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.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

To Shake With Joy

As the Exsultet was proclaimed at the Easter Vigil we heard this summons: “let this holy building shake with joy, filled with the mighty voices of the peoples!” That is an arresting image! Easter announces joy, it summons to joy, a joy that should reverberate not only within our sacred buildings but also throughout our cities and world. Jesus is risen! The joy that inhabits us is the joy of redemption. By the resurrection of Jesus Christ we have been set free from all that holds us in bondage, we have been forgiven our sins, we have been restored to life and have been given the real hope of eternal life. God’s will is life, the fullness of life, for the people he has created.

I love the many readings from Sacred Scripture at the Vigil. What a banquet! Their beautiful words speak in many ways of God’s will that we live. In the beginning, God formed light from darkness, order from chaos, beauty from nothingness and then created all forms of life, above all human life, and gave the means for that life to continue and multiply. God’s will is life. When we wandered away from him he intervened to rescue us from oppression and slavery and from our own sins. He sent prophets to call us back and to remind us of his love. Through them he promised that he would so act as to cleanse us from our sins and give us new hearts. God’s will is life. Finally, in an act of ineffable love, to save us from death forever, he sent us his Son. By his passion and death, Jesus took upon himself the sins of humanity and in reparation for them offered the gift of his very self! His resurrection from the dead was the Father’s acceptance of this self-gift, the forgiveness of sin and the reversal of its consequences. God’s will is life! He has given us life in creating us; he has given us the hope of unending life in redeeming us by the resurrection of his Son.

So, indeed, “let this holy building shake with joy, filled with the mighty voices of the peoples!”

In the Gospel account for the Vigil we heard that the resurrection itself was accompanied by a mighty shaking, namely, that of an earthquake. An earthquake is something terrifying. The foundation of the earth itself shifts, things split apart and there can be great destruction. The soldiers who witnessed this shook, but with fear. We are called to shake with joy! The resurrection of Jesus is, indeed, an earthquake. It does shift the world’s very foundations, because it changes the foundation of every human life, moving us to the core. The foundation is no longer love of self and the sin it engenders, but the love of God and his mercy. This earthquake causes to crumble all the barriers we set up in our lives to separate us from God and from one another, and from out of this necessary destruction arises the beautiful and indestructible edifice we call the Church, the Body of Christ. This is the holy building that must shake with joy. I would be thrilled to see that holy building, which is God’s people, shake with the joy of the redemption and allow that joy to reverberate everywhere. There is no more effective annunciation of the resurrection of Jesus Christ than the witness of joy in the hearts and voices of his people.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Holy Week Invitation

At the beginning of the Passion Sunday liturgy we hear the familiar story of the entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. The Scriptural citation from the prophet Zechariah in the middle of the narrative tells us exactly what is going on: “Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem! Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” Jesus comes as the long-awaited and deeply desired king who would deal with the enemies of Israel and bring liberation.

This is exactly what Jesus did. He indeed entered the city and brought freedom, but in a way no one would have expected, in a manner no one could possibly have anticipated. He did so by going to the Cross, so that by his dying and rising he would defeat the greatest of all enemies, Satan, and bring freedom and new life to all people.

As we recall the entry and the Cross an important invitation comes to each of us: to allow Jesus to enter our own personal lives with his liberating power. The crowds prepared a pathway for his entry to the city. Let us prepare the way for him to enter the reality of our lives. His acceptance of the Cross teaches there is no human situation, however dark, into which God will not enter in order to save his people. Nothing lies outside his concern; nothing is beyond the reach of his love and mercy.

So let us prepare the pathway for him to enter our hearts, so that he may dispel our fears, heal our guilt, free us from all forms of enslavement, and cure our indifference to the needs of the poor. Let us prepare the road for him to enter our families, so that he may end estrangement and help loved ones forgive each other. Let us clear the path for him to enter our workplace and our society, so that his truth will overcome the lies holding people bound and so set them free. Jesus who entered Jerusalem with the power of his love wants to come with that same power to the “city” which is every human heart and give once again the gift of life.

My prayer is that this week will be for all of us truly a holy week. Let us together pray daily to be set free of all that is contrary to the Gospel of Christ. Let our hearts truly be open and receptive to receive Christ Jesus, hear his word and be ready for its transforming power. Bring to all of this week’s celebrations not only your personal needs, but also those of the world, bearing especially in mind our brothers and sisters living in dire poverty or in situations of war and terror. May the Church’s proclamation of the power of Christ’s love lead the entire human family to open their hearts to its true King, to let him enter, and thus to taste the gift of the salvation he brings.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

March for Life 2014

You will see in this week's issue of the Western Catholic Reporter a letter from me, written on behalf of the Bishops of Alberta and the Northwest Territories, encouraging you to join us in this year's Alberta March for Life on Thursday, May 8. 

