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, December 22, 2014

Use the Other Lens


Not long ago I was approached by some people, who asked, “Archbishop, can we take a selfie with you?” Being the technologically astute and up-to-date person that I am, I asked, “What’s a selfie?” Then they demonstrated how the smartphone, with a camera lens on both front and back, allows one to direct the lens at oneself so that a picture might be taken in which the photographer is included in the shot together with others. With a simple touch of the icon on the screen, the device shifts back and forth between lenses, between focus on self and away from self.

There’s a lesson in this. We live in a “selfie” world. We are encouraged to keep the lens of mind and heart focused on self. All that matters is what I want or desire, and the simple fact that I desire it means that I am entitled to have it.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ is a call to use the other lens. That is to say, Jesus summons us to focus not on self but on the other, specifically upon the Other – God – and upon the other who is our neighbour. Love of God and love of neighbour is the fundamental commandment left to us by the Lord.

The perfect example of other-centeredness is Mary. In the Gospel passage of the Fourth Sunday of Advent, she receives the message from the angel Gabriel that she would conceive by the Holy Spirit and give birth to the Saviour of the world. Her attention is entirely fixed upon this message and the promise of God it conveys. She focuses not on herself but on the plan of God, and gives her fiat.

By turning her “lens” toward God and his promise, Mary comes to know God’s purpose for her in relation to his plan of salvation. This is important to grasp. She comes to know herself by focusing not on self but on God. So it is with us. Clarity with respect to life’s meaning and purpose comes not from a self-referential focus but from a careful and attentive listening to the Word of God. If I keep the lens directed at myself, the resultant picture of my life will be one of sadness, arising from lack of direction and unrealizable hopes. When the lens is fixed where it belongs, i.e., upon God’s Word given in Jesus, the picture is one of happiness and peace.

Of course, the occasional snapshot will reveal moments of difficulty. Mary knew those in abundance, as she watched her Son rejected and crucified. Yet she remained faithful to her fiat, she kept the lens focused on God’s faithfulness, and she witnessed the joy of new life granted in the resurrection of her Son from the dead.

Let’s follow her example of faithful discipleship and keep the lens of our minds and hearts where it belongs: on loving God and serving our neighbour.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Looking for Joy


As you might guess, there are times when the life of an Archbishop is not easy. Occasions arise when I have to make difficult and painful decisions, or confront situations I would rather avoid. One such occasion occurred just the other week. I knew it would not be pleasant and, to be honest, was rather anxious about it. But I knew I couldn’t avoid it. So, when the time came, I said my prayers, steeled myself, and with full reliance upon the Lord Jesus and the help of the Blessed Virgin, I went to the West Edmonton Mall.

The experience is not for the faint of heart. But the Lord was with me. Praise Jesus! I went online to look at the mall map and locate the entrance nearest to the store I needed to visit. I went in my car to that exact entrance and then – a miracle! – I found a parking spot. Then I entered the mall, discovered the store, found what I needed, and went to the cashier, where there was no line up – yes, another miracle. I made the purchase, made fast my escape, and soon found myself exiting the parking lot with songs of Alleluia echoing in my heart.

Now, as I drove away and the sight of the mall faded in my rear view mirror, some images from that harrowing experience came to the fore: the sight of many tired, worn down and frustrated people. Those images have remained with me. At this time of the year, one does not need to be long in that – or any – mall in order to witness a lot of exhaustion and burden. The question arises: are we having fun yet? These days of anticipation in the immediate run up to Christmas are supposed to be – one would expect – times of excitement and joy. In their stead, though, we see, and perhaps we are experiencing for ourselves, anxiety, burnout and distraction.

The question beneath all of this is: where do I locate the source of joy? Real joy. A joy that persists even in the midst of hardship. It is this very question that is addressed by the Scripture readings for the Third Sunday of Advent. By tradition we refer to this as Gaudete Sunday. That Latin word means “Rejoice!” The passages call us to rejoice and at the same time point us to the wellspring of true joy: Jesus Christ. The mall experience suggests that many are looking for joy in consumerism, but are clearly not finding it there. The Word of God points us elsewhere, far away from all of that superficial glitz and glitter that doesn’t satisfy. It points us to Jesus.

Long ago Isaiah spoke a prophecy of liberation (cf. 61: 1-2a, 10-11), which in the Gospel of Luke Jesus applies to himself (cf. Luke 4: 16-21). St. Paul summons us to joy by recalling the steadfast fidelity of God revealed and active in Christ Jesus (cf. 1Thess 5: 16-24). Saint John the Baptist witnesses to Jesus as the Light that dispels all darkness (cf. John 1: 6-8, 19-28). Jesus – and only Jesus – frees us from captivity, stands steadfastly by us in the circumstances of life, and dispels the darkness of sin and despair by the light of his truth and love. Look no further for joy. It is found in Jesus, and he is very near.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Sleepy Friday

If we have watched the television news over the last couple of days we've seen images of huge crowds waiting in long lines outside store entrances for sales on a day called Black Friday. As the doors open, the folks barrel in, trampling over one another, and then sometimes actually fighting over items they hope to purchase. These are scenes of frenzy and panic, in which we see products given priority over persons. Not to put too fine a point on it, but this is nuts! Consumerism run amok.

