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

Monday, May 27, 2013

In Need of a "Soaker"

Here in Edmonton people are relieved to be getting some much needed rain. Just the other day I was speaking with a woman at a drug store. As she looked out at the looming clouds, she exclaimed with evident delight, "Looks like we're in for a good soaker!" Farmers, too, and many others, are quite happy to welcome the moisture. Even with the great amount of snow we've had here, the soil is surprisingly parched.

It seems to me, though, that the earth is not the only thing in need of a good soaker. Many souls today are seriously parched, dried out by the hot air of illusory expectations and dashed hopes occasioned by false messaging in the atmosphere. The thirst of the soul is for truth, and it is far from being quenched by what we are told will bring us happiness or make us noticed. I worry especially for our young people, bombarded with the lies that one must be beautiful, athletic, popular or talented in order to count for anything, seductions that leave so many wondering if they matter and therefore striving to be someone other than who they are.

The mystery of the Holy Trinity, celebrated yesterday by the Church throughout the world, is the wondrous truth that fully quenches the soul's deepest thirst. Contemplation of this divine mystery opens our minds and hearts to apprehend our human one. Why do I exist? What is the meaning of my life? Where is it headed? What is the source of true peace and happiness? All of this comes to light in the mystery of God's very being, which provides our parched souls with the soaking for which they ardently long.

We know from the Father's sending to us of His Son and Holy Spirit that God, eternally One, is a Trinity of Persons, an eternal exchange of love, in which we are destined to participate! (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 221). God, perfect in Himself, needs nothing. From this we know that God has fashioned us not from necessity but from love. Here we find the source of our dignity and hope. Here we are soaked with the truth that satisfies the thirsty soul, the truth of God's unconditional love and His eternal plan for each of us. When we drink this in, we find that we need nothing more.

I love the way Benedict XVI captured this truth in his first homily, and how Pope Francis is affirming it with his insistence upon everyone's worth and dignity, especially the poor and any who live on the margins of society. Benedict said that, once we meet God in Christ, we know that, "Everyone is the result of a thought of God. Each person is willed, loved and necessary." Many souls today are, indeed, needing a "good soaker". This is uniquely given in the mystery of the Trinity, in Whom we seize our own deepest beauty.

Monday, May 20, 2013

First or Third?

There are times when you like to be first. Take the other day, for example. I was out with some priests for a round of golf at Jasper, and the three of us on my team ran smack up against a grizzly bear. (Yes, again! Getting to be a habit. Not sure what it is with me and bears; perhaps I should lose weight.) We called the park ranger to come, which he did - eventually. The first thing he and other officials did when they arrived on the scene was to stop the groups of golfers following us. I was pleased that they were being cautioned, but I must confess to wondering when the ranger would get around to the three of us who were actually entertaining the bear. Would've been nice to be first. (Thanks be to God, it all ended harmlessly for both man and beast.)

Most of the time, though, being first is not what it is supposed to be about, especially for disciples of Jesus Christ ("the first shall be last..."). For the Christian, the will of God and the needs of others are our first considerations. As they are fond of saying in the Madonna House community, founded by Catherine Doherty, "I am THIRD." Yet time and again, even in situations deprived of grizzlies or other dangers, we seem naturally to think of ourselves first. This is one of the abiding effects of original sin. To get beyond this tendency to self-focus and self-promotion, to be turned inside-out, as it were, we need a great deal of assistance.

Such help is what we celebrated Sunday, the Solemnity of Pentecost. We heard the narrative of the Apostles being turned inside-out by the bestowal of the promised Holy Spirit. Prior to this wondrous gift, they were locked inside rooms and closed in on themselves. The reception of the Holy Spirit transformed them and sent them out to the known world, docile to His promptings and filled with the wisdom and understanding that accompanied His presence within them.

Our world needs us to be outward - focused, not closed in on ourselves. During our clergy study days last week we listened to a number of sobering presentations on the astoundingly high prevalence of domestic violence and addictions, particularly to the evil of pornography. There is great suffering among people today, much of it borne in silence and anxiety. Jesus sends us to them with the hope that His Gospel gives. Let us pray that the Holy Spirit will heal us of any self-centred desires that keep us from attentiveness to the needs of those around us. I might need to be first in situations of real and imminent danger. Most of the time, though, it is more in keeping with my commitment to follow Christ that I be third.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Some Provocative Reading

This week, a couple of recent statements to bring to your attention.

First, yesterday, May 12th, was World Communications Day. Before his retirement, Benedict XVI issued a statement to mark the occasion. In it, he focused upon the fascinating world of social networking, and offered some guidance to both the Church and broader society.

As regards the Church and her mission to evangelize, he speaks of the social networking world as a new "agora", that is, a new public square in which people are increasingly coming together to share ideas and otherwise be connected. Since this is a factor of growing importance in fashioning the very fabric of society, the Church must be present to propose the Gospel as an essential contribution to the common good.