As you may know, in 2011 we Bishops had decided not to participate in the March because of the significant presence in it of graphic images of aborted children. Our stand against the use of such images in the March has not changed. However, the organizers of the March for Life, to their great credit, have made wonderful efforts to ensure that these graphic images will not be present in the March. Indeed, it has been reported to us that they were not part of last year's March at all. This has paved the way for the return of the Bishops to the March, and we are pleased to do so.

Scheduling conflicts will prevent the presence of a few of us this year, but we are united in our desire to give our visible support once again. As I note in our letter: "The March is a very important and increasingly urgent act of witness before society to the beauty and dignity of human life. In accord with the directives given to the whole Church by His Holiness, Pope Francis, in Evangelii Gaudium, our March must be joyful and celebratory of the wondrous gift of life, since all that we do as Christians must radiate joy."

Let us together give joyful witness to the beauty of life! We hope to see you at the March!

Monday, March 31, 2014

Lessons from the TRC

The bentwood box was the repository for gestures of
reconciliation, including those of the Alberta-NWT Bishops
and the Oblates of Mary Immaculate Lacombe Province.
 It was quite the four days. The final national event of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission took place in Edmonton. Interest and participation levels were very high, and, I must say, the overall feeling was quite positive and hopeful. Yes, many sad and painful stories were told about life in the Residential Schools, and they were difficult to hear. At the same time there was a sense of moving forward into a future that would see the continuation of the process of healing and reconciliation. It is not a question here of naive optimism. Everyone realizes full well that words alone are insufficient. There needs to be a broad societal commitment to learn our history and to reach out to one another in a genuine desire to foster the common good of all.

Read the gesture of reconciliation statement by the Alberta-NWT Bishops

In this regard it occurs to me that the TRC process has highlighted some important lessons for everyone to take to heart and appropriate into our lives. I am convinced that, if we do this, reconciliation can be fostered throughout the breadth of the Canadian fabric. The lessons come from the very TRC process itself as well as from aspects of Aboriginal culture and spirituality.

Father Ken Forster, Provincial of the OMI Lacombe Province,
delivered a heartfelt gesture of reconciliation on behalf
of the Oblates.
The TRC process was predicated upon listening to truth. From this very fact we have our first lesson. To listen to truth means that truth is outside of and prior to us. We respond to truth and allow it both to inform and to transform us. This is a necessary corrective to a reigning relativism, which understand truth as something subjective, to be created by the individual, and which consequently fashions a fractured society.

With respect to Aboriginal culture and spirituality, I am struck by four aspects in particular that, if accepted and applied broadly, will strengthen our life together as Canadians.

First, in Aboriginal spirituality God is not eclipsed. Each day of the TRC event began with prayer to the Creator. Oh, how I wish that we could recapture this sense across our land! In broader Canadian society we have somehow reached the point of thinking that reference to God must be relegated to the private sphere, as if God, Creator of all, would have nothing to say about how his children should live together.

Second is the comfort of our indigenous brothers and sisters with silence. It is not unusual for participants in listening circles to sit together in silence for long periods of time until one is ready to speak. In Western culture generally silence has become alien. Our heads are filled with noise, living as we do under what I have often called "the tyranny of the tweet". We need to learn once again to be comfortable with silence, so that in the stillness of our hearts we can listen to the truth of ourselves and re-discover the beauty of our identity as God's beloved children. This discovery brings unity and peace to our own lives and in turn fosters communion with others.

Third, I was touched by the profound respect for elders among the Aboriginal people. There is a ready recognition of and deep gratitude for their wisdom and witness. At a time when voices are being raised in Canada calling for the ability to euthanize the elderly and weak, we need this example of esteem and honour toward our elders.

On the opening day of the TRC, I joined Mayor Iveson, artist
Dawn Marie Marchand, and Elder Fred Campiou on a CBC panel
hosted very professionally by Mark Connelly.

Finally, an indigenous person's sense of identity is inseparably linked with belonging to a community, this being the family first of all but also the Nation of which they form a part. Their self-knowledge and self-respect arises from the history, language and culture of the people to which they belong. This contrasts rather sharply with the individualism that generally pervades Western society and that leaves a terrible amount of loneliness in its wake. This beautiful dimension of Aboriginal culture is an invitation to all of us to understand our common citizenship in this country as not a collective but a communion, in which individuals are united and honoured as sharers of a common humanity.

The TRC event, I pray, helped bring healing to many. If its lessons can be broadly learned, it can bring healing to our country as well. 

Monday, March 17, 2014

Tomorrow's Gift of Peace

All parishes. All priests. All day. That's tomorrow, March 18th, our second Day of Confessions in the Archdiocese of Edmonton. I have included in this blog post the video presentation prepared to invite you to receive the gift of peace that comes from firmly deciding to amend one's life, confessing one's sins and receiving God's pardon through the Sacrament of Penance.

