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

Monday, December 22, 2014

Use the Other Lens

Not long ago I was approached by some people, who asked, “Archbishop, can we take a selfie with you?” Being the technologically astute and up-to-date person that I am, I asked, “What’s a selfie?” Then they demonstrated how the smartphone, with a camera lens on both front and back, allows one to direct the lens at oneself so that a picture might be taken in which the photographer is included in the shot together with others. With a simple touch of the icon on the screen, the device shifts back and forth between lenses, between focus on self and away from self.

There’s a lesson in this. We live in a “selfie” world. We are encouraged to keep the lens of mind and heart focused on self. All that matters is what I want or desire, and the simple fact that I desire it means that I am entitled to have it.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ is a call to use the other lens. That is to say, Jesus summons us to focus not on self but on the other, specifically upon the Other – God – and upon the other who is our neighbour. Love of God and love of neighbour is the fundamental commandment left to us by the Lord.

The perfect example of other-centeredness is Mary. In the Gospel passage of the Fourth Sunday of Advent, she receives the message from the angel Gabriel that she would conceive by the Holy Spirit and give birth to the Saviour of the world. Her attention is entirely fixed upon this message and the promise of God it conveys. She focuses not on herself but on the plan of God, and gives her fiat.

By turning her “lens” toward God and his promise, Mary comes to know God’s purpose for her in relation to his plan of salvation. This is important to grasp. She comes to know herself by focusing not on self but on God. So it is with us. Clarity with respect to life’s meaning and purpose comes not from a self-referential focus but from a careful and attentive listening to the Word of God. If I keep the lens directed at myself, the resultant picture of my life will be one of sadness, arising from lack of direction and unrealizable hopes. When the lens is fixed where it belongs, i.e., upon God’s Word given in Jesus, the picture is one of happiness and peace.

Of course, the occasional snapshot will reveal moments of difficulty. Mary knew those in abundance, as she watched her Son rejected and crucified. Yet she remained faithful to her fiat, she kept the lens focused on God’s faithfulness, and she witnessed the joy of new life granted in the resurrection of her Son from the dead.

Let’s follow her example of faithful discipleship and keep the lens of our minds and hearts where it belongs: on loving God and serving our neighbour.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Looking for Joy

As you might guess, there are times when the life of an Archbishop is not easy. Occasions arise when I have to make difficult and painful decisions, or confront situations I would rather avoid. One such occasion occurred just the other week. I knew it would not be pleasant and, to be honest, was rather anxious about it. But I knew I couldn’t avoid it. So, when the time came, I said my prayers, steeled myself, and with full reliance upon the Lord Jesus and the help of the Blessed Virgin, I went to the West Edmonton Mall.

The experience is not for the faint of heart. But the Lord was with me. Praise Jesus! I went online to look at the mall map and locate the entrance nearest to the store I needed to visit. I went in my car to that exact entrance and then – a miracle! – I found a parking spot. Then I entered the mall, discovered the store, found what I needed, and went to the cashier, where there was no line up – yes, another miracle. I made the purchase, made fast my escape, and soon found myself exiting the parking lot with songs of Alleluia echoing in my heart.

Now, as I drove away and the sight of the mall faded in my rear view mirror, some images from that harrowing experience came to the fore: the sight of many tired, worn down and frustrated people. Those images have remained with me. At this time of the year, one does not need to be long in that – or any – mall in order to witness a lot of exhaustion and burden. The question arises: are we having fun yet? These days of anticipation in the immediate run up to Christmas are supposed to be – one would expect – times of excitement and joy. In their stead, though, we see, and perhaps we are experiencing for ourselves, anxiety, burnout and distraction.

The question beneath all of this is: where do I locate the source of joy? Real joy. A joy that persists even in the midst of hardship. It is this very question that is addressed by the Scripture readings for the Third Sunday of Advent. By tradition we refer to this as Gaudete Sunday. That Latin word means “Rejoice!” The passages call us to rejoice and at the same time point us to the wellspring of true joy: Jesus Christ. The mall experience suggests that many are looking for joy in consumerism, but are clearly not finding it there. The Word of God points us elsewhere, far away from all of that superficial glitz and glitter that doesn’t satisfy. It points us to Jesus.

Long ago Isaiah spoke a prophecy of liberation (cf. 61: 1-2a, 10-11), which in the Gospel of Luke Jesus applies to himself (cf. Luke 4: 16-21). St. Paul summons us to joy by recalling the steadfast fidelity of God revealed and active in Christ Jesus (cf. 1Thess 5: 16-24). Saint John the Baptist witnesses to Jesus as the Light that dispels all darkness (cf. John 1: 6-8, 19-28). Jesus – and only Jesus – frees us from captivity, stands steadfastly by us in the circumstances of life, and dispels the darkness of sin and despair by the light of his truth and love. Look no further for joy. It is found in Jesus, and he is very near.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Sleepy Friday

If we have watched the television news over the last couple of days we've seen images of huge crowds waiting in long lines outside store entrances for sales on a day called Black Friday. As the doors open, the folks barrel in, trampling over one another, and then sometimes actually fighting over items they hope to purchase. These are scenes of frenzy and panic, in which we see products given priority over persons. Not to put too fine a point on it, but this is nuts! Consumerism run amok.

If we've been caught up in this, or to the degree to which the desire to possess just for the sake of possessing inhabits our hearts, we are likely to feel a bit sheepish as we ponder the Scripture readings for Sunday, the first of Advent. They remind us of just how far off the rails we have fallen when we are obsessed with possessing. Jesus is teaching us about what is really worth "waiting in line" for: eternal life. When God made us human beings, he made us for himself, to be with him for all eternity. That is why there is within every human heart a deep longing, which only God can fill. Advent reminds us of this by drawing our attention to the end of history, thus enabling us to keep in mind where we are going and what alone can fulfill our searching. In this light, the mad rush to fill the heart's longing with the latest deals at our favourite box store, instead of with the love and mercy of God, is more than a little embarrassing.

It is truly remarkable that people will get up very early, or not go to sleep at all, in order wait through the night to get into a store; staying awake in order to get something of which we will soon tire. Jesus calls us to stay awake, to be always alert, for something that will never lose its attraction and joy. He asks us to remain awake to meet him when he comes to take us to himself. This second advent of the Lord will be either at the moment of our death or at the end of time, either of which can occur in an instant. This calls us to be "awake" not just through the night but at all times.

Clearly Jesus is not asking us to give up all physical rest. Rather, he is summoning us to wake up from the lulling effect of falsehood. Possessions, self-advancement, money and so on are illusory achievements that lull us into the dangerous sleep of complacency and distraction. From all of this Jesus calls us to awaken, to clear our heads in order to see clearly what is important, to grasp that for which we truly do long, and so to order our lives around him, and not ourselves, that we are ready to meet him when he comes.

Black Friday is probably better called Sleepy Friday. Let's wake up from the nonsense and live sensibly in the light of the Gospel.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Hangers and Hope

The other day I was speaking with a couple of people who work in one of our soup kitchens in Edmonton. It is a place that provides not only food but also clothing, and among the people who come for help are the homeless of the city.

Recently a man came to them who had been provided with housing under the city's plan to end homelessness. On this day he had a new sense of hope because he had a place to call is own, and he asked for something he had not sought before: hangers! Up until that time he had for clothing only what was on his back and a change carried in his backpack. He wouldn't ask for more because he had no place to keep it. Now he did, and so he asked for hangers. When he received them, I am told his face lit up. They represented for him a new beginning and thus new hope.

This real-life episode is a stark reminder of the sad fact of real poverty in our midst, a situation that cries out for our response. It comes to mind as I listen to the teaching of the Gospel for Sunday, the feast of Christ the King. It speaks of the Last Judgment, and makes clear the basis on which the Lord Jesus, our King and Judge, will pronounce upon our eternal state: "I was hungry and you gave me food..."

The love of our God, revealed in Jesus and announced in the Gospels, calls us to service not only of the poor but also of the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick, the prisoner, and to recognize that, in serving these, the "least", we serve him.

These situations of need are real and multiple. We know that many in our midst are hungry; our food banks are busy. At the same time we are conscious of a widespread hunger in our society for meaning and truth. The thirsting are not only those seeking a drink of water but also the too many people who thirst for healing in their families. With the rise in immigration to our province, there are many new people, strangers in our land, who seek a welcome. Yet even in our homes loved ones become estranged from one another through anger and bitterness and an inability to listen. The naked are not only those who, like our friend looking for hangers, have just what they wear on their back, but also any who have been stripped of their dignity by unemployment or abuse. We know that there are many sick in our hospitals we can visit; we need also to be conscious of people suffering the less visible but perhaps more debilitating diseases of loneliness and despair. When I go into prisons to visit the inmates I see many locked behind bars longing for freedom. Yet outside of those institutions I often encounter people incarcerated by addictions and hatred, yearning to be set free from those shackles.

