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

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Ending on a High (Holy Land Blog 10)



Well, it just cannot get better than this.


Our final day of the pilgrimage began early - really, really early. We left the hotel at 4:30 AM and made our way into the Old City of Jerusalem to walk the Way of the Cross. The absence of light in the streets underscored rather dramatically the dark night of sin through which Christ walked and endured his passion for the sake of our salvation. In the silence of those early morning hours, we sang quietly “Behold the Wood of the Cross” as we moved from station to station. The hymn was well chosen. Not only by the prayerful re-tracing of our Saviour’s steps along the Via Dolorosa, but also by the faithful itinerary of conviction that marks the remainder of our lives, we lift up the Cross for all to behold as the instrument - once terrible, now glorious - of the world’s redemption.



Following this sacred route brought us to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, where the stations ended. Contained within the church are the sites of the crucifixion and burial of Jesus. Upon entering this extraordinary site, we mounted the stone of Golgotha in order to touch the rock and so venerate the place where Christ gave his life on the Cross. We descended from there to the tomb, the emptiness of which proclaims the Resurrection of Christ from the dead. There, we celebrated solemn High Mass in the company of Franciscan priests, who offered the chants of the mass in Latin. When mass was completed, our group was able to enter the tomb individually to venerate the place where Jesus was buried and from which he rose again. Following a tour of other sections of the church, we walked back to our hotel for a very welcome breakfast.


The final visit of the morning and of the pilgrimage was to the Israel Museum. We saw some of the Dead Sea Scrolls discovered at Qumran and were given an explanation of an enormous scale model of Jerusalem as it would have been at the time of Jesus. This is enormously helpful for placing all the sites in the Old City into proper historical perspective.


Now, our task, once we return home, is to keep all of the experiences we have had here in their proper spiritual perspective. It has been a very brief and highly concentrated itinerary of conviction, one that must now extend through the months and years ahead. We have been blessed - wondrously so - by an encounter with Jesus Christ in the land where he himself once lived. Henceforth, we must continue to seek the encounter in the land where we live. The encounter is not only possible but also desired, both by ourselves and by the Lord. He is risen, and he is with us daily. Only through a deep personal encounter with Jesus Christ can we understand and live the Christian life; only through knowledge of and communion with him can we know the fullness of joy he came to give. Something of that joy inhabited us as we journeyed in the Holy Land. By God’s grace, may we find ways to share that joy with others, and thus point them to its source; Jesus Christ, who came to us from the heart of the Father and “pitched his tent among us” in this land made holy by his presence.

Friday, December 8, 2017

Children of Our Heavenly Father (Holy Land Blog 9)



Today's events gathered around the theme of the relationship of Jesus with his Father in heaven. At the outset, we situated the whole day by reference to a line from the Gospel of John which has always caught my attention and left me thinking. At 14:31 we hear Jesus say, "I do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father." In all that Jesus did and said during his earthly ministry, the purpose was to reveal to the whole world the unique relationship he has with his Father. The reason in so doing was to open our hearts to receive from him the wondrous gift of participation in that same relationship! Here we touch the heart of Christian revelation. In virtue of the gift of the Holy Spirit, poured forth upon the apostles at Pentecost and now first bestowed on us in Baptism in order to unite us to Jesus, we become by adoption what Jesus is by nature: children of our heavenly Father. Our appreciation of the significance of the sacred sites we visited today unfolded in this context.



The first was the Church of the Pater Noster (Our Father) on the Mount of Olives. It is built on the site of a cave, which tradition identifies as the place where Jesus would have often spent the night with his disciples, as was not unusual at the time, and where he taught them the Our Father. It was wonderful to gather as a group in that same cave and pray the Lord's Prayer, conscious that what we were doing was possible only because of Jesus's own gift to us of adoption. We prayed first together in English and then each in his or her mother tongue. What a beautiful sound that was! Then we visited the church, which has every available nook and cranny displaying the Our Father in about 170 languages. Among them we found the Our Father in Nakota Sioux, placed as recently as 2016 and the result of the hard work of our own parishioners from the Alexis First Nation!


From this site, pilgrims began the walk down the Mount of Olives, following the Palm Sunday road toward the Garden of Gethsemane. Just as Jesus did when he approached Jerusalem, we stopped at the place where Scripture tells us he wept over Jerusalem (Luke 19:41-44). Prompting the sadness of Jesus was the fact that the people had not recognized "the time of [their] visitation from God." Signs abound still today that this recognition has yet to happen in many peoples and nations: the tensions surrounding us during our visit; the directions taken by our own country that demonstrate estrangement from the Gospel; decisions by our own family members to stray from the practice of the faith, and so on. These are, indeed, reasons to weep, but do we? Children of the Father will have hearts and minds attuned to the suffering of the day. Do our hearts weep, or have we grown cold and indifferent? Here we prayed for the grace of tears that would unite with those of Christ, poured out from the infinite depths of the Father's compassion.


As we continued along the Passover Road, we sang our Hosannas, just as the crowds did that accompanied Jesus along his triumphal entry to the city. At the foot of this roadway, we reached the Church of All Nations, built in the Garden of Gethsemane directly over the rock on which Jesus prayed on that fateful night following the Last Supper. Here our call, as children of the Father, to trust fully in the Father's wisdom and providence, was brought dramatically into high relief. At this place, Jesus fell prostrate upon the rock and poured out his entire self into the prayer he made to his Abba. Fully aware of the pain and death that assuredly awaited him, Jesus asked that the cup be taken away. Once he placed his full trust in the love of the Father, he was able to stand up and face his destiny. Upon entering the church, we, too, approached the rock. In our minds was the teaching of St. Paul that the Holy Spirit within us enables us to make the same prayer that Jesus offered, calling out Abba! Father! (cf. Romans 8:15; Galatians 4:6) As we touched the rock, we brought to the Father all the burdens that weigh heavily upon us, all the circumstances from which we would prefer to escape but cannot, and sought from him the grace and strength to stand and face with confidence and trust whatever is before us.



The next site we visited was the Church of St. Peter in Gallicantu, erected on the site of the house of the high priest. Jesus was brought to this place following his arrest to be judged by the Sanhedrin. It was here that Peter denied Jesus. We reflected upon this, noting that it was the look of Jesus that brought Peter to a terrible awareness of his sin of betrayal. Although it is a difficult grace to seek, nevertheless we prayed that Jesus would so cast his gaze upon us as to give us whatever "salutary shock" we need to grow in our conversion to Christ, our love for him, and our commitment to him.


