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 20, 2010

The Symphony of Salvation

Last week I had a truly wonderful experience. On Thursday evening I joined the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra as the narrator in one of their Christmas presentations. This necessitated being seated on stage next to the conductor. I have always loved symphonic works, and from that particular vantage point I found myself not only surrounded by stunningly beautiful music but also able to see in a manner not otherwise possible the marvellous interaction between the conductor and his musicians. At the appropriate moment he would indicate that one group of instruments should play and another be silent; at other times all would be heard together, and occasionally one instrument would be featured. Everyone had his or her role to play. Some instruments seemed to be more predominant than others, but all were equally necessary. The lack of participation by any one particular instrument would have diminished the whole. What guided it all was, of course, the musical score, but the notes on the page could only be communicated as beautiful music via the musicians under the direction of the conductor.

This experience was very fresh in my mind as I encountered the Scripture readings for the Fourth Sunday of Advent. They speak of a “musical score”, so to speak, namely, God’s plan to save the world from its sins. Individuals are assigned a part so that, through them, this plan would become a reality. Central to this plan is Jesus, the one who is Emmanuel, “God with us”, whose advent would be signalled by his birth from a virgin (cf. Isaiah 1: 10-14; Matthew 1: 22-24), and whose name indicates his salvific mission (cf. Matthew 1: 21). At the same time, the readings indicate others called to play their part in service to Jesus and to the Father’s plan.

Mary is chosen to be the mother of the Saviour. Joseph is chosen to be her husband and to take to his home both Mary and the child conceived within her by the Holy Spirit. Paul tells us in the second reading (cf. Romans 1: 1-7) that he has been chosen to be an apostle in service to the Gospel. Each role is unique, yet they are united by what St. Paul refers to as the “obedience of faith”.

Faith is the response to the Gospel, and by “faith” is meant a complete surrender of one’s life to God, motivated by complete trust in His love and wisdom and expressed in obedience to God’s will, even if such obedience means a profound change in our lives. The normal human expectations that Mary and Joseph would have had for their married life together had to be set aside for the sake of God’s plan. St. Paul had to undergo a radical transformation in his life from persecutor of the Church to proclaimer of Christ.

Each of us, too, is assigned a role in the continued unfolding of God’s saving will. It is, fundamentally, to accept the call to holiness that stems from Baptism and then to be attentive to the gifts God has bestowed upon us and to how he chooses and calls us to place them at the service of the Gospel. This will likely involve change, sometimes total, yet we accept this in the obedience of faith, trusting lovingly in God’s love for us.

The beauty of the Gospel has inspired the most beautiful of all music. Some of that was shared last Thursday evening. Indeed, all that is truly beautiful has its roots in the One who alone is Beauty, God Himself. May we accept the call God gives to each of us to communicate in our own way the beauty of Jesus Christ and the Father’s plan fulfilled in him.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Two Very Different Experiences of Anticipation

This past Sunday marked the beginning of the holy season of Advent and, with it, the opening of a new liturgical year. This deeply significant religious moment coincided with a secular event here in Edmonton that has had the city in a frenzy: the Grey Cup. Two very different experiences of anticipation, and their contrast highlights the importance of the threshold we have just crossed in the liturgical calendar.

To watch and listen to the sights and sounds of the thousands of fans who have come to Edmonton for the Grey Cup festivities, one could be led to believe that there is nothing more important than this particular football match. No doubt many of the fans of the victorious Alouettes are absolutely convinced of this right about now. Yet, of course, there is something far more significant for not only our earthly but also our eternal lives. It is that event of which we are reminded in every Advent season: the return of the Lord in glory. Central to the Christian faith is the belief that Jesus Christ, who came to earth born of the Virgin Mary, and who comes to us now in the gift of the Holy Spirit, particularly in the Church’s sacramental celebrations, will return at the end of time. Of this we are reminded in the Sunday Scripture passages.

Preparation for the Grey Cup event unfolded around set dates and times. Everyone knew, for example, the date and time of the game itself. With that knowledge other preparatory events could be organized and their times and venues were well publicized so that those who wished to participate could do so. Likewise fans could plan their travel to the game because of known and advertised LRT and bus schedules. To be in a state of readiness it is very helpful to know what will happen when.

The event above all others for which we want to be ready is the return of the Lord. The difficulty is that, as the Lord himself tells us, the time of this is unknown (cf. Matthew 24: 37-44). Nevertheless he calls us to be watchful and ready to meet him when he comes. This means, obviously, that there is only one “time” to get ourselves ready, and that time is now.

What does it mean to be ready? In yesterday’s second reading St. Paul speaks of this readiness in terms of our individual moral lives (cf. Romans 13: 11-14). Being alert and ready means living lives in the light and casting off deeds of darkness such as the various instances of immorality that he mentions in the passage. Isaiah teaches in the first reading that our preparedness must also have a communal dimension (cf. Isaiah 2:1-5). He looks forward to the day when obedience to the teaching of God and surrender to his light will give birth to real justice among peoples and nations. From this we know that readiness to meet the Lord when he returns means acting now to address and remove real situations of injustice among God’s children.

With the Grey Cup there is a winner and a loser. Only one receives the cup; only one has a victory parade. When it comes to salvation God wants no losers. He sent his Son to die and rise so that all might live with him forever. Yet this is no reason for complacency on our part. God works within us to transform us and lead us to himself, but he expects us to use the freedom that he has given us to respond in faith and obedience to his teachings and to his promptings. When he comes we will be judged on our response to him and will be called to render an account of how we have used our gift of freedom.

As we look forward to his coming let’s pray that he will keep us both watchful and ready to greet him and enter into his joy.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Exciting Events in Rome

I am in Rome as I write this blog post. For more than a week I have been here with the President and General Secretary of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops for our annual visit to the dicasteries (departments) of the Vatican. It is truly a wonderful opportunity to share with officials of the Holy See the blessings and challenges of the Church in Canada, and to benefit from insights, clarifications and counsel that they are able to give. The conversations are very fraternal and a great experience of the communion of the Church in Canada with the Holy See.

Some exciting events are taking place while we are here. First was the Consistory on Saturday when the Pope elevated twenty-four men to the rank of Cardinal. Most of the new cardinals were from the Roman Curia, but there were others who represented different parts of the world. These were accompanied by delegations from their own dioceses, who gave loud expression to their joy as their own Bishop received the red berretta from the Holy Father. It was a very moving experience of the universality and the communion of the Church, gathered around our beloved Pope.

Second is the release on Tuesday of this week of a new book-length interview with Pope Benedict XVI, entitled Light of the World. As you likely know by now because of media coverage, the Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, published the Italian version of twenty-one very brief excerpts from the various topics addressed by the Pope. Included was the topic of sexuality, in the context of which the Holy Father addressed the issue of condoms. Perhaps not surprisingly, it was this one particular issue which attracted all the media attention and made the headlines. In order to assist the reader to know what the Pope has actually said I include here an excerpt from the book, provided the website of Catholic World Report. This will be followed by a statement from the spokesperson of the Holy See, Fr. Federico Lombardi, S.J., who clarifies how the Pope’s words are to be understood.

Excerpt Provided by Catholic World Report (the italics indicate the question being posed by the interviewer Peter Seewald):

“From Chapter 11, "The Journeys of a Shepherd," pages 117-119:

“On the occasion of your trip to Africa in March 2009, the Vatican’s policy on AIDs once again became the target of media criticism. Twenty-five percent of all AIDs victims around the world today are treated in Catholic facilities. In some countries, such as Lesotho, for example, the statistic is 40 percent. In Africa you stated that the Church’s traditional teaching has proven to be the only sure way to stop the spread of HIV. Critics, including critics from the Church’s own ranks, object that it is madness to forbid a high-risk population to use condoms.

“The media coverage completely ignored the rest of the trip to Africa on account of a single statement. Someone had asked me why the Catholic Church adopts an unrealistic and ineffective position on AIDs. At that point, I really felt that I was being provoked, because the Church does more than anyone else. And I stand by that claim. Because she is the only institution that assists people up close and concretely, with prevention, education, help, counsel, and accompaniment. And because she is second to none in treating so many AIDs victims, especially children with AIDs.

“I had the chance to visit one of these wards and to speak with the patients. That was the real answer: The Church does more than anyone else, because she does not speak from the tribunal of the newspapers, but helps her brothers and sisters where they are actually suffering. In my remarks I was not making a general statement about the condom issue, but merely said, and this is what caused such great offense, that we cannot solve the problem by distributing condoms. Much more needs to be done. We must stand close to the people, we must guide and help them; and we must do this both before and after they contract the disease.

“As a matter of fact, you know, people can get condoms when they want them anyway. But this just goes to show that condoms alone do not resolve the question itself. More needs to happen. Meanwhile, the secular realm itself has developed the so-called ABC Theory: Abstinence-Be Faithful-Condom, where the condom is understood only as a last resort, when the other two points fail to work. This means that the sheer fixation on the condom implies a banalization of sexuality, which, after all, is precisely the dangerous source of the attitude of no longer seeing sexuality as the expression of love, but only a sort of drug that people administer to themselves. This is why the fight against the banalization of sexuality is also a part of the struggle to ensure that sexuality is treated as a positive value and to enable it to have a positive effect on the whole of man’s being.

“There may be a basis in the case of some individuals, as perhaps when a male prostitute uses a condom, where this can be a first step in the direction of a moralization, a first assumption of responsibility, on the way toward recovering an awareness that not everything is allowed and that one cannot do whatever one wants. But it is not really the way to deal with the evil of HIV infection. That can really lie only in a humanization of sexuality.

“Are you saying, then, that the Catholic Church is actually not opposed in principle to the use of condoms?

“She of course does not regard it as a real or moral solution, but, in this or that case, there can be nonetheless, in the intention of reducing the risk of infection, a first step in a movement toward a different way, a more human way, of living sexuality.”

