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

Monday, January 30, 2017

A Rather Unusual C.V.

Job applications are often accompanied by a curriculum vitae that typically brims over in expressions of self-confidence and accomplishment. That's expected. A prospective employer wants to know the applicant's skill sets and talents. How different is the C.V. for a disciple of Jesus Christ!

In the first place, one does not apply for discipleship; rather, one is called. Furthermore, those called by the Lord to follow him are those very much unqualified to do so. That's the point St Paul makes in the second reading we heard on Sunday (1Cor 1:26-31): God chooses the "foolish, weak, low and despised." Not something that would occur to me to put on a vocations poster.

Yet, this is obviously true and profoundly liberating. You may have come across the oft-quoted saying: God does not call the qualified but qualifies those he calls. He summons us to holiness of life, a state no one can achieve unaided by God's grace. He calls to various forms of discipleship, the demands of which lie beyond human capacity. Yet God is merciful and provides all that is needed.

Indeed, as St Paul puts it, God is the source of our very life in Christ Jesus! In other words, Jesus is our curriculum vitae. In him we have the source of all inspiration and the power of any accomplishment. While a usual C.V. is replete with self-promotion, that of the Christian boasts of natural weakness and joyful reliance upon the goodness of God.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Inauguration Day

No, I don't mean that inauguration day, the one that occurred Friday in Washington. I'm referring to the one recorded in the Gospel passage proclaimed at Sunday mass yesterday, which, in turn, invites us to recall our own.

By the act of calling his apostles and their act of acceptance, Jesus inaugurated their mission. In our own lives, our mission as followers of Christ was inaugurated at Baptism, and is renewed and strengthened in every celebration of the sacraments, especially Eucharist and Penance.

The Friday event in Washington was accompanied by a speech, in which listeners expected to get a sense of the direction that the newly inaugurated mission will take. The roadmap we follow is the Gospel, the teaching of Jesus Christ as handed on in the Church.

Are we faithful to the responsibility accepted on our inauguration day? We know we have responsibilities as citizens to hold our elected officials to account for the trust we place in them, and are usually quick to do so. Do we hold ourselves to account? This is an important question. Indeed, Pope Francis is continually asking us to recall that moment of our "inauguration" through Baptism into the life of faith and to examine our fidelity to our baptismal promises.

St. Paul draws our attention to an inescapable aspect of such a self-examination. Writing to the ancient Christian community at Corinth, and through that letter addressing all Christians, he makes the appeal that there be no division among the followers of Christ. Since Friday's inauguration we have witnessed protest marches that lay bare rather dramatic societal difference. Sadly, divisions in the Church (!!) long predate those of any country. The letter to Corinth shows clearly that the tendency to separation goes back to the Church's very beginning. This is clearly not the will of the Lord, who gave his very life that all may be one.

In this Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, we do well to remember that the one Baptism inaugurated Christians into unity with the one Lord and the one Faith, and, therefore, with one another. As we ponder the impact of a political inauguration, let us not forget our own far more important theological one. By God's grace, may we accept and faithfully follow our Baptismal call to be one in Christ, and thus serve as a sign and instrument of unity in a world whose very visible divisions are causing very real harm.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Avoid Fake News

Much is being made recently of so-called “fake news”. It is the Internet phenomenon that is catching a lot of attention. There are websites, and users of social media, that deliberately fabricate falsehoods and seek to present and spread them as factual, reliable “news”. Easy to get taken in, sometimes with tragic results.

In fact, of course, this is not a new phenomenon. The proliferation of the lie has been with us ever since the serpent first seduced Eve. It just assumes ever more sophisticated forms. Living as we do surrounded by falsehood and illusion, we can be easily misled into pain and anguish, leaving us wondering where is the truth? On what can I truly rely?

Enter the Gospel and its proclamation of Jesus Christ. This is true because He is truth (cf. John 14:6). But do we accept it as true, or do we choose to listen to some other voice, some other “news source”?

Consider what we heard in the Scripture readings on Sunday.

In the Gospel passage (John 1:29-34), John the Baptist points to Jesus and identifies him with two extraordinary titles: Lamb of God and Son of God. Jesus is the Lamb of God because he offered himself on the Cross as the sacrificial lamb, whose death makes possible our passover from this life to the next. We know he is the Son of God because he so identified himself. As the Son sent from the Father, he has come to make possible our very participation in the inner life of our Triune God!

Throughout history, fake news has spread the idea that Jesus is less than he truly is: either he is not fully God or not fully human. This falsehood reduces Jesus to a moral exemplar that we could - but need not - follow, or so separates him from our human reality that we cannot follow him.

Or read again the passage from Isaiah (49:3, 5-6). He prophesies that the One to be sent from God will be given as light for all nations, that is to say, as Saviour for all people. The Gospel identifies Jesus as the coming of this light (cf. e.g. Luke 2:32). Fake news would have us hold that Jesus is not for everyone.