Especially moving at this venue is a dungeon discovered by archaeological excavations beneath the high priest's residence. This discovery answers the question about the "missing hours" in the Scriptures pertaining to the time between his judgment by the Sanhedrin at night and transfer to Pilate the next morning for Roman condemnation. The answer is that Jesus would have been lowered down into this small dark hole to await, bereft of all companionship save that of his Father, the encounter with Pilate. We gathered together in this dungeon and prayed Psalm 88.



In early afternoon, we celebrated the Eucharist at Dormition Abbey, site of the end of Mary's life and her assumption into heaven. This was a double blessing, given that today the Church celebrates the Immaculate Conception of Mary. Here we pondered the example she gives to all of God's children, namely, to live out our adoption by constant docility to the movement of the Holy Spirit in our lives.


Our final stop was to the Upper Room. Well, not THE upper room, since that, sad to say, was destroyed like so much else in Jerusalem, during the destruction of the city in 70 AD. Available to the pilgrim is a room, dating back to the crusader era, built over the site of the original cenacle. Nevertheless, this was an occasion to thank God for the gift of the sacrament of the Eucharist, without which we cannot live fully our identity as the children of our Father. Since the event of Pentecost also occurred while the apostles were gathered in the upper room following the ascension of Jesus, we offered thanks as well for the gift of the Holy Spirit that animates our life of discipleship.


Final day tomorrow. We are really tired, mostly from the emotional exhaustion that comes from trying to absorb all that has been offered to us. Yet, that fatigue, I know, will stand as no obstacle to the grace that awaits our tracing of the Way of the Cross and solemn High Mass at the empty tomb.



Thursday, December 7, 2017

Trust and Obey (Holy Land Blog 8)



These three words form the theme that united our experiences today. They arose out of our reflections at the ancient ruins identified as the pool of Bethzatha, located today next to the church of St Anne just inside St Stephen's Gate, one of the entrances into the Old City of Jerusalem. We meditated upon the account of the healing of the paralytic by Jesus here at this pool (cf. John 5: 1-18). I have always been fascinated by what must have been going on in the mind of the crippled man when he heard Jesus say to him, "Take up your mat and walk." He knew he couldn't walk, and so did everyone else who had seen him next to the pool for thirty-eight years. Who was this man Jesus to command him to do the impossible? More to the point, what moved within the man to trust Jesus enough to obey him? That is exactly what he did: he trusted and he obeyed. From this profound act of trust and surrender he found himself miraculously healed by the power of Jesus. Trust and obey. Jesus calls forth the same response from us. He summons us outside of and beyond ourselves, often in ways that we know are impossible on our own. Trust and obey. As St Augustine taught, we ask the Lord to give us the grace to do what he commands and to command us to do what he wills.



(Before leaving the area we visited the church of St. Anne, built upon the place identified by tradition as the birthplace of the Blessed Virgin Mary. This perfectly preserved church from the crusader era is 1000 years old, and famous for its wonderful acoustics. So, we gathered in front of the altar and became a choir, singing loudly from our hearts Immaculate Mary so as to have the melody resound and echo throughout the edifice. Beautiful. And as to the theme, trust and obey, who could equal our blessed Mother? Only her son, of course.)


The need to trust and obey was in high relief also at the site we visited to begin the day, namely, the birthplace of John the Baptist. A moving Latin inscription marks the spot where he was born: Hic precursor Domini natus est (Here the precursor of the Lord was born). John trusted and obeyed all that was asked of him in his mission to prepare the way of the Lord and to point him out when he came, even at the cost of martyrdom. We reflected upon our own call to prepare the way for others to meet Christ and to make him known by our witness. John's example teaches that we do so by deflection. "He must increase but I must decrease" (John 3:30) are words that summarize John's entire life; we know they must also mark our own. We are precursors to the degree we point away from ourselves and toward Christ. Not easy in a self-obsessed culture. Yet, trust and obey.


We could not leave this particular place without also meditating upon the example of John the Baptist's father, Zechariah. He received an announcement from the angel Gabriel that, in her old age, his wife Elizabeth would conceive a son, who was to be named John. He did not immediately trust the message, for which he was rendered unable to speak. With this as background, we read the account of John's birth and subsequent naming (Luke 1:57-66). Zechariah's confirmation at that moment that the child, against all expectation, was to be named John was his act of faith (trust and obey) in what he had heard from the angel. From that moment he could speak, and his first words were the beautiful prophecy known as the Benedictus (Luke 1: 67-80). The important connection we observed here is that between faith and speech. In our culture, we find ourselves surrounded by a barrage of superficial banality and chatter. The human mind and heart long to hear substantive speech that enlightens and points to meaning; we ache, in other words, for true prophecy. The precursor of Christ must be able to offer such words, and Zechariah teaches that this much-needed speech arises out of the act of faith. It was a privileged moment to be able to proclaim the Benedictus together, in this place where it was first uttered by Zechariah himself.



Late morning saw as at the Ecce Homo pilgrimage house for mass and lunch. The building is built over the area where Pontius Pilate condemned Jesus to death, just after presenting him, scourged and crowned with thorns, to the crowd, with the words Ecce homo! (Behold the man!) In his willing submission to his passion, Christ trusted the wisdom and love of the Father, and obeyed, even to the point of death on a cross. Our pilgrim journey has entered a new stage. Until now we have visited places linked with his birth, miraculous healing, and wondrous teachings. Now we are in Jerusalem, the place where he met his destiny of suffering and death. Today we visited the site of the condemnation. Tomorrow we follow more of the painful journey, up to and including his arrest and imprisonment.



All that Jesus endured for us was undertaken in order to engage fully the power of evil and overcome it in his Resurrection. Where the grace of the Cross has not yet been accepted in the human heart, the gateway is open for evil to have terrible sway. A heart-wrenching reminder of this was given in our tour of the Holocaust Memorial, Yad Vashem, to which we made our way following a visit to the Western Wall, the holiest site of Judaism. Visiting the Holocaust Memorial is not easy. Encountering here images and artifacts associated with this cruelest of atrocities usually leaves one without words. We make our own the words of St. John Paul II, spoken during his visit to Yad Vashem on March 23, 2000: "In this place of solemn remembrance, I fervently pray that our sorrow for the tragedy which the Jewish people suffered in the 20th century will lead to a new relationship between Christians and Jews. Let us build a new future in which there will be no more anti-Jewish feeling among Christians or anti-Christian feeling among Jews, but rather the mutual respect required of those who adore the one Creator and Lord, and look to Abraham as our common father in faith."