Statement by Fr. Lombardi (from Catholic News Service)

“At the end of Chapter 10 (Chapter 11 in the English edition) in the book, ‘Light of the World,’ the pope responds to two questions about the struggle against AIDS and the use of the condom, questions that refer back to the discussion that followed the pope’s comments on this topic during his trip to Africa in 2009.

“The pope underlines clearly that, at that time, he did not want to express a position on the problem of condoms in general, but he wanted to affirm strongly that the problem of AIDS cannot be resolved solely with the distribution of condoms, because much more must be done: prevention, education, assistance, counsel, being close to people, both so that they do not become sick, and also in cases where they are sick.

“The pope observes that even in non-church circles a comparable awareness has developed, as is seen in the so-called ABC theory (Abstinence-Be Faithful-Condoms), in which the first two elements (abstinence and fidelity) are much more decisive and fundamental in the struggle against AIDS, while the condom appears as a last resort when the other two are lacking.

“It should therefore be clear that the condom is not the solution to the problem.

“The pope then takes a wider view and insists on the fact that concentrating only on the condom signifies the ‘banalization’ of sexuality, which loses its meaning as the expression of love between persons and becomes like a ‘drug.’ To fight against the banalization of sexuality is ‘part of the struggle to ensure that sexuality is treated as a positive value and to enable it to have a positive effect on the whole of man’s being.’

“In the light of this ample and profound vision of human sexuality and its modern challenges, the pope reaffirms that the church ‘of course does not regard (condoms) as a real or moral solution’ to the problem of AIDS.

“In saying this, the pope is not reforming or changing the teaching of the church, but reaffirming it by putting it in the context of the value and dignity of human sexuality as an expression of love and responsibility.

“At the same time, the pope takes into consideration an exceptional situation in which the exercise of sexuality may represent a real risk to the life of another person. In such a case, the pope does not morally justify the disordered exercise of sexuality, but maintains that the use of the condom to diminish the danger of infection may be ‘a first assumption of responsibility’, ‘a first step in a movement toward a … more human sexuality’, as opposed to not using the condom and exposing the other person to a fatal risk.

“In this statement, the pope’s reasoning certainly cannot be defined as a revolutionary shift.

“Numerous moral theologians and authoritative ecclesiastical figures have maintained and still maintain similar positions; however, it is true that until now we had not heard them expressed with such clarity from the mouth of a pope, even if it is in a colloquial, and not magisterial, form.

“Benedict XVI therefore courageously gives us an important contribution that clarifies and deepens a long-debated question. It is an original contribution, because on one hand it maintains fidelity to moral principles and demonstrates lucidity in refusing an illusory path like ‘faith in condoms’; on the other hand, however, it shows a sympathetic and far-sighted vision, attentive to discovering small steps — even if they are only initial and still confused — of a humanity that is often spiritually and culturally impoverished, toward a more human and responsible exercise of sexuality.”


For my part I am very much looking forward to picking up the book when it is released. We are told by news analysts and bloggers who have had an opportunity to see the book in advance that it is an opportunity to hear directly the mind of the Pope on some of the most vexing problems facing the Church and the world today. He faces every question forthrightly, with his customary brilliance, clarity and humility. It will be yet one more wonderful gift that this Pope gives to the Church and world as he shares with us his extraordinary intellect, by which he expounds the beauty of the faith and makes manifest his own deep love for the Lord and for the life of Christian discipleship.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Catholic Education Sunday 2010

Yesterday morning many of us benefited from an extra hour of sleep. We have reached that point in the calendar when we turn the clock back one hour to return to standard time. I mention this because on that same day we marked Catholic Education Sunday, and this image of the clock, turning it either back or forward, can serve as a helpful analogy to appreciate the great gift and opportunity that Catholic education is in the province of Alberta.

In one dimension of Catholic education there can be no thought of turning back the clock at all. We need to think only of technological advances in the fields of computers and communications, where change is happening so rapidly. Our children catch on to these far more quickly and easily than people of my generation and older, and they have become essential to providing education in our day. In this area Catholic schools are not distinguished from their public counterparts. In either system there can be no turning back of the clock when it comes to educational methods and tools.

However, if we continue to use the clock analogy we become aware of other very significant ways in which Catholic education is distinct and where its blessing stands forth clearly. When it comes to the purpose of Catholic education, the clock stands still. At the heart of all that happens in our Catholic schools is something timeless that never changes. Rather, I should say some One who never changes: Jesus Christ, who is the same yesterday, today and forever (cf. Hebrews 13:8). Catholic education seeks not only to teach the child but also to form the child to be a lifelong disciple of the Lord. The faith of the Church permeates all learning and all activity in the school so as to lead the student to a living and life-transforming encounter with Jesus Christ. Technologies may change, methods may advance, but the purpose that unites all our efforts never does. On this point the clock moves neither backward or forward. The right moment to meet the Lord and to be renewed in him is always now.

Yet as we meet the Lord in the present we are inevitably pointed toward the future. Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life (cf. John 14:6), the One who alone leads us to an endless future, to heaven. This is the point of the Scripture readings for this Mass. Long ago the brothers Maccabee were united in their conviction of a resurrection to new life after death. This strengthened them to confess their faith even in the face of death (cf. 2Maccabees 7:1-2, 7, 9-14). In the Gospel Jesus confirms that there is life after death (cf. Luke 20:27-38). Of course, he does so not only by his particular teaching in this Gospel passage but also and above all by his own rising from the dead. Therefore, if Catholic education is an environment where the Lord is sought and encountered, then it must be a place where the clock is turned forward. Catholic education must point the student toward his or her eternal destiny and show them the path that leads to its fulfilment. In our Catholic schools we prepare our students for a happy and productive life in this world, certainly; but we also, and even more importantly, prepare them for eternal life, by leading them to Jesus and forming them for a life of holiness.

Catholic education is distinctive. It is a great treasure. I grew up in a province that did not at the time have a separate faith-based educational system. In such an environment it is very difficult to hand on the faith, especially in our day. In this province we have Catholic education, and because we have had it for so long the danger is to take it for granted. We must never yield to this temptation. To preserve and strengthen this gift we must be ever appreciative of its beauty and always vigilant against anything which might weaken or even threaten it.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

New Messages, Ageless Truths

Yesterday (October 24) we marked World Mission Sunday. This is a time to reflect upon the missionary mandate of the Church and her members. We often think of this in terms of the missionary priests and sisters who are sent around the globe to announce the Gospel, particularly through their work among the poor and needy. At the same time we realize that missionary work is incumbent upon all the baptized. This means looking for opportunities in our own circumstances to share with others the all-important message and good news that God has saved the world in Jesus Christ and remains always near to his people.

When a missionary travels to a foreign land it is often necessary to learn a new language so that the Gospel can be communicated intelligibly. This is, in fact, the case for all of us, even if we find ourselves in the midst of people who share our manner of speech. In our current society the immensely rich vocabulary that the Christian tradition has for centuries used to communicate the Gospel is no longer accessible to the majority of people. What is needed in our day is a new way of expressing ageless truths so that people may understand and appropriate them. What might such new expressions be? I suggest four.

Today we need to speak in terms of beauty. This is a concept all instinctively understand, and which attracts. Pope Benedict has signalled this from the beginning of his pontificate, when in his first homily he stated that there is nothing more beautiful than knowing the Lord and telling others about our friendship with him. This has been the motivation for our own Nothing More Beautiful new evangelization initiative in the Archdiocese of Edmonton. God is the fullness, the perfection, of Beauty, and we participate in this when we share in his life through union with his Son in the Holy Spirit. No earthly beauty can surpass that of a life lived in and from Jesus Christ.

Second, we communicate the Gospel when we speak of and give witness to joy. Our Western society tends to speak in terms of happiness or pleasure, which is usually based upon self-will, a desire to do whatever one wants, which in turn often ironically amounts to doing what others are doing so as to fit in or be noticed or admired. Such a pursuit of happiness frequently leads to misery. The Christian tradition announces a life not of superficial happiness but of profound joy. This joy is grounded not on self-will but on a truthful and humble recognition of our need for God and an encounter with his unconditional and merciful love. Consider the contrast between the “righteous” Pharisee and the humble publican in the parable of yesterday’s Gospel. Truthful reliance upon God gives rise within the heart to a deep and lasting joy that no one or no circumstance can take away.

A third necessary method of announcing the Gospel in our day is by speaking of hope. For too many today, hope is in short supply. Life is challenging, to say the least, and is replete with problems before which we are powerless. Despair is often not far away, especially if we live from the myth of self-reliance. The Christian proclamation of hope is rooted in the knowledge that God is near. St. Paul speaks of that beautifully in yesterday’s second reading. Nearing the end of his life he looks back and sees how God has not failed to stand by him and rescue him from danger. Nothing is greater than God’s love, the power of which is fully revealed in the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. God stands by us, and this truth transforms our fear into hope.

Finally, we need to speak of and give witness to communion. God’s will for the world is communion among his people. Indeed, to gather into one his people who had been scattered by sin, Jesus came to us and gave his life on the Cross. (cf. John 11:52). The prevailing individualism of our day leads to isolation and a terrible and terrifying loneliness in the lives of many. As a communion, fashioned by the work of the Son and Holy Spirit, the Church is called to stand forth in the world as both a sign and instrument of the unity that God wills for all people (cf. Lumen Gentium, 1-4). When we love one another as God has loved us we are drawn into a real communion and solidarity with each other. In a fractured world, our witness of genuine communion is a powerful method of making known the good news of the Gospel.

Beauty, joy, hope, communion: new methods for giving expression to the Gospel today and embracing the missionary mandate bestowed upon us as members of the Church of Jesus Christ.

