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

Monday, October 29, 2012

Let me See!

Yesterday I had the great pleasure of receiving representatives of our First Nations and Metis brothers and sisters, together with their leaders, at Saint Joseph’s Basilica to celebrate together the canonization of Saint Kateri Tekakwitha. This was followed by a private luncheon, during which we shared stories of the events surrounding the canonization and its significance for all of us.

The Sunday Gospel reading from Saint Mark (10:46-52) helps us to appreciate how Kateri, even though she lived and died in the 1600s, remains an instructive witness for us today. It is the story of the blind beggar, Bartimaeus, receiving the gift of sight from Jesus. Kateri shared with Bartimaeus the condition of limited sight, and, reflecting on the name Tekakwitha, I remarked in my blog of last week how the Lord had given to her the gift of inner vision, by which she could see clearly the beauty of God’s saving plan. Consideration of her baptismal name, Kateri, opens avenues of yet further reflection upon the gift of sight that comes from Christ.

The English translation of Kateri is Catherine, which means “pure,” Remember the words of Jesus as he preached his Sermon on the Mount: “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” The gift of a pure heart enables us to see the beauty of God and his wondrous plan. The opposite of a pure heart is a divided one. A pure heart seeks only God and the accomplishment of the divine will. A divided heart is concerned with things other than God, grasps after that which really does not matter, places created realities above the Creator. To the degree that our hearts are divided, we share in common with Bartimaeus the sad state of blindness. Blind to the beauty of God and his salvific teaching, we, like the blind beggar, sit at the side of the road unable to walk the path that leads to life.

Jesus asked Bartimaeus: “What do you want me to do for you?” To this Bartimaeus replied, “My teacher, let me see again.” To ask to see is to ask for the gift of a pure heart. Jesus poses to each of us the same question: “What do you want me to do for you?” Let us, without hesitation, ask for this gift of an undivided, a pure, heart. This is something we cannot attain by our own efforts. It is the gift of Jesus, by which he restores us to sight.

Monday, October 22, 2012

A New Saint: Kateri Tekakwitha!

In am in Rome to represent the CCCB on the occasion of the canonization of Kateri Tekakwitha. What joy has filled the approximately 1700 Canadian pilgrims, mostly from among our First Nations peoples! A daughter of the Mohawk and Algonquin peoples, Kateri Tekakwitha, has been raised to the glory of the altars by Pope Benedict XVI, and by this all Native peoples are honoured. Now that she has been added to the canon of the Church's saints, she stands before the whole Church as a reminder of the universal call to holiness and a model of cooperation with the mystery of grace.

The earliest intimations of the working of God's grace in Kateri's life were given in the name assigned to her by her family: Tekakwitha. This name, derived from her diminished capacity for sight, can mean a number of things: "she who feels her way ahead"; "moving forward slowly"; "one who bumps into things"; but also "one who places things in order" or "to put all into place". This diversity of meanings has to do in one way or another with seeing what lies before. It is, of course, true that Kateri's physical sight was seriously compromised due to the smallpox from which she suffered. What is equally true, however, and what is of far greater significance, is that her inner vision was clear. Deep within her heart she had received the gift of seeing clearly the truth of Christ and his Church. It is as if God, through the very name Tekakwitha and the life of the one who bore it, has drawn attention to the limits of human vision in order to point us to the true sight that comes from faith. In this Year of Faith, the life of Kateri demonstrates that the gift of faith carries with it the capacity to see clearly the beauty of God and his plan for us, which far exceed in grandeur the sensible realities of this earth.

Kateri is an instructive witness for the new evangelization. She reminds us that, to be effective, this new evangelization must not only be proposed anew but also find an open and ready welcome in the heart of the recipient. When the Jesuit missionary, Father de Lamberville, spoke of our Lord and the Christian faith, the Gospel message of life and hope found a home within her. Thus is the witness of Kateri an invitation to all of us, who will hear the beauty of the Gospel proclaimed afresh, to ask for the grace we need to receive it with joy and respond to its call to life and hope.

Our new saint also teaches us, in a unique way, that our response in faith to Jesus Christ brings healing. Among the most striking aspects of her witness is the miraculous transformation of her face soon after her death. From the age of four terribly scarred by the smallpox, her face was restored to its original beauty only minutes after she had died. This was preceded by the words she spoke just as her life ended: "Jesus I love you." The love of Christ for us, and our answering love for him, heals. How greatly do we need this lesson from Kateri today! We may not bear physical scars, but so many today carry deep emotional and psychological ones. These are inflicted not by smallpox but by poverty, addiction, loneliness, and betrayal. Yet Kateri teaches us that no wound, however deep, should leave us without hope. Let us remember her words: "Jesus I love you." These few words sum up her entire life. Kateri's facial healing is an outward sign of the interior transformation that is given to all who hand over their lives to Christ, and who do so in love.

Saint Kateri, pray for us!

Monday, October 15, 2012

Are We Asking the Right Question?

What must I do to lose weight? What must I do to get fit? What must I do to get good grades? What must I do to improve my golf swing?

Questions such as these reveal our immediate concerns. Their answers shape our behaviour: go on a diet; exercise more; improve study habits; work with a golf pro (or, in my case, seek divine intervention). Of course, if we ignore the answer, then we remain with only the question and nothing changes. This is particularly serious in the case of life's many deeper questions: what must I do to care for my family; what must I do in the face of serious illness; what must we all do to address issues of poverty, homelessness and family violence. Posing the question reveals our concern; adhering to the answer brings about change.

