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

Monday, November 12, 2018

Remembering


On November 11th, our country united with many others in an act of remembering. We called to mind the millions of men and women who, in the course of war, gave their lives in defence of freedom. They died that others might live. Extraordinary. Rightly do we wish to keep the memory of their sacrifice alive. The preservation of our fundamental freedoms has come at a great price, and we must never forget that. The memory of the great heroism of those who fell in war evokes in us sentiments of silent awe and deep gratitude.

Remembrance Day this year fell on a Sunday, when the Christian community gathers in another act of remembering. At the heart of the Eucharist we hear the words of the Lord himself, "Do this in memory of me." We remember Christ and the great act of his sacrifice on the Cross, and, in so doing, call to mind the astonishing and steadfast love of God the Father for each of us, his children.


This, too, is a memory we must keep alive as the source of great hope. Everywhere today we encounter forgetfulness of God and its immediate consequence: fear. Anxiety and dread are gripping the hearts of many people and families. The common denominator lying beneath it all as the ultimate source of this fear is the absence of trust. When God is eclipsed, is there anything else in which we can place our trust with absolute certainty? We may try to rely on money, possessions, reputation, other people and ourselves, but we know the reality of human weakness and often experience the emptiness of what the world offers. Trusting in anything other than the rock-solid love of God gives rise inevitably to deep anxiety, which we encounter all around us and perhaps within us.

On this same Sunday, we heard the narrative of what tradition has come to call "the widow's mite." It is a striking story, and very instructive for us. When the widow put her two small coins in the Temple treasury, she gave everything she had. It was an act of casting off any and all means of self-reliance in favour of a decision to trust entirely in the providence of God. What lay behind such trust? The story does not give the answer, but I like to think her act of self-abandonment to God was motivated by the memory of all that God had done for his people. God had supported both her and her people in their need, and had thus manifested his steadfast love. She knew she could rely on God never to let her down, never to abandon her, always to be with her, and on this basis made the decision to trust.

This is the antidote to the anxiety around and within us. Remember the love of God, and allow that memory to give rise to a deep trust in his providence, which does not fail.

Monday, November 5, 2018

Q&A with Jesus

In my school visits, I welcome the opportunities for question and answer sessions with the students. It gives me a sense of how they are doing, what their concerns are and how the Church can teach and accompany them. The questions will, of course, vary with the age group. The young ones will wonder about my age, if I have a pet, what my favourite colour might be, and pose such sleep-depriving questions as: "How come ya gotta wear two hats?!" As they grow older the questions become more serious. They want to know about human sexuality, the nature of marriage, issues around sanctity of life, the relation between religion and science, matters of social justice, etc. Quite often my answers to one student will lead to more questions from others who are listening.

This dynamic of Q&A is at the heart of the Gospel passage we heard proclaimed on Sunday (Mark 12:28-34). A scribe approaches Jesus with what has to rank among the most serious of all questions. "Which commandment is the first of all?" It is clear that obedience to the commandments is important to the questioner. By asking which is first he seeks to know what commandment among all the precepts of the Jewish law gives light and coherence to the whole. Jesus provides the answer by uniting love of God with that of neighbour and asserts: "There is no other commandment greater than these." In his heart the questioner can recognize that Jesus has spoken the truth and voices his acquiescence.

When I compare this Q&A session with the ones I have with students, what jumps out at me is the response of the crowd that has been listening to the exchange between Jesus and the scribe. Students listening to answers given to a colleague usually respond with their own questions. Not so with the crowd in the Gospel passage. Of them it is said, "After that no one dared to ask Jesus any question." It is important that we understand why.

Upon hearing the answer of the scribe to his teaching, Jesus looked at him and said, "You are not far from the kingdom of God." In other words, "You are drawing near, but you are not there yet!" Jesus had just confirmed for him that God must be loved "with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength." Genuine love of God is a total gift of self to God, so to the scribe Jesus is saying that there is more of him he has yet to give. The crowds, hearing this, realize that, were they to ask Jesus a question, he would likely point out to them where they need to change, what more they need to give of themselves if their love of God is to be perfect. So, they fall silent. They choose not to risk the question.