Friday, October 22, 2010

God Hears our Cries

This past week the world watched with astonishment and joy as the Chilean miners were rescued from the underground mine where they had been buried. The engineering feat was remarkable, and what drove it all, of course, was a fierce determination to reach the miners buried so far beneath the earth under tons of rock and restore them to the surface and to their families. What we have witnessed here can serve as a helpful analogy for understanding the teaching of the Sacred Scriptures that were proclaimed yesterday at Sunday Mass. They deal with prayer. Prayer is essential to our lives. Indeed, in the Christian life it is our breath. What does the analogy with the miners highlight from the readings?

The first thing we should observe is the vulnerability of the miners. Trapped so far beneath the surface, they were absolutely helpless and had no choice but to rely upon others for their rescue. The necessary starting point for prayer is the recognition of our own vulnerability. As creatures we are completely reliant upon God for all things. Pride closes the door to genuine prayer; humility opens it. God alone is God, and we pray, we call out to God, because we recognize that without him, without his love and mercy, we can do nothing.

This reliance upon God is symbolized by Moses in the first reading. With his people in battle against an enemy, he kept his arms held aloft, at times with the help of assistants, as a sign of supplication, of prayer. He knew, as did his people, that without God they were lost. They acknowledged their vulnerability and gave expression to their dependence through prayer.

Second, in their vulnerability the miners trusted. They had confidence that their rescuers would do all that they could to bring them out. Their trust was nourished by many messages telling them that the people above the surface knew they were alive, and encouraging them not to give up. Prayer is grounded in trust. Throughout history God has sent endless messages to his people, assuring them that he knew them, that he heard their cries and that he would answer. The perfect expression of his love was the gift of his Son. Moved by these assurances of the nearness and love of God we pray, full of trust that God, in his love, will never abandon us and will act to make a difference in our lives.

The miners were willing to wait. In fact, being completely helpless and dependent upon the work of others they had no choice. Prayer requires a willingness to wait. God hears our cries; God answers, but according to his wisdom and knowledge and therefore in his time. Jesus uses the parable to invite us to be persistent in prayer. He is not teaching that, in prayer, we should harangue God until he gives in, as the widow did with the judge. He is inviting us to pray always with an attitude of patient waiting and trust, confident in the love and providence of God. This is implicit in his last question: “When the Son of Man comes, will he find any faith on earth?” Because we have faith we pray; because we have faith we are willing to wait patiently.

In prayer we get in touch with our weakness and vulnerability, and that can be a scary place, especially when we feel like we are buried beneath circumstances beyond our ability to handle. At the same time prayer brings enormous peace and hope as it leads us to the conviction that God is near, that he is accessible, that he listens and that he will act in our lives to save us according to his purpose.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Most Beautiful of Gifts

I write this blog post on Thanksgiving Day, when we in Canada pause and give thanks to God for his countless blessing to us. Like you, I have many personal blessings for which I am grateful to God. Perhaps the most beautiful is that which I share with you: the gift of faith.

The Christian tradition speaks of faith in two ways. First, faith has a content, which stems from the revelation God has given us in Jesus Christ. We believe, for example, that Jesus Christ is true God and true man, that God is a Trinity of Persons, that the Bible is the inspired Word of God, that the Holy Spirit sanctifies us in the sacramental celebrations of the Church, that we are called to holiness by growing in our relationship with the Lord and following his commands, and so on. This faith has been handed on to us in many ways: in our families, our parishes, our Catholic schools. It is a magnificent treasure that leads to life.

Faith is also, and fundamentally, a human act. We believe that God alone is God, that we are but creatures; we believe that almighty God loves us and has come to us in his Son to save us; we believe that God remains with us, guiding and shaping all the events of our lives and turning them to the good. Because we believe all of this, we entrust our lives into his hands, trusting that it is he who leads us, even though we may not always know where he is taking us. Faith, in other words, is surrender to the love and the plan of God, a surrender grounded in our unshakeable trust in his never-failing mercy and faithful presence.

In both of these dimensions, faith is gift. By the working of the Holy Spirit we both understand the content of our faith, growing constantly in our knowledge of it, and make the act of faith, acknowledging Jesus as Lord and surrendering our lives and our future to him. By the Holy Spirit we see now the blessings that have been ours throughout our lives and trust that countless blessings await us still as we step into the future. In the Holy Spirit we are truly and deeply thankful for the gift of faith.

I was privileged this weekend to see this gift on full display among the people of Holy Spirit parish in Edmonton. After a period of discernment the decision was reached that the parish should close. On Sunday I celebrated their last Mass with them. Clearly it was a sad day for the parishioners, who have loved their parish and supported it in many ways. Yet even amid sadness the faith of the people was palpable. Because of their trust in the goodness of God, they understood this to be a moment not only of conclusion but also of transition. I witnessed this same faith in meetings I have had over the past months with parishioners in Marwayne, Bentley and Winfield, small mission communities where we have also recognized and accepted the need to close beloved churches. The faith will now be celebrated and handed on in new places, where they will continue to receive God’s blessings. God remains always near, and in faith we trust that he turns all things to the good for those he has called according to his purpose (cf. Romans 8:28). For this faith, that grounds our hope, we give thanks with all our hearts.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Ban not in the cards, or facts not in the press?

Sigh. It is often said that we need to be careful not automatically to believe everything we read or see in the media. This is certainly the case with respect to the media reports that greeted me this morning pertaining to our policy on gambling as it relates to our Catholic schools. To take but one example, the front page headline in today’s Edmonton Journal reads “Gambling ban not in the cards”. It may be an attempt at a clever play on words, but it is certainly not true. The policy that is being put into place regarding the receipt of revenues from harmful gambling activities stands and will not change.

Then we read that, according to the subtitle of the article, my October 1st deadline has been “thrown out” after I met with some officials from Edmonton Catholic schools. Again, this is inaccurate. It was particularly astounding to read it because, in the body of the article, reference is made to an op-ed piece I published in a recent issue of the same paper, where I explained clearly that, although the October 1st deadline was chosen as the effective date for a whole host of new diocesan policies, it did not immediately apply to our school divisions. The issue for our schools is complex, and I have made clear that I am willing to work with any affected school division to determine timelines for implementation. In other words, nothing has changed from what I have been saying all along.

One gets the impression from some of the media reports today that the school division is preparing to fight the policy. Very strange. The meeting with school officials yesterday was at my request, and its purpose was very modest, namely, a preliminary sharing of ideas for the implementation of the policy. It was a very good and helpful start to the process, and it is abundantly clear to me that the school board stands with me on this and understands the reason for the policy. Their concern is purely the practical one of how to implement it. To that end I have shared with them my commitment to work collaboratively with them to offer what assistance I can. How a very cordial and collaborative meeting was later translated into the media as something confrontational that resulted in some change on my part is a mystery to me.

So to those who are wondering as a result of the media coverage, nothing as regards the policy and the commitment to work out a timeline has changed. As I said in my last blog, we can sort this out and we shall.

Monday, October 4, 2010

The Treasure of Faith

Our schools have been on my mind lately. And this is not because of the gambling issue that has featured in the media recently; we can sort that out. Rather, I have been thinking of them because, this week and last, we are blessing three brand new schools and one recently renovated one. My thoughts have found their focus in an instruction given in the second reading for yesterday’s Sunday Mass: “Guard the good treasure entrusted to you, with the help of the Holy Spirit living in us” (2Timothy 1: 14).

That injunction was first made by St. Paul to his co-worker St. Timothy. The word “treasure” refers to the deposit of faith that Timothy had received from Paul, and which he was now charged, by the laying on of hands and attendant gift of the Holy Spirit, to preserve and hand on to others. This is an apt word to describe our faith. It is, indeed, a treasure. Nothing is more precious than the message of salvation that has been given to us by Jesus Christ and entrusted to the Church in order that it may be transmitted to all generations.

The blessing ceremony for our schools reminds us that the treasure of our faith is the very heart of their mission. The Catholic school has as its ultimate goal the handing on of the faith to our children in order to help them become lifelong disciples of Jesus Christ. This mission renders our schools, themselves, a great treasure to be preserved. The commitment of trustees, administration, faculty and support staff to this mission and its preservation has been on full display as we have gathered for the school blessings, and I have been blessed to witness it.

Among the many signs of this commitment is the choice of persons after whom the schools are named. The recently renovated school is named Archbishop MacDonald high school. It recalls one of my predecessors, Archbishop John Hugh MacDonald, who was known for his commitment to serving the needs of the poor. Two of the new schools were named after people who have committed their lives to the service of education, namely, Sister Annata Brockman and Monsignor Fee Otterson. The last school takes as its namesake Monsignor William Irwin, the founder of Catholic Social Services in the Archdiocese of Edmonton. Of great significance is not only the distinctive contributions of these individuals, but also that which they share in common. Each of them is recognized as a disciple of the Lord. Each is known as someone who, out of love for Christ, listened for his voice in their own lives and was obedient to his call. This is precisely what we want to instil in the children entrusted to the care of our schools. Jesus is the Way that leads to the fullness of life. There is nothing more beautiful than knowing him and telling others of our friendship with him (Pope Benedict XVI). The most important way we preserve the faith in our schools is to lead them to an encounter with Christ and teach them to know, love and follow him, after the example of these four exemplary individuals whose names grace our schools.

One image in particular from these events has stayed with me. In the course of the blessing ceremony for Sister Annata Brockman school, Sister Annata herself gave a beautiful speech about the nature of Catholic education. As she spoke, a little child, probably about three or four years of age, came forward in an attempt to take her picture with an iPhone. It was an image that complemented her message beautifully. Our faith is a wondrous treasure, which, while forever unchanging, must be handed on in ever changing circumstances by faithful witnesses to future generations. Our schools are an essential part of that tradition.

