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

Monday, October 28, 2013

Humble Service

This past week here in Alberta we went through an election of various civic officials. It coincided with the commissioning for service in many of our parishes of trustees, pastoral council members, catechists and so on. Reflecting on the dynamics of the civic election in the light of the Scripture readings proclaimed yesterday at Mass can offer some insight into essential characteristic of ecclesial ministry.

In the lead-up to voting day there is a period set aside for campaigning. It gives voters an opportunity to listen to candidates and read their material so as to discern who will receive our vote. We base our decision on two fundamental criteria: the candidate's platform and his or her skill set. Considered from the viewpoint of our democratic system of governance, the logic of this political process makes sense and generally serves us well. However, when the immediate context is the service of God's people within the Church, a far broader and often very different logic must guide our deliberations and shape our actions.

One chosen for ministry in the Church serves in accordance not with a personal platform but with God's platform. God has a plan for his Church and for all the people he has created. This plan, or platform, has been made known to us in Jesus Christ. It is a platform rooted in the inalienable dignity of each and every human being; a platform, therefore, of justice. It is a plan formulated on the basis of God's infinite compassion for weak and sinful human beings; a platform, therefore, of mercy. It is a vision springing from the divine desire to reunite all of God's children scattered by sin; a platform, therefore, of unity. Its fulfilment is not confined to a four-year mandate but unfolds through history to culminate in eternal life; a platform, therefore, of hope. The accomplishment of this plan has already happened in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ; a platform, therefore, that remains forever centred upon the person of the Word of God made flesh and upon no other.

Those who serve this platform are obviously at the service of something far greater than themselves. This "something" is nothing less that the divine plan of salvation, revealed in Christ and made known in every generation by the Church.

Which brings us to the question of skill set. What is required of someone who serves this plan in the Church? One indispensable quality of anyone who serves in the Church is highlighted by the Scripture readings today: humility.

In the passage from St. Luke (18:9-14), Jesus holds up for our example not the Pharisee, who is proud, self-righteous, confident in his abilities, thinking himself better than others, but the tax collector, who is aware of his sinfulness, his weakness, his mistakes, his vulnerability, his limits; who is aware, in other words, of his need for God and has learned to rely on God's mercy. This is a lesson St. Paul teaches us through his ministry. In his second letter to Timothy (4:17) he tells us that his strength was not his own but that provided by the Lord, who stood by him at all times.

Humility is the recognition of our weakness and consequently of our utter reliance upon the gifts and the mercy of God. It is the indispensable condition for service, the foundation for putting into practice the skill set with which God endows us. The prophet Sirach assures us that "the prayer of the humble pierces the clouds." (Sirach 35:21) So let us pray, in humility, for the gift of humility. May we all be deeply aware of our total dependence upon God, be ready to put aside our own platforms or agendas to serve only the divine plan, and live with joyful reliance upon his gifts of love and mercy.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Shaking Things Up

While travelling recently on a flight, I was seated directly behind two people, who, in the course of the journey, struck up a lengthy conversation. I was trying to do some work, but their voices were such that, try as I might not to listen, I could not help overhear what they were saying. They spoke about anything and everything. At one point their conversation turned to Pope Francis, and I confess, my ears really perked up. Their assessment of the Pope very positive, and at one point one of them said, "He really seems to be shaking things up over there." This was yet another example of the widespread impact our Holy Father is having on our world. He is attracting the attention of many people, believer and non-believer alike. It was also an instance that demonstrated the impression he is giving to many: he is shaking things up over there.

The "over there" refers to Rome and the functioning of the Holy See. That there is a need to "shake things up" should surprise no one. It is both natural and responsible for any institution to assess its manner of operation and review its structures in order to change and improve as necessary. It is clear that the Holy Father wants this to happen for the Holy See. At the same time, we would miss the main point of the Holy Father's desire to "shake things up" if we were to focus only on the "over there". That is not the first priority of Pope Francis. From his homilies, speeches and messages it is very clear that he wants to see a shakeup not only "over there", but also, and principally, "in here", that is, in our hearts. That is where the real shakeup needs to take place, and we all know we need it. In other words, the Pope is giving a strong echo in our day to the call of Jesus for a change of heart, for conversion, the fundamental and ever necessary Christian shakeup.

Some clarity on what this means was given to us this past Sunday as we marked World Mission Sunday. Each one of us, in virtue of our baptism, is called to participate in the missionary work of the Church. One important way is to offer our financial resources to support the work of ecclesial organizations that carry the Gospel to lands far and wide. At the same time we are called both to support and to be missionaries. Often we hear Pope Francis urge us to embrace our responsibility to be missionary disciples of Jesus. Following our Lord means sharing in his mission of being sent by the Father. This does not mean that we need to travel to faraway countries. It does mean being missionaries where we find ourselves: in our homes, our workplaces and on our streets.

If I am living only for myself; if I am, as the Pope recently and so memorably put it, only a "painted Christian", where my Christianity is only a veneer but my heart and lifestyle are far from the Lord; if I practice personal piety but neglect the poor and needy around me, then I am not living as a missionary disciple and my heart needs a shakeup. This week, let us all pray that the Holy Spirit will really shake things up "in here", in our hearts, and transform us into authentic disciples of Jesus Christ.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

A Lesson from St. Teresa of Avila

I write this blog post on the liturgical memorial of St Teresa of Avila. One of her most famous counsels has always touched me deeply. It is as follows:
Let nothing disturb you
Let nothing frighten you
All things are passing away
God never changes
Patience obtains all things
Whoever has God lacks nothing
God alone suffices
In Canada we have just celebrated Thanksgiving. In these words of Saint Teresa we have articulated the deepest ground of our gratitude: the love of our all-powerful, never-changing God, who protects and provides for His children. Our thanks will often focus on created things, which is natural enough but insufficient. Our most profound thanks is directed to the Creator, God Himself, on whom we depend for life and all that is given within it. God alone suffices.

On this same weekend the Holy Father, Pope Francis, directed the attention of the world to Mary, the mother of Jesus, our Lord and God. In a moving ceremony at St. Peter's in Rome he consecrated the whole world to her Immaculate Heart. Mary is a wondrous gift to the world, and I am grateful to His Holiness for drawing our attention to the protection her maternal love offers.

If some worry or difficulty is, in fact, disturbing you, perhaps you could remember today the advice of Saint Teresa. God is always greater. He loves us as our Father, and provides for all we truly need. There is no need for fear. In addition, go to Mary and seek the help of her intercession. She is our mother who loves us beyond all telling and hears our every prayer.