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

Monday, December 31, 2012

Who's In Control?

Travel disruption. Ugh! It happened to many once again at this very busy travel time. Serious winter storms have caused airport cancellations and delays and have made roads impassable. Frustration and frayed nerves everywhere! What is most frustrating of all is that we are unable to do anything about it. Weather is beyond our control. All we can do is adjust, and we tend not to do that very graciously when we are out of control.

Hmmm. This raises an interesting - and important - question. How do we adjust when circumstances beyond our control disrupt our plans? The brick wall is not limited to capricious weather patterns. Time and again we run up against far more serious matters that stop us in our tracks and make us reassess things: sudden illness, the loss of a job, the death of a loved one, a natural calamity and so on. Adjustments in cases such as these are usually temporary. We change plans as necessary to deal with the situation, all the while with the intention of re-claiming control and getting back to normal, or to what we had originally planned.

On January 1st, however, the liturgy of the Church calls us to an adjustment which is both radical and permanent. The call is to adjust our plans - our life plans! - in the light of God's will for us. This means accepting, in peace, the truth about just who is in control.

The particular celebration marking the first day of the year is the Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God. To say that any plans she might have had in mind were disrupted by the plan of God would be an understatement. By the message of the angel Gabriel she learned that she had been chosen for a unique place in God's saving plan for the world: she was to be the virgin mother of the Son of God made flesh! Her response was an immediate and faith-filled acquiescence to the will of God, an adjustment that, although radical, was nevertheless in wondrous continuity with a life thoroughly imbued with faith. Mary knew that the only one truly "in control" is God, who guides the course of world events in accordance with his plan, and who calls us to adjust our hopes and desires in light of his saving purpose.

As the new year begins, let us pray that we will learn from Mary's example of faith and be ready, not just at those out-of-control moments but always, to adjust our lives as necessary to live in accord with God's will.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Make Haste! Don’t Rush!

The Gospel passage for the Fourth Sunday of Advent (Luke 1:39-45) tells us that Mary goes “with haste” to visit her kinswoman Elizabeth. Our Lady is in a hurry. The two reasons for her haste teach us that we, as Christians, should be in a hurry, too. From the message of Gabriel, Mary has learned that she is to give birth to the long-awaited Messiah. In addition, she is told that Elizabeth, who is well beyond child-bearing age, will give birth. Her joy and her desire to help impel Mary to go to Elizabeth with no waste of time. The sharing of joy and the service of others admit of no delay.

Furthermore, we learn from Mary that joy and service are not unconnected. To the one in need, Mary shares her joy, which in turn causes Elizabeth to rejoice as she learns its reason. “Blessed is she who believed that there would be* a fulfilment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.” Mary’s joy is not only that of a mother about to have a child. It has a much deeper wellspring, stemming from the truth of God’s fidelity to all his salvific promises. Christian service must embrace a witness to joy. By the fact of our joy we announce its source: Jesus Christ. This, in turn, generates hope and joy in those who recognize and accept the truth of the One we proclaim.

The “rush” so typical of our day at Christmas time is nothing more than frenzy, running around in malls and panicking in the kitchen, and it leaves us exhausted. This is very different from Christian haste. Like our Lady, as we come to know the truth of God’s nearness and fidelity in Jesus Christ, we want quite naturally to share that joy quickly, especially with those in need. In no one other than Jesus Christ can real hope and joy be found. Far from exhausting us, this kind of haste is exhilarating and life-giving.

Merry Christmas! May the wondrous mystery of Christ’s birth from the Virgin Mary free us from useless hurry and impel us to genuine Christian haste.

Monday, December 17, 2012


The excerpt at Mass yesterday from St. Paul's letter to the Philippians (4:4-7) surprises and makes us wonder. He calls us to rejoice in The Lord, and to do so always.... Always? Really? That is a little unrealistic, isn't it? How can we be joyful always when so often we experience the opposite, namely, sadness. Indeed, the world is enveloped in sadness right now because of the horrible mass shootings in Connecticut. We have been in mourning for quite some time over the terrible plight of the people of Syria. To say nothing of the abiding sadness over the destitution of so many on our planet.

Furthermore, St. Paul goes on in that same passage to say that we should not worry about anything. Yet, there are many things which cause us to worry and fill us with anxiety: serious illness, family difficulties, financial hardship, bleak work prospects and so on. How can the Apostle direct us not to worry?

