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!

Monday, January 13, 2014

A Different Inoculation

Vaccinations are much on people’s minds here in Alberta, with a recent outbreak of the H1N1 virus. In fact, the response to the government’s counsel to be vaccinated against this disease has been such that supplies of the vaccine ran out at the end of last week.

In the face of an infectious disease that is seen in its effects to harm us, many choose inoculation as a defense against its spread. This raises the question of what we can do to “inoculate” against the contagion of that far more serious and damaging malady we call sin.

Yesterday we celebrated the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord. Perplexing is the fact that Jesus, though sinless, submitted to the baptism of John the Baptist, which was given for repentance, that is, for the forgiveness of sins. Our Lord did this not for the forgiveness of any sin on his part, obviously, but to manifest his solidarity with sinful humanity. Jesus is the Son of God sent from the heavenly Father to free us from our slavery to sin and death. To accomplish this he assumed our human nature from the Virgin Mary, so that in his humanity he might conquer sin and its consequences through his death and resurrection. Jesus is the one and only remedy for sin. We are “inoculated” against this disease by living in union with him.

How do we do this? Well, first of all, we need to be deliberate about this and consciously choose, with the help of the Holy Spirit, to dispose ourselves to receive the gift that Jesus brings, the gift that he is. We dispose ourselves to a flu vaccine by making the effort to go to a clinic that offers it. We open our lives to Jesus by deliberating setting aside time each day for prayer and for an obedient listening to his Word spoken to us in Sacred Scripture. We dispose ourselves to Him by receiving his grace in the sacraments of the Church, especially through regular participation in Mass and by frequent confession in the sacrament of Penance. When we make the effort to step out of ourselves to serve others in need we encounter the Lord and grow in our communion with him.

Sin is both real and deadly. We must acknowledge its reality and guard ourselves against it. We know from experience that we cannot do so unaided. The only effective protection is the grace of Jesus Christ.

Monday, January 6, 2014

What's Gone Wrong?

This was the Pope's question on New Year's Day. During the course of his January 1st Angelus address, he departed from his prepared remarks to refer to a letter he had received from a man anxious over the world's many difficulties, and then asked, "What has happened in the hearts of men, in the heart of humanity?"

This is more than just a good question. It is essential. Like the man who wrote to Pope Francis, we, too, are troubled by the great suffering we see all around us. To come to terms with it and find hope for a better future, we need to grapple with that question posed by the Holy Father. What has gone wrong in human hearts?

Moreover, this is not a matter of speculation about the hearts of other people! Each of us is a member of the human family. Therefore, any divisions within our own hearts will contribute to the fractures of humanity.

The Feast of Epiphany offers direction for a serious self-examination. It recalls the search of the Magi, and their journey stands for the inner quest of every human heart. Their various titles of "Wise Men" or "Kings" suggest that, by worldly standards, they had just about everything on offer. Yet it was not enough. The world did not satisfy. A restless desire stirred within them and caused them to follow that famous star. Its light led them to the One who alone would quell their restlessness and satisfy their longing: Jesus the Christ, born of the Virgin Mary at Bethlehem. Epiphany means manifestation" or "revelation". The encounter with the Magi revealed the truth of Jesus as universal Saviour.

The examination of our hearts begins with the question of our own personal response to this truth of Our Lord. Have I come to terms with who he is??!! Have I accepted my own need for salvation, for God's saving mercy and love? Have I acknowledged not only with my lips but also with my heart, indeed with my whole being, my need for Jesus Christ? Is he first in my life? Two simple questions can help us answer honestly these fundamental ones.

How do I spend my time? Time is precious, and what we do with our time reveals our priorities. Do I make time daily for prayer and the reading of Sacred Scripture? Do I set aside time for the worship of God on Sunday, the day of the Lord? Have I time to serve the needs of others? Or is my time used first for the satisfaction of my own needs and agenda? My use of time tells me if Jesus is my first thought or an afterthought.

Likewise with money. On what do I spend it? True priorities come to light in the answers I give to this question. What percentage do I set aside for God and the needs of his people? Do I even think about this? Do I support the needs of the Church and other charities? Do I give to the poor? Do I give from my substance or from my surplus, from what is left over after personal desires are satisfied? Again, is Jesus my first thought or an afterthought?

When the Magi met Christ and recognized him as universal King and Saviour, their first act was to bow down in worship. A rightly ordered life begins with and flows from the worship of Jesus Christ in our hearts. To return to the Pope's question, what is wrong with the heart of humanity is the absence therein of authentic worship. Our use of time and money will often indicate that we worship not the Lord but ourselves and the ways of the world. Such self-focus displaces God and the needy and thus leads to separation and division in the human family. The Wise Men worshiped by the offering of gifts. Let us return to the worship of the Lord Jesus by offering him the gift of our time and resources, indeed, by offering the gift of our entire selves.