The rule of Jesus, our King, is that of a good shepherd, who seeks out any in need to bring them the healing of God's love. Indeed, that love is so great that he identifies himself with the needy: "As often as you did this to one of the least of these, you did it to me." He calls those who would follow him likewise to be in search of the hurting and to be merciful toward them, and thus be of real service to our Master.

In response to this call, Catholic Social Services came to birth in our Archdiocese more than fifty years ago. In many ways it serves Christ in his poor and needy, offering many "hangers" upon which those in need can reliably depend. Its annual fund-raising campaign, called Sign of Hope, raises needed funds to make many of their services possible. If you have not already done so, I heartily encourage you to make a donation. You can find out more at

Monday, November 10, 2014

Living the Cross

Last week I visited Holy Cross Academy, one of our Catholic schools in the city of Edmonton. Given the name, I used the occasion to ask the students what they understood by the Cross. The answers, I must say, were very moving. They understood well that it was the perfect sign of the extent to which they are loved by Jesus Christ. They also appreciated that the act at the heart of the Cross - self-sacrifice - was one that called them to do the same. I explored with them what that would look like in their own lives, and the responses were spontaneous, even from the younger grades: doing my chores at home, cleaning up my room (some found that especially challenging!), helping friends at school and giving to others. We spoke together about how the Cross teaches us that we are most fully ourselves when we give ourselves away.

Through self-sacrifice we make visible our appropriation of the truth of the Cross. This week our country remembers those who lived out the meaning of the Cross in a particularly dramatic way by the sacrifice of their own lives for the sake of the life and liberty of others. We stand in awe before the bravery, courage and concern for others that led men and women to "stand in harm's way" in defence of their country and fellow citizens. As we reflect upon this particular living out of the meaning of the Cross, we realize that we are each called to make of our lives a sacrifice for others in our particular circumstances.

We think, too, of the families of our war heroes. Their sacrifice also is great and deserving of our thanks. I find it always very moving to see pictures of spouses and children taking leave of their loved ones as they depart for dangerous missions. This, too, is a living out of the meaning of the Cross. On Remembrance Day we also embrace them with our respect and esteem.

We might be tempted to think of remembering as an act of looking backward. In fact, it is actually an act by which we bring the past to the present so that we might learn from it for the sake of a better future. When we apply such remembrance to the Cross of Christ, the lesson is hope. Christ's death from his self-sacrifice led to the Resurrection; it led to life. By living the meaning of the Cross of Christ, our fallen heroes gave their lives moved by the hope that Jesus has shown to be real. May this same hope inspire us to give of ourselves for others.

Monday, November 3, 2014

A Great Presbyterate

Here in the Archdiocese of Edmonton we are about to enter our annual "Mid-Term Assembly", in which our priests gather for a time of study and reflection. It "kicks off" this evening with a mass and dinner in honour of those priests celebrating a significant jubilee anniversary this year. This provides me and their brothers in the priesthood an opportunity to celebrate these men and thank them for their faithful service.

In truth, the presbyterate here in general is worthy of celebration. We are gifted in this Archdiocese with a community of dedicated and faithful priests. When I visit parishes it is a joy for me to have people make a point of telling me how much they love and respect their priests, and that happens often. (And, no, the priests aren't paying their people to tell me those things!!)

In Sunday's Gospel we heard Jesus issue an invitation to all who are weary and heavy-burdened to come to him for rest. This invitation is made concrete through the ministry of the priest. He acts in persona Christi capitis, that is, in the person of Christ, the Head of the Church. Many people do, in fact, carry heavy - very heavy - burdens: loneliness, addiction, family tension, caring for a sick child, unemployment and so on. True hope arises from our encounter with Jesus Christ, and it is the role of the priest to manifest the Lord's concern for his people and give voice to his invitation.

Perhaps we could all take a moment today to offer our personal thanks to God for our priests. Each day they offer their personal weakness and limits to God as they ask Him to work in and through their ministry for the sake of His people. May we all be open to the grace of God that comes to us daily through our priests' dedicated service.

Monday, October 27, 2014

A Voice that Speaks of Peace

As commentator after commentator dissected the horrible events in Canada this past week - the killing of Canadian soldiers by what are believed to be "radicalized" Islamists, I found my mind going often to a beautiful - and now very timely - expression in the Psalms: "Let me hear what God the Lord will speak, for he will speak peace to his people, to his faithful, to those who turn to him in their hearts." (Psalm 85:8). Among the questions asked in relation to these tragedies is that of the voices to which the killers had been listening. Who are they listening to? Who is influencing and warping their understanding of things? Clearly, they are voices of hatred, influences which have so twisted their minds as to lead them to kill, messages that turn their hearts to desire and effect acts of aggression.

Particularly perverse are the voices that justify and encourage violence in the name of religion. In stark contrast is the teaching of the Psalmist, who seeks to listen to the voice of the Lord, a voice that speaks of peace.

That divine voice has become incarnate in Jesus Christ. As we listen to this voice of the Lord, he makes clear what leads to true peace: love of God and love of neighbour. These two inseparable commandments are at the centre of his teaching in the Gospel of Sunday past. This love is not a "warm fuzzy" but a commitment that is truly "radical", i.e. from the very roots of our being. Love of God with all one's heart, mind, soul and strength means to accept God, his love and teachings as the foundation of our lives. Likewise does love of neighbour call forth from us a commitment that engages the entirety of self. Love of neighbour means to give of oneself fully to the other so that a society of true justice is formed. Love of God and love of neighbour is true religion. It leads to peace and allows absolutely no room for violence.

Who am I listening to? The events of this week underscore with dramatic clarity just how important a question this is. Let us collectively listen to - and follow (!) - that one voice that both speaks of peace and fashions it.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Let’s Band Together to Do Good

My day yesterday was marked by the same experience shared by all Canadians: shock and horror at the tragic events in Ottawa. I might have surrendered to the natural temptation to fear before the ugly face of evil, were it not for another experience that announced hope. Earlier in the day I attended a community breakfast in support of the Alberta Association of Community Living. There I heard wonderful stories of hope. People carrying crosses of unbearable weight due to family members suffering severe disabilities shared how they found hope from members of the community banding together to help them and give much needed support.

The contrast between the two experiences was striking, and reminded me of what the Christian tradition has long held and taught: Light and darkness are not of equal weight. Light dispels darkness and hope banishes fear. Light and hope have come to the world in Jesus Christ, and they are made both visible and tangible when people come together to overcome evil and suffering by the power of good. That is the lesson of the dying and rising of Jesus and we do well to remember it. In that light, we dare to live without fear.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Dual Citizenship

Nice to have if you can get it. Most of us have citizenship in only one country. Rarely, a person may have citizenship in another at the same time. In an important sense, though, dual citizenship is not as unusual as one might think. In fact, the Scripture readings of this past Sunday teach us that God wills dual citizenship for all of his people. While we belong to countries in the earthly realm, we are called at the same time to citizenship in the heavenly, in what we call the kingdom of God.

Citizenship entails responsibilities. We pay taxes, we participate in the political process, we craft and obey laws, etc. What about citizenship in the Kingdom of heaven? Naturally there are responsibilities incumbent upon us in that sphere also.

God's kingdom has come to us in the person of Jesus Christ. In virtue of our union with him - a union brought about by faith, repentance and baptism, we are drawn into that kingdom, even if only partially during our sojourn on earth, and are thus called to assume its responsibilities. We know these from the teaching of Jesus: love God and neighbour, have faith in Jesus, live a life of holiness, accept the call to evangelize.

Even though we know our duties as citizens, sometimes these responsibilities are not met. People will try to reduce the amount they pay in tax, sometimes even to the point of cheating; at times people do not even cast votes at election time, and we know from a drive around town that traffic laws are not always followed. Is there a similar shirking of responsibility as citizens of God's kingdom?

This is precisely what is at issue in the encounter between Jesus and the Pharisees and Herodians recounted in Sunday's Gospel (cf. Matthew 22: 15-21). They are trying to trap him with the question of payment of taxes to Caesar. If Jesus were to reply that it is not required that the tax be paid, he could have been brought up on charges of sedition; had he encouraged the payment of tax he would have lost credibility in the minds of many who hated the emperor and the oppression brought upon them by the Romans. Jesus deflects the question easily (give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar) and then takes it to a deeper level: give to God what belongs to God.

