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

Monday, July 23, 2012

Take a Rest from Worry

I've just completed a four-day pastoral visit to Holy Cross parish in Grande Cache, Alberta. I visited a family faith formation camp for children of the Aseniwuche Winewak Nation, whose President also gave me a tour of the Nation's offices and introduced me to their remarkable projects to enhance the economy of the region and serve its people. I spent time with inmates at the local Grande Cache Correctional Institution. Members of the parish pastoral council met with me over lunch one day to speak about the joys and challenges of the parish. Thirteen parishioners received the sacrament of Confirmation at the Saturday evening Mass, and the visit concluded with the celebration of Sunday Eucharist. Some obviously very holy parishioners even arranged to take me out for a round of golf!

Remarkably consistent in all of these encounters was the readiness of the people to give a frank assessment of the positive and negative aspects of their situation, as well as the recognition of the call to an ever deeper faith in the love and providence of God. I experienced this most movingly in my visit with the prisoners. I met with about thirty of them, and quite spontaneously they shared with me their own stories of coming to grips with the harm they had done and of their need for the Lord Jesus. They were learning that the more they turned their lives over to him the more they changed for the better.

These experiences provided a very helpful lens through which to read the Scripture readings for Sunday. They speak of Jesus as shepherd who is moved with love and concern for his people. No one is outside of the Lord's concern. No detail of our lives is beneath his vision. To accept Jesus as shepherd is to allow ourselves to be led by him, to open our hearts and our lives in their entirety to his gaze so that we might find direction from his Word. Many times the parishioners spoke of difficulties beyond their capacity even to address, let alone remedy. Yet nothing is beyond the power of the Lord, who has come to shepherd us in love and safety.

This same shepherd, Jesus, invites us in the Gospel to take some time to rest (cf. Mark 6:31). There are many ways to do this, such as taking time for prayer and for relaxation. I suggest we also take a rest from worry. There is perhaps nothing more draining than anxiety, and much of the worry we carry has to do with things beyond our control. In faith, give it to the Lord, hand it over to the Shepherd. Trust in his love, in his care, and in his power to change our lot for the good. As we were told by St. Paul, Jesus is our peace (cf. Ephesians 2:14). Placing our full faith in him and following his lead transforms anxiety to peace. There is no better rest than that.

Monday, July 16, 2012

A New Bishop for the Church

Lots of excitement around Edmonton these days. On Saturday it was announced that His Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI, has appointed Reverend Father Gregory Bittman Auxiliary Bishop of Edmonton. "Father Greg," as he has been known around these parts, has served the Archdiocese in a variety of capacities, currently as Chancellor and Judicial Vicar. He is widely admired for his personal integrity, devotion to duty, and zeal for the mission of the Church. The Archdiocese is richly blessed by this appointment, as is the Church in Canada.

There is a lesson in this for all of us. It was best summarized by another Bishop friend of mine who, reflecting upon his own nomination, said, "God surprises. We adjust." Long ago, through the prophet Jeremiah, God said "I know the plans I have for you." (Jeremiah 29:11). The act of faith means not only recognizing that God is in the driver's seat but also actually letting him drive. Where God leads may not exactly be what we had in mind for our lives. When the direction becomes clear, the temptation may very well be to grab the steering wheel, but the response of Christian faith is to adjust our plans to God's and conform our will to his. This need to die to self and live for God ought not surprise us. It is the very pattern imprinted on our lives at Baptism.

In a "me first" culture that absolutizes autonomy, a "God first" way of life is difficult to understand and follow. Yet only in this way is genuine happiness achieved. After all, the plans that God has for each of us are for "a future of hope" (Jeremiah 29:11).

Bishop-elect Greg, congratulations, and thanks for saying yes to the Lord. It is a reminder to all of us to put God's will first. Ad multos annos!!!

Monday, July 9, 2012

Thank you Sisters!!!

The Archdiocese of Edmonton is living a sad time of transition these days. The Sister Adorers of the Precious Blood, here since 1925, have carefully discerned that their presence can no longer be sustained. We have grown to love the Sisters deeply, so their departure fills us only with deep sadness. Yet we cannot fail to thank God for the gift that they have been for us throughout these many years.

