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

Monday, April 22, 2013

Whose Voice?

This past week the entire world has been witness to the terrible bombings that took place at the Boston Marathon, and of the dramatic search for the perpetrators. This tragedy has raised many questions that yet await answers. Among the questions most frequently posed is that of influence. "Who or what could have so influenced young minds as to distort their view of reality and lead to doing such a horrible thing to innocent people? What voices and lies have they been listening to and following?"

Such questions have been with humanity for a long time and are forever relevant to our human condition. At the very beginning, Adam and Eve heard both the voice of God and that of the devil, the voice of truth and the voice of falsehood. They chose to listen to the lie, a decision with terrible consequences for the subsequent history of humanity. Ever since then we have had to discern carefully among the voices competing for our attention as we make our life-determining decisions.

The problem is particularly acute in our day. Television, Internet, social media and so on bombard us daily with their messages, some good, many not. To whom do we listen? What is right? What is wrong? How do I know the difference? The problem is compounded in our Western society, with its moral relativism. Truth is not an objective norm to which I conform my life, but something that I determine myself. Nature is not a prior given that establishes parameters to behaviour, but whatever I declare it to be so that all boundaries to desire are removed. I need listen to no voice other than my own, since I myself can determine what is good and what is evil. Adam and Eve revisited.

In the midst of this dark confusion, we hear from the Gospel a voice speak with great clarity. "My sheep hear my voice." (John 10:27) This is the voice of Jesus. He is identifying himself as the shepherd, who is sent to find and lead us, his sheep. We know the path to take, we correctly discern between right and wrong, we leave the wilderness of confusion and anxiety to arrive at pastures of clarity and peace, when from among the multiplicity of voices we listen to one, and one only: that of Jesus. "My sheep hear my voice," not that of another.

We listen to him exclusively because he is not just any shepherd; he is the Good Shepherd, something he demonstrated to us in many ways. He is the Good Shepherd because he is divine, he is the Good itself. He is Good because he, the Son of God, descended from heaven to assume our human nature and lead us. He is Good because he came in search of the lost sheep, us, ready to leave the ninety-nine secure ones to find the one who was lost and in danger. Finally, he is the Good Shepherd because he is ready and willing to lay down his life for his sheep. Unlike the shepherd who will run from ravenous beasts and leave the sheep to their fate, this Shepherd actually takes the place of the sheep and dies in their stead. In so doing he saves us from the jaws not of wild animals but of Satan himself, whose power was destroyed when the Shepherd-turned-Lamb offered his life on the Cross. The Good Shepherd became the Paschal Lamb who by dying and rising gave life, eternal life, to his sheep. As we learn from Revelation, this Lamb, Jesus the risen Lord, now reigns in heaven and is worshipped by the heavenly multitudes. This is why we listen to the voice of Jesus, our Shepherd. This is why we listen only to him. Only he shows us the way to peace in this life and to eternal joy in the next.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Below Seasonal

Here in Edmonton we are hearing this MUCH too often from our weather forecasters. As we live through the winter that has yet to learn the meaning of the word “END”, we hear time and again that our temperatures are “below seasonal”. No kidding. Enough already.

As Christians, there is another way in which we may be experiencing “below seasonal” conditions in our lives. We are in the Easter season now, celebrating in our liturgies the new life and hope offered to the world in the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. It is, therefore, a season of joy. Indeed, the joy that is ours as a people who live in communion with Christ is not limited to particular dates on the liturgical calendar. It is abiding, because the love of the Risen Lord endures always. Yet, circumstances in life can draw us into a “below seasonal” way of living. Rather than the living from the confident hope that is born of Easter joy, we can at times be overcome by fear, anxiety, despair or hopelessness in the face of difficult situations beyond our power to change. 

But God is not powerless. There is nothing beyond His reach. That is the message implicit in the resurrection of Christ. Trial and hardship is not an indication of God’s abandonment. Rather, He who is always present uses these situations to invite us to deeper faith. Sometimes we need to be reminded of the limits of our abilities in order to return to full trust in God’s unlimited capacity. When we focus too much on ourselves, “below seasonal” living is the result. When we confidently place everything in the hands of God who loves us, and allow Christ both to carry and lead us, we are drawn back by grace to the seasonal life of Easter hope and joy.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Touch the Wounds

The risen body of Jesus continues to carry the wounds left by his crucifixion. In order to lead Thomas to faith, Jesus invites the doubting apostle to touch those same wounds and thus to believe. The Lord admonishes us not to imitate Thomas by basing faith upon empirical verification: "Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe." At the same time, since this Gospel account was proclaimed in the context of Divine Mercy Sunday, one can detect in this encounter a subtle invitation from the Lord to embrace in a different sense the example of Thomas. It is, precisely, an invitation to "touch the wounds" of the body of the Risen Lord, and to touch them with mercy.

These wounds are now carried by the members of the Body of Christ that is the Church. Among us, as well as in our brothers and sisters in society, are found the wounds left by abuse, addictions, betrayal, guilt, bitterness, anger, loneliness, abandonment and so on. Our living union with Christ sends us out to touch these wounds, not to come to faith but as its expression. We believe and so we are sent, precisely as apostles of mercy.

And what of our own wounds? I met this weekend with inmates of a local penitentiary here in the Edmonton area. In a question and answer session, one of them asked: "What do you learn from us when you come here?" I admit the question caught me off guard, but upon reflection I welcomed it. They do teach me a very important lesson, namely, the need to be in touch with my own woundedness. The prisoner, in coming face to face with his or her mistakes, often is led to discover the source of the wrongdoing in unresolved anger that stems from deep wounds caused by any number of factors, most often a tragic family history. Getting in touch with these deep scars and experiencing God's healing gives birth to new insight and spiritual liberation. Without such self-knowledge and healing, the mistakes will in all likelihood be perpetuated.

As we strive to respond to the Lord's call to touch the wounds of others, let us not hesitate to invite him to touch our own wounds and bring to them the healing and new life that he alone can give. To be an apostle of mercy we must first be its recipient.

Monday, April 1, 2013

No Situation God Cannot Change

Since his election as our new Holy Father, Pope Francis has made many gestures and spoken many words that, from the power of their simplicity, have made quick and lasting impressions upon our minds and hearts. One such expression was spoken during his homily for the Easter Vigil, when he said, "there are no situations which God cannot change." None. We often find ourselves in difficult situations that are impossible for us to change. But God is Lord of the impossible. This power was on full display in the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.

In the days of Holy Week we commemorated how Jesus suffered and died on the Cross. In his suffering he took to himself the whole weight of human anguish, the entire burden of sin and its consequences, including death. His resurrection was God's victory over sin and its effects. If God can raise Jesus from the dead, there is obviously no situation he cannot change, there is nothing from which he cannot save us.

All that Jesus asks of us is that we believe, is that we have faith in him: faith in his resurrection, faith in his abiding presence, faith in his wisdom and love. By the gift of faith we open our lives to the transformative power of Christ's love. In the light of that same faith we see our situations change.

And how great is the need! Apparent impossibility of change surrounds us, as we are confronted by enormously complex and difficult situations, either in our own personal or family lives or in the society and world around us. Yet the Christian is not governed by anxiety and does not give in to despair. Why? Because Jesus is risen from the dead! When hearts and minds open in faith to him, when we surrender self-reliance and place our trust in the power of his love and mercy, when we allow the Risen Lord to guide and carry us, there is no situation that God cannot change.