One question not being posed nearly enough in contemporary Western culture is that put by a man to Jesus in Sunday's Gospel: "What must I do to inherit eternal life?" (cf. Mark 10:17-30) If there is a more important question than that one, I cannot imagine what it would be! Our time on earth is very brief, yet the Gospels make clear that the choices we make during our earthly journey have eternal consequences. So the man in the Gospel passage has it right. His concern is both immediate and far-sighted. How must I live now so that I might live with God always?

By way of dramatic contrast, the questions of our times are rather more myopic: what must I do to gain in money, possessions, reputation; what must I do to improve my image; what must I do to conform to prevailing opinion; what must I do to change my immediate environment, even friends and social institutions, so that they cater to me and my desires? These are the concerns that predominate when God, and the question of life in and with him, is eclipsed. Their answers are entirely self-focused and, therefore, lead nowhere but ever deeper into that which robs us of life and destroys our social fabric: individualistic self-absorption and, to quote the Holy Father, the "dictatorship of relativism".

Our culture needs a Copernican revolution that re-directs our gaze away from self and toward the other and, ultimately, toward the Other, to God. This can happen when we learn both to ask the right question and adhere to the answer. The man in the Gospel articulates the question. Jesus gives the answer. In fact, Jesus is the answer. He summons us to fidelity, points out what is lacking in our response, and gives us the grace that enables us to change our behaviour in accordance with his direction. In the final analysis, the answer to the question of eternal life is to know, love, and abide in Jesus Christ, who says "Apart from me, you can do nothing." (John 15:5) May his grace give proper focus to our questioning, in order that we might so live in him as to inherit eternal life.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Give Thanks for the Gospel and for Faith

These are exciting times. On Sunday the Holy Father opened the Synod of Bishops on the New Evangelization for the Transmission of the Christian Faith. The Church has always evangelized, of course. This task is her raison d'ĂȘtre. Our call today is, as Blessed John Paul II put it, to proclaim the Gospel with new methods, ardour and expression. The task is urgent, and the Holy Father has summoned Bishops representing episcopal conferences around the world to reflect upon this mission.

It is also exciting! By evangelization we mean sharing with others the joy and the hope we have found in our relationship with Jesus Christ. How could we not want to share this? I have often cited Pope Benedict's words delivered in his first homily: "There is nothing more beautiful than to know Jesus Christ and to tell others of our friendship with him." Finding new ways to do so today is a very exciting challenge, indeed.

The Synod opened in Rome on the Sunday when Canadians were observing the Thanksgiving Day weekend. I am grateful for many things, especially family and friends, but my deepest thanks is reserved for the gift of the Gospel, which has brought to me the Good News and has invited me to the fullness of life and joy in Jesus Christ.

Faith is our response to this invitation. Itself God's gift, faith is the opening of the heart and mind to the person and message of Jesus Christ. In two days the Holy Father will formally inaugurate the special Year of Faith. We shall do the same for the Archdiocese of Edmonton that same day. Here is another reason for gratitude. I am grateful, of course, for the gift of faith, which defines and shapes my life as a Christian. Now I am also grateful that we have been given, through the initiative of the Holy Father, this grace-filled time to reflect upon the faith, especially as it has been given magnificent articulation in the documents of the Second Vatican Council, the Catechism of the Catholic Church and, of course, the Creed. Since faith originates in the heart, this Year of Faith is also a time to pray for the gift of a renewed conversion to the Lord.

"Give thanks to the Lord for he is good." (Psalms 107:1; 118:1; 136:1) From the divine goodness we have received the Gospel announcing life and the faith by which we respond. In these very exciting times for the Church, let us offer frequent thanks for these wondrous gifts.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Is There No Limit?

We embark this month on the Year of Faith. In its essence, faith is an acceptance of what God has revealed about himself in Christ. This includes a surrender to the wonder of his unlimited saving power. We human beings are weak and must operate within limits. Not so God. Yet we can sometimes find ourselves assuming that the reach of God's power does not extend beyond the parameters of our human judgment.

This assumption is at work in the Scripture passages proclaimed at Mass on Sunday. In the Book of Numbers, seventy elders leave the place where all the people were camped and go out to the tent of meeting, the place to encounter God. There the Lord bestows the spirit upon them and they begin to prophesy. Yet two who had remained in the camp also receive the spirit. The others are scandalized. Why? In their limited human judgement they presume that God's action would be confined to those at the tent. But God is not limited by the parameters of human judgement.

In the Gospel, the disciples report to Jesus that they saw someone not of their company casting out demons in his name and say they tried to stop him. The disciples know they are sent by the Lord to do just this work of mercy, and from this commission are presuming that only they will be the instruments of Christ's healing power. But God is not limited by the parameters of human judgement.

These are episodes that occurred thousands of years ago, but the temptation to assume limits to God's power perdures. Therefore, the Scriptures are an invitation for us to examine ourselves, and particularly our faith, and ask in what ways we are presuming that God's power is limited by human potential. For example, does my inability to forgive myself for grave sin cause me to doubt that God could ever forgive me? Does my experience of abandonment and isolation cause me to wonder if God even knows I exist? Does my experience of powerlessness make me question if God can lead me out of the mess I am in? In the face of illness, do I presume that the limits of medicine are the boundaries of God's possibility? If I am struggling with addiction, do I presume that its grip is more powerful than God's liberating grace?

Nothing is beyond God's reach. He is the Lord of the impossible. In the resurrection of Jesus from the dead he has revealed that not even the ultimate human limit of death can place any limit on his power, which transforms even death into life. As we look forward to the Year of Faith, let us pray that the Lord will increase our faith. May we all come to realize, more and more, that the reach of God's power is infinitely greater than we can dare to ask or even imagine (cf. Ephesians 3:14-21).