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

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.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The Bishop and the Bear

While on our study days in Jasper last week, some of the priests and I took our usual Wednesday afternoon break to play a round of golf. There we got close up and personal with a rather large black bear.

The first encounter of our group occurred at one of the tee boxes on the front nine. The bear was having a relaxing lunch (eating grass, not golfers) next to the white markers. At the site was a course official, who manoeuvred us safely around the animal. But the bear was obviously enjoying his own day on the course, because he resisted all efforts of personnel to shoo him away. This left us wondering if we might meet our new friend again. Sure enough, when we arrived later at the 17th tee, we were forestalled by course officials who asked us to wait before teeing off, because the bear was up ahead on the left side of the fairway.

As we waited, the next group of priest golfers caught up with us. So there we were together, eight priests and me, watching as the bear, contrary to the efforts of the bear-chasers, moved closer and closer towards us. Untrained as we were in bear etiquette, we asked the officials what we should do. He advised us to make lots of noise and to gather together as a group, because, as he put it, the bear would not be likely to eat such a large group all at once! This motivated us to come together swiftly in a strong - and loud - show of priestly solidarity. However, that formidable fraternity evaporated quickly, and our shouts turned to shrieks, as soon as the bear glanced our way. We all scattered to the carts! Still the bear kept coming closer.

It was clear to me then that the tried and true measures of bear removal were not working, and that drastic measures were needed. When the bear came to within ten feet of the cart, and acting on a sudden inspiration, I quietly leaned forward and invited him to serve as a member of the Council of Priests. That did the trick. The bear ran away more quickly than I could have imagined possible and we were out of all danger.

Clearly, we could have all used a strong dose of the Holy Spirit. Yesterday we celebrated the Solemnity of Pentecost, the outpouring of the promised Holy Spirit upon the Church. As we know, this bestowal of the Spirit gave to those who received it the gift of boldness. From that day forward, no danger could keep them from shouting out the good news that Jesus Christ is the crucified and risen Lord. No threat could weaken the communion that was theirs in virtue of the gift of the Spirit. Neither would they be held captive, immobilized by fear, or lacking the inspiration necessary to know what and how to speak. The Holy Spirit enlightened their minds to understand the mystery of God’s saving plan, revealed and accomplished in Christ, and strengthened their hearts to go out to the known world freely, joyfully and fearlessly to announce this good news, this Gospel.

We require a new boldness today. The need to announce the Gospel is urgent, but we often find ourselves speaking to a culture that finds it difficult to understand or is even hostile to its message. In such circumstances we might easily succumb to the temptation to stay quiet and unnoticed out of fear of rejection. But the call of the Church, the very essence of the Church, is to evangelize, to announce Christ, and to invite others to encounter and find in him the life and joy that we have found. For this task we need the courage not only to speak but also to bear witness, as did the first apostles. As Pope Benedict noted in his recent visit to Portugal, “what attracts is above all, the encounter with believing persons who, through their faith, draw others to the grace of Christ by bearing witness to him” (cf. Meeting with the Bishops of Portugal, Fatima, May 13th).

To speak with boldness and to give joyful witness, we need the Holy Spirit. Let us, then, not hesitate to call upon the Holy Spirit and ask that the gifts given when we first received him in the sacraments be unleashed anew within us for the urgent and beautiful mission of evangelization to the people of our day.

Monday, May 17, 2010

From the Majestic Rockies

Ah…… Jasper! I am here this week with the other priests of the Archdiocese of Edmonton for our annual study days. In my opinion this is one of the most beautiful places on the planet. Surrounded by majestic mountains, one cannot help but marvel at God’s creative power. Yet even though a place such as this offers what one might call the “summit” of creation’s beauty, it is but a mere reflection of the splendour of the Creator. Meditative wonder at creation opens one’s heart and mind to the mystery of transcendence and ultimately to the One who is the Transcendent, who is the Beautiful, who is God. This leads in turn to wonderment concerning the purpose of things. What is the meaning of life? Where is it leading? Who is the One who has fashioned such magnificence, who has given me life, and why?

The message of the Gospel is that these questions have an answer. It proclaims that God, some of whose attributes can be known through human reason’s contemplation of nature (cf. Romans 1:20) has fully revealed himself in Jesus Christ. Furthermore, in Christ God has also revealed to us the full truth concerning ourselves and our destiny (cf. Gaudium et Spes, 22). Meditation on the beauty of nature opens our souls to the deepest of questions. Contemplation of the beauty of Christ leads us to their answers.

One such answer given in Jesus Christ is the response to the question of destiny. Yesterday the Church celebrated the solemn feast of the Ascension of the Lord, and in that liturgy recalled the return of the Lord to the right hand of the Father. The ascent of the Lord in his human nature, in our human nature, manifests the destiny of all humanity. Awareness of this truth gives meaning and purpose to our lives and thus offers real hope. Unaware of where our lives are leading, we can slip into a sense of meaninglessness, a lack of direction, and this in turn can cause confusion, anxiety and even despair.

