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

Monday, December 26, 2011

Christmas 2011

As I read over the Scripture passages for Christmas midnight Mass, I could not help but go back in my mind to an image that has stayed with me since the visit to Haiti: the image of darkness pierced by light. In many parts of that land there is no electricity. Every evening after nightfall there are many regions with absolutely no light. People too numerous to count walk in darkness. It is, literally, a land of deep shadow. Occasionally, though, in a hovel or tent you could see a flicker of a candle flame – the darkness pierced by a light that enabled the people around it to see.

Here, too, in our so-called First World, light is needed. We experience the darkness of a spiritual poverty, of a life from which God is eclipsed; the deep shadows of moral confusion, in which what is wrong is celebrated as good; the black night of homelessness, violence, addictions, family breakdown, unemployment and so on. Differently from the people of Haiti, yet no less truly, we are a people walking in darkness. We need a light to pierce it so that we, also, can see again.

Isaiah: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of darkness – on them light has shone.” This message of hope is directed not only at the people for whom it was first written thousands of years ago, but also at us. Then it was a promise of what was to come; today the Church announces that promise as fulfilled. Isaiah linked the coming of the light with the birth of a child: “For a child has been born for us, a son given us.” The Gospel announces this child to be the one born of the Virgin Mary: “and she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger….” With this birth the glory of the Lord shone around the shepherds keeping watch nearby. The light has come in the child born in Bethlehem.

Why is he the light? As St. Paul puts it, in Jesus, the grace of God has appeared. Jesus is the very Son of God, who has assumed our human nature. There is no darkness in God, only light, so in Jesus we can see. In him we see the truth of God’s love and mercy. In this light, we also see the truth of ourselves: God’s beloved children in need of rescue from the darkness we bring upon ourselves through sinfulness. As we celebrate the birth of our saviour, let us offer to him any areas of darkness in our own lives - fear, anxiety, guilt, despair – and ask him to dispel it by the light of his love and mercy so that we might know the hope and peace he came from heaven to bring.

Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Back to School!

Our last visit of our last day was to a school recently constructed with the assistance of Development and Peace. It is run by the Haitian Province of the Missionaries of the Immaculate Conception, a religious congregation founded by Mother Delia Tetreault of the province of Quebec. The former school operated here by this community was destroyed by the earthquake, and now it is completely rebuilt. Yet another sign of hope. The Sister Provincial, together with two of her sisters, were obviously very proud and excited as they showed us around this new Catholic girls' school, which provides education to nine hundred children aged six to eighteen. They used the occasion of the visit to present D&P with a plaque expressing the gratitude of the congregation and the students for this beautiful new school.

The day had begun with a visit from the President of the Episcopal Conference of Haiti, Most Reverend Chibly Langlois. This gave both Archbishop Durocher and I the chance to speak with him about the priorities of the Haitian Bishops as regards the ecclesial reconstruction that needs to occur. Then our delegation made a whirlwind visit to officials of the Canadian International Development Agency stationed in Haiti. Since their offices are housed in the Canadian embassy to Haiti, this gave us the opportunity to greet briefly our Canadian ambassador. From there we stopped into an organization that offers formation for a whole network of community radio stations operating throughout Haiti, including a few associated with the local Church. I hadn't realized the importance of such radio stations until I came here. Since more than fifty percent of the population is illiterate and too poor to own televisions, this is for many their sole source of information for what is happening in the community, what to do in the case of emergencies and so on. Our final visit before proceeding to the school was to the offices of the Commission for Justice and Peace of the Haitian Episcopal Conference. We spoke there of their priorities and work and of our desire that the presence and work of D&P and its partners be a support to them.

Tomorrow we visit with the Apostolic Nuncio to Haiti and then make our way to the airport. Time will be very tight tomorrow, so this is my last blog post from Haiti.

Perhaps what has remained most strongly with me is my memory of a woman whom we met earlier in the week during our visit to MPP. She had arrived at their centre following the earthquake. So traumatized was she by that event, on top of all her other problems, that she snapped and was in need of professional psychological assistance. God knows - I'm afraid I would have just as easily lost it in the midst of this terrible reality. By the time we met her, however, she was smiling and laughing. Able to laugh. Because of the love and attention of the community, and the professional help that they were able to provide for her, she is now well and ... able to laugh. This is my prayer for the people of Haiti - that they will find a renewal and restoration that brings them joy.

The earthquake of which we are all aware is but an external sign of the interior tremors that have been shaking the people of Haiti for generations. The crushing weight of absolute poverty has left countless persons without a sense of their personal worth and dignity. The work of D&P and its partners is obviously very modest in comparison to the overwhelming needs here. Yet the renewal and hope that they bring to the people they assist is an indication of the personal reconstruction that our Lord wills for each and everyone of his people here in this country. As Christmas announces God's accomplishment of the impossible, let us not fail to pray that what is truly humanly impossible - the restoration of the Haitian people and society - will by the grace of God and the agency of people dedicated to the poor become a reality.

Monday, December 19, 2011

A Tent Cathedral and a Forest Nursery

A once magnificent building that now stands in ruins. Next to it a number of tents under which the people now gather to celebrate the Eucharist. This is what I discovered when I celebrated Mass at the "cathedral" on Sunday at the invitation of the Archbishop of Port-au-Prince, Most Reverend Guire Poulard. The cathedral was totally destroyed by the earthquake, as were adjacent Caritas and diocesan offices. The Archbishop most graciously invited me to preside at the Mass with his people, during which Archbishop Durocher preached a wonderful homily on the virtue of hope.

The building is in ruins but the Church is alive - it is alive in the resilient hearts of the people. Their suffering -- who can imagine the depth of it? - is etched on their faces, but they continue to lift up their lives to the Lord, whom they know to be near, especially in the Eucharist.

Our Eucharistic Lord calls us to be the agents of this presence to others. The Eucharist, which draws us into the self-offering of Christ himself, sends us forth to offer our lives for those in need. Celebrating the Mass in the very midst of incredible hardship brought this home to me very strongly.

Following our celebration we traveled over the mountains to Jacmel, where Development and Peace has been partnered for a long time with an organization founded in 1989 by Canadian religious sisters, Les Soeurs du Bon Conseil, to help women escape violence.
Called Famn Deside (Femmes Decidees), this is a group of women who have organized themselves to resist violence, and to educate both women and men as to the rights of women not to be violated, to be educated, and to be honoured. It began under the Sisters' direction with thirteen women, and now counts more than 800 members. We met with a group of them who welcomed us warmly. Very moving were their stories of pain and courage, especially now as they have to struggle against an increase in violence in the camps following the earthquake. Due to their efforts the violence in areas where they make themselves present is slowly diminishing. When we met afterward with the Vicar General of the Diocese of Jacmel, he shared with us how much the work of this organization is appreciated and supported by the local Church.

The next morning we visited some of their projects. Deep into the forest we went. En route we visited an edifice being constructed as a shelter for women and their children fleeing violence, and I was honoured to bless it at their request. From there we continued into the countryside, and to say that we went "off the beaten track" would be a huge understatement. It was the first time I've driven into a river in order to cross it. When we arrived at a small forest village, we proceeded into the bush on foot for quite some distance to an area where women have fashioned a nursery for the cultivation of tree seedlings, which are then transplanted to produce food for personal and familial sustenance as well as for the market, and to contribute at the same time to the reforestation of the land.

The women living and working in this area met us very warmly as a group (age range: 19-80) and shared with us the new hope that they have received from the assistance offered by Famn Deside. Many of them were learning to read and write for the first time in their lives, and I will not forget the look of happiness and pride as they told us so.

