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

Monday, January 20, 2014

Needed: Experienced Guides

I’ve offered a number of posts recently about our Archdiocesan pilgrimage to the Holy Land. During that journey we were very reliant upon our guides. They were experienced people who knew the land and the holy sites. Their experience gave them expertise, and this, in turn, gave us confidence that we were being well led. On the basis of their experience they were able to point things out to us that otherwise we would have missed, and we did not want to miss anything of importance.

As Christians, we are called to serve the world by guiding others toward that which is more important than all else, by pointing out to others the presence of what cannot, what must not, be missed: Jesus Christ in our midst. This life on earth is itself a pilgrimage toward eternal life, and far too many people are finding life to be “a strange land”, unclear as to its meaning, purpose or destiny. Only Jesus can enlighten our understanding and dispel our confusion by unveiling the true meaning of existence. His presence, his Word and his mercy are not to be missed! And yet so many do not know him. It falls to us, who do know him, to point him out.

This is what we heard John the Baptist doing in the Gospel narrative for Sunday. At a time when the world was living in the shadow of darkness and in slavery to sinfulness, John saw Jesus and pointed to him: “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” Jesus is the paschal lamb, who, by allowing his blood to be poured out upon the cross, frees us from sin and leads us to eternal life. This is why he must not be missed! This is why he must be pointed out.

This brings us to the need for expertise. On pilgrimage we trusted our guides because we recognized their expertise. That expertise grew out of knowing from experience what they were talking about. Likewise, people will only listen to us if it is clear that we are experts, that we have lived and are living what we are talking about. Since we point to Jesus as he who takes away the sins of the world, we can point to him with credibility only if we have ourselves experienced Jesus taking away our sins, forgiving our infidelities, renewing us by his love and his mercy. We live what we talk about if we acknowledge that we are sinners, if we admit that we need Jesus, and if we know the joy of the freedom given by his gift of forgiveness. Then, and only then, are we “guides” whose word is taken seriously.

Pope Francis is fond of saying that God never tires of forgiving us, yet we tire of asking for forgiveness. Let us not grow weary of seeking God’s mercy! The joy that ensues from having been forgiven points to its source, Jesus, and thus becomes the vehicle by which we point to him as the Lamb of God, who does, indeed, take away the sins of the world!