What belongs to God is the entirety of our lives. His claim upon us is absolute. Citizenship in this kingdom means the surrender of all into the hands of Jesus, in whom God's kingdom has broken into human history. The enemies of Jesus demonstrated their unwillingness to live as such citizens. They sought to keep Jesus at bay, even to the point of seeking to have him arrested and killed. They did not want to accept the radical change in their lives that would be the inevitable consequence of accepting and following Jesus.

What about us? Are we also keeping Jesus away, hesitant to accept his call to conversion? Are we afraid to live authentically as his disciples and thus as citizens of his kingdom? There is absolutely no reason to fear Jesus and his call. Discipleship is beautiful, and the acceptance here and now of the responsibilities incumbent upon us as citizens of his kingdom bring a joy and peace for ourselves and others far beyond the reach of any earthly power.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

The Missing Preposition

I listened for it but could not hear it. It just wasn't there. A radio news report during the Thanksgiving Weekend featured a number of people, young and old, rhyming off a list of things they were thankful "for". What I was waiting to hear was mention of being thankful "to", as in "to whom"? Gratitude arises from an awareness that I have received something from another. Thankfulness is therefore expressed toward the giver; it is a matter not only of being thankful "for" but also thankful "to". Why was this natural and all-important preposition absent?

St. Paul asks this arresting question: "What do you have that you did not receive?" (1Corinthians 4:7). In other words, all in life is gift, and the giver is God, who loves us beyond all imagining and who never fails to give his children what is good. So powerful is this love of God that it can transform even what is bad into the gift of something good. This is what Jesus did when he took pain, suffering and death upon himself and transformed it, through his resurrection, into the gift of eternal life. That little word "to" is of immense importance. It directs our attention - and our gratitude - toward the source of the gift, who is God.

The absence of this preposition in common discourse is perhaps a sign of the need to welcome God back into our lives. Of course, it is good to be thankful "for", but at the same time I really ought to direct my thanks to the One whose love is the foundation of all good things, even life itself. To forget this is to lose sight of the foundation of real hope.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Divine Vision for Human Growth

Construction! It is at every turn in this city of Edmonton these days. We can expect it to continue, given the 30,000 - 40,000 people that come streaming into this city every year. As we struggle to accommodate this exponential growth, the city is crafting plan after plan, dealing with land use, transportation etc. With this as a backdrop, the Scripture readings for Sunday pose some dramatic questions. As we fashion our plans for living together, what about God's plan for human relating? As we envision what our city might look like in the years ahead, what about God's vision for humanity? How might this divine vision guide our life together, not only here but also everywhere?

God's intention for the people he has created is given at many points in Scripture through the image of a vineyard. "The vineyard of The Lord is the house of Israel." (Psalm refrain) The image refers to the people God has created and makes clear God's expectations of us. God "plants" this vineyard deeply in the truth of his love; he provides the "nutrients" of grace and mercy; he builds a "protective wall" by speaking his Word, above all his Word incarnate, Jesus Christ, who by his dying and rising has destroyed the power of evil: and God expects from his vineyard a "harvest" of human solidarity, justice and peace.

The same imagery also conveys God's lament that his vineyard has not produced the expected harvest: instead of justice God sees bloodshed; in place of righteousness, he hears cries of distress. (cf. Isaiah 5: 1-7)

To receive this imagery and teaching at a time of rapid societal growth is to hear in it a summons to direct our gaze correctly. In the city at this time we seem rather preoccupied with the number of skyscrapers to be built and their height. Our gaze is directed skyward. God's vision for humanity calls us to direct our gaze not skyward but streetward, and not only in the city but also provincially, nationally and globally. Look around, open your eyes and see. There are many good things to discover, of course. At the same time we also see poverty, homelessness, substance abuse, family abandonment, domestic violence, missing and murdered women and children, and, on the world scene, the horrors of ISIL. The ancient lament spoken through Isaiah would be apposite in our own day.

How did we get here? Consider the teaching given by Jesus. (cf. Matthew 21: 33-43) He takes the same image of the vineyard and around it crafts the parable of the evil tenants, who, at harvest time, do not return the fruit of the vine to the landowner but keep it to themselves. Whenever we turn our backs on God's purpose; whenever we distort his vision to serve our own ends; whenever we take the gifts he has lavishly poured upon us to bear fruit in justice and use them for our own selfish ends, then we can expect a harvest of pain, injustice and suffering, which is the exact opposite of God's expectation.

Concrete, asphalt and steel hold our buildings and roads together. The only cement that can keep together the human family and assure its strength is the rediscovery and implementation of God's vision for his people. May we all, individually and above all in our families, truly live as the Lord's vineyard, peacefully and trustingly receiving from him all the gifts we need and using them for the accomplishment not of our own selfish motives but of God's saving purpose.

Monday, September 29, 2014

A Matter of Translation

Like many others in this country, the Archdiocese of Edmonton is blessed with parishioners from a variety of cultures and languages. It is a particular joy for me to visit a parish and hear the people praying and singing in their native tongue (Cree, Vietnamese, Croatian, for example, and many more). Often, I don't understand a word of it. It sounds beautiful, but the meaning escapes me. To understand, translation is required. By means of a translator, sound becomes word, and perplexity is transformed into comprehension.

The Gospel passage for last Sunday (cf. Matthew 21: 28-32) is all about the need for clear translation. Jesus speaks of the need not only to say we will do the will of God, but also to accomplish that word in action. As Christians, we proclaim that Jesus is our Lord. For others to understand these words, they need to be translated clearly into not other words but actions.

By what acts, then, do we show clearly what is meant by the words we profess? The first, and font of all others, is the act of faith. We say that Jesus is Lord and Saviour. This translates into act when we place all of our hopes in him, surrendering with trust in his love and wisdom to the truth of who he is and what he reveals. It translates further into conversion. By changing our lives to live more in conformity with the teaching of Christ and his Church we make visible in act what we say in speech.

Because we believe, we pray. Recognizing that all comes from the goodness of God, we offer prayers daily in thanksgiving and petition, recognizing peacefully that God is our loving Father who will never leave us forsaken. The act of prayer embraces and flows from a reflective reading of the Word of God, undertaken that we might obey what we hear. This obedience leads us to participate in the life of the Church, since Christ gave his life to form us into a communion, which is his mystical Body on earth. This participation reaches its peak in the sacraments, especially in the frequent celebration of Eucharist and Penance.

A particularly clear action that translates our Christian words is service of others, especially of those in need. Pope Francis is demonstrating this to great effect. Our relationships in general will translate the faith we profess when they are marked by truth, honesty and respect.

Our actions will also translate back to us the degree to which we are allowing the Word of God to transform us. It is important to examine our actions daily and allow them to instruct us. In golf we say, "the ball doesn't lie." In other words, I might feel that my swing is good, but a slice or hook will tell me truthfully that there is something I have to do differently. Similarly, I might think I am a faithful Christian, but my actions don't lie. If I am not praying, meditating upon God's Word, participating in the sacraments, serving others, or dealing honestly in relationships, then those same actions are telling me I have to change. Let's pray this week for the grace to examine our lives, and ask God for the help we need to make sure that our words of faith find clear translation in our deeds.

Monday, September 22, 2014

What Really Matters

It was a remarkable phenomenon. Watching the news the other evening I saw a report about people - hundreds and hundreds of people in many cities - camped outside a store for as much as twenty-four hours in order to acquire a brand new version of a smartphone. Now, I like technology as much as the next guy, and I confess to being a little tempted to see what this new phone can do, but really! All that time wasted in a mall, all that energy spent in excited anticipation, for a phone! Moreover, for a phone that we know will soon be set aside in favour of the next upgrade to come along.

The perspective is distorted. This applies to all of us anytime we set our sights on what is passing, when we seek to fulfill our desires with what cannot for long satisfy. It need not be a smartphone; anytime our attention and energy are focused on things like money, possessions, prestige, reputation, the right location and so on, our outlook on what really matters has become terribly skewed.