Equally etched in my memory are the songs of determination and hope that they shared with us, before treating us to a beautiful lunch from their own produce.
After this a three and a half hour ride across the mountains back to the chaos of Port-au-Prince. As I looked at the endless stretches of misery, I kept thinking of the people I had just met, especially their deeply held conviction that they are contributing to the rebuilding of this country in a substantial way by their work. They are right and deserving of our support.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Flower Gardens

Up into the mountains today just outside of Port-au-Prince. The goal was to visit some of the projects of the Port-au-Prince bureau of Caritas Haiti which are supported by Development and Peace. We spent hours on steep and unbelievably rough mountain roads, largely washed away by the deluges of the rainy seasons. (Someone remind me NEVER AGAIN to complain about the quality of Edmonton streets!

Supported by a variety of partners, Caritas Port-au-Prince runs a continuum of projects that help people rebuild and sustain their lives. One of these is in the mountain village of Duval, where ninety per cent of the dwellings were destroyed by the earthquake. Slowly but surely residences are being provided to the people - simple concrete structures comprising two bedrooms, a dining area and a storage room. As I approached one of them I saw a flower garden planted outside and up against the house. It had obviously been carefully tended - a sure sign of the family's pride in their new home and in themselves. I'm not good at naming plants, so don't ask me what they were. No matter. The family had been helped to recover their sense of dignity, which is so easily lost when one has no place to live.

From there we went further up into the mountains where two important projects supported by Development and Peace were being directed by Caritas. Both had to do with teaching the local peasant farmers how to conserve the soil which is so easily damaged and lost during the torrential rains. In both locations the local people all banded together for the work, in this case for the construction of walls along the slopes of the mountain. As we visited, some of the workers came up to us and began to chat. I was particularly struck by the comments of one man, who expressed his deep gratitude, not only for the assistance being given, but also for the simple fact of having been noticed. Referring to Caritas, he said, "If it weren't for them, no one would know we were even here." By the presence and assistance of Caritas, the local people knew that not only were they known but also that their existence was valued. Other projects supported by Development and Peace, which are equally aimed at helping the people attain sustainable living, are micro-financing, risk management in the face of other possible natural disasters (we dropped in on one of the classes being held in a simple parish school) and the raising of livestock.

We were also introduced to two local priests. Each lives in the midst of the people, and their placement isolates them from their diocese and their brother priests. Truly devoted men. The people spoke to me very warmly about the priests, in whom they find a shepherd who loves them and whom they love in return. In the person of these priests and in the workers of Caritas, these people in need know that the Church is near to them and from this they draw hope. It is this hope that I saw in the flower garden.

Giving Children a Childhood

We returned this morning from Hinch to Port-au-Prince. Words simply cannot describe the squalor in which thousands upon thousands are striving to live in this city. Yet words are even more inadequate in the face of the interior devastation wreaked upon thousands of children who are referred to as the "restavek". This is creole for the French "reste avec" (stay with). It refers to the terrible reality of what amounts to human trafficking. Families in the city "acquire," through intermediaries, children of the country to do domestic work in their homes. The parents of these children, eager to give their children hope but without any understanding of the reality of the city, "give" their children over to the receiving families with the understanding that they will be cared for, given an education etc. The truth is the opposite. Children ranging in age from six to fifteen years old are brought into the homes as domestic workers, and only a very small percentage of them are given any education at all. In effect, most are treated as slaves and suffer various forms of maltreatment. They usually remain separated from their families for years.

In response to this horror is an organization called Foyer "Maurice Sixto." A partner of Development and Peace, it seeks to create harmonious relations between the parents of the children and the children themselves as well as with the receiving families, sensitize society to this phenomenon, work at preventing the spreading of this problem, and give both basic education and professional formation to the children themselves so that they might have hope for integration into society. Within it all they strive to give the children a childhood. Many do not know their birthdays and have therefore never been celebrated personally. Many live without being hugged with genuine affection and love. The Foyer surrounds them with love and the affirmation of their personal worth and dignity. They give them the opportunity to play and develop their inherent talents. They celebrate birthdays. In short, they make it possible for these kids to be kids.
When we arrived the children that were gathered for their school day broke into a song of welcome. You can probably imagine how emotional that was for all of us. Thank God for this group that works so tirelessly to draw the children to this oasis of love and hope.

At the end of the day we met officials from Caritas Haiti, a D&P partner for many years. They explained to us the network that exists between the national office and the various local diocesan Caritas bureaus. Much effort has been expended to help rebuild their people and their society, and our plan is to see some of those projects tomorrow.

Friday, December 16, 2011

The Gift of Hope

I've just spent a couple of days here in Haiti, visiting projects of some partners of Development and Peace. I'll be here with our delegation until the 21st of this month.

The suffering and poverty of the people here defies description. There is some progress to the redevelopment, but it proceeds at a snail's pace. In the midst of the destitution there are many who are striving with great love and dedication to help people rebuild, not only in material but also in personal terms. It is bearing fruit in a sense of renewed hope for the people to whom I have been introduced, a hope which is giving birth to new beginnings.

We visited one of our partners, Mouvement Paysant Papaye, a partner of D&P, which has been working among peasant farmers in the countryside for many years, forming them in necessary life skills that they may be self-sufficient and earn at least a modest living. The results are gradual, but very promising. I met a woman with nothing, who only recently began to benefit from the accompaniment and help of this movement. She is learning the art of setting up a garden which will provide her and her children with the necessary food and extra that she can sell at the market. Another woman who, with her husband and eight children, has been helped by MPP for about fifteen years, has actually been able to send her first three children to university. Finally, we met ten families, who escaped Port-au-Prince into the countryside following the earthquake. They tried to go back to the city, but found that, since they had lost everything, they could no longer live there. They returned to the area served by MPP, and now find themselves in a little village constructed for them. In all of these situations what has struck me the most is the smile of the people that expresses hope. One can sense the return of pride in themselves as they look forward to a new future. Very moving and very encouraging.

Please keep this trip, and especially the people of this beautiful country, in your prayers. More later.

Monday, December 12, 2011

¿Como se traduce?

I’m struggling to learn Spanish. I believe this is important, because it is, after all, the language of about half of the Church worldwide. Fortunately, I am blessed with a very patient instructor. Apart from the fact that I find it difficult to find time for a lesson and then do my homework – not! – he is constantly having to field my questions around translation: What does this word mean? How do I translate that? How would you say such and such? Spanish is a truly beautiful language, and its beauty inspires me to learn it better. One day I hope to be able to listen to it and speak it without the intermediary of translation, but I’m certainly not there yet – far from it.

The most beautiful language of all is that of the Gospel. Its inherent, unsurpassable beauty awakens within us a strong desire to listen to it deeply and speak it to others. In our day, though, it needs translation. For many, the Gospel is little more than words without meaning. What does it signify? What is its relevance? Here is the challenge facing the Church as we embrace the new evangelization. How does the Gospel translate such that it is not only understood but also embraced?

Properly translated, the Gospel means joy. Yesterday, the third Sunday of Advent, was Gaudete Sunday. Gaudete – rejoice! The Scripture readings were a summons to joy. In the first reading (Isaiah 61: 1-2, 10-11) we heard Isaiah rejoicing in anticipation of the dawn of salvation. St. Paul in the second reading (1Thessalonians 5: 16-24) rejoiced, and summoned others to share in this joy, at the fact that the Saviour has come in Christ and remains near to his people. In addition, as Christians we rejoice in that the Lord, who is near even now, will come again with definitive salvation for his people.