If we've been caught up in this, or to the degree to which the desire to possess just for the sake of possessing inhabits our hearts, we are likely to feel a bit sheepish as we ponder the Scripture readings for Sunday, the first of Advent. They remind us of just how far off the rails we have fallen when we are obsessed with possessing. Jesus is teaching us about what is really worth "waiting in line" for: eternal life. When God made us human beings, he made us for himself, to be with him for all eternity. That is why there is within every human heart a deep longing, which only God can fill. Advent reminds us of this by drawing our attention to the end of history, thus enabling us to keep in mind where we are going and what alone can fulfill our searching. In this light, the mad rush to fill the heart's longing with the latest deals at our favourite box store, instead of with the love and mercy of God, is more than a little embarrassing.

It is truly remarkable that people will get up very early, or not go to sleep at all, in order wait through the night to get into a store; staying awake in order to get something of which we will soon tire. Jesus calls us to stay awake, to be always alert, for something that will never lose its attraction and joy. He asks us to remain awake to meet him when he comes to take us to himself. This second advent of the Lord will be either at the moment of our death or at the end of time, either of which can occur in an instant. This calls us to be "awake" not just through the night but at all times.

Clearly Jesus is not asking us to give up all physical rest. Rather, he is summoning us to wake up from the lulling effect of falsehood. Possessions, self-advancement, money and so on are illusory achievements that lull us into the dangerous sleep of complacency and distraction. From all of this Jesus calls us to awaken, to clear our heads in order to see clearly what is important, to grasp that for which we truly do long, and so to order our lives around him, and not ourselves, that we are ready to meet him when he comes.

Black Friday is probably better called Sleepy Friday. Let's wake up from the nonsense and live sensibly in the light of the Gospel.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Hangers and Hope

The other day I was speaking with a couple of people who work in one of our soup kitchens in Edmonton. It is a place that provides not only food but also clothing, and among the people who come for help are the homeless of the city.

Recently a man came to them who had been provided with housing under the city's plan to end homelessness. On this day he had a new sense of hope because he had a place to call is own, and he asked for something he had not sought before: hangers! Up until that time he had for clothing only what was on his back and a change carried in his backpack. He wouldn't ask for more because he had no place to keep it. Now he did, and so he asked for hangers. When he received them, I am told his face lit up. They represented for him a new beginning and thus new hope.

This real-life episode is a stark reminder of the sad fact of real poverty in our midst, a situation that cries out for our response. It comes to mind as I listen to the teaching of the Gospel for Sunday, the feast of Christ the King. It speaks of the Last Judgment, and makes clear the basis on which the Lord Jesus, our King and Judge, will pronounce upon our eternal state: "I was hungry and you gave me food..."

The love of our God, revealed in Jesus and announced in the Gospels, calls us to service not only of the poor but also of the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick, the prisoner, and to recognize that, in serving these, the "least", we serve him.

These situations of need are real and multiple. We know that many in our midst are hungry; our food banks are busy. At the same time we are conscious of a widespread hunger in our society for meaning and truth. The thirsting are not only those seeking a drink of water but also the too many people who thirst for healing in their families. With the rise in immigration to our province, there are many new people, strangers in our land, who seek a welcome. Yet even in our homes loved ones become estranged from one another through anger and bitterness and an inability to listen. The naked are not only those who, like our friend looking for hangers, have just what they wear on their back, but also any who have been stripped of their dignity by unemployment or abuse. We know that there are many sick in our hospitals we can visit; we need also to be conscious of people suffering the less visible but perhaps more debilitating diseases of loneliness and despair. When I go into prisons to visit the inmates I see many locked behind bars longing for freedom. Yet outside of those institutions I often encounter people incarcerated by addictions and hatred, yearning to be set free from those shackles.

The rule of Jesus, our King, is that of a good shepherd, who seeks out any in need to bring them the healing of God's love. Indeed, that love is so great that he identifies himself with the needy: "As often as you did this to one of the least of these, you did it to me." He calls those who would follow him likewise to be in search of the hurting and to be merciful toward them, and thus be of real service to our Master.

