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

Monday, January 14, 2019

Panama Bound!

Lots of enthusiasm, to say the least! This was my experience of the pilgrims of this Archdiocese who will be setting off this week for World Youth Days in Panama. We gathered Saturday afternoon to celebrate Eucharist in a final moment of preparation, and at the end of mass I invoked a special blessing upon them to send them on their way.

They are enthusiastic, yes, but also deeply and prayerfully serious about this pilgrimage. As well they should be! World Youth Days are moments of encounter with the Lord Jesus in the mystery and communion of his Church. It is a joy for the young pilgrims to be together with hundreds of thousands (!!) of their generation, who are enthusiastic about their Catholic faith. It is thrilling to be in the presence of the Holy Father. At the heart of it all is an encounter with the Lord Jesus Christ. This personal meeting with the Lord at WYD has had an enormous impact over the years since the first International WYD in Buenos Aires in 1987. Countless vocations to priesthood, religious life and Christian marriage have been attributed to what takes place at WYD.

We can expect the same to arise from this year's event, particularly in light of the theme chosen by Pope Francis for the gathering: "I am the servant of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word. (Lk 1:38)." These are the words by which the Blessed Mother gave her assent to the divine summons communicated by the angel Gabriel. They remain the perfect expression of the "yes" that lies within the heart of every disciple of the Lord.

One of my favourite paintings of the Annunciation. It is by Henry Tanner and is dated 1898. I have it as the desktop background on my laptop.
World Youth Days, the brainchild of St. John Paul II and carried on with enthusiasm by Pope Benedict XVI and now Pope Francis, gather young adults from around the globe. When I've asked participants how the experience has affected them, the most common response I've received is: "I realize that I'm not alone." This is usually expressed to me with great joy. A sense of isolation can take over the believer in our current secularizing culture. Western society seems bent on marginalizing and privatizing faith. Sources of entertainment and means of social communication are massively influential, and they often will promote as virtue what Christian tradition insists is vice. Political discourse and trends in legislation are increasingly distant from the Christian teaching which formed our national foundation. In such an environment, feeling alone as a young Christian is not surprising. But it is not true. There are millions of young adults in love with the Lord and his Church and very enthusiastic about sharing the faith with others. This is what is often joyfully discovered by WYD participants, and they return home liberated by this experience of truth.

Let's be sure to keep our Archdiocesan pilgrims in prayer while they make this faith-filled journey. We can all look forward to welcoming the new enthusiasm they will surely bring to the mission of our local Church.

Monday, January 7, 2019

Surrendering Control

Many people travel this time of the year. In the northern climes in which I live, that will often mean travel disruption. Winter weather will quite often give us flight cancellations or delays and impassable roads. The deepest frustration arises from the fact that we are unable to do anything about it. We are out of control. All we can do is adjust, but the adjustment we make is temporary. We change plans as necessary to deal with the situation, all the while having the intention of re-claiming control and getting back to our normal, or to what we had originally planned.

The Christmas liturgies of the Church call us to a complete surrender of control, to an adjustment which is both radical and permanent. The summons is to change our plans - our life plans! - in the light of God's will for us. This means accepting, in peace, the truth about just who is in control: Almighty God.

Much attention is focused in the Christmas season upon Mary, the mother of Jesus. In her we see the perfect example of complete surrender to this truth of God's sovereignty. To say that any plans she might have had in mind were disrupted by the plan of God would be an understatement. Yet her response to Gabriel's message was an immediate and faith-filled acquiescence to the will of God. Mary knew that the only one truly "in control" is God, who guides the course of world events in accordance with his plan, and who calls us to adjust our hopes and desires in light of his saving purpose.

As we listened on Sunday's Solemnity of the Epiphany to the familiar narrative of the visit of wise men from the East, we heard about individuals whose response to the plan of God was the direct opposite of Mary's. Herod responded with both fear and fury; the chief priests and scribes with astonishing indifference. There was clearly no intention on their part to change their lives.

These divergent responses direct our attention to the exercise of human freedom. In the Christian worldview, all of history unfolds according to God's plan, and is filled with purpose, namely the salvation of the human race. God is in control; not us. He has the plan and he brings it to fulfilment. At the same time, Mary's surrender to this truth teaches us that the achievement of God's plan somehow mysteriously hinges upon human freedom. Christ has come to set us free from the slavery imposed by sin so that we could freely respond to God, freely surrender control of our lives to his love. How shall we respond?

