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

Monday, February 24, 2014

An Invitation

I had a very moving experience this morning. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission will hold its final national event in Edmonton at the end of March. The Bishops of Alberta and the Northwest Territories released today their letter to the Catholic faithful of our Dioceses, inviting them to participate. You can read the letter here.

What was particularly moving arose from the venue in which I read and addressed the letter on behalf of the Bishops. This took place at Ben Calf Robe – St. Clare school, which is dedicated primarily to First Nations and Metis students, K-9, and honours Aboriginal traditions and customs in the context of the Catholic school curriculum. After I read the letter, the students (grades 6-9) had the opportunity to ask me such questions as: “why were kids taken away from their parents; what will the Church do to foster ongoing healing for those who were hurt by the Indian residential schools; will we ever forget this legacy?” To hear those questions posed by children was arresting. We ask them as adults often enough, but we can forget what it is like to view reality and receive information from a child’s perspective. It brought home in a poignant way how mistakes of the past would have left the affected children confused, bewildered and hurting. This experience has reinforced for me the importance of our participation in the TRC Edmonton event. We need to hear truth from one another: what was beneficial to the students; what was harmful; why were the policies that governed the school formulated; above all, how do we heal, reconcile and learn from this particular history? Listening openly to one another will help answer these questions.

Today is certainly radically different from this particular educational past. Much is already happening to honour and learn from our Aboriginal brothers and sisters and to foster healing and reconciliation. However, the good that is now happening cannot excuse us from listening deeply to the past. In fact, this can only help us do even better what we are now learning to do well.

Please hold these developments in prayer, and consider ways in which you can take part in the Edmonton TRC event.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Fries or Salad

I'm a sucker for a good hamburger. The bigger and juicier the better. When I order one, I'm usually presented with a choice: fries or salad with that? My emotional heart leans toward the fries, but my physical one argues for the salad. Lately, my physical heart, buttressed by doctor's advice and a growing societal mania for healthy options, has been winning out, and the salad has assumed the upper hand. Sooner or later (I'm hoping for later) that same wise and prudent heart will convince me to avoid choosing the hamburger, too, although that will take some strong-arming, for sure.

Ah, choices. We face them daily, and we are paying increasing attention to which ones are healthy and which not. Most often the context of the choice is bodily health: what we choose to eat, whether we choose to exercise, the choices that determine the relative weight we give to work and leisure, and so on. The choices often are not easy, but with respect to our physical well-being we have many helps to encourage us: our doctors, the people who care for us, and broad societal support.

Yet what about our spiritual health? I have often thought that if we all devoted even a tenth of the energy to this that we dedicate to our physical health, we and our world would be revolutionized! Many of us will very willingly so order our day to get in an hour of exercise. What if, in addition and as our first priority, we set aside an hour to read and pray with Sacred Scripture? The satisfaction born of weight loss would soon pale in comparison to the joy that issues from growth in our relationship with Christ!

What supports are there for making this kind of "heart-healthy" choice? Admittedly, we cannot rely upon societal encouragement the way we can regarding good eating and healthy exercise. Societal messaging in our day would not support a life of genuine discipleship, to say the least! Yet there are many, much more reliable supports than that upon which we can trustingly rely.

First of all is the love and mercy of Jesus himself, who wants us to succeed and gives us the grace to make this possible, especially in the sacraments. There is also the prayer of Mary, our mother, and the communion of saints, who intercede for us constantly. Turn, too, to the teaching of the Church and to the witness of the many faithful disciples who choose daily to follow the Lord. No physical trainer could ever match this kind of support!

Sunday's reading from Sirach teaches that the Lord places before us a fundamental choice: good or evil. We choose the good when we opt to trust in God's wisdom and providence and to follow him faithfully. We choose evil when we opt to follow our own "wisdom" and consequently make lifestyle choices that run counter to the Gospel. Let us all pray for the grace we need to choose those "heart-healthy" options that strengthen our conversion of heart and favour growth in our relationship with Jesus Christ.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Setting Us Up for Success

This is an expression I learned from our Catholic school teachers. Regularly, they strive to "set their students up for success" by giving them the preparation and the tools they need in order to succeed at what they are doing.

