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


This picture shows one of the panels on the holy door at St. Peter's Basilica in Rome. I have always loved it, and it speaks beautifully of the Good Shepherd reaching out to save the lost. That's the reason for hope.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Consolation with a Challenge

The Scripture readings from the yesterday’s Mass are among the most consoling of the Bible. At the same time they are among the most challenging.

The consolation springs from the nature of God himself. Jesus, who, as Son of God incarnate, is the perfect revelation of God, teaches that God the Father knows the needs of his children and never fails to provide for them (cf. Matthew 6: 24-34). Why are you anxious, he asks? That is a question addressed not only to his contemporaries but also to us. Anxiety very frequently inhabits us. Job worries, family difficulties, illness and so on often leave us worried, distracted, on edge. There is no need to be so, Jesus tells us. God our Father will never abandon us. His love is deeper even than that of a mother for her child, as the prophet Isaiah had reminded the people so long ago. Though a mother forget her child, as difficult as that is to imagine, God will never forget us (cf. Isaiah 49:14-15). When we allow this truth of God into our minds and hearts, it brings a consolation that enables us to live with real hope and peace, even in the midst of great difficulty.

At the same time, this truth of God, if it is to take root in our lives, calls for a number of changes to our ways of thinking and acting. Herein lie the challenges of the Scripture passages. There are at least three, one explicit and the others implicit.

First, Jesus calls us to a proper ordering of our lives. “Strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness,” he says, “and all these things will be given to you as well.” In other words, put God first. How do we begin each day? Do we find time to pray? Do we even give a thought to God? And if we do pray, how? Seeking his kingdom means asking him to reign in our hearts. Seeking his righteousness means asking him, by the gift of his grace, to transform us into the children and disciples to which we are called by Baptism. Do we ask for the coming of his kingdom in our lives and in the world, or is our prayer dominated by our own “agenda”, as if we were using God as the instrument for the accomplishment of our own will? A proper ordering of one’s life begins by placing ourselves at the service of God’s plan, surrendering to his will, and trusting in his providence.

Doing so, however, presupposes that we accept realistically, and again with trust, the truth of our own human nature. We are creatures, who have limits and who are completely dependent upon the love and gifts of God. In other words, we are poor. Implicit in the call of Jesus to place God and his will first in our lives is the challenging summons to accept the truth of our poverty, of our need. The original sin of our first parents was to allow trust in God to die in their hearts and to live from their own strength, buoyed by the lie that they could become “like gods” and escape their nature as creatures. We are all impacted by the catastrophic results of that sin, which we perpetuate every time we choose self-reliance over dependence upon God. How do I handle the reality of limit and need? If these give rise to frustration, anger or despair, then perhaps I am forgetting the truth of my poverty and dependence and living too much from an illusion of self-sufficiency.

Also implicit in the words of Jesus is the call to stewardship. Our heavenly Father provides us and his children everywhere with all that we truly need. At the same time we are painfully aware that billions of people on this planet are in want and hungry, living without adequate shelter and clothing. This discrepancy challenges us of the so-called First World to examine our attitude towards our possessions. From the truth of our common poverty and dependence upon God arises the awareness that we are called to be stewards, not hoarders, of the gifts that God gives. The scandalous inequities among the peoples of our planet stem not from a failure on the part of God to provide for his children but from the injustice that dominates our relations with one another. I direct the reader to the Church’s social doctrine as it pertains to the principles of solidarity, which refers to the interdependence of all people and our responsibility for one another as brothers and sisters under God (cf. Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Catholic Church, nn. 192 ff.) and the universal destination of goods, which arises from the desire and plan of God so to provide for the earth that its goods are given for the benefit of all, without exclusion or favouritism (cf. CSDCC, 171ff.). How do I as an individual, how do we as communities and nations, steward the blessings God has given us? How does this social doctrine of the Church challenge us to new ways of relating to what I possess?

“Strive first for the kingdom of God….” Words that, when followed, give birth to profound peace in our hearts and a radical change in our way of life.