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

Monday, August 29, 2016

Pokemon Go – Please!

The attraction escapes me.

While I was visiting my family last week in Halifax for holidays, one of my sisters downloaded the Pokemon Go app for her eight-year old son. He was very excited and starting running around the family property with the smartphone. He was apparently catching things which existed only in the device, things he enthusiastically called Pokemons. Seemed a little strange to me, but I was happy to see that something had been developed for the amusement of little kids. Later that evening some family members joined me for a stroll along the Halifax waterfront. My nephew had his smartphone and started chasing these imaginary things again. He was not alone. To my surprise, it seemed that every other adult (!!) there was doing the same thing! More than once I feared that a person with their attention glued to the phone would wander off the end of the wharf!

Now, keep in mind that the waterfront of Halifax is frequented by many tourists for its historic significance and natural beauty. I am used to seeing thousands of people out for a leisurely stroll to take it all in. Well, that evening they were there in great numbers all right, but most were turned away from the real beauty around them and saw nothing but their phones and these imaginary little creatures, which somehow were supposed to be findable on the waterfront. I couldn’t see the Pokemons (thank heavens!), but what I did see clearly  were people, phones and an erratic chasing about after nothing.

I’ve heard it opined that this is just another passing fad. Could be. As I think about it though, this transient phenomenon symbolizes a perennial temptation: the preference for illusion over reality and the dedication of enormous amounts of energy and resources to the pursuit of something that doesn’t exist. We are tempted to chase illusion all the time, mistaking it for the real: honour in the eyes of others (Jesus criticized this in Sunday’s Gospel); the identification of happiness with possessions; busy-ness as an indicator of personal worth; taking Hollywood as my moral compass; and so on. Reliance upon illusion in the pursuit of happiness ends in a banal and empty existence. Pokemon Go might well be fun for some. What it represents is no fun for anyone.

A necessary counter-message was heard in Sunday’s first reading from Sirach. It announced the call to humility as a virtue necessary for a well-lived life. Well, true humility is remaining rooted in the real (the reality of God, of God’s love, of my dependence upon that love, of my need for forgiveness and mercy) and the shunning of all illusion that I can find happiness apart from Jesus Christ and the salvation he offers.

Let’s stay rooted in the real and stop chasing after nothing.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Vacation break

I pray that you are enjoying the summer, getting some rest and relaxation and renewing relationships with your loved ones. I also will be taking a bit a of a break, so my next blog post will be on August 29. God bless!

Monday, August 8, 2016

Hearse with a U-Haul?

I remember having a chat many years ago with a colleague, who was commenting on the rather prevalent obsession with accumulating possessions and wealth. He said, “You know, I have yet to see a hearse with a U-Haul behind it.” A rather striking way to voice something we all know to be true and more commonly express as, “You can’t take it with you!”

Which begs the question: What do we take with us? When at death we stand before the judgement seat of Christ, what shall we offer? We know from Sacred Scripture that the Lord will not be particularly interested in a record of things we have accumulated.

In fact, what we are able to offer the Lord, now and at death, is no more than empty hands. It is important to understand this correctly. An ancient heresy called Pelagianism held that we can follow the Lord’s teachings and thus save ourselves without the help of God’s grace. This was condemned by the Church, because the truth is that we can do nothing without the help of God. By that divine help our lives are made an acceptable offering to God. We acknowledge this in the eucharistic prayer at mass: “May he [Christ] make of us an eternal offering to you, so that we may obtain an inheritance [i.e;. eternal life] with your elect…”

I love watching how young children respond when collection is taken up at mass. They obviously have nothing to offer. So, Mum or Dad gives them something, which they then joyfully put in the collection as their own gift. What we can offer the Father is that which is given to us by the grace of Christ, or, better, that which we have been made by him, and we offer it joyfully in gratitude for God’s love and mercy.

This has huge implications for the way we live our lives. It means being disposed daily to that which the Holy Spirit wants to bring about in us. The Scripture readings of Sunday teach something of how to do that.

