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, 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!

+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

Monday, February 2, 2015

Have a question? Jesus is the answer

It happened again. Just when I think I’ve heard all the questions students will ask, a new one will catch me off guard. That happened the other day in the course of a school visit. I was with a class of grade eights. One boy put up his hand and asked: “Apart from praying, how do you fix the Oilers?”

The questions posed by students reveal what they struggle with. Often it is more serious than the plight of a hockey team. My constant refrain to them is this: whatever your question, Jesus is the answer. Turn to him to be enlightened. When others are in difficulty, direct them to the answer he is.

The Sacred Scripture passages we heard on Sunday offer insight into why this is true. From Deuteronomy we heard Moses speaking to the people and promising that God would send to them a prophet “like him”. Moses was unique among all the prophets and leaders of ancient Israel because of his unparalleled intimacy with God. In his close personal encounters with the Almighty he was given words to speak to God’s people. Jesus has come to us, “like Moses,” but in a way that far surpasses Moses. St. John teaches us that Jesus came from the bosom of the Father. His was an infinite intimacy, that of the Son from all eternity. From those ineffable depths the Son came to us, took on human flesh in Jesus, and spoke the words that he had received from the Father. This is why he – and no other – is the answer to our questions and wonderments.

In the Gospel passage we see that the words Jesus speaks have a power never before witnessed. His casting out of the evil spirit from the man he encountered in the synagogue demonstrates that the Evil One is powerless before him.

How much our world today needs to be directed to Jesus to encounter this life-saving word! We see all around us the evil of domestic violence, human trafficking, poverty, hunger and homelessness, and so much more.

The situation of our world today leaves us, like the students, with many questions. The answer Jesus gives, the answer that he is, is that God is with us, he can cast out the effects of evil in our lives and change our lot if we turn to him, and that therefore we need not fear.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Light for the World

We have just celebrated the solemn feast of Epiphany. One cannot recall the story of the visitation of the wise men and not think of the fascinating image of the star. Perhaps more than any other in this story, the image of the star has captured the imaginations of men and women through the centuries.
By the light of this star, the wise men were led to Christ. I suggest we give thanks to God for the “light” by which each of us was led to our saving encounter with the Lord. Perhaps it was by the light of parental example that we found Christ. Many of us were brought to the Church as infants by our parents for union with the Lord in baptism, and then taught by them to love and serve Christ as the way of salvation. Perhaps we were led to the Lord by the light of charity extended by Christians to people in need. The witness of love draws us to its source, who is Christ. Perhaps we came to Christ by the light of the Scriptures. The words of truth in the sacred texts fully satisfy the human search for meaning and direction and summon us to membership in the Church. In these and many other ways, the Holy Spirit gives us a light which leads us to the one, true Light, Jesus Christ.

Epiphany also impels us to mission, to be “light” for those who are seeking the Saviour. In the Gospel for the liturgy, God assigns to a star the task of leading the representatives of the nations to His Son. Now, that mission has been entrusted to the Church. As a member of Christ’s Body, each of us is called to be a light which will lead the men and women of our day to the Lord. Christ has come for all, yet so many have yet to know him. He has come to give unity, yet barriers of hostility continue to divide peoples and nations. He has come as the light of truth, but the darkness of moral confusion still causes many to stumble. There is a deep yearning in the human hearts of today for peace and happiness, a longing that is ultimately a hunger for God. Our feast today teaches that this yearning is only fulfilled by encountering Jesus Christ. We are called to be the light which leads others to Him.

We fulfill this role by the holiness of our lives. Living with integrity and joy the consequences of our baptism, we shine out as a light which draws men and women to Jesus Christ. Sin dims the light and weakens the credibility of our witness. The importance of our mission, then, calls us to constant self-examination. For example, we could ask: Is there anything of King Herod in my heart? He was frightened by the news of Christ’s birth, recognizing in the child a threat to his rule. In what ways am I resistant to the rule of Christ in my heart? Am I ruled more by my own selfish desires than by His plan of love? Or I could ask: Am I like the chief priests and scribes? They told Herod that the Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem, yet they were indifferent to the news of Christ’s birth and made no effort to go to him and see for themselves. In what ways am I indifferent to the good news of the Gospel? Have I grown complacent, no longer seeking to be more deeply converted to the Lord? Such questions cannot be avoided if we are to be faithful to the call to lead others to Christ. When we examine our lives with humble confidence in His mercy, He will transform us by His love and enable us to be a light of hope in our world.

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.