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

Monday, January 28, 2013

What Does God Require of Us?

Last evening I had the joy of gathering in Edmonton with Christians of many denominations to mark the close of the annual week of Prayer for Christian Unity. Our reflections focused upon: "What does God require of us?"

Good question. And necessary. Division among Christians is contrary to the express will of Jesus Christ. Our best efforts have resulted in great progress towards unity, but significant and vast differences remain. Only by obedient listening to the voice of God and actually doing what he requires of us will lead to the unity we seek.

The light of faith helps us to trace our divisions to that most fundamental internal rift we call original sin, the rupture between God and self, occasioned by a decision to allow trust in God to die and the consequent choice to listen to words and promptings other than those of God. It is that deep division of the heart that leads to hardness of heart, the abiding resistance to the will of God.

The need, then, is to listen to words that do not harden the heart but cause it to burn! In our ceremony we listened to the Gospel passage from Saint Luke, recounting the Emmaus Road story. There we are told that, as the companions walked the road to Emmaus and listened to the Risen Lord, their hearts burned within them. This inner flame grew as they were led to understand how the entirety of Sacred Scripture is centered on Christ, how the divine plan of salvation was fulfilled in the paschal mystery of our Lord. And that divine plan is, in a word, unity.

So, what is to be done? What does God require of us?

The burning of their hearts impelled the companions away from Emmaus and back to Jerusalem. In modern-day Israel there are four places that various traditions identify as biblical Emmaus. We do not know for sure exactly where it is. In other words, Emmaus is a destination without a locale. This strikes me as an appropriate image for the current ecumenical search for unity. We know the destination yet cannot pinpoint how and where to find it. Yet if we allow the Lord's word to burn in our hearts he will lead us to see what the companions saw. The destination is Jerusalem. There definitive unity was achieved by The Lord in his paschal mystery, through his obedient and loving death to self and resurrection to new life. We will participate in that unity, in his unity that he shares with the Father, to the degree that we learn to turn away from Emmaus and toward Jerusalem, away from destinations of our own choosing to that indicated by The Lord, away from journeying to an unknown locale and toward the Cross. We will share in the divine unity to the degree that we die to self, die to injustice, bitterness and pride, and rise to a new life of acting justly, loving mercy and walking humbly with our God (cf. Micah 6:8). This is what God requires of us. May He grant us the grace to respond with humility, obedience and trust.

Monday, January 7, 2013


I've spent the last few days crossing multiple borders, having come to the Holy Land for the annual gathering called the Holy Land Coordination. (Since this first began, the CCCB has sent its President as representative to this conference, which gathers Bishops from a number of episcopal assemblies to manifest solidarity with the Christian community in the Holy Land.)

The first border to cross was that of Israel. Then, once inside this country I had to cross a number of internal frontiers which mark the boundaries of the West Bank. Our group crossed the Allenby Bridge to enter Jordan, where we met with local parishioners. Many of them are working on behalf of Caritas Jordan with refugees, who have escaped across the border of Syria to flee the violence there.

To my mind, these geographical boundaries are both real and symbolic. They represent the far deeper and more serious borders that separate the people here from one another: the borders of fear, hatred, violence and suspicion. The geographical boundaries and military checkpoints are not easy to cross and often take a lot of time. The boundaries dividing the heart, however, seem impossible to transcend.

Many border crossings here took place on the weekend when the Church celebrated the feast of the Epiphany. On this solemnity we honour Jesus Christ as saviour, as light and hope, for all nations. We adore him as the one in whom God's universal saving will is both manifest and accomplished. In other words, in Jesus Christ we see that the love and mercy of God transcend any and all borders of human making, whether they be of time, place, language, ethnicity or culture. As Saint Paul would later write, in his very person Jesus has broken down the wall of hostility that has separated Jew from Gentile and made them one.

Herein lies real hope when there would appear to be none. Jesus is our hope. As we come up against physical frontiers, he invites us to consider any boundaries within our hearts that keep us from loving one another as he has commanded us to do. By his light, may he reveal to us those boundaries so that, by his mercy, he will dissolve them and lead us to one another.