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

Monday, June 25, 2012

Taking Seriously the Serious

As I write this I'm on a flight to Toronto. The crew has just completed the demonstration of safety procedures, to which no one (including, I confess, yours truly) has paid any attention. Amazing, when you think of it. We've been shown what to do "in the unlikely event of an emergency." Rather serious, that. Yet, we did not take it seriously by paying attention.

Yesterday the Church celebrated, as a solemnity, the birth of Saint John the Baptist. By according to this event the highest degree of importance (a solemnity), the Church is saying that the life and witness of this last of the prophets is to be taken very seriously indeed. His message and example are not for the Christian to ignore.

The life of Saint John the Baptist was, from beginning to end, entirely oriented to Jesus Christ. He leapt for joy in his mother Elizabeth's womb when she heard the voice of Mary, who carried within her the Saviour. John prepared the Lord's way by calling to repentance. He pointed him out when Jesus appeared for Baptism. His greatest act of witness was martyrdom at the hand of Herod. So, too, the life of every Christian - wholly oriented to Christ. In a culture that celebrates self-aggrandizement, John's affirmation that "He must increase and I must decrease" does not easily find an echo. Yet that is precisely our call, imprinted upon us at Baptism.

Still more challenging is John's witness to the truth. He called a spade a spade, not hesitating to point out the sins and infidelities of his day, prevalent even among the religious leaders. His particular criticism of King Herod and his wife ultimately got him killed. Truth summons to change, and that is usually unwelcome. Yet, since Jesus Christ is the Truth, those who follow him must not do other than live in accordance with truth and be ready to speak it. And there is no shortage of contexts in which we need to do so. The truth about the dignity of human life from conception to natural death; the truth about marriage and family life; the truth about social justice, with its demands to both care for and advocate on behalf of the vulnerable, all must be spoken to expose and challenge the lies and illusions that plague our culture. Will such statement of truth be resisted? Of course. But that is no reason not to speak it.

Let's heed the Church's call, implicit in the celebration of the birth of this great saint. Let's take seriously the serious by pointing to Christ in all we say and do, and by both living and speaking the truth in love.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Love and Hope

I write from Ireland, where I have been participating in the International Eucharistic Congress. Approximately 1200 pilgrims, accompanied by 17 Bishops, form the Canadian delegation. It has been a beautiful celebration of love and hope as we gathered in a unique way around our Lord, present in the Eucharist.

It is precisely this message of love and hope that needs to be carried home. This became painfully evident on Friday, when a judge of the B.C. courts ruled unconstitutional the prohibition of assisted suicide. In a tragic irony, this was the very same day when the Church celebrated the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. This heart of the Lord is celebrated as the wondrous sign of God's love and compassion for his people, especially the suffering. On that day, we at the Congress celebrated the sacrament of the sick. How beautiful and moving it was to see the weak and needy turn to the Lord to find healing, strength and hope in the midst of their pain. When we allow the heart of the Lord to shape our own, it is obvious we are called to respond to the suffering of the elderly, the sick and the handicapped by surrounding them with love, comfort and hope, and not by encouraging them to end their lives or doing so for them!!!

Here follows the statement of the Canadian Conference of Bishops in response to the court ruling:

"The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) has learned with dismay of a ruling on assisted suicide by a judge of the BC Supreme Court. The Catholic position on this question is clear. Human life is a gift from God. Therefore, as is taught in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 2280, "We are stewards, not owners, of the life God has entrusted to us. It is not ours to dispose of."

Being stewards of life also requires each of us and all society to respond to the physical, emotional and moral sufferings of people of all ages, particularly those seriously ill or handicapped. In this regard, as the Bishops of Canada stated in 2005, we stand before a fundamental option, the response to which reveals the true nature of our society's heart. Do we show concern for the sick, the elderly, the handicapped and vulnerable by encouraging them to commit suicide or deliberating killing them by euthanasia? Or, instead, by fashioning a culture of life and love in which each person, at every moment and in all circumstances of their natural lifespan, is treasured as a gift?
The CCCB President will issue a more detailed reflection at a later date, once there has been opportunity to review the lengthy 395-page ruling. The ruling by the B.C. Supreme Court gives Parliament a year in which to consider the question. This will also give the CCCB opportunity to make submissions in due course."

