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

Monday, September 16, 2013

Mercy the Antidote

The Return of the Prodigal Son
(1773) by Pompeo Batoni
 On Saturday evening we gathered once again in St. Joseph's Basilica in Edmonton to pray for peace in Syria. Among us were people of Syrian origin now living in Canada. It was a moving experience to be one with them in prayer for peace in their noble and beloved land. We celebrated the Mass of the Sunday, and I shared with the congregation the particular relevance of the Scripture readings for the situation in Syria and the Middle East. They go to the heart of the problem, of the sickness, that is besetting Syria and so many other places ravaged by war, and at the same time prescribe the remedy.

 The illness is idolatry, which is worshipping as god something which is not God. In the case of the ancient Israelites that we heard about in the first reading from Exodus, they fashioned for themselves a golden calf and attributed to this inanimate object of their own creation the powers of the living God! In different ways we can see the same thing happening in our own day. We are constantly fashioning "golden calves" out of money, reputation, possessions and so on and allow these inanimate things to rule us. Among the most dangerous idols wreaking great havoc today are those of power, hatred and pride. These give rise to what Exodus evocatively calls being "stiff-necked", unwilling to listen to the other, to compromise, to admit wrong. This creates barriers of hostility that keep hearts separated from one another long after any outward hostilities may have ceased. Sadly, in the land of Syria, we are witnessing the triumph of this idolatry, and countless thousands of men, women and children are the victims.

 The antidote to all of this is mercy. St. Paul had been one of the most stiff-necked of all the persecutors of the Church, as he recalled for us in the second reading from his first Letter to Timothy. What changed everything for him, and indeed for human history, was his encounter with mercy. This happened when he met Jesus Christ.

This same Jesus, speaking in the Gospel of Saint Luke, tells parables that underscore the truth of God's mercy. God is not aloof, indifferent to the plight of his people. No, God comes looking for his lost ones so that he might show them mercy and heal them. Like the shepherd in search of the sheep or the woman in search of the lost coin, he does not give up on us but continues to search. All that he asks is that we accept our need for him. All he asks is that, like the prodigal son, we give up the illusion that we can do it on our own and return to him in sincere repentance. Then, like the father in the parable who welcome his repentant son with joy beyond telling, he welcomes every repentant sinner, everyone who turns away from their illusory idols and back to him, with the embrace of love, mercy and new life. Then, having received this mercy, we are called to be merciful to one another, merciful and not hateful.

So let us continue to pray, and to pray earnestly, for an outpouring of mercy on the land and people of Syria. May this mercy heal the combatants of any idolatry that keeps them closed in on themselves and their ideologies and away from one another. We know that prayer works. In the first reading we heard how Moses interceded with God, pleaded with God, on behalf of the people, and God heard and responded. God hears our prayers. God is moved by our prayers. God answers our prayers. And so we pray with confidence and persistence.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Let Us Continue to Pray for Peace

Last Saturday Catholics - and, indeed, many people of different faith traditions - offered a day of prayer and fasting for peace in Syria and gathered in intense communal prayer for the avoidance of military strikes from world powers and an end to hostilities within the country. Pope Francis, in his Sunday Angelus six days before, had called for the special day. In response, Catholics gathered in cathedrals and churches throughout the world, including hundreds who joined with our own Auxiliary Bishop Gregory Bittman at St. Joseph's Basilica in Edmonton. Only a few days after the event we now hear of a diplomatic proposal acceptable to the Syrian government and received positively - even if with hesitation - by the U.S. and others, in the light of which the possibility of a missile strike has been called off ... for the moment. What is being widely reported is the flurry of diplomatic activity that has brought us to this moment. People of faith are recognizing a deeper and prior agency at work - the power of prayer. At the call of Pope Francis, countless thousands implored the Lord for peace at a time when a military strike seemed certain to occur. Now there is real hope that it can be avoided.

The situation in Syria remains horrible. Our hearts continue to weep for the people who suffer and are forced to flee their country. We recoil in horror that the use of chemical weapons could even be contemplated yet alone used on innocent people. From the depths of our hearts we must continue to pray, confident that the Lord alone has the power to change hearts, to bring about surprising new possibilities and to lead us to reconciliation and peace.

Please continue to pray. Recall that this coming Saturday is the national day of prayer and fasting called for by Canada's Bishops last June. It is the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross, by which Jesus Christ broke down the barriers of hostility separating his people from one another (cf. Ephesians 2:14). Please offer prayer and sacrifice throughout the day that the power of Christ's Cross will bring a true and lasting reconciliation and peace to the people and nation of Syria and throughout the Middle East. I will be celebrating Mass at St. Joseph's Basilica at 5:00 pm that day and invite you to join me.

We. are grateful to our Holy Father for his summons to prayer. It is a call we must continue to heed.