How does the “act of translation” take place? How do the words of the Gospel become joy in our hearts? Consider John the Baptist in the Gospel passage of Sunday (John 1:6-8, 19-28). In response to the queries of those sent by the Pharisees to question him as to his identity, he made this striking statement: “Among you stands one whom you do not know.” He is referring to Christ, whom John did know. Furthermore, John knew himself in relation to Jesus. “I am a voice crying in the wilderness…” Here is the point at which the Gospel translates into joy. When we know Jesus Christ – not just know about him, but truly know him – and when we know ourselves in relation to him, then we find joy. Perhaps better, joy finds us. “I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.” (John 15:11) Christian joy is that which comes from abiding in the love of Christ.

This is very different from the pleasure and excitement that seems to be the sought-after goal of so many today. These are superficial things that are but transitory, fleeting, and that leave us not satisfied but longing, looking for more, running after the next “thrill.” This is not joy. Real joy is deep and lasting. It is that which we find in the Gospel, which offers a sharing in Christ’s own joy.

¿Como se traduce? How does this translate? My prayer is that, for each of us, a deeper personal knowledge of Jesus Christ and of self-knowledge in him will translate into that deep lasting joy which is the true meaning of the Gospel.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Waiting with Patience and Hope

The other evening I was on a flight from Ottawa to Edmonton. It took off exactly on time, but very early into the flight, about one half hour after takeoff, the pilot announced that he was not at ease with the performance of one of the engines, so we would have to return to Ottawa. Once we were safely on the ground and back into the airport we were told we would have to wait until another plane was found, as well as another crew. And so we waited, and we waited, and we waited, until finally we were able to leave again and arrive home safely. Passengers were not complaining – well, not much, anyway - because we knew the pilot had made the right decision to land the plane. But we just wanted to get home, and because it was out of our control, we knew that we would have to wait and rely on others to get us home.

Wanting to get home; reliance upon another; waiting. This pretty well sums up all that we hear from the Sacred Scriptures throughout this Advent season. “Home” is to be with God forever. It was for this, in fact, that God created us in the first place. And yet, very early on, humanity was diverted by the tragic failure we call sin, the refusal to trust God and his wisdom, the preference for self-reliance over dependence upon the Lord. This left us grounded, able to go nowhere, and needing to wait for one to come who could restore us on the right path that would, indeed, lead us home to our heavenly Father. And humanity waited, and waited and waited.

Yet this long waiting of humanity for a saviour was of an entirely different quality than that experienced in the airport. Ours on Thursday night was filled with anxiety. As numerous departure times were promised and not fulfilled, we began to worry that the airline would not be able to fulfill its promise to get us home that night. In contrast, the waiting of our ancestors for a saviour was filled with hope, because they knew that God would, indeed, be faithful to his word. A specific time was never promised. Occasionally this would give rise to great cries of longing from the people, calling on God to act soon, especially as they endured periods of suffering. At moments like these the prophets would call them back to trust in God’s wisdom and to remain steadfast in hope. An example is given in the first reading from the Sunday Mass of yesterday, where Isaiah, the great prophet of salvation, spoke words of comfort and hope to those who were waiting (cf. Isaiah 40: 1-5, 9-11). The Lord is coming soon, he said, and he will come as a shepherd to gather his sheep and lead them. Trust, have hope, be at peace. And, of course, God was faithful. He sent his Son, Jesus, to be our shepherd and lead us home to the Father.

As we waited at the airport, we had been told that a new crew would soon arrive to operate the plane and take care of passengers. Therefore, when we saw pilots and stewards arrive, that was a sign to us that what was promised would soon be fulfilled. Isaiah foretold that the arrival of the awaited Messiah would be heralded by a voice in the wilderness that called people to prepare the way of the Lord. That voice would be a sign of the imminent coming of the saviour. The Gospel of Sunday (Mark 1:1-8) identified that voice as John the Baptist, who did live in the wilderness and who did, in fact, call people to prepare by changing their lives, by repentance.

This message of John the Baptist remains relevant for us even today, because we remain in a time of waiting and expectation. We are no longer waiting for God to send the saviour. He has done so in his Son, Jesus Christ. We are waiting for Jesus to come again in glory at the end of time, as he promised. It remains true that we must be prepared by repentance for his arrival. We do not know when it will be, only that his day “will come like a thief”, as St. Peter told us in yesterday’s second reading, that is to say, suddenly and unexpectedly, so the time to repent and be ready is always now.

As we waited at the airport, time seemed to drag on as we waited for the airline to fulfill its promise. Everything was closed and there was little to do. Some might be tempted to think that the Lord is rather slow in fulfilling his promise. It has been more than two thousand years, after all! The teaching of St. Peter (cf. 2Peter 3:8-14) is very much to this point. God is beyond time. To him a thousand years are like one day. The Lord is not slow; he is patient, patient with us, because he wants us to share in his gift of salvation and not to perish. Therefore, in this time of expectation and waiting, there is much to do: examine ourselves and make the necessary changes so that we lead lives of “holiness and godliness.”

This is the message of Advent: wait with patience and hope in the expectation of the Lord’s coming, be aware of our need for the Lord to take us to our destination, and prepare for him by an honest and thorough examination of our lives. In this way we open our lives to welcome the Lord, the shepherd who leads us home.

Monday, November 28, 2011

A Moment of Change

As you know, yesterday we began using a newly revised English-language translation of the Roman Missal. This change is occurring not only in the Archdiocese of Edmonton but also throughout Canada and, indeed, the English-speaking world. The Roman Missal is the book that you see the priest use as he presides at Mass. It contains all the prayers and indications that guide us in the celebration of the Holy Eucharist. Why the change?

The Roman Missal's official edition is in Latin, and it is this official edition that is translated into all the languages of the world. This official edition was revised by the authority of Blessed Pope John Paul II in 2002. This revision was not to change the Mass, obviously. The Mass remains the same. The revision of Pope John Paul II was made in order to include some new material, such as feasts of newly canonized Saints, some new Prefaces for the Eucharistic Prayer, and clarifications in the way we celebrate the Holy Eucharist. This change to the official edition necessitated the preparation of a revised version in the various languages of the world, including, of course, English.

As a result of the new English translation, you will notice a few changes to the prayers, acclamations and responses. Most of the changes in wording occur in the prayers offered by the priest. With time and patience, all of these prayers will become as familiar to us as those we have been using over the last few decades.

Also to be implemented are some changes to posture. At the beginning of the Missal is a section called The General Instruction on the Roman Missal (GIRM). It stipulates the norms to be followed for the correct celebration of Mass, including directives pertaining to posture. These directives have as their intention to assure consistent practice and conformity with the universal law of the Church. This is very important. The oneness of our faith is to be apparent in the unity of our gestures and posture at the Sacred Liturgy.

This moment of change is a wonderful occasion for a renewed appreciation of the mystery of the Most Holy Eucharist. For a while we shall naturally be focusing upon what to say, not to say, when to kneel, stand, sit and so on, but let us not forget the sublime mystery that underlines it all. In the celebration of Holy Mass, the Lord himself is present to us, present with us. In the transformed gifts of bread and wine, the sacred body and blood, soul and divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ becomes truly and really present. In the Mass, we worship God, we give thanks for his countless gifts, especially the gift of salvation, we listen to his Word, we receive from the altar the sacred body and blood of Christ, and we are sent forth to be his agents of love in the world.