As you prepare, consider the question that is posed by the Gospel for Sunday. Recounted for us was the event of the Transfiguration. As the voice of our heavenly Father confirmed the identity of Jesus as his well-beloved Son, he commanded the apostles (and us): "Listen to him." This raises the question, "Who am I listening to?" In other words, what are the various voices/messages that are exercising an influence upon my life. The voices are many. Just think of everything that comes at us through television, radio, Internet, tweets, emails, Facebook messages and so on. To whom are we listening? As we do, ask yourself if those voices lead you away from fidelity to Jesus or toward greater closeness to him. If we have been allowing the words or ideas or actions of others to turn us away from the Gospel, it is time to turn away from them! Bring this to confession, and seek the grace to change, to listen first to the voice of Jesus, and to receive a discerning mind and heart that allows us to judge all things in the light of his teaching.

Tomorrow will be a blessed day for the Archdiocese. I hope you will share in it. 

Day of Confessions 2014 from Archdiocese of Edmonton on Vimeo.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Multiple Congratulations!

What an afternoon it was on Saturday for the people of the new parish of Corpus Christi, as well as for the parishioners at St. Theresa's, out of which this newest faith community is growing! It was the moment of breaking ground for the new Church. It felt like a long wait was at last over, and this in two ways. First, we have been in a deep freeze for far too long in Edmonton, and this past Saturday was the first mild day in quite a while. More importantly, though, the parishioners of both communities, under the wonderful leadership of Fr Corrigan, their pastor, have been striving mightily to raise funds for the new building. They had reached a level where we all came to the conclusion that it was time to get a shovel in the ground to begin construction.

Well, not quite a shovel. I don't know what it is about me and backhoes. When we broke ground for Newman Theological College and St. Joseph's Seminary a couple of years ago, they insisted I get into a backhoe and do the honours. Perhaps my performance on that occasion was more stellar than I recall, because they had me do it again on Saturday. Truth to tell, I get by with a little help from my friends, and the regular operator guided me at the levers at every step. It was lots of fun.

The enthusiasm of the people was very heartwarming. Clearly they love the Lord and his Church and are excited beyond words to have reached this stage in their journey of fashioning a new house of worship on the south side of our city. Well done, everyone!

Congratulations, too, to the many men, women and children whom I enrolled in the Book of the Elect at St. Joseph's Basilica over the weekend. I really enjoy meeting each one of them. Their excitement at drawing so close to the Easter sacraments is infectious, and is a great reminder to all believers of the wondrous gift we have been given to be disciples of the Lord Jesus in the communion of the Church.

The Scripture readings this same weekend spoke about the mystery of temptations, the seduction of the evil one, and of the power of the Lord over the wiles of Satan. By the help of God's grace, these new elect have resisted a rather pervasive temptation of our day, namely, the idea that we do not need Jesus or his Church. Like all work of the devil, this is a lie. Jesus is our Saviour, and he calls us to follow him precisely as members of his Body, which is the Church. As Pope Francis says very often, to speak of following Jesus without the Church is absurd. Our new elect have discovered this truth for themselves, and now look forward to full initiation. We rejoice with them and surround them with our love and support.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Preparing for Lent

With the beginning of Lent just a couple of days away, many are thinking about how they will honour this holy season. One question we pose is "What shall I give up for Lent?" This is a beautiful and traditional Lenten penitential practice, born of a recognition of our sinfulness and need for penance, and stemming from a desire to make more room in our lives for God and others. What will it be? Coffee? Chocolate? Alcohol?

The Scripture readings for Sunday suggest some paths for our Lenten fast. In the Gospel Jesus teaches his disciples not to worry. Given our penchant for anxiety, that seems quite a command! We worry about everything! Behind the teaching of Jesus is the truth about his (and our) heavenly Father. God our Father knows our every need even before we ask, and like any loving parent, provides all that his children truly need. Jesus is inviting us to replace fear with trust. Might we consider, then, fasting from fear and worry this Lent?

St. Paul warns against judging others. Yep, here is something else we're very good at. Into every human heart creep jealousy, envy, bitterness and so on, which give rise to a tendency to pronounce judgement upon others. Since we cannot see into the heart of another and do not always know all the factors at play in another person's life, our judgments are never based on complete information. Only God knows the heart thoroughly. Therefore, St. Paul tells us, judgement belongs to God alone. Giving up judging others during Lent (and always!) would be a great penitential practice.

Isaiah speaks to a suffering people who feel they have been abandoned by God. Such a sentiment is not foreign to many people, especially those who are alone, lonely, sick, or struggling in any number of ways. Speaking through the prophet, God assures us that he will never forget or abandon us. Even though a mother forget her child (and what mother could, really?), God will never forget us. Recall that Jesus took to himself on the Cross even this human experience (My God, why have you forsaken me?) and demonstrated through the Resurrection that God is always near to his people with his power to save. Feeling abandoned? Scripture invites us to fast from this and acknowledge the love of our God.

Let's pray for one another during this sacred time. May God's grace inspire within us a desire to fast from whatever is distracting us away from our relationship with him. May the Lord's love move each of us surely along the path of sincere repentance and deep conversion.