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

What to Do with What We've Heard (Holy Land Blog 7)



We spent today in Bethlehem. Excitement filled the buses as we set out. In ours, we sang some Christmas carols while en route, which was a beautiful preparation for the Christmas Midnight Mass we celebrated at St Catharine's church, adjacent to the grotto of Jesus's birth. (This is the same church from which midnight mass is broadcast around the globe every year.) Thereafter, we went next door to the Church of the Nativity and venerated the actual birth site of Jesus. Added to this wondrous blessing was the rather more mundane gift of being able to do this in relatively short order! (Only a month ago groups were having to wait six hours to visit the grotto; our wait was less than one.)



Our next visit was to Shepherd's Field. We gathered in a cave that would have been used by shepherds in the time of Jesus. There we sang Christmas carols that recalled the angelic announcement to the shepherds of the birth of the world's Saviour. We won't forget that anytime soon!


At the same time, we could not help but notice the very sobering circumstances in which our visit to these holy and joyous sites was occurring. To enter Bethlehem from Jerusalem we had to pass through a high and heavily fortified security wall. The birthplace of the Prince of Peace is today surrounded by a visible symbol of separation and division. Tensions in the area are not far from the surface. This became immediately evident to us as the local people here worried about the regional and global fallout from the anticipated recognition by the United States of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.


All of this left us wondering about what to do with what we were hearing. Today we heard and celebrated the Gospel's announcement of the birth of Jesus Christ as Saviour. Yet, it is clear from the physical and moral walls that continue to separate people that the evangelical message has yet to be heard and received. What are we to do? The holy sites themselves give us some direction.



At Shepherd's Field, we listened to the account of the announcement to the shepherds (Luke 2: 8-20). Instructive, as always, is the example of Mary. We are told that, when the shepherds had reported to her all that they had heard from the angels, she "treasured" the words and "pondered them in her heart." These expressions mean that she received them and sought to look deeply into their meaning. Well, we've been hearing a lot of words, not only here but also throughout the places visited by this pilgrimage. It is clear that Mary is showing that the appropriate response is to receive them with the utmost seriousness by allowing them to sink in and transform our lives. Furthermore, the haste of the shepherds to make known to others what they had heard reminds us of our duty as followers of Christ not to hesitate in bearing witness to the Gospel.


Our reflection is carried further by two other aspects of Bethlehem. Immediately upon arrival and just prior to the mass, we visited some caves beneath the church. One is where St Jerome lived for thirty-eight years, translating the Bible from Hebrew and Greek into Latin. The other is identified by tradition as the place where the angel warned St Joseph to flee from danger to Egypt with Mary and the child Jesus. Each has a message.


We may not be able, like St Jerome, to translate from Hebrew to Latin, but we do have the responsibility of translating God's Word into a life of virtue, marked by worship, witness and service. St Joseph's dream reminds us that political and cultural dynamics inimical to the Gospel's message of reconciliation and peace are nothing new. What is new, in every generation, is the power of the Gospel to engage and transform our world, if only it be received in the depths of the human heart.


This, though, requires courageous witness on the part of those who have, in fact, received that Word. Well, that's us! Bethlehem teaches us what we have to do with what we've received. Our prayer is that the Holy Spirit will give us the wisdom and boldness to be faithful to our duty.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

From Ruined to Realized Hope (Holy Land Blog 6)

Our day began at the mountaintop fortress of Masada, or, to be more precise, at what is left of it. Herod the Great had built a palace and fortress for himself on this site between 37 and 31 BC. It is perhaps most famous as the place to which Jews sought refuge from the Romans, who laid Jerusalem waste in the year 70 AD after the rebellion of the people a few years prior. When the Roman legions caught up to them at Masada, laid siege and began to breach the defenses, the Jews there chose suicide over slavery.



It is a site of ruined hopes. Herod, in his overweening arrogance, had built magnificent monuments to himself, out of the hope of ever-growing self-aggrandizement. Nothing but ruins now. The Jews had hoped to escape the Roman vengeance. Neither hope found fulfillment.


When at the end of the day we visited the site of the Visitation, we arrived at a place where realized hope was proclaimed. In her Magnificat, sung after having been greeted by Elizabeth, Mary proclaimed the fidelity of God to His promise of mercy, a pledge upon which our ancestors in the faith had placed their hope for centuries. Hope in God does not disappoint; He is forever faithful.


In fact, out of that same fidelity God had been preparing His people for centuries to anticipate and receive Jesus Christ as the fulfillment of all his promises. Evidence of that long preparation was found at Qumran, which we visited immediately upon leaving Masada. In 1948, scrolls containing ancient manuscripts were found (some would say by chance; I’m inclined to credit Providence). Among them the most important was a scroll on which the Book of Isaiah was inscribed. This is the prophet most often cited by the Christian Church in reference to the promises of the coming of the Christ. He and the other prophets are wonderful witnesses to hope. Although they did not live to see God’s promises realized, nevertheless their conviction that they would be was unshakeable, their trust being rooted in the fidelity of God to His covenant love for His people.



Soon thereafter, we had occasion to reflect upon the ever-present temptation not to trust in God. Just outside of the city of Jericho is the Mount of Temptation, held by tradition to be the hill in the wilderness where Jesus, immediately following his baptism, was led by the Spirit to be tempted by the devil (cf. Matthew 4: 1-11). Our timing was appropriate, since it was just yesterday that we renewed our own baptismal promises. We considered how the Evil One was weaving through his three temptations of Jesus the same original seduction with which he tempted Adam and Eve, namely, to allow trust in God’s wisdom and providence to die and thus set oneself apart from and in competition with God. How often does that same temptation to trust self over God come to us to draw us away from living our baptismal identity with integrity! Worse, how often do we succumb to it! We acknowledged our need to live in communion with our Lord so as to share in his fidelity to the Father and his victory over sin.


(Near this site, we found some less serious “temptations,” such as the opportunity to ride a camel. After some rather persistent encouragement by our guides, I climbed up on the beast. Now those same guides dare not come to me for confession!)


The final word of the day belonged to Our Lady. Our celebration of the Eucharist occurred at day’s end in the magnificent Church of the Visitation in Ein Karem, just outside of Jerusalem. Not only does she teach us to trust without condition in the providence of God, but also she demonstrates what it means to live from God’s love. When she received the annunciation of Gabriel, she learned also from the angel that her cousin in Elizabeth had in her old age conceived a child. Knowing immediately that Elizabeth was in need, she set out “with haste” through the hills of Judaea to visit with her for as long as necessary. Visiting this land and seeing for ourselves the nature of the terrain, we realize now how full of meaning this is. The journey would have been very arduous for Mary. Yet she did not hesitate, because true charity neither admits of delay nor yields to obstacles. Her example teaches us that as we magnify the Lord for his greatness and rejoice in the realization He gives of our deepest hopes, our surrender in trust to God’s love will impel us to be ready agents of mercy and love to any in need.