The truth broadcast by Sacred Scripture pertains to us as well. St. Paul, in his first letter to the Corinthians (1Cor. 1:1-3), teaches us that we are all called to be saints. God calls us to a very high standard - the measure of holiness - and grants us the gifts we need to live this life of joy and peace. Fake news will tell us that holiness is only an ideal, that we are not really expected to live this way, and that we can settle for a life of banality and mediocrity.

What newscast do I accept as reliable? Which source of news do I allow to help shape my mindset and worldview? We know we can rely fully on the news of the Gospel. There is nothing fake about it at all! We have always called this good news, good because it is true and inspires with real hope. Any “news” that separates us from the Gospel and directs us along a different path is “fake”, a present-day echo of the ancient deception of the serpent. Let’s be sure not to give it any attention.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Need to be De-Iced?

I'm writing this post as I watch the de-icing machines clear away snow and ice from the wings of our plane before we take off. In fact, the de-icing is occurring IN ORDER that we can take off. Ah, winter travel. Gotta love it.

As I watch the process I'm thinking of the Gospel passage for yesterday's celebration of the Epiphany. As the story of the journey of magi to the manger unfolds, it contains an account of a certain de-icing that needs to take place, but in fact doesn't: de-icing not of airplane wings but of the human heart.

King Herod heard the news of the birth of a king. His already cold heart went into deep freeze. No heaven-ward ascent of the spirit in him! He remained solidly frozen to the ground of his worldly and self-centered concerns. His heart had become so solidly encased in the ice of self-reference that he could understand the newborn child only as a threat to his authority and power. His icy self-regard rendered all else expendable, even the innocent children he had slaughtered in his desire to destroy the child born in Bethlehem.

And what about those chief priests and scribes, who learned the news of the birth as Herod consulted them? It seems they could have benefited from some of the de-icing formula as well. The account does not record any effort made on their part to see for themselves what was unfolding in Bethlehem. They were grounded by the ice of indifference. Extraordinary, really. They who knew the prophecies, they who heard that what had been foretold from of old might now be fulfilled, never budged off the tarmac.

All of this raises the very important question of our own response to all that has been proclaimed about Jesus Christ throughout the Christmas season now concluded. The full acceptance of the truth that he is the Son of God made flesh for our salvation causes one's life to soar to unimagined heights of peace, hope and joy. What area of my life needs de-icing? Am I frozen by fear of the change Jesus will ask of me? Does the frost of bitterness grip my heart and freeze out others who seek my forgiveness or whom I must forgive? Has the ice of complacency settled upon me rendering me indifferent to the abundant new life Jesus holds in store?

The glad tidings of Christmas position us for takeoff. By his mercy, may Jesus clear away the ice and thus enable us to follow him.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Thank you, Bishop Henry!

Today an announcement came out of the Vatican informing us that the Holy Father has accepted the request of Bishop Fred Henry of Calgary to retire. As Bishop Henry has explained to his priests and staff, this request arises out of increasing limitations placed upon him due to a particularly debilitating form of arthritis. I am pleased for his sake that the Holy Father has responded generously and kindly to his request, yet I admit to feelings of sadness and regret as he leaves office. As I heard another Bishop put it, it feels like we’ve just lost from the team one of our most important players!

Bishop Henry has served not only his Diocese but also the Church in Canada exceptionally well. Of particular note is the outstanding contribution he has made in the field of Catholic education in both Alberta and across the country. I consider it a blessing and privilege to have worked closely with Bishop Henry, from whom I have learned a great deal.

Bishop Henry has been a Bishop for more than thirty years, and has served as Chief Shepherd of the Diocese of Calgary since 1998. His episcopal motto, ‘Dabo Vobis Pastores’ (I will give you pastors) is taken from Jeremiah 3:15, which reads ‘I will give you shepherds after my own heart, who will feed you with knowledge and understanding’. Well, he has certainly lived up to that! A man of God who has taken very seriously the responsibilities entrusted to him as Bishop, he has not failed to pass on the faith to the people entrusted to his care. For this role he has been particularly gifted with a capacity for clear thought and bold proclamation. Indeed, Bishop Henry is known not only in his Diocese but also provincially, nationally and beyond for his courageous preaching of the Gospel. Where others might be tempted to stay silent for fear of criticism or loss of popularity, Bishop Henry has not hesitated to speak the truths of our faith whenever required, however difficult the circumstances might be. Indeed, a shepherd who cares for the people entrusted to him cannot do otherwise, and I know that Bishop Henry cares very deeply indeed.

I extend to him my personal thanks for his leadership and example, and I know that many join with me in praying for God’s blessings upon him in his years of retirement.