Monday, September 20, 2010

An Affair of the Heart

“Acceding to the request of our Brother Bernard Longley, Archbishop of Birmingham, of many other Brothers in the episcopate, and many of the faithful, after consultation with the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, by our apostolic authority we declare that the venerable Servant of God John Henry, Cardinal, Newman, priest of the Congregation of the Oratory, shall henceforth be invoked as Blessed and that his feast shall be celebrated every year on the ninth of October, in the places and according to the norms established by Church law. In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.”

With these words Pope Benedict XVI beatified Cardinal Newman during a Mass at Cofton Park just outside of Birmingham, England. I had the great blessing and privilege of being present for this historical event, having been asked to represent the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops. Needless to say this was a day of great joy for the people of Great Britain as they witnessed one of their great fellow countrymen raised to the altars. In Edmonton, of course, we rejoice in our own way, given that Newman has been since its inception the chosen patron of our Archdiocesan theological college. At the same time this is an event of great significance for the whole Church. As the Holy Father himself pointed out on numerous occasions during his state visit here, the teachings and example of Newman speak powerfully to the issues we face today.

Newman's private chapel in Birmingham
Prior to the beatification Mass I attended an all-day conference on Newman in Birmingham, comprised of lectures offered by his principal biographers. Each one touched on a particular aspect of Newman’s legacy. While all were very interesting, I was particularly struck by the last, given by the author of the official biography commissioned for the occasion of the beatification. Fr. Keith Beaumont of the French Oratory spoke of the Cardinal as a spiritual guide for our times. He highlighted Newman’s insistence upon the inseparability and interpenetration of three fundamental dimensions of the true Christian life: prayer, thought and action. Christianity is more than right belief and right action. It is these, of course, but it is more. Each, to be authentic and life-giving, both for oneself and for others, must be grounded in a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, a relationship that is nurtured in prayer. In essence, the Christian life is an affair of the heart, where divine love is welcomed with its transformative power and human love is offered in return. This love gives light to our intellect and impels us to right conduct and generous service. Hence the words he chose for his motto when near the end of his life he was named a Cardinal by Pope Leo XIII: cor ad cor loquitur (heart speaks to heart). Out of love for Christ we give all to him and for him.
The library at Birmingham Oratory

On the left is the article that was severely critical of Newman
and prompted him to write his Apologia Pro Vita Sua.
On the right is Newman's hand-written manuscript.

Following the Mass of beatification I joined many of the English Bishops for Solemn Vespers at the Oratory parish church, and returned the next morning to join a group of pilgrims for Mass in the Oratory chapel where Newman himself prayed. These two visits afforded me the opportunity to visit Cardinal Newman’s rooms as well as the Oratory library, which he designed and where about 95 per cent of the books are from his own personal collection. What a blessing to see not only where he lived and worked but also the original hand-written manuscripts of his great classics Apologia Pro Vita Sua and An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine! I hope and pray that the doctrine and witness of the Church’s new beatus will touch and help the lives of many. Indeed, Pope Benedict himself spoke openly of the impact that Cardinal Newman has had on his own life and thought. May it be so for many others.

Speaking of the Holy Father, I cannot avoid saying a few words about his state visit to Great Britain. Many have commented that it has been a huge success. While many had feared it might not live up to expectations it actually surpassed them. Crowds wonderful in number and marked by joyous faith greeted him at every turn. Yes, there were also protests. Even though these constituted a small minority, the Holy Father characteristically took the issues seriously and addressed them head on with forthrightness and grace, especially that of the sexual abuse of children by clergy. Overall he was received with respect and grace and the whole breadth of his message was clearly communicated. One particularly striking moment was the Holy Father’s historic address in Westminster Hall to the assembled members of both houses of Parliament, in the presence of four former Prime Ministers. In the very place where St. Thomas More was condemned for his obedience to conscience, the Pope called on the government officials to welcome religious faith and its insights as a necessary element of national public discourse and to be attentive to situations in which the freedom of conscience of citizens today is being threatened in the name of “tolerance.” Powerful stuff.

I’ve noticed that many are attributing the success of the visit to well-coordinated public relations work on the part of the planners. No doubt this is true to a degree. Yet we cannot forget that the Pope is the Successor to St. Peter, and we would do well to recall the following episode recorded in the Acts of the Apostles: “Yet more than ever, believers in the Lord, great numbers of men and women, were added to them. Thus they even carried the sick out into the streets and laid them on cots and mats so that when Peter came by, at least his shadow might fall on one or another of them. A large number of people from the towns in the vicinity of Jerusalem also gathered, bringing the sick and those disturbed by unclean spirits, and they were all cured.” (Acts 5:14-16). During a papal visit the “shadow of Peter” falls upon those fortunate enough to be present or near. It brings a healing and transformation that can occur only by grace. We have just witnessed that here in Great Britain and I have seen it on other occasions, such as World Youth Day in Sydney. In addition, Pope Benedict’s own personal sanctity, serenity, humility and kindness touch many people, who in consequence are open in perhaps unexpected ways to listen to the message he comes to bring. Let us pray that the Pope’s words and example, reinforced by those of the man he came to beatify, will bear much good fruit in a new and vibrant evangelization in this land and elsewhere.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Called to be Stewards of Mercy

Yesterday I had the wonderful blessing of joining with the parishioners of Paroisse St Thomas d’Aquin here in Edmonton as they celebrated their 50th anniversary. It was an occasion of great joy and thanksgiving, and an opportunity for us to reflect together on the mission that is ours as members of the Church.
We are a people to whom the Lord has entrusted the Gospel. This is our great treasure, and the Lord calls each of us to give of ourselves to make it known. We are all aware that this is a major challenge today. For this reason we are now deeply engaged in Nothing More Beautiful, our initial five-year process of reflection upon the beauty of the Gospel in order to announce it effectively and joyfully to our world.

For the task of evangelization the readings for yesterday’s liturgy are of immense importance because they take us to the very heart of the Gospel. They speak of mercy, God’s desire to have mercy on his people and give them life. They teach us that, to be heralds of the Gospel, we must be proclaimers of mercy. The experience of divine mercy makes the words of the Gospel come alive and gives hope to the people of all times, including in our day. The beauty of the Gospel transforms our hearts the moment they encounter the mercy of God revealed in Christ. The experience of mercy moves the message of the Gospel from promise to fulfillment. The wonder of forgiveness reveals the Gospel as a living word with the power to transform the world.

God the Father’s desire to forgive and give life is made abundantly clear in the Gospel passage (cf. Luke 15:1-32). Our God is not distant and indifferent to our needs. He is love, tenderness and compassion. God comes to us in Christ in order to search for the lost sheep and lost coin, and who rejoices to welcome home the son who was terribly lost. God is rich in mercy, and the warmth of his love restores to life those who receive it.

We gain insight into this new life from the experience of Saint Paul. By his own admission in the second reading, he was a grievous sinner who met the mercy of Jesus Christ (cf. 1Timothy 1:12-17). This changed his life forever. For Saint Paul, life began, true life took root and began to blossom, when the warmth of God’s merciful love, revealed in Christ, touched his heart, a heart which, until that moment of encounter, had been cold, trapped in self-righteousness, and only too ready to accuse and condemn others, much like the older son of the Gospel narrative. It is very important to take note of this, because when the heart is closed to God’s mercy, the result is many of the problems that confront us today: deep inner anxiety, family and societal violence, moral confusion, and terrible poverty and isolation.

What Jesus did for Saint Paul he wants to do for us. He wants us to know mercy and forgiveness. God wills that we live, that we rise to a life of joy, that we allow the warmth of his mercy to ignite a flame of hope within our hearts. We will be changed, our world will be transformed, if we allow the mercy of God to touch us, to heal us, and to fashion within us the new and abundant life that he wills for all of his children.

To be heralds of the Gospel we must be proclaimers of the mercy we ourselves have received. Mercy turns us outward, away from self-concern and toward God and others. It awakens us to our solidarity with others, especially those who suffer. Let us pray always for the grace necessary to steward well the call to announce the beauty of the Gospel by being open to the gift of God’s mercy and agents of that mercy to others. In this way God will make us true evangelizers and instruments by which his love can bring about the transformation of our world.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Grace amidst Disappointment

This week I had to make a very disappointing, yet necessary, decision to postpone the dedication of our new St. Joseph Seminary. I and so many people were looking forward to this event with great anticipation, not only because of the historical importance of this moment but also because we have been witnessing for quite some time the construction of two very beautiful buildings (the seminary and Newman Theological College) and we have been most anxious to see them completed. Truth to tell, the moment of dedication, when it does take place, will remain of great historical import for our Archdiocese and we shall not miss the joy of witnessing some stunning architecture, whose beauty will be in keeping with that of the Gospel. Nevertheless, the date of Sept. 14th was set over a year ago and it is an understatement to say that we are both surprised and disappointed that we are in a position of delay.

My thanks go out to the rector, Fr. Shayne Craig, the formation team and the seminarians for the great grace with which they are accepting this development and living the difficulties that inevitably accompany a transition to a new home, especially when timelines are longer than promised.

A question that naturally arises is: when will the dedication, in fact, take place? I have taken the position that a new date is not to be set until I and my steering committee are satisifed that all is in perfect readiness. We are very close to that point, but we should not put ourselves in the position of risking a second postponement if, for some unexpected reason, a new date cannot be met.

For your information, the letter I have written to the Archdiocese follows:

Monday, August 30, 2010

The Gift of Clear Vision

A few days ago I received a new set of eyeglasses. They’re called “progressives,” which I think is meant to be a nicer and gentler term than “bifocals.” It could, of course, also have something to do with the fact that I am “progressing” in age, but I would rather not digress in that direction. The challenge for me now is to grow accustomed to looking through one part of the lens for general sight and the other for reading. I need to adapt to a whole new way of seeing.