The Mass is the central event, the highlight, in the life of every Catholic. In its celebration we encounter our Lord and draw life and strength from his love. For this reason, our liturgical celebrations must be beautiful and dignified. For this reason, we must give careful attention not only to the way we celebrate but also to our interior dispositions as we approach the Mass and enter into its celebration. Have I reviewed the readings for Mass before coming to Church? Have I made an examination of conscience and confessed serious sin? Have I reflected upon the countless blessings that God always pours out upon me and offered thanks?

Perhaps the most important question for us is this: how shall we translate our encounter with the Lord into the way we live our lives? The new Missal is a translation from Latin to English. Yet this is in service of a much deeper and more significant translation that must take place: the translation of the mystery of the Eucharist into daily living. Here we meet the love of God for each of us. Do we translate that into love for others? Here we encounter the mercy of God towards us sinners. Do we translate that into the forgiveness of those who have hurt us? Here we receive the gift of salvation. Do we translate that into lives of hope? In the Gospel for Sunday we heard Jesus tell us to be ready to meet him when he comes again. His return will be at a time we simply do not and cannot know. This means to be ready now. As we enter this holy season of Advent, may the Lord help us ready ourselves by translating the encounter with Christ in the Eucharist into lives of Christian holiness.

On Saturday night I gathered at our Basilica with a group of people who translate their encounter with Christ into work and prayer for the protection of all human life. We marked the beginning of the new liturgical year with solemn evening prayer for nascent human life. This event springs from an initiative of Pope Benedict XVI himself, who last year invited all dioceses to gather for this prayer. We repeated it again this year and plan to do so henceforth every year at the beginning of Advent. We must not fail to pray for nascent human life, for life in its beginning stages, initiated at fertilization and now wondrously developing in the womb of the mother.

We are all called to speak in defense of this life and to witness to its beauty in the face of so many threats against it. Yet without sustained prayer such efforts will bear little fruit. What is needed in our society is an awakening of conscience and a profound conversion of heart. This is brought about by the grace of God, and so let us ceaselessly implore the Lord to touch the hearts of all people and effect a new beginning of respect for all human life, especially at its most vulnerable stages.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Always a Gift

I returned to Edmonton late Saturday evening. The minus-30 temperature was sure a shock to the system, but – hey – this is home and I’m glad to be back.

This evening (Monday) I have the great privilege of joining with the priests of the Archdiocese to celebrate a Mass in honour of those of our number celebrating this year important jubilees of ordination. It is perhaps providential that our Mass occurs on the Feast of the Presentation of Mary in the Temple. The traditional teaching that Mary was brought at an early age by her parents, Saints Joachim and Anne, to the Temple has been handed on in the Church since the early centuries.

Although it stems from non-historical sources, nevertheless it has been kept and honoured liturgically because it reflects an important theological intuition of the Church, namely, that Mary, from her earliest years, was entirely dedicated to God. It complements and flows from the truth of her Immaculate Conception. Mary was prepared from the beginning by God for her unique role in salvation history, and when that message from Gabriel came to her, she said yes. It is a pleasure to honour the men who have modeled their priestly lives on Mary’s docility to the Word of God and who have thus greatly enriched the life of the Church and the lives of the countless people entrusted to their care.

Yesterday we celebrated the Solemnity of Christ the King, and heard the passage from Saint Matthew concerning the Last Judgement. It is a story that never fails to rivet our attention, because it spells out clearly that for which we shall be held to account by the Lord: “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these…” Students at exam time would give almost anything to see the examination questions in advance so that they can prepare. That seldom happens. Yet that is precisely what Jesus is doing for us in this Gospel passage. He is giving us the questions in advance. How have you loved?

In other Gospel passages he tells us that the greatest of all commandments is love of God and of neighbour, and in this one from Matthew he spells out that we obey the greatest commandment through the corporal works of mercy: feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and the prisoner, and so on. Furthermore, he so identifies himself with the needy that, in our care for them, love of God and love of neighbour mysteriously become one: “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did it to me.”

Last week brought to our attention brothers and sisters in particular need of love and mercy: the dying. A report by a special parliamentary committee that was examining the state of palliative care services in Canada was released. I was encouraged by its obvious deep concern for the terminally ill and by its call for adequate compassionate and palliative care services. A statement by the CCCB in support of the report can be found on our Archdiocesan website. By way of very stark contrast, a report by a panel of persons commissioned by the Royal Society of Canada was released only a couple of days prior. It calls for the legalization of euthanasia and assisted suicide. I was able to give it only a quick read, but even that was enough to make me heartsick. It is not too difficult to find in it the not-too-subtle suggestion that helping people kill themselves or allowing doctors to kill them would help to ease the “burden” of care felt by families or the financial “burden” placed upon our health care system. The human person at any age and in any circumstance is always a gift, not a burden, and we should aim, as the parliamentary committee’s report says, at ever new ways for social inclusion of our weak and vulnerable, not exclusion.

We need to keep our eyes on this issue and be ready to speak out in defense of life. I recommend you keep abreast of this by referring to the website of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition(check out Alex Schadenburg’s blog). For reference I also recommend the statements issued by the Catholic Organization for Life and Family, which you can find at

God bless and have a good week.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Adapting to Conditions

Still in Rome for meetings of the Presidency of the CCCB with the Holy See, I read this morning in an online report of some nasty road conditions in Edmonton as the result of snow and icy roads. According to the report, civic officials were at pains to remind people to adapt to the conditions as they drove their vehicles. Pay attention, they said, not to the speed limit but to the conditions and adjust your actions accordingly. Just plain common sense, that. Yet, remarkably, many of us continue to be governed by habit and proceed as if nothing around us has changed. Cruise control with blinders. A commute along icy winter roads will demonstrate very quickly just how dangerous an attitude that is.

Harmful oblivion to our surroundings is not limited to winter driving. It is sadly characteristic of a society marked by self-focus and self-absorption. Often we need a rather unpleasant "wake up call" to bring us out of ourselves, notice what is happening around us and adjust our behaviour. A sudden fender bender on the highway is one example. The global financial crisis is another. The world is now suddenly alert to the interconnectedness of lifestyles, both individual and national, and realizing that we need to "adapt to conditions", such as we see happening through governmental change in Greece and here in Italy, and the imposition of financial austerity measures.

In the Gospel for Mass on Monday of this week (Luke 18:35-43), Jesus turns to a blind man who had been calling out to him and asks what he is seeking:  "What do you want me to do for you? The blind man replied, Lord, please let me see.

It seems to me that this is a request we would all do well to bring to the Lord. Please let me see. Please let me see, Lord, the reality around me. Let me not be so closed in upon myself - my desires and preoccupations, my worries and fears - that I actually become blind to the world around me. Please let me see, and help me adapt to the conditions around me - the conditions of the poor, the homeless, the sick, the lonely, the despairing. Help me so to adjust my lifestyle that they have a place in the ordering of my life. Open my eyes to the wondrous beauty of human life; help me to see clearly the current threats against it, and so to adapt my life that I do not neglect to speak and act in its defense. Expand the horizon of my view beyond the immediate. When I watch news reports of poverty and hunger in the Third World, help me really to see what I am seeing: one in desperate need who is, in fact, my brother or sister, and whose plight may in large part be due to lifestyle choices here at home. Assist me to know how I must adapt to these conditions and give me the desire and determination to do so.

