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

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.