The answer that we give to this question is of crucial importance not only for the state of our individual lives but also for that of the world. In spite of the best efforts of world leaders, wars continue to rage between nations, violent protests erupt in our streets, migrants and refugees numbering in the millions are on the move seeking safety and a better life. In answer to the pain and suffering we inflict upon one another, Christianity proclaims with clarity and insistence that it is only when we are in right relationship with God that we shall find the way to peaceful relations with our fellow human beings. Only when the soul is rightly ordered to God will our relationships with one another be ordered in peace. The healing of the relationship with God begins by acknowledging that he is in control, that he is truly sovereign, and then by surrendering to his sovereignty, to his plan for humanity, a surrender that takes place by faith, repentance and obedience.

This surrender will lead to radical change in the way we live. We are told that the wise men, after offering homage to the Christ child, went home by "another road". So, too, with us. When we bow down to the sovereignty of Jesus Christ, when we surrender control to him, our lives will change direction. This is not something to reject in fear but to embrace with joy, because we shall find ourselves on the road that leads not only to peace on earth but also to eternal life.

Monday, December 17, 2018

Rejoice When I'm Sad?

On Saturday, I made a visit to our Holy Cross cemetery and mausoleum. The occasion was the annual mass I celebrate with families of loved ones who have died. It is a poignant moment. Especially if the family member or friend has died within the last year, making this the first Christmas celebration without them, the pain and grief can be very intense. It is important that we be together not only in shared pain but also in common faith. It helps.

I was reflecting upon the people I met and with whom I spoke at Holy Cross as I read the summons of St. Paul in the second reading for Sunday's mass (Philippians 4:4-7). It begins: "Rejoice in the Lord always; again, I say rejoice." Always? How would this teaching land in the hearts of people who are suffering with deep grief? For that matter, what about people who have just been laid off from work, women and children fleeing domestic violence, refugees not welcome at a border, and so on? The summons to joy in these and similar situations understandably might seem strange and difficult to receive.

The key is the reason Paul gives for rejoicing: "The Lord is near." We are not alone; we are never alone. Jesus, our Risen Lord, remains always with us in the full power of his love. This leads Paul to counsel further: "Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God." What we have here is a summons to trust in the love of God for us. Whatever the issue, give it to Jesus, in whom God's love is both manifest and active. He knows what to do; he knows where he is leading us; he knows how to take whatever befalls us and to turn it to our good in accord with the will of the Father. This is the faith that removes fear. This is the faith that gives rise to a joy that takes deep root in the heart and persists, even in moments of sadness and pain.

Here, then, is a grace for which to pray in the immediate lead-up to Christmas: the grace of authentic joy in the Lord. As we contemplate the mystery of Jesus as God-with-us, Emmanuel, may this wondrous truth of our God who draws near take hold of our minds and hearts. In this way they will be filled, as St. Paul promises, with the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding.


Monday, December 10, 2018

Grandin Media at One

Time flies, etc. Well, it does, indeed, feel as if time has flown by when I consider that Grandin Media is already one year old. And I do think that the denizens of our Communications Department have been having fun in not only getting this digital news portal launched but also keeping it flying at what is, in my estimation, a very high altitude.

Grandin Media exists to serve the Church's mission of evangelization by telling stories of how the beauty and truth of the Gospel is "landing" in people's lives and transforming them. Whether in news reports, columns, vlogs and blogs, interviews, social media posts, or quirky shows (have you seen Leftfooters?), Grandin Media seeks to tell the Catholic story.

One of my principal preoccupations and worries over recent years has been the fact that, even though the Church has an enormously important story to tell, others are telling it, and not always accurately or fairly. We must tell the story ourselves. Of course, Catholic media has existed a long time, and has exercised its ministry with dedication and skill. Indeed, the Archdiocese of Edmonton was blessed for fifty years with the Western Catholic Reporter. Yet, we realized, as have many others, that the time had come to change our approach and embrace the reality of news delivery in an increasingly digital world. From that awareness, Grandin Media was born.

