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

Monday, February 16, 2015

The Call to Be Contagious

The Gospel of Sunday past recalls the encounter between Jesus and a man suffering from leprosy (cf. Mark 1: 40-45). That disease, at the time of Jesus, was considered highly contagious, spread through touch. The leper was quarantined in accord with the practice described in the passage from Leviticus: they were sent away from the community, cut off from all that mattered to them (cf. Leviticus 13: 1-2, 45-46). Even more, they had to advertise their illness through torn clothing, dishevelled hair and the cry of “Unclean.” In addition to the sickness and banishment, they had to endure public shame.

So when Jesus heals the leper, he cures more than the illness. In giving the man health, he brings him back into community, takes away his shame, and enables him to rejoice that he has been not only noticed but also loved. It is no wonder that the man could not contain himself and went about telling everyone about this, even though Jesus had told him not to.

It is important to focus on how Jesus healed the leper. When the sick man asked to be cured, Jesus did so precisely by reaching out and touching him. Any who saw this would have been shocked, aghast, because touch is the means of contagion. In fact, contagion is precisely what happened, but it occurred in reverse. Disease did not spread from the man to Jesus. Healing and life spread from Jesus to the man. And it happened through touch.

In Jesus Christ, God himself has touched all of humanity. He continues to touch us through what is now the mystical body of Christ, namely, the Church. Our call, as disciples of the Lord, as members of his body, is to be ministers of the healing and life-giving touch of God. As such, our mission is to be agents of contagion - the contagion of good, of mercy, of inclusion, of love. Whenever we sit with the sick or stand with the oppressed, whenever we comfort the dying or care for the poor, whenever we give assurance to a frightened child or enable a family to find healing, whenever we welcome the refugee or work for peace, then we serve to halt the spread of those terrible diseases of hatred, oppression, and injustice, and diffuse instead love, peace and justice, striving with the help of God’s grace to make the good that which alone should be highly contagious among all of God’s people.

This raises important questions for our self-examination through Lent, which begins Wednesday. From what disease do I need to be healed in order to be a more effective agent of good in our world? Are selfishness and self-concern blinding me to the needs of others? Do bitterness and anger alienate me from my family? Do pride and arrogance cause me to exclude God and his will from my daily considerations? This Lent let us pray together that Jesus will touch us and heal any infirmity that shuts God out and consequently closes us in on ourselves and away from others. May he make of us effective agents of his mercy so that what spreads by contagion is the good news of his saving love and our shared responsibility for one another.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Have You a Moment for a Survey?

I wonder where they come up with these names. "Survey monkey." What's with that?

Anyway, this is a survey tool we are using at the Archdiocese as one way of marking the current Year for Consecrated Life. We are inviting youth and adults to share your hopes for life. Your input from a short online survey will be used to develop a series of reflections that address your concerns from a spiritual perspective. Please take a moment to answer the survey at the link below, and I invite you to share it with others. Thank you!

+Richard W. Smith
Archbishop of Edmonton

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Supreme Court ruling: Making legally permissible what is morally wrong

For my post this week, here is a letter I have written to the Archdiocese in response to the recent decision of the Supreme Court of Canada regarding physician-assisted death:

On Friday, February 6th, the Supreme Court of Canada rendered a landmark decision granting legal permission for physician-assisted death in our country. In so doing it agreed with claims that a human person faced with suffering has the right to determine when and how to end one's life, and that the legal prohibition against assisted suicide impeded the exercise of this right and infringed upon their liberty. In its ruling, the Supreme Court outlines the conditions within which the provision or administration of lethal medication to a patient who has requested it would be permissible.

By allowing assisted suicide, our Supreme Court is making legally permissible in some circumstances what is morally wrong in every circumstance: the taking of innocent human life. We must be careful, therefore, not to accommodate ourselves to its decision. Our response to suffering - and, indeed, to all the questions of life - must be informed and shaped not by the Justices of the Court but by the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Suffering is a reality that touches each of us. It gives rise to many questions, often anguished, as to its meaning and purpose. Throughout my ministry as priest and bishop I have frequently encountered great pain and hardship among God's people, and have had these very questions posed to me. I admit, the same wonderment has at times inhabited my own heart as I witnessed the suffering and death of loved ones and friends. From experience we know that no amount of interior searching provides a satisfactory answer to the mystery of suffering, and this can deepen the anguish. However, our pain gives way to hope when we turn to Jesus Christ and the enlightenment he alone can give.

Jesus Christ is the Son of God who became a human being, like us in all things but sin. He came to us to preach the good news of the nearness and love of God and the divine will to save us. As he moved among us and taught, he showed a special love for those who suffer. Time and again we hear in the Gospel of the many miracles of healing he worked for those who were sick. At the same time, however, he did not remove suffering entirely from our human condition. Instead, he took it upon himself and offered his own suffering to the Father through his death on the Cross. He did so, confident that the Father would accept it for the salvation of the world. This is exactly what the Father did in raising Jesus from the dead.