The Scripture readings proclaimed Sunday serve to refocus our vision, purify our desires, and get our priorities back in correct order (cf. Isaiah 55:6-9; Philippians 1: 20-24, 27; Matthew 20:1-16). Isaiah cries out: "Seek the Lord!!" Seek not some worldly satisfaction that will leave us wanting. Seek, instead, to live in right relationship with God. St. Paul makes this very concrete by speaking of the desires of his own heart. His longing is to be with Christ. As long as the Lord has a purpose for him in this world, he will be content to live in the world and fulfill God's will. But his desire is to be with Christ forever. That's it! To be with Christ forever! For this we have been created; only in this, therefore, will our deepest desire find fulfillment.

How do we pursue the desire? Certainly not by camping out in a shopping mall. To be with Christ forever, living in him in the unity of the Trinity for all eternity, is what we mean by salvation. What Jesus makes clear in his parable of the vineyard labourers is that salvation is God's gift, pure and simple, offered to us out of the infinite depths of his  generosity. It matters not if we come to faith only "late in the day". When one is awakened to the joy of a life of faith is all part of the mystery of God's grace interacting with human freedom. What matters is that God holds out his gift to all equally. There is absolutely nothing we can do to earn it.

What is required is that our lives be open to the working of God's grace within us, so that he can bring about in us the accomplishment of his saving will.

The one thing necessary is to live in union with Christ. May this truth so possess us that our hearts will always be set upon what truly matters, and open to receive his saving grace.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Retreat Time

Tonight the priests of the Archdiocese of Edmonton begin a week of retreat. It is always a great blessing to set aside some time simply to be with and listen to the Lord.

What about retreat in your own life? I know it can be very difficult to set aside a number of days in succession to be on retreat, but it is very possible to set aside some time daily for this sacred purpose. Lives are busy and fragmented, yes, but at the same time there always seems to be time to watch a favourite TV program, listen to music and so on. If we can make time for these, we can certainly set aside some time for what is infinitely more important: spending time with the Word of God.

The importance of this is underscored by the liturgical feast day of today, September 8th. On this day each year the Church celebrates the birth of the Blessed Virgin Mary. In God's plan to save the world, she was chosen of old to be the mother of the Saviour and was prepared by God's grace for this unique role. The Gospel assigned for the day highlights how God has also worked in the lives of countless other persons in history to bring about his saving purpose (cf. Matthew 1:1-16, 18-23). From this we know that God is at work in our own lives also. Do we take time to ponder this? God is at work in our lives, carrying us, loving us, and speaking to us through Scripture and the voice of His Church. If we don't make time to pray with this wondrous truth and instead focus only on comparatively unimportant things, we lose sight of the deepest meaning of our lives.

This, in turn, can give rise to heartache and despair. Trials and hardship come to all of us, but if we don't place these against the backdrop of the mystery of God and his working in the lives of his people, they can leave us without hope and struggling for understanding. When we are mindful of God and his love, however, then we come to the conviction expressed today by St. Paul: "We know that all things work together for good to those who love God, who are called according to his purpose." God is at work in our lives to turn all things to the good. All things! This is the source of real hope and, yes, joy. We are not alone; we are never abandoned. Faith is letting God carry us. He will never disappoint.

So I recommend finding time today, and every day, for retreat. This might be just a few moments. That's okay. Beginning with even a little will surely lead to more. Ponder his love, listen to his voice, and rest in the knowledge that he is at work, bringing all together for our good and for the unfolding of his purpose for us and for the world.

Monday, September 1, 2014

"Back to School"

Students are heading back to the classroom this week. As I watch the children head off for school, and as I reflect upon an event in which I participated last week, a question arises: "is it time for all of us to go 'back to school' with respect to our faith?"

On Wednesday of last week the Archdiocese hosted a special Mass for Peace in the Middle East. Earlier that day a press conference was held, in which a number of Christians with roots in the Middle East, including Iraq, spoke about the terrible situation in their homelands and their own response to it. Speaker after speaker spoke movingly about the anguish they are experiencing at the suffering of family and friends. Particularly moving were the testimonies of Iraqi Christians, whose compatriots still living in Iraq are, together with other religious minorities, victims of unspeakable atrocities. One after the other they spoke of their resolve to respond to hatred with love and to vengeance with forgiveness. As I listened, I could not help but think, "These people get it! They understand, and they live, what it means to be a Christian!"

Can we say the same about ourselves? Is it time to go "back to school" to relearn what it really means to live the Christian life? The Scripture readings for last Sunday underscore just how radically different God's ways are from ours, and how it is easy to fall into the trap of becoming worldly and allowing human logic to guide our ways of thinking, acting, and living; how easy it is, in other words, to drift away from living our Christian faith authentically. This was behind the famous rebuke Jesus leveled at St. Peter: "Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are thinking not as God does, but as humans do." (Matthew 16: 23) Since this is a temptation to which all of us can succumb - and there is great pressure upon us from all sides to do so - it is always good to heed the call of St.Paul, recalled in Sunday's second reading (cf. Romans 12:1-2), to be "transformed by the renewing of your minds." To be conformed to the world, to think only in terms of human reason and emotion, weakened by original sin, is to become - in the words of Pope Francis - "watered-down Christians" (Sunday Angelus message, Aug 31, 2014).

In truth, the Christian must always be "in school", since conversion to our Lord and ever deeper immersion in his ways is a life-long process. We are always learning. It is sad when children drop out of school, because we know the missed opportunities this represents. Have we dropped out of the school of Christian life? If so, it is time to go back and learn once again from Sacred Scripture and the Christian Tradition the joy of being in a living relationship with Jesus Christ in the communion of his Church.

Monday, August 25, 2014


Ever misplace your keys? Not fun. It throws the whole day into confusion and panic until they're found. Keys unlock barriers that prevent access to what we need for normal everyday functioning, such as home, auto, office, etc. Until we get them back, we are locked out, unable to gain entry to those places or things around which life is ordered. Consequently, the absence of the keys creates dis-order.

In addition to access, keys can also represent authority. We see this most clearly at play in office dynamics. I might have a key to the building and to my own office area, but other areas of the workplace may be opened only by a select few to whom the appropriate key has been entrusted. The ones who have those special keys, particularly the all-important master key(!), are those who typically have the greatest authority. (Perhaps I should be speaking today in terms of key fobs, swipe cards, access codes and the like, but the idea is the same.)

In the Gospel we heard on Sunday (cf. Matthew 16: 13-20), both access and authority unite in the symbol of the keys entrusted by Jesus Christ to St. Peter: "I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven." These words are the foundation for the unique role of Peter and his successors, the popes, in the life of the Church. They are the reason statues of St. Peter usually portray him bearing keys, and why the coats of arms of the popes include an image of keys. They represent access (the grace of forgiveness communicated through the sacraments) and authority (teaching and governance in the name of Christ). These keys cannot be misplaced, because we know they have been uniquely entrusted to Peter, to the apostles in communion with him (cf. also Matthew 18:18) and to their successors.

It is quite extraordinary, to say the least, to see a mission of such importance as this entrusted to an individual whose weakness and mistakes were on constant display, and to his successors, who also know (like all of us!) the reality of human limit. When Pope Francis was asked in an interview to describe himself, the first thing he said was "I am a sinner." Herein, though, we are given another "key" that gives order to the entirety of our Christian lives: faith. Faith is the recognition of the truth of Christ, and the consequent realization of our total dependence upon his mercy. By the gift of faith, Peter was able to recognize the truth that Jesus is "the Christ, the Son of the living God." From this profession of faith, Jesus established Peter as the rock upon which his Church would be built. This establishment was not a removal of Peter's weakness but a pledge to work through it. This is why we can submit with serenity and confidence to the teaching of those who succeed to Peter's place and the direction they give to the Church. It is also a reminder to each of us to make daily our profession of faith, to acknowledge our weakness, and to rely peacefully on the loving presence of Christ acting in our own lives.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Arms Up!

Now this does not happen to me every day. Just a few days ago, during a visit to one of our Archdiocesan youth camps, I was standing with a number of people listening to the camp director when I felt a little movement near my feet. I looked down - way down - to see a little girl (I learned later she was sixteen months old). As I looked down at her she was looking up - way up - at me. She was holding her arms up high towards me. I thought: "Really?" Sure, enough, she wanted to be picked up. And just as surely I couldn't resist. So I picked her up and was pleasantly surprised at her level of comfort, especially when she laid her head against my shoulder. Her mother just looked on and smiled. A beautiful moment I won't forget for a long while.

Thinking about it since, what strikes me is the little girl's very confident expectation that she would be picked up and carried. All she had to do was put up her arms and it happened. This reminds me of the use made of this image by St. Therese of Lisieux to speak of her relationship with Jesus. Eager to reach heaven and aware of her smallness and weakness, she was quietly confident that by "raising her arms" to the Lord, he would pick her up and carry her to the eternal embrace of our Heavenly Father.