Grandin's first anniversary falls within the season of Advent. This underscores the urgent necessity of the Catholic communications ministry. On the Second Sunday of Advent, Scripture brought to our minds once again the call of John the Baptist to be a voice crying in the wilderness, summoning people to prepare themselves for the coming of the Lord. That same vocation rests now with the Church of Christ. In the increasingly vast wilderness of the human soul made arid from lack of hope, we, too, cry out and invite people to turn their attention to Jesus and anticipate his transformative coming into their lives through faith. To do this, we must speak in places where people can hear us; we need to be present where people gather. Grandin Media strives to meet this challenge by its embrace of all digital platforms.

Bishop Vital Grandin
We've moved from snowshoes to cyberspace. The namesake, Bishop Vital Grandin, our first Bishop, went wherever his people were to announce the Gospel. In his day, that meant traversing enormous distances on snowshoe. People now, especially our young people, "gather" in the Internet and there learn what is happening, share their own stories, etc. Bishop Grandin taught us to go to the people, and that is what we've done in our digital presence and outreach.

I am enormously proud (not in a sinful way, I hasten to add!) of what Grandin Media has accomplished in a short time. In my estimation, their work is world class. Skill and professionalism are present in abundance. What impresses and edifies me most deeply, though, is the faith in Christ and love for the Church that animates all that they do.

Happy first anniversary! Let's pray that, by God's grace, we shall celebrate many more!

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Cross and Altar

This weekend I had the wonderful blessing of visiting St. Agnes and Our Lady of Perpetual Help parishes. On Saturday, at the newly and beautifully renovated church of St. Agnes in Edmonton, I dedicated its new altar. Then on Sunday, while visiting the parish of Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Sherwood Park, I blessed a stunning new crucifix, recently installed in the church's sanctuary. These events, although distinct, nevertheless were inwardly united because of the inseparable and mysterious bond that exists between the Cross and the altar.

Taken by Cathy Ehm at St Agnes.
What I'm getting at here is the teaching of the Church that what happened on Calvary is rendered present at mass. On the Cross, Jesus gave himself for the salvation of the world. His death on the Cross and resurrection from the dead happened once and for all. We are given a share in this victory by participation in the sacraments, in which Jesus, in the power of his paschal mystery (death and resurrection) is present. The supreme instance of this is the Eucharist, in which the very same self-sacrifice of Christ on the Cross of Calvary is rendered present on the altar of the mass. When we receive from that altar Holy Communion, we are drawn by Jesus into his very act of offering himself to the Father. This is so that we, too, - through, with and in him - might make of our lives a complete offering to God.

When we understand the unity of Cross and altar, we can appreciate the teaching of the Lord we heard in the Gospel passage for the first Sunday of Advent (Luke 21: 25-28, 34-36). There, Jesus is looking ahead to his promised return at the end of time. He prophesies that his Second Coming will be signalled by events that will leave many people terrified. Many, but not all. To those who are his followers he says: "Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near." (21:28) That is to say, don't be afraid. Since, as Christians, we live from the unity of Cross and altar, we know that his final return is not something to meet with terror but to welcome with joy. Neither do we fear the unsettling events that beset us even now in our daily living.

When Jesus offered himself on the Cross, he was subsequently raised from the dead by his heavenly Father. In other words, the resurrection was the response of the Father to the self-gift of his Son. On the altar, what is rendered present is the self-same sacrifice of Jesus, who now reigns in heaven as Risen Lord. This means that, on the altar, what is truly present is not only the self-offering of Christ but also the response of the Father! Therefore, when we, by receiving Holy Communion, offer our lives through Christ to the Father, we share also in the Father’s response, His answer of life and hope. Living thus from the unity of Cross and altar, we are enabled to "stand up and raise our heads" no matter what befalls us. Our redemption is always near at hand. Let us welcome it with hope and joy.

Blessed Advent!

Monday, November 26, 2018

The Reigning Champion

On Sunday, Edmonton played host to the Grey Cup championship of the Canadian Football League. The days leading up to the championship game were quite the festival! Fans came in from across the country, and Edmontonians, no slouches themselves in the "fan" category, put on a great show, by all accounts. This generous local spirit, while not surprising, is nevertheless remarkable, given that our archrival - Calgary - played for the championship on our own turf, and our Edmonton team didn't. Ouch. And Calgary won. Double ouch. Well, all right - congratulations to our friends in Calgary. But, still. Ow.

Grey Cup Sunday coincided this year with the liturgical feast of Christ the King. This suggests some instructive comparisons that help us to appreciate who is, really, the "reigning champion" and how we are to understand this.

