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, March 30, 2015

Clear a Path

At the beginning of the Palm Sunday Mass, we hear the familiar story of the entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. In the background is the ancient prophecy of Zechariah: “Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem! Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” Jesus comes as the long-awaited and deeply desired king who would deal with the enemies of Israel and bring liberation.

This is exactly what Jesus did. He entered the city and brought freedom, but in a way no one would have expected, in a manner no one could possibly have anticipated. He did so by going to the Cross, so that by his dying and rising he would defeat the greatest of all enemies, Satan, and bring freedom and new life to all people.
As we recall both the entry and the Cross, an important invitation arises for each of us: to allow Jesus to enter our own personal lives with his liberating power. The crowds prepared a pathway for his entry to the city. Let us prepare the way for him to enter the reality of our lives. His acceptance of the Cross teaches that there is no human situation, however dark, into which God will not enter in order to save his people. Nothing lies outside his concern; nothing is beyond the reach of his love and mercy.

So let us prepare the pathway for him to enter our hearts, in order that he may dispel our fears, heal our guilt, free us from all forms of enslavement, and cure our indifference to the needs of the poor. Let us prepare the path for him to enter our families, so that he may end estrangement and help loved ones forgive each other. Let us clear the road for him to enter our workplace and our society, so that his truth will overcome the lies holding people bound and thus set them free. Jesus who entered Jerusalem with the power of his love wants to come with that same power to the “city” which is every human heart and give once again the gift of life.

My prayer is that this week will be for all of us truly a holy week. Let us together pray daily to be set free of all that is contrary to the Gospel of Christ. Let our hearts truly be open and receptive to receive Christ Jesus, hear his word and be ready for its transforming power. Bring to each of this week’s celebrations not only your personal needs, but also those of the world, bearing especially in mind our brothers and sisters living in dire poverty or in situations of war and terror. May the Church’s proclamation of the power of Christ’s love lead the entire human family to open their hearts to its true King, to let him enter, and thus to taste the gift of the salvation he brings.



Monday, March 23, 2015

Snow Banks

I'm in Halifax for a couple of days. As you may have heard, the folks here have had more than just a skiff of snow to contend with. It's hard to know where to put it all as roads and driveways get cleared. The plowing and the winds have left wondrously high snow banks, and this makes driving very treacherous. The high walls of snow block vision. One has to inch out of the driveway because it is impossible to see what might be coming down the street. Intersections are navigated with difficulty, and exits from highways are perilous, all because it is not possible to see around the obstacles created by the snow.

The weather conditions stand as a helpful metaphor for those obstacles to clear vision that make it difficult to navigate the various intersections encountered daily through normal human interaction.

Human beings are created by God to be interdependent. We need one another. When we understand and accept this, we learn to yield to one another so that life's "traffic" flows smoothly. When our vision of the truth of humanity is blocked, collisions and conflict ensue.

In Sunday's Gospel reading for Mass (cf. John 12: 20-33), we heard Jesus say: "Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies it bears much fruit." This applies first of all to the death and resurrection of Jesus. His death to self brought life to the world. It is applicable also to us. We see the road clearly and travel along it without collision to the degree that we live less for ourselves and more for others.

In this light we can understand well the massive snow bank that has been piling up over the last number of years. It has so blocked our vision of truth that we are now colliding into one another in ways that truly do threaten life. I am speaking of the illusion of human autonomy. Our individualistic culture has been feeding us the illusion that all that matters is the fully autonomous self. What are no more than desires are presented as "rights" that can be pursued at the expense of others. The most egregious and frightening example of this is the recent decision of the Supreme Court of Canada allowing physician-assisted suicide and euthanasia, about which I commented in a recent pastoral letter. The decision is predicated upon this false notion of autonomy, which blocks from view the sovereignty of God and our collective responsibility for the common good. This will cause collisions that are truly lethal in consequence.

The snow banks here will recede when they are touched by the warmth of the sun, and then people will once again have a clear view restored. Our distorted anthropology will fade away as it encounters the truth of things revealed in Christ. If we allow ourselves to receive both him and his message, then he who healed the blind will restore our sight and enable us to live no longer for ourselves but for him and for one another.