Tomorrow we head to Bethlehem.


Monday, December 4, 2017

Welcoming with Thanks the Unexpected (Holy Land Blog 5)




Things today did not go according to plan. Well, at least not according to our plans; God’s plan, perhaps, since the day unfolded in a way far better than we had imagined.
 
It began with one of the buses running into a mechanical failure that necessitated bringing in a substitute. Needless to say, that meant a delay, and we were not sure when it would arrive. What to do? What else to do but to spend more time on the shore of the Sea of Galilee?! An unexpected gift that we welcomed with great thanks. A common experience when one arrives at the Holy Land for the first time is to wish one had more time at the sites for prayer and contemplation. Well, that’s exactly what we were given, and we lapped up every moment.


As it turned out, we left about an hour and a half behind schedule. The plan had been to celebrate mass at a small parish church in Jericho prior to proceeding to the site nearby of Jesus’s baptism to renew our baptismal promises. Our delayed departure meant that mass at the church at the pre-arranged time would not be possible, given the tight bookings for mass there by other groups for the rest of the day. What to do? The guides knew there was an outdoor altar area next to the baptismal site, and it was available! The decision to celebrate mass there was an easy one to make. What a gift to be able to celebrate the Eucharist while gazing upon the Jordan river, where we had just renewed our baptismal commitment and thus recalled the sacrament through which we were initiated into the Christian life! This reminds us that it is a good idea generally in life, and not just during a pilgrimage, to stay connected with Heaven’s travel agency. Allow God to do the planning, and life will be filled with joy-filled surprises.





The moment of renewal of baptismal promises is of immense importance. We do it annually at the solemn mass of Easter Sunday, and we recognized with gratitude the special blessing we were given to do so here at the Jordan river itself. In the background of our minds was the call of our Holy Father, Francis, to take with utmost seriousness our baptismal identity. This sacrament makes us disciples of Jesus Christ, an identity we are called to live daily with integrity. To help us appreciate what this means, we made an analogy with our passports. We are accustomed to showing this document of citizenship at border crossings, where an agent will compare the picture in the passport to the real person presenting it, in order verify that the picture and person match. Our “document of citizenship”, is our baptismal certificate, since by Baptism we are “registered” as citizens of heaven, even if in an anticipatory manner. The picture ID is the Creed. From this arises the question: if people were to compare the profession of faith with the daily life of the one making the profession, would they see that picture and person match? By a regular and heartfelt renewal of the promises made at baptism to utterly reject Satan and to live entirely for our Triune God, we can see where our lives need reform, where we need to return to the integrity of life to which Baptism calls us. Following the renewal, we were blessed with water taken from the Jordan itself.
 
After this, we made our way down to the southern end of the Dead Sea, where we will spend the night. Many of us wasted no time getting down to the water for the famous floating on the Dead Sea. In case you're wondering, yours truly was not among them. There is also a strange attraction to the mud around these parts. I know, I know, I’ve been told many times that this mud is good for the skin. Yet, mud soap remains for me an oxymoron. The logic of it all escapes me. I guess I’ll just have to live with the wrinkles.
 
Lots happening tomorrow, so this brief respite is very welcome. Yet another gift to top off a blessed day.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Mountaintop Experiences (Holy Land Blog 4)



In the Christian’s journey of faith and conversion, there are moments of profound encounter with the Lord. They are often referred to as "mountaintop experiences." Well, we had two collective ones today, literally!






The day opened with our ascent to the top of Mount Tabor, site of the Transfiguration of Jesus in the presence of Moses and Elijah, and witnessed by the apostles Peter, James and John. There, in the beautiful Basilica, surrounded by mosaics depicting the event, we celebrated Eucharist using the prayers for the liturgical feast of the Transfiguration. (Even though today is the First Sunday of Advent, we could do this since at the holy places permission is granted to celebrate the mass associated with the event commemorated by the site.) Just as we were gathering for the Eucharist our attention was drawn to a mosaic Latin inscription that conveys the words spoken by St Peter: "Lord, it is good for us to be here!" Indeed. That exclamation pretty well sums up the sentiments of our heart, not only on Mount Tabor but as we find ourselves at every place associated with Our Lord and his Blessed Mother. The Gospel passage (Matthew 17:1-13) recalled the voice of the Heavenly Father confirming the identity of Jesus as his well-beloved Son, and commanding us: "Listen to him!" This focused our reflections upon the many voices that compete today for our attention, many of which seek to seduce us away from Christ and thus lead us down wrong paths, sometimes dark and dangerous. We prayed for the grace to discern and listen to the voice of Jesus, since he alone speaks "the words of everlasting life" (John 6:68).


Top of Mt Carmel looking over Haifa.


We then went west across the country to Mount Carmel. On this holy mountain, the prophet Elijah is commemorated. At the city of Haifa, we ascended to the summit of the mountain to Stella Maris monastery. A Carmelite site, dating back to the origins of the Carmelite order in the twelfth century, its church has the main altar built over the cave in which the great prophet lived for some time. Leaving there we went across the range to the place on the mountain associated with Elijah’s destruction of the prophets of the false god, Baal. Reading and praying the narrative (cf. 1Kings 18: 20-40) gave us pause. Our attention was drawn to two aspects of the event. First, we reflected upon the grievous sin of idolatry, likened by the prophets to adultery in order to underscore its gravity. What are the idols in my own life? How am I being called to return to right worship of the Living and True God? What false prophetic voices influence me to turn away from God’s covenant love?


Second, we pondered silence. Striking in the narrative is the silence with which the false prophets were greeted as they cried out to Baal; silence, because there was no one there to answer, nothing. It was the silence of emptiness. In this kind of silence, we find a key to understanding the noise of our current culture, the babble and banality that daily surround us. The cacophony covers over a truth that many fear, namely, that reliance upon the false gods of our day is dependence what is not there, what cannot answer because it is no more than an illusion. By way of dramatic contrast is the silence filled with the presence of God. This, too, is taught to us by an episode in the life of Elijah, not on Mount Carmel but far to the south on another height, Mount Horeb. There the prophet encountered the Lord in the "sound of sheer silence." (cf. 1Kings 19: 11-13) We, who are called to listen to the voice of Jesus Christ, must learn to cultivate, with the help of grace, a space for silence that we allow to be filled not with false idols but with the One who alone is God.






