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, August 24, 2015

Who Else is There?

I love the passage from the Gospel we heard on Sunday. (cf. John 6:53, 60-69). Deeply moving, it is one of my favourites.

Jesus has been giving what we have come to call his Bread of Life Discourse, in which he offers himself, fully and completely, as Bread for the life - even eternal life - of the world. It is scarcely possible to imagine a self-offering more complete, ratified unmistakably in his later death on the Cross. Yet what is the response of many of the disciples to this total gift of self? The passage tells us that they walked away, returning to their former way of life. We are told that they found his teachings too hard to accept, so they turned away and abandoned him.

What must have been going on in the heart of Jesus as this unfolded? Heartbreak comes to mind. He offers himself fully, in love, and he is rejected. Then he turns to the remaining disciples, and asks if they, too, will leave him. Peter gives the response, which, to my mind, is one of the most moving in all of Scripture: "Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God."

Who else is there? Notice that Peter does not focus upon what Jesus said. His attention is upon who Jesus is. He does not counsel Jesus to soften his message. He does not advise him to find another, easier way of expressing the truth. He looks beyond what has been said to the One who said it. Because Jesus is who he is - the Holy One of God who alone can lead us to eternal life - there is no one else to follow. Our call is not to reject the messenger because of the message, but to accept the message - however difficult - because we trust the Messenger.

A good question to reflect upon these days is: What is my response when I receive from Jesus and his Church a message I find hard to understand or accept? Do I stay with Jesus or do I leave? Or do I remain with him only conditionally, accepting some things and not others?

Jesus offers himself to us completely, without measure or condition. The response he seeks from us is likewise total. Let's pray that we, too, will know him for who he is, stay with him, and never walk away.

Monday, August 17, 2015

The Church Guy

Near where I live is a family with four young children. One day they were playing in their backyard when I arrived home. The little girl, five years old, saw me and came running over. She said, "Hey! Aren't you the Church guy?" "Well," I said, "Yes, I guess I am." She looked at me again and said, "Then why aren't you in Church?"

I've thought about that question a lot since then, because it finds an echo in the questions or comments that we often hear directed at "Church people." It will frequently take the form: "Why don't you keep your faith "in Church," which is to say, faith and its insights should have no place in public discourse and are best kept confined within Church walls, an entirely private affair.

For us "Church people", we know this is impossible. Not because we seek to impose our belief on anyone, as is mistakenly (and frequently) charged against us. We do not impose; we propose. And what we have to propose is something extraordinarily beautiful: the message of hope, which is the Gospel.

The urgency of the need to share this message is clear. All around us we see many manifestations of a serious crisis besetting humanity, namely, a lack of hope. I think of young children speaking to me of depression in their lives or troubling their friends. In Canada the news last week was full of reports of a growing use of the narcotic fentanyl, and this not long after reports of Health Canada giving permission for the use of the so-called "abortion pill." At the current time in our country we are pondering the impact of the Supreme Court decision in February allowing physician assisted suicide and euthanasia. Globally we see heartrending images of refugees from the Middle East and Africa risking - and losing - their lives as they flee across the Mediterranean Sea seeking a better life. These examples can be multiplied. Together they give evidence of a lack of hope.

This gives rise to immense sadness in our hearts because we know it need not be this way. There is a reason for real hope. That reason is the sure love of God, made manifest and active in Jesus Christ. This conviction impels us not to keep our hope-giving message to ourselves, not to confine it within Church walls, but to announce it with confidence and joy.

Over the last few days I had the wonderful privilege and blessing of being at two events, in which the participants made clear their desire and readiness to share with others the beauty of the faith. The first was the annual pilgrimage to a Marian shrine at Skaro within the Archdiocese of Edmonton. The second was a festival for young adults called One Rock, held within, and hosted by, the Diocese of Calgary. At each, enthusiasm for the faith was palpable. I am edified and encouraged by the love for the Gospel beautifully on display among the people who gathered for these celebrations of the faith.

