By Most Rev. Richard W. Smith, Archbishop of Edmonton

Monday, July 9, 2018

Boasting of Weakness

On Sunday, I had the great blessing and joy of celebrating Mass with the members of the St. Mark’s Catholic Community of the Deaf in Edmonton. The visit recalled to mind the years in Halifax when, as a priest, I served as chaplain to deaf Catholics there. They retain a special place in my heart, to be sure.

The deaf have taught me many things, and Sunday’s visit was the occasion for yet another lesson. In the second reading for Mass (2 Corinthians 12:7-10), St. Paul boasted happily of his weakness. It was striking to think of those words as I watched and interacted with the members of the deaf community, whose “weakness” (inability to hear) was on full and joyful display as they communicated with one another in sign language. I stress here the “happily” in regard to St. Paul, and the “joyful” on the part of the deaf. The lesson to learn here is that the gift of true joy is inseparable from the acknowledgement of limit.

Admittedly, this kind of teaching is anathema to much of Western culture. If we are to boast of anything, it is the Self which has been personally and individually fashioned. Weakness is not something to display with joy but to hide in shame. The tragic irony is that, if we attempt to cover it over, our weakness will nevertheless eventually show itself, and often in shameful and destructive ways.

To acknowledge weakness and limit is to acknowledge the truth of our human nature as creature. We are the created, not the Creator. As such, we are dependent upon God, called to rely peacefully upon Him with trust in His wisdom and providence. Acceptance of this truth brings great peace, and, yes, joy. Refusing reality by choosing instead to rely upon the self leads to anxiety and sadness.

This is not to say that the transition from resistance to reliance is easy. Pride is a major obstacle. It prevented those listening to Jesus teach in the synagogue from accepting that he, one of their own, could have anything to say to them (Mark 6:1-6). Hubris is also for us a stumbling block to receiving the Word of God, especially when it summons us in unexpected ways to unanticipated changes in thinking and behaviour. The Gospel calls us to let go of any and all illusion of self-reliance and to embrace the truth of weakness and need. Then, and only then, shall we know the joy of God’s love and mercy at work within us, doing great things for us (Luke 1:49).

On Sunday, my own weakness was certainly on display. That happens in many ways, of course, and one of them is my own use of sign language. The communication is supposed to be via American Sign Language, ASL. Whenever I sign, the deaf have to adapt to what they now call RSL (Richard’s sign language). Somehow, the message gets through, which is a testament more to their intelligence than to my skill. The collective sign we make is of a community sharing limit in a highly visible way, and it never fails to be for me a source of great joy.

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

A Nation Without Borders?

A country delineates itself from others by means of its borders. Borders have been on the minds of people everywhere in the past months because of the issue of migration. Across the globe, millions of people are on the move, seeking a better home. Many are refugees fleeing hardship and the threat of death. As migrants come up against the borders, world leaders are struggling to know what to do, and there is serious disagreement.

God’s Word draws our attention to another kind of border, not the type that separates nations, but the ones that divide the human heart: borders of fear, hatred, mistrust and suspicion. The walls that at times mark geographical boundaries can seem small and easy to scale in comparison with those put up between people when boundaries divide the human heart.

In Jesus Christ, we see that the love and mercy of God transcend this latter kind of borders. As St. Paul would later write, in his very person Jesus has broken down the wall of hostility that has separated Jew from Gentile and made them one.

In this light, consider what is recounted for us in the Gospel passage from St. Mark that was proclaimed last Sunday (Mark 5:21-43). Two encounters show Jesus reaching across borders in order to eliminate them. In one, divine power goes out from him to heal a woman who had reached out in faith and simply touched his cloak. There’s more to this than just healing. Her form of illness rendered her ritually unclean according to the Jewish religious mentality of the day. In other words, it established a border separating her from other members of her faith. By healing her illness, Jesus removes this barrier and restores her to community.

In the second, Jesus restores to life the daughter of a synagogue official. This was a foreshadowing of what Jesus would do in his death and resurrection, namely, bringing down the border wall we had erected between ourselves and God through our sinfulness and restoring us to communion with our loving God.

The juxtaposition of the two encounters itself has a message: It is only by a return to God, to an overcoming of the border we put up by sin, that we are able to overcome any barriers we place between ourselves and others.