On our way from here back to our hotel in Tiberias, we pulled into Cana, the place of Christ’s self-manifestation at a wedding feast. Here we gave thanks to God for the gift of marriage. Even though our secularizing culture seems to have less and less appreciation for it, marriage will always be the object of the Church’s esteem. As Christ made himself known at Cana through a miracle of transformation, changing water into wine, so, too, does he in marriage manifest himself in the miracle of transformation by which man and woman become one flesh in the eyes of God. Husband and wife, by their assuming of the indissoluble bond, their exclusive and unconditional love for each other and by their openness to the gift of children, serve as a sign within the Church and before the world of the love of Christ for the Church and world. This is something worthy of our greatest respect. At this site, the married couples in our group renewed their marriage vows. This may have taken place on the level ground of Cana, but I think it was for them the third "mountaintop experience" of the day.


Tomorrow we leave Galilee and head south into the Judaean wilderness.







Saturday, December 2, 2017

Tracing a Path of Understanding (Holy Land Blog 3)



Whew! A full day. It unfolded around the shore of the Sea of Galilee, stopping at a number of places where Jesus himself spent time to teach and heal. Our prayer from the outset of the day’s journey was that Jesus would do for us what we remember he did for others in these places, namely, draw us into a deep relationship of love with him, a communion of friendship in which we would know his healing grace and hear his promise of life and salvation.
 
Our first visit was to the locale known as the Primacy of Peter. This place directly on the shore is where the Risen Lord met his disciples who had returned to the Galilee region following the crucifixion. The heart of the event is the meeting between Jesus and Peter, when the Lord asks him three times, “Do you love me?”
 
To help us fully appreciate what was happening in that dialogue, we turned to the insights of Pope Benedict XVI, who commented on this encounter in his general audience of May 24, 2006. There he pointed out that our one English word, "love", is used to translate two distinct Greek verbs. The first two times that Jesus poses the question, "Do you love me?", he uses agapao, which refers to a total and unconditional love. Jesus begins by asking Peter if he loves him with this kind of total love. However, Peter replies with the verb fileo, the love of a friend, implying affection, certainly, but not a total gift of self. In other words, Peter, acutely aware of his recent betrayal and his weakness, tells Jesus that all he can offer is his weak human love. Strikingly, the third time Jesus poses the question he changes the verb to Peter’s and asks "Fileis me?", that is to say, "Will you at least love me as you can? I am willing to accept and work with that." Pope Benedict observes how Jesus adapts himself to Peter and not the other way around. The Lord accepts us, as he accepted Peter, where we are, and works in and through our weakness to transform us, strengthen us, and make us true disciples. All he asks is that we love him as we can and leave the rest up to him.
 
 
From there we went to Capernaum, site of the ancient synagogue where Jesus preached his Bread of Life discourse, and of the house of Peter. On our way from the Primacy to Capernaum, our guide pointed out a pathway that led along the shore from one to the other, a route that Jesus himself would often have traced. This path provided us with a helpful interpretive key to the teaching of Jesus, since it brought to mind the path of understanding along which he led the people into his teaching about himself as food for God’s people. Such a “pathway” led from Bethlehem, where the baby Jesus was placed in a feeding trough (manger), to Tabgha, the venue of the multiplication of the loaves and fish, to Capernaum, where he pronounced himself to be the Bread of Life, and finally to Jerusalem at the event of the Last Supper, where in the institution of the Eucharist, he made possible the gift of himself as nourishment unto eternal life.
 
 
 
In a church built directly over the ruins of Peter’s house, we celebrated the Eucharist. It was a moving experience, to say the least, to proclaim as the Gospel for the mass the Bread of Life discourse, first pronounced by Jesus himself only a few feet away from where we were.
 
Next was the Mount of the Beatitudes. There we paused on the summit to read and reflect upon those first verses of the Lord’s Sermon on the Mount. To bring to the fore their essential meaning, we went back in our minds to the Book of Genesis, that speaks of God looking upon his creation and pronouncing it good. Since Jesus is God incarnate, he brings directly to all of his encounters with people and their practices the same divine vision. Thus, Jesus sees and points out that which is good in God’s sight, as well as that which is no longer in accord with God’s way of seeing things and needs, therefore, to be restored. This is why Jesus frequently challenged purely human ways of thought and behaviour, including human misinterpretations of God’s Word and law. In this context, we appreciated the Beatitudes as the Lord’s great pronouncement of reversal. The human standard of measure pertaining to happiness is set on its head as Jesus pronounces blessed those who, by God’s measure, are truly happy (the poor in spirit, the meek, those hungry for righteousness, and so on). As we read (and later sang!) the Beatitudes we asked the Lord to challenge and free us from all skewed vision and disordered priorities.
 
 
At Tabgha we visited the site of the multiplication of the loaves and fish. Before entering the church to see there the rock upon which tradition holds Jesus placed the bread and fish and the beautiful fourth century floor mosaics that surround it, we gathered in the courtyard to read the account of the multiplication. Since at mass we had already pondered the place of this event along the pathway of understanding traced out by Jesus toward the Eucharist, our attention was drawn to two temptations against which the event warns us. The first temptation is to draw back from any efforts as followers of Christ to help others because of the paucity of our resources. The Gospel calls us to do what the apostles did, i.e., to give to Christ the little we have and trust him to multiply it to superabundance for the sake of others. The second temptation highlighted by the event is to instrumentalize Jesus. That’s what the crowds did. Hungry, they simply implored him to use his power to satisfy their felt needs; entry into relationship of discipleship with him was far from their minds. We, too, can instrumentalize the Lord when we implore him to to satisfy what we think we need while our hearts remain far from him. Jesus is not our instrument; we are his. He draws us into his love and, from that communion, empowers us for the fulfillment of his will.


After lunch, we headed an hour north to Caesarea Philippi. This is where Jesus asked the disciples “Who do you say that I am?”, where Peter pronounced the definitive Christian confession (“You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God”), and where Jesus in reply bestowed on him supreme authority for the guidance of the Church: “You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church.” At this site, there exists an enormous rock face, in the sight of which Jesus likely made this pronouncement. The imposing rock wall underscores powerfully why the Church has perdured throughout the centuries while countless worldly kingdoms and powers come and go.
 
Then, back to the Sea of Galilee for a boat ride on the lake (the “sea” is, in fact, a large lake). We embarked at sunset and continued until after night had fallen. Very appropriate, this, since we above all wanted to recall and reflect upon Jesus walking upon this same body of water at night towards his disciples. Being out upon the dark waters after sunset and hearing Jesus ask Peter step out of the boat brought home to us in dramatic fashion the depths of faith by which Peter responded. We know we all have to “step out of the boat” at many points in our lives of discipleship. It was comforting to be reminded to keep our eyes fixed not on the storms but on Christ, and to know that he will reach out and catch us, as he caught St. Peter, at those times when, for fear, we begin to sink.