Pope Emeritus Benedict has given me a lot of homework here!! In order to be present in the social networking realm, a "considered understanding of this environment" is a prerequisite. In other words, it is essential for the Church to know and understand this reality, which, I confess, I really do not yet know well at all. Well, time to get at it! As our former Holy Father said in that statement, underlying the various reasons that attract people to social networking are fundamental human aspirations, such as the need for relationship, the desire for understanding, the search for truth and meaning and, ultimately, the need to be loved and to count. Therefore, the Church cannot not be there with the answer that is the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Very instructive, too, is the message Benedict directs to society at large. He recognizes the great potential for social networking to contribute to the harmony of the human family. Yet this positive contribution relies on adherence to basic principles, such as respectful dialogue and debate; the honouring of privacy; responsible and truthful interaction among persons; and authenticity, that is, offering our true selves. We can easily see how the opposite of these can turn social networking into an instrument of division and harm.

Second, the CCCB has recently issued a statement on the environment, as we have tended to do periodically over the last number of years. The role of the Church is not to propose or evaluate specific technical solutions to environmental problems, but to form consciences by the proffering of important principles to guide reflection and decision making. The principles proposed in this document derive from reflection upon the interrelationship between the Creator, creation and human beings. I invite you to read the brief document in its entirety. For the purpose of this blog post, I draw your attention to one principle in particular, namely, the relationship between human and natural ecology.

Benedict XVI stressed this point often, since it is, indeed, of fundamental importance yet does not seem to enter in any meaningful way into the various discussions on the environment. The basic point is that the maintenance of the natural environment is dependent upon respect for the human one. By human ecology is meant that network of interrelationships and interactions that form both the human person and human community. To respect this ecology we need to understand and respect the principles which undergird it: the right to life at all stages; the truth of marriage and family; universal human dignity; human solidarity, especially with the poor, vulnerable and marginalized. This principle leads us to broaden our consideration of environmental issues, and what we in fact include in our consideration of environmental factors. What are the "toxins" in the "air" that are undermining or even destroying our human ecology? One could mention addictions, such as substance abuse or pornography; illusory expectations pertaining to the pursuit of happiness; individualism and moral relativism. Each of these undermines human dignity and thus erodes self-respect. When human ecology breaks down then environmental degradation will follow.

Take a look at both documents. Lots of great food for thought.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Looking Backward Sends us Forward

A number of events have come together in recent days in the Archdiocese of Edmonton. Our series Nothing More Beautiful has drawn to a close. We marked the fiftieth anniversary of the dedication of our cathedral of Saint Joseph. And we celebrated our patronal feast, that of St. Joseph the Worker, in the context of our local Centenary and the universal Year of Faith. What brings these distinctive strands together and unites them in a tapestry of hope and joy is the person of Jesus Christ. He is the centre, the fulcrum, of the life of the Church and its every activity. For five years we have announced with conviction that there is nothing more beautiful than to know Jesus Christ and to tell others of our friendship with him. For fifty years we have gathered in this beautiful Basilica to encounter Jesus Christ in Word and Sacrament. For 100 years we have grown as a people united by our faith in Jesus Christ. Yet the very act of retrospective instills in us the certainty that our focus must not remain in the past. Knowledge of what God has done for us impels us forward. This wondrous treasure of life in Jesus Christ is not to be hoarded but shared. We are a people sent to evangelize, called to make Jesus Christ known.

One crucial area where we need ceaselessly to be announcing the joy of our life in Christ is with respect to life itself. In upcoming days dioceses across Canada will be marking the Week for Life and Family. This is a national initiative of the Bishops of Canada, enacted to promote and celebrate the dignity of human life at every stage in its natural span, and to lift up the family as that community, fashioned by God's design, in which life is created and nurtured. This week is one of a number of diocesan activities that will unfold in the upcoming years in keeping with local resources and capacities.

This special week is bracketed by the prayer of the people of God. During the weekends that begin and end the week, celebrations of the Eucharist in our parishes will be dedicated to the issues of life and family. This emphasis on prayer is deliberate. Prayer must be the source and foundation of all that we do. Time and again, as the Church has sought to uphold the dignity of life and the God-given nature and purpose of marriage, we have been confronted with our limits while society has forged ahead in erroneous directions. We must acknowledge our weakness and limits, but not with despair. Rather, we do so with trust in God's power. He knows the solution to this and all of our problems. Our call is to turn our weakness over to him and ask him to work in and through it to bring about his saving purpose. This is precisely what we do when we gather in prayer. We thank God for the gift of life and family, and through prayer entrust to him their growth and protection. We do our most effective "work" on our knees.

If you have not already seen it, I invite you to read the pastoral letter offered by the Bishops of Alberta to mark this Week for Life and Family. God bless.