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

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Our Need for the Holy Spirit

On my return journey from events in Kiev, Ukraine, I took a couple of days to visit Prague in the Czech Republic. What an extraordinarily beautiful city! Among the highlights is the great Cathedral of St. Vitus, St. Wenceslas and St. Adalbert, within which one finds some wondrous stained glass depictions of moments in salvation history. The one that most caught my attention is the window portraying the event of Pentecost (pictured here in part). The power of the Holy Spirit to enlighten and transform not only individuals but also the world is stunningly communicated.

The image and its message of our need for the Holy Spirit remain with me now that I am home in Edmonton. The pastoral year is about to commence, and this week many teachers are preparing to welcome their students back to school in the coming days. There is much work to be done to bring to our surroundings the truth and beauty of the Gospel. It simply would not be possible without the transformative power of the Holy Spirit at work in our lives. Come Holy Spirit! Enable us to do that which without you is impossible! Help us to grow in holiness. Make us authentic disciples of Jesus. Bring to fruition the work that you inspire within us for the new evangelization, to which the Church and the needs of our world are summoning us.

We are painfully aware as well of the horrible situation in Syria and the worrying events unfolding elsewhere in the Middle East. To our anguish that comes from witnessing the suffering of many is added deep frustration at the seeming inability of parties within Syria and the international community to bring the horror to an end. Come Holy Spirit! Come and change our hearts! Come and open the doors that lead to reconciliation, peace and healing, doors that human effort alone is powerless to unlock!

At the same time as I think of these and other needs that cry out for a renewed outpouring of the Holy Spirit, I am grateful as well for the countless individuals who open their hearts daily to the Holy Spirit, and who live by His promptings as they give their lives in the service of the Church. Seminarians have returned to the seminary for another year of discernment. These young men have felt the impulse of the Spirit to seek out the Lord's call for them. Last night I participated in a BBQ to thank the many volunteers who give of their time, talent and treasure to support the seminary and Newman Theological College. Their generosity is itself a sign of responsiveness to the movement of the Holy Spirit in their lives. I think of the staff at our Archdiocesan offices and the many priests, religious and lay people who work in our parishes and institutions, all of them highly dedicated to the Church and the service of their brothers and sisters. We would not have such a vibrant Archdiocese were it not for their readiness to follow where the Holy Spirit leads. I could go on.

That window spoke very powerfully to me of our abiding need for the Holy Spirit for the work of the Church and the renewal of the world. Let us pray daily for the transformation that only the Holy Spirit can effect in our lives, our country and throughout the international community.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Into the Light

Cathedral  (Sobor) of the Resurrection of Christ
Radiant joy. Those are the words that I believe best capture what I saw expressed on the faces of nearly twenty thousand pilgrims yesterday in Kiev, Ukraine. I am here for the celebration by the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church of the 1025th anniversary of the baptism of the people of Kyivan- Rus'. Central to the celebrations was the consecration yesterday of their new cathedral (or "sobor") by the Major Archbishop, His Beatitude Sviatoslaw. He was joined by all the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Bishops from around the world, together with representatives of other Eastern Rite Churches. Mine was the extraordinary privilege to be present to represent all the Bishops of Canada, who hold their Ukrainian brothers and their faithful in high esteem, and to symbolize our solidarity with them in this very historic moment of great joy. Cardinal Dolan of New York was also present in his capacity as President of the US Bishops' Conference for the same reason. The Holy Father sent as his personal emissary Cardinal Audrys Backis, the Archbishop Emeritus of Vilnius, Lithuania.

Consider that it is only slightly more than twenty years since this Church has been liberated from State oppression under the old communist regime. Prior to that they worshipped "in the catacombs", that is, secretly, such as in houses. Now in just a short span of time they are consecrating a new spiritual home, a magnificent cathedral which features prominently on the skyline of Kiev, an impressive city of over three million people. This structure announces not only the beauty of their faith tradition but also the decisive and positive contribution they stand poised to make to the common good of the people.

In point of fact, in my view that contribution predates these joy-filled days through the heroic witness given by these Christians throughout years of persecution and suffering. In spite of oppression, they remained steadfast and resilient in their faith. These brothers and sisters of ours in the Lord teach us that resistance and oppression is no excuse for infidelity to Christ and his Church. I made this point when I had the blessing of addressing, on behalf of the Bishops of Canada, the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Bishops gathered here for their synod. As the people here now have the joy of stepping out fully into the light, their experience manifests the Gospel truths that light triumphs over darkness, truth over falsehood, good over evil, weakness over strength. How appropriate that they have named their new Sobor the Cathedral of the Resurrection!