Please, Lord, help us to see and to adjust our lives to your will and to the conditions of our brothers and sisters.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Gift of Wisdom

The Gospel passage from yesterday's Sunday Mass (Matthew 25:1-13) ended with these words of the Lord: "Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour." When I hear this teaching I often go back in my mind to visits I would make as a parish priest to the homes of my parishioners. I would usually do so in one of two ways: I would either call ahead and make an appointment, or I would just show up unannounced. You can imagine the difference between the two in the reception I received. In the first case the door would be opened immediately as the people welcomed me into their immaculately clean home. In the second, the curtain of the living room window would be pulled slightly back to allow one eye to peek out, followed by muffled cries of panic within. The Lord is teaching us that he will come again, but without calling ahead. We need to be prepared NOW to receive him.

We heard St. Paul (1Thessalonians 4:13-18) refer to this return of the Lord in terms both of our own death and of the end of time. We know also that the Lord, faithful to his promise never to abandon us, is with us even now, especially through the gifts of the sacraments and through the indwelling Holy Spirit.

In the passage from Saint Matthew the parable told by Jesus unveils the deepest purpose of the Lord's return. He comes to us as the bridegroom. In other words, he will come to us in love, seeking a communion, or covenant, of love with his people. That same parable uses the image of ten bridesmaids waiting with lamps lit so that they could go out to meet him when he arrived. The point here is the meeting. Christian life begins with and is nourished by the encounter with Jesus Christ (Deus Caritas Est, 1). Jesus desires to encounter us with his love and to draw us to himself, to a share in his own life.

A distinction is made in the parable between the five bridesmaids who are wise and the remainder who are foolish. The wise are those who brought extra oil and were prepared to wait. This is an important image for us, especially today as we find ourselves in the midst of so many crises. This extra oil symbolizes human limit. It represents a recognition that the Lord is in charge, that he acts in accordance with his wisdom and providence and at his own determination, and that, therefore, we can but wait upon his guidance and action. The Lord is not on call, responsive to our whims and determinations. Wisdom recognizes the truth of God, the truth of ourselves, and the truth of our dependence upon him. Folly is the illusory presumption that we can determine actions and outcomes on our own without needing to be prepared to wait for the Lord, to rely on his providence, and to trust in his wisdom. We are witnesses to the tragic results of such folly in the economic and political crises of our day.

The first reading from Mass yesterday taught that true wisdom is God's gift. It is clear that this gift has been bestowed in abundance upon our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI. As I mentioned in my last post, I am in Rome right now for a series of meetings that are undertaken in the course of an annual visit to the Holy See by the President, Vice-President and General Secretary of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops. We shall have about twenty-seven meetings in all by the time we leave here. The highlight occurred today. I am speaking, of course, about the audience granted to us by the Holy Father.

He welcomed us very warmly to his office, where we had the great honour of presenting him with official copies of the new English-language Roman Missal approved for use in Canada and of the book produced by the CCCB Publications Service to commemorate the dedication of the new St. Joseph Seminary.

God has, indeed, greatly blessed us with the gift of Pope Benedict. We are in such good hands! He listens to his people with great attentiveness, manifests always a profound respect for each individual, and, as we know from his teaching, guides us with unparalleled insight into the human condition and the circumstances of the day, interpreting all in the light of the Gospel. Let us not fail to continue to support him with our love and prayers.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Behind the Masks

Halloween. I just received a picture of my niece (10) and nephew (12) in the costumes they want to wear this evening for "trick-or-treat". I think it best that I not share them with you. When they become adults they'll be embarrassed and might have a word or two to say to their uncle.

The day of masks. The day when our true identity is concealed. Would that it were only today that this happened. Many seem to find it necessary to hide their true selves all the time, and not only from others but also from themselves. Various forms of masks and pretensions are assumed in order to be "acceptable". This is a tragedy. Each of us is created unique and beautiful in the eyes of God, a gift to be shared, not an embarrassment to be hidden away!
Significantly, the masks come off on the following day. That is All Saints Day. As we know, the word Halloween comes from All Hallows (i.e. Saints) Eve, the eve, or vigil, commemorated before All Saints Day. The saint is the one who does not wear a mask, who lives peacefully before God his or her own truth. Sainthood, or holiness, is a gift that arises from a vital union with Jesus Christ. The encounter with the Lord awakens us, yes, to our weakness, failings and mistakes, but also to our belovedness in the eyes of the One who manifested that love in his death on the Cross. This love sets us free to be ourselves and offer ourselves as gift to others. Often in the Gospel we hear Jesus say, "Those who humble themselves will be exalted." Humility is truth. We "humble ourselves" when, under grace, we accept the truth and the giftedness of ourselves and refuse to put on masks that we falsely think will "exalt" us in the eyes of others. The exaltation of which Jesus speaks is the lifting up out of falsehood that happens when we accept the truth of his love, and in that love, the truth of ourselves. 

At our opening session last Thursday evening of Year 4 of Nothing More Beautiful, the witness, David Wells, spoke of the freedom he experienced when he was brought to an awareness of the infinite love of God. He recalled for us the moment when he first held his newborn child in his arms. The love he felt for the child was obviously not earned by the baby, and was so great that he knew he would do anything to make the world a better place for his child. Then he thought, "If God loves me this way, then I am going to be all right." No matter how greatly the parent might love the child, God's love is greater still. Infinitely greater. Yes, we are going to be all right, because of that love. We do not earn it. We cannot. It is freely given in superabundance. No masks or pretensions are necessary. The Lord sees us as we truly are, and He loves what he sees. May our own awareness of this love help us so to humble ourselves that we shall be exalted, lifted up, to a life of truth and freedom.

I am in Rome for the first part of November for the annual visit to the Holy See of the President, Vice-President and General Secretary of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops. This is a wonderful opportunity to share with the Holy Father and officials of the various dicasteries (departments) of the Vatican the blessings and challenges of the Church in Canada. Please keep these meetings in your prayer. Grazie!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The Magic Kingdom and Greater Wonders

I am writing this blog post from Orlando, where I am attending with some people from my Diocese the International Stewardship Conference. And no - I am not getting outside in this beautiful weather to enjoy a round of golf - unfortunately! Not much time for that, I'm afraid.

After last week's plenary meeting in Cornwall of Canada's Bishops, I boarded a plane Sunday morning from Montreal to come to Orlando. The first thing I noticed was the large number of children boarding with me, which reminded me that the International Stewardship Conference is not the only major attraction in this city. The children were excited, to say the least! It was wonderful to see, but - I must confess - more than once on the flight I found myself thanking God for the invention of noise-canceling headphones. The young ones were coming to see Mickey and friends. They kept asking their parents about what they would see, and were not at all shy about telling complete strangers what they were most looking forward to experiencing. Some were on a plane for the first time, and in their cries of "cool" or "awesome" as the plane lifted off, the children gave voice to what is one of their most beautiful characteristics - the capacity for wonder and awe. They were dazzled by the plane and soon would be marveling at the exciting adventure awaiting them at Disney World.

More than once in the Gospel Jesus calls us to be like children. Among other things, this call of the Lord is an invitation to marvel, to stand in awe, not before the achievements of human ingenuity or imagination, but at the love of God and at his wonders, above all the mystery of his grace working in our lives and throughout history. As a people of faith we naturally marvel at God's great deeds of creation and redemption, but frequently in the Gospels Jesus calls us also to recognize with awe how one can point to and give insight into the other. "The kingdom of heaven is like ...." The marvels of creation direct our hearts and minds to the infinitely greater wonders of the kingdom of God. For example, the wondrous mustard seed, at once the smallest and the greatest, gives intimations of God's ways, whereby in his kingdom the last is first, the weak shame the strong, and what is judged small and of no account will by the power of God transform this world. Or again, the amazing properties of leaven kneaded thoroughly through dough reflect the mystery of grace, which beginning from our Baptism comes to indwell us through and through - our hearts, minds, memories and imaginations - so that we might rise from the rather flat existence of life without God to the fullness of joy, tasted even now and held out for us without limit in the kingdom of God.

