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

Monday, August 14, 2017

Follow Us!


Few organizations these days would have websites that did not issue this invitation: Follow Us! It usually means choosing to follow on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. At least, those are the social media places I've heard about. No doubt there are, and will be, many more.

It is an interesting phenomenon, this following. Very popular. It certainly doesn't demand much to become a follower. Click of a button, occasionally check in to see the post, and that's about it. Why we choose a person or organization to follow is another point. The motivation is usually interest or curiosity. Tellingly, the act of following really does not require anything of me in terms of commitment to the one I choose to follow.

I wonder, is anyone asking the question: to where? Following usually indicates movement behind a leader toward a goal or destination. That really does not seem to be in play in the world of social media 'following.'

How different this all is from choosing to be a follower of Jesus Christ! Just consider what the Scripture readings from Sunday teach us about following the Lord. They clarify the motivation, and then highlight three fundamental aspects of this 'following.'

The Gospel narrative recounts the familiar yet ever wondrous event of Jesus walking across a raging sea to rescue his disciples at risk of perishing (Matthew 14: 22-33). After he calms the sea, they exclaim, "Truly you are the Son of God." That is precisely why we follow Him, and no other. Not only did he calm the wind and sea and perform other miracles, but also he himself rose from the dead and opened for humanity the doors to eternal life. He makes clear our destination, our destiny, and he himself is the way. No one else to follow.

The episode from the life of the prophet Elijah recounted in the first reading (1Kings 19:9, 11-13) teaches us that following the Lord begins with encountering him. There is a really important lesson here for us. Notice that Elijah recognizes the presence of God not in the noise of wind, earthquake and fire, but in "a sound of sheer silence." How alien silence is to much of our lives! This seems especially the case when we try to be still in prayer. Instantly we are beset with the wind of expectations, the earthquake of failures and the fire of anxiety. Yes, God may well choose to speak to us in all of this, but often they are distractions of human origin, often that of our pride. To follow means first to ask for the grace of inner stillness, that we may truly encounter the Lord speaking to us in his Holy Word and follow where he leads.

The experience of St. Paul, narrated by the Apostle himself in the passage from Romans (9:1-5), exemplifies the need was we follow the Lord for trust in God's fidelity to his promises. In this passage and the two chapters that follow, St Paul is grappling with the rejection of the Gospel by his fellow Jews. In the end he finds consolation In the truth that God does not revoke his call and is never unfaithful to all he has promised, and that, therefore, God will use even this rejection for the accomplishment of his saving plan for the whole world, including, of course, for God's chosen People.  How often are we, too, in anguish at the rejection of our Gospel proclamation, especially when this involves members of our own family! We trust in God's fidelity, and so are confident that He is at work in the lives of all, leading them to the Gospel. Thus, as followers, we continue to proclaim the Gospel by word and deed, trusting the consequences, even rejection, to God and consoled in the knowledge that God will turn all things to the good.

Finally, following Christ means inviting Jesus into the boat of our lives, asking him to calm whatever storms beset us. In other words, it means giving up all illusion of self-reliance. In addition, it also means being ready to step out of the boat, as St Peter did. Concretely, this means being willing to step out into the uncertain and frightful, acutely conscious of our vulnerability and weakness, yet joyfully aware that the Lord always holds us by the arm.

To be a follower of Jesus Christ is entirely different from being a social media follower. To follow him is to give him our all. May he grant us the grace to do so.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Noise Cancellation


I don't know how it works, but I certainly appreciate the technology - noise cancellation in headphones. Touch a button, and distractions are closed out. I am able to hear clearly and solely that to which I choose to listen. The technology brings me to a new awareness of just how much noisy distractions stand in the way of focused and attentive listening.
 
This came to mind as I pondered the Gospel passage given for Sunday’s mass commemorating the Transfiguration of the Lord. At the centre of the narrative stands a command, arresting because of its source: God the Father. As the divinity of Jesus shines forth in brilliant radiance before his chosen disciples, the Father’s voice confirms the identity of Jesus as His well-beloved Son and commands: “Listen to him.”
 
Indeed. Since Jesus is God’s Son, revealed on the Mountain of the Transfiguration as having come from the Heavenly Father, as being the fulfillment of the hopes of ancient Israel (symbolized in the presence of Moses and Elijah), and as having mysteriously both a divine and human nature, the question poses itself: why would we listen to anyone else?? St Peter summed it up best when he said to Jesus, “You have the words of everlasting life” (Jn 6:68). There is no one else to whom we should go; no one else to whom we must listen. 

But, oh, the noise that distracts from the voice of Christ! We need think only of the multiple and incessant anti-Gospel messages that bombard us via the Internet, social media, and television and radio programming to realize how difficult it is to heed the command of the Father to listen to His Son. This awareness grows even more acute as we consider the “noise” of persistent anxiety or worldly desires. We need noise cancellation!
 
Yet, how do we do this? Is it possible to close out all the distractions? Well, it certainly involves more than flicking a button on a headset. What is required is a deliberate decision, made on a daily basis, to be focused and attentive. This is what St Peter meant when he wrote, “You will do well to be attentive to this [ie, the truth revealed in Christ] as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.” (2 Pe 1:19) Practically speaking, this means developing the habit of looking for moments in the day when I can give over all the noise, all the worries and distractions, to Christ, and ask him for the grace to be focused upon him and his Word. We could ask ourselves: what distraction might I lay aside (watching a TV show, scrolling through tweets or posts, or looking at yet one more Internet site) in order to read the Gospel of the day? Focus upon a line or passage that stands out and allow it to percolate. How does it speak to my heart? To what action is it calling me?
 