St. Therese is a Doctor of the Church. Therefore, this is a teaching that we should take seriously. In adulthood we tend to get trapped in the illusion of self-reliance, and that causes no end of problems. We might balk at thinking of ourselves in such a child-like way, but if so we should consider carefully the teaching of Jesus that the kingdom of heaven belongs to those who become like children, that is to say, aware of their dependence and quietly confident of the Lord's love.

Faith is lifting our arms to the Lord and allowing ourselves to be carried. It is a beautiful image, to be sure. At the same time, with adult maturity we recognize it as a challenging one, too. To be carried by the Lord is to surrender to him totally, which inescapably means yielding to all that he commands us to do. Central to his commands is love of God and love of neighbour. To lift up our arms to the Lord, therefore, means being attentive to all who are lifting up theirs in a cry for help.

Notice in Sunday's Gospel that one such person, a Canaanite woman, was "lifting up her arms" to the Lord in a cry for help. The disciples wanted to push her away. This can never be the right response among those who have lifted up their arms to the Lord and who live from his saving help. Indeed, since Christ lives in his disciples and forms them as his Body, it is the will of Christ that he work through us in response to the cries of his people. Of these there is no shortage. People throughout the world (think of the Middle East and Africa these days) and in our own country (think of the poor, homeless and vulnerable) are lifting up their arms to the Lord for mercy. Let us pray for the grace to be both attentive and responsive, that all might live together in the peace of God's loving embrace.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Dismay and Disbelief

With these words, Pope Francis on Sunday captured perfectly the reaction of people of goodwill everywhere to the horror unfolding in Iraq.

At yesterday’s Angelus in Rome, he said: “The news reports coming from Iraq leave us in dismay and disbelief: thousands of people, including many Christians, driven from their homes in a brutal manner; children dying of thirst and hunger in their flight; women taken and carried off; violence every kind; destruction of historical, cultural and religious patrimonies. All this gravely offends God and humanity. Hatred is not to be carried in the name of God! War is not to be waged in the name of God!”

An urgent plea for help has been issued to the world by the Catholic Patriarch of Baghdad. Catholic agencies here in Canada are working closely with their partners on the ground to respond to the vast array of needs among the Iraqi people, including the Canadian Catholic Organization of Development and Peace and the Catholic Near East Welfare Association – Canada. I encourage your financial support of these organizations at this critical time. They are also active in other areas of the Middle East, so your support will touch those needs also.

In addition, the Holy See has issued an urgent call to the Bishops of Canada (and other countries) and their Dioceses to unite with Pope Francis in heartfelt prayer to the Holy Spirit for peace in the Middle East. The Archdiocese of Edmonton will celebrate a special Mass for peace in the Middle East on Wednesday evening, August 27, at St. Joseph's Basilica. At that celebration a special collection will be taken to support the work of the aforementioned charities. I invite your participation.

In yesterday’s Gospel passage (Matthew 14: 22-33), Jesus walked across the water to come to the aid of his disciples in distress. Today the Church, the Body of Christ, is being called to “cross the waters”, that is to say, to reach across all that separates us from our Middle Eastern brothers and sisters in their distress and offer them help. Keeping us apart is not just geography. We can also be separated from them by indifference or defeatism. Let neither of these keep us from responding. Prayer transcends all distance and awakens our consciences. When we act in and through Christ, He makes all things possible.

The incredible suffering taking place “across the waters” of the Atlantic and Mediterranean calls out for our loving response. Let us heed the urgent pleas for help and respond in prayer and charity.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

“You Give Them Something to Eat”

Daunting command, that. We heard Jesus give this directive to his disciples in the Gospel passage from Sunday (cf. Matthew 14: 13-21). Thousands had gathered around Jesus, and the disciples encouraged him to send them away to buy food for themselves. Instead, he told them to give the people something to eat. They were astounded by such an order, since they had among them only five loaves and two fish. No matter. Jesus had them bring this paucity of resources to him and he effected his famous multiplication of the loaves and fish so that there was more than enough for all.

This episode challenges us today on a number of levels. First of all, the disciples were quite prepared to send the people away hungry, thus leaving them to fend for themselves. How often we do the same! Examples abound. Consider the issue of immigration. News reports bring to us chilling statistics pertaining to the number of unaccompanied minors striving to escape gangs, poverty and other hardship by making their way into North America. Children! On their own! Do we turn them away? Leave them to their own devices? Or do we strive to satisfy their hunger for new life by taking seriously their plight and doing what we can to welcome them? This particular challenge will only intensify as the ravages of war create ever more refugees. We need think only of what is currently happening throughout the Middle East. Closer to home, think of what often happens today in our families. Have you noticed how frequently in his writings and speeches the Holy Father, Pope Francis, encourages parents to play with their children? Many of our young ones are hungry, starved, for attention, and the pressures of daily life and making ends meet often so consume and pressure our parents that work is allowed to come before family. We are called to give our children “something to eat”, by giving them the attention they crave and placing their needs first.

Second, we can be tempted to think that the little we have can make no difference, so what’s the point of trying? The Gospel narrative makes very clear that a scarcity of resource is no excuse. The little becomes plenty when we heed the command of Jesus “Bring them here to me.” When we entrust what we have to Jesus and offer it though him and in his name, he brings about the miracle and ensures it is enough.

Finally, all of this leads us to examine our life of discipleship. The follower of Jesus is one whose life is marked by compassion, not indifference; by self-sacrifice, not selfishness; by solidarity, not individualism, and by trust in God’s providence, not our own sufficiency. May the Lord in his mercy free us from egoism and attachments, so that we are truly free to give those who hunger in any way the food that is the love of Christ made tangible in acts of tenderness and compassion.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Our Chances are Better than Fifty-Fifty

Just back from some holidays in Halifax. It is certainly a precious gift to be able to spend time with family and I am very grateful for the opportunity.

Not long after I returned I found Edmonton in the grip of a frenzy of excitement. Minds, hearts and imaginations were gripped by a phenomenon called “the 50/50 draw”. It was to take place at a football match between the Edmonton Eskimos and the Calgary Stampeders. Normally this long-time rivalry would be enough to bring in the crowds. The real attraction this time, though, was the chance to win approximately $350,000.00. From media reports it seems there were almost as many people in the ticket lineups as in the stands. A lot of money was handed over in the chance to win this prize, and it was talked about for days afterward.

Would that we were as enthusiastic about a far more important prize! It is not limited to one winner but available to all. Its reward is not transitory but eternal. The “prize” is that spoken of by Jesus in Sunday’s Gospel, namely, the kingdom of heaven (cf. Matthew 13: 44-52).

Our Lord speaks of this as the “pearl of great price”. He tells in the parable about one who finds it and, in order to purchase it, sells everything he has. He likewise in an adjacent parable speaks of the kingdom as a treasure hidden in a field. The one who finds it sells all that he has in order to purchase the field and the treasure therein. Football fans spent a few dollars in order to attain a substantial sum, but their lives were not likely changed much by what they sacrificed. The Lord is teaching, however, that the “prize” he makes available to us is so precious that, once we have found it, we are willing to give “all that we possess”, i.e., give all that we are, undergo a radical change in our lives, so that this “prize” is ours forever.

The kingdom of heaven has broken into our world in the very person of Jesus Christ. In him the full revelation of God’s love and the perfect human response of loving obedience meet. To encounter Christ and to be drawn into a living union with him by the working of the Holy Spirit is to participate, even now, though imperfectly, in the kingdom of heaven. This encounter with our Lord awakens us to the truth that there is nothing more precious than a life lived in union with him. Jesus is the pearl of great price, the unparalleled treasure. Let us not hesitate to give our all in order to enter fully into this wondrous mystery. We will, in truth, lose nothing of import and gain everything that really matters!

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Celebrating a Covenant

Just back from Yellowknife. I made a quick trip there yesterday in the company of Deacon Pat Hessel and Roger Plouffe, who are working with me on the furtherance of the covenant partnership that now exists between the Archdiocese of Edmonton and the Diocese of Mackenzie-Fort Smith. While there we met through the day with Bishop Mark Hagemoen, Fr Joe Daly and Gerri Fletcher. This gave us an opportunity to consider aspects of the partnership and how we might work together for the furtherance of the new evangelization to which the Church is called.

