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

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.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Preparing for Lent

With the beginning of Lent just a couple of days away, many are thinking about how they will honour this holy season. One question we pose is "What shall I give up for Lent?" This is a beautiful and traditional Lenten penitential practice, born of a recognition of our sinfulness and need for penance, and stemming from a desire to make more room in our lives for God and others. What will it be? Coffee? Chocolate? Alcohol?

The Scripture readings for Sunday suggest some paths for our Lenten fast. In the Gospel Jesus teaches his disciples not to worry. Given our penchant for anxiety, that seems quite a command! We worry about everything! Behind the teaching of Jesus is the truth about his (and our) heavenly Father. God our Father knows our every need even before we ask, and like any loving parent, provides all that his children truly need. Jesus is inviting us to replace fear with trust. Might we consider, then, fasting from fear and worry this Lent?

St. Paul warns against judging others. Yep, here is something else we're very good at. Into every human heart creep jealousy, envy, bitterness and so on, which give rise to a tendency to pronounce judgement upon others. Since we cannot see into the heart of another and do not always know all the factors at play in another person's life, our judgments are never based on complete information. Only God knows the heart thoroughly. Therefore, St. Paul tells us, judgement belongs to God alone. Giving up judging others during Lent (and always!) would be a great penitential practice.

Isaiah speaks to a suffering people who feel they have been abandoned by God. Such a sentiment is not foreign to many people, especially those who are alone, lonely, sick, or struggling in any number of ways. Speaking through the prophet, God assures us that he will never forget or abandon us. Even though a mother forget her child (and what mother could, really?), God will never forget us. Recall that Jesus took to himself on the Cross even this human experience (My God, why have you forsaken me?) and demonstrated through the Resurrection that God is always near to his people with his power to save. Feeling abandoned? Scripture invites us to fast from this and acknowledge the love of our God.

Let's pray for one another during this sacred time. May God's grace inspire within us a desire to fast from whatever is distracting us away from our relationship with him. May the Lord's love move each of us surely along the path of sincere repentance and deep conversion.