 

Friday, December 1, 2017

The Dawn from on High (Holy Land Blog 2)



These were the words that came to me as I gazed out upon the Sea of Galilee this morning at sunrise.  The words come from the song of Zechariah, proclaimed at the naming of his son, John the Baptist. He recognized that God was fulfilling all of his promises to come and set the world free from slavery to sin, and knew from the depths of his heart that soon, very soon, the “dawn from on high” would break upon the world in the child to be born of Mary to dispel the darkness of sin and shadows of sadness enveloping the people (cf. Luke 1:68-79). 

Sea of Galilee
As Zechariah realized, the role of Mary is pivotal in the accomplishment of this saving plan of God. She was our particular focus today as we set out from Tiberias to Nazareth, the place of the Annunciation, and the locale where Jesus grew up under her watchful eye and with the protection afforded him by St. Joseph.

Fa├žade of the Basilica of the Annunciation

Upon arrival in Nazareth we went directly to the stunning Basilica of the Annunciation. Here we encountered the particular word that, every time we make this pilgrimage, becomes the very heart of the adventure: hic. Latin for “here”, it is inscribed upon a plaque fixed to an altar erected in a first-century grotto held by tradition to be the home of Mary, where she received the announcement from the angel Gabriel. The inscription reads: Verbum caro hic factum est (the Word was made flesh here). In this small locale, Mary gave her “yes”, which set everything in motion. My mind goes to the famous sermon of St Bernard of Clairvaux:
 
You have heard, O Virgin, that you will conceive and bear a son; you have heard that it will not be by man but by the Holy Spirit. The angel awaits an answer; it is time for him to return to God who sent him. We too are waiting, O Lady, for your word of compassion; the sentence of condemnation weighs heavily upon us.  

The price of our salvation is offered to you. We shall be set free at once if you consent. In the eternal Word of God we all came to be, and behold, we die. In your brief response we are to be remade in order to be recalled to life.  

Tearful Adam with his sorrowing family begs this of you, O loving Virgin, in their exile from Paradise. Abraham begs it, David begs it. All the other holy patriarchs, your ancestors, ask it of you, as they dwell in the country of the shadow of death. This is what the whole earth waits for, prostrate at your feet. It is right in doing so, for on your word depends comfort for the wretched, ransom for the captive, freedom for the condemned, indeed, salvation for all the sons of Adam, the whole of your race.  

Answer quickly, O Virgin. Reply in haste to the angel, or rather through the angel to the Lord. Answer with a word, receive the Word of God. Speak your own word, conceive the divine Word. Breathe a passing word, embrace the eternal Word.  

Why do you delay, why are you afraid? Believe, give praise, and receive. Let humility be bold, let modesty be confident. This is no time for virginal simplicity to forget prudence. In this matter alone, O prudent Virgin, do not fear to be presumptuous. Though modest silence is pleasing, dutiful speech is now more necessary. Open your heart to faith, O blessed Virgin, your lips to praise, your womb to the Creator. See, the desired of all nations is at your door, knocking to enter. If he should pass by because of your delay, in sorrow you would begin to seek him afresh, the One whom your soul loves. Arise, hasten, open. Arise in faith, hasten in devotion, open in praise and thanksgiving. Behold the handmaid of the Lord, she says, be it done to me according to your word. (Hom. 4, 8-9: Opera omnia, Edit. Cisterc. 4 [1966], 53-54) 

Through the fiat of Mary, God became man, the Word became flesh, and the world received the gift of the Saviour. And it happened “here”, right where we find ourselves. Hard to take in.

 
Then our attention shifted to another one called to give a “yes” that was decisive not only for his life but also for ours: St. Joseph. While waiting to celebrate mass at the Basilica, we visited the adjacent Church of St. Joseph, built over what tradition identifies as his workshop. Then, following a tour of the Mary of Nazareth International Centre and a viewing there of a moving multi-media presentation, we made our way to the convent of the Sisters of Nazareth. Beneath this religious house are excavations that have brought to light evidence of earlier Crusader and Byzantine church construction, below which is what is most likely the home of St. Joseph where he lived with Mary and Jesus. Particularly stunning is a first century tomb, complete with a stone rolled away, and spoken of locally for many years as “the tomb of the just man”, i.e., Joseph. Moving for anyone to see this, of course, but it is especially so for us, whose Archdiocese has as its patron St. Joseph the Worker. 

Chapel in the Convent of the Sisters of Nazareth
I’m beginning to see the tears flow. It happens in every pilgrimage, and there is no telling when or where it will happen. A word, a sight, a touch can bring about a flood of awareness of the reality of the love of God, and the heart is moved to its depths. But these are not just passing emotions. Nazareth teaches us that implicit within these encounters with the love of God is a call to give our own fiat, our own yes, and to do so hic, here, indeed, here and now.
“Yes” to what? Pondering the example of Mary and Joseph helps us understand what is happening to us here. Each was summoned by God to surrender to his plan and to His personal intervention in their lives. Theirs was a surrender to wonder and mystery. We need to highlight this. The modern mindset will restrict the understanding of truth to what is visible and empirically verifiable, thus leaving no room for mystery and transcendence. Here we experience just how sadly limiting is such a worldview. What comes flooding in upon one as certain when we visit the holy sites is that God is real, that He has acted in history in particular persons and places, and that He continues to unfold the mystery of his saving plan in the particularities of the lives of each one of us. What floods us, in other words, is Truth. What the Gospel proclaims is felt and known deep within the heart as undeniably true. Small wonder that the tears flow! Pondering Mary and Joseph we realize that our call is to fully surrender our lives to Truth, which the Gospel reveals to be a person: Jesus of Nazareth.
 

One final thought, and this to my mind is another lesson from this holy place. Each time I visit here, I listen to the expert guides recall how, at the time of the Holy Family, Nazareth was a very small village, considered by many to be of no particular significance. Yet it was here that God entered history! The lesson of Nazareth’s obscurity is that nothing escapes God’s notice; nothing in his eyes is insignificant. I like to insist on such a lesson because I am meeting many people today, especially among the young, who fear that they do not measure up, who wonder if they count, because they often experience themselves as unnoticed, treated as lacking in any significance. Nazareth teaches how false that all is. The truth is that each person counts, that everyone matters, and that, therefore, we need to be very careful not to measure ourselves by human standards but learn instead to embrace with joy and confidence the wondrous fact that we are each the beloved of God.