This is perhaps a helpful way of explaining the parable of Jesus that we heard at Mass yesterday. He is inviting his listeners to an entirely new way of seeing life. When you are invited to a wedding banquet, he says, take not the place of honour but the lowest place. To human nature that tends toward self-aggrandizement, Jesus is offering a corrective lens, one that is truly “progressive,” that enables us to see clearly the truth of ourselves and to act accordingly.

That lens, in fact, is Jesus himself. He is truly and fully divine; and he is truly and fully human. When we encounter Jesus Christ, we see with perfect clarity the truth about God, and in that light we come to see clearly as well the truth concerning our human nature. Apart from Jesus our vision goes out of focus; with and through him we see clearly. In him what comes plainly into view is the truth that God, who has created us, loves us and draws near to his people in mercy and compassion, even to the point of giving over his Son for the sake of our salvation. When our vision of God is clarified, we see the truth about ourselves: that we are creatures, dependent entirely upon God, and that we are the objects of his infinite love and need never be afraid, need never strive to become anyone other than who we are.

This helps us understand what is being taught in the Scripture readings of yesterday concerning humility. In the Gospel parable Jesus invites us to act humbly. In the first reading from Sirach, we are encouraged to perform all of our tasks with humility. The humble are those who see clearly and who act in accordance with the truth that is seen. We see the truth through the lens that is Jesus. His grace enables us to appropriate it and thus to acknowledge God for who he is and to accept ourselves as he has made us.

Many of our young people are returning to school this week. My prayer is that they will be open to the many ways in which Jesus comes to meet them, and that, in their encounter with the Lord, they will receive properly focused vision. I pray that they will come to know the truth about themselves and every human being described so beautifully by Pope Benedict in his first homily as our Holy Father: “Everyone is the result of a thought of God; everyone is willed, loved and necessary.” This is the true vision of ourselves that follows from the revelation of God given in Jesus Christ. It enables us to live both humbly and freely as the children of God. Young people today are offered many different “lenses” through which to view reality. The Lord alone enables them to see without distortion. Let us do all that we must in order to lead them to Him.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Truth and Beauty beyond the Haze

Over the past few days the province of Alberta has been blanketed in a thick haze of smoke from forest fires raging in British Columbia. Here in Edmonton we have noticed a significant reduction in visibility because of it. At its worst concentration, the haze prevented us from seeing even across our river valley from one side to another. Beautiful views of the valley were obscured from sight. Now that the smoke is beginning to dissipate the beauty is coming once again into focus.

The Scripture readings of yesterday place before our eyes a beautiful vista: God’s desire to save the whole world. This is expressed in the first reading from Isaiah, who foresees a great gathering of people from all over the world in Jerusalem, the site of God’s dwelling (cf. Isaiah 66:18-21). This is a vision of salvation, which involves all people, drawn together by God into the folds of his loving embrace. This vision is given confirmation in the teaching of Jesus, the Son of God and Saviour, who speaks in terms of a festive banquet to which people from the east, west, north and south will come to sit at the table of the Lord (cf. Luke 13:22-30). God’s love is for all; His will to save is universal in its intention.

The “smoke” that obscures this vision from sight comes from the “fire” we call works-righteousness. By this term is meant the understanding that we can somehow earn salvation by the simple observance of the commandments of God and the doing of good works. In the Gospels Jesus is constantly pointing out the fallacy of this thinking, to the scribes and Pharisees in particular. Salvation is the work of God, it is pure gift. In no way can it be earned. This theme is taken up often by St. Paul in his letters. This “fire,” by placing the emphasis upon ourselves, results in a “smoke” that obscures from view the desire of God to touch, to heal and to save all people. Furthermore, analogous to the smoke of the wildfires, that of self-righteousness can be toxic. It can give rise to pride in one’s “goodness” and to a self-righteous judgment of others.

This is not to say that there is to be no cooperation on our part with the saving work of God in our lives. Jesus speaks of the necessity of entering through a “narrow door” into his kingdom. How might we understand this? Again, the example of the wildfires and their smoke can help us.

Fires need fuel. The wildfires of B.C. are feeding upon the forests. What fuels the fire of self-righteousness? This can be any number of things. The human heart contains much that can make us feel we need to earn the notice, love and respect of others: loneliness; life’s hurts and rejections, the imposition of expectations impossible to fulfill; and so on. If we experience this need to earn love in human relationships, it is but a small step to project this into our relationship with God. But God’s love simply cannot be earned. It doesn’t need to be. It is freely poured out upon each and every person he has created. In Jesus His Son, he has made that love both visible and tangible. By touching us with divine love, Jesus heals the hurts within us that fuel the “fire” and enables us to taste, even now, the joy of salvation, the delight of being found by God and restored to life. But this means allowing Jesus to draw close, to humbly and trustingly hold out to him the pains of our lives, so that “what is lame may ... be healed” (Hebrews 12:13). As Jesus says in the Gospel, a superficial relationship with him, as if with a mere acquaintance, is not enough. He wants us to know him and to know ourselves as truly known by him. Bringing our pains to the Lord for healing may be difficult at first, like passing through a very narrow door, but it is necessary if we are truly to encounter him as our saving Lord. The Holy Spirit helps us here. Unlike the winds that fan the flames of the forest fires, the gentle breeze of the Spirit is cool refreshment. He reminds us of the truth of God’s love and gently leads us to a healing encounter with Christ.

Communion with Christ starves works-righteousness of its fuel. In it we experience the truth that we are loved by God simply for who we are, not for who we try to be. This sets us free for service so that, when the smoke disappears and the wondrous vista of God’s universal love comes into clear sight, we will give of ourselves to share that love with others.

Monday, August 16, 2010

From Treadmill to Trust

We are familiar with the strong emphasis given these days to being healthy and fit. People are responding to this in large numbers, often through membership in fitness clubs. These places are filled with many kinds of wonderful exercise machines, like treadmills and stationary bicycles that can give a good workout. If you go in to one of these places you see a very interesting sight: people using the machines are running like mad, peddling like crazy, rowing for all they’re worth … and everyone is going absolutely nowhere. People get totally exhausted but there’s no movement, no direction.

It’s a good analogy for the times in which we find ourselves. We live in a treadmill society. People are very busy, caught up in all kinds of activities, without having any sense of where it is all going. When we lack a sense of direction, we lose meaning and purpose, and that can give way to confusion, anxiety, even despair.

Yesterday the Church celebrated the Solemnity of the Assumption, which teaches that life does, in fact, have a destination, that we are moving in a certain direction. It is a dogma of the faith that Mary, at the end of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into the glory of heaven. Because of her unique relation with her son Jesus, and the distinctive role she played in the history of salvation, Mary was given the singular privilege of being preserved from the corruption of the tomb. Although this blessing sets her apart from all others in a wondrous and beautiful way, nevertheless the destination of glory is one that she shares with all of humanity. As St. Paul teaches us in First Corinthians (cf. 1Cor.15:20-27), in Christ all shall be brought to life. Mary’s assumption is a sign that reminds all of us of the destiny that awaits Gods faithful people. In the words of the preface for the Mass, Mary’s assumption is “a sign of hope and comfort for God’s people on their pilgrim way”.

Our world needs this message of hope today. Like you, I am deeply troubled and saddened by the hurt and violence that is prevalent. It is present in families, in communities, and among nations. Reasons for this are multiple, but I believe a common source of so many of our problems today is fear, the fear that arises from a treadmill existence, the fear that is born in the heart when we have no sense of direction and hence no grasp of purpose or meaning. This fear turns us in upon ourselves and drives us to try and assert some control over our lives. This turns us away from others, sometimes against others, as we defensively try to protect ourselves against a world that seems very hostile and foreboding.

The antidote to this fear is trust, first and foremost in the love and nearness of God. Such trust frees us from anxiety, and fear is replaced by hope, joy and freedom to care for others.

Mary assures us that God is worthy of our trust. The Magnificat proclaimed in the Gospel (cf. Luke 1:39-56) is her great response to her encounter with God through the angel Gabriel. She had announced to her that God, faithful to his promises, was about to come to save his people from all that threatened them and their destiny, that he would do so by sending his Son, and that she would have a unique role to play in that plan of salvation by giving birth to the Saviour. Mary believed in the Word of God, she placed her entire trust in his promise, and gave her fiat: “be it done unto me according to your word.” From this trust, from this unconditional surrender to the love and the plan of God there arose in Mary a deep joy: “My spirit rejoices,” she said, “in God my savior.” This joy moved her to service. She ran in haste to help her cousin Elizabeth, who was with child.

Joy, freedom, service – these arise when we accept the truth that God exists, that God calls us to himself, that God is at work in our lives to lead us to our destiny, and that God is always faithful to his promises. When we seek to eclipse God from our lives and surrender to a treadmill existence the result is the opposite: fear and its attendant consequences: competition, isolation and violence.

Please join me in prayer that, with the help of the Blessed Virgin’s intercession, trust in the love and nearness of God will take root in the hearts of people today. May this confidence awaken all from the sleep of a treadmill existence to the truth of God’s loving plan for humanity. Trust in the fidelity and closeness of God can transform the anxiety and hurt experienced by many into the joy, peace and freedom that God wills for all of his children.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Getting Ready for the Visit

When I was a parish priest I enjoyed getting out to visit parishioners in their homes whenever I could. Usually I would do this in one of two ways: either I would call ahead and make an appointment or I would simply show up at the door. You can imagine the difference in response as the door was opened. If I had called ahead the door would be opened wide, I would be welcomed in and offered something to drink along with some delicious food that they “just happened” to have on hand. When I would show up unannounced, often the window curtain would be pulled back a little to see who was at the door and I would then hear some muffled cries and panicky activity before the door was opened and I was almost invariably asked not to look at the mess.