Here we find a message of hope. Sadly, we know there is no shortage of borders in this country separating peoples from one another, whether they are erected by racism, indifference, hurt or bitterness. The way forward, the way of healing and reconciliation, is shown to us by the two people in the Gospel who meet Jesus. What they share in common is a recognition of their need and their consequent turn to Jesus. Unable to overcome the barriers that afflict them, they recognize their powerlessness and turn to the One in whom they recognize unlimited power, a power to heal and save.

This, too, is our way forward. As individuals, as families and as a nation, the call of Scripture is to acknowledge our need and to turn to God. At a time when the attention of the world is riveted upon physical frontiers, the Gospel invites us to deeper reflection and to consider any boundaries within our hearts that keep us from loving one another as he has commanded us to do. By his light, may he reveal to us those boundaries so that, by his mercy, he will dissolve them and lead us back to Him and thus to one another.

Monday, June 25, 2018

The Invitation We Want to Extend

One day last week I attended a luncheon in honour of the late Monsignor William Irwin, founder of Catholic Social Services. In attendance were some Grade 4 students from the school named after Msgr Irwin. They were there to sing for the crowd that had assembled. I had an opportunity to meet the children prior to the event. At one point I asked, "Why didn't you invite me to sing with you?" One little girl promptly responded, "'Cause we didn't want to!" Oh well, at least I know where I stand.

The Mass on Sunday celebrating the birth of St. John the Baptist reminded all of us of the invitation that the Church very much does want to extend. Indeed, issuing this invitation is the very reason the Church exists! We want to invite others to know, love and follow Jesus Christ. St. John the Baptist was born to be the Lord's herald and forerunner, to point everyone to Jesus as the fulfillment of their deepest longings. Each of us, born anew in Baptism, is summoned to the same purpose.

Humanity in every age is in need of Jesus Christ. To the question of life's meaning, he is the answer; against the virus of falsehood, he is the antidote; for the wounded human heart, he is the remedy; and to all who suffer from grief and despair, he is consolation and hope. Moreover, Jesus is the one to whom we must turn not only in respect of the trials of our earthly journey but also - and most importantly - as regards our hope for eternal life. He is the Saviour, the Way to life without end in communion with God.

So, extending the invitation to turn to Christ is perennially necessary and always urgent. Yet, how to do it? Often people share with me that they desire very much to engage the world with the Gospel, to confront the issues of the day with the truths of faith, but feel they do not have the words to speak. On this point, we can turn to John the Baptist's father, Zechariah, for inspiration.

When Gabriel first announced to him that he and his wife Elizabeth, in their old age, would have a son, Zechariah did not believe. He was consequently left unable to speak. When later, at the birth of John, Zechariah indicated his acquiescence in faith to the plan of God for his son, speech returned to him. This episode underscores the important relationship between faith and speech. When we believe, we are able to speak.

Faith opens us to the wondrous truth of God and his plan for the world. By faith we both understand what is manifested to us and surrender to that which is revealed. Believing opens our eyes to ultimate meaning, and this awakening renders our speech meaningful. Contrast this with the banality and superficiality of the messaging that washes over us from TV, radio, Internet, social media, magazines and the like. The human mind and heart long to see and apprehend what is true, good and beautiful. This is given in Jesus Christ.

By the intercession of St. John the Baptist, may our faith grow so that we shall have the deep desire and the requisite speech to issue the invitation to encounter Jesus Christ.

Monday, June 18, 2018

What Are We Letting In?

I was traveling across the Archdiocese recently for a parish visit, with one of our permanent deacons doing the driving. We discussed a number of things in the course of the drive, including many of the pastoral challenges we encounter among our parishioners and families. As our minds turned to some of the root causes of the difficulties, the deacon made a very good point. He spoke about the ironical approach many of us take to securing our homes. We will spend a lot of time and money on locks, bolts and sophisticated security systems in order to keep out from the sanctuary of the home persons seeking to do us harm. Yet, once safely ensconced in the house, we turn on the television. By that simple act, we let into our homes and into our minds a dizzying array of voices and messages, a great many of which exert an influence that is anything but good. Excellent point.

Sports fans gather around a hockey broadcast at the mall.

This raises the question: what are we letting in? Not just into our homes but into our minds? Are we even conscious of this? It is, in fact, an urgent issue. So many of the problems besetting individuals, families and society arise from what we “let in” to shape mindset and behavior.