Perhaps a helpful example to illustrate this is the increasingly prevalent global positioning technology. Today we have very sophisticated global positioning systems (GPS) that are used in airplanes, ships and cars, and even on the golf course. Once a destination is determined and entered into the GPS device, a satellite pinpoints your position and then provides the necessary directions. The success of this wonderful technology hinges upon knowing the destination. Only then can directions be given. Without the destination, the journey would have no direction and thus be nothing more than a series of meaningless turns. There would be no way of knowing which turn was right and which one was wrong.

When humanity does not understand its destination, or refuses to acknowledge it, then life quickly becomes meaningless, like a GPS giving directions to nowhere. In life we encounter innumerable crossroads where important decisions need to be made. Without understanding the destination, we lose any sense of where we are going and whether the decisions we make are right or wrong, helpful or harmful. Such a situation is a breeding ground for despair.
But there is no need for such loss of direction and meaning. The ascension of the Lord reveals God’s purpose in creating us: He wills that we be with him forever. He sent his Son both to reveal this destiny and to be the Way that leads to its fulfillment. Since Jesus assumed our very human nature in his Incarnation, and then both rose from the dead and ascended into heaven in that same nature, we live with the hope that where he has gone we will someday follow (cf. Preface for the Mass of the Ascension). The truth of our destiny, as revealed and fulfilled in Christ, gives perspective and meaning to all aspects of our lives, enables us to discern right from wrong in the many decisions that face us daily, and thus helps us to live each day with real hope.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Speak, Celebrate, Serve

On Thursday of this week we shall hold our annual March for Life. Coinciding with the national March in Ottawa, this will be our opportunity to participate in a nation-wide effort towards the formation of a culture of life.

In his encyclical Evangelium Vitae (the Gospel of Life), Pope John Paul II outlined the three basic actions upon which a culture of life can be fashioned: speak, celebrate and serve. Whenever the opportunity presents itself we must speak to our contemporaries of the beautiful gift of life, and witness to our conviction that basic human dignity demands that every life, from fertilization to natural death, should be welcomed with love and is deserving of protection.

Since it is a wondrous gift, life should always be celebrated as good and beautiful, in a spirit of profound thanksgiving. Precisely because it is gift, life must be stewarded carefully and served so that it might develop to its full potential and reach its ultimate destiny in God.

Many organizations in the Archdiocese of Edmonton are dedicated to the service of life. We need think only of the many groups that surround a mother and her unborn child with love and encouragement as the child grows in the womb and is brought to birth, the many works of Catholic Social Services that uphold the dignity of human life through service to the poor and suffering, and the attentive care given by the staff of Covenant Health to the sick, especially the sensitive palliative care offered to the dying. Our March this week will be a wonderful opportunity to undergird our service with a celebration of life’s beauty, and to extend it to the community through word and witness.

On Wednesday evening we gather at St. Joseph’s Basilica for a prayer vigil with our young people. On Thursday morning we shall celebrate Mass there at 10:30, and then gather at the provincial legislature at 1:00 p.m. to begin the March.

Together with the other Alberta Bishops, I participated in last year’s March and will do so again this week. It is a very peaceful event, and a great occasion for us to witness to the beauty of all life. Having given thanks to God through the Mass for his gift of life, we walk quietly through the streets of Edmonton to share with our fellow citizens our conviction that every human being is “willed, loved and necessary” (Pope Benedict).

Our message and celebration is inclusive of all. We reach out to both mother and unborn child, to both the elderly and their caregivers, to both those who agree with us and those who do not. Sadly, the life issue for many has become a hopelessly polarized debate with little hope of resolution. Others, equally sadly, see it as somehow politically settled, particularly as it pertains to the question of abortion. We do not share either conviction. What we need today are radically transformed human relationships, not defined by an extreme individualism and a false notion of freedom, but by a self-giving love that welcomes the other person as gift. This is not a hope beyond the realm of possibility. It is a very real prospect when we recognize and accept the truth of our creation in the image and likeness of God, who in Christ has revealed himself as a perfect communion of persons, Father, Son and Spirit, and allow this “image and likeness” to be the guiding principle of our own human relationships with both God and one another. This was strikingly explained in the reflections offered for our Nothing More Beautiful series by Bishop John Corriveau of Nelson, B.C.

I invite you to join with me this week for the March for Life. Let us together speak, celebrate and serve, and thus make our own contribution toward a culture of life.

Monday, May 10, 2010

The Peace the World Cannot Give

Is it truly possible to know a deep and abiding peace within our hearts?

