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 8, 2014

Retreat Time

Tonight the priests of the Archdiocese of Edmonton begin a week of retreat. It is always a great blessing to set aside some time simply to be with and listen to the Lord.

What about retreat in your own life? I know it can be very difficult to set aside a number of days in succession to be on retreat, but it is very possible to set aside some time daily for this sacred purpose. Lives are busy and fragmented, yes, but at the same time there always seems to be time to watch a favourite TV program, listen to music and so on. If we can make time for these, we can certainly set aside some time for what is infinitely more important: spending time with the Word of God.

The importance of this is underscored by the liturgical feast day of today, September 8th. On this day each year the Church celebrates the birth of the Blessed Virgin Mary. In God's plan to save the world, she was chosen of old to be the mother of the Saviour and was prepared by God's grace for this unique role. The Gospel assigned for the day highlights how God has also worked in the lives of countless other persons in history to bring about his saving purpose (cf. Matthew 1:1-16, 18-23). From this we know that God is at work in our own lives also. Do we take time to ponder this? God is at work in our lives, carrying us, loving us, and speaking to us through Scripture and the voice of His Church. If we don't make time to pray with this wondrous truth and instead focus only on comparatively unimportant things, we lose sight of the deepest meaning of our lives.

This, in turn, can give rise to heartache and despair. Trials and hardship come to all of us, but if we don't place these against the backdrop of the mystery of God and his working in the lives of his people, they can leave us without hope and struggling for understanding. When we are mindful of God and his love, however, then we come to the conviction expressed today by St. Paul: "We know that all things work together for good to those who love God, who are called according to his purpose." God is at work in our lives to turn all things to the good. All things! This is the source of real hope and, yes, joy. We are not alone; we are never abandoned. Faith is letting God carry us. He will never disappoint.

So I recommend finding time today, and every day, for retreat. This might be just a few moments. That's okay. Beginning with even a little will surely lead to more. Ponder his love, listen to his voice, and rest in the knowledge that he is at work, bringing all together for our good and for the unfolding of his purpose for us and for the world.

Monday, September 1, 2014

"Back to School"

Students are heading back to the classroom this week. As I watch the children head off for school, and as I reflect upon an event in which I participated last week, a question arises: "is it time for all of us to go 'back to school' with respect to our faith?"

On Wednesday of last week the Archdiocese hosted a special Mass for Peace in the Middle East. Earlier that day a press conference was held, in which a number of Christians with roots in the Middle East, including Iraq, spoke about the terrible situation in their homelands and their own response to it. Speaker after speaker spoke movingly about the anguish they are experiencing at the suffering of family and friends. Particularly moving were the testimonies of Iraqi Christians, whose compatriots still living in Iraq are, together with other religious minorities, victims of unspeakable atrocities. One after the other they spoke of their resolve to respond to hatred with love and to vengeance with forgiveness. As I listened, I could not help but think, "These people get it! They understand, and they live, what it means to be a Christian!"

Can we say the same about ourselves? Is it time to go "back to school" to relearn what it really means to live the Christian life? The Scripture readings for last Sunday underscore just how radically different God's ways are from ours, and how it is easy to fall into the trap of becoming worldly and allowing human logic to guide our ways of thinking, acting, and living; how easy it is, in other words, to drift away from living our Christian faith authentically. This was behind the famous rebuke Jesus leveled at St. Peter: "Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are thinking not as God does, but as humans do." (Matthew 16: 23) Since this is a temptation to which all of us can succumb - and there is great pressure upon us from all sides to do so - it is always good to heed the call of St.Paul, recalled in Sunday's second reading (cf. Romans 12:1-2), to be "transformed by the renewing of your minds." To be conformed to the world, to think only in terms of human reason and emotion, weakened by original sin, is to become - in the words of Pope Francis - "watered-down Christians" (Sunday Angelus message, Aug 31, 2014).




In truth, the Christian must always be "in school", since conversion to our Lord and ever deeper immersion in his ways is a life-long process. We are always learning. It is sad when children drop out of school, because we know the missed opportunities this represents. Have we dropped out of the school of Christian life? If so, it is time to go back and learn once again from Sacred Scripture and the Christian Tradition the joy of being in a living relationship with Jesus Christ in the communion of his Church.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Keys

Ever misplace your keys? Not fun. It throws the whole day into confusion and panic until they're found. Keys unlock barriers that prevent access to what we need for normal everyday functioning, such as home, auto, office, etc. Until we get them back, we are locked out, unable to gain entry to those places or things around which life is ordered. Consequently, the absence of the keys creates dis-order.