I worry that we easily getting caught up in the trap of listening to any number of voices other than that of Christ. Let's reverse this and engage noise cancellation, allowing into our attention the one voice that leads to life: that of Jesus Christ.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Baggage Handling


It’s a key part of the boarding adventure. Getting on a plane is by no means a breeze. We seem to be coming aboard loaded down with more and more stuff, packed in baggage presumably of a size that will fit under seats or in overhead bins, and expecting there to be enough room on the aircraft. I’ve seldom seen this unfold without some drama, involving no small amount of effort on the part of the crew to find space somewhere for everyone’s things. Sometimes people are told that there is no room on board, which elicits a variety of reactions, to put it mildly. I admire the patience of the crew as they deal with us passengers. If I were in their place, I’m sure I’d need to get to confession soon after landing.
 
In the Gospel we heard proclaimed on Sunday, Jesus gives a lesson in another - and far more important - type of 'baggage handling.' We tend to accumulate a lot of things. What is important? What not? On the basis of what principle do we make this discernment?
 
In the passage from St. Matthew (13:44-52), Jesus tells a number of parables to explain “the kingdom of heaven.” By this phrase he is speaking of the reign of God in our lives. It comes to us in the person of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. By encounter with Him and surrender to his person and teaching, we enter the joy of life in communion with God. There is no greater “treasure” than this, no “pearl” of greater price. By these parables, Jesus teaches that, like the farmer and the merchant, we should understand our relationship with Jesus Christ, and all that it entails, as far surpassing in worth anything we might possess, or that might be possessing us!
 
Easy to say. Sounds very good. Yet, of course, as with all the parables of Jesus, these, too, involve a serious challenge to his hearers. Both the farmer, who discovers the treasure in a field, and the merchant, who comes across the pearl of great price, divest themselves of everything in order to possess what they have found. Ah, there’s the rub. Divestment. Getting rid of things. Handling baggage is one thing. Doing away with stuff is an entirely different matter. We usually don’t like to let go of things to which we have become attached. Notice, though, that the figures in the parables let go joyfully! In comparison with the joy that is theirs in finding what is of surpassing value, all else is suddenly seen in its true light: unimportant, and, in fact, an obstacle to real joy.
 
This puts me in mind of a beautiful statement by St. Paul, who found the treasure when Christ found him: “I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” (Phil 3:8)
 
So, how are we doing as baggage handlers? To be more precise, to what are we holding on that stands in the way of our relationship with Jesus Christ? This involves more than just physical possessions. We can also be attached to the baggage of pride, reputation, hurts, inability to forgive, and so on. There are times when it is good - indeed, necessary - to be told that there is no room “on board” for these things. That’s exactly what Jesus is teaching. So, let’s be ready to downsize, to divest, that we may live in the priceless joy of knowing Jesus Christ.
 
 

Monday, July 10, 2017

Called to the Office



In the early years of my episcopate, when I was learning how to be a Bishop (Who am I kidding? I’m still learning!), I would at times ask my secretary to call a priest and ask him to come to the office for a visit. In those days, I might neglect to give the reason why. I would only find out later that, by not indicating the reason for the call, I had more often than not caused great angst for the priest - What did I do? Why does he want to see me? Hmmm. Maybe I need to work on my charm and friendly manner. Anyway, invitations are now always accompanied by an explanation in order to minimize the likelihood of panic attack.
 
Archbishop Smith installed as bishop of Edmonton after his time as bishop of Pembroke.
Truth to tell, we can all think of various versions of the “summons” that can elicit a sense of foreboding: students called to the principal’s office, a summons to appear in court, or “the boss wants to see you.” There are others, though, that fill us with delight and the prospect of happiness. Think especially of what fills the hearts of children when they hear that they’ve been invited to Grandma’s house. As I think back, cookies and sweets come to mind. No foreboding there!

It is this latter sense of good that arises when we hear the “summons,” or invitation, which Jesus issues in the Gospel passage for Sunday (Matthew 11:25-30). It is an invitation to rest, a call to the peace that is ours when we entrust all of our cares and burdens to Him in the confidence that He, God who loves us, will care for us and guide us toward the good. The passage is a beautiful manifestation of the wondrous tenderness of our God. No need to be anxious about this call.

Of course, there are times in our lives when we are “called to the office” by the Lord and rebuked for our sinful ways. This, too, is encountered in Sacred Scripture. After all, the first summons spoken by the Lord on earth was to repentance and faith. This can cause what could be called a “holy foreboding”, holy because it is ultimately salutary, good for our salvation. Consequently, far from fearing this kind of summons, we should actually seek it so that the Lord, by His truth and mercy, can lead us in holiness.
Procession at Santa Maria Goretti this past Sunday.
The Lord consoles with His mercy; He challenges us with His truth. Whatever the summons, if it comes from the Lord Jesus, we know it is for our good, both earthly and eternal. Therefore, let us cast aside all foreboding and respond with joyful trust.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

And Now … ?



Well, it was certainly a wonderful moment of grace. All across our land, on the Canada Day weekend, our country’s Bishops consecrated their respective Dioceses to the Immaculate Heart of the Blessed Virgin Mary. In this way the whole of our country was entrusted to the maternal care and protection of the Mother of God.