The Christian life is imbued with this awe - awe before the beauty and majesty of God who comes not only to teach us through his self-revelation, but also to touch and transform our lives and draw us to himself. This awe deepens as we recognize we are standing in wonder before what is true, what is real. The conference I am attending is taking place next door to a major centre of fantasy, the capital city of the unreal. It is a place of escape from reality into illusion. The Gospel is a call to change direction and run from illusion toward the real, from the "magic kingdom" to God's kingdom. That "real" is the marvel of salvation history, God coming to and remaining with his people through the wondrous workings of his grace. Engaging this reality, stepping fully into this history, is not without difficulty and pain, because we are speaking of the wonder of God's freely bestowed grace encountering human freedom weakened by sin. It is a history that therefore works itself out in the great struggle of conversion and longing. But it is a history of which God is the beginning and end, and Jesus the centre. Thus, in the final analysis, it is a history of hope, because it exposes the sentiment of being alone and on our own as illusion, and makes known as very real indeed the truth of God's love and proximity.

Wonder and awe before this truth leads naturally to surrender, to fiat, to the act of faith. Christians are those who say "yes" to the presence of God in their lives. This "yes" is given unconditionally when born of a heart awakened to the marvelous truth of God's plan and to his infinite wisdom. It is the very heart of Christian stewardship, and determines the use we make of our time, talent and treasure.

 As children of the Father, may we never cease to marvel at the truth of our God and his love and always be ready to surrender in faith to his call.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

To Caesar and to God

“Give unto Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.”
We heard these famous words of Jesus in yesterday's Gospel. They teach us that the various responsibilities we assume and exercise in life should receive both their shape and motivation from our commitment in faith to live by the grace of God.
Our participation in civil society involves us in a multiplicity of relationships, many of which bring with them the expectation of allegiance to a variety of standards and expectations. We adhere to civil law. We follow the industrial standards of our profession. We are faithful to policies of the institutions to which we belong. In these and in many other ways we "render unto Caesar," and we recognize the need to do so for the sake of our social order.
From the variety of our allegiances God must not be eclipsed. “Give unto God what belongs to God.” The external fidelity that we give to our multiple allegiances must not supplant the interior surrender that we owe to our Lord. In fact, our submission in faith to the God who loves and calls us is foundational to all other life decisions, and informs our choice of the particular allegiances we assume in freedom.

In the Gospel we hear that the people of our Lord’s day were reminded of their civil obligations by looking upon an image, that of Caesar on a coin. The image which, as we gaze upon it, reminds us of our duties to God is the human person, fashioned in the divine image and likeness. When we encounter our family members, colleagues and fellow citizens, we meet people who each possess an inalienable dignity and an eternal destiny, both of which were wondrously affirmed by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We meet people who, in virtue of the divine image, are acting subjects never to be objectified, persons wondrous and beautiful, unceasingly deserving of respect. We honour God, we give back to Him what is His, when we honour the dignity of each other, the people for whom God sent His Son, His children for whom Christ gave His life.

Perhaps it would be helpful to keep this teaching in mind as we reflect upon the current global "occupy" protest. Citizens around the world are gathering to express their frustration and anger. News reports tell us that the protest is lacking in focus, a rather generalized rant. Yet we would do well to listen not only to the words chanted by protesters but also, and more importantly, to the emotions behind them. Personally, I am hearing underneath the words a lot of fear and anxiety. In the midst of serious challenges in our financial markets, people are very worried by the current burdens people are carrying as well as by a future whose contours seem to be anything but hopeful. I noticed on news reports yesterday that parents and grandparents are joining the protesters, so concerned are they for their children's and grandchildren's future. The voices speak of an urgently felt need to be not only heard but also taken into account.

A market system that "gives unto Caesar" without "giving unto God" is one in which the primacy of the human person is discounted, even ignored. It measures market value without consideration of human worth. This, it seems to me, is the underlying cry of the protesters. It is also the lament of Pope Benedict XVI. In his encyclical Caritas in Veritate he calls for a global economy that places at its centre the dignity of the human person and our shared responsibility for the common good. This extraordinary document provides us with some much needed guidance right now.

On the weekend I visited two institutions in the Archdiocese that stand as reminders to the community of a primordial "giving unto God". Newman Theological College held its convocation ceremonies, and degrees in theology and religious education were awarded to some very happy graduates. The president, Fr. Shayne Craig, told us that enrolment at NTC is up 38 percent, and the keynote speaker, Joan Carr, superintendent of Edmonton Catholic Schools, challenged the graduates to live by God's grace as authentic disciples of Jesus Christ. At St. Joseph's College, on the campus of the University of Alberta, I installed its new president, Father Terence Kersch of the Basilian Fathers. This community of priests has looked after St. Joe's since 1963. There, by researching and teaching the truths of academic disciplines lovingly, selflessly and for the sake of the student and society, the College demonstrates a giving to “Caesar” that is informed and shaped by a prior giving to God.

Monday marks the opening of the annual plenary meeting of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops. It takes place in Cornwall, Ontario, and runs until Friday at noon. Please keep us and our deliberations in your prayers. Thanks.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Thanksgiving for True Gifts

Last evening, at the end of our Canadian Thanksgiving Day, a national news broadcast featured interviews with citizens of two towns that had recently suffered great loss from natural disasters: Goderich in Ontario, which was recovering from a tornado strike, and Slave Lake here in Alberta, which lost nearly one-third of the town to wildfires. The interviewer was asking them about their thoughts on Thanksgiving Day and their responses were very moving.

In every case the respondent was surrounded by family members. Without hesitation they said that they were most thankful for the gift of life and of their families. Even though some of them had lost everything in terms of material goods, they knew in their hearts that, on the level of what truly matters, they had lost nothing. In fact, their appreciation for what is most important, the presence and love of family and friends, had deepened.

On this same day, the news was reporting record sales of the new iPhone. Great excitement! It is so easy to get caught up in what is ultimately unimportant to the neglect of what is always of the greatest importance. I must admit I like the "gadgets" as much as anyone else. (In fact, I'm writing this blog from an iPad.) But what is truly exciting is any opportunity to be together with family and those we love in order just to spend time enjoying one another's company and the unique gift that each person is.

I love to cite the following from Pope Benedict's first homily as our Holy Father: "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." Have you ever thought of yourself as a result of a thought of God? You are! Thank God for the gift of being alive. Have you looked upon others as precious in the eyes of God, willed and loved, persons who count and matter? They are! Thank God for them, especially for the gift of their presence in your life. How do they enrich you? What do you miss most about them when they are absent?

The thanks we lift up to God for what is truly important and beautiful should not be limited to Thanksgiving Day. It should be given every day. Why not take some time - today - to think of those persons who truly matter in your life, thank God for them, and ask Him for the gift of a renewed appreciation for what truly matters.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Embrace the "little way"

This past Friday, Saturday and Sunday, St. Joseph Seminary was host to 14 men for a "Come and See" weekend. This is an opportunity for men who feel they may be called by the Lord to priesthood to share their experience with others and find help to discern the voice of the Lord in their lives. They spend time in the seminary setting in order to get a sense of daily life there, and, most importantly, to speak with formation team members and other seminarians about the principles and dynamics of discernment.