In addition to access, keys can also represent authority. We see this most clearly at play in office dynamics. I might have a key to the building and to my own office area, but other areas of the workplace may be opened only by a select few to whom the appropriate key has been entrusted. The ones who have those special keys, particularly the all-important master key(!), are those who typically have the greatest authority. (Perhaps I should be speaking today in terms of key fobs, swipe cards, access codes and the like, but the idea is the same.)

In the Gospel we heard on Sunday (cf. Matthew 16: 13-20), both access and authority unite in the symbol of the keys entrusted by Jesus Christ to St. Peter: "I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven." These words are the foundation for the unique role of Peter and his successors, the popes, in the life of the Church. They are the reason statues of St. Peter usually portray him bearing keys, and why the coats of arms of the popes include an image of keys. They represent access (the grace of forgiveness communicated through the sacraments) and authority (teaching and governance in the name of Christ). These keys cannot be misplaced, because we know they have been uniquely entrusted to Peter, to the apostles in communion with him (cf. also Matthew 18:18) and to their successors.

It is quite extraordinary, to say the least, to see a mission of such importance as this entrusted to an individual whose weakness and mistakes were on constant display, and to his successors, who also know (like all of us!) the reality of human limit. When Pope Francis was asked in an interview to describe himself, the first thing he said was "I am a sinner." Herein, though, we are given another "key" that gives order to the entirety of our Christian lives: faith. Faith is the recognition of the truth of Christ, and the consequent realization of our total dependence upon his mercy. By the gift of faith, Peter was able to recognize the truth that Jesus is "the Christ, the Son of the living God." From this profession of faith, Jesus established Peter as the rock upon which his Church would be built. This establishment was not a removal of Peter's weakness but a pledge to work through it. This is why we can submit with serenity and confidence to the teaching of those who succeed to Peter's place and the direction they give to the Church. It is also a reminder to each of us to make daily our profession of faith, to acknowledge our weakness, and to rely peacefully on the loving presence of Christ acting in our own lives.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Arms Up!

Now this does not happen to me every day. Just a few days ago, during a visit to one of our Archdiocesan youth camps, I was standing with a number of people listening to the camp director when I felt a little movement near my feet. I looked down - way down - to see a little girl (I learned later she was sixteen months old). As I looked down at her she was looking up - way up - at me. She was holding her arms up high towards me. I thought: "Really?" Sure, enough, she wanted to be picked up. And just as surely I couldn't resist. So I picked her up and was pleasantly surprised at her level of comfort, especially when she laid her head against my shoulder. Her mother just looked on and smiled. A beautiful moment I won't forget for a long while.

Thinking about it since, what strikes me is the little girl's very confident expectation that she would be picked up and carried. All she had to do was put up her arms and it happened. This reminds me of the use made of this image by St. Therese of Lisieux to speak of her relationship with Jesus. Eager to reach heaven and aware of her smallness and weakness, she was quietly confident that by "raising her arms" to the Lord, he would pick her up and carry her to the eternal embrace of our Heavenly Father.

St. Therese is a Doctor of the Church. Therefore, this is a teaching that we should take seriously. In adulthood we tend to get trapped in the illusion of self-reliance, and that causes no end of problems. We might balk at thinking of ourselves in such a child-like way, but if so we should consider carefully the teaching of Jesus that the kingdom of heaven belongs to those who become like children, that is to say, aware of their dependence and quietly confident of the Lord's love.

Faith is lifting our arms to the Lord and allowing ourselves to be carried. It is a beautiful image, to be sure. At the same time, with adult maturity we recognize it as a challenging one, too. To be carried by the Lord is to surrender to him totally, which inescapably means yielding to all that he commands us to do. Central to his commands is love of God and love of neighbour. To lift up our arms to the Lord, therefore, means being attentive to all who are lifting up theirs in a cry for help.

Notice in Sunday's Gospel that one such person, a Canaanite woman, was "lifting up her arms" to the Lord in a cry for help. The disciples wanted to push her away. This can never be the right response among those who have lifted up their arms to the Lord and who live from his saving help. Indeed, since Christ lives in his disciples and forms them as his Body, it is the will of Christ that he work through us in response to the cries of his people. Of these there is no shortage. People throughout the world (think of the Middle East and Africa these days) and in our own country (think of the poor, homeless and vulnerable) are lifting up their arms to the Lord for mercy. Let us pray for the grace to be both attentive and responsive, that all might live together in the peace of God's loving embrace.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Dismay and Disbelief


With these words, Pope Francis on Sunday captured perfectly the reaction of people of goodwill everywhere to the horror unfolding in Iraq.