In yesterday’s Gospel for Sunday Mass the Lord reminds us of a truth of the faith that we proclaim every time we profess the Creed, namely, that he will come again in judgment to take us to himself. Of course we do not know when this will happen. The Lord will simply show up. The inescapable conclusion from this is that we must be ready at all times to welcome the Lord. This readiness is having our “house” in order, which means knowing and loving the Lord, listening to his Word and following his teachings as given in Scripture and the doctrine of the Church, being reconciled with one another and caring for the needy. In short, being ready means living an authentic Christian life.

Now, it would be rather unusual if, in advance of my visit to your home, I went a few days early to clean it myself. Yet that is precisely what the Lord does to the “home” of our hearts. Conversion and renewal is God’s work. We cannot, by ourselves, convert to him and get our lives in order. The Lord wants us for himself, he desires our conversion and our response of love, and he, by his grace, teaches us, shows us the way, and puts things in order by healing us and drawing us to ever deeper conversion. What is necessary is that we trust him and open the door of our hearts to his healing grace.

This is what faith is all about. We trust that all things are held in God’s hand and we surrender our entire lives to his care and saving will. The passage at Mass yesterday from the Letter to the Hebrews is a beautiful explanation of faith as it has been manifested in some of our ancestors.
Our beautiful faith is being shown in the lives of people today, too. For example, two important events in the life of the Church occurred over the past few days, gatherings of people of faith in faith. In Ottawa the national convention of the Catholic Women’s League of Canada got under way yesterday. I had the great privilege of being their national spiritual advisor for five years. This experience gave me firsthand knowledge of the devotion of these women to the faith of the Church and their commitment to putting that faith in practice by addressing the issues of the day in the light of the Gospel, particularly by the passing of resolutions related to a host of issues and calling upon both the government and the members of the CWL to action. It is often said, and it is true, that if you want to get an accurate picture of the issues the people of today are grappling with and that need the light of the Gospel, just pay attention to the resolutions of the CWL. These women are a great blessing to the Church and our country.

The second event was the Supreme Convention of the Knights of Columbus, held last week in Washington D.C. I was blessed to be able to attend. These men are fully committed to living the consequences of their faith in Christ, especially through charitable outreach. The amount of money and volunteer hours that they commit each year, for example, in outreach to the poor and needy, and in defense of the sanctity of life and marriage is truly extraordinary. They are not afraid to wear their faith on their sleeves and to stand up and be counted. They give wonderful witness to the truth and beauty of the faith and to the joy of life in the Church. This witness can give much needed hope to the people of our day.

Both the CWL and the Knights of Columbus are examples of how to be “ready” to meet the Lord when he comes. They recognize that faith, and life itself, is a gift which must, therefore, be stewarded. May their example help all of us to be ready to open the door to the Lord when he comes for that all-important visit!

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Faith: Stepping out of the Boat

How do you respond to adversity when you are powerless to do anything about it? This is the question raised – and answered – by the Gospel for today (August 3rd). It is the familiar narrative of Jesus rescuing his disciples, who were caught in a terrible storm on the sea (cf. Matthew 14:22-36). The disciples are terrified; in the face of crisis they panic. Jesus walks on the sea to reach them. He is unmoved by the waves. The Lord seeks to calm them by the simple assurance that it is he whom they see, that he is with them. Once he steps into the boat with them, the storm ceases and they are safe. The disciples bow down to him in recognition that he is the Son of God.

In the middle of the narrative, Peter says: “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you across the water.” The Lord did so and Peter stepped out of the boat. Whenever I read this account I wonder if I could have done that. Could I have stepped out of the boat into the raging sea? Whenever we find ourselves in the midst of adversity beyond our control, that is precisely what Jesus asks us to do. There are basically two possible responses to crisis: fear or faith. In this narrative we are taught precisely what faith means: recognition of our powerlessness, placing our trust in the unlimited power of Christ, who loves us, following where he leads and believing that he will bring about the miracle that saves us. Notice that Peter actually asked the Lord to command him to get out of the boat. At first read it would seem that Peter was rather more bold than intelligent, but further reflection uncovers something important in his request. Placing our faith in the unlimited power of Christ can at times mean taking steps that we would rather not take, that might seem fraught with danger or difficulty. The key is to take them with Christ, confident in his presence and love, and keeping our eyes fixed more on him than on the adversity.

We don’t like to be powerless; we prefer to be in control. In so many ways control is an illusion that evaporates in the face of hardship and leaves us feeling terrified. What the disciples experienced in the storm on the sea is repeated in our own lives in a variety of ways. A faith that still doubts is what Jesus calls “little faith”. Do we doubt the love of the Lord and his power, even as we profess our belief in him? The answer to this becomes clear in the way we respond to adversity. An initial response of fear or worry can be natural enough, but do we choose to remain in the fear? Jesus summons us to the faith that decides to place all of our confidence in his power and love, which are real, and not in the illusion of our own control. By turning to him and taking the steps he asks us in love to take, we put our faith in action and discover anew why Jesus is the reason for our hope.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Getting the First Button Right

Have you ever had the experience, when buttoning a piece of clothing, of getting the first button in the wrong buttonhole? Of course, when that happens all the other buttons are wrong. When the first button is right, all else falls into place. When it is wrong, everything else is out of kilter.

I recently came across this analogy and find it very useful for discussing our priorities in life. The question of priorities is very much to the fore in the Gospel passages proclaimed at Mass over the past two Sundays. In them, Jesus is speaking about “getting the first button right”, so that our lives will be in proper order.

During the visit of Jesus with his friends Mary and Martha (cf. Luke 38-42), Mary sits at his feet listening while Martha is busy with many tasks. Jesus addresses Martha’s distraction, and teaches that “there is need of only one thing”. By this he means the choice made by Mary to focus her attention upon him and learn from what he has to say. “Getting the first button right” means listening to Christ as our first priority. If we do this and truly follow the path he marks out for us, all else falls into place as we go about the busyness of our daily lives.

As we listened to Christ speaking in yesterday’s Gospel passage (cf. Luke 11:1-13) we were led by the Lord to deeper understanding of what it means to “get the first button right”. He is teaching his disciples how to pray and gives the words which form the basis of the Lord’s Prayer.

At the heart of his teaching is a call to full trust in the love and providence of our heavenly Father. “Is there any father among you,” he asks, “who, if your child asks for a fish, will give the child a snake instead of a fish?” God the Father knows our every need, and in his love will not fail to provide it. We get the first button right when we place all of our faith in the love of the Father, live from his gifts, and trust the guidance He gives us in His Son Jesus. We get the first button wrong, and our lives get out of line, when we place our trust in ourselves and try to determine our own direction.

A couple of other thoughts.

In the Gospel for yesterday, the disciples ask Jesus to teach them to pray after they had seen him at prayer. His example of prayer led them to want to pray also. Do you allow others to see you pray? If you are a parent, for example, when was the last time your children saw you in prayer? In a society that has grown individualistic and places great emphasis upon self-determination, the witness of prayer is vital. People at prayer demonstrate the universal human need for God and invite others to trust in the love of God and rely upon His gifts. In the face of so many difficulties today, let’s not hesitate to get down on our knees. The performative form of faith is prayer. If we believe, we put that faith into action first of all by praying and seeking God’s love, guidance, help and protection.

Today is July 26th, the feast of Saints Anne and Joachim. These are the parents of Mary, and thus the grandparents of Jesus. St. Anne in particular is held in very high esteem by our First Nations and Metis brothers and sisters. Not far from Edmonton is Lac Ste. Anne, a pilgrimage site to which the First nations and Metis people have been coming by the thousands since 1889.
This year’s pilgrimage has just concluded. On this particular feast day I would be grateful if you would offer prayers for our aboriginal sisters and brothers. Through the intercession of St. Anne may they know the joy, peace and freedom of God’s love at all times in their lives.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Family, the First Place for Faith

On Saturday I had the blessing of celebrating Mass for 450 families who had gathered at the Lac Ste. Anne pilgrimage site for the annual Family Life Conference. This event, organized by Catholic Family Ministries, brings together families who are seeking to celebrate and deepen their faith, and to embrace anew the mission that is theirs in the Church and world. We all know the importance of healthy family life not only for those within the family unity but also for the Church and society in general. Therefore it was very encouraging for me to see so many families gathered together to thank God for the gifts he has given them and to seek His help to remain strong and vibrant in faith and love.

Two key dimensions of the mission of the family were highlighted by the Gospel passages proclaimed this past weekend. They help us to appreciate that the family is the first place where Christ is to be encountered, and that it is the seedbed of vocations to lives dedicated to proclaiming his Gospel.

Saturday was the feast of Saint Thomas the apostle. The Gospel narrative was the familiar account of the encounter between the risen Lord and Thomas, who had declared that he would not believe that the Lord had been raised from the dead unless he could touch his wounds (cf. John 20: 24-29). The Lord gave him this grace. Having touched the wounds of the body of the risen Lord, he was brought to the great acclamation of faith: “My Lord and my God”. Touching the wounds of the Lord was important not only for the faith of Thomas but also our own. The wounds proclaim that the one who appeared to the apostles after the crucifixion was neither some figment of their imagination nor someone other than Jesus himself. They announce the truth of the Resurrection. The One who appeared to the Apostles is the same Jesus who had died on the Cross. Salvation has therefore come to the world. Furthermore, the Risen Lord remains always with his Church so that all might know the joy of encountering him.

Families are the place where children first come to faith in the Lord. Parents have the sacred duty to bring their children up in the faith that has come to us from the apostles. Thomas teaches by his own example that we are brought to faith when we touch the body of the Risen Lord. This happens for us in ways other than the unique experience granted to the apostles, but it is nonetheless real. We touch the body of the risen Lord in the sacraments of the Church, especially the Eucharist. We touch his body when we gather together as a community of disciples. And we touch his body when we reach out in love to the poor and suffering. The mission of the family is to help one another recognize and touch the body of the risen Lord present with us today, and to support one another as this encounter with the Lord draws us to ever deeper faith.