I see examples of this whenever I visit a school. Children are told ahead of time who the Archbishop is, what he does, how to address him and so on. By the time I arrive there is usually a little welcoming committee of students, each with their speech prepared and knowing exactly what they will show me in the school, what questions they want to ask, and so on. They have been set up for success.

The motivation for this is love. The teachers truly do love the children entrusted to their care, and take great delight in seeing them succeed.

It's a good analogy for what God is doing for us in the gifts of Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. Moved by a love beyond all telling, God acts in our lives to set us up for success. "Success", here, means salvation, the overcoming of sin-induced separation from God so as to live in a communion of covenant love with Him both now and forever. Clearly, this is something we cannot achieve on our own. We need to be set up for success. Therefore, God the Father sent His Son to assume our human nature and be for all of humanity in every age the way that leads to eternal life (cf. John 14:6). The Holy Spirit is at work in our lives to unite us to Christ and thus be our very life principle, prompting us to live in accord with the Gospel.

Once the teachers had the students "set up for success", the children had to play their part and actually do that for which they had been prepared. So, too, must we cooperate with the working of the Holy Spirit in our lives. That cooperation is called faith. There are many ways to speak of faith, but here I invite the reader to think of it in terms of allowing ourselves to be carried by the love of God. God sets us up for success by inspiring in us the good that we do and bringing it to completion (cf. Philippians 2:13). Faith is a surrender to this working of grace, allowing it to carry us. It is, itself, God's gift, something for which we must constantly pray (cf. Mark 9:24).

Perhaps we could all take some time this week and ask the Lord to help us to see how he has been at work in our lives. How has He been carrying us and setting us up for the success he wills for each of us: life with Him forever. And may God deepen within each of us the precious gift of faith by which we welcome thankfully and joyfully the movement of his grace within us.

Monday, February 3, 2014

A Lesson from the Super Bowl

I've noticed in recent years something rather peculiar about this football game. The great hype surrounding the match is seemingly equalled, perhaps even surpassed, by enthusiasm for the television commercials. This is very interesting. It is symptomatic of something prevalent in our society. The main event is the game; the commercials are incidental. Yet increasingly they are attracting attention away from the game, and they become the focus afterwards of water cooler conversation, they are what go viral on YouTube and social network platforms long after the game has ended. Consequently, corporations spend untold millions on their production and broadcast. Furthermore, it is all unreal, fabricated to attract attention and to influence desires.

We witness in this phenomenon a diversion of attention away from the real and toward the imaginary, a preference for illusion over substance, and a massive investment in what is fleeting. This is emblematic of the tragic struggle that besets humanity in every age. The main event is Jesus Christ; what is real is life in him. Yet we are continually seduced away from him by what is illusory, by what is passing, by what ultimately does not matter at all.

The Gospel passage for Sunday's Feast of the Presentation make very clear why Jesus and the following of him is all that matters. St. Luke recalls Mary and Joseph, in accordance with Jewish law, coming to the Temple with their firstborn son to present and consecrate him to God. Guided by the Holy Spirit, the prophet Simeon recognizes that this child is the long-awaited Messiah, the agent of salvation and light of revelation to the world. The prophetess Anna likewise sees that this child will bring about the "redemption of Jerusalem".

This is why Jesus Christ is the main event of all history. In him, God's plan of salvation, long foretold by the prophets, has come to fulfillment! Our hope for eternal life, therefore, is realized only through life lived in communion with him. Yet we continually find our attention being diverted away from the reality and beauty of life in Christ by the illusory distractions that beset us: lustful imagery in practically every media platform, luxury items whose possession promises happiness, the cult of personality and image fashioned and re-made to accord with the whims of popularity, the prestige and admiration accorded to achievement, and so on. This is all unreal, an illusory sideshow to the main event. Yet we are drawn to this fantasy, and invest untold amounts of time, energy and money in its pursuit.

Here we appreciate anew the necessity of consecrated life. Presentation Sunday is also the World Day of Consecrated Life, on which we recognize that the witness of women and men in religious life keeps us properly focused. By the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity and obedience, they freely and consciously invest everything, the entirety of their lives, in the main event, in the following of Jesus Christ to the fullness of life. The world needs this witness. We all need to be reminded by their example of what matters, so that we do not waste ourselves on what doesn't.