Monday, June 11, 2012

Eucharist and Family

I write this blog post on the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ, traditionally known as the feast of Corpus Christi. This year it falls in the immediate wake of the World Meeting of Families, which occurred recently in Milan. The proximity of these two events invites us to consider the relation between the mystery of the Eucharist and the gift of the family.

What we know about our faith is what we have received from others. This means that we ourselves have a responsibility to hand on to others what we have learned, so that people of every age may come to know the joy that springs from the gift of faith. When it comes to the Eucharist, it is a matter of receiving and handing on what is central to our lives as Catholics.

In the home children receive the faith from their parents, who are handing what they had received from their own parents. When I think of my own upbringing I realize more and more what I owe to my parents. I have studied a lot of theology, and have pondered and prayed about the Eucharist for many years, but the very core of my belief in the Eucharist and my love for this sacrament was forged not in the classroom, but by the teaching and witness of my parents. They went to Mass and, therefore, so did I, with my brother and sisters. This was not a negotiable matter. Mass, we learned, is the special place where we encounter the Lord Jesus in a way that can occur nowhere else. The Mass is the real presence. Bread and wine are truly changed into the Body and Blood of Christ. My parents taught me the duty of reverence before the Blessed Sacrament, suggesting often by their glares when I misbehaved in Church that I just might not live to tell the tale! From them I learned that the Most Holy Eucharist is Jesus Himself. All that came later through study was simply a development of this core received in the family. The transmission of the faith hinges in an undeniable way upon the handing on that takes place in the home. Central to that transmission must be the teaching in the home of the beauty and mystery of the Eucharist.

Accepting the truth of the real presence of the Lord in the Eucharist will inevitably bring about a change in family life and in society itself. The Eucharistic presence of the Lord is more than a “presence with”, as wondrous and comforting as that might be. It is a “presence to”. It interacts with and engages the other and invites to communion. Jesus alone can transform our world. He can change our families and our society, if we but accept the truth of his real presence in the Eucharist and learn by our encounter with him to be really present in love to one another.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Mystery and Hope

You may have heard the story of the Bishop, who decided to visit one of his Catholic schools and ask the students questions about the catechism. That day one young boy was having difficulty speaking clearly because his mouth was slightly swollen from a hockey accident the night before. When the Bishop asked him to explain the Trinity, he said, "Wahn Gawd, Three Perthonth." The Bishop said, "Pardon?", and the student repeated, "Wahn Gawd, Three Perthonth." Bishop: "I'm sorry but I cannot understand what you are saying." Student: "You're not thuppoth'd to; it'th a mythtery!"

Well, yes, the Trinity is a mystery. Its full comprehension is, indeed, beyond our limited human understanding. Yet, it remains important to ponder it, because this mystery of God's being unveils truths about us that give meaning and hope.

By sending His Son and Holy Spirit, the Father has revealed to the world that God is, yes, one God, who is nevertheless a Trinity of Persons, an "eternal exchange of love", as the Catechism puts it (n. 221). Furthermore, in the very act of revealing His nature, God has made known His plan for us. The gift of the Holy Spirit unites us to Jesus, the only Son of God, so that, through this union, we are adopted as God's children and thus become co-heirs with Christ of eternal glory! (cf. Romans 8:14-17) Moved solely by love, God has created us with an eternal destiny, and has redeemed us in Christ to bring it to fulfillment. Herein lies the basis of our inalienable human dignity: we are fashioned by God to be His children for all eternity, to share forever in His "eternal exchange of love."

In the mystery of the Trinity, we thus find the meaning of our own lives. We also find the reason for hope. God is not indifferent to our situation. On the contrary, God draws near, He gives Himself to us, and guides our every step and moment toward Himself, if we but accept Him in faith and love. There is no reason for fear.

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, world without end. Amen!