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

Monday, April 30, 2012

To Whom (or What) are You Listening?

If you read this blog, the chances are good that you are connected to a wide variety of social network communication modes: emails, texts, tweets, Facebook notifications, and a whole host of others that I haven't heard of. Our communications world these days is an incessant plethora of voices, news alerts, ideas and, more often than not, insubstantial chatter. To whom, though, do we really listen? We hear a lot, but listening is something entirely different. Listening means pausing to pay attention, to weigh what is said, and then to make a decision as to what determinative influence it will exercise upon us. So understood, listening is difficult. Carving out time for it is a challenge to begin with. Pushing away the myriad distractions in order to concentrate is another hurdle.

Yet listening is essential to the Christian life. At the Baptism of Jesus, and again at his Transfiguration, the voice of the Father spoke from the descending cloud with the instruction: "Listen to him!" And yesterday, in the Gospel, we heard Jesus, having identified himself as the Good Shepherd, say that his sheep are those who "listen to my voice." Hence the question: to whom are we listening? Only the voice of Jesus points out the way that leads to life. That is because he is the Way. When we hear the many messages that bombard us, we need carefully to discern the good from the bad by asking if their influence leads us closer to fidelity to the Shepherd or further away.

I worry about our young people. They are more subject than any other group to the endless chatter of social networking, Internet, music videos and so on. When I once asked a high school class what most influences them and their peers, they began to speak of pop stars, TV celebrities, and so on - people I did not know. So I asked if such influence would lead them away from, or toward, Jesus. Without hesitation they replied: "Away!" My subsequent question was: "Then why are you paying any attention to them?" We need to help them listen to the one voice that is absolutely trustworthy: that of the Lord.

We can readily understand why the fourth Sunday of Easter, with its Good Shepherd Gospel, is the annual occasion for the Church's World Day of Prayer for Vocations. Jesus, the Good Shepherd, calls; we listen and follow. On Vocations Sunday we focus in a particular way upon the beauty of priesthood and religious life. The one "vocations strategy" proposed by Jesus was to pray to the Lord of the harvest to send labourers into his harvest. So please join with me in regular prayer that the many who are called by the Lord to priesthood and religious life will be enabled truly to hear his voice calling to them in the midst of much noise; that, hearing, they will truly listen; and listening, they will trust and follow.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Who Will Lead Us?

Today Albertans are going to the polls to elect a government. Citizens will have the opportunity to make a choice as to who will govern them. The provincial parties have laid out their platforms: what they will do for families, health care, education, the environment, and so on. We assess their positions in relation to ours and then make a choice, which will determine how the province will be led in the coming years.

In the Easter season the issue of governance is taken to an entirely different level. We stand before the mystery of Jesus Christ crucified and risen, and recognize instinctively that this is a leader far beyond and above all others. Jesus is one not chosen by the people but sent by the heavenly Father; he has come not to resolve transient problems but to be the answer to timeless questions; his mandate is not for a limited number of years but for all time. Jesus is not a political leader of a single province or nation but the saviour of the entire world. He does not adapt his platform to please people and attract votes, but serves in fidelity to the mission he has received from God his Father. In the liturgies of these holy days of Easter the Church proclaims Jesus Christ as crucified and risen Lord, and we are invited to accept him as the One Ruler of our hearts.

The Scripture readings for yesterday's Sunday Mass teach that we can place our complete confidence in this ruler. So often in an election campaign we hear parties accuse one another of failing to keep promises. In contrast, the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ demonstrates God’s perfect fidelity to the many promises he made through history to save his people. In the first reading, St. Peter teaches the crowd that, in the suffering of Jesus, God the Father has fulfilled what he had promised and foretold through the prophets. Peter’s teaching is rooted in that of the risen Lord himself, who in the Gospel confirms that all that was written of him in the Law and the Prophets had to be fulfilled. The life, death and resurrection of Jesus is the supreme manifestation of the fidelity of God to his promises. The long-awaited saviour, promised by God, has come in the person of Jesus Christ. God is worthy of our full trust.

As Albertans choose a political leader, let us reaffirm our submission to Christ as Lord of our hearts. Placing our confidence entirely in him, and following his commandments, is the foundation of a real and lasting hope.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Touch the Wounds

This was the invitation of our Risen Lord to Thomas, who refused to believe that Jesus was alive unless he could see and touch him. When the doubting apostle responded to the invitation of Christ and put his hands in the wounds left by the nails and lance, he was brought to the essence of faith, naming Jesus Lord and God.

Touch the wounds. The mystical body of the risen Lord is the Church, and there are plenty of wounds in her members: those of sin and error, loneliness and grief, or suffering and anxiety. If we reach out to touch one another in our woundedness, and do so in love as a response to this invitation of Jesus, we touch the Lord himself. Through this the Lord leads us to deeper faith, as we are brought to a new awareness of both humanity's shared vulnerability and the abiding presence of the risen Lord, who heals our wounds by his own.