Thank You Sisters, Faithful Companions of Jesus

In a letter dated March 26, 1882, Bishop Grandin wrote to the Mother General of the Faithful Companions of Jesus, inviting them to come to his diocese of Saint Albert for the purpose, primarily, of educating the young. If they were able to accept this invitation, the good Bishop promised them a welcome of poverty, lack of resources generally and inhospitable living conditions. He was evidently an early proponent of truth in advertising! The Sisters contemplated this invitation carefully and accepted. Human reason would have argued against the Sisters doing so. It would have insisted that only when sufficient resources were guaranteed should they come to this diocese. The Sisters, though, followed a higher logic. They chose to rely not on human reason but on trust in divine wisdom and providence. With faith in the Lord, they took the very bold step and accepted the invitation. The subsequent 125 years of their presence and ministry among us gives ample proof that their trust was not misplaced.

In my view, we have here one of the most important and timeless dimensions of the legacy the sisters bequeath to all of us. Time and again we come face to face with the reality of human weakness and limit and the question this imposes: will I rely upon myself or trust in God? Families face daily a bewildering variety of pressures and challenges. Contemporary society continues to be marked by large numbers of poor, homeless, vulnerable and otherwise marginalized persons. The world community remains plagued by war and violence, and is frustrated at the seeming inability of leaders to end conflict, such as the horror we witness currently in Syria. In these and countless other situations, the limits of human wisdom and competence are in painful evidence. And yet we continue to rely upon it! We persist in the illusion that we can solve our own problems. Those Sisters, who so long ago chose to come to this part of the world to serve, show us another way, namely, taking refuge not in our own weakness but in the power of God. Reliance upon self leads to frustration and despair. Reliance upon God gives birth to opportunity and hope.

As significant as this particular lesson is, it is not the most important dimension of the legacy that the Sisters leave us. The very heart of the heritage we receive from them is indicated by their name. As their foundress, Marie Madeleine Victoire d'Houet was discerning her call, certain interior illuminations made clear that, as the foundation of all the work she was to do, she was to live as a faithful companion of Jesus. Furthermore, she would do so in the "companionship" of humility, poverty, obedience and gentleness. Union with Christ fashions unity with others, and thus her acceptance of the call to be a faithful companion of the Lord gave rise to a community of sisters who adopted this name and lived henceforth as faithful companions of Jesus and of one one another in the service of the Gospel. In this example of the Sisters we have revealed the very heart of the Church's life and mission. All flows from our relationship with Christ and back to it. We are all called to be his faithful companions and to draw all of our inspiration, strength and accomplishment from his love. Indeed, we can love and follow him as companions, as friends, only because he has loved and chosen us first to be his companions and friends (cf. John 15:15).

Sisters, Faithful Companions of Jesus, thank you from us all! Thank you for your witness and for the legacy of fidelity you bequeath us. May the Lord bless you all richly as you draw comfort and peace from His abiding companionship.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

In Solidarity with the People of Syria

The crisis in Syria continues to deepen. Refugees are swelling in numbers. The international community is seemingly helpless to intervene in any meaningful way to bring the horror to an end. Pope Francis has focused upon that without which all efforts at peace will fall short: prayer. Fervent and unified prayer. The Holy Father has called the universal Church to a day of prayer and fasting for Syria on Saturday, September 7th, the vigil of the Feast of the Birth of Mary, normally celebrated September 8th. She is the Queen of Peace. We are asked to offer prayer to God throughout the day, and to fast as an act of solidarity with our suffering brothers and sisters and as an expression of our fervent plea for a true and lasting peace in that land and throughout the Middle East. Let us also not fail to ask Our Lady for her intercession.

The Pope asks that people gather together for prayer on this special day. Therefore, you are invited to join with Bishop Bittman at St. Joseph's Basilica at 7:30 on the evening of the 7th for a period of prayer together for the people and nation of Syria. Since there will be little opportunity to announce this event via parish bulletins and pulpit announcements, please help to spread the word. You can find out further details about this special day by consulting our Archdiocesan website. Thanks.

In addition you will recall that the Bishops of Canada, as long ago as last June, called for a special day of prayer and fasting for Syria, and set the date for September 14th. This day coincides with the official end of our national fundraising campaign in support of the people of Syria. More importantly, it is the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross, a beautiful day to pray that the power of the Cross of Jesus Christ will touch and transform the land of Syria. Since many people who rely only upon bulletin and pulpit announcements will not have received word of the day called for by the Holy Father in time to participate, we have decided to maintain our plan for the 14th as well. A letter to that effect will be read from the pulpit at Masses this coming weekend.

Thank you for your participation in either or both of these days. Let us be one with our Holy Father, the Bishops of Canada and each other in solidarity with the suffering of Syria. May the Lord give true wisdom to world leaders and thus swiftly bring about a true and lasting peace.