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

Monday, February 7, 2011

Word and Image, Word and Sign

Off to Baltimore today for a meeting of the Bishops of America. Pope John Paul II's apostolic exhortation Ecclesia in America called upon the members of the Church in the Western Hemisphere to look upon themselves as part not of numerous "Americas" but as one "America." The point was to emphasize our communion in the Lord and to live out in consequence a vibrant solidarity with one another, especially the poor. It was in that document that the Pope specified that the new evangelization to which he constantly called the Church was to be new in method, ardour and expression. In response to the call of the Holy Father, the Bishops of America - North, Central and South - began to meet together annually through representatives, namely, the members of the executive committees of the episcopal conferences of Canada, the United States and Latin America. We meet to discuss common concerns in the context of the new evangelization. It is to this year's meeting that I am en route. Our topic is communications.

With this in mind I am struck by the powerful images emerging lately from Egypt. The protesters are communicating very effectively to the world the message of their hopes for freedom. They are communicating by words, naturally, but also by sending out images via modern communications technology. This latter is very effective. We may not remember all that the protesters say, but the pictures of thousands of people gathered together remain with us.

This is instructive for us who, as Christians, are charged with the responsibility of communicating the message of the Gospel, the truth of Jesus Christ. At Mass yesterday we heard St Paul say to the Corinthians that, when he was first among them, he resolved to know nothing but Jesus Christ, and him crucified. This is the centre of our message to the world: Jesus Christ crucified and risen for our salvation. In the death and resurrection of the Lord is revealed the merciful love of God and the great depth of human dignity. We are called to communicate this message, and to do so in both word and "image".

What image do we show forth as a Christian community? In yesterday's Gospel we heard Jesus tell us clearly to let our good works be seen so that glory will be given to God our Father. In and through our good works we communicate the truth of the love of God, whose mercy liberates us from self-centeredness in order to be servants of one another. A community that demonstrates its freedom in Christ through love of one another communicates very effectively in image the saving truth of the Gospel.
Isaiah, in Sunday's first reading, spoke very concretely of the loving communion that God wills to exist among his people. It is one in which the yoke of injustice is broken, the hungry are fed, the naked are clothed and the homeless are housed. It is one from which all false accusations and malicious speech are removed. The love of Christ makes such community possible if we but surrender to his transformative power and live not for ourselves but for Him.

Word and image. Word and sign. Together these constitute Christian witness, the way Christians have always communicated the Gospel. For this message to be both intelligible and credible, we must by our actions "say" exactly the same thing as we do with our words. May the Lord help us so to love one another that, by this love, we will make known to the world the saving truth of Jesus Christ crucified and risen from the dead.