May we each find ways, in our variety of circumstances, to be "Church people" who do not keep the faith "in Church", but willingly share it with others as the reason for hope.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Else the Journey Be Too Much

The title of this post is inspired by the reading we heard at Mass on Sunday from the First Book of Kings. The passage recounts the flight of the prophet Elijah from forces hostile to him. He is exhausted from the journey, and an angel from God appears to him, points to a cake and some water that had miraculously appeared, and gives this command: "Get up and eat, otherwise the journey will be too much for you."

Our pilgrim journey through this earthly life can easily and quickly become "too much" for us if we lack the necessary nourishment. There are extraordinary pressures weighing upon individual and family life today that leave many exhausted. When I ask folks about the most significant factor challenging their families, the answer I frequently receive is: stress. The sources of this are many. I wonder what people are doing for "nourishment" in order to keep going, and worry about the multiplicity of quick fixes and escapes to which people turn. For example, statistics tell us that alarming percentages of people are medicated with antidepressants.

The good and hopeful news is that there is available to us an all-sufficient nourishment. As was the case with Elijah, it is given by God out of His tender concern for us. Unlike the prophet's remedy, what comes to us is not cake and water but what these gifts foreshadowed: the Bread of Life, which is Jesus Himself.

Every time the Eucharist is celebrated, Jesus gives us Himself, His very Body and Blood. It is a nourishment that gives the necessary strength for this earthly journey, yes, but not only that; "whoever eats of this bread will live forever..." (John 6: 51). When the priest gives voice to the invitation of Christ to take and eat, take and drink, we can hear an echo of that angelic admonition of old: "otherwise the journey will be too much for you."

Receiving this nourishment from the Eucharistic table has implications far beyond our own individual lives. This food opens our eyes and hearts to the needs of others and impels us to act in charity. It is heartbreaking to see millions of people in the underdeveloped parts of the world starving for lack of bread and for whom the journey is thus far too much. It frustrates and, indeed, angers to no end because we are all aware that there is sufficient food for all. Why the injustice? Could it be that it stems from wealthy society's self-imposed starvation, that is to say, its willful neglect of God and the nourishment given in Jesus? Separation from God and the food He gives yields not only exhaustion but also self-centredness. The illusion of self-reliance makes the needs of others a secondary concern.

The path currently traversed by the global community has, indeed, become too much. Famine, wars, terrorism, domestic violence and more beset us daily. They are pressures that we cannot possibly bear, that we are manifestly unable to resolve on our own. They leave us frustrated and exhausted. God is calling to all of humanity in the words spoken by the angel to Elijah: "Get up and eat." Come to Christ and the food that He is. In Him we discover what this journey is really all about. In Him it is never too much.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Speed Fines Double

Signs pointing to sites of construction are everywhere on highways in these summer months. I've noticed they are often accompanied by the sign: "Speed Fines Double", sometimes with flashing warning lights. It would seem that we motorists don't have enough common sense to slow down at construction venues so as to avoid harming someone, and need to be warned of additional speeding penalties if we don't.

It's time we also learned to slow down - better, to come to a full stop - when we see the growing number of signs that point not to construction but to deconstruction, namely, the progressive dismantling of a civilization based upon absolute respect for the dignity of the human person. When such signs come into view, we need to stop and ask ourselves what we are doing. Such pause will give us the opportunity to discuss together how to reconstruct real human solidarity and the common good. As it is, right now we are speeding past such signs, seemingly oblivious to the great harm that comes from our failure to reconsider and change.

Two such signs of deconstruction have recently come to our attention. One is the making available in Canada of RU-486, the so-called abortion pill. This is yet one more method of killing innocent children in the womb. One would think that the announcement of something so lethal would have been accompanied by rapidly flashing red lights. Sadly, the light accompanying the announcement was green, as if there is nothing to worry about and society can just keep moving forward on its current route. The other is the decision of the Supreme Court last February that made physician-assisted suicide legal in this country. No warning of speed fines here; on the contrary, penalties were removed! A consultation process has been established to advise the government on the drafting of legislation to coincide with this judicial ruling. I hope and pray that many voices will be raised to call for a meaningful halt to the deconstruction so as to begin to reconstruct a culture of life.