We might want to start doing this, and right away. In our society there is a disturbing and expanding tendency to touch one another's wounds, not for healing but for harm. The limitations and mistakes of persons are discussed openly in order to shame and condemn, a practice most visible in politics and the media, but present also in everyday water cooler conversations. When Jesus invites us to touch the wounds, we respond first by considering our own. An honest admission of our own weakness gives rise to that humility which is the necessary foundation of human solidarity. When we are aware of our own faults, the prior tendency to condemn becomes a desire to show mercy. Let's never forget the command of the Lord: "Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful." (Luke 6:36)

The Second Sunday of Easter, which we celebrated yesterday, is also Divine Mercy Sunday. Established by Blessed Pope John Paul II, this day, and the devotion associated with it, has arisen in response to the Lord's call for mercy, as received and communicated by Saint Faustina. We can understand this plea as a particular echo of the Lord's invitation to Thomas: touch the wounds. Touch one another in your woundedness, do so with love, not with condemnation but with mercy, and you will know that Jesus, who is divine mercy incarnate, is risen, alive, and ever present in our midst.

Monday, April 9, 2012

The Encounter that Changes Everything

Be glad, let earth be glad, as glory floods her,
ablaze with light from her eternal King,
let all corners of the earth be glad,
knowing an end to gloom and darkness.
These words from the Exsultet capture beautifully the message of the Church as she announces the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. Joy and light replace sorrow and darkness. This is what happens when we encounter the Risen Lord! Mary Magdalene serves as an example.

The Gospel of Easter Sunday recounts her journey to the tomb following the death and burial of Jesus. What the narrative describes of her could well be posited of all humanity. Her experience is ours.

Mary is searching for her Lord. So are all of us. The human heart seeks happiness, truth, and peace. Since only God can satisfy this thirst, this longing is ultimately a quest for God.

Mary is weeping. So, too, is humanity. Hers are tears of grief, which will come to each of us at the death of loved ones. Yet we also mourn the pain and suffering of friends, the tragedy of poverty and homelessness, or the anguish of refugees and victims of war and trafficking.

Mary is perplexed. “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” Confusion and lack of understanding darken the human mind of today. Ceaselessly bombarded by multiple, rapid-fire and superficial communication, we are losing focus, and with it the ability to think deeply. Breathtaking changes in biotechnology, the capricious volatility of the markets, the fragile and dangerous state of world politics – these impact our lives in significant ways, yet are very hard to understand. Beneath all this is a widespread loss of a moral compass. Each one seems abandoned to determining for oneself what is right and wrong, which leads to societal confusion and tension. We wonder: What is happening? How did we ever get to this point?

Finally, Mary does not recognize Jesus. She fails at first to grasp the truth of his presence, even as she addresses him. The same can be said of our world today. In society there is a widespread eclipsing of God from public life. Even in our personal lives we can act as if God is not present, or does not exist, even as we profess belief in him. Have we in fact stopped believing that the Lord is truly present with us?

Everything changes when Jesus calls Mary by name. The search ends; tears of sorrow become tears of joy; confusion gives way to clarity. This is what happens when we encounter the Lord and recognize the signs of his presence. We know that we are known; we know that we are loved; we know that we are safe. From this encounter with the Lord arises a deep peace that the world cannot give. “Peace be with you,” were the words Jesus spoke to his apostles. He speaks them also to us.

Exsultet! The Lord is risen! He is with us! Be at peace.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Love on Full Display

This is what the beautiful liturgies of this week will manifest - the love of God for the world fully revealed. On Passion Sunday we are reminded that this divine love, incarnate in Jesus Christ, remains unshakably steadfast even in the face of complete betrayal. When we commemorate the Last Supper on Holy Thursday, we shall be reminded by the the Gospel of Saint John that Jesus loves us "to the end". By this "end" is meant his death on the Cross, which Good Friday's celebration will exalt as the wood on which was hung our salvation, the place where Jesus offered his life in love to the Father for the sake of the world. Holy Saturday ponders the descent of Jesus into hell, as we say in the Creed. Hell is the ultimate consequence of a radical rejection of God's love. Yet even there the love of God pursues us. Divine love simply does not, will not, give up on us. Finally, Easter Sunday will celebrate with great joy the triumph of God's love over sin and death. By his resurrection, Jesus transcends the boundaries of space and time and thus is forever with us, dwelling within us by the outpouring of his love, the Holy Spirit.

Love on full display. How do we respond? Our verbal response will be given on Easter Sunday when we profess anew our baptismal faith in our Triune God and our surrender to his love. As we prepare for this great moment we need to ask if the words of our lips correspond to the sentiments of our hearts. This question arises from yesterday's Passion Sunday liturgy. That Mass is highly dramatic. It begins with the narrative of the triumphant entry into Jerusalem of Jesus, surrounded by joyful crowds. Moments later we hear, in the Passion account, that those same crowds soon stopped their cheering and turned against the Lord, calling for his crucifixion. Even his disciples abandoned him. The reason for the turnaround was, of course, the Cross. It became clear not only that Jesus would accomplish his messianic mission by embracing the Cross, but also that any who choose to follow him would need to do the same, just as Jesus had instructed: "If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me." (Matthew 16:24) The crowds would have none of this. They wanted Christ without the Cross and turned against him.

Have we truly embraced the Cross? Its dynamic of death to self and life for God was impressed upon us at our baptism. We make the sign of the Cross every time we pray or dip our fingers in holy water. When we renew our baptismal faith at Easter will it be only words and gestures, or will that profession correspond to a true desire to accept the Cross as the guiding principle of our lives? Let's ponder these questions deeply this Holy Week as we we witness once again Christ's love for us on full display.