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

Monday, June 16, 2014

To Visit the Poor

Last Saturday evening I had the great blessing of celebrating Mass with members of the National Council of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. They were gathered in Edmonton for their national convention.

I make no secret of my long-standing admiration for this organization, having known of it since my days of youth in Halifax. It is essentially an organization of Catholic laypersons dedicated to caring for the poor. Of course, there are many such movements in the Church. What is distinctive of SSVP is their commitment to visit. They do not insist that the poor come to them, but when they learn of a need they go out, two by two, to visit them in their homes and assess their need so as to make provision.

Our Eucharistic celebration occurred on the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity. Both the Scripture readings for that feast, as well as the occasion itself, underscored the importance of the visitation that stands at the heart of the SSVP ministry.

The readings spoke of the wondrous truth that God has visited his people. The first, from Exodus, spoke of God "visiting" Moses on Mt Sinai and making known his essence as tenderness and compassion - as love, in other words. This love became incarnate in Jesus, who is God's ultimate visitation to his people through the wonder of the Incarnation. In the Gospel passage from John Jesus made clear that this divine visit is motivated by love: "God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son..." (John 3:16). God's visit is a manifestation of concern and an assurance of nearness. The visits undertaken by members of SSVP, known as Vincentians, mirror this love and thus bring both assistance and hope.

Placing the work of SSVP against the backdrop of the mystery of the Most Holy Trinity deepens our appreciation of what they do. God the Father sent His Son and Holy Spirit to the world with the precise purpose of freeing us from sin so that we might participate, even now to a degree, in His own Trinitarian life! In other words, God's visitation is made with a view to communion. This, too, is mirrored by the visits undertaken by Vincentians to the poor. How often has our Holy Father challenged us to go out to the peripheries of society - to the poor, the needy and the forgotten - with the love of Christ! When SSVP members visit the poor they are saying to them, in effect: "You may find yourself on the margins of society but you are never on the peripheries of God's love or of the Church's concern. On the contrary you are at the centre and you are of great value." God's visitation affirms the truth that each person is of inestimable dignity regardless of circumstance. This affirmation is made concrete in the visitation of Vincentians to the poor and to anyone in need.

I give thanks to God for the ministry of the members of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul and pray that their work continue to expand and the support they receive from the People of God be strengthened.

Monday, June 9, 2014

The Antidote to Stress

Stress!!! It's everywhere. Time and again I hear people speaking of being "stressed out". Parents are anxious about making ends meet, problems with the children, the challenges of work, caring for aging parents or, not uncommonly, a combination of all of the above. (I recently was told that forty percent of professionals - yes, 40!!! - are medicated in order to deal with their pressures.) Even children experience stress because of problems in the home, at school or with their peers. When I visit schools I learn very quickly that some of our beloved young people are carrying burdens of worry that no child should ever be expected to bear.

What's going on? It seems to me that the root of much of it is surrender to the illusion of self-reliance. It all depends upon me. This leads in turn to the felt need to control things and to fix problems. The difficulty with this, of course, is that much of the time the circumstances in which we live are beyond our control, and our challenges lie outside our capacity to resolve. If I come at this out of the presupposition that I am my only resource, then nervousness, fear and worry arise, and from these is born stress, and lots of it!

But I am not my only resource. In fact, I am not even my first resource. There is one who is already at work in my life before I am even aware of it, who loves me beyond imagining, and who seeks to use all that unfolds in my life, and in the lives of the ones I love, in order to turn everything to the good. All that he asks is that I transfer my trust. He invites me to trust no longer in myself but in him, to give up the illusion of self-reliance and to rely instead on his love and wisdom. The one of whom I speak is Jesus. He is our Lord, crucified out of love for us and risen from the dead so that we might live in the power of that love.

This transfer of trust is in part what is meant by faith. It is an act of the will, a deliberate decision on our part to place our complete trust in Jesus. Yet we know from experience just how difficult it is to let go of illusions of self-sufficiency and control. Faith, though, is a gift of the Holy Spirit. At Mass on Sunday, the Solemnity of Pentecost, we heard St. Paul teach us: "No one can say 'Jesus is Lord' except by the Holy Spirit." In other words, no one can surrender in faith to Jesus, no one can place their trust completely in him, no one can make the decision to allow him to reign in their life, unless the Holy Spirit gives the ability.

So, let us pray for a new outpouring of the Holy Spirit in our lives. He is the antidote to our stress. He leads us to Jesus and enables us to place our complete trust in him. When we do this, we will witness Jesus doing for us what we cannot do for ourselves, often in surprising ways, and our stress will give way to peace.

Monday, June 2, 2014

The Richest Guy in the Cemetery

Last week I was in Nova Scotia to lead a mission in St. John the Baptist parish in New Glasgow. A great experience with truly wonderful people. One evening I went out for dinner. Somehow the conversation with the restaurant's server turned to the rather large question of life's meaning. Using a very striking turn of phrase, she observed that many people today seem quite intent on becoming "the richest guy in the cemetery". Seldom have I come across a more poignant manner of describing the futility of materialistic pursuit as the only thing that matters. Sadly, her observation is probably very accurate. For many, meaning in our day is discerned solely within a this-worldly context. This turns us in upon ourselves and drives us to pursue illusory goals, which leave us profoundly unhappy as we discover their inability to fulfill our deepest longings. The context has to shift. When we place life's achievements against the stark reality of death, we soon realize that there has to be something more than becoming the richest guy, the best athlete, or the most beautiful person in the cemetery.

Of course, there is more. This comes immediately to view when we discern meaning within the context given by Jesus. That framework is made clear with the Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord, celebrated yesterday. On that solemn feast we commemorated with joy his return to the Heavenly Father from whom he had come to earth in his Incarnation. Jesus is the Son "who is close to the Father's heart" (John 1:18), and who came to us both to make the Father known and to lead us back to Him. The First Preface for the Mass of the Ascension speaks beautifully of this mystery: "Mediator between God and man, judge of the world and Lord of hosts, he ascended, not to distance himself from our lowly state but that we, his members, might be confident of following where he, our Head and Founder, has gone before." In his Ascension, Jesus returns to the Father to prepare in heaven a place for us so that we might be where he is forever (cf. John 14:1-3). This is the mystery that gives ultimate meaning to our lives. From that meaning derives true direction and hope.

The "richest guy in the cemetery"? I think not. Jesus invites us to set our sights higher, infinitely higher, than that! He calls us to have as our goal eternal life, and summons us to weigh all of our decisions and make our every choice with that objective in mind. This is not to say we do this on our own. No, we need the love and mercy of Jesus. He alone is the way to the Father (cf. John 14:6). Only he can bring our hope to fulfillment. As we prepare our hearts for the celebration of Pentecost next Sunday, let us pray that the gift of the Holy Spirit keep us united to Jesus so that, in him, we shall one day see the Father and be fully satisfied.