Statue of Mary which Bishop Grandin knelt
to consecrate the Diocese of St Albert to Mary.
It was not the first time that this was done. A national consecration occurred during a Marian Congress in Ottawa in 1947. Here in the Edmonton area, our first Bishop, Most Rev. Vital Grandin, consecrated his new Diocese of St. Albert (which later became the Archdiocese of Edmonton) to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. (Incidentally, for the consecration this weekend at St Joseph’s Basilica we knelt at the same Marian statue before which Bishop Grandin offered his prayer of consecration in 1871.)

So, why the re-consecration? Like children do with their own mothers, we instinctively turn to our Heavenly Mother in times of need. As we mark 150 years of Confederation in Canada, we are conscious of great need among our people. Yes, we have many blessings here, for which we are grateful to Almighty God. In many ways, Canada is a wonderful place to live. At the same time, we are aware of troubling trends and worrisome patterns that demonstrate a collective drift from Christ and his teachings. For this reason, we have turned to Mary, asking for her intercession, that we will be brought back to her son Jesus, or, indeed, will be led to discover Him if He is not yet known. We have made this act of consecration, this act of entrustment to Mary’s maternal care, with great confidence that she will hear our prayers and answer. Thus we are certain that God, in response to Mary’s plea on our behalf, will pour many graces upon our land.

Grotto at Mission Hill in St Albert.
And now…? What more must we do? Mary herself shows us. In her response to the angel Gabriel, “Be it done unto me according to thy word,” she shows us that our response to the grace the Lord wills to give us must be that of complete surrender to the will of God. Concretely, this means staying close to Jesus: by listening daily to His Word in Sacred Scripture, we become attuned to God’s will; by regular participation in the sacraments we are strengthened by God’s mercy to live the holy lives to which he calls us. It also means staying close to Mary: by renewing the prayer of consecration and by praying the Rosary each day, we keep our hearts and minds directed towards her, who seeks always to lead us to her son, Jesus. Stay close to Jesus in faith; stay close to Mary in trust. In so doing, our hearts are disposed to receive, and be transformed by, the love and mercy of God. In so doing, we shall see the act of consecration we made this past weekend bear great fruit for the good of our country in the years ahead.

Holy Mary, Mother of God, Our Lady of Canada, pray for us!
 
St Mary's Cathedral, Calgary
 

Monday, June 26, 2017

The Temptation of the Rear-view Mirror


There are many students graduating now from high school. It is a time in their lives when their gaze is focused in two primary directions: past and future. A lot of time is spent “looking in the rear-view mirror,” i.e., remembering their time in school, what they have learned, the friends they have made, happy and sad moments, and so on. At the same time, they know instinctively that they cannot keep their gaze fixed on that mirror. We are accustomed to glancing occasionally at this mirror when we are in a car moving forward. Looking solely at what is behind us as we move ahead will lead to serious crashes. So, as the students look back, they know their primary focus needs to be on what lies ahead.

Yet, looking ahead might well be a source of anxiety. We cannot know what the future holds, and events unfolding in the world right now do not always leave us with a sense of confidence. In such a situation it becomes very tempting to keep our eyes only on the rear-view mirror, in the sense of remaining in the past, in what we know, in what is comfortable. But such a stance, motivated by fear, leaves us stuck where we are, paralyzed, unwilling to move ahead.

This can happen in the life of faith, too. Pope Francis, since the beginning of his pontificate, has been summoning us to live as the missionary disciples our Baptism makes us to be. He challenges us to look ahead, not back, to be bold, to go out of ourselves, to step out from within our comfort zones, to reach out to the unfamiliar, especially to our brothers and sisters living on the edge not only of society’s concern but also, perhaps, of our own notice. Here, the temptation of the rear-view mirror can come upon the followers of Christ. We know that the message of Christ is not always welcome, often ridiculed and rejected, in a culture that has in many ways grown allergic to the Gospel. The fear and anxiety this can arouse within our hearts can lead us to stay within the familiar, to remain rooted in what we feel we can control, to look backward and not forward, to be transfixed, that is to say, by the view in the rear-view mirror.

In fact, this is nothing new. Jesus Himself, in Sunday’s Gospel, summons his followers to have their view firmly fixed on what lies ahead, and not to be afraid of anyone (cf. Matthew 10:26-33). The Church has a mission; the Church is a mission. As followers of the Lord, we move forward in and through history with the life-affirming and world-transforming message of the Gospel. The Lord Himself warned that this would not be welcome. The persecution faced by the Church, in both the past and present, attests to this. Jesus knows that fear of rejection and harm is a natural reaction, so he reminds us that, in God’s eyes and heart, we are precious. God will never abandon us. We may indeed suffer emotional and, perhaps, even physical harm, yet such hurt is perpetrated by those who have no power to harm our immortal souls. Fear cannot be granted the determinative word. That which shapes our lives and impels them forward is trust in the living God.

It is good to look back from time to time, to glance occasionally in the rear-view mirror, if it helps us learn from what we have experienced or reminds us of the ways in which the Lord has been accompanying us on the journey. Indeed, his presence is often only recognized in hindsight. But if that glance becomes fixation, we need to avert our gaze and look steadfastly forward. We are people who are on mission; followers of the Lord who are sent. Let us move forward, trusting in the love and power of our God.