On Sunday we heard two parables of Jesus, by which he teaches about the dynamics of the Kingdom of God. (Mark 4:26-34). When Jesus speaks of the Kingdom, he means God’s exercise of sovereignty in our lives and invites us to submit fully to it. In these parables he describes the working of God’s sovereignty by means of the imagery of seeds. He speaks first generally of the dynamic of slow and deliberate growth of all seeds. Second, he makes a specific comparison with a mustard seed, which, although very small, will grow to become “the greatest of all shrubs.”

A television being blessed during a house blessing.
As we strive to counter the false and damaging messages we have allowed into our minds, this teaching of Christ is a reminder to allow in the Word of God. His voice alone is safe and trustworthy. By opening our hearts and minds to God’s Word, his sovereignty will take hold in our lives. If, trusting in his love, wisdom and providence, we submit to God, his rule will slowly and surely transform us. Even if we begin with small steps (e.g. reading Scripture for five to ten minutes daily), the “mustard seed principle” will take effect and God’s grace will bring about great transformations in our lives and in our world.

Let’s pay very close attention to what we let in, to be sure that no intrusion will seduce us away from hearing and heeding the Word of God.

Padre Pio TV channel broadcasts in Italy and online.

Monday, June 11, 2018

A Summit of Real Consequence

There has been much talk in recent days about summits. The G7 summit just concluded in the province of Quebec. This week shall witness another “summit” as the leaders of the United States and North Korea meet in Singapore. These are significant gatherings, since they bring together the head officials of major world powers. One would naturally hope that they might contribute meaningfully to the development of the global common good. Yet, according to news reports, the meeting in Quebec was more an event of acrimony than unity; the one about to take place in Singapore has enormous potential to effect good on the Korean peninsula, but many seem reluctant to herald the event as the launch of sure positive change. We tend to respond to these meetings with rather more doubt than confidence.

As we witness and reflect upon these political gatherings, I suggest we would do well to turn our attention to another summit of real consequence. It occurs not periodically in remote places, but daily in churches throughout the world. I refer to that “summit” we call the celebration of the Eucharist, the Mass. The Second Vatican Council speaks of the liturgy of the Church as both “source and summit” of the Church’s life (cf. Sacrosanctum concilium, 10; Lumen gentium, 11). This is especially so in the case of the Eucharist, in which Christ renders himself substantially present in the transformed gifts of bread and wine, offering himself to the Father for the life of the world. From it flow all the graces we need for discipleship; to it we go as the “peak” moment of Christian existence. It is a summit made so by the presence of the Risen Lord, who, by the grace of his death and resurrection, draws us to unity and empowers us for good works.  It is thus the ground for real hope, inspiring within us full confidence. No political summit can equal this!

Among the petitions offered in the Third Eucharistic Prayer of the Mass is this beautiful one: “May this Sacrifice of our reconciliation, we pray, O Lord, advance the peace and salvation of all the world.” Jesus Christ offered his life on the Cross for the world. In every mass, that self-same sacrifice is sacramentally renewed. So, as world leaders gather in their summits, ostensibly to make this world a better place, let us be sure to gather for ours. The Eucharist is the summit fashioned by the Lord himself and gifted to us. Containing within itself the power truly to change the world, it is the summit that is of real and lasting consequence.

Monday, June 4, 2018

We Know He's There!

I never cease to be amazed by the insights of children. As we celebrated this past weekend the Solemnity of Corpus Christi, or The Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, my mind went to a story recounted for me years ago by a parishioner. In a religious education class for ten-year olds, the teacher asked: "What is the difference between Jesus on the crucifix you see on the wall and Jesus in the Eucharist." After a few minutes of silence, one little girl said, "Well, when I look at the crucifix I can see Jesus, but I know he's not there. When I look at the Host, I know he's there, but I can't see him."

What is the difference between Jesus on the crucifix you see on the wall and Jesus in the Eucharist?
Exactly. We know he's there! This is the astounding and exciting mystery of the Most Holy Eucharist. Jesus is truly present, body and blood, soul and divinity. What were once simple gifts of bread and wine are bread and wine no longer but the real presence of our Crucified and Risen Lord. As he promised, Jesus gives himself to us in this wondrous sacrament as nourishment for our pilgrim journey. To the faithful reception of this gift is linked the pledge of eternal life (cf. John 6:54).

