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

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.