 

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Hearts Open and Ready (Holy Land Blog 1)



Well, we’ve launched. We gathered very early Wednesday morning at Edmonton International for our journey to the Holy Land. In spite of the sleepy eyes and frequent yawns, what possessed us was a deep excitement at what was about to take place. No wonder. We were about to embark on a journey to places made holy by the very presence of Jesus himself.



I believe it was that excitement the sustained us during the long journey. Well, that and the Eucharist, of course, which we were blessed to be able to celebrate at the Toronto Airport chapel. There are no two ways about it: the first leg is brutal. A four hour flight to Toronto, followed by a twelve hour overnight run to Tel Aviv. That’s not the end of it. No sooner did we pick up our luggage than we were whisked off to the buses to begin our series of visits! Rest? We don’t need rest!

The first site was Caesarea Maritima, an hour or so north along the Mediterranean coast. This is the place of an ancient city and fortress complex built by King Herod the Great between 22 and 10 BC. However, one can only imagine (with the help of a short film) what it had been like, because now it is all in ruins following centuries of natural disasters, wars and neglect. From the point of view of the pilgrimage, there is an important observation to be made here. The ruins are, well, ruins. That is to say, they testify rather eloquently to the transience of human achievement. Looking at ruins here in the Holy Land puts one in mind of the teaching of Jesus: “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.” (Matthew 24:35). What endures eternally is the living Word of God. While human edifices fade away, what God chooses to build by the power of his Word will last always.



That “edifice” is the Church, the Body of Christ, the Temple of “living stones,” founded on the witness of the apostles. We have journeyed to the place where that foundation was put down; travelled, in other words, to our beginnings as the People of God called together by Baptism to be a community of disciples and living witnesses to Jesus Christ.

It was in this context that we turned to a beautiful passage from Sacred Scripture. This first day in the Holy Land was the liturgical Feast of St. Andrew. This led us to read and ponder the account of Andrew’s encounter with Jesus Christ, from which he went in haste to his brother Simon Peter in order that he, too, might meet the Messiah (cf. John 1:35-42). Inspired by this event, we prayed to St. Andrew that he will lead us by his prayers to a renewed encounter with our Lord during these next few days. Specifically, we shall ask him to pray that Jesus will both pose to us the same question he addressed to Andrew (“What are you looking for?”) and draw us to find in Him the answer to all of our deepest longings.

Caesarea Maritima is also the place from where experts believe St. Paul set sail under guard to meet his destiny in Rome (cf. Acts 23-27). Sobering, that. Witness is costly. Yet, we are clear that what we are undertaking these days is an “itinerary of conviction.” This is a phrase borrowed from the late Fr. Luigi Giussani, founder of Communione e Liberazione. Through the various ways they were enabled to walk the itinerary of Jesus, St. Paul and the Twelve Apostles were led to the unshakeable conviction that Jesus is Lord and Saviour of the human race. Such conviction issues is steadfast witness, whatever the cost. The circumstances of St. Paul’s departure from Caesarea reminds us that the price of faithful testimony may, indeed, be high. We are praying that our own itinerary of conviction these days will deepen our resolve to be witnesses to the love of God revealed in Christ.

From Caesarea Maritima, we travelled northeast to the Sea of Galilee, where we will lodge for a few nights on its shores in a hotel in the city of Tiberias. You know, I’ve been to this area a number of times now, yet the first sight of the “lake” never fails to awaken in me deep wonder and awe. Here is the locale of the call of the first disciples, of the miracles of healing and multiplication, of the Lord’s wondrous teaching, such as the Beatitudes, and much, much more. But visiting the sites associated with all of that will have to wait a bit. For now, we are exhausted from the long journey and are looking forward to a good night’s rest.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Open the Door!


"Light of the World"
I love this passage from the Book of Revelation: “Here I stand, knocking at the door. If anyone hears me calling and opens the door, I will enter his house and have supper with him, and he with me.” (Rev. 3:20). It puts me in mind of my days as a parish priest. When I visited homes, I would normally do so in one of two ways: either I would call ahead and make an appointment, or I would just show up. You can probably imagine the difference in reception I received when I knocked on the door. In the first case, the door opens wide and I am ushered in to a spotless home, the tea is on, food at the ready. In the second, panic! The curtain is drawn back slightly before the door is eventually opened, and I am ushered in with the words, “Don’t look at the mess!”


When Jesus Christ knocks on the door of our hearts, he does so on his own timing, not ours. What reception do we give him?


The Solemnity of Christ the King, celebrated on Sunday, helps us to ponder this. We honour Jesus Christ as King, the Lord who reigns over our lives. The place he wishes to establish his kingdom is in our hearts, to which he comes not by means of terrifying might but via a gentle knock on the door. When the doors of our hearts are opened, what will Christ find as we usher him in? I expect it is fair and accurate to say that the “mess” that we would rather he not see is a battlefield full of competing powers vying to be “king”, striving to exercise rule over our minds and hearts. In all likelihood, our Lord’s gaze will encompass the prince named Pride, the sovereign called Falsehood, and the ruler otherwise known as Fear. Within the human heart a daily battle is waged among these competitors for the governance of our thoughts, the formation of our mindset and the shaping of our behaviour. It is a war that leaves us weakened with exhaustion, broken by betrayal and riddled with anxiety.


Such a state is not the will of God for us, his beloved children. He knows that the warring factions need to be vanquished and chased from our hearts. This is the gift he brings when we open the door to Jesus Christ and deliberately choose to accept him as our King. His truth lays low our pride; his light exposes and dispels the lie; his mercy wins out over fear as thus he establishes within us his kingdom of justice, love and peace.


Listen attentively for the knock at the door, readily welcome Christ into the heart, and with trust allow him to clear away any “mess” that presumes to compete with him for sovereignty. This is how we honour Christ as our King; this is how we know true peace.

Monday, November 20, 2017

FOMO

Now, this was a new term for me. It is an acronym, standing for Fear Of Missing Out. I came across it last week and the context in which I learned it is instructive.
 
Across the Archdiocese I’m holding a number of listening sessions pertaining to family life. We’ve been focusing upon the young adult demographic, meaning persons 18-35 years of age. I’m gathering with these folks to learn from them about issues with which families today are struggling, in order to gain an idea of how we might best shape our pastoral outreach to accompany them.
 
Last week I got together with some recently married couples. As we discussed various pressures facing these new families, FOMO was mentioned as a particular challenge. When this expression was first mentioned, my response was “What?” “What is FOMO?” As it was spelled out for me, I noticed everyone else in the group nodding their heads. Clearly, I was the only one who hadn’t heard of this. I since learned that it was even added a few years ago to the Oxford Dictionary! Sometimes I swear I’m living on another planet.
 