Monday, June 19, 2017

The Ultimate Re-Charge


It’s really annoying when I forget my chargers. I confess to having a few of what we generally refer to as “devices”: laptop, smartphone, iPad. They travel with me, and when the chargers don’t, I’m in trouble. Why is it that the power runs when I need the gizmos the most?! Or why is it that, when I do remember to bring the chargers, the charging stations at airports are always occupied?? If someday you pass me in an airport and see me sitting on the floor next to an outlet, be sure to take pity and say hello.
 
Portable devices are not the only things that need “re-charging.” More importantly, we do. There is so much that drains us not only of energy, but also of joy, indeed, even of life. Think of the “draw down” occasioned by anxiety, guilt, hurt, hopelessness and so on. Where do I go for the “re-charge,” i.e., what can restore me to myself, to hope, to life? I know that, like the devices, that new energy needs to come from outside of myself. I cannot be my own re-charger. Where do I turn?
 
 
 
On Sunday the Church celebrated the solemnity of Corpus Christi. At this sacred time, we focus, in a spirit of awe, praise and gratitude, upon the mystery of the Eucharist, Christ’s gift to the Church of his own Body and Blood. There is much that can be said about this wondrous sacrament. The Scripture passages for Sunday highlight its dimension of nourishment. As food is to the body, refreshing with renewed energy, so the Eucharist is to the soul. The Eucharist gives the ultimate re-charge.
 
An evocative context within which we can appreciate this dimension of the gift is provided in Sunday’s first reading (Deuteronomy 8.2-3, 14-16). It recalls how God fed the Israelite people with miraculous “manna”, or “bread from heaven,” to give them the strength they needed to journey, often exhausted and suffering, through the wilderness toward the promised land. That experience of wilderness finds an echo in our own lives whenever we experience the aridity of sinful behaviour, destroyed hopes, broken relationships, lack of meaning and purpose, i.e., anything that leaves us drained of a zeal to carry on. The real “bread from heaven” is Jesus Christ, given to us in the Eucharist. (cf. John 6:51-59) He feeds us with himself, gives us a participation in his own life - his risen life! - and thus restores to us the spiritual strength and real hope that energize us to continue the journey toward eternal life.
 
Forgetting my phone charger is an inconvenience. Neglect of the Eucharist is of far greater consequence. May nothing separate us from receiving and celebrating this great Gift.





 

Monday, June 12, 2017

God Must Not Be Eclipsed!

Our Archdiocesan Pastoral Council met on Saturday. As our guest we welcomed Gary Gagnon, the Coordinator of our Office of Aboriginal Relations. He gave us a very beautiful and moving presentation on some aspects of Indigenous culture.

As I have been in the past, I was struck once again by the centrality of the Creator in the life and thought of Aboriginal people. The Creator is acknowledged and praised as the author of life and the source of all good gifts. Personal relationship with the Creator is foundational to all human relating. In the life of our First Nations, Metis and Inuit brothers and sisters, God is not eclipsed. His light is allowed to shine to make clear the path to follow.

Here we find that Aboriginal culture points in its own way to what Saint John Paul II long ago identified as the root cause of the tragic suffering affecting the people of our day: "the eclipse of the sense of God and of man." (Evangelium Vitae, 21). When God is eclipsed, the light of truth gives way to the darkness of falsehood. We lose sight of the full meaning of human existence as created by God. Stumbling in the darkness, we end up on paths that lead away from clarity and happiness toward confusion and misery.


This brings us to the urgent importance of the mystery celebrated on Sunday: the Most Holy Trinity. St. Paul teaches that the light of the knowledge of God shines in the face of Christ (cf 2Cor 4:6). So, in Christ, the mystery of God has been revealed to us, has shone forth. The one and only God is a Trinity of Persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The light of this knowledge enlightens the mystery of the human person. Since God is, in himself, a perfect communion of love, his choice to create us arose not from need but out of desire. Pope Benedict XVI drew from this the beautiful conclusion that every person is "willed, loved and necessary" in the sight of God.

This message, arising from the very mystery of the Trinity, of the beauty of all human life is urgently needed today. Far too many people, especially among our youth, feel that they do not matter or count, that they are less worthy of consideration than other persons. Small wonder. Messaging abounds to the effect that one's "worth" is conditioned by wealth, beauty, talent, achievement and so on. The mystery of the Trinity enables us to see that the truth is just the opposite: our worth and dignity is inherent, not conditioned by any illusory external standard. We are the beloved children of God. Therefore, every life matters!

Rather than eclipse God, may we reflect his light by fully acknowledging and honouring the beauty and dignity of each person, at every stage of life and in all circumstances.



Monday, June 5, 2017

The Touchdown of the Holy Spirit



The other day a tornado touched down about 250 kilometres south of Edmonton. Awesome and terrifying. Witnesses spoke of its power, which, as we know, can bring great destruction in seconds.

On the Solemnity of Pentecost, celebrated on Sunday, we recall another experience of a powerful wind. “When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting.” (Acts 2:1-2) This was the coming of the Holy Spirit upon the Church as Jesus had promised. As the gift of God, the Spirit is infinitely more powerful than any earthly phenomenon. Yet, the effects of the bestowal of this gift are not destructive but transformative. Hearts are changed, understanding is granted, and hope becomes the motor force of human lives.