From Jesus we learn that we are never alone in our suffering. God draws near. His special love for the sick and his acts of healing call us, too, to be close to any who are suffering and strive to lessen their pain whenever possible. His self-offering on the Cross teaches us that when we offer our suffering through him to the Father, we can have confidence that God will accept and transform it into an instrument for good. In many ways, the mystery of suffering remains just that - a mystery. Yet if in faith we offer it to God we know it is never without meaning or purpose. In Christ we see that suffering in no way diminishes human dignity. On the contrary, when suffering is embraced in faith and offered as a gift to God for the sake of others, that dignity shines forth and the nobility of the human person is made manifest.

Underlying the Christian approach to suffering is the recognition of God's sovereignty. God alone is the author of life, which we receive from Him as a gift. This means that we are always stewards and never masters of our lives. Recall the teaching of Saint Paul: "We do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves. If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s." (Romans 14: 7-8)

The decision of the Supreme Court to allow assisted suicide rests on the substitution of God's supremacy with that of the individual. It accepts a worldview in which suffering's only discernable purpose is to diminish the subjectively defined "quality of life" of the human person, who, as autonomous, should be free to determine when their life will end and how. Yet human autonomy cannot realistically be posited as an absolute; it is always conditioned by our relationships and limited by the shared responsibility of all citizens for the common good. The well-being of society and our ability to live together peaceably depends upon the recognition and acceptance of our interdependence. More, it requires adherence to the inviolability of human life as an unassailable and necessary principle. The law can only respect the inherent dignity of each Canadian life if it acknowledges that no one has the right to take action that would intentionally end another’s life.

It is clear that, given the place of the Supreme Court in our legal and judicial system, this decision will have far-reaching harmful effects in our country. Not the least of these will be subversion of the patient-physician relationship and the erosion of trust that will inevitably follow. In addition to our refusal to allow the standpoint of the Supreme Court to inform our own, we have a duty to act for the good of our fellow citizens, especially for those who, because of disability, suffering or weakness, now find themselves on a slippery slope of increasing vulnerability to state-sanctioned death. For one thing, we can work with our Members of Parliament, now charged with crafting a new law, so that the legislation will severely limit the harm done by the Court decision. Doctors in particular should speak and act decisively to ensure that their right to freedom of conscience and their solemn responsibility to be agents of healing will be protected, and in this I assure them of my support. Even more, we all must consciously and deliberately bear joyful witness to the beauty and dignity of each human life at every stage of existence from beginning to natural end

Above all, we must pray. Let us turn to Mary, the mother of Our Lord. She, too, knew untold suffering as she witnessed the cruel passion and death of her Son. She offered her pain, together with that of Jesus, to God, and experienced the wondrous joy of seeing suffering and death transformed into life. By her intercession, may she help us to bear our own suffering with peace, to stand in solidarity and hope with any who suffer, and enable us by our action and witness to foster the full protection in our country of all human life.

Yours sincerely in Christ,

Richard W. Smith

Archbishop of Edmonton

10 February 2015

Monday, February 2, 2015

Have a question? Jesus is the answer

It happened again. Just when I think I’ve heard all the questions students will ask, a new one will catch me off guard. That happened the other day in the course of a school visit. I was with a class of grade eights. One boy put up his hand and asked: “Apart from praying, how do you fix the Oilers?”

The questions posed by students reveal what they struggle with. Often it is more serious than the plight of a hockey team. My constant refrain to them is this: whatever your question, Jesus is the answer. Turn to him to be enlightened. When others are in difficulty, direct them to the answer he is.

The Sacred Scripture passages we heard on Sunday offer insight into why this is true. From Deuteronomy we heard Moses speaking to the people and promising that God would send to them a prophet “like him”. Moses was unique among all the prophets and leaders of ancient Israel because of his unparalleled intimacy with God. In his close personal encounters with the Almighty he was given words to speak to God’s people. Jesus has come to us, “like Moses,” but in a way that far surpasses Moses. St. John teaches us that Jesus came from the bosom of the Father. His was an infinite intimacy, that of the Son from all eternity. From those ineffable depths the Son came to us, took on human flesh in Jesus, and spoke the words that he had received from the Father. This is why he – and no other – is the answer to our questions and wonderments.

In the Gospel passage we see that the words Jesus speaks have a power never before witnessed. His casting out of the evil spirit from the man he encountered in the synagogue demonstrates that the Evil One is powerless before him.

How much our world today needs to be directed to Jesus to encounter this life-saving word! We see all around us the evil of domestic violence, human trafficking, poverty, hunger and homelessness, and so much more.

The situation of our world today leaves us, like the students, with many questions. The answer Jesus gives, the answer that he is, is that God is with us, he can cast out the effects of evil in our lives and change our lot if we turn to him, and that therefore we need not fear.