In response to this call, Catholic Social Services came to birth in our Archdiocese more than fifty years ago. In many ways it serves Christ in his poor and needy, offering many "hangers" upon which those in need can reliably depend. Its annual fund-raising campaign, called Sign of Hope, raises needed funds to make many of their services possible. If you have not already done so, I heartily encourage you to make a donation. You can find out more at www.signofhope.ab.ca.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Living the Cross

Last week I visited Holy Cross Academy, one of our Catholic schools in the city of Edmonton. Given the name, I used the occasion to ask the students what they understood by the Cross. The answers, I must say, were very moving. They understood well that it was the perfect sign of the extent to which they are loved by Jesus Christ. They also appreciated that the act at the heart of the Cross - self-sacrifice - was one that called them to do the same. I explored with them what that would look like in their own lives, and the responses were spontaneous, even from the younger grades: doing my chores at home, cleaning up my room (some found that especially challenging!), helping friends at school and giving to others. We spoke together about how the Cross teaches us that we are most fully ourselves when we give ourselves away.

Through self-sacrifice we make visible our appropriation of the truth of the Cross. This week our country remembers those who lived out the meaning of the Cross in a particularly dramatic way by the sacrifice of their own lives for the sake of the life and liberty of others. We stand in awe before the bravery, courage and concern for others that led men and women to "stand in harm's way" in defence of their country and fellow citizens. As we reflect upon this particular living out of the meaning of the Cross, we realize that we are each called to make of our lives a sacrifice for others in our particular circumstances.

We think, too, of the families of our war heroes. Their sacrifice also is great and deserving of our thanks. I find it always very moving to see pictures of spouses and children taking leave of their loved ones as they depart for dangerous missions. This, too, is a living out of the meaning of the Cross. On Remembrance Day we also embrace them with our respect and esteem.

We might be tempted to think of remembering as an act of looking backward. In fact, it is actually an act by which we bring the past to the present so that we might learn from it for the sake of a better future. When we apply such remembrance to the Cross of Christ, the lesson is hope. Christ's death from his self-sacrifice led to the Resurrection; it led to life. By living the meaning of the Cross of Christ, our fallen heroes gave their lives moved by the hope that Jesus has shown to be real. May this same hope inspire us to give of ourselves for others.

Monday, November 3, 2014

A Great Presbyterate

Here in the Archdiocese of Edmonton we are about to enter our annual "Mid-Term Assembly", in which our priests gather for a time of study and reflection. It "kicks off" this evening with a mass and dinner in honour of those priests celebrating a significant jubilee anniversary this year. This provides me and their brothers in the priesthood an opportunity to celebrate these men and thank them for their faithful service.

In truth, the presbyterate here in general is worthy of celebration. We are gifted in this Archdiocese with a community of dedicated and faithful priests. When I visit parishes it is a joy for me to have people make a point of telling me how much they love and respect their priests, and that happens often. (And, no, the priests aren't paying their people to tell me those things!!)

In Sunday's Gospel we heard Jesus issue an invitation to all who are weary and heavy-burdened to come to him for rest. This invitation is made concrete through the ministry of the priest. He acts in persona Christi capitis, that is, in the person of Christ, the Head of the Church. Many people do, in fact, carry heavy - very heavy - burdens: loneliness, addiction, family tension, caring for a sick child, unemployment and so on. True hope arises from our encounter with Jesus Christ, and it is the role of the priest to manifest the Lord's concern for his people and give voice to his invitation.

Perhaps we could all take a moment today to offer our personal thanks to God for our priests. Each day they offer their personal weakness and limits to God as they ask Him to work in and through their ministry for the sake of His people. May we all be open to the grace of God that comes to us daily through our priests' dedicated service.

Monday, October 27, 2014

A Voice that Speaks of Peace

As commentator after commentator dissected the horrible events in Canada this past week - the killing of Canadian soldiers by what are believed to be "radicalized" Islamists, I found my mind going often to a beautiful - and now very timely - expression in the Psalms: "Let me hear what God the Lord will speak, for he will speak peace to his people, to his faithful, to those who turn to him in their hearts." (Psalm 85:8). Among the questions asked in relation to these tragedies is that of the voices to which the killers had been listening. Who are they listening to? Who is influencing and warping their understanding of things? Clearly, they are voices of hatred, influences which have so twisted their minds as to lead them to kill, messages that turn their hearts to desire and effect acts of aggression.

Particularly perverse are the voices that justify and encourage violence in the name of religion. In stark contrast is the teaching of the Psalmist, who seeks to listen to the voice of the Lord, a voice that speaks of peace.

That divine voice has become incarnate in Jesus Christ. As we listen to this voice of the Lord, he makes clear what leads to true peace: love of God and love of neighbour. These two inseparable commandments are at the centre of his teaching in the Gospel of Sunday past. This love is not a "warm fuzzy" but a commitment that is truly "radical", i.e. from the very roots of our being. Love of God with all one's heart, mind, soul and strength means to accept God, his love and teachings as the foundation of our lives. Likewise does love of neighbour call forth from us a commitment that engages the entirety of self. Love of neighbour means to give of oneself fully to the other so that a society of true justice is formed. Love of God and love of neighbour is true religion. It leads to peace and allows absolutely no room for violence.

Who am I listening to? The events of this week underscore with dramatic clarity just how important a question this is. Let us collectively listen to - and follow (!) - that one voice that both speaks of peace and fashions it.