Fear Of Missing Out. This is causing considerable angst and tension in many individuals and families. For fear of missing out on what others seem to be enjoying, bad decisions are being made and hardship is experienced as a result. For example, one person in the group who works for a financial institution has for some time now observed that, because people are afraid of missing out on the enjoyment of what seems to be the dream vacation, the latest must-have gadget, the “right” kind of car, and so on, their financial priorities are being distorted. Instead of paying down debt they add to it, “for fear of missing out” on what they think they need.
 
Hmmm. There is obviously a deep level of discontentment at play here, powerfully fuelling a search for happiness apart from the reality of one’s situation. It speaks of attempts to escape from what is real into what is illusory, because FOMO has as its object what APPEARS to be a good. Since we are not at the event, on the vacation, or in possession of a certain item we do not know from real experience if it will bring happiness or not. Comparing the reality of one’s life to an illusory standard is a sure recipe for frustration, discontent, and anger. This kind of FOMO is not at all healthy, to say the least.
 
I wonder, though, if there is a good form of FOMO,  a “fear of missing out” that will actually lead to good, even salutary decisions. In fact, there is. It would be a good thing, indeed, to fear missing out on a personal relationship with Jesus the Christ, lived within His Church.
 
Something of the excitement of life in Christ was given in Sunday’s Gospel (Mt 25: 14-30). The parable of the talents is an invitation from Jesus Himself to “invest” our God-given abilities in the mission of the Church so as to earn the “interest” of advancing the Gospel. What an adventure!!Yet, it is so easy to “miss out” on this by what St. Paul calls “sleeping” (1Thess 5:1-6), that is to say, preferring falsehood to truth and illusion to reality, or to put it another way, living out of an unhealthy fear rather than a salutary one.
 
Missing out on life in Christ truly should be feared. Such fear, far from distorting priorities, will inspire decisions that place them in right order and thus cause any angst-ridden discontentment to give way to abiding peace.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Fuel Prices!

 
And I thought the mystery of the Most Holy Trinity was hard to understand. Grasping it seems less of a challenge by times than penetrating the enigma of the price at the pump! Yet, the fuel is necessary for the vehicle to move, so there is little choice but to pay what it costs.
 
Sunday’s Gospel (Matthew 25:1-13) made reference to another type of “fuel”. It is one whose price is far more stable than our wildly fluctuating gas prices, - the cost is always the same, in fact - but it is expensive nonetheless.
 
An oil lamp, similar to the type found in the early Christian catacombs.
Jesus tells a parable that uses the image of oil, not for transportation but for light. He tells the now familiar parable of the wise and foolish bridesmaids awaiting the arrival of the bridegroom. So that they will see and recognize his presence, they have with them lamps whose flame is fuelled by oil. The wise have oil in sufficient supply, the foolish ones have only a limited quantity. Needing to run off and buy more oil, the foolish ones miss out on greeting the bridegroom upon his arrival. The point Jesus is teaching is that his return will happen, though we know not when. Therefore, we must be ready now and always to welcome him by having enough oil to fuel the light by which we shall see, recognize and welcome him.

The flame of the lamp stands for faith. By faith, we see. Such faith needs to be “fuelled” by the oil of prayer, study of the Word of God, celebration of the sacraments and works of charity. These we keep in “ready and sufficient supply” when we practice them daily. This leads us to the cost of such oil.
The cost is that of self-sacrifice; the price paid is the act by which we surrender all self-reliance and choose to rely solely upon the wisdom, love and providence of God. This price never changes. It remains always the indispensable condition for authentic prayer, obedience to the Word of God, reception of sacramental grace, and genuine acts of Christian love. And it is expensive, since it is the gift of one’s entire self to God and to others. Yet, we willingly and gladly pay the price, because it is only by means of such “oil” that the flame of faith burns brightly and enables us to see and welcome the presence of God in our midst.

Monday, November 6, 2017

Statement for Catholic Education Sunday

In case you missed it, the following is the special statement issued by the Bishops of Alberta and the Northwest Territories for Catholic Education 2017. 


I was presented yesterday, on Catholic Education Sunday, with a picture with the signatures
of all the students from Gerard Redmond Catholic Community School in Hinton. (Photo: Roni Iwanciwski)
Brothers and Sisters in the Lord,
 
Every year in November, we, the Bishops of Alberta and the Northwest Territories, write a letter to you on the occasion of Catholic Education Sunday. This year we have repeated the practice. Drawing from the teaching of St. Paul, our letter focuses on truth, goodness and beauty. These are hallmarks of Catholic education. In addition to this letter, we offer you these further thoughts.
 
In our schools, students are challenged to recognize the inherent beauty and worth of the human person, and to understand and honour the gift of human sexuality. We call on them to serve others, regardless of their situation in life, with compassion and justice. The teaching we hand on to them offers a beautiful and life-affirming alternative to the negative and self-serving messages they hear every day via the various forms of modern communications.
 
The nature and mission of our schools is rooted in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. His teaching is often countercultural in today’s world, just as it was when he taught. In fact, we saw this recently in the heated public discourse on the human sexuality part of the school curriculum. Much of the media frenzy we witnessed was based upon inaccurate reporting and a misrepresentation of our moral teaching. We are grateful to representatives of our school superintendents for clarifying the issues and allowing the facts to speak for themselves. Catholic schools teach the provincial curriculum through a Catholic lens. It is what we have always done; it is what we shall continue to do in all matters, including health and wellness.
 
Bishop Greg commissioning the Edmonton Catholic School Trustees.
Calls to dismantle our publicly funded Catholic school system are growing ever louder, and we must not ignore them. It is important that everyone be ready to stand up for our faith and for our schools. Please be prepared to speak out in support of our Catholic schools whenever you can. We are proud of who we are as Catholics. We do not and we shall not apologize to anyone for our faith or for our schools. Everyone knows that the existence of our schools, fully permeated with our faith, is a constitutional right. Everyone should also know that this is a right we shall vigorously defend.
 
Catholic education is a treasure, not only for our own Catholic children but also for our province. Our society as a whole benefits when parents have meaningful choice in how their children are educated.
 
Please pray for our teachers, administrators and trustees. They share our commitment to Catholic education and devote themselves with great zeal to its flourishing for the benefit of our beloved children. Pray also for our government leaders. May all work together to preserve and enhance the precious gift of publicly funded Catholic education in our province.
 
Signed,
Catholic Bishops of Alberta and NWT