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


This picture shows one of the panels on the holy door at St. Peter's Basilica in Rome. I have always loved it, and it speaks beautifully of the Good Shepherd reaching out to save the lost. That's the reason for hope.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Distractions

More than once I have witnessed a scene that, I am sure, many others have seen also. I can remember at least two occasions when I saw a young parent walking hand in hand with a very young child. In one hand the parent held that of the youngster. In the other hand was a smartphone. Can you guess where the parent’s attention was directed? Of course … the smartphone. Very sad, really. The unspoken message being given to the child is that she is less important at that moment than whatever message is coming across the smartphone. The parent was allowing the device to become a distraction from something of obviously far greater importance, namely, the little child.

The Scripture readings for last Sunday challenge us to look at the distractions that we allow to creep into our lives, those things that take our attention away from what is of greatest importance. In a sense they ask, “What is our smartphone?” “What do we need to put down or put away in order to fix our attention on what is most precious?

The Gospel account from Luke (9:51-62) tells us that Jesus “set his face to go to Jerusalem”. It is a small phrase full of meaning. To set one’s face means to follow with firm resolution a particular path or direction, allowing of no distraction. Jerusalem is the place where he was to die and rise; the city, in other words, where he was to fulfill the destiny given him by his heavenly Father. At all times, not just in this episode recalled for us, Jesus was focused only on fulfilling the will of his heavenly Father. Nothing could distract him from that; nothing was more important; nothing was more precious.

And we are his followers. We are a people who have been given a destiny in Christ: eternal life. The life we live on earth is a pilgrimage under grace to the fulfillment of this destiny. We, too, are called to “set our face”, to be firmly resolute, in the pursuit of this goal. But, oh how we allow the distractions to creep in! In so many ways we “lift up the smartphone" and allow it to distract our attention away from the goal of eternal life that has been “placed in our hands,” as it were, by the gift of Jesus Christ.

St. Paul helps us to understand this. In the passage we heard from his letter to the Galatians (5:1, 13-18), he teaches that the path we are to follow with firm resolution is that of love. “[The] whole law,” he tells us, “ is summed up in a single commandment, ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’” He explains that this path of love is the way of self-gift and self-sacrifice for the sake of the other, for the sake of the communion that God wills there to be among all people. Yet we allow self-indulgence to get in the way. To paraphrase, time and again we lift up the smartphone of selfishness and self-absorption such that its very enticing messages distract us away from what we should be doing: loving one another.

The consequences of this distraction of self-concern are dramatic and tragic. It causes division in the home as family members place individual pursuits ahead of their duty in love to each another. It gives birth to divisions and inequities in society as concern for the common good gives way to idolatrous worship of the autonomous self. It engenders fear and defensiveness among nations, as borders and walls are prized more highly than communion among cultures.

God’s Word is a clarion call to put down the “smartphone”, to put away from our lives all that distracts us from our destiny of eternal life. It summons us to do away with self-indulgence and to set our faces toward the immediate duty of loving one another as Christ has commanded us to do.