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

Monday, January 31, 2011

Setting out into Deep Waters

Back at the blog now after some time away for retreat and holidays. Ah, warm temperatures and golf. Nothing like it for recharging the batteries. I’m mentioning this here because, for some reason, the good folks at the office don’t want to hear anything about it. Might have something to do with the 60 centimetres of snow that fell on Edmonton and temperatures that dipped to 30 below while I was teeing off. Not sure. Just a guess.

John Paul II in Edmonton, 1984
During my time away some wonderful news was announced to the whole Church and, indeed, to the world. On May 1st, Pope John Paul II will be beatified by Pope Benedict XVI. By God’s grace, the impact of this beloved man from Poland on the Church and world was dramatic and profound. Among his vast legacy of writings, one of my favourites is the apostolic letter he wrote to prepare the Church to welcome the new millennium, Novo Millennio Ineunte. Basing himself on the first encounter between Jesus and Peter as recorded by Saint Luke (cf. Luke 5), John Paul challenged the Church to “put out into deep waters” (duc in altum) and let down the nets for a catch. He invited us further, again borrowing the words of the Lord, not to be afraid. This call to set out into the very deep waters of our day, and to rely at all times on the power and love of the Lord, has remained with me. Whether it is the “deep water” of modern communications technology, current and potential bioethical developments, the perilous situation of the family, the needs of our youth, or poverty and injustice at home and abroad, we are called not to turn away but to step into these realities with the life-giving message of the Gospel. We might well find it intimidating to do so, but Christ is with us. Be not afraid, as John Paul said when he first addressed the world upon his election as Pope.

The chapel doors
The seminary we have just completed in Edmonton is among the first to be built in North America in the new millennium. For this reason I wanted the call of Novo Millennio Ineunte to be reflected somehow in its design. Through the seminary and its sister institution, Newman Theological College, future priests and lay leaders of the new millennium are being prepared to encourage our people to put out into the deep and to rely at all times upon the Lord. In response to this particular request, a beautiful artistic rendition of Christ’s call to Peter has been etched into the bronze doors leading into the chapel seminary. It is a reminder to all of us of the exciting mission that is ours as members of the Church.

Visitors admire the new seminary chapel

This excitement was tangible on Saturday as we opened the doors of our seminary and college to the public in the first of two open houses. An estimated 1,300 people came through to see the buildings built on the foundation of their prayers and gifts. These two institutions are very dear to the people of our Archdiocese and beyond. We have had a seminary since 1927. In the wake of the Second Vatican Council, following the vision of Archbishop Anthony Jordan, Newman Theological College was founded in 1969 as a place where both seminarians and lay people could obtain advanced theological degrees.

College bookstore open for business
  Their former site was in the way of a major freeway development around Edmonton, so we relocated to the grounds of our Catholic Pastoral Centre. Parishioners and neighbours have been watching the development of the new facilities for a couple of years now. Saturday was the first opportunity for many to see them. It was a delight and a great source of encouragement for me to witness how pleased and enthused our people were as they saw the new, beautiful, state-of-the art facilities in which the missions of St. Joseph Seminary and Newman Theological College will continue.

On a very different and more sombre note, the world is watching developments in the Middle East very closely these days. Much of the attention is focused on developments in Egypt. It is striking to hear the words of the Lord in Sunday’s Gospel at the same time as we see the television images. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, those persecuted for the sake of righteousness.” Trusting reliance upon the wisdom and gifts of God is what makes for peace and what leads to beatitude or happiness. Let us not fail to pray for a peaceful resolution to the deep and complex issues now rising to the surface in the Middle East.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Called to be Light

In recent days the liturgies of the Christmas season have announced the birth of Jesus Christ. He is the Son of God, born in time of the Virgin Mary. The Scripture texts of our celebrations have recalled the announcement to Mary, to Joseph and to the shepherds the wondrous news that their long-awaited Messiah had come to them in this child. On Sunday, the feast of the Epiphany, we were given an “epiphany”, a revelation, of the grand scope of the saving purpose for which God sent His Son. Jesus has come not only as the Messiah of the Jewish people, but also as the Saviour of the world. Epiphany is the manifestation of God’s saving plan, namely, to unite all peoples of the world into one in His Son, Jesus Christ. It is to this mystery of universal salvation that St. Paul is referring when he says: “the Gentiles have become fellow heirs, members of the same body, and sharers in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel” (cf. Ephesians 3: 2-3, 5-6).