In a letter to the editor of the Calgary Herald, Bishop Fred Henry pointed this week to the obvious irony of a situation in which only a few voices speak up in defence of vulnerable human life while at the same time we witness a global outcry against animal poaching. What have we come to?

The warning signs calling us to slow down and stop are many. They reside within our conscience. We need to start paying it heed and apply the brakes.

Monday, July 27, 2015


Grip. Alignment. Stance. Posture. G.A.S.P.

I’m just back from some holidays with family in Nova Scotia. This gave me a chance for some golf with my brother and nephews. Great to be with them, but my game was awful. Nothing was working right at all and I could not figure out what I was doing wrong. Rather than wallow in the misery, I decided to check in with a teaching pro. I expected him to do the usual: look at my swing and tell me what I need to correct. The approach with this teacher was different. He simply took me back to the basics and reviewed the fundamentals: grip of the club, stance vis-à-vis the ball, alignment of feet, shoulders and hips to the target line, and posture of the body. It has made a difference … sort of.
What I need to do is always to remember the fundamentals and practice them until they come naturally. This will take a while.

There is a broader lesson here. Remembering and practicing the fundamentals of the Christian life keeps us in the proper “swing” and prevents the “wayward shots” that get us into a lot of trouble. Likewise, returning to the fundamentals is necessary when life feels like nothing is working and we are not sure what has gone wrong. Perhaps the acronym GASP can help us in this respect also.

Grip. We need a proper grip on reality. It is important to see things as they are, not as we wish or will them to be. The correct grip recognizes the truth of our human nature and lives within this truth. We are created by God for a life of eternal communion with him, made possible by the gift of His Son, Jesus Christ. We are weak and vulnerable and, therefore, dependent upon God and one another. At the same time, God has made us His beloved children, and calls upon us to turn to Him as our loving and merciful Father, who will not fail to provide for our every need. We lose this grip and enter into the world of illusion (with its accompanying confusion, heartache and anxiety) when we turn from God’s wisdom and providence, depend solely upon ourselves, and refuse to live within the limits established by nature.

Alignment. The follower of Jesus will strive to ensure, with the help of the grace of the Holy Spirit, that thought and behaviour patterns are in alignment with the Gospel.

Stance. What is my stance as a Christian in the face of the issues and challenges that confront us daily? What informs that stance? Here we need to understand well the central role of a properly formed conscience. Fundamental to the Christian life is understanding what conscience is, informing it prayerfully by reference to the teachings of Christ and his Church, and following its dictates. Necessary also is a daily examination of conscience so that I can repent of any wrongdoing.

Posture. Faith in Christ enables us to stand upright. Stress and the wide variety of life’s challenges can weigh upon us, guilt can burden us, fear can paralyze and cripple us. Jesus can turn all things to the good and wills to do so if we but ask. When we turn to him in faith, he enables us to stand upright with joy and confidence.

Let’s not forget the fundamentals. They need to be practiced daily.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Family Life Conference - Twenty Years and Counting!

This past Saturday I had the great joy of joining with three thousand people gathered at Lac Ste. Anne to celebrate the twentieth anniversary of the Family Life Conference. This wonderful event is the initiative of our local Catholic Family Ministries. It was pleasure to be with them and to experience the contagion of their happiness.

As I reflected upon this event, it occurred to me that the Holy Father's recent encyclical on the global environment offers important insight into the local environment we call the family.