This partnering initiative grew out of the invitation given by St John Paul II to the Church in America (i.e. Western Hemisphere) to look for opportunities for dioceses to work together in support of our common mission in Christ. Last evening, at the end of Mass, we sealed our partnership through a formal signing ceremony of a covenant statement, and an exchange of drums, each so painted as to represent facets of our respective Dioceses.

Each features a depiction of Saint Kateri Tekakwitha, to whose intercession we are entrusting our new relationship. It was a joyful encounter and we all look forward to discerning together where the Holy Spirit is leading us in this endeavour.

The covenant statement is as follows:

Please keep this in your prayers. Thanks.

I will be on holidays next week and the following. I will get back to "blogging" toward the end of July. I hope you have a restful summer! God bless.

Monday, June 16, 2014

To Visit the Poor

Last Saturday evening I had the great blessing of celebrating Mass with members of the National Council of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. They were gathered in Edmonton for their national convention.

I make no secret of my long-standing admiration for this organization, having known of it since my days of youth in Halifax. It is essentially an organization of Catholic laypersons dedicated to caring for the poor. Of course, there are many such movements in the Church. What is distinctive of SSVP is their commitment to visit. They do not insist that the poor come to them, but when they learn of a need they go out, two by two, to visit them in their homes and assess their need so as to make provision.

Our Eucharistic celebration occurred on the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity. Both the Scripture readings for that feast, as well as the occasion itself, underscored the importance of the visitation that stands at the heart of the SSVP ministry.

The readings spoke of the wondrous truth that God has visited his people. The first, from Exodus, spoke of God "visiting" Moses on Mt Sinai and making known his essence as tenderness and compassion - as love, in other words. This love became incarnate in Jesus, who is God's ultimate visitation to his people through the wonder of the Incarnation. In the Gospel passage from John Jesus made clear that this divine visit is motivated by love: "God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son..." (John 3:16). God's visit is a manifestation of concern and an assurance of nearness. The visits undertaken by members of SSVP, known as Vincentians, mirror this love and thus bring both assistance and hope.

Placing the work of SSVP against the backdrop of the mystery of the Most Holy Trinity deepens our appreciation of what they do. God the Father sent His Son and Holy Spirit to the world with the precise purpose of freeing us from sin so that we might participate, even now to a degree, in His own Trinitarian life! In other words, God's visitation is made with a view to communion. This, too, is mirrored by the visits undertaken by Vincentians to the poor. How often has our Holy Father challenged us to go out to the peripheries of society - to the poor, the needy and the forgotten - with the love of Christ! When SSVP members visit the poor they are saying to them, in effect: "You may find yourself on the margins of society but you are never on the peripheries of God's love or of the Church's concern. On the contrary you are at the centre and you are of great value." God's visitation affirms the truth that each person is of inestimable dignity regardless of circumstance. This affirmation is made concrete in the visitation of Vincentians to the poor and to anyone in need.

I give thanks to God for the ministry of the members of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul and pray that their work continue to expand and the support they receive from the People of God be strengthened.

Monday, June 9, 2014

The Antidote to Stress

Stress!!! It's everywhere. Time and again I hear people speaking of being "stressed out". Parents are anxious about making ends meet, problems with the children, the challenges of work, caring for aging parents or, not uncommonly, a combination of all of the above. (I recently was told that forty percent of professionals - yes, 40!!! - are medicated in order to deal with their pressures.) Even children experience stress because of problems in the home, at school or with their peers. When I visit schools I learn very quickly that some of our beloved young people are carrying burdens of worry that no child should ever be expected to bear.

What's going on? It seems to me that the root of much of it is surrender to the illusion of self-reliance. It all depends upon me. This leads in turn to the felt need to control things and to fix problems. The difficulty with this, of course, is that much of the time the circumstances in which we live are beyond our control, and our challenges lie outside our capacity to resolve. If I come at this out of the presupposition that I am my only resource, then nervousness, fear and worry arise, and from these is born stress, and lots of it!

But I am not my only resource. In fact, I am not even my first resource. There is one who is already at work in my life before I am even aware of it, who loves me beyond imagining, and who seeks to use all that unfolds in my life, and in the lives of the ones I love, in order to turn everything to the good. All that he asks is that I transfer my trust. He invites me to trust no longer in myself but in him, to give up the illusion of self-reliance and to rely instead on his love and wisdom. The one of whom I speak is Jesus. He is our Lord, crucified out of love for us and risen from the dead so that we might live in the power of that love.

This transfer of trust is in part what is meant by faith. It is an act of the will, a deliberate decision on our part to place our complete trust in Jesus. Yet we know from experience just how difficult it is to let go of illusions of self-sufficiency and control. Faith, though, is a gift of the Holy Spirit. At Mass on Sunday, the Solemnity of Pentecost, we heard St. Paul teach us: "No one can say 'Jesus is Lord' except by the Holy Spirit." In other words, no one can surrender in faith to Jesus, no one can place their trust completely in him, no one can make the decision to allow him to reign in their life, unless the Holy Spirit gives the ability.

So, let us pray for a new outpouring of the Holy Spirit in our lives. He is the antidote to our stress. He leads us to Jesus and enables us to place our complete trust in him. When we do this, we will witness Jesus doing for us what we cannot do for ourselves, often in surprising ways, and our stress will give way to peace.

Monday, June 2, 2014

The Richest Guy in the Cemetery

Last week I was in Nova Scotia to lead a mission in St. John the Baptist parish in New Glasgow. A great experience with truly wonderful people. One evening I went out for dinner. Somehow the conversation with the restaurant's server turned to the rather large question of life's meaning. Using a very striking turn of phrase, she observed that many people today seem quite intent on becoming "the richest guy in the cemetery". Seldom have I come across a more poignant manner of describing the futility of materialistic pursuit as the only thing that matters. Sadly, her observation is probably very accurate. For many, meaning in our day is discerned solely within a this-worldly context. This turns us in upon ourselves and drives us to pursue illusory goals, which leave us profoundly unhappy as we discover their inability to fulfill our deepest longings. The context has to shift. When we place life's achievements against the stark reality of death, we soon realize that there has to be something more than becoming the richest guy, the best athlete, or the most beautiful person in the cemetery.

Of course, there is more. This comes immediately to view when we discern meaning within the context given by Jesus. That framework is made clear with the Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord, celebrated yesterday. On that solemn feast we commemorated with joy his return to the Heavenly Father from whom he had come to earth in his Incarnation. Jesus is the Son "who is close to the Father's heart" (John 1:18), and who came to us both to make the Father known and to lead us back to Him. The First Preface for the Mass of the Ascension speaks beautifully of this mystery: "Mediator between God and man, judge of the world and Lord of hosts, he ascended, not to distance himself from our lowly state but that we, his members, might be confident of following where he, our Head and Founder, has gone before." In his Ascension, Jesus returns to the Father to prepare in heaven a place for us so that we might be where he is forever (cf. John 14:1-3). This is the mystery that gives ultimate meaning to our lives. From that meaning derives true direction and hope.

The "richest guy in the cemetery"? I think not. Jesus invites us to set our sights higher, infinitely higher, than that! He calls us to have as our goal eternal life, and summons us to weigh all of our decisions and make our every choice with that objective in mind. This is not to say we do this on our own. No, we need the love and mercy of Jesus. He alone is the way to the Father (cf. John 14:6). Only he can bring our hope to fulfillment. As we prepare our hearts for the celebration of Pentecost next Sunday, let us pray that the gift of the Holy Spirit keep us united to Jesus so that, in him, we shall one day see the Father and be fully satisfied.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Treasure and Protect the Gift

Yesterday the Church celebrated what we traditionally call "Good Shepherd Sunday". We listened to Jesus, the Good Shepherd, teach us that he has come from the Father so that we might have life in abundance. This wondrous gift of life is something to treasure and celebrate. Recent attacks on life through both violence and indifference underscore the need to do so.

A beautiful celebration of life occurred in Edmonton last Thursday. Hundreds gathered to hear speeches at our provincial legislature and City Hall and to march through the streets of downtown. Our action coincided with that of thousands of others in cities across Canada, united in our annual March for Life. The spirit among the participants - a great many of whom were youth! - was peaceful and joyful. Life is precious and we are ready to take any opportunity to celebrate it and speak out in its defence whenever it is attacked or threatened.