Why the transformation when the Holy Spirit “touches down” on the soil of earthly existence? Because the mission of the Holy Spirit is to draw us into a living union with Jesus Christ. By this gift of the Spirit, bestowed now in the sacraments of the Church, the very life of Jesus becomes the principle of our own. As St. Paul once put it, “It is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me.” (Galatians 2:20)

An immediate consequence of this is the banishment of fear. One of the most beautiful phrases from the mouth of Jesus is this: “I will not leave you orphans.” (John 14:18) Remember that he is the only Son of God. Through our union with him by the gift of the Holy Spirit, we are adopted by God (!!!) and thus become, truly, children of our Heavenly Father. It was precisely as orphans that Jesus found us when he came from heaven. We had been “orphaned” from God by the lies and deceptions of the devil, and thus made vulnerable to all the many ways the evil one seeks to lead us astray. No wonder a world that does not know God or has eclipsed Him from consideration experiences deep anxiety! It is the angst of orphans!!! The reason Christ came and was revealed to us was to destroy the works of the devil (1John 3:8) and make manifest the love of God. By overcoming in us all that “orphans” us from God, Christ has drawn us to himself and given us the gift of adoption. His Father has become Our Father, the One who knows us, cares for us, understands our every need and will never abandon us. We are orphans no longer!!! Be not afraid!!



While the tornado’s touchdown has immediate effects, that of the Holy Spirit usually brings about change only gradually. That is because the gift of the Spirit interacts with our human freedom. We need to choose to open our hearts to receive the gift and surrender to the Spirit’s power. Yet even such a choice is ours only by the Spirit’s gift, so let us not fail to call daily upon the Holy Spirit, asking Him to unite us ever more deeply to Christ, that we may live in true freedom as the children of God.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Communicate Hope and Trust

That’s the heart of the message issued by Pope Francis for World Communications Day of 2017. This year the event falls on May 28th, which in the liturgical calendar is the Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord. The two - hope and Ascension - are clearly linked, and touch the core of the reason why Christians have - and communicate - hope.

For a number of years now, on or near World Communications Day, our Archdiocesan Office of Communications has been hosting a media breakfast. This gives me a chance to sit down with local media professionals to discuss, first of all, the Pope’s message, as well as important local issues. Within the framework of the Pope’s message, we can understand the unparalleled opportunity that modern means of communications have to give a message of hope to our world. I see this played out particularly not only when a “good news” story is conveyed, but also when reporting sheds light on difficult and painful issues and thus provides the impetus for responsive action and positive change. In Alberta we need think only of the coverage one year ago of the Fort McMurray fire. Media both warned us of the danger and helped us to see the good that issued forth from the people as they hurried to help. From that unspeakable tragedy, the last word actually belonged to hope because of the way the story was covered by all media.

Yet the message of the Pope, even though it is directed in the first instance to media professionals, nevertheless has broad application to all of us. We know we are confronted daily by what the Holy Father strikingly refers to as a cycle of anxiety, to which we must put a stop. The antidote is hope. What opportunities do we have to offer hope to the people we encounter in our daily lives?

It is very important not to offer our response to suffering and anxiousness on the basis of some kind of naive optimism or a refusal to acknowledge the real evil that is at work in our world. As followers of Jesus Christ, we must look at our world situation squarely in the eye and offer a message of hope thoroughly imbued with realism. Only thus will it be received as credible.

The message offered by the Church throughout her existence has been - and always will be - that God’s loving purpose for humanity cannot be overcome by evil. The power of God’s mercy over sin and evil, even over death, was on full display in the Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. As we celebrate the Lord’s Ascension we see clearly the reason for which the Son of God became one of us and conquered death: to lead us to God. Life eternal with God is the destiny that God himself has bestowed upon us. That destiny is now a living and real hope because of what Jesus has done for us. As we pray in the liturgy, where Christ has gone we hope to follow by the power of his grace at work within us now, especially in those moments when evil and suffering appear to have the upper hand.

They never have the upper hand. The Lord’s departure to heaven does not translate into absence from this earth. As he himself promised, “… remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt 28:20). Through the gift of the Holy Spirit, Jesus remains with us, acting in the power of that same Spirit to bring to fulfillment in each of us the saving will of the Father. Therefore, have no fear; cast off anxiety. Jesus is with us. He is the reason for our hope.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Beware the Waterfall




I’m in Niagara Falls this week, leading a retreat for some of the priests of the Hamilton Diocese. I’ve been to these Falls a number of times, yet they never cease to take my breath away. Extraordinarily beautiful, awesome and … dangerous. One would not want to be carried away by the current and over the Falls!
 
One striking feature I’ve often noticed is the contrast between current and Falls; what seems to be a rather calm looking current upstream leads steadily and inexorably to the immense and life-threatening cascade. Unaware of the Falls ahead, one could easily allow oneself to be carried along by the flow of the river. Once aware of the lurking danger, however, a mighty effort of paddling upstream, against the current, would begin. At that point one would be instantly aware of just how powerful is that “gentle” stream.

As I ponder the majestic sight from this particular perspective, I find myself thinking of the questions I’ve been posing to candidates for the sacrament of Confirmation. Bishops are rather busy these days celebrating many of these liturgies. In the course of the ceremony, just prior to the anointing with sacred chrism, the candidates are invited to renew their baptismal promises. They are asked if they renounce Satan and believe in God. The questions get to the heart of our Christian life. By baptism, we are a people who give a resounding “No!” to the Evil One and to all that is contrary to God’s revelation and commandments. Motivating this “NO” is a powerful “Yes!!” to God and to all that he reveals about Himself and demands of us. Often, though, we get it backwards, and say “No” to God and to his teachings, and “Yes” to evil and to what is wrong. It is easy to happen, because the “No” to God can feel like floating gently along the stream of worldly logic, while our “Yes” to God can be experienced as a rowing against this powerful current of “everybody’s doing it” morality. Yet the flow of this “river” leads to danger. The boat needs to get turned around, and quickly.