On Sunday the Gospel passage from Saint Luke (cf. Luke 10: 1-12, 17-20) recalled the command of Jesus to pray to the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into his harvest. Those “labourers” come first and foremost from families of faith. Although every diocese will usually appoint a priest as its vocation director, nevertheless it is true that the first and most important vocation directors are parents. They know their children better than anyone else and are thus uniquely positioned to look for signs of a vocation in their son or daughter. I mentioned this to the parents at the Family Life Conference and I could see that they were ready and eager to take up this call. This is a sign of great hope for the Church. A vocation is nurtured in a vibrant community of faith, especially in the family. If parents today are attentive to discerning the hand of the Lord guiding their son or daughter and are prepared to speak to their children about the consecrated life as a priest or religious, we shall surely be witnesses to a new springtime of vocations in our day.

I am about to return home for a couple of weeks of vacation, to my family where my own vocation was nurtured. My next blog post will be July 26th.

Monday, June 28, 2010

The Gospel and the Vuvuzela

By listening to the news reports of the World Cup now happening in South Africa I’ve learned a new word: vuvuzela. This is a long plastic horn that gives off a very loud and, by all accounts, unpleasant noise. I have also noticed how the soccer players complain about them. They have one goal: winning the World Cup. To accomplish this they need to be focused, work together and communicate with one another. However, it is said that, because of the vuvuzelas, they cannot concentrate and have great difficulty communicating with each other. That’s not surprising. Thousands of those things sounding off at once in a football stadium must create quite a racket.

The Scripture readings for yesterday’s Sunday Eucharist are all about remaining focused on a goal and not allowing the “vuvuzelas” of life to spoil our concentration or distract us from working together for its accomplishment.

The goal of the Christian is to do the will of God, to be faithful to Him at all times. Our model, of course, is Jesus himself. The Gospel passage from Luke speaks of Jesus having his “face set toward Jerusalem”. This means that he was resolutely determined to go to that city. Nothing could distract him from going there. The significance of this is that Jerusalem is his place of destiny. There Jesus is about to offer his life on the Cross for the salvation of the world, the mission for which he was sent by the Father. The fidelity of Jesus to the will of the Father is absolute and unconditional. Furthermore, it is clear in that same passage that he expects a resolute determination to be faithful from those who would be his disciples: “Let the dead bury their dead; no one who puts his hand to the plough and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” Jesus is saying in these responses to people who sought to follow him that no attachment, not even to family, should hold us back from doing the will of the Lord.

St. Paul reminds us in the second reading from Galatians what that will is: “love your neighbour as yourself”. Christ calls us to love one another as he has loved us, to place ourselves at the service of each other. That is our goal. Required for its accomplishment are focus, concentration and good communication – communication with God through prayer and communication with those we are called to love and serve. But there are many very loud “vuvuzelas” in our society that can spoil our concentration and inhibit our communication and communion with others. What might be some examples?

St. Paul mentions self-indulgence, by which he means love of self to the neglect of love of neighbour. That is a very loud “vuvuzela” in our day. Allowing that noise to distract us leads to indifference to the plight of the poor, to a refusal to forgive or apologize, to attacks on the dignity of human life, and to the fighting, devouring and violence that brands the relationships of far too many peoples and nations. It is a very serious distraction from our goal of loving God and others.
For many people today the “vuvuzela” is fear and anxiety, the loud distraction of worry. Life has a great many pressures, many of which are beyond our ability to handle. We need to be careful not to allow the noise of fear to drown out the message of the Gospel that invites us to trust in the love of God. Fear paralyzes and makes us slaves to ourselves. Paul reminds us that the love of God sets us free and liberates us to be servants of one another.

Particularly troubling “vuvuzelas” today are the lies that are told about human life: that one’s dignity is dependent upon usefulness; that we become burdens to society if we grow ill, weak or disabled; that we count and are worthy of notice only if we are beautiful, talented or have accomplished great things. This is a very loud noise today and an extremely ugly one at that. It can and does lead to a terrible sense of isolation and loneliness for many people. We cannot allow it to drown out the beautiful message of the Gospel that each and every person is willed and loved by God. Neither can we permit it to distract us from the truth that each person is deserving of our love, service and protection.

We can remain focused on doing the will of God, we can close our ears and our lives to the distracting noises of the world, only if we live in close communion with Jesus and share in his own fidelity to the Father. This is precisely what he enables us to do every time we celebrate Mass and are united to his self-offering to the Father. In our celebrations of the Eucharist let us pray for the grace of resolute fidelity to the will of God and for the ability to distinguish clearly the beautiful sounds of the Gospel from the ugly noise of self-indulgence, fear and falsehood.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Discovering Ourselves in Christ

This past weekend I enjoyed the unexpected blessing of spending time with my family in Halifax. I am currently in the midst of two weeks of meetings in Ottawa for the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, and the weekend was free. Since it is only a one and one-half hour flight to Nova Scotia from Ottawa, I decided to fly home and spend the days with my family.

Whenever we are together as a family it does not take long before we start sharing family stories. I find it very enjoyable and instructive to watch the reactions of my nieces and nephews as they listen to the accounts of their “roots”. The children range in age from eighteen to two years old. As their grandparents and parents recount episodes of past family adventures or tales about growing up, they are absolutely riveted. They miss nothing of what is said, drinking it all in, and then light up when we begin to tell stories about them. The joy that they feel, it seems to me, is twofold: it is the joy of belonging, of being a part of something bigger than themselves, part of a network of relationships, and at the same time the joy of being noticed, of having a part, of counting. Even in the midst of a large family, they are not just a member of the group; they are, within that group, a someone whose very existence is celebrated and who matters just because they exist.

Our experience of discovering our identity in the web of family relationships prepares us to receive and celebrate our deepest identity that springs from our relationship with Jesus Christ. In him our deepest “family roots” are made known and we discover the truth of ourselves. Yesterday’s Gospel from St. Luke (cf. Luke 9:18-24) records the question that Jesus posed to his disciples, and that he puts to us now: “Who do you say that I am?” The answer of all Christians is that voiced by St. Peter: Jesus is “the Christ of God”. He is the One anointed by the Holy Spirit (the word “Christ” means “anointed”). By the descent of the Holy Spirit to Mary he was conceived in his mother’s womb; in the power of the Holy Spirit he announced the good news of salvation; by that same Spirit he was raised from the dead. In all of this Jesus revealed to us and to the world the wondrous love of God. That is to say, Jesus has made known to us our deepest roots. Those roots are the love of God. In love God has fashioned us; out of that same love, God has redeemed us in his Son and adopted us as his own.

Who we are in Jesus Christ finds expression in the words of St. Paul: “In Christ Jesus you are all sons and daughters of God through faith.” (cf. Galatians 3:26-29) Through our Baptism, St. Paul tells us, we have “clothed ourselves in Christ”. This means that the gift of the Holy Spirit in that first of the sacraments brings about a living union with our Lord. Since Jesus is the one Son of God, we are, by virtue of our union with him, sons and daughters of God. Within this network of relationships in God’s family lies our deepest identity. We are the beloved of God.

Pope Benedict summarized beautifully the significance of God’s love for us. In his first homily as Pope he said: “only where God is seen does life truly begin. Only when we meet the living God in Christ do we know what life is. We are not some casual and meaningless product of evolution. Each of us is the result of a thought of God. Each of us is willed, each of us is loved, each of us is necessary.” Let us pray always for the grace to discover ever anew this beautiful truth revealed in Christ and to live joyfully from it.

Monday, June 14, 2010

The Encounter with Truth that Leads to Life

We all need a “Nathan moment”, perhaps many of them.

King David is experiencing one in yesterday’s first reading of Sunday Mass (cf. 2 Samuel 12: 7-10, 13). The prophet Nathan is sent by God to speak God’s word of judgment to David, and this word brings the king to a profound and terrible awareness of the depth of his sin. David had committed adultery with Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah the Hittite, and then arranged for Uriah to be killed in battle. One would think that David would not have needed anyone to tell him that what he had done was horrible, and a grievous sin in the sight of God. Yet it was only when he had his “Nathan moment,” only, that is, when he encountered the Word of God, that he saw with sudden and total clarity how he had turned away from the goodness of God and needed to rely once again not on his own judgment but on the merciful love of the Lord. Struck to the core with remorse, he repents immediately. “I have sinned against the Lord,” David says, and then Nathan announces the Lord’s gift of forgiveness. In a “Nathan moment” we are given by God the gift of a clear vision and an inescapable awareness of truth, that, yes, will be humbling and painful, but are aimed at new life and real hope.

When things are not right in our lives, we often find it difficult to pinpoint the reason. Our first tendency is to externalize blame and find fault with other people or circumstances. Yet even if we do recognize that the cause is our own attitudes or behaviours, we still may not be able to see what needs to change. If we try to figure things out on our own, we will often remain in the dark. What is needed is a “Nathan moment”, an encounter with the Word of God. Acting as a lamp to our feet and a light to our paths (cf. Psalm 119:105), this divine Word clarifies our whole life and shows us where change is needed.

Perhaps an analogy from the game of golf would be helpful to illustrate this. When I swing the club, it is anyone’s guess where the golf ball will end up. My immediate reaction to a stray shot is to blame anything but myself, such as the ball, the club, or a tree. Acceptance of fault is not easy. Yet when I admit the obvious and recognize that somehow I am at fault for the errant drive, it is still difficult to see what I am doing wrong. It might feel like I am doing everything right, but the ball still goes awry. I need someone who understands golf well to point out the errors. When I allow a golf professional to watch my swing, then he will see right away what needs to be changed. If I make the adjustments that are necessary, if I admit error and change, my game improves. A humbling experience! But a necessary one.