In the readings for the Solemnity, there is an important teaching in the Letter to the Hebrews that I wouldn't want us to miss. It speaks of the power of the blood of Christ, with which we have communion at mass, to "purify our conscience from dead works to worship the living God!" (Heb. 9:14) Jesus came among us to restore humanity to right worship. Ever since Adam and Eve surrendered to the lie of the devil, humanity has been plunged in the misery that results from wrong worship, from the worship not of God but of the self, not of the Creator but of the created. The lie is that God is not to be trusted, that He is a threat to our autonomy and freedom, that we can instead be self-reliant and find happiness in the pursuit not of God's will but of our unbridled desires. This same lie continues to be perpetuated in our own day. Its frequency of repetition gradually lulls the human conscience to sleep, to the point that what is abhorrent to God and the moral law is viewed and hailed as worthy of celebration and good for humanity. The heartbreaking result of the recent referendum on abortion in Ireland is just the latest tragic example. The conscience must be purified so as once again to worship rightly and thus see reality rightly, and for this we must have communion with the blood of Christ, as Hebrews teaches. This communion is given uniquely in the sacrament of the Eucharist.
The words of the little girl are of great import. They point us to the One who makes himself present to us in the Eucharist, the One who alone has the power to transform the world. May the Lord guard us from all indifference to this great mystery, awaken within us a renewed zeal to partake of his Eucharistic presence, and by his power heal our personal and collective conscience for the transformation of our world.


Monday, May 28, 2018

Carmelite Jubilee in Edmonton

This week I shall have the great joy of celebrating with the Carmelite monastic community near Devon, AB, the 25th anniversary of their establishment in the Archdiocese of Edmonton. This community of contemplative nuns came to Canada from Macau, and eventually settled in this Archdiocese at the invitation of the late Archbishop Joseph N. MacNeil. Their witness to us has been a great blessing, one which is urgently needed in our day. Here I highlight three important aspects of that witness.

Life in the Carmel is marked primarily by silence. External stillness is necessary for that interior quiet, which alone disposes us to listen attentively, lovingly and obediently to the Word of God. How we need and crave silence in our day! Our environment is characterized more by babble and chatter, a veritable tsunami of noise, which serves only to distract from what is essential and worthy of our attention, and which thus gives birth within our hearts to anxiety and frustration. The Carmelite Sisters offer a beautiful sign that effectively reminds us of the need for stillness of mind and heart. Their witness teaches us that, even though we may not be called to give our lives over entirely to a life of contemplation, nevertheless we are summoned to adopt a contemplative attitude to all that we encounter in life. What is of God? What not? What will lead us closer to Him; what leads us away?

I have had the privilege of visiting a number of Carmels. What strikes me in all of them is the joy of the Sisters. The life to which God has called them is an arduous one. They remain in the one Carmel for their whole lives, and their regimen of work and prayer is rigorous. Yet the joy with which their individual lives are infused is evident. It is the joy that naturally arises from obedience to God's call. Our Western society is engaged in a pursuit of happiness that is both frantic and fruitless, because it is rooted in the error that peace and joy arise from indulging the Self's every desire. The Carmelite nuns remind us that the opposite is true. Joy arises not from self-pursuit but from self-gift, from a life entirely given to God and to the fulfilment of his every call and command.

Finally, by their life of prayer, the nuns teach us that we are, as human beings, radically contingent, that is to say, fully reliant for existence and flourishing upon the love and mercy of God. Prayer is the performative form of faith; because we believe in the love of God, we pray. Our prayer is directed to God not only for ourselves but also for others, and the prayers of the nuns have long been recognized as efficacious for the community. Daily do these consecrated women receive prayer requests; daily do they respond. I haven’t seen them, but I expect their prayer lists are rather long! If you've asked them to pray, you can be assured that they are doing so. Personally, whenever I visit the Carmel, I bring some Archdiocesan intentions to their attention. It is a source of great comfort to know that they are holding the entire Archdiocese in their prayers, which God surely will answer.

Please join me this week in offering our own petitions to God for their needs, and in particular prayers of thanksgiving to the Lord for leading them to us. May God grant them many more years of joyful and effective witness in our midst.