How to do this? Well, we need to accept that this current leading to peril is too powerful to row against unaided. For this reason, God Himself gives us the help we need. He sends the Holy Spirit, identified by Jesus in Sunday’s Gospel as the Spirit of Truth (cf. John 14:15-21). By the light of the Spirit we discern what is truly right from what is really wrong, and are given the grace to remain in the truth. Furthermore, the Holy Spirit actually reverses the current of our lives by uniting us to Christ, who is the Way not to death but to the Father and eternal life.
 
The Church is preparing for the great celebration of Pentecost. Let’s prepare our hearts by closely examining the current along which our lives are presently flowing. Let’s not be deceived by appearances of ease and popularity. We might very well be headed toward danger. May the Holy Sprit renew our hearts and place us in the right direction by uniting us more deeply to Christ, the river Who leads to life.
 
 

Sunday, May 14, 2017

The Archbishop in Kindergarten


It’s a wonder I ever passed this grade. Who knew it could be so difficult?
 
I spent Wednesday of last week visiting a few schools in Red Deer. In one of them I was taken to meet the children of the kindergarten class. There they asked if I would read to the kids a book written to tell the Easter story.

“Sure! I’d be delighted!”

So, they gave me a chair and all the children sat on the floor around me. I read the story aloud to them, and they listened with rapt attention … or, so I thought.

As I neared the end of the not-so-lengthy tome, one of the children hollered out, “Hey! Aren’t you gonna show us the pictures??!!”

Oops. Forgot I was supposed to do that. Another indignant little voice then piped up: “Start over!”

I thought to myself, “How is it possible to mess up something like reading a story to a kindergarten class?”

But I did. Total failure.

The principal and teachers were stuffing their fists down their throats to stifle the guffaws. I can well imagine that copious salt was poured into this wound of embarrassment when the kids later told Mom and Dad that the Archbishop doesn’t even know how to tell the Easter story. Not one of my finer moments.
 
Tell the story and show the pictures. As I think about it, that’s a pretty good way to explain evangelization. It is not enough simply to tell what God has done for the world in Jesus Christ. That story, as astonishing and beautiful as it is, needs to be illustrated by the “pictures” of lives that have been transformed by God’s merciful love, and those pictures need to be shown to all who listen.
 
A rather extraordinary “picture” wound its way through the streets of Edmonton last Thursday. Thousands marched in the downtown area in the annual March for Life. When we tell the Easter story, we announce the Resurrection of one who self-identifies in the Gospel as “the Way, the Truth and the Life.” (cf. Sunday’s Gospel passage, Jn 12: 1-12) The Easter story we tell is about life!  On Thursday we illustrated this story by the picture of the March, born of our desire to celebrate life as God’s gift and our determination to speak out in defence of all human life at every stage and in each circumstance. We showed this picture to the city by taking to its streets. Now we pray that, by God’s grace, the telling and showing will bear fruit in the conversion of hearts and the establishment of a culture of life in our land.
 
Some food for thought: What picture is formed by the way I live my life? Is it consistent with the faith I profess as a Christian? Do Gospel story and living illustration mutually reinforce one another in the “book” which is my life? Serious business. I pray that God enable me to do a lot better in my daily living than I did last Wednesday on my visit to kindergarten class.

See more pictures of my visit here on Storify.
 

Monday, May 8, 2017

The Blue Mass


On Sunday I had the great joy of gathering at St Albert parish for their annual "Blue Mass", offered in thanksgiving to God for the first responders who protect us.

The timing was right. Just this past week we commemorated the first anniversary of the Fort McMurray fire. Looking back, we were reminded not only of the enormous danger faced by the residents of that city, but also of the heroism, professionalism, competence and selfless dedication of the first responders. It was a moment when the profound respect, admiration and gratitude of the citizens of this province for the men and women willing to stand in harm's way was on full display and expressed in a variety of ways.

What was experienced at the moment of the Fort McMurray crisis can give us important insight into the message of the Gospel proclaimed on Sunday (John 10:1-10). As I reflect on all that unfolded during that tragedy, what stands out is the importance of the voice of authority: the voice that alerted to danger, the voice that called people from their homes, the voice that gave direction, the voice that diverted people away from peril, the voice that showed the way to shelter, the voice that kept the population updated, and so on. In each case, the voice was listened to and followed, because the voice was trusted. The voice of authority was spoken by one in authority and therefore was trusted to speak only that which would lead away from harm and toward security.

The Gospel passage speaks precisely of a voice of authority that can be trusted with absolute confidence, and which is therefore the voice to be followed. It speaks of the voice of Jesus Christ. Using the familiar imagery of the Good Shepherd who loves and cares for his sheep, Jesus says that his sheep know and recognize his voice and follow his direction to pastures of safety, protected from the thieves and bandits who seek only to steal and destroy. At issue here is the pasture of eternal life and unending safety in the presence of God. In the course of our earthly lives we encounter many evil voices that attack not only the body but also the soul, seducing to spiritual danger. As we listen to the voices of our first responders who seek to protect us from bodily harm, we need also to be attentive to the voice of the One Good Shepherd, Jesus, whose voice leads us to spiritual security.