There are many questions we long to put to Jesus. What has happened to my life? Why is their tension and strife in my family? What is the reason for this anxiety that grips me? How did my life go so far off the rails? What am I to do with this guilt that inhabits me? The Gospel passage invites us to pose the question with serenity and faith, and to accept, in trust and obedience, whatever Jesus will answer. It is sure that the answer of the Lord will always challenge us and call us to deeper conversion. It is equally certain that the Lord's answer will always be given in love and will lead us only toward the good.

Ask the question. Don't be afraid of the answer. Honest and trusting Q&A with the Lord is what leads us to light and life.

Monday, October 29, 2018

Take Heart!


Halloween happens this week. It's a time when people's attention gravitates toward what is scary. Horror and fright are featured in radio interviews and television programs. Houses are decorated with the obvious aim of instilling fear in the hearts of all who visit, particularly the young trick-or-treaters. Most of this is done in good fun. However, there is a real fear that is gripping the hearts of people today, not only in the period around Halloween, and that is no laughing matter.

I encounter this constantly. Among young adults, they will speak of the fear of not measuring up to expectations, both real and illusory. In speaking with older adults, I have come across what is referred to as FOMO, the fear of missing out. This is causing considerable angst and tension in many individuals and families. Of course, there are many other things which engender fear: job insecurity, family dysfunction, geopolitical upheaval and so on.

What frightens you?

The Gospel passage from Sunday (Mark 10: 46-52) issues a call to each of us as we struggle with fear and anxiety: Take heart! To us who often lose heart because of the difficulties that face us, the Gospel cries: Take heart! In other words, don't be afraid.

In the Gospel narrative, the words are addressed by the disciples to a blind beggar, Bartimaeus. The encounter between him and Jesus gives insight into how to deal with our fears.

Bartimaeus at first cries out to Jesus ("Son of David, have mercy on me"). Jesus then calls for him to draw near. At the encouragement of the disciples ("take heart; get up, he is calling you"), Bartimaeus throws off his cloak and goes to Jesus. He asks Jesus that he might see. Jesus restores his sight in response to his faith ("Go; your faith has made you well"). Then, Bartimaeus follows Jesus "on the way".

This brief episode is instructive. It summons us, like Bartimaeus, to acknowledge at the outset our need for Christ and to cry out to him. When Bartimaeus threw aside his cloak, he was casting off that upon which he was dependent. We, too, come to Christ by setting aside all illusion of self-reliance and by casting away all the falsehoods in which we uselessly place our confidence. As we approach the Lord, sometimes we don't know what to say or what we should be asking for. Bartimaeus knew. He asked to see. That, too, needs to be our request. We implore the Lord not for physical sight but spiritual vision. In other words, we ask that we might see the truth of who Jesus is. We want to see that Jesus is not only the Son of David but also the Son of God; that he is the One sent to fulfill God's plan of salvation (Jeremiah 31:7-9); that he is our high priest, who knows our weaknesses because he assumed them himself (Hebrews 5:1-6) and draws near to us in mercy; that this same Jesus is present with us in the sacraments and walks with us in our daily lives. When we see this clearly, what else can we do but follow him "on the way" to our Heavenly Father?

Following the Lord does not mean our lives will thereby be rendered free from difficulties. When we can see, though, the truth of the presence of Jesus and his love for us, we have found our reason for hope. We have found the antidote to our fears.

Take heart. He is with us. Do not be afraid.

Monday, October 22, 2018

The Vaccine


It's flu season again. That means that, once again, a vaccine has been produced to prevent the spread of the virus. On television ads, I've noticed a great push to promote the vaccine and to encourage people to get it. I've also seen on the news reports that not everyone is taking up the invitation.

This puts me in mind of other viruses that concern me far more than the flu, as serious as that is. These do not circulate in the air. They are not passed on through human physical contact. Rather, they reach us via the many means of social communication. There is, indeed, a vaccine that prevents the contagion, but here, too, the uptake is very low.

The viruses of which I speak attack not the body but the mind and soul. They are the ideas that seduce us away from fidelity to God and harm the dignity of the human person: God and religion have no place in personal or public deliberation; reality is not a prior given to which we conform but the malleable product of the human mind; the mystery and dignity of the human person is reducible to sexual inclination; truth is no more than opinion; conscience equates to subjectivity; and so on. The symptomatic expression of these viruses, once they take hold, is the widespread anxiety gripping and paralyzing the lives of people today of every age and circumstance.