A violent and senseless attack on human life occurred the day after the march in the tragic murder of a priest in his rectory in Saint Paul, Alberta, about a three-hour drive northeast of Edmonton. At the time of writing this blog, the motive and other details are not known. What is clear is that a 32-year-old priest, who had made a sacrifice to leave his home country in Africa to serve us here, and who was appreciated by all parishioners as a kind and loving man, was brutally gunned down. Please pray for the repose of his soul, as well as for consolation for his family, religious community and the people he served. His alleged assailant was later killed, and we must hold him and his family in our prayers as well. Statements from the Archdiocese as well as from the Diocese of Saint Paul can be found at

On the very day of the march we witnessed an entirely different threat to life: indifference. One of our federal party leaders used the occasion to state that, henceforth, members of his Parliamentary caucus would have no choice but to vote "pro-choice" in any proposed legislation dealing with abortion. The obvious inherent contradiction in such a stance manifests rather confused thinking, to say the least. Worse, it unmasks a callous indifference to the most vulnerable among us - children in the womb - and a wanton trampling upon the fundamental human rights to life and freedom of conscience.

The March for Life demonstrates a growing willingness of citizens to speak out in defence of life and to celebrate its beauty. I pray that it continue to grow and bear fruit in real protection of God's gift of life at every stage of existence.

Monday, May 5, 2014

A Visit to L'Arche

This morning I had the opportunity to visit L’Arche Edmonton. For a long time I have admired this movement founded fifty years ago by the Canadian, Jean Vanier. It is dedicated to the care of persons with mental and other developmental issues, and offers them communities of love and support. Staff and volunteers are people of extraordinary dedication. It is clear they cherish deeply the persons entrusted to their care.

L’Arche Edmonton began forty-two years ago, and now operates six homes in the city, together with an administrative and programming centre. It is the latter I was privileged to visit this morning. After I was greeted and treated to coffee and cake, we all gathered together for the “morning circle”. We sang together, and then each one of us took turns offering prayers for one another and for whatever needs we wanted to bring before the Lord.

During the prayer I was struck by the number of times prayers were offered to God in thanksgiving. There was a lively sense of the goodness and providence of God, and that we can trust that God will – and does – give us great things, especially family and friends, and provides for all of our needs. When I arrived for the visit I was thinking that this kind of outreach is a beautiful example of the Christian call to go out to the “peripheries” with the joy and beauty of the Gospel. While this is obviously true, as I listened and offered my own prayers I found myself wondering: who really is on the “periphery” here? A self-reliant society such as ours places itself on the periphery, even outside, of the joy and peace that come from trust in God. This is a terrible alienation that gives birth to sadness and despair. At L’Arche I found persons who, in respect of communion with God and his people, are very much at the centre of things and are joyful as a result, even in the midst of quite remarkable challenges. We need their example. I am grateful to God for this world-wide movement, and in particular for their presence in this Archdiocese.

If you are not familiar with L’Arche, I invite you to get informed. You can visit them at‎.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Fear Not the Medicine of Mercy

This is how I would bring together the message and legacy of the two popes whose canonization we have just celebrated, Saint John XXIII and John Paul II: let us not be afraid of the merciful love of the Lord. The stirring words of John Paul II first spoken at the homily of his inaugural mass as Pope still echo: Be not afraid to open the doors of your lives and of all facets of society to Christ. Perhaps not as vivid in people's memories today, but nonetheless still striking, are the words spoken by John XXIII in his opening address to the Second Vatican Council which he convoked. There, he signalled that the Church's response to the errors of the day should not be condemnation but "the medicine of mercy". What a beautiful expression! This is precisely how Jesus touches and transforms us: through the remedy of his merciful love. Not to fear Christ is not to fear his mercy.

Why would this be a source of anxiety? Because mercy and forgiveness, if we truly receive them, change us. Yet the change the Lord wills for us is always in view of drawing us closer to Him, who with the Father and the Holy Spirit is the greatest good. Be not afraid.

It is here, the centrality of mercy, that the continuity between the pontificates of these two great saints is most evident. It is only fitting, then, that Pope Francis, who himself has made God’s merciful love central to his own Petrine ministry, chose to celebrate their canonization on Divine Mercy Sunday. The legacy of our two new saints summons us not to doubt but to belief, and thus not to fear but to hope, not to sadness but to joy, all of which spring from confidence in the tender mercy of God. By summoning us to trust in the divine mercy, Saints John XXIII and John Paul II echoed the call of Saint Peter of whom they were the successors: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who in his great mercy gave us a new birth to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” Together our new saints say to us: Be not afraid. Open the doors to Christ, whose medicine of mercy is that which alone can heal and transform our lives, and, indeed, the whole world.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

To Shake With Joy

As the Exsultet was proclaimed at the Easter Vigil we heard this summons: “let this holy building shake with joy, filled with the mighty voices of the peoples!” That is an arresting image! Easter announces joy, it summons to joy, a joy that should reverberate not only within our sacred buildings but also throughout our cities and world. Jesus is risen! The joy that inhabits us is the joy of redemption. By the resurrection of Jesus Christ we have been set free from all that holds us in bondage, we have been forgiven our sins, we have been restored to life and have been given the real hope of eternal life. God’s will is life, the fullness of life, for the people he has created.

I love the many readings from Sacred Scripture at the Vigil. What a banquet! Their beautiful words speak in many ways of God’s will that we live. In the beginning, God formed light from darkness, order from chaos, beauty from nothingness and then created all forms of life, above all human life, and gave the means for that life to continue and multiply. God’s will is life. When we wandered away from him he intervened to rescue us from oppression and slavery and from our own sins. He sent prophets to call us back and to remind us of his love. Through them he promised that he would so act as to cleanse us from our sins and give us new hearts. God’s will is life. Finally, in an act of ineffable love, to save us from death forever, he sent us his Son. By his passion and death, Jesus took upon himself the sins of humanity and in reparation for them offered the gift of his very self! His resurrection from the dead was the Father’s acceptance of this self-gift, the forgiveness of sin and the reversal of its consequences. God’s will is life! He has given us life in creating us; he has given us the hope of unending life in redeeming us by the resurrection of his Son.

So, indeed, “let this holy building shake with joy, filled with the mighty voices of the peoples!”

In the Gospel account for the Vigil we heard that the resurrection itself was accompanied by a mighty shaking, namely, that of an earthquake. An earthquake is something terrifying. The foundation of the earth itself shifts, things split apart and there can be great destruction. The soldiers who witnessed this shook, but with fear. We are called to shake with joy! The resurrection of Jesus is, indeed, an earthquake. It does shift the world’s very foundations, because it changes the foundation of every human life, moving us to the core. The foundation is no longer love of self and the sin it engenders, but the love of God and his mercy. This earthquake causes to crumble all the barriers we set up in our lives to separate us from God and from one another, and from out of this necessary destruction arises the beautiful and indestructible edifice we call the Church, the Body of Christ. This is the holy building that must shake with joy. I would be thrilled to see that holy building, which is God’s people, shake with the joy of the redemption and allow that joy to reverberate everywhere. There is no more effective annunciation of the resurrection of Jesus Christ than the witness of joy in the hearts and voices of his people.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Holy Week Invitation

At the beginning of the Passion Sunday liturgy we hear the familiar story of the entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. The Scriptural citation from the prophet Zechariah in the middle of the narrative tells us exactly what is going on: “Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem! Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” Jesus comes as the long-awaited and deeply desired king who would deal with the enemies of Israel and bring liberation.

This is exactly what Jesus did. He indeed entered the city and brought freedom, but in a way no one would have expected, in a manner no one could possibly have anticipated. He did so by going to the Cross, so that by his dying and rising he would defeat the greatest of all enemies, Satan, and bring freedom and new life to all people.

As we recall the entry and the Cross an important invitation comes to each of us: to allow Jesus to enter our own personal lives with his liberating power. The crowds prepared a pathway for his entry to the city. Let us prepare the way for him to enter the reality of our lives. His acceptance of the Cross teaches there is no human situation, however dark, into which God will not enter in order to save his people. Nothing lies outside his concern; nothing is beyond the reach of his love and mercy.

So let us prepare the pathway for him to enter our hearts, so that he may dispel our fears, heal our guilt, free us from all forms of enslavement, and cure our indifference to the needs of the poor. Let us prepare the road for him to enter our families, so that he may end estrangement and help loved ones forgive each other. Let us clear the path for him to enter our workplace and our society, so that his truth will overcome the lies holding people bound and so set them free. Jesus who entered Jerusalem with the power of his love wants to come with that same power to the “city” which is every human heart and give once again the gift of life.