And why Jesus? Why his voice and not another? In the course of the Fort McMurray rescue, the voices of authority gave direction in accordance with an overarching plan that was formulated by those who could see the whole picture and assess the entire situation. The One who sees the whole picture of our lives, the One who, indeed, can assess the entire situation of world history, the One who sees clearly where danger lies, who knows the "escape routes" that lead away from peril, is Almighty God, who loves us beyond all imagining. He has fashioned a plan of escape for us, which in more theological language we call his plan of salvation. To carry out that plan, he has sent his well-beloved Son to be the voice of authority. So, when we listen to Jesus Christ, we can have full confidence that he is shepherding us in accord with the mysterious and loving plan of our Heavenly Father. His voice is worthy of our full trust, and in following it we find safety and peace.

One final thought about the Fort McMurray event. We were all particularly impressed by the bravery and skill of the firefighters. Yet, for many days they were forced to admit that the fire was beyond their control in spite of their best efforts. Often, we find things "out of control" in our own personal lives. Things "get away from us" in spite of everything we try to do to bring order and control. This can cause great stress and heartache and bring heavy pressure to bear on family and professional relationships. At times like these it is helpful to recall that there is one who is always in control and can turn all to the good if we but consciously surrender control of our lives to him. That is Jesus, our Good Shepherd, who loves us, speaks to us, and leads us to freedom. Let's listen to his voice and follow.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Where is Emmaus?


Slightly more than twenty years ago I made my first pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Like any pilgrim, I wanted to visit the holy sites. Among the places I wanted to see was Emmaus, on the road to which two disciples had encountered the Risen Lord Jesus (Sunday’s Gospel - Luke 24:13-35). What stands out in my memory is having been informed that there are actually three places today which tradition identifies as the possible site of that ancient locale. In other words, unlike with many of the other holy places, the precise location of Emmaus cannot be pinpointed with certainty.
 
This fact renders “the road to Emmaus" symbolically significant for the times in which we live. It now stands for a path to an unclear destination, and thus represents the life situation of many people today. With our attention drawn to an increasing variety of banal messaging and our time spread thin over myriad demands, little focus is trained upon life’s ultimate questions, such as: Where is my life headed? What is its true meaning? By what measure do I assess the rightness of my decisions? What is real and true? Or, what is my true destination? When the answer to this is unclear, then life loses any sense of confident direction. This is precisely the “road” on which many are walking today. It is a directionless path, which leads nowhere but to the confusion and unrest that bring with them the collateral effects of anxiety and frustration and hopelessness.
 
These are precisely the sentiments that inhabited the hearts of the two disciples on the road to ancient Emmaus. It is important to observe that their road did have a clearly known destination at the end of it. Yet, they were nevertheless downcast and without hope. They thought that Jesus was dead and forever absent from their lives. When he appeared to them, sadness gave way to joy and despair yielded to hope. From this we understand that clarity of destination is to be found not in a place but in a person. Our destination is Jesus. He who came from heaven to lead us to our Father in heaven is one with the Father (cf. John 10:30). In Jesus, our lives are given true direction and meaning. In him, our restless hearts find rest (St. Augustine) and we are at peace.
 

What is more, Jesus accompanies us on our pilgrim way as he leads us to himself. The reaction of those two disciples to the presence of the Lord with them on the road tells us clearly that there is no greater joy than that which arises from knowing he is near. I particularly love the image of the “hearts burning within” the disciples as Jesus explained to them everything in Sacred Scripture that pertained to himself and his place in the accomplishment of God’s saving plan for the world. That “burning” is the hope that arises from the clarity of God-given understanding of the divine purpose centered on and achieving fulfillment in Christ Jesus. It is the joy that issues from the awareness that the Risen Lord is with us at every moment of the journey, rendering himself particularly present in the sacraments of the Church, above all in “the breaking of the bread,” the Eucharist. The “burning” at the Lord’s presence leaves despair in ashes as it ignites within us an energy that impels us out of ourselves toward others to tell what we have experienced.
 
So, let’s put an end to time wasted on unnecessary searching for direction and meaning. These are given in Christ Jesus, who draws near to us as our companion and destination. Let’s open our hearts to him, that they, too, will burn with love for our Lord and the desire to announce his presence to others.
 
Join me on the next Holy Land pilgrimage in December. Visit here.
 

Monday, April 24, 2017

The Love that Heals is the Mercy that Restores

Archbishop Emeritus Lavoie and Archbishop Smith receiving gifts at St Kateri celebration Mass

On the weekend, I had the great joy of gathering with First Nations parishioners and other people of the Archdiocese to honour St. Kateri Tekakwitha. This gave us the opportunity to reflect upon her story and example. What a wonderful saint the Lord has raised up for the world in this first Native North American to be canonized!
Statue of St Kateri at the Catholic Campus

Among the many things that have been recounted of her, what has often struck me is the miraculous event of healing surrounding her death. Throughout her life, she bore on her face terrible scarring, the result of the smallpox from which she had suffered. As she lay dying, the only words she uttered repeatedly were: “Jesus, I love you.” These words gave expression to the great love she had borne throughout her life for the risen Lord; a love out of which she had turned her entire life over to him. Moments after her death, witnesses testified to the disappearance of the scars as her face was restored to its original beauty.