How does one inoculate oneself against their spread? The vaccine is the Word of God. It brings us to an encounter with Jesus Christ, in Whom the full truth about both God and the human person is perfectly manifest. By immersing ourselves in the Word, we submerge ourselves in that which alone provides a sure and clear compass for our lives. In it we discover truth, meaning and hope.

Unlike the flu vaccine, which is administered on an annual basis, "vaccination" by reading the Word of God needs to happen daily. The dosage need not be large - even a few pages of the Gospel will suffice. Yet a daily turn to Sacred Scripture is urgently necessary, since it is every day that we are bombarded with a variety of messaging in the multiple media platforms by which the harmful ideas are carried.

Moreover, the Word of God serves not only as a "vaccine" but also as an antidote if we do allow the viruses to take hold in our minds. God's Word of truth heals and liberates; it will always win out over evil. Yet, this begs the question: why the low uptake? Why do so few centre their lives not on God's Word but on purely human considerations or ideologies?

I expect the answer lies in our instinctive resistance to change. When the viruses of our day communicate the falsehoods of radical autonomy, self-creation and self-determination, the summons in Sacred Scripture to accept the fact of our 'creatureliness' and dependence upon God, the call to repentance and surrender, can seem extraordinarily difficult to understand let alone accept.

I may not like the idea of getting a needle, but if I want to be well I will do what is needed. In a similar vein (pardon the pun), vaccination by immersion in God's Word may not at first seem pleasant, yet it is necessary for both prevention and cure in these days of worrisome viral infections of the mind and soul.

Monday, October 15, 2018

Saint Who?

On Sunday, Pope Francis, canonized seven people, thus proposing them to the universal Church as models of holiness. Two among them have long been famous and have thus garnered the lion's share of media attention: Pope Paul VI and Archbishop Oscar Romero. I have great admiration for them both. At the same time, I found myself wondering about the others: who are they; how has God been at work in their lives; how are they an example to be followed? As I read about their lives, my attention was drawn in a particular way to the one lay person among the new saints: Nunzio Sulprizio.


Monsignor Romero with Pope Paul VI. Approximately one year before the death of the pontiff.
Here is the summary of his life as offered by Vatican News last September 19th:

"Blessed Nunzio was born in Pescosansonesco in Italy in April of 1817. He lost both of his parents while still a child and was brought up by an uncle. His uncle exploited him, not allowing him to go to school, and forcing him to work in his blacksmith shop. Regardless of extreme cold or intense heat, he was forced to carry enormous weights over great distances. He found refuge before the Tabernacle where he would keep Jesus company.

"After contracting gangrene in one of his legs, he was sent to a hospital for people with incurable diseases in Naples. He suffered tremendously on account of the pain. Yet, he is known to have said such things as:

"Jesus suffered so much for us and by his merits we await eternal life. If we suffer a little bit, we will taste the joy of paradise. Jesus suffered a lot for me. Why should I not suffer for Him? I would die in order to convert even one sinner.

"When asked who was taking care of him, he would respond: “God’s Providence”. Once he got better, he dedicated himself to helping other patients. But his health took a sudden turn for the worse. He died from bone cancer in May of 1836 before he reached his 20th birthday."

When we consider the extraordinary witness of such giants as Paul VI and Oscar Romero, we may be tempted to think that sainthood is beyond us. Of course, that is not true. We are all called to be saints, and if we open our lives to the working of God's grace, He will bring that call to fulfillment in us. Saint Nunzio teaches us that God leads us along the path to sanctity by offering us daily opportunities to rely solely upon Divine Providence, to offer our own concrete circumstances - both sufferings and joys - to Him, and to die to ourselves in order to be of service to others. What we do might seem to us to be very little. Often, it is. No matter. It is precisely by what St. Therese of Lisieux called "the little way" that we show ourselves to be disciples of Our Lord and proceed along the way of holiness.

Parishioners at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church celebrating the canonization.