My prayer is that this week will be for all of us truly a holy week. Let us together pray daily to be set free of all that is contrary to the Gospel of Christ. Let our hearts truly be open and receptive to receive Christ Jesus, hear his word and be ready for its transforming power. Bring to all of this week’s celebrations not only your personal needs, but also those of the world, bearing especially in mind our brothers and sisters living in dire poverty or in situations of war and terror. May the Church’s proclamation of the power of Christ’s love lead the entire human family to open their hearts to its true King, to let him enter, and thus to taste the gift of the salvation he brings.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

March for Life 2014

You will see in this week's issue of the Western Catholic Reporter a letter from me, written on behalf of the Bishops of Alberta and the Northwest Territories, encouraging you to join us in this year's Alberta March for Life on Thursday, May 8. 

As you may know, in 2011 we Bishops had decided not to participate in the March because of the significant presence in it of graphic images of aborted children. Our stand against the use of such images in the March has not changed. However, the organizers of the March for Life, to their great credit, have made wonderful efforts to ensure that these graphic images will not be present in the March. Indeed, it has been reported to us that they were not part of last year's March at all. This has paved the way for the return of the Bishops to the March, and we are pleased to do so.

Scheduling conflicts will prevent the presence of a few of us this year, but we are united in our desire to give our visible support once again. As I note in our letter: "The March is a very important and increasingly urgent act of witness before society to the beauty and dignity of human life. In accord with the directives given to the whole Church by His Holiness, Pope Francis, in Evangelii Gaudium, our March must be joyful and celebratory of the wondrous gift of life, since all that we do as Christians must radiate joy."

Let us together give joyful witness to the beauty of life! We hope to see you at the March!

Monday, March 31, 2014

Lessons from the TRC

The bentwood box was the repository for gestures of
reconciliation, including those of the Alberta-NWT Bishops
and the Oblates of Mary Immaculate Lacombe Province.
 It was quite the four days. The final national event of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission took place in Edmonton. Interest and participation levels were very high, and, I must say, the overall feeling was quite positive and hopeful. Yes, many sad and painful stories were told about life in the Residential Schools, and they were difficult to hear. At the same time there was a sense of moving forward into a future that would see the continuation of the process of healing and reconciliation. It is not a question here of naive optimism. Everyone realizes full well that words alone are insufficient. There needs to be a broad societal commitment to learn our history and to reach out to one another in a genuine desire to foster the common good of all.

Read the gesture of reconciliation statement by the Alberta-NWT Bishops

In this regard it occurs to me that the TRC process has highlighted some important lessons for everyone to take to heart and appropriate into our lives. I am convinced that, if we do this, reconciliation can be fostered throughout the breadth of the Canadian fabric. The lessons come from the very TRC process itself as well as from aspects of Aboriginal culture and spirituality.

Father Ken Forster, Provincial of the OMI Lacombe Province,
delivered a heartfelt gesture of reconciliation on behalf
of the Oblates.
The TRC process was predicated upon listening to truth. From this very fact we have our first lesson. To listen to truth means that truth is outside of and prior to us. We respond to truth and allow it both to inform and to transform us. This is a necessary corrective to a reigning relativism, which understand truth as something subjective, to be created by the individual, and which consequently fashions a fractured society.

With respect to Aboriginal culture and spirituality, I am struck by four aspects in particular that, if accepted and applied broadly, will strengthen our life together as Canadians.

First, in Aboriginal spirituality God is not eclipsed. Each day of the TRC event began with prayer to the Creator. Oh, how I wish that we could recapture this sense across our land! In broader Canadian society we have somehow reached the point of thinking that reference to God must be relegated to the private sphere, as if God, Creator of all, would have nothing to say about how his children should live together.

Second is the comfort of our indigenous brothers and sisters with silence. It is not unusual for participants in listening circles to sit together in silence for long periods of time until one is ready to speak. In Western culture generally silence has become alien. Our heads are filled with noise, living as we do under what I have often called "the tyranny of the tweet". We need to learn once again to be comfortable with silence, so that in the stillness of our hearts we can listen to the truth of ourselves and re-discover the beauty of our identity as God's beloved children. This discovery brings unity and peace to our own lives and in turn fosters communion with others.

Third, I was touched by the profound respect for elders among the Aboriginal people. There is a ready recognition of and deep gratitude for their wisdom and witness. At a time when voices are being raised in Canada calling for the ability to euthanize the elderly and weak, we need this example of esteem and honour toward our elders.

On the opening day of the TRC, I joined Mayor Iveson, artist
Dawn Marie Marchand, and Elder Fred Campiou on a CBC panel
hosted very professionally by Mark Connelly.

Finally, an indigenous person's sense of identity is inseparably linked with belonging to a community, this being the family first of all but also the Nation of which they form a part. Their self-knowledge and self-respect arises from the history, language and culture of the people to which they belong. This contrasts rather sharply with the individualism that generally pervades Western society and that leaves a terrible amount of loneliness in its wake. This beautiful dimension of Aboriginal culture is an invitation to all of us to understand our common citizenship in this country as not a collective but a communion, in which individuals are united and honoured as sharers of a common humanity.

The TRC event, I pray, helped bring healing to many. If its lessons can be broadly learned, it can bring healing to our country as well. 

Monday, March 17, 2014

Tomorrow's Gift of Peace

All parishes. All priests. All day. That's tomorrow, March 18th, our second Day of Confessions in the Archdiocese of Edmonton. I have included in this blog post the video presentation prepared to invite you to receive the gift of peace that comes from firmly deciding to amend one's life, confessing one's sins and receiving God's pardon through the Sacrament of Penance.

As you prepare, consider the question that is posed by the Gospel for Sunday. Recounted for us was the event of the Transfiguration. As the voice of our heavenly Father confirmed the identity of Jesus as his well-beloved Son, he commanded the apostles (and us): "Listen to him." This raises the question, "Who am I listening to?" In other words, what are the various voices/messages that are exercising an influence upon my life. The voices are many. Just think of everything that comes at us through television, radio, Internet, tweets, emails, Facebook messages and so on. To whom are we listening? As we do, ask yourself if those voices lead you away from fidelity to Jesus or toward greater closeness to him. If we have been allowing the words or ideas or actions of others to turn us away from the Gospel, it is time to turn away from them! Bring this to confession, and seek the grace to change, to listen first to the voice of Jesus, and to receive a discerning mind and heart that allows us to judge all things in the light of his teaching.

Tomorrow will be a blessed day for the Archdiocese. I hope you will share in it. 

Day of Confessions 2014 from Archdiocese of Edmonton on Vimeo.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Multiple Congratulations!

What an afternoon it was on Saturday for the people of the new parish of Corpus Christi, as well as for the parishioners at St. Theresa's, out of which this newest faith community is growing! It was the moment of breaking ground for the new Church. It felt like a long wait was at last over, and this in two ways. First, we have been in a deep freeze for far too long in Edmonton, and this past Saturday was the first mild day in quite a while. More importantly, though, the parishioners of both communities, under the wonderful leadership of Fr Corrigan, their pastor, have been striving mightily to raise funds for the new building. They had reached a level where we all came to the conclusion that it was time to get a shovel in the ground to begin construction.

Well, not quite a shovel. I don't know what it is about me and backhoes. When we broke ground for Newman Theological College and St. Joseph's Seminary a couple of years ago, they insisted I get into a backhoe and do the honours. Perhaps my performance on that occasion was more stellar than I recall, because they had me do it again on Saturday. Truth to tell, I get by with a little help from my friends, and the regular operator guided me at the levers at every step. It was lots of fun.

The enthusiasm of the people was very heartwarming. Clearly they love the Lord and his Church and are excited beyond words to have reached this stage in their journey of fashioning a new house of worship on the south side of our city. Well done, everyone!

Congratulations, too, to the many men, women and children whom I enrolled in the Book of the Elect at St. Joseph's Basilica over the weekend. I really enjoy meeting each one of them. Their excitement at drawing so close to the Easter sacraments is infectious, and is a great reminder to all believers of the wondrous gift we have been given to be disciples of the Lord Jesus in the communion of the Church.

The Scripture readings this same weekend spoke about the mystery of temptations, the seduction of the evil one, and of the power of the Lord over the wiles of Satan. By the help of God's grace, these new elect have resisted a rather pervasive temptation of our day, namely, the idea that we do not need Jesus or his Church. Like all work of the devil, this is a lie. Jesus is our Saviour, and he calls us to follow him precisely as members of his Body, which is the Church. As Pope Francis says very often, to speak of following Jesus without the Church is absurd. Our new elect have discovered this truth for themselves, and now look forward to full initiation. We rejoice with them and surround them with our love and support.