We may not bear external scars, but we certainly know what it is like to carry internal ones. Humanity today is deeply wounded. Psychological and emotional scars are borne by many people, the result of hurts, disappointments, betrayals, addictions, abuse, bitterness and so on. When left unaddressed, the interior wounds in the individual person fester and give rise to communal collateral damage: in the family, the civic community and even among nations. St. Kateri’s example has left us a teaching that must be heeded with great urgency: the handing over of one’s life to Christ in a relationship of love opens the heart to the healing for which every human person and our entire world is clearly longing, and that only our Risen Lord can give.
Divine Mercy Sunday at Our Lady Queen of Poland
The Kateri celebration was followed the next day by Divine Mercy Sunday. The coincidence of events is providential. It underscores what we know from experience: the divine love that heals reaches us as mercy. St. John Paul II, who established Divine Mercy Sunday, opened his great encyclical on mercy thus: “It is ‘God, who is rich in mercy’ (Eph 2:4) whom Jesus Christ has revealed to us as Father…” (Dives in Misericordia, 1). God our Father is all-loving and most merciful. When, in Christ and out of love for Christ, we present our wounds and scars to him, he heals us by the divine mercy that restores us to the beauty that is ours as his children.

St. Kateri, pray for us. By your intercession, may we all be fully open to the gift of divine love and mercy, and thus know the joy and peace that flow from God’s gift of healing.

Read the full story on the St Kateri Celebration here.

Sister Kateri played a role in the canonization of St Kateri

Monday, April 17, 2017

Hindsight Grounding Foresight



The Easter Vigil is a liturgy of extraordinary depth and beauty. The solemn proclamation of Easter (Exsultet) unfolds beneath the flaming paschal candle and announces the Risen Christ as the light that dispels all darkness. The expanded Liturgy of the Word traces the awe-inspiring course of salvation history leading to the wondrous event of the Resurrection. The Baptismal Liturgy extends to the recipients of this sacrament the gift of new life in Christ, and welcomes them into his embrace through membership in his Mystical Body, the Church. The liturgy culminates with the sacrament of the Eucharist, in which the Risen Lord renders himself truly present in fulfillment of his promise always to be with us and as food for our journey toward the fullness of life in heaven.

I'd like to focus briefly upon the Liturgy of the Word proclaimed at the Vigil. The proclamation of the many Scripture passages is an exercise of what I like to call holy hindsight. This part of the liturgy looks back over history and sees it anew in the light of the Resurrection of Jesus. In this light, we see a history of wondrous and ineffable love. After God created the human family we abandoned him through sin. Yet he never abandoned us, but walked with us always, intervening in our history, both collective and personal, in order to draw us back to himself. When we erred, he did not turn his back on us, but worked to turn all to our good by transforming our wrong turns into right ones and our mistakes into blessings. His definitive and decisive intervention is what we celebrate at Easter. Jesus, the Son of God incarnate, after having taken to himself all of our sins and dying on the Cross, rises from the grave, triumphant over sin and death. In this way, he reverses forever the downward trajectory on which our sin had launched human history.
 
This holy hindsight announces the steadfast love and mercy of God as always present and perennially victorious over evil. In this way, the holy hindsight grounds our hopeful foresight. We cannot see all that lies before us, but we are certain that in every event and circumstance our Risen Lord will be there, in the full power of his resurrection, to love us by guiding us, correcting us, forgiving us and leading us to eternal life. It is no wonder that our Easter liturgies resound with "Alleluia!" Christ is truly Risen and with his people. We are not alone; never alone. Let this conviction banish all fear as we place our faith fully in our Risen Lord and surrender our lives to him.
 
 

Monday, April 10, 2017

Follow or Flee?



The liturgy of Palm Sunday is dramatic. Recounting events in Jerusalem in the last days of our Lord's earthly life, it traces a path from triumph to shame. Scripture recalls that crowds of people hailed him as king upon his entry into the city, but that a few days later he was left abandoned as he hung upon the Cross. 

This commemoration poses a question that we would do well to carry with us into Holy Week: follow or flee? The crowds were quite happy to follow the Lord into Jerusalem when all seemed well. They wanted to benefit from the triumphal liberation that they supposed him to be bringing. At some point, though, it became clear exactly where the Lord's particular path was leading. The shadow of the Cross began to loom very large, and the enthusiasm for Jesus quickly evaporated. They fled. 

Entering Holy Week means entering Jerusalem with him. We follow him into the city through our participation in the solemn liturgies of the coming days. The story of the crowds in Jerusalem of old raises for us today the question of just how far we are willing to go. Will we follow or will we flee? Will we go where he leads us or will we choose to forge our own path? 

Faithful following of Jesus Christ leads to the Cross. We know that. Yet we also know that the journey does not end there. This Holy Week will culminate with the joyful celebration at Easter of the Lord's resurrection from the dead. The path of Jesus leads to the fullness of life, indeed, to eternal life. This is where he is leading us. Yet his journey also makes clear that this path passes inevitably through the Cross. The path followed by the disciple of Jesus is that of self-denial, self-sacrifice, indeed death to self so as to live for God and for others.

In our age that exalts personal autonomy to the point of idolatry, any idea of self-sacrifice or abnegation, even for the sake of a greater good, is for many incomprehensible. It is, indeed, something to flee. What Jesus teaches, though, is that flight into the self leads nowhere. That path finishes in a dead end. In light of the Resurrection we see clearly that only the Cross opens our lives up to a limitless future, to an infinite horizon. It is not something shameful from which to flee in terror but a wondrous mystery to be embraced with hope.

May the grace of the Holy Week celebrations free us from fear and strengthen our faith, so that we may follow the Lord in all things and never flee from his love.