Providentially, Saturday was the memorial feast of St. Therese of Lisieux. Her example is a wonderful aid to anyone who seeks to be open to the call of Christ. In her we see the model of what it means to become childlike, that stance before the Lord to which Christ frequently called his followers. What does it mean to be childlike?

I had occasion to reflect on this when on Thursday I visited and blessed two schools in the Archdiocese: Theresetta school in Castor and Christ King school in Stettler. Many of the parents of the students were there for these events. Watching the youngest members of these schools (kindergarten and Grade 1) I was reminded of what it is to be like a child. Youngsters allow themselves to be led. Where the parents go, so, too, do they. They approach their parents with open arms, full of trust. They take their parents at their word; they hold something to be true because "Mommy or Daddy said so."

St. Therese approached God with arms wide open, trusting absolutely in His love and tenderness. She took God at His Word, the Word spoken in Christ, the Word that assures of of divine presence and care, the Word that calls us to life through the obedient following of Christ. Wanting to be led only by the Lord, she tenaciously sought to know the Lord's will in order to follow it in loving and trusting obedience.

At the Come and See weekend, we offered this great saint, now a Doctor of the Church,  as a model to the men seeking to know the Lord's will. She is, in fact, a model for all of us. God is near. He loves us as a Father, wanting to provide for our every true need. He summons us to life through communion with His Son. When we take God at His Word and receive that word with open arms, we shall know how we are called and we will be graced with the faith necessary to follow.

As I moved into the Sunday liturgies of the weekend, I realized that St. Therese has even more to say to us. How vitally important it is for us to grasp and follow her example was underscored by the Scripture readings for Sunday Mass (cf. Isaiah 5:1-7; Philippians 4: 6-9; Matthew 21: 33-43).

Both the first reading and Gospel use the image of a vineyard and its produce. In the passage from Isaiah, the vineyard is an image of the people of God, who had planted within them His seeds of love and mercy and nourished them with His commandments. However, instead of the cultivated grapes of justice and peace this vineyard has yielded the "wild grapes" of injustice and bloodshed.

Such an image makes us ask some serious questions about the "produce" that we, the Lord's vineyard of today, are bringing forth. Through Baptism we have had planted within us the seeds of life, love, justice and eternity. And yet the produce yielded is too often the opposite: threats to the dignity to human life and pressures on family; poverty; homelessness; widening gaps between rich and poor; and so on. Not a very healthy vineyard, to say the least.

The Gospel parable of the vineyard owner and the evil tenants gives the diagnosis of the underlying illness that needs to be confronted. At produce time the owner sends messengers to the tenants to collect the produce. He even sends his son. All are beaten and killed as the tenants rebuff the owner of the vineyard and take control for themselves. Such a parable invites us to examine seriously how we are rebuffing God, both as individuals and as a society. Throughout salvation history God has sent us messengers of His love, such as the prophets, and above all He even sent His Son. They were rebuffed by sinful humanity.  The injustices suffered by humanity, both past and present, show clearly that we continue to choose to exclude God from any meaningful place in our lives, relying not upon Him but upon ourselves.

St. Therese exemplifies the antidote to this blight. She felt the Lord calling her to be love in the midst of the Church. This led her to embrace what has since been called her "little way": to be loving and faithful in the little things, in the ordinary and everyday events and relationships. To reverse the current trend of society, great heroic feats on our part are not what is necessary. What is needed is the "little way" of St. Therese. She taught us to trust God, to let Him into our lives, to trust and follow His Word, and to be faithful in consequence in the ordinary events of our lives. Such a little way, if followed by all, can effect a great turnaround in our world. Let us embrace her example and follow it.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Service Through Christ

This is the title of a striking statue unveiled and blessed yesterday morning on the grounds of the Alberta Legislature. The beautiful bronze monument has been sculpted as a lasting tribute to the religious sisters who, beginning more than one hundred and fifty years ago, gave of themselves tirelessly in service to others and laid the foundation of what are today our institutions of healthcare, education and social outreach. Sisters came to the property of our legislative assembly from across Western Canada for the event. There they were joined by Premier Ed Stelmach and his wife, Marie, and other government officials, together with the good people at Covenant Health who spearheaded the project. I was there with Archbishop Huculak and Bishop Motiuk, both of the Ukrainian Catholic community. We were joined by large numbers of our priests, religious and lay faithful, including students from our Catholic schools. Clearly, the idea of creating a lasting expression of gratitude to the Sisters touched the hearts of many. They are precious to us.

The point of the event was not only to say thank you, however. It was also an occasion to reflect upon their legacy and ask ourselves how we, in our day, need to take up the torch and carry this inheritance into the future. This is no easy task, because what they have bequeathed us is in many ways the opposite of developing trends in our society.

Western society is sinking rapidly into a utilitarian assessment of human worth, whereby one's value is measured in terms of talent, intellect and the ability to contribute. Human worth is thus extrinsically assigned by others who presume to judge the value of another. The legacy of the sisters is the opposite: human dignity is inherent and inalienable, grounded in the fact of our creation in the image and likeness of God. From the first moment of existence until natural death, the human person is wondrous and beautiful, irrespective of skill or circumstance, always a gift and never a burden, and unceasingly deserving of respect, care and attention.

 In our day a worrisome individualism has taken hold. The claiming and assertion of individual rights is very often made with scant regard for the impact on others. A materialist vision of happiness leads to a consumerism that accumulates possessions to oneself with little thought given to the consequences for the poor and destitute elsewhere in the world. By way of contrast, the sisters were dedicated to building up the common good. Their example reminds us that our essentially social nature as human beings gives rise to the duty to care for one another and ensure that no one is without what is needed to live a decent life.The sisters did not think only of themselves. In fact, others came first, and they went without in order to be present to others and respond to their needs. From this concern for the common good arose the institutions that have grown to become an essential part of the fabric of our society. If we do not want this society to unravel, we must move away from myopic self-absorption and embrace the same broad view of humanity that guided the sisters to give of themselves for others.

The growing secularism we see today seeks to pressure people of faith into a type of schizophrenia; the dictates of conscience and religion should be lived only privately, while in the public arena one is expected to live as if God did not exist. Eclipsing the question of God from all public discourse robs society of its only reliable basis for trust. The ensuing fear and anxiety turns people away from others and into themselves and thus becomes a seedbed of societal division and even violence. The Sisters have given us a convincing testament to the unifying, liberating and life-giving power of faith, publicly professed and lived.  It was in response to a divine call and out of confidence in the providence of God that the Sisters travelled countless kilometres by rudimentary means of transport to come to Western Canada. What motivated them above all else was their knowledge of the love of God and the desire to be agents of that love to others. They arrived with next to nothing and knew well the limits imposed by human weakness. They gave over their little into the hands of Almighty God, trusting in faith that He would multiply it in His own time and according to His saving purpose. We see today that that faith was not misplaced. Their faith opened their lives and ministry to the power of God, and this province is the beneficiary of that witness. Their legacy is a call to us to embrace the truth, not only as individuals but also as a society, that God who loves us is near, wanting to be involved in our lives and having the power to turn all things to the good if we but call upon Him and surrender to His ways.

Their legacy is a call to respect every human being at all stages of life, place others before ourselves, and profess faith in a God who loves us. There are many signs of this legacy being carried into the future.

