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

Monday, September 24, 2012

Beauty in Change

Today marks the opening of the annual plenary assembly of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops. This year the gathering takes place in Ste. Adele, Quebec, in the beautiful Laurentian hills north of Montreal. At this time of year one sees a lot of tour buses, packed with folks who have come to view the many colours of the leaves. It is, indeed, a beautiful sight. At the same time, though, we know that the change of colour in the leaves heralds their death. Soon they will be dying, falling off and leaving the trees bare. Come Spring, that death will give way to new life.

Change, death, new life. The realities at the heart of the Christian life. The only appropriate response to the proclamation of the Gospel is metanoia, or repentance, change. The following of Christ requires a complete change from any way of living that is contrary to the truth that is given in Him. This change involves a readiness to die, by which is meant a death to self, a death to the ego, so that the life flowing within is that of Christ.

In the Gospel passage of Sunday (Mark 9:30-37), we see that the disciples of Jesus are slow to get this. Immediately after Jesus gives his second prediction of his passion and death, he catches them out arguing among themselves as to who among them is the greatest. They have not yet embraced the implications of their choice to follow him, because they are still listening more attentively to the voice of self-aggrandizement, which inhabits us all in virtue of the abiding effects of original sin, than to the teaching of Jesus. Later, of course, aided by the gift of the Holy Spirit, they understand perfectly the full meaning of discipleship and embrace it with enthusiasm and joy, even as it leads to their own martyrdom.

The leaves are at their most beautiful when they have changed and are about to die. The Christian is most beautiful when the change of heart wrought by the Holy Spirit manifests itself in a willingness to give all for Christ in the certainty of the new life he will give.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Drawing Hope from Unity

Yesterday I had the great honour of representing the CCCB at a special synod of Ukrainian Catholic Bishops gathered from all over the world in Winnipeg. The occasion was their closing banquet, where more than 800 clergy and faithful were gathered. The opportunity for a country to host a worldwide synod of Bishops outside of Ukraine is rare, and therefore an historic event. Indeed, the fact that this is the first time this has happened in Canada makes it very exciting for all of us. The occasion is doubly historic as it marks the centenary of the arrival of the first Ukrainian Bishop in Canada, Blessed Nykyta Budka. His is a fascinating story, which you can find summarized at

This centenary, as well as this synod, is a blessing not only for the Ukrainian Catholic community but also for the entire Catholic Church in Canada. It is a blessing in virtue of the unity symbolized. The tireless work of the martyr-Bishop Budka established the basis for the unity and growth of the Ukrainian community dispersed throughout this vast land. The synod is a visible reminder of the unity of the Church in Canada with the rest of the world. The visit of the Major Archbishop of the Ukrainian Catholic Church worldwide to this year's plenary assembly of the Canadian Bishops will underscore the unity we all share in this wondrous and beautiful family of faith we call the Catholic Church. Unity in faith and joy gives hope to a world that suffers from fracture, and so we all draw hope from this gathering on this occasion.

It is precisely this message of hope through unity that the Holy Father, in his visit to Lebanon this past weekend, brought to the Middle East, that area of the world that has experienced fracture and its attendant effects of violence and grief for far too long. Around him were gathered Christians of a variety of traditions, Muslims, and other religious leaders. He called on all to work and live together in harmony and thus be protagonists of a future of peace.

Particularly moving was his address to the youth of the region. The full text is found at In a part of the world racked by revolution that has brought violence and suffering, the Pope called for a revolution of love, rooted in truth. What follows is a citation that is of pertinence for all of us. May we heed his words carefully.

"The frustrations of the present moment must not lead you to take refuge in parallel worlds like those, for example, of the various narcotics or the bleak world of pornography. As for social networks, they are interesting but they can quite easily lead to addiction and confusion between the real and the virtual. Look for relationships of genuine, uplifting friendship. Find ways to give meaning and depth to your lives; fight superficiality and mindless consumption! ... Seek out good teachers, spiritual masters, who will be able to guide you along the path to maturity, leaving behind all that is illusory, garish and deceptive.