Every person longs for such a peace, but it certainly seems elusive, especially when the trials of life or the troubling circumstances of our day tend to leave us anxious. The peace we seek is possible, but it is not a reality we can attain by our own efforts; it is gift. This peace is promised by Jesus himself in the Gospel we heard proclaimed at Mass yesterday for the Sixth Sunday of Easter: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.” (John 14:27.)

This promise is made by the Lord in the context of his farewell discourse to the disciples. He is about to leave them by his death and resurrection and subsequent return to the Father. In fact, this gift that he pledges as his farewell legacy will be precisely the result of this “leaving”, because the peace that he promises is salvation. By “salvation” we mean the defeat of sin and death by the all-powerful mercy of God and the gift of loving communion with God forever. Peace is eternal life with God. This salvation, this peace, has been won for us by the Cross of Jesus Christ. One must not draw the conclusion, however, that the peace for which we seek will be ours only in the life to come. No, it is offered to us even now through the gift of the Holy Spirit, which Jesus, in the same Gospel passage, promises that the Father will send in his name.

In many of our parishes these days our attention is drawn to this gift of the Spirit in virtue of the celebrations of the sacrament of Confirmation that are taking place. The words by which it is administered express the faith of the Church that acceptance of the gift of the Holy Spirit brings peace. When I confirm, I say to the candidates “Be sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit”, to which the person replies “Amen”. Then I offer my hand and say “Peace be with you,” to which the one confirmed responds “And also with you”. The response of “Amen” is the acceptance of the gift of the Spirit, the profession of openness of heart and life to both the person of the Holy Spirit and the gifts he brings. Such acceptance brings peace, because the Holy Spirit unites us to Jesus Christ, the Risen Lord. In fact we receive Christ’s own peace (“my peace I give to you”), because the Holy Spirit is the perfect and mysterious bond of love that unites Jesus, the Son of God, with the Father. This peace of Christ not only inhabits the hearts of the individual recipient of Confirmation but also unites all those who have been blessed with this gift: “and also with you”.

The peace of our Lord frees us from fear. From the gift of the Holy Spirit, we know that God is with us, indeed, he is within us. By the action of the Holy Spirit, God speaks to us and guides us in all circumstances. God can turn all things to the good for those that he calls to eternal life, and he wills to do so (cf. Romans 8:28). Therefore, we need not be anxious or afraid. All that is needed on our part is our “Amen”, which is our acceptance in faith of God’s love and mercy, our trust that God is very near and working by the Spirit in and through the daily circumstances of our lives for the accomplishment of his saving purposes. Faith that God is near, closer than we can imagine, and that God is guiding us in accordance with his plan of love, lifts from our hearts the burden of fear and unleashes the peace that is his gift. Such a peace leaves no room for despair and is thus the reason for our hope.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

A Space for Reflection

The launch of this blog coincides with Pope Benedict XVI’s Message for World Communications Day, which is marked this year on May 16th.

Issuing it in this Year for Priests, the Holy Father encourages priests to make use of the vast arena of digital communications to communicate the beautiful truths of the Gospel. Accordingly, my intent in establishing this blog is to create a space for reflection upon the Word of God. As a rule, posts will be offered once per week.

The focus will be the sacred passages offered in the Sunday Mass readings, and the intent will be to draw out from them “the reason for our hope”. Regardless of circumstances, the Christian is a person of real and abiding hope. The reason is Jesus Christ. Risen from the dead, he remains always present with his people, just as he promised (cf. Matthew 28:20). Through the gift of the Holy Spirit, he dwells within us in a communion of love. He who abides in us invites us to abide in him (cf. John 15:4), and to find in this communion a peace the world cannot give (cf. John 14: 27), a peace that gives rise to hope. Furthermore, Christians are called always to be ready to give an account before others of the hope that is ours (cf. 1Peter 3:15). My prayer is that this blog will serve to support our response to that call.

We know there can be many temptations to anxiety and even despair. Family difficulties, economic hardship, serious and uncontrollable illness, scandals within the Church, societal trends that run counter to the common good ... all these and more can leave us confused and anxious. In the midst of such circumstances, what is the ground of hope? The answer is a person: Jesus Christ, the Word of God who became a human being, who revealed in word and deed, especially in his dying and rising, the truth of God’s love and its power over evil. He remains with us always, speaking to us, listening to us, and guiding us to life and joy.

There is nothing more beautiful than knowing Jesus Christ. Yet to know the Lord requires spending time with him, listening to his Word and encountering him in the sacraments. It demands of us that we be deliberate and intentional about making time for him and establishing this as a first priority in our lives. Daily demands are many, but among them there is one thing always and truly necessary: listening to Jesus (cf. Luke 10:42). I offer the reflections posted on this blog as a small help to any who are looking for hope, so that they may find it in Jesus Christ.