Fundamental is faith. The excerpt from Wisdom (18:6-9) underscores the trustworthiness of God’s promises to his people, and summons us to rely confidently on them. The passage from the Letter to the Hebrews (11:1-2, 8-19) recalls how this trust was exemplified in Abraham, Sarah, Isaac and Jacob. It thus highlights the centrality of faith, which is lived out as trust in the providence and wisdom of God and surrender to his saving work within us.

This openness in faith to the working of the Lord within our hearts as we journey through life stands behind the instruction of Jesus to, “Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit.” (Luke 12:35) Faith is not passivity. Yes, we rely entirely on the grace of Christ, who works within us by the Holy Spirit to make of us a pleasing offering to the Father. Yet this same grace moves us to acts of charity. Faith finds expression in love (cf. Galatians 5:6). Christian action springs from faith, not from self-centered motives. This is why we must “have our lamps lit,” that is to say, be constantly vigilant to guard against the lies and seductions (like the temptation to accumulate wealth and possessions) that tempt us to rely upon ourselves and take pride in our accomplishments so as thus to lead us away from an authentic Christian life.

We won’t take a U-Haul full of stuff to the grave. But our naturally “empty hands” will be filled with deeds of love if we live by faith and allow the grace of Christ to transform us into an offering truly pleasing to the Father.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Real Hope for a Renewed Humanity

The headlines and news stories lately are discouraging. Bombings, shootings, terrorist murders - even of a priest at mass (!!) - angry political debates, caustic commentary, mounting suicide rates, assisted suicide and euthanasia made legal; it all leaves us wondering: how did humanity ever come to this? How did we sink so low? Is there any reason for hope?

In the midst of the dark headlines that can lead us to despair, one story has emerged these last few days as a bright and hopeful light: World Youth Days. On Sunday Pope Francis was near Krakow, Poland, for a mass with an estimated three million (yes, that’s right - three million!!!) young adults, many of whom had come from almost every country on the planet for what is an extraordinary festival of Christian faith. In fact, the Holy Father has been in Poland for the last number of days for a pastoral visit occasioned by this event, which, since the time of Saint John Paul II who founded World Youth Days, takes place every few years. The young people have been in the country for over a week, singing and dancing in the streets, gathering for mass, prayer and catechesis, and manifesting in many ways their love for Christ and his Church and their readiness to assume the mission that is theirs by baptism.

What a contrast to the darkness that seems to be growing and enveloping the world! World Youth Days reminds us that there is a response to darkness, an antidote to misery: faith in the love of God, revealed in Jesus Christ. It manifests in high relief that such faith opens our eyes to a good and noble vision of humanity, of authentic humanity. In Poland we have witnessed countless young people gathered in unity, joy and hope as they discovered and lived God’s vision for the humanity of which he is the author. Jesus Christ, fully God and fully human, reveals that we live our humanity completely and authentically when we deliberately choose not to eclipse God from our lives but to place him at the centre, and when we, in consequence, honour and respect one another as children of God.

In his homily at the closing mass on Sunday, Pope Francis called on the vast multitude to embrace the future with the hope that comes from Christ. He summoned them to become agents of a renewed humanity by being the bearers of the gaze of Jesus himself, a gaze that “seeks the way of unity and communion,” one that does not “halt at appearances, but looks to the heart.” His words of encouragement to the youth were striking: “With this gaze of Jesus, you can help bring about another humanity, without looking for acknowledgement but seeking goodness for its own sake, content to maintain a pure heart and to fight peaceably for honesty and justice. Don’t stop at the surface of things; distrust the worldly cult of appearances, cosmetic attempts to improve our looks. Instead, 'download' the best 'link' of all, that of a heart which sees and transmits goodness without growing weary. The joy that you have freely received from God, freely give away (cf. Mt. 10:8): so many people are waiting for it!”

Well, there it is: the way forward, the way of hope and joy. It is the way that springs from our encounter with the mercy of Christ, who by his love lifts up to view the beauty and dignity of every child of God and thus calls us to live together in mutual forgiveness, unity and peace. We are grateful to have been reminded of it by Pope Francis and by our young people. This is the way of real hope for a renewed humanity.