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

Monday, March 14, 2011

Spring ahead? Gladly!

The moving forward of the clocks this weekend heralds the onset of Spring. Here in Alberta it can’t come soon enough! Lots of snow and plenty of cold this year. A picture recently sent to me by one of my brother Bishops sums up rather well the readiness of Albertans for a change in the season. We can’t wait for the awakening of new life that is brought about by the warmth of the sun.
This past week another event announced imminent new life – Ash Wednesday. We now find ourselves in the holy season of Lent.

 It is that sacred time when we ask the Lord to allow his light to shine in the depths of our souls and show us where our life of faith and discipleship has gone into deep freeze and become lifeless. The very arresting sign of ashes placed on the forehead gives dramatic testimony to our awareness of our need for conversion and our dependence upon God’s mercy for new life. Although the truth revealed may be difficult to accept, and although there may be tears of sorrow and repentance, nevertheless it is a very hope-filled season because we are drawing closer to the Lord by the movement of his grace. Let’s be sure to pray for one another as we seek together to be renewed by God’s love.

The hope that is ours in Lent was buoyed this week by a number of wonderful events. On Monday I blessed the new Villa Caritas in West Edmonton. Part of the family of Covenant Health, the Catholic health care provider in Alberta, it is a geriatric mental health facility set up to provide care, security and love to some of our most vulnerable brothers and sisters. The true meaning of caritas was revealed by Christ on the Cross. It speaks of a love that pours itself out for the other in complete self-gift. It is a love that is inclusive, and that announces that the beloved matters and is important and necessary. I am proud of the facility and I congratulate the board and executive of Covenant Health. They are people truly committed to serving the well-being of all Albertans, especially the most vulnerable, and to do so as part of that wonderful communion of caritas we call the Church.

Tuesday evening was the occasion for the blessing of the new home of Newman Theological College. In recent weeks about four thousand people have come through this new facility as well as that of St. Joseph Seminary. I have been greatly encouraged by the huge amount of excitement and enthusiasm among our people at the presence of these two important edifices on what we now are calling the Catholic campus. Tuesday was the occasion for asking God’s blessings upon all that takes place at NTC. We prayed that students, faculty and staff will seek together to encounter the Lord and be seized by the beauty of his truth in order to share with others the joy and hope that is ours in Christ. All gathered could sense that God is blessing us richly and we are humbled, grateful and hopeful. Early May will see the dedication of the seminary.

On Saturday I spent the entire day with about 200 young adults, most of whom are preparing to travel to Madrid for World Youth Day. We set as our theme “Come away and rest awhile,” the words of Jesus to his disciples. It was a welcome respite to the busy and noisy lives that we lead. There was ample time for prayer, collectively and individually, in adoration before the Blessed Sacrament. In addition I offered two reflections, after which we had an extended period of time for questions and answers. I was very impressed by the evident depth of commitment of these young women and men to their faith. Their questions demonstrated what I would call a “joyful seriousness.” They want to understand the faith; they want it to be the light that helps them make sense of some of the more pressing issues with which society is grappling today; they experience almost daily the challenge of living the faith with integrity in the midst of a society that in many ways has grown allergic to the Gospel; yet there remains among and within them a palpable joy that springs from knowing the Lord is near, transforming their hearts with his love and summoning them to true life in Him. A day that inspired great hope.
In many dioceses throughout the Church, the Rite of Election is held on the First Sunday of Lent. This was the case in the Archdiocese of Edmonton. On Saturday evening and Sunday afternoon I was blessed with the joy of calling about 200 women and men to the Easter sacraments. These are people who have felt the call of the Lord to follow him in the communion of the Church and have been preparing for a long time to respond to this call. Now they are at that point where they have been judged ready to proceed to full initiation into the Church at Easter through the sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation and the Eucharist. They were present at the Basilica with others who, already baptized, now wish to complete their initiation into the Catholic Church, as well as with their teachers and sponsors. I had occasion to meet each of the new “elect” and the broad smiles on their faces said it all. It is beautiful and exciting to know the Lord and to be called to membership in his family, the Church.

This coming week will see the launch of our interfaith housing initiative in the city of Edmonton. It will be an occasion of great hope for all, especially the homeless. Leaders of our faith communities will pledge their support of and commitment to the city’s ten-year plan to end homelessness. I’ll have more on that in my next blog post. Please keep it in your prayers.

And speaking of prayer, don’t forget our Novena for Vocations to priesthood and religious life, which begins this Wednesday, March 16th. I would be very grateful for your participation.

Have a great week!