The Pope teaches that neglecting to respect the nature of things in the environment stems from a deeper failure to honour the nature of the human person as created by God. We are, first of all, creatures, not Creator, and therefore dependent, called to trust not in our own abilities but in the wisdom and providence of God. We are created in God's image and likeness, which means we are created with a capacity for covenant love with God and neighbour. We are created to be gift, to give of ourselves to others. The structure of our nature conveys the divine purpose: created male and female, drawn to one another by complementary difference, to be a communion of life and love reflective of the inner Trinitarian life. When this nature is not respected, self-gift is replaced with self-absorption, and not only the physical environment but also other human persons become objects to be manipulated for the satisfaction of personal desires. The result is devastation not only of natural ecology but also, and worse, of human ecology, witnessed most dramatically in the various crises currently besetting marriage and family life.

Catholic Family Ministries has been observing this for quite some time. While the focus of many has been on climate change caused by greenhouse gas emissions, this ministry to marriage and family has taken note of changes in family climate caused by a host of toxins in our atmosphere, such as individualism, relativism, and hedonism. We all understand the necessity of preserving the beauty of our natural environment. CFM has long seen very clearly the need to recover and uphold the beauty of marriage and family, which is the true natural environment for the preservation and flourishing of our species. Therefore, twenty years ago the Family Life Conference was initiated. As we celebrate this anniversary and give thanks to God for his blessings throughout these past twenty years, let's pray that the Conference's joyful witness to the truth and beauty of marriage and family as designed by God will serve for years to come as a beacon of hope and direction to the all-too-many families that suffer confusion, hardship and breakdown.

(Speaking of family, I leave this week for some vacation time with my own family in Nova Scotia. My next post to this blog site will be July 27th.)

Monday, June 22, 2015

Respecting Nature - Including Our Own

Well, the long-anticipated encyclical of our Holy Father, Pope Francis, has finally been issued. Entitled Laudato Si', it deals with our duty to care for creation, which he calls "our common home". It is an extraordinary document in many ways, especially because of the manner in which he poses questions that are not normally asked. In so doing he enriches and broadens the discussion by proposing the long-held wisdom of the Church. I earnestly hope that people will give this document the serious read it deserves and ponder deeply the points he makes. Failure to do so will simply leave us in our present state, unable to move forward.

Particularly striking is the manner in which he takes the question of "respect for nature" to a new level. Following upon the teaching of St John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI, he points to the necessity of applying to our own nature the respect we say we owe to the physical world around us. What he calls an "integral ecology" will recognize that just as the natural world manifests a delicate order and balance that must be honoured, so, too, does human nature have a "givenness" with which we must not tamper. In this regard he cites a beautiful statement from St. John Paul II: "Not only has God given the earth to man, who must use it with respect for the original good purpose for which it was given, but, man too is God's gift to man. He must therefore respect the natural and moral structure with which he has been endowed. (cf. Laudato Si', n. 115).

The original sin, represented by the eating of the forbidden fruit, was precisely this: a failure to respect our nature as reflective of the divine purpose and therefore as a gift to be honoured and respected. Our nature is that of a creature; God alone is Creator. To be a creature is to have limits and to be dependent. God calls us to respect these limits with trust in his wisdom and providence.

So, the encyclical is a call to each of us to examine our consciences to determine if we are living in accord with our God-given nature. The summons to respect nature, especially our own, has implications that challenge many of the assumptions we see prevalent in our culture today.

It also gives us pause to reflect on how we live daily. Do I accept my limits or try to push beyond them? Am I getting enough rest? Do I balance work with my responsibilities to family? Is my diet a healthy one? Do I care for the body through exercise? Do I nourish my mind with beauty (art, music, literature)?

Most importantly, how do I care for my soul? We are created for a relationship with God, who loves us, and with one another. Do I acknowledge every day my dependence upon His goodness by giving priority to prayer in my daily activities? Am I celebrating the sacraments of Eucharist and Penance regularly? Do I examine my conscience each day? Do I give of myself (time, finances, etc) in service to others, especially the poor?

Care for creation necessarily involves recognizing our own creatureliness in its many dimensions and respecting its beauty and limits, both our own and that of others.