Let us pray for our Ukrainian Greek Catholic brothers and sisters. They have a great deal of work ahead of them as they rebuild their Church. More importantly, may we learn from their example. The Church in Canada knows a different type of intolerance and resistance. By God's grace, may we not fail in our circumstances to be faithful witnesses to our Lord.

Monday, August 12, 2013

A Little Child Will Lead Them

These words from Isaiah came to mind after something that left me feeling rather embarrassed. I only hope no one saw me blush. Here is what happened.

My travel to San Antonio last week did not go as planned. Weather delays and other issues resulted in re-routings and delays. With every change my frustration mounted. When I finally got on the plane for the last leg of the journey, I was annoyed, silently cursing my sorry lot. Then a young mother with her daughter, about nine years old, took the seats in front of me. It was evident from their obvious fatigue and exclamations of relief that their travel day had been worse than mine. Yet the mother looked at her daughter and spoke of how grateful they should be to the Lord who had brought them safely to this point. Then the little girl looked heavenward and, speaking loudly enough for all to hear, thanked God for looking after them and getting them through the day. If there had been sufficient space, I would have sunk completely under my seat, I'm sure! My focus was entirely on my problems, while theirs was on the goodness of the Lord, present in the midst of their difficulties. Lesson learned. That night I thanked the Lord for the witness of those two wonderful people and for bringing me up short through the voice of that child.

Saint Paul admonishes us to "give thanks in all circumstances" (1Thessalonians 5:18). Behind this instruction is faith's certainty of the Lord's abiding presence, guiding us in all things and turning all to the good for those who love him (Romans 8:28). Life gets immeasurably more difficult than irritating travel delays. That little girl reminded me of the truth that we can at times allow hardship to eclipse from our sight, namely, that God remains close, often carrying us in ways and along paths not of our choosing and beyond our understanding, but always toward that which is for our good. This is why we are always to be thankful, even in tough situations. It helps us remember Who is in control, and who is not.

At Mass yesterday we heard from Hebrews a beautiful definition of faith as exemplified in the lives of Abraham, Sarah and the ancients: "Faith," it reads, "is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen." The foundation of this assurance is the fidelity of God to his promises. Trust in God's faithfulness is the wellspring of gratitude. God has pledged in Jesus Christ always to be with his Church (Matthew 28:20). Let us trust in His Word and give thanks today for his presence, love and guidance.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Emptiness Still Attracts

I'm en route today to the annual Supreme Convention of the Knights of Columbus, this year held in San Antonio, Texas. The Knights do great work for the Church and society, and I am happy to be able to attend this assembly to demonstrate my support.

At one point in the flight I fingered through one of those airline magazines they keep in the back pocket of the seat. I couldn't get over the large number of advertisements for a wide variety of surgical makeovers, notably for plastic surgeons and for clinics that specialize in hair or dental implants. Quite a market in vanity, it would seem. I wonder what the author of Ecclesiastes would have made of it. In the first reading of yesterday's mass, we heard his famous lament: "Vanity of vanities; all is vanity." It is a haunting cry against the emptiness, illusion and meaninglessness that we confront in so many ways, but which the advertisements demonstrate maintain an abiding attraction. How much money is spent on those makeovers? How much energy and time is given over to that which literally impacts only the surface of things? And this when what is needed above all is a societal makeover that addresses the poverty and injustices that afflict countless numbers of our brothers and sisters both at home and abroad. Such societal change needs to probe deep beneath the surface to the truth of human dignity that inheres in each and every person regardless of any visible difference; it demands that we move away from the ubiquitous and imprisoning focus on the Self and toward a shared concern for the common good.

This is how we build up treasure in heaven, as Jesus admonished us to do in yesterday's Gospel passage. Concern for earthly possessions is yet another expression of vanity, of a chase after that which is ultimately empty and unable to satisfy. God alone satisfies, as St. Teresa of Avila famously said. When we open our hearts to allow ourselves to be possessed by the love of God revealed in Christ and poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, we too will say that, in comparison, all else is truly vanity. To be embraced by God's love is to encounter that which alone is real. This in turn moves us out of ourselves to see beyond the illusory to the real situation of our world, and motivates us to dedicate our use of resources not to their accumulation but to their sharing for the sake of those in need.