At Edmonton's Commonwealth Stadium, the football players were on display before thousands of people. What was demonstrated was talent, skill, strategy, strength, speed, top physical condition, in short, everything that one would expect of potential champions. At the headquarters of Pontius Pilate, Jesus is put on display before the governor in seeming weakness (cf. John 18: 33b-37). He has been arrested, is entirely in the hands of Roman and Jewish authorities, and will soon be flogged by soldiers and mocked by the crowds. Few could have discerned here the making of a champion in any sense.

At the football match in Edmonton, one team was victorious by the other going down to defeat. On the Cross in Jerusalem, Jesus won the victory precisely through defeat. In the sporting event, championship and loss are opposites. In the death of Jesus, they unite; defeat becomes the means of victory. By his willing acceptance of death on the Cross, Jesus took to himself the misery of sin and death. By rising from the dead, he rose victorious over the power of evil, so that now he might present to God our Father "an eternal and universal kingdom, a kingdom of truth and life, a kingdom of holiness and grace, a kingdom of justice, love and peace" (from the Preface for the Mass of Christ the King).

Jesus Christ is our King. He is the true champion, who now wills to reign in our hearts. We speak of the Grey Cup victors as reigning champions, but I'm never quite sure in what that "reign" consists apart from holding the title. Well, Jesus holds the title of King and his reign is to consist in real sovereignty over our lives.

On Grey Cup Sunday, the champion team is "crowned", as it were, there are many celebrations that follow in the immediate wake of the victory, and then life for the fans goes back to normal, unchanged in any substantial way by the event. To acknowledge Christ as King is entirely different from this. It means complete and lasting change in the lives of those who acknowledge and follow him as Sovereign Lord. In practical terms, it means that we allow no sin to rule in our hearts. It means permitting no falsehood to take directive control of our mindset. It means living not in the lie but in the truth and taking all direction for our lives from the One who alone is Truth. "Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice," Jesus told Pilate (John 18:37). It is what he tells all of us today.

The reigning champion is Jesus Christ. May he reign as King perpetually in truth and love in the minds and hearts of each of us.

Monday, November 19, 2018

Proper Alignment

We are approaching the end of the liturgical year, so the Scripture readings we listen to these days address another end, that of history. They point to that time when Jesus, as he promised, will come again to gather all of his chosen people and bring history to its culmination according to the plan of the Father.

As we listened to one such passage on Sunday from the Gospel of Mark (13:24-32), typically filled with symbolic apocalyptic language, I was drawn to the signs that Jesus said will accompany his coming: "the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken." What is the meaning of this?

At the time of Jesus, it was commonly held that the celestial bodies (sun, moon, stars) exercised a determinative influence over the course of history. People would observe their alignment and draw conclusions as to what would unfold in their lives. To announce that, at the coming of Jesus, these celestial powers will be "shaken" is to say that they, in fact, have no determining force whatsoever. The power to guide the events of history belongs to God alone, a power he has entrusted to his Son, whom he has constituted Lord of all time.

This often begs the question: if God guides history, why are we in such a mess? Here we must consider the wondrous truth that the unfolding of history, guided by God, also mysteriously hinges upon the exercise of authentic human freedom. This brings me to the issue of alignment. Whereas the people of old sought to align their conclusions and projections with the alignment of stars, our call is to cooperate with the plan of God by aligning our wills with his. Only in this way will we have hope of seeing history unfold in accord with the divine purpose.

This insight brings into high relief the drama we are presently living. In our day, the tracking of the stars has been replaced by the monitoring of the self. The multiple messages we receive hourly through the vast panoply of social media platforms unite in a common call: align your life not with the stars, and certainly not with God, but with your own desires. In our age of radical individualism, the human person is understood not only as self-determining but also self-creating. The tragic fallout from this, often lethal, is obvious. If I am entirely self-referential, if I am my own moral compass, then the only way I can relate to others is via a conflict of wills. A profound misalignment vis-à-vis the truth of things is extraordinarily pervasive in Western culture today, and it is causing widespread fracture.

We need a radical realignment. It begins by aligning myself, in my particular time and circumstance, with the love and vision of Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all time and of every circumstance. In Christian terms, such alignment is called the act of faith, the decision to believe in Christ as Lord, and to surrender the entirety of my life to him.