Monday, March 16, 2015

FUNDACCO


Twenty-five years ago, a priest of the Archdiocese of Edmonton, Fr. Denis Hebert, arrived in Nicaragua. Having already served the poor in Peru since 1969, he has spent the last quarter-century among the needy in the barrios of Managua. He has let it be known that his health is not particularly good of late, so I spent a couple of days with him this past week. It gave me an opportunity not only to spend time with Fr. Denis, but also to witness firsthand the good work he has done for and with the poor.

He is known as Padre Denis to the local people, who look upon him with great affection. And no wonder. He has dedicated his life to their service. For years he has been making himself present among the people, and has given concrete expression to God's concern and love for them. His presence and ministry led to the establishment of Fundación Acción Communitaria (FUNDACCO).

This not-for-profit foundation, managed and directed by the local people, aims to help the poor help themselves. The heart of the work is instructive for all of us, and can have widespread ramifications. Quite simply, it consists in helping each person name themselves properly, and thus claim his or her inherent dignity and live from a healthy self-respect. This, in turn, has motivated the people to come together in community to identify their challenges and to discuss how they will meet them together. FUNDACCO creates the opportunities for this communal discernment and provides helpful monetary support, with funds raised by an Edmonton foundation called Roots of Change.

The vision of Padre Denis reminds us of the necessity of naming ourselves properly. We grasp the truth of our identity when we allow ourselves to be permeated with the truth of God's love and His plan for each and everyone of us. This truth is beautifully expressed in the words of Jesus proclaimed in Sunday's Gospel passage from St. John: "For God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life." We have been created to be the objects of God's particular love. By that same love we have been re-created in Christ to be inheritors of an eternal destiny. God has created us for an eternal communion of love with Him, and has sent His Son to give his life so that this divine purpose for the world will be brought to fulfilment.

Herein lies the basis of our dignity and the source of our self-respect. It is also the impetus leading us to one another. When we name ourselves in the light of God's purpose for us and of his action in our lives, then we are led to own our collective identity as the children of God. This is what I saw on beautiful display in the barrios of Managua. Those working to improve their lives and that of others are united in a type of familial bond that transcends blood relationship. This experience of communal love in action has arisen from a correct self-naming, inspired by the teaching and love of Padre Dennis.

Our so-called First World culture needs to learn this lesson. Its eclipse of God has led many to misname themselves as self-sufficient and to live individualistic lives. This has led to isolation and fracture, and thus to a pervasive sadness. I hope and pray that we shall all learn to name ourselves correctly in the light of God's self-revelation in Jesus, and soon. Only thus will shall we overcome division and discover the reason for hope.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Bowed Down by Conscience

Mass on Sunday offered a very striking opening prayer. Through the words of the priest, we asked our loving and merciful God to "look graciously on this confession of our lowliness, that we, who are bowed down by our conscience, may always be lifted up by your mercy."

We seek mercy from God, who we know is always ready to grant it in love to the contrite heart. Yet the prayer of the mass makes clear it is our conscience that awakens us to our need for forgiveness. Hmmm. How are we doing with "conscience"? Do we understand what it is? Do we examine our conscience?

These are not idle questions. It seems to me that obedience to conscience - correctly understood - is indispensable to healing the vast array of societal ills that best us, because so many spring from inattentiveness to conscience's demands. Indeed, the fact that our Supreme Court can make legally permissible a moral wrong - physician assisted suicide and euthanasia; the fact that the abortion of thousands of children is presented by many as a societal good; the fact that there exists what Pope Francis has labelled a "globalization of indifference" to the sorry plight of millions living in dire poverty; all these and more point to a widespread darkening and, indeed, silencing of conscience. Would that we were "bowed down by our conscience"! Instead, we are paying it little, if any, attention.

Conscience is not a matter of subjective feeling, of doing what I feel is right. Such an erroneous approach to conscience simply becomes a justification for doing what I want. Rather, conscience is the capacity within the human heart to discern the good that must be done, whether I "feel like" doing it or not. Conscience unveils an imperative, which arises from obedience to an objective moral standard. The standard is the Word of God, faithfully transmitted to us by the teaching of the Church.