At yesterday’s Angelus in Rome, he said: “The news reports coming from Iraq leave us in dismay and disbelief: thousands of people, including many Christians, driven from their homes in a brutal manner; children dying of thirst and hunger in their flight; women taken and carried off; violence every kind; destruction of historical, cultural and religious patrimonies. All this gravely offends God and humanity. Hatred is not to be carried in the name of God! War is not to be waged in the name of God!”

An urgent plea for help has been issued to the world by the Catholic Patriarch of Baghdad. Catholic agencies here in Canada are working closely with their partners on the ground to respond to the vast array of needs among the Iraqi people, including the Canadian Catholic Organization of Development and Peace and the Catholic Near East Welfare Association – Canada. I encourage your financial support of these organizations at this critical time. They are also active in other areas of the Middle East, so your support will touch those needs also.

In addition, the Holy See has issued an urgent call to the Bishops of Canada (and other countries) and their Dioceses to unite with Pope Francis in heartfelt prayer to the Holy Spirit for peace in the Middle East. The Archdiocese of Edmonton will celebrate a special Mass for peace in the Middle East on Wednesday evening, August 27, at St. Joseph's Basilica. At that celebration a special collection will be taken to support the work of the aforementioned charities. I invite your participation.

In yesterday’s Gospel passage (Matthew 14: 22-33), Jesus walked across the water to come to the aid of his disciples in distress. Today the Church, the Body of Christ, is being called to “cross the waters”, that is to say, to reach across all that separates us from our Middle Eastern brothers and sisters in their distress and offer them help. Keeping us apart is not just geography. We can also be separated from them by indifference or defeatism. Let neither of these keep us from responding. Prayer transcends all distance and awakens our consciences. When we act in and through Christ, He makes all things possible.

The incredible suffering taking place “across the waters” of the Atlantic and Mediterranean calls out for our loving response. Let us heed the urgent pleas for help and respond in prayer and charity.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

“You Give Them Something to Eat”

Daunting command, that. We heard Jesus give this directive to his disciples in the Gospel passage from Sunday (cf. Matthew 14: 13-21). Thousands had gathered around Jesus, and the disciples encouraged him to send them away to buy food for themselves. Instead, he told them to give the people something to eat. They were astounded by such an order, since they had among them only five loaves and two fish. No matter. Jesus had them bring this paucity of resources to him and he effected his famous multiplication of the loaves and fish so that there was more than enough for all.

This episode challenges us today on a number of levels. First of all, the disciples were quite prepared to send the people away hungry, thus leaving them to fend for themselves. How often we do the same! Examples abound. Consider the issue of immigration. News reports bring to us chilling statistics pertaining to the number of unaccompanied minors striving to escape gangs, poverty and other hardship by making their way into North America. Children! On their own! Do we turn them away? Leave them to their own devices? Or do we strive to satisfy their hunger for new life by taking seriously their plight and doing what we can to welcome them? This particular challenge will only intensify as the ravages of war create ever more refugees. We need think only of what is currently happening throughout the Middle East. Closer to home, think of what often happens today in our families. Have you noticed how frequently in his writings and speeches the Holy Father, Pope Francis, encourages parents to play with their children? Many of our young ones are hungry, starved, for attention, and the pressures of daily life and making ends meet often so consume and pressure our parents that work is allowed to come before family. We are called to give our children “something to eat”, by giving them the attention they crave and placing their needs first.

Second, we can be tempted to think that the little we have can make no difference, so what’s the point of trying? The Gospel narrative makes very clear that a scarcity of resource is no excuse. The little becomes plenty when we heed the command of Jesus “Bring them here to me.” When we entrust what we have to Jesus and offer it though him and in his name, he brings about the miracle and ensures it is enough.

Finally, all of this leads us to examine our life of discipleship. The follower of Jesus is one whose life is marked by compassion, not indifference; by self-sacrifice, not selfishness; by solidarity, not individualism, and by trust in God’s providence, not our own sufficiency. May the Lord in his mercy free us from egoism and attachments, so that we are truly free to give those who hunger in any way the food that is the love of Christ made tangible in acts of tenderness and compassion.

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!