Long ago, the prophet Isaiah had foretold this unifying intervention of God in history by speaking of nations gathering from far and wide, drawn together by the light of God’s presence. Using images appropriate to his day, he says: “A multitude of camels shall cover you, the young camels of Midian and Ephah; all those from Sheba shall come. They shall bring gold and frankincense, and shall proclaim the praise of the Lord” (cf. Isaiah 60:1-6). In other words, God will act in history to bring about the unity of all people, gathered together in one act of praise and worship.

The Gospel for the feast of the Epiphany (cf. Matthew 2:1-12) announces that the centre of God’s plan of salvation is the child born of Mary. To Jesus the magi are drawn. Before Jesus they bow down in worship, offering their gifts. These wise men are not Jewish. They come from foreign lands, thus representing that the vision of universal salvation given by Isaiah is to be fulfilled in Christ. Their gifts of gold and frankincense signify adoration and worship; Jesus is God and king. The gift of myrrh, a perfume used in the anointing of bodies for burial, is a symbolic anticipation of the death by which this child would save the world. This child is, indeed, born of the Jewish people. Yet he is revealed as the saviour of all, your saviour and mine, the saviour of the world.

One cannot recall the story of the visitation of the wise men and not think of the fascinating image of the star. Perhaps more than any other in this story, the image of the star has captured the imaginations of men and women through the centuries. By the light of this star, the wise men were led to Christ. Today is a fitting occasion to give thanks to God for the “light” by which each of us was led to our saving encounter with the Lord. Perhaps it was by the light of parental example that we found Christ. Many of us were brought to the Church as infants by our parents for union with the Lord in baptism, and then taught by them to love and serve Christ as the way of salvation. Perhaps we were led to the Lord by the light of charity extended by Christians to people in need. The witness of love draws us to its source, who is Christ. Perhaps we came to Christ by the light of the Scriptures. The words of truth in the sacred texts fully satisfy the human search for meaning and direction and summon us to membership in the Church. In these and many other ways, the Holy Spirit gives us a light which leads us to the one, true Light, Jesus Christ. On this feast we offer our prayers of profound thanks to the Father for leading us to His Son and giving us life in Him.

Yet not only does this feast move us to gratitude for the light by which we have come to Christ. It also impels us to mission, to be “light” for those who are seeking the Saviour. In the Gospel, God assigns to a star the task of leading the representatives of the nations to His Son. Now, that mission has been entrusted to the Church. As a member of Christ’s Body, each of us is called to be a light which will lead the men and women of our day to the Lord. Christ has come for all, yet so many have yet to know him. He has come to give unity, yet barriers of hostility continue to divide peoples and nations. He has come as the light of truth, but the darkness of moral confusion still causes many to stumble. There is a deep yearning in the human hearts of today for peace and happiness, a longing that is ultimately a hunger for God. This yearning is only fulfilled by encountering Jesus Christ. We are called to be the light which leads others to Him.

We fulfil this role by the holiness of our lives. Living with integrity and joy the consequences of our baptism, we shine out as a light which draws men and women to Jesus Christ. Sin dims the light and weakens the credibility of our witness. The importance of our mission, then, calls us to constant self-examination. For example, we could ask: Is there anything of King Herod in my heart? He was frightened by the news of Christ’s birth, recognizing in the child a threat to his rule. In what ways am I resistant to the rule of Christ in my heart? Am I ruled more by my own selfish desires than by His plan of love? Or I could ask: Am I like the chief priests and scribes? They told Herod that the Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem, yet they were indifferent to the news of Christ’s birth and made no effort to go to him and see for themselves. In what ways am I indifferent to the good news of the Gospel? Have I grown complacent, no longer seeking to be more deeply converted to the Lord? Such questions cannot be avoided if we are to be faithful to the call to lead others to Christ. When we examine our lives with humble confidence in His mercy, He will transform us by His love and enable us to be a light of hope in our world.