That opening prayer of the mass on Sunday suggests a petition we would all do well to offer God daily, namely, that He awaken our consciences, and that there be a great awakening of conscience throughout our land. When we allow God to guide by his grace our examination of conscience, then we become aware of our need for his mercy. Careful attentiveness to conscience gives rise to a "blessed alarm" (cf. Karl Rahner), or what the Church calls a "salutary shock", as we become aware of how far we have fallen from what God's Word demands of us." It is, indeed, "blessed" and "salutary", because, even though it bows us down and humbles us, it opens our hearts to the gift of mercy, which, when received, grants incomparable peace and real hope.

Monday, February 16, 2015

The Call to Be Contagious

The Gospel of Sunday past recalls the encounter between Jesus and a man suffering from leprosy (cf. Mark 1: 40-45). That disease, at the time of Jesus, was considered highly contagious, spread through touch. The leper was quarantined in accord with the practice described in the passage from Leviticus: they were sent away from the community, cut off from all that mattered to them (cf. Leviticus 13: 1-2, 45-46). Even more, they had to advertise their illness through torn clothing, dishevelled hair and the cry of “Unclean.” In addition to the sickness and banishment, they had to endure public shame.

So when Jesus heals the leper, he cures more than the illness. In giving the man health, he brings him back into community, takes away his shame, and enables him to rejoice that he has been not only noticed but also loved. It is no wonder that the man could not contain himself and went about telling everyone about this, even though Jesus had told him not to.

It is important to focus on how Jesus healed the leper. When the sick man asked to be cured, Jesus did so precisely by reaching out and touching him. Any who saw this would have been shocked, aghast, because touch is the means of contagion. In fact, contagion is precisely what happened, but it occurred in reverse. Disease did not spread from the man to Jesus. Healing and life spread from Jesus to the man. And it happened through touch.

In Jesus Christ, God himself has touched all of humanity. He continues to touch us through what is now the mystical body of Christ, namely, the Church. Our call, as disciples of the Lord, as members of his body, is to be ministers of the healing and life-giving touch of God. As such, our mission is to be agents of contagion - the contagion of good, of mercy, of inclusion, of love. Whenever we sit with the sick or stand with the oppressed, whenever we comfort the dying or care for the poor, whenever we give assurance to a frightened child or enable a family to find healing, whenever we welcome the refugee or work for peace, then we serve to halt the spread of those terrible diseases of hatred, oppression, and injustice, and diffuse instead love, peace and justice, striving with the help of God’s grace to make the good that which alone should be highly contagious among all of God’s people.

This raises important questions for our self-examination through Lent, which begins Wednesday. From what disease do I need to be healed in order to be a more effective agent of good in our world? Are selfishness and self-concern blinding me to the needs of others? Do bitterness and anger alienate me from my family? Do pride and arrogance cause me to exclude God and his will from my daily considerations? This Lent let us pray together that Jesus will touch us and heal any infirmity that shuts God out and consequently closes us in on ourselves and away from others. May he make of us effective agents of his mercy so that what spreads by contagion is the good news of his saving love and our shared responsibility for one another.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Have You a Moment for a Survey?


I wonder where they come up with these names. "Survey monkey." What's with that?

Anyway, this is a survey tool we are using at the Archdiocese as one way of marking the current Year for Consecrated Life. We are inviting youth and adults to share your hopes for life. Your input from a short online survey will be used to develop a series of reflections that address your concerns from a spiritual perspective. Please take a moment to answer the survey at the link below, and I invite you to share it with others. Thank you!
https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/YCLYEG


+Richard W. Smith
Archbishop of Edmonton

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Supreme Court ruling: Making legally permissible what is morally wrong

For my post this week, here is a letter I have written to the Archdiocese in response to the recent decision of the Supreme Court of Canada regarding physician-assisted death:

On Friday, February 6th, the Supreme Court of Canada rendered a landmark decision granting legal permission for physician-assisted death in our country. In so doing it agreed with claims that a human person faced with suffering has the right to determine when and how to end one's life, and that the legal prohibition against assisted suicide impeded the exercise of this right and infringed upon their liberty. In its ruling, the Supreme Court outlines the conditions within which the provision or administration of lethal medication to a patient who has requested it would be permissible.

