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

Monday, June 22, 2015

Respecting Nature - Including Our Own

Well, the long-anticipated encyclical of our Holy Father, Pope Francis, has finally been issued. Entitled Laudato Si', it deals with our duty to care for creation, which he calls "our common home". It is an extraordinary document in many ways, especially because of the manner in which he poses questions that are not normally asked. In so doing he enriches and broadens the discussion by proposing the long-held wisdom of the Church. I earnestly hope that people will give this document the serious read it deserves and ponder deeply the points he makes. Failure to do so will simply leave us in our present state, unable to move forward.

Particularly striking is the manner in which he takes the question of "respect for nature" to a new level. Following upon the teaching of St John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI, he points to the necessity of applying to our own nature the respect we say we owe to the physical world around us. What he calls an "integral ecology" will recognize that just as the natural world manifests a delicate order and balance that must be honoured, so, too, does human nature have a "givenness" with which we must not tamper. In this regard he cites a beautiful statement from St. John Paul II: "Not only has God given the earth to man, who must use it with respect for the original good purpose for which it was given, but, man too is God's gift to man. He must therefore respect the natural and moral structure with which he has been endowed. (cf. Laudato Si', n. 115).

The original sin, represented by the eating of the forbidden fruit, was precisely this: a failure to respect our nature as reflective of the divine purpose and therefore as a gift to be honoured and respected. Our nature is that of a creature; God alone is Creator. To be a creature is to have limits and to be dependent. God calls us to respect these limits with trust in his wisdom and providence.

So, the encyclical is a call to each of us to examine our consciences to determine if we are living in accord with our God-given nature. The summons to respect nature, especially our own, has implications that challenge many of the assumptions we see prevalent in our culture today.

It also gives us pause to reflect on how we live daily. Do I accept my limits or try to push beyond them? Am I getting enough rest? Do I balance work with my responsibilities to family? Is my diet a healthy one? Do I care for the body through exercise? Do I nourish my mind with beauty (art, music, literature)?

Most importantly, how do I care for my soul? We are created for a relationship with God, who loves us, and with one another. Do I acknowledge every day my dependence upon His goodness by giving priority to prayer in my daily activities? Am I celebrating the sacraments of Eucharist and Penance regularly? Do I examine my conscience each day? Do I give of myself (time, finances, etc) in service to others, especially the poor?

Care for creation necessarily involves recognizing our own creatureliness in its many dimensions and respecting its beauty and limits, both our own and that of others. 

Monday, June 15, 2015

Be Ready For It

Take note that on Thursday of this week the Holy Father, Pope Francis, will be issuing what has to be one of the most eagerly anticipated encyclical letters in quite some time. He confirmed this himself in the course of his Sunday Angelus this past weekend.

An encyclical letter is addressed not only to the Church but also to all people of goodwill. In the one to be released this week His Holiness will address the topic that is among the most pressing for people everywhere: ecology. This is not the first time a Pope has directed his attention to environmental issues. Popes Paul VI, St John Paul II and Benedict XVI have all brought their voices and insights to bear. Now will be the moment for Pope Francis to add his contribution.

Some might wonder what a Pope would have to say about this. In fact, his is a perspective that the world needs to hear. For decades people have considered the scientific, economic and technological dimensions of the environmental question as we grapple with climate change, deforestation, desertification, rising water levels and so on. What is often absent from the discussion is that aspect which is, indeed, more than just another aspect but truly the foundation of all other reflection, namely, the moral. Since creation is God's gift, we have a moral responsibility to steward it in accord with God's purposes. More, care for the environment and the just use of the resources it provides impacts directly upon human life and the common good of all. The environmental issue is, in essence, a moral one. This is why we need to hear from the Holy Father.

To know what he will, in fact, say we need to wait for the official release of the document. What we can anticipate, though, is that he will offer the Church's unique contribution not by weighing in on particulars of scientific debate but by providing the moral principles and parameters that ought to shape our common reflection: the dignity of the human person; the priority of people - particularly the poor - over profit; the universal destination of the earth's resources; the relation of natural to human ecology; solidarity in the service of the common good and so on. These have long been pillars of Catholic Social Doctrine and I look forward to learning how the Holy Father wishes us to apply these in our current circumstances.

God be praised for the gift of all creation. By the help of His grace, may we be its faithful stewards.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Eat Healthy!

How many times do we hear that, or say it to others? We hear it all the time from our doctors, and rightly so. What we eat has a profound effect upon our health. More and more people seem to be heeding this message, if only to judge by the wild popularity of diet programs constantly advertised in the media.

When we celebrated yesterday the Solemnity of The Body and Blood of Christ (Corpus Christi), we heard from Sacred Scripture the same message - eat healthy! - but at an entirely different level. God's Word was addressed to the nourishment we give to our soul, that is to say, to our relationship with Christ and with His Body, the Church.

In this perspective, we can recognize the prevalence of a diet which is very unhealthy, indeed. Think of the banality and emptiness of the messaging in television programming today; think of the pornographic imagery that comes to us across television and computer screens or via material on magazine racks in grocery stores; think of the wanton violence portrayed in video games; or consider the way social networking has become the new form of sometimes malicious gossip.

What happens when we "consume" all this, and allow it to form our mindset and behaviour? Clearly, it moves us away from Christ and his teachings, and distances us from His Church. Anything that produces such an effect is junk food and should be shunned.

By way of dramatic and beautiful contrast, Sacred Scripture speaks to us of the sacrament of the Eucharist, the true Body and Blood of the Lord. This is true nourishment; it produces real spiritual health. It was Jesus himself who said: "For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink." (John 6:55) This is a wondrous mystery that affirms the love of Jesus for his people. He gives himself to us as the nourishment that brings forgiveness and leads to eternal life! 

On Sunday I participated in our annual eucharistic procession through the streets of Edmonton. This traditional Corpus Christi practice is a wonderful way to announce to our city and world the hope that is ours in Jesus, who gives himself to us in this manner and remains with us through his abiding presence in the Blessed Sacrament. As I've said before, this should also be a reminder to believers to make of our lives a "eucharistic procession", by serving others as agents of love and mercy, and thus of hope.

Let's be very attentive to our "diet". Physical health is good; spiritual well-being is better.