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

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Fear Not the Medicine of Mercy

This is how I would bring together the message and legacy of the two popes whose canonization we have just celebrated, Saint John XXIII and John Paul II: let us not be afraid of the merciful love of the Lord. The stirring words of John Paul II first spoken at the homily of his inaugural mass as Pope still echo: Be not afraid to open the doors of your lives and of all facets of society to Christ. Perhaps not as vivid in people's memories today, but nonetheless still striking, are the words spoken by John XXIII in his opening address to the Second Vatican Council which he convoked. There, he signalled that the Church's response to the errors of the day should not be condemnation but "the medicine of mercy". What a beautiful expression! This is precisely how Jesus touches and transforms us: through the remedy of his merciful love. Not to fear Christ is not to fear his mercy.

Why would this be a source of anxiety? Because mercy and forgiveness, if we truly receive them, change us. Yet the change the Lord wills for us is always in view of drawing us closer to Him, who with the Father and the Holy Spirit is the greatest good. Be not afraid.

It is here, the centrality of mercy, that the continuity between the pontificates of these two great saints is most evident. It is only fitting, then, that Pope Francis, who himself has made God’s merciful love central to his own Petrine ministry, chose to celebrate their canonization on Divine Mercy Sunday. The legacy of our two new saints summons us not to doubt but to belief, and thus not to fear but to hope, not to sadness but to joy, all of which spring from confidence in the tender mercy of God. By summoning us to trust in the divine mercy, Saints John XXIII and John Paul II echoed the call of Saint Peter of whom they were the successors: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who in his great mercy gave us a new birth to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” Together our new saints say to us: Be not afraid. Open the doors to Christ, whose medicine of mercy is that which alone can heal and transform our lives, and, indeed, the whole world.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

To Shake With Joy

As the Exsultet was proclaimed at the Easter Vigil we heard this summons: “let this holy building shake with joy, filled with the mighty voices of the peoples!” That is an arresting image! Easter announces joy, it summons to joy, a joy that should reverberate not only within our sacred buildings but also throughout our cities and world. Jesus is risen! The joy that inhabits us is the joy of redemption. By the resurrection of Jesus Christ we have been set free from all that holds us in bondage, we have been forgiven our sins, we have been restored to life and have been given the real hope of eternal life. God’s will is life, the fullness of life, for the people he has created.

I love the many readings from Sacred Scripture at the Vigil. What a banquet! Their beautiful words speak in many ways of God’s will that we live. In the beginning, God formed light from darkness, order from chaos, beauty from nothingness and then created all forms of life, above all human life, and gave the means for that life to continue and multiply. God’s will is life. When we wandered away from him he intervened to rescue us from oppression and slavery and from our own sins. He sent prophets to call us back and to remind us of his love. Through them he promised that he would so act as to cleanse us from our sins and give us new hearts. God’s will is life. Finally, in an act of ineffable love, to save us from death forever, he sent us his Son. By his passion and death, Jesus took upon himself the sins of humanity and in reparation for them offered the gift of his very self! His resurrection from the dead was the Father’s acceptance of this self-gift, the forgiveness of sin and the reversal of its consequences. God’s will is life! He has given us life in creating us; he has given us the hope of unending life in redeeming us by the resurrection of his Son.

So, indeed, “let this holy building shake with joy, filled with the mighty voices of the peoples!”

In the Gospel account for the Vigil we heard that the resurrection itself was accompanied by a mighty shaking, namely, that of an earthquake. An earthquake is something terrifying. The foundation of the earth itself shifts, things split apart and there can be great destruction. The soldiers who witnessed this shook, but with fear. We are called to shake with joy! The resurrection of Jesus is, indeed, an earthquake. It does shift the world’s very foundations, because it changes the foundation of every human life, moving us to the core. The foundation is no longer love of self and the sin it engenders, but the love of God and his mercy. This earthquake causes to crumble all the barriers we set up in our lives to separate us from God and from one another, and from out of this necessary destruction arises the beautiful and indestructible edifice we call the Church, the Body of Christ. This is the holy building that must shake with joy. I would be thrilled to see that holy building, which is God’s people, shake with the joy of the redemption and allow that joy to reverberate everywhere. There is no more effective annunciation of the resurrection of Jesus Christ than the witness of joy in the hearts and voices of his people.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Holy Week Invitation

At the beginning of the Passion Sunday liturgy we hear the familiar story of the entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. The Scriptural citation from the prophet Zechariah in the middle of the narrative tells us exactly what is going on: “Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem! Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” Jesus comes as the long-awaited and deeply desired king who would deal with the enemies of Israel and bring liberation.

This is exactly what Jesus did. He indeed entered the city and brought freedom, but in a way no one would have expected, in a manner no one could possibly have anticipated. He did so by going to the Cross, so that by his dying and rising he would defeat the greatest of all enemies, Satan, and bring freedom and new life to all people.

As we recall the entry and the Cross an important invitation comes to each of us: to allow Jesus to enter our own personal lives with his liberating power. The crowds prepared a pathway for his entry to the city. Let us prepare the way for him to enter the reality of our lives. His acceptance of the Cross teaches there is no human situation, however dark, into which God will not enter in order to save his people. Nothing lies outside his concern; nothing is beyond the reach of his love and mercy.

So let us prepare the pathway for him to enter our hearts, so that he may dispel our fears, heal our guilt, free us from all forms of enslavement, and cure our indifference to the needs of the poor. Let us prepare the road for him to enter our families, so that he may end estrangement and help loved ones forgive each other. Let us clear the path for him to enter our workplace and our society, so that his truth will overcome the lies holding people bound and so set them free. Jesus who entered Jerusalem with the power of his love wants to come with that same power to the “city” which is every human heart and give once again the gift of life.

My prayer is that this week will be for all of us truly a holy week. Let us together pray daily to be set free of all that is contrary to the Gospel of Christ. Let our hearts truly be open and receptive to receive Christ Jesus, hear his word and be ready for its transforming power. Bring to all of this week’s celebrations not only your personal needs, but also those of the world, bearing especially in mind our brothers and sisters living in dire poverty or in situations of war and terror. May the Church’s proclamation of the power of Christ’s love lead the entire human family to open their hearts to its true King, to let him enter, and thus to taste the gift of the salvation he brings.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

March for Life 2014

You will see in this week's issue of the Western Catholic Reporter a letter from me, written on behalf of the Bishops of Alberta and the Northwest Territories, encouraging you to join us in this year's Alberta March for Life on Thursday, May 8. 

As you may know, in 2011 we Bishops had decided not to participate in the March because of the significant presence in it of graphic images of aborted children. Our stand against the use of such images in the March has not changed. However, the organizers of the March for Life, to their great credit, have made wonderful efforts to ensure that these graphic images will not be present in the March. Indeed, it has been reported to us that they were not part of last year's March at all. This has paved the way for the return of the Bishops to the March, and we are pleased to do so.

Scheduling conflicts will prevent the presence of a few of us this year, but we are united in our desire to give our visible support once again. As I note in our letter: "The March is a very important and increasingly urgent act of witness before society to the beauty and dignity of human life. In accord with the directives given to the whole Church by His Holiness, Pope Francis, in Evangelii Gaudium, our March must be joyful and celebratory of the wondrous gift of life, since all that we do as Christians must radiate joy."

Let us together give joyful witness to the beauty of life! We hope to see you at the March!