By allowing assisted suicide, our Supreme Court is making legally permissible in some circumstances what is morally wrong in every circumstance: the taking of innocent human life. We must be careful, therefore, not to accommodate ourselves to its decision. Our response to suffering - and, indeed, to all the questions of life - must be informed and shaped not by the Justices of the Court but by the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Suffering is a reality that touches each of us. It gives rise to many questions, often anguished, as to its meaning and purpose. Throughout my ministry as priest and bishop I have frequently encountered great pain and hardship among God's people, and have had these very questions posed to me. I admit, the same wonderment has at times inhabited my own heart as I witnessed the suffering and death of loved ones and friends. From experience we know that no amount of interior searching provides a satisfactory answer to the mystery of suffering, and this can deepen the anguish. However, our pain gives way to hope when we turn to Jesus Christ and the enlightenment he alone can give.

Jesus Christ is the Son of God who became a human being, like us in all things but sin. He came to us to preach the good news of the nearness and love of God and the divine will to save us. As he moved among us and taught, he showed a special love for those who suffer. Time and again we hear in the Gospel of the many miracles of healing he worked for those who were sick. At the same time, however, he did not remove suffering entirely from our human condition. Instead, he took it upon himself and offered his own suffering to the Father through his death on the Cross. He did so, confident that the Father would accept it for the salvation of the world. This is exactly what the Father did in raising Jesus from the dead.

From Jesus we learn that we are never alone in our suffering. God draws near. His special love for the sick and his acts of healing call us, too, to be close to any who are suffering and strive to lessen their pain whenever possible. His self-offering on the Cross teaches us that when we offer our suffering through him to the Father, we can have confidence that God will accept and transform it into an instrument for good. In many ways, the mystery of suffering remains just that - a mystery. Yet if in faith we offer it to God we know it is never without meaning or purpose. In Christ we see that suffering in no way diminishes human dignity. On the contrary, when suffering is embraced in faith and offered as a gift to God for the sake of others, that dignity shines forth and the nobility of the human person is made manifest.

Underlying the Christian approach to suffering is the recognition of God's sovereignty. God alone is the author of life, which we receive from Him as a gift. This means that we are always stewards and never masters of our lives. Recall the teaching of Saint Paul: "We do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves. If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s." (Romans 14: 7-8)

The decision of the Supreme Court to allow assisted suicide rests on the substitution of God's supremacy with that of the individual. It accepts a worldview in which suffering's only discernable purpose is to diminish the subjectively defined "quality of life" of the human person, who, as autonomous, should be free to determine when their life will end and how. Yet human autonomy cannot realistically be posited as an absolute; it is always conditioned by our relationships and limited by the shared responsibility of all citizens for the common good. The well-being of society and our ability to live together peaceably depends upon the recognition and acceptance of our interdependence. More, it requires adherence to the inviolability of human life as an unassailable and necessary principle. The law can only respect the inherent dignity of each Canadian life if it acknowledges that no one has the right to take action that would intentionally end another’s life.

It is clear that, given the place of the Supreme Court in our legal and judicial system, this decision will have far-reaching harmful effects in our country. Not the least of these will be subversion of the patient-physician relationship and the erosion of trust that will inevitably follow. In addition to our refusal to allow the standpoint of the Supreme Court to inform our own, we have a duty to act for the good of our fellow citizens, especially for those who, because of disability, suffering or weakness, now find themselves on a slippery slope of increasing vulnerability to state-sanctioned death. For one thing, we can work with our Members of Parliament, now charged with crafting a new law, so that the legislation will severely limit the harm done by the Court decision. Doctors in particular should speak and act decisively to ensure that their right to freedom of conscience and their solemn responsibility to be agents of healing will be protected, and in this I assure them of my support. Even more, we all must consciously and deliberately bear joyful witness to the beauty and dignity of each human life at every stage of existence from beginning to natural end

Above all, we must pray. Let us turn to Mary, the mother of Our Lord. She, too, knew untold suffering as she witnessed the cruel passion and death of her Son. She offered her pain, together with that of Jesus, to God, and experienced the wondrous joy of seeing suffering and death transformed into life. By her intercession, may she help us to bear our own suffering with peace, to stand in solidarity and hope with any who suffer, and enable us by our action and witness to foster the full protection in our country of all human life.

Yours sincerely in Christ,

Richard W. Smith

Archbishop of Edmonton

10 February 2015