. His is an example for all of us to follow.

How might such an examination be carried out? Well, the Scripture passages we heard proclaimed on Sunday at Mass are an excellent guide. They remind us, first, of the primacy of God’s love and of his desire to save his people through the forgiveness of sins. St. Paul is crystal clear: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” (1Timothy 1:15). That’s you and me. All are in need of the mercy that Christ alone can give. The self-examination begins with this acknowledgement of our weakness and need, and the assurance of God’s love and mercy if we are truly repentant.

The passages also are a very helpful reminder of the ways we can fall short of the standard. Perhaps we are like the people, who, according to Exodus, decided to worship a golden calf, the work of their own hands, instead of the Living God (cf. Exodus 32: 7-11, 13-14). We can have lots of idols of our own making in our lives: reputation, power, wealth, accomplishments and so on. Or perhaps we can do as St. Paul said he once did, namely, persecute the Church (1Timothy 1:13). Do we rebel against the teachings of Christ and his Church by our words or lifestyles? The parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15: 11-32) reminds us that we, too, can squander the beautiful gifts of God by using them not for the glory of God and the good of others but for the selfish pursuit of our own desires. Likewise does the parable invite us to ask in what ways we imitate the older brother. Do we stand in judgment of others, withhold forgiveness or act as if we earn God’s love by living an upright life?

Preparation for “the ultimate examination” is not something to delay, to put off until later in life. The time for it is now. From the beginning of his pontificate, and especially in this Jubilee of Mercy, Pope Francis has repeatedly stressed that, although God never tires of forgiving us, nevertheless we often tire of asking for that forgiveness. Let us be alert always to our need for mercy, and turn frequently, with contrite hearts, to God who rejoices to grant his pardon, restore us to life, and help us to be prepared to pass that all-important exam.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

SAINT Teresa of Calcutta… Pray for Us!

Canonization day today (Sunday, Sept 4th)! Deo gratias!

Recently circumstances brought me into contact with a wonderful organization of healthcare professionals: the Victorian Order of Nurses (VON). They visit patients in their homes to offer a number of medical services. Among the helps they offer is assuring that the patient remembers to take any medication that has been prescribed. This is invaluable for anyone who may have the tendency to forget to take the medicine. This is a serious matter. Medication is prescribed for a reason and must be taken as directed if one is to be well. The necessary reminder must be given with regularity: take the medicine!

In this Jubilee Year of Mercy, our Holy Father, Pope Francis, has been reminding us of the medicine prescribed by our Lord for the temporal well-being and eternal salvation of humanity: the medicine of mercy. As weak and sinful human beings, we are entirely dependent upon the mercy of God; we live from his tenderness, compassion and forgiveness. Yet, pride easily and persistently stands in the way of taking this particular pill. Our cultural obsession with the autonomy of the self gives birth to a particularly dangerous and debilitating “Alzheimer's”: we forget our need for mercy and hence neglect to implore its bestowal. Moreover, the greater our amnesia in regards to the receipt of mercy, the more we fail to extend it to others.

Mercy is a medicine we are called both to receive and to dispense. On this latter point, the world has no greater model and inspiration than Saint Teresa of Calcutta. Affectionately and respectfully known to the world as Mother Teresa, she has long been recognized and admired as a woman fully dedicated to living the call of the Gospel to be merciful to others. Today’s official numbering of Saint Teresa of Calcutta among the saints is confirmation of what many have long known in their hearts to be true.

I cannot forget the first time I saw her in person. The occasion was a Youth Corps event at Varsity Stadium in Toronto in 1982. Thousands of others were gathered there, and I could see her only from a distance. What I remember vividly when she arrived was the extraordinary energy that exuded from this person of very small stature and filled the stadium. What we all felt instantly was the power of authentic holiness. I do not remember what she said; I do recall the impact of her presence.

As I think about it now, what we experienced that day was what Pope Francis has labelled a particular form of contagion: the contagion of goodness. Standing in the presence of Mother Teresa that day, all present “caught” the desire to grow in holiness through service of others, especially the poorest and most needy. This is something we are all called to “spread” by the example of a holy life.

The diseases of pride, selfishness, hatred, violence and division spread very quickly and are causing great sickness today in the body of the human family. The antidote to these viruses is mercy. They can be healed if we but remember to take the medicine!! We must stop forgetting to to take it and then be quick to dispense it.

Thank you, Saint Teresa of Calcutta, for demonstrating in your own life the great power of mercy to heal and transform. Pray for us

Monday, August 29, 2016

Pokemon Go – Please!

The attraction escapes me.