The Precious Blood Sisters are a contemplative community dedicated to a life of prayer, and their prayers have sustained the lives of many and offered hope and comfort. How many people over the years have come to them with their difficulties, their anxieties, their impossible situations, to ask the Sisters to pray for them! And the Sisters have done so faithfully.

These prayers have always been united with their adoration of the Precious Blood of the Saviour. Christ's Blood is the sign of his infinite love, manifest as it was poured out upon the Cross in sacrifice for his people. As such it is the sign of victory over all that is evil, even death itself, a victory won through suffering. The life of the Sisters is one of personal self-offering in union with the paschal mystery of Christ for the sake of others, and we have been the beneficiaries.

Yet we would be remiss if our thanks for the Sisters did not extend beyond the help we have received from their prayers. They are also bequeathing to us a legacy of faithful witness that both inspires and challenges us.

We can well imagine how difficult these recent years have been for our Sisters. A gradual process of very careful discernment led them to the realization - a very painful one - that their presence here could no longer continue and that, therefore, they would need to unite themselves to other sister monasteries. They responded with trusting self-abandonment into the hands of God, who they knew would never abandon them. A new and hopeful direction for their lives is the result.

Herein lies their greatest gift to us: a living example of what it means to have faith. Faith is more than a set of beliefs. Fundamentally and primordially it is a relationship with the living God, a relationship of love and of trust. Many times in our own lives we have experiences analogous to that of the Sisters. We find ourselves at our wits' end in the face of a seemingly impossible difficulty, or what we had envisioned as our future suddenly evaporates before our eyes. If at moments like these we fully abandon ourselves to God, He will take over. He will intervene and give direction to our lives, and with that direction a renewed hope.

Sisters, thank you for your prayers and your witness. We love you and we promise to pray for you as you have prayed for us, asking God to fill you with the blessing of consolation and hope as you step into a new future with Him.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Manifesting God's Concern for His People

There is a spirit of great joy in the Archdiocese of Edmonton these days. We have received the gift of a new priest for the service of God's people. On Monday, July 2, Deacon Miguel Irizar was ordained a priest in the presbyteral order for service in this Archdiocese. The joy and thanksgiving that surrounds this and any ordination is spontaneous among God's people. Love and respect for priests seems to be written into our Catholic DNA.

The ministerial priesthood is a wondrous mystery. Those who exercise it are called by God to do the impossible, to do by God's grace what could never be accomplished unaided, namely, to act in persona Christi by a particular sharing in Christ's threefold office of priest, prophet and king. For this reason it is conferred in sacrament by a special bestowal of the Holy Spirit. By ordination the priest is swept up into something infinitely greater than himself. He is given a particular and permanent participation in the unfolding, here and now, of God's plan of salvation accomplished in Christ. His life, therefore, must be one of continual surrender to God's salvific purpose, of putting into practice in his life what John the Baptist once said of his own: "I must decrease and Christ must increase."

The mystery of the priesthood and the wide breadth of its responsibilities was recently summarized beautifully by the Holy Father. In his homily at the Mass to conclude the Year of the Priest, Pope Benedict XVI said that the priest is called "to manifest God's concern for his people." This is true of all ages, of course, but it strikes me as particularly pertinent in our own day. I am increasingly convinced that the host of problems currently besetting Western society stems ultimately from a failure to know and to take seriously God's self-revelation in Christ. Through the gift of his Son and Holy Spirit, the Father has made known to the world not only that God exists, but that God is love, a tri-personal communion of love, and that, precisely as love, he draws near, to love, touch and heal his people and draw them to a share in his own life. When one accepts this truth and, in faith, surrenders to it, life changes and we are possessed of a love and a peace that is beyond understanding, regardless of the circumstances of our lives.

Today, offer a prayer of thanks to God for the priests you know, and even for the ones you don't. Pray for the gift of ever deeper sanctification in their lives, so that, in spite of inevitable human weakness, they will be effective reminders to all of the love and nearness of God.