The mass of canonization occurs when the attention of the Church is particularly focused upon the needs of young people. The Synod of Bishops on Young People, the Faith and Vocational Discernment, is currently underway in Rome. Saint Nunzio, who died at only nineteen years of age, reminds us by his life that the call to holiness of life stands at the heart of all vocational discernment. May the Holy Spirit help us to see how we can help our beloved young people, and how we can help one another, whatever our age, to embrace the call to sanctity.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Ten Ogórek Jest Zielony

Well, there it is. My first full sentence in Polish. It was taught to me this week by a group of grade-three students at St Basil's school, which runs a Polish-English bilingual programme. Not exactly the most important statement ever uttered (this pickle is green), but, hey, it's a start. In fact, the students gave me a standing ovation, likely due to not only the fact that I encouraged it, but also their astonishment that I could pull it off!

Standing ovations all around - unforced and entirely spontaneous - are due to three congregations of religious women with whom I was blessed to spend some time over the long weekend. These are women who give voice to what are, indeed, very significant statements, and who, moreover, live out what they say through their daily witness.

Sisters of Merciful Jesus at a Mass at St. Joseph's Basilica.
On Saturday, I visited the Congregation of the Sisters of Merciful Jesus, to bless their new convent and chapel. Their message is to trust always in the mercy of Jesus Christ, and to find therein the source of real hope. Here in this Archdiocese they transform that message into a ministry of accompaniment and assistance among the First Nations peoples of Maskwacis, about one hour south of Edmonton.

Sr. Anne Hemstock and Sr. Mary Truong, Sisters of Providence.
Sunday morning was the occasion to gather with the Sisters of Providence to celebrate with them the 175th anniversary of their Congregation. Inspired by their founder, Blessed Emilie Tavernier Gamelin, these women are dedicated to announcing the message of Divine Providence, and to inviting all to place their complete confidence in God, who knows our every need and never fails to care for His children. Throughout the history of this Congregation, word has been translated into action through education, healthcare and outreach to the poor.

Gift shop at Carmelite Monastery with items made by the Sisters.
Monday was for prayer. For this I spent the day at the convent of the Discalced Carmelite Nuns. Their "word" is unspoken, yet it echoes loudly. Daughters of St Teresa of Avila, they are entirely consecrated to the contemplation of the mystery of God. Silence, solitude and stability within an enclosure mark their life, which they offer in love for the good of the Church.

These three visits took place over the Thanksgiving Day weekend. When it comes to thanking God for his many blessings, where to start??!! He is so very good, and His blessings abound. Among them in this Archdiocese is the presence and witness of women consecrated to God through the embrace of the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity and obedience. We have many Congregations serving the people of the Archdiocese. Like the three I visited these past days, they give voice - in both word and deed - to a message that translates well into any language: entrust yourself to God's mercy, be free of all anxiety, and find in Him true joy and peace.




Monday, October 1, 2018

Lift Me Up

A couple of years ago I attended an event for families. I was standing at the back of the room, listening to a speaker. (What is it with us Catholics and the back row, pew or whatever? We seem to gravitate there!) All of a sudden, I felt a little tugging at my pant leg, and looked down to see that it was a little girl - a toddler, probably no more than two - who was trying to get my attention. When she caught my eye, she raised both of her arms in the air. She wanted me to pick her up! I looked around and saw a woman who was identified to me as the child's mother. She could see what was going on and gave me a nod of permission. What was I to do? I couldn't say no to the little girl, so... I reached down and picked her up. She wanted to be carried, so I held her for a few minutes and then gave her to her mother. It is a precious memory.


It is also a lesson. I'm recalling this event as I write on the feast of St. Therese of Lisieux. She famously used this image - the lifting up of the arms as a request to be carried - to describe her relation with Jesus Christ. She knew that, by her own efforts alone, she could not achieve her life's goal, namely, sanctity through communion with the Father. She knew, too, however, that, if she asked Jesus, he would "lift her up" in his arms and carry her to the Father. Here we have an image, given to us by one recognized as a Doctor of the Church, to describe what it means to follow the command of Jesus to become like children if we are to enter the kingdom of God.

To have faith in Christ is willingly to allow oneself to be carried by him. Daily we encounter difficult situations. Rather than let them be for us a source of anxiety, may we instead recognize in them a gift from God whereby he allows us to know our littleness and dependence. Aware of our weakness and need, let us not hesitate to raise our arms to the Lord and ask him to lift us to the Father, who knows our every need, will never abandon us, and will surely offer us, through Christ, all that we truly need.

St Therese of Lisieux, Little Flower, Doctor of the Church, pray for us.