For example, on Tuesday morning of this week I met with people from our faith communities who are working together in support of Edmonton's ten-year plan to end homelessness. We are particularly focused upon reaching out to newly housed men and women to embrace them with a network of friendship and support. Receiving a dwelling is one thing. Experiencing it as a home requires participation in a web of relationships that affirm and enable. We are working to create a programme with just this aim in mind. It will be entitled "Welcome Home", and some representatives from Catholic Social Services outlined to the group a vision of how this might unfold. I was very moved and edified by the loving seriousness with which these good people are treating this issue.

As another example, I celebrated Mass Tuesday evening with the volunteers involved in the Saint Vincent de Paul Society of the Archdiocese. These are people who give of their time to visit the poor and provide them with the concrete assistance they need. Here I would like to highlight one particular dimension of their outreach. They visit the poor. They do not wait for them to show up; they go out to them. From a visit I know that I have been noticed. When that visit has been made for no other motive than to help me, I know that I matter. The worth of each and every human being was made visible when God visited us in His Son. Now we assure others of their worth by visiting them in order to be of assistance and give them the help they might not otherwise have been able to find.

Sisters, thank you!! Thanks as well to all who give of themselves to carry into the future their legacy of loving service through Christ.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Disciples behind the scenes

This past week I issued a new pastoral letter, outlining the priorities that will guide and shape the life and ministry of the Archdiocese of Edmonton in the years ahead. If you'd like to take a look at it, you can access the letter Pastoral Priorities of the Archdiocese of Edmonton.

For now, I would like to sing the praises of a remarkable group of people who exercise ministry on what we call our Catholic Campus. Yesterday at Mass I introduced to all who were gathered at St. Joseph's Basilica the women and men who work at our Pastoral and Administration Offices, Newman Theological College, Saint Joseph Seminary or Villa Vianney (our home for retired priests). These buildings co-exist on a beautiful piece of property overlooking Edmonton, and the collaboration in ministry exercised among them is captured in the term "campus." They are among the most dedicated people I have ever met! They love the Lord and his Church, and give themselves fully to the service of God's people. Most times they work "behind the scenes," so I thought it was time to lift them up, thank them, and, above all, invoke God's blessings upon them.

Gathered in the Basilica were the people who, in our Pastoral and Administration Offices, work in evangelization, catechesis, ecumenism, interfaith relations, on behalf of life and family, the missions, liturgy, and social justice and for the evangelization of youth. Those who support parishes with new evangelization initiatives, guidance for parish councils and the fostering of stewardship were there. We have people who dedicate themselves to the pastoral care of the sick, homebound and prisoner, who promote vocations to the priesthood and support our permanent diaconate, and who minister sensitively to the hurting through our marriage tribunal while providing other canonical services. Communications is exercised by an office dedicated to this work as well as by the folks at the Western Catholic Reporter.

From Newman Theological College we had present the faculty, administration and support staff, and from our seminary the formation team and administrative assistant. 

Supporting it all are our offices of finance and accounting, of development, of human resources and of operations.

As we gathered to thank and honour these dedicated disciples, we heard from the Gospel of St. Matthew (20:1-16a) the parable of the owner of the vineyard who hired labourers at a various hours of the day and  yet paid them all the same wage. Viewed entirely from the perspective of human quid-pro-quo logic, the owner was manifestly unjust. Yet Jesus is speaking in this parable of the sovereign and free love of God, who may call people to ministry at varying stages of life yet rewards all equally with the joy that comes from knowing and serving him, or who may touch people's hearts with the knowledge of his love and call to salvation at different times, yet who bestows his saving  grace not on the basis of any merit (we cannot earn salvation!) but out of his sovereignly free generosity. Our people on campus have worked there for periods of time ranging from many years to a few months. At differing times in their journeys have they felt the summons of the Lord to follow him through their particular form of service in the Archdiocese. Length of service may differ; the joy is the same. Oh, I suppose some days may be more joyful than others, but that's normal. The challenges facing us are many, but we confront them with the sure and hopeful knowledge that we are led and strengthened by the grace of God.

I express my sincere thanks to all who work so tirelessly and with such deep dedication at our Catholic campus. The Archdiocese is immeasurably blessed by your presence and efforts, and I want you to know that we are all very grateful.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Digesting Difficult Fare

A few years ago I was traveling in a foreign country. Often one of the first adjustments to be made when traveling abroad is to the local diet. It is often quite different from the one to which we are accustomed at home. One day I was invited to a meal at the home of a wonderful family, who wanted to treat me to the best of their traditional fare. I stepped into the dining room to see the table laden with a smorgasbord of local dishes. Unfortunately, someone made the mistake of telling me in advance the identity of the two principal dishes: goat and cow stomach! Thanks be to God there were plenty of other dishes which were reasonably similar to "home cooking" that I was able to fill up on those, because, for the life of me, I just could not stomach eating stomach.

It has occurred to me since then that this experience offers an analogy to describe the challenge faced by members of the Church as we respond to the call of the new evangelization. When we announce the Gospel we are offering a diet that many today, unaccustomed to the beauty of its teachings, find very difficult to digest. To a society growing increasingly accustomed to consuming vast amounts of falsehood and illusion, the truth proposed by Christ seems to have a very bad taste. Similarly, the call of Christ to a discipleship that involves self-denial and the carrying of one's cross is bitter to the taste of one who is accustomed to a diet of hedonism.

Particularly difficult for many to swallow is the teaching given in the Gospel passage of Sunday's Mass (cf. Matthew 18:21-35). There the Lord speaks in no uncertain terms of the need to place mercy and forgiveness at the centre of one's life. Yesterday was the tenth anniversary of the terrible terrorist attacks on the United States. The horrible loss of life from those deranged and evil acts gave birth, understandably, to an anger so deep that any talk of forgiveness became for many impossible even to hear, let alone heed. Think, too, of the situation in the Middle East, where for decades now terrible atrocities have left many of the peoples of that region hating one another. Many in this context find the idea of forgiveness unthinkable. Of course, even apart from these extreme situations we can know in our own day-to-day lives the difficulty of forgiving. Broken relationships, words spoken in anger, betrayal of a confidence – these and other circumstances can so hurt us as to leave us bitter and not wanting to forgive.

Yet at the same time we also know the truth of Jesus’s words. It is clear that violence simply breeds more violence in a never-ending spiral of animosity and despair. The only antidote to the poison of bitterness is mercy. Forgiveness halts violence in its tracks and restores ruptured relationships. We know this to be true, we want to forgive, yet at times it is so hard to do, especially if the hurt is deep. And the imperative is clear: as Jesus points out by means of the parable in the Gospel, we live by the mercy of God and are therefore called to be agents of that mercy to others. In fact, if we want God to forgive us, Jesus says, we must forgive others.

This need to be forgiving of others is related to the new evangelization. To be effective, we must be people of integrity whose lives correspond to our words. We must be people of mercy. Indeed, we must be people who are seen to have consumed all that the Gospel proposes and have so digested it that it consumes us. You know, when I faced that table full of what I thought was inedible food, I also saw my hosts merrily gobbling down the dishes that I could not imagine eating. Because they enjoyed it so much I thought to myself, "Maybe I will try that someday." Admittedly I did not eat the stomach that day, but certainly was disposed to the possibility because of the witness of those who ate it with delight.

When we happily consume that banquet of truth and joy given in the teachings of Jesus Christ and so digest them that they truly become a part of us, we invite others, by our very actions, to "taste and see the goodness of the Lord" (Psalm 34:8) and to share the joy we have found in a life of Christian discipleship.

I am on retreat this week with the Priests of the Archdiocese of Edmonton. Please remember us in prayer and send up an Ave or two for our intentions. Thanks.