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

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.