While I was visiting my family last week in Halifax for holidays, one of my sisters downloaded the Pokemon Go app for her eight-year old son. He was very excited and starting running around the family property with the smartphone. He was apparently catching things which existed only in the device, things he enthusiastically called Pokemons. Seemed a little strange to me, but I was happy to see that something had been developed for the amusement of little kids. Later that evening some family members joined me for a stroll along the Halifax waterfront. My nephew had his smartphone and started chasing these imaginary things again. He was not alone. To my surprise, it seemed that every other adult (!!) there was doing the same thing! More than once I feared that a person with their attention glued to the phone would wander off the end of the wharf!

Now, keep in mind that the waterfront of Halifax is frequented by many tourists for its historic significance and natural beauty. I am used to seeing thousands of people out for a leisurely stroll to take it all in. Well, that evening they were there in great numbers all right, but most were turned away from the real beauty around them and saw nothing but their phones and these imaginary little creatures, which somehow were supposed to be findable on the waterfront. I couldn’t see the Pokemons (thank heavens!), but what I did see clearly  were people, phones and an erratic chasing about after nothing.

I’ve heard it opined that this is just another passing fad. Could be. As I think about it though, this transient phenomenon symbolizes a perennial temptation: the preference for illusion over reality and the dedication of enormous amounts of energy and resources to the pursuit of something that doesn’t exist. We are tempted to chase illusion all the time, mistaking it for the real: honour in the eyes of others (Jesus criticized this in Sunday’s Gospel); the identification of happiness with possessions; busy-ness as an indicator of personal worth; taking Hollywood as my moral compass; and so on. Reliance upon illusion in the pursuit of happiness ends in a banal and empty existence. Pokemon Go might well be fun for some. What it represents is no fun for anyone.

A necessary counter-message was heard in Sunday’s first reading from Sirach. It announced the call to humility as a virtue necessary for a well-lived life. Well, true humility is remaining rooted in the real (the reality of God, of God’s love, of my dependence upon that love, of my need for forgiveness and mercy) and the shunning of all illusion that I can find happiness apart from Jesus Christ and the salvation he offers.

Let’s stay rooted in the real and stop chasing after nothing.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Vacation break

I pray that you are enjoying the summer, getting some rest and relaxation and renewing relationships with your loved ones. I also will be taking a bit a of a break, so my next blog post will be on August 29. God bless!

Monday, August 8, 2016

Hearse with a U-Haul?

I remember having a chat many years ago with a colleague, who was commenting on the rather prevalent obsession with accumulating possessions and wealth. He said, “You know, I have yet to see a hearse with a U-Haul behind it.” A rather striking way to voice something we all know to be true and more commonly express as, “You can’t take it with you!”

Which begs the question: What do we take with us? When at death we stand before the judgement seat of Christ, what shall we offer? We know from Sacred Scripture that the Lord will not be particularly interested in a record of things we have accumulated.

In fact, what we are able to offer the Lord, now and at death, is no more than empty hands. It is important to understand this correctly. An ancient heresy called Pelagianism held that we can follow the Lord’s teachings and thus save ourselves without the help of God’s grace. This was condemned by the Church, because the truth is that we can do nothing without the help of God. By that divine help our lives are made an acceptable offering to God. We acknowledge this in the eucharistic prayer at mass: “May he [Christ] make of us an eternal offering to you, so that we may obtain an inheritance [i.e;. eternal life] with your elect…”

I love watching how young children respond when collection is taken up at mass. They obviously have nothing to offer. So, Mum or Dad gives them something, which they then joyfully put in the collection as their own gift. What we can offer the Father is that which is given to us by the grace of Christ, or, better, that which we have been made by him, and we offer it joyfully in gratitude for God’s love and mercy.

This has huge implications for the way we live our lives. It means being disposed daily to that which the Holy Spirit wants to bring about in us. The Scripture readings of Sunday teach something of how to do that.

Fundamental is faith. The excerpt from Wisdom (18:6-9) underscores the trustworthiness of God’s promises to his people, and summons us to rely confidently on them. The passage from the Letter to the Hebrews (11:1-2, 8-19) recalls how this trust was exemplified in Abraham, Sarah, Isaac and Jacob. It thus highlights the centrality of faith, which is lived out as trust in the providence and wisdom of God and surrender to his saving work within us.

This openness in faith to the working of the Lord within our hearts as we journey through life stands behind the instruction of Jesus to, “Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit.” (Luke 12:35) Faith is not passivity. Yes, we rely entirely on the grace of Christ, who works within us by the Holy Spirit to make of us a pleasing offering to the Father. Yet this same grace moves us to acts of charity. Faith finds expression in love (cf. Galatians 5:6). Christian action springs from faith, not from self-centered motives. This is why we must “have our lamps lit,” that is to say, be constantly vigilant to guard against the lies and seductions (like the temptation to accumulate wealth and possessions) that tempt us to rely upon ourselves and take pride in our accomplishments so as thus to lead us away from an authentic Christian life.

We won’t take a U-Haul full of stuff to the grave. But our naturally “empty hands” will be filled with deeds of love if we live by faith and allow the grace of Christ to transform us into an offering truly pleasing to the Father.