The “pro” who can see the entirety of our lives in a single glance and speak the words that lead to new life is, of course, Jesus Christ. Therefore we must continually place ourselves before his glance. King David encountered the prophet Nathan who spoke the Word of God. We encounter the One who not only speaks but also is the Word of God incarnate: Jesus Christ. The “Nathan moment” he brings to us addresses not only particular events but also the entirety of our lives. Think of the encounters with Jesus experienced by Peter (cf. John 1:42), Nathaniel (cf. John 1: 47-51), the rich young man (cf. Mark 10:21) and the woman of Samaria (cf. John 4: 4-42). Because he is the Son of God incarnate through whom all things were made (cf. Colossians 1:16), Jesus knew them thoroughly by simply looking at them. Allowing the Lord to look at us will bring us to an awareness of our own truth as well. He will reveal to us our belovedness, first of all, but also our sin and the need to change. The encounter with Jesus is a “Nathan moment” which reorients our lives completely.

The Gospel from yesterday’s Mass gives us an example of someone who has accepted and lived through a “Nathan moment.” Jesus sees a woman come into the home of his host in order to kiss his feet and bathe them with her tears and with ointment. We are not told the circumstances of her life, but Jesus knows right away that she has come to an awareness not only of her “many sins” but also of God’s forgiving love (cf. Luke 7:36-50). She has had a “Nathan moment,” and what is the result? She is filled with thanksgiving and, no longer held captive by the opinion of others, she gives free expression to the love within her that is liberated by forgiveness. Repentance gives birth to freedom and releases love. The “Nathan moment” sets us on the path to a new beginning; it leads to life and gives birth to hope.

Let us all pray for the grace of a new “Nathan moment” in our own lives through a renewed encounter with Jesus Christ.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Real Presence

Blog June 7, 2010

Yesterday the Church celebrated the solemn feast of Corpus Christi, or the Body and Blood of Christ.

As we gathered in our churches to give thanks to the Father for the gift of salvation in the death and resurrection of Christ, we reflected in a particular way upon the wondrous gift by which the saving grace of the Cross is made present for us here and now: the gift of the Body and Blood of Christ in the sacrament of the Eucharist. Then many of us carried the Blessed Sacrament to the streets of our towns and cities in the traditional Corpus Christi procession. Such processions make visible our conviction that the presence of Christ in the Eucharist is a gift not only for us but also for the world.

What message does the Eucharist bring to contemporary society? This can be considered from a variety of perspectives. Today I am considering the Eucharist in the light of the current and widespread experience of social networking via modern communications technology and its impact on our relationships with one another.

More and more relationships today are characterized by presence that is not real but virtual. Social networking is taking place more and more over the Internet, via sites such as Facebook and Twitter, and communication is increasingly virtual through things like emails and text messaging. These communications media can have great benefits, to be sure, but we need to ask what they are doing to our capacity to relate in a real way to one another, to be truly, really present to each other.

I once had a conversation with a man who had just been speaking with his teenage daughter about all the texting that takes place among her friends. He asked her, “Why don’t you just pick up the phone and call your friends?” “In order to do that,” she replied, “I’d have to have something to talk about.” Whatever is going on in the texting, it wouldn’t appear to be any significant conversation. The more that virtual interaction becomes widespread in our society, the less will our relationships be real. When the interface between persons becomes not personal, one-to-one, but indirect through a medium such as the Internet or computer game, then meaningful relationships are not possible.

Tragically, as this virtual “relating” becomes widespread in society, it will inevitably creep into the daily life of the family. But it is in the family above all that relationships must be real, not virtual. The family is the school of genuine relationships of love and thus the cell of a genuinely human society. The family must therefore be that place where members are not just present with one another in the same place, but present to one another. The presence to the other must be genuine, real. What did Jesus teach us about real presence at that last supper?

Catholics see in the last supper of the Lord his institution of the sacrament of the Eucharist and of the priesthood. In the Eucharist, following the Lord’s command, we do as he did at the last supper, and by his word spoken by the priest and by the agency of the Holy Spirit simple gifts of bread and wine are transformed such that they are bread and wine no longer but the real presence of Christ, his true body and blood.

But this is not a static presence of the Lord. It is more than a “presence with”, as wondrous and comforting as that might be. It is a “presence to”. It interacts with and engages the other and invites to communion. Christ did not say only “this is my body, this is my blood”. He said “this is my body given for you; this is my blood poured out for you”. With those words he was referring to his approaching death on the Cross, and teaching that his death was a self-offering, a self-gift for the life of the world. By offering the gifts to his disciples he was engaging them and inviting them to make of their lives a self-offering, through with and in him to the Father, for the life of the world. In other words, Christ’s real presence to the other in love engages the other at the deepest level of their life with the totality of his own.

In the family and, by extension, in society, love finds expression in real presence when we redirect our gaze away from the virtual to the real, when we turn away from the television, from the computer, from the video games and turn toward one another in ways that are deeply meaningful, creating the space and time to engage one another in such ways that each knows that he or she is known and loved, and comes to appreciate that his or her individual life matters. Pope Benedict said in his first homily that every person is the result of a thought of God, that each man, woman and child, is willed, loved and necessary. This is learned only through the real presence of one to the other. It is obscured by virtual relationships that deepen our sense of anonymity even as we connect with others.

May our celebration of Christ’s real presence to us and to the world in the Eucharist inspire and shape our relationships, such that they be experiences of real presence to one another.

Monday, May 31, 2010

God’s Generous Love; Our Generous Response

I am edified whenever I witness selfless acts of generosity on the part of God’s people. This past week contained many.

At St. Joseph’s College on Tuesday I gathered with about 30 priests, who are here from other countries to participate in our enculturation programme. This course is designed and offered to help them understand and adapt to our culture as they prepare to serve in various dioceses of Western Canada. Their generosity is remarkable! They have left behind family, friends and the familiar in order to serve their brothers and sisters who would otherwise not have access to a priest and the sacraments.

On Wednesday evening I gathered with about 500 Knights of Columbus and their wives to welcome Supreme Knight Carl Anderson and his wife Dorian, who traveled to Edmonton to participate in Nothing More Beautiful the following night. In the course of the dinner the Knights presented me with a pledge for more than one million dollars toward our Cornerstone of Faith campaign, which is in support of the construction of our new St. Joseph’s Seminary and Newman Theological College buildings. What an extraordinary gift! It was made possible by the generous sacrifice of both time and treasure on the part of those who gave and those who led the effort, especially past State Deputy Wally Streit. The Archdiocese extends its heartfelt thanks to all!

Earlier that day I visited Notre Dame High School in Red Deer, where I visited classrooms, celebrated Eucharist and had lunch with the youth leadership team. There I saw great generosity as priests, teachers and youth ministers made themselves available to the students, and as the students made time for one another. The energy and enthusiasm of the students on the youth leadership team was such that merely being with them left me exhausted!

Thursday evening was the final session of Year 2 of our Nothing More Beautiful series. Deeply reflective presentations were offered by Marc Cardinal Ouellet, Archbishop of Quebec and Primate of Canada, and Mr. Carl Anderson, Supreme Knight of the Knights of Columbus. In the midst of their many and weighty responsibilities, each of these leaders made a generous sacrifice of time to prepare their talks and travel to Edmonton for their delivery. The focus of their reflections was “Jesus Christ: Revelation of the Trinity”.

Saturday morning was the occasion for the ordination to the permanent diaconate of three men: William Bell, Guy Germain and Antonio Obleada. Once their call was confirmed by the Church, they generously offered their lives to the service of God’s people through the diaconal ministry. Generous also is the support given to them by their wives and families.

Twice this week I celebrated Confirmation, as I have been for the past number of weeks. The celebrations occurred at St. Charles and St. Alphonsus parishes, both of which are located in Edmonton. As I invariably do with respect to this sacrament, I witnessed the support given to the Confirmation candidates by their pastors and catechists, who very generously give of their time and talent to prepare and accompany the young people entrusted to their care. This preparation involves many hours of their time, and they give it willingly and joyfully.

The Confirmation celebration at St. Alphonsus parish took place in the context of a pastoral visit that I made to that faith community this past weekend. The generosity of the parishioners there is spilling out beyond the parish into the community. As part of the effort to house the homeless of our city, they are reaching out with fellow community members to people recently housed in order to offer relationship and support. A sense of belonging, of social inclusion, is essential for all of us, and the parishioners are generously offering this to those who are transitioning from the street to a home.

Of course, such acts of generosity are happening all the time, often unseen. I was just particularly struck by the abundance I was able to witness personally this past week. What is its source?

The font of our own acts of generosity is the superabundant, indeed limitless, love of God. Yesterday the Church celebrated the solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity. Reflection upon the revelation of Jesus Christ under the inspiration of the promised Spirit of truth, who guides us into all truth (cf. John 16:13), has led the Church to the awareness, and to the joyful proclamation, that God, though One, is a Trinity of Persons – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – a perfect communion of love. This Love has created us, not because we are needed by God – God is perfect and needs nothing – but because God wants us. From among all creatures, the human being alone is created by God for its own sake. This is what it means to say that we are created “in the image and likeness of God” (cf. Genesis 1:26-27; Catechism of the Catholic Church, nn. 355-361).

Furthermore, Love saved us when we had sinned. God the Father sent His only Son to assume our human nature and, in that nature, to die and rise again, that we might live. In order to help us live in union with His Son, the Father sent His Holy Spirit to dwell in our hearts (cf. Romans 5:5). In other words, we live from of the generous love of God, who has expressed that love through His own self-communication into history and into our lives. Touched by this Love one cannot help but be generous in return, a generosity which is expressed in self-sacrifice and self-gift for the sake of others.

Let us all be attentive this coming week to the many opportunities God will give us to be generous to others, and let us be quick to respond as a reflection of the super-generous love He ceaselessly pours out upon us.