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

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


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.
Catholic Bishops of Alberta and NWT