The key to understanding lies in the all-important phrase that lies between and unites the two invitations: The Lord is near. Precisely because Jesus is with us, we need not worry and we do, indeed, rejoice. From this it is clear that Saint Paul is speaking less of an emotion than of a conviction. As Christians, we are utterly convinced, with every fibre of our being, that Jesus is here with us. He is not a God who remains aloof and indifferent to our plight. Through the Incarnation, Passion and Resurrection of Jesus, he has shown his desire to draw close and become intimately involved in the details of our lives. By that same resurrection he demonstrated that his love is victorious over all evil, and that all will be turned to the good in accordance with God's plan to rescue his people. Therefore, we rejoice. Sometimes, this Christian joy will find visible emotive expression, at other times not. But at all times it abides deep within the heart, often invisible beneath sadness and worry, acting as that secure foundation that enables us to bear hardship without descending to despair.

That passage from Philippians is thus an invitation to faith, to hand over all things to Christ in confidence. Here St. Paul is giving his own answer to the question posed by the crowds to Saint John the Baptist in yesterday's Gospel passage. In expectation of the imminent arrival of the Saviour, they ask: "What must we do?" John's reply is that they must live just lives. Paul's reply is to have faith. The two responses are mutually complementary. By faith, we hand over all to Christ with trust in his love and power. This gives rise to a "peace which surpasses understanding", a peace which frees us from self-focus in order to give our attention to the injustices around us that harm our brothers and sisters. The act of faith is the wellspring of acts of justice. Concern for justice, in its turn, gives visible expression to the authenticity of our faith. (cf. James 2:14-26).

Rejoice always, indeed!

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Every Heart Broken

Twenty innocent children murdered, alongside six adults who no doubt tried to protect them. The news leaves us in shocked disbelief. Even though we may have not known the children or their families, our hearts weep.

This senseless tragedy also awakens within us a powerful desire to reach out to the families in solidarity, compassion and love. There is no more effective solidarity than prayer. When we pray we are one with the suffering and grieving. And so we lift the children and their families to God, who we know weeps with them and us.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Have we Room for Silence?

In Advent we hear John the Baptist described as a voice crying out in the wilderness. Anyone who has visited the Judean or any desert will be struck by a particular feature of this wilderness: its silence. Wonderful, really. It is a welcome respite from the world of noise and babble in which we are constantly immersed.

Yet the message of this voice in the wilderness, “Prepare the way of the Lord,” gives us pause. This message is of such importance that it cannot be directed only to arid geographical expanses. It is of such universal reach that it must be referring to another kind of “wilderness”, another space which itself is marked by the silence that enables one to hear. In absolute silence, words break in with remarkable clarity and cannot but be heard. No more important word can be spoken to us than that of God. It is heard most clearly when we make our hearts a “wilderness”, that is to say, when we cultivate within ourselves a silence that cancels out all noise other than the voice of the Lord.

Not easy, but certainly possible, and definitely desirable. As I travel I notice more and more passengers using so-called noise-cancelling headphones. The many noisy distractions of an airplane, for example, are “cancelled out” (sort of) so that one may hear only that which one wants to hear, such as music. That which one not only should want but also needs to hear is the voice of God. All that distracts from this voice should be “cancelled out”. This is far more of a challenge than putting on earphones! It means being deliberate about finding time and space to be quiet. It also means seeking the grace of prayer, the help of God to lift from our minds and hearts all the “noise” of plans, anxieties and unanswered emails so as to focus on “the one thing necessary” (cf. Luke 10:42): what Christ wants to say to us.

This Advent, let’s find time to be silent, to become an interior “wilderness”, in order really to listen to the only thing that really matters: God’s loving plan for us in Christ.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Hopeful in Troubling Times

Advent, which began yesterday, points in hope toward the end of times, when Christ will come again in glory. In yesterday's passage from the Gospel of Saint Luke (21: 25-28, 34-36), Jesus speaks of end-of-time signs that will cause people to "faint from fear", yet he encourages his followers "to stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is near at hand."

We don't need to wait until the end of the world before we encounter "signs" that can give rise to deep anxiety in our lives. Family strife, financial hardship, illness, unemployment, the troubled world situation such as in the Middle East, can all be the cause of unease and fear. The Lord's message is the same; do not fear. Why? Because our redemption - i.e. Jesus - is near at hand. The Lord who first came to us in the Incarnation, and who will come again at the end of time, does not abandon us in the meantime. He is the reason we do not fear, but remain hopeful at all times.

This hope sets us free. Fear paralyzes; hope liberates. Yesterday the Holy Father released an apostolic letter motu proprio, i.e., on his own initiative, on the service of charity. He reminds us that charity is "a constitutive element of the Church's mission", together with proclamation of the word and celebration of the sacraments. In other words, charity cannot be absent from the life of anyone who chooses to follow Jesus Christ. Yet fear can stand in the way. Responding to the signs of our times with fear closes us in on ourselves and off from others. Responding with hope, however, sets us free of self-concern and expands our awareness to encompass the needy in our midst.

May the message of Advent that our "redemption is near at hand" set us free from worry and anxiety in order to bring hope, by the service of charity, to all who are in need and in the grip of fear.