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

Tuesday, December 1, 2015


This morning we crossed the border into the Kingdom of Jordan. This transition prepared us symbolically to ponder the frontier crossings that mark the Christian pilgrimage.

The foundational "crossing over" happens at Baptism, through which we pass from death to life. This we recalled as we visited the site of Jesus's baptism by John the Baptist at "Bethany beyond the Jordan" (cf. John 1:28). After hostilities between Israel and Jordan formally ended just over twenty years ago, archaeologists discovered in what had been a heavily militarized zone the site of the Lord's baptism. Now pilgrims like us are able to visit and, at the very place it occurred, reflect upon the meaning of the Baptism of the Lord as well as our own. 

We read Matthew's account and pondered the meaning of the divine "epiphany" as Jesus rose from the waters. This revelation of the inner Trinitarian life - Father, Son and Holy Spirit - signals the plan of God for humanity from the beginning, i.e., not only to reveal his inner mystery but also to grant us participation in his very life! Only by union with Jesus in his death and resurrection is such participation possible. Hence the necessity of baptism, by which such union becomes possible.

Therefore, with great thanksgiving we renewed our baptismal promises, and asked once again for the grace to be faithful to them.

From there we traveled further inland to the site associated with another border crossing. Mount Nebo is the place where Moses first was given a glimpse of the promised land that the chosen people were about to enter. We celebrated mass there and then took in the stunning vista. The long and arduous journey along which Moses had led the people to this land evokes awareness of the sometimes joyful, sometimes tortuous route we follow toward heaven, the true promised land. What carried our forbears in the faith was God's fidelity to his promise. Due to God's faithfulness his people were able to traverse that long-anticipated frontier. 

So, too, with us. Baptism seals us with the promise of eternal life and launches us on the journey to its fulfillment. God's fidelity carries us. The final frontier is death, which the paschal mystery of our Lord has transformed into the gateway to life. For this reason, Catholic tradition speaks of the need to prepare for "a good death". This is a lesson we need to re-learn in our own country with its move to legalize assisted death and euthanasia.

We then made a short stop in Madaba to see in a Greek Orthodox Church a fifth century floor mosaic depicting a map of the Holy Land. It is a UNESCO world heritage site. From there we undertook the three hour drive to Petra, which will be the principal focus tomorrow.

Audio Recordings

One of our pilgrims has kindly offered to make audio recordings of my homilies during the pilgrimage. I invite you to listen to these recordings as a way of journeying with us.