"Meditate on God’s word! Discover how relevant and real the Gospel can be. Pray! Prayer and the Sacraments are the sure and effective means to be a Christian and to live rooted and built up in Christ. ... In Him, all men and women are our brothers and sisters. The universal brotherhood which He inaugurated on the cross lights up in a resplendent and challenging way the revolution of love. 'Love one another as I have loved you.' This is the legacy of Jesus and the sign of the Christian."

Monday, September 10, 2012

To Hear and to Speak

Yesterday I had the great pleasure of visiting the parish of Our Lady of Fatima in Edmonton, to celebrate its establishment forty years ago for the Portuguese speaking parishioners of our Archdiocese. I marvel at the courage of those who came to this country without knowledge of the culture that awaited them. Yet over the years they adapted and integrated into this society, and now enrich our community with their own beautiful heritage.

The key to cultural integration is language. Only when we can hear and understand what is spoken to us, and when we can articulate with clarity our own thoughts, is communication possible. From proper communication arises the possibility of relationship. Shared language connects. Genuine relationship is very difficult when I can neither speak to the other nor receive what is spoken to me.

The importance of language for relationships helps us appreciate the great gift given by Jesus to the deaf-mute man in yesterday's Gospel passage from Saint Mark (Mark 7:31-37). Unable either to hear or to speak any language at all, his capacity for relationship with others was seriously compromised. By restoring both his hearing and speech, Jesus restored him to the possibility of relationship with others.

Yet the import of this episode extends far beyond the man's physical healing. According to Isaiah (35:4-7), the world would know the presence of its saviour when "the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy." By healing the deaf-mute man, Jesus is revealing himself as the one promised by God to come with the gift of salvation. Giving to the man the gift of relationship with others, Jesus shows that he has come to restore all of humanity to right relationship with God!

Here we see the connection between the deaf-mute man and ourselves. We have grown deaf in many ways to the Word of God. This deafness is not natural but willful. There are a multiplicity of voices present today in society, all clamouring for our attention. We allow ourselves to become deaf to God when we choose to listen to others instead. This deafness to God closes our ears to the voices of those through whom God speaks: the voice of the Church; of the poor; of the hungry, of the oppressed. Then we can become like those criticised by Saint James (2:1-5) for showing preference, even in Church (!), to the rich over the needy.

Furthermore, this deafness binds our tongues and renders us mute. For the naturally deaf, the inability to hear sounds makes it very difficult to form them. When our ears, hearts and minds are closed to the message of God's love and mercy, we cannot clearly proclaim it to others. This is a great tragedy, because our world needs this message and, therefore, requires us to proclaim it with both clarity and conviction.

The Lord wants to heal our deafness and free our tongues so that we might speak that language which transcends all cultural difference: the language of faith. This is the language that truly unites. May we learn to hear and speak it well!

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

A Shepherd After the Lord's Own Heart

This is the gift given to the Church Monday in the ordination of Bishop Gregory Bittman as Auxiliary Bishop of Edmonton. Long ago, through the prophet Jeremiah, God had promised to guide and govern his people by raising up shepherds "after his own heart". (cf. Jeremiah 3:15). With great joy and enthusiasm the clergy and faithful recognize the fidelity of God to his promise in the choice of Bishop Bittman. In great numbers they gathered Monday at St. Joseph's Basilica, together with the Apostolic Nuncio to Canada and more than twenty Bishops, for the ceremony of episcopal ordination. Please join with me in praying for God's many blessings upon the new Bishop's episcopal ministry.

"After the Lord's heart." The heart of Jesus, overflowing with love for us, is on full display throughout the Gospels. In the passage proclaimed last Sunday (Mark 7: 1-8, 14-15, 21-23), we can sense some pain in the heart of Christ, a suffering born of love. Quoting Isaiah he says: "This people honours me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me." Forgive the play on words, but here we find ourselves at the "heart" of the matter. From the heart of the Father, Christ has come to the world to draw us to his own heart and thus enter the Father's love. The Christian life, at its heart, is a relationship of love. A merely external observance of Christian ritual or mores is insufficient. Through his critique of the empty formalism of the Pharisees and scribes, Jesus invites all of us to allow him to cleanse us interiorly, to purify our hearts, so that the union of love he wills to share with us might be brought about and deepen.

As we welcome a new shepherd "after the Lord's heart", let us be reminded of the call to open our hearts fully to the love of Christ.