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

Monday, March 26, 2018

Yielding the Right of Way

Driving through the streets of Edmonton requires occasionally navigating some traffic circles. When I first arrived in the city, I didn't always get that right. From my past experience of these things, my understanding was that each driver coming to the circle would yield alternatively to the other. In Edmonton, though, the one already in the circle always has the right of way; those wanting to enter need to yield. More than once I entered the circle the way I had been accustomed to do, and that left drivers standing on their brakes to avoid crashing into me. Glimpsing in the rear-view mirror I could see they were shouting something. I'm not a lip-reader, but I'm reasonably sure they weren't saying, "God bless you."
The heart of the Christian life is the decision to yield to the One who has the right of way: Jesus Christ. He has the right of way not only for our individual lives but also for all of history, because he is the One sent from the Father to lead us to eternal life.
The Gospel narratives we heard on Sunday contain the accounts of people who refused to yield the right of way to him. We heard about the rejoicing crowds surrounding him as he entered Jerusalem. Things were just fine as long as they felt that Jesus was acting in accord with their expectations. When that turned out not to be the case, many drifted away, unable to yield to this man who went against their ideas of how a Messiah should be and act.
Others had been unable to yield to Jesus for quite some time. As they heard his teachings and witnessed his miracles they plotted against him. Their refusal to yield to his call to conversion led to something far worse than any road rage; they sought to put him to death.
In the liturgies of this Holy Week, we shall hear the Lord's call once again to yield to him the right of way in our lives, to accept the path he marks out before us. This means yielding to him and his commandments, yielding to truth, yielding to self-sacrifice for the sake of others, yielding to forgiveness, yielding to the call to heal injustices, and so on. In these very holy days, let's pray for the grace of surrender. Only by yielding the right of way to Jesus Christ will sin and death themselves yield to the power of grace and we shall thereby rise to new life in him.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Course Correction

This blog is posted on the Solemnity of St. Joseph. He is the patron saint of the Archdiocese of Edmonton (under his title of Joseph the Worker), as well as the patron of Canada. I think we could also call him the patron saint of course corrections.

This “good and righteous man” offers us a beautiful witness. He sets out on a course of life together with Mary. While engaged to her, he learns that she is with child. Knowing that he is not the father, he draws what would be for any of us the obvious conclusion. He decides on a course correction and determines to “dismiss her quietly”. However, God reaches out and summons him to correct the correction. Through the message of an angel, who appears to Joseph in a dream, God calls him to stay the course, as it were, and take Mary as his wife. Yet through this call God also announces that there is, indeed a course correction about to happen, one that will impact not only the direction of Joseph’s life but also the trajectory of history itself. The child, Joseph is told, has been conceived in Mary by the Holy Spirit and will save the world from its sins. In other words, the course of sin on which humanity had been launched by the disobedience of Adam and Eve is about to be corrected - indeed, radically re-directed - toward salvation. Joseph could not have fully understood what all this meant and how God’s plan would unfold. However, he trusted God and placed his faith in the ability of God to do all that he promised. In consequence, Joseph surrendered to the role he was called to play in the accomplishment of the loving and merciful course correction that would happen through the child now entrusted to his care.
What course corrections do we need? Do the directions we have set for our lives need to be changed? We achieve clarity answering these queries when we pose the question thus: are we moving away from or toward Jesus and his Church? That’s the issue in a nutshell. We engage the question with particular seriousness in the season of Lent, yet it is perennially urgent. Living apart from the grace of Jesus Christ is to be following a course that leads to perdition. That is what it means to say that Jesus is the world’s one and only Saviour. So, repentance and conversion mean surrendering to whatever course correction is necessary to begin walking with the Lord in the obedience of faith. Let’s not hesitate to turn to our patron, St. Joseph, and ask him to pray that the needed re-direction of our lives will take place.

He is also the patron of Canada. Let us ask him to intercede for our beloved country also, since it is manifestly in need of a serious course correction. This necessity has been on display for quite some time in for example the decisions of both Parliament and the courts to allow unlimited access to abortion, to change the definition of marriage, and to legalize assisted suicide and euthanasia. In recent months, we are witnessing the country’s trajectory move - with alarming speed - in the direction of steamrolling over Charter rights, in particular that of freedom of religion and liberty of conscience. Just consider the moves in Ontario to force doctors to give effective referrals for practices that run counter to their conscience, or the intractable insistence of the federal government to link the granting of summer grants to the forced attestation of agreement to what it mistakenly claims is the “right” to abortion. A parishioner recently asked me, with obvious anguish, “When am I going to get my country back?” When, indeed? In our nation, which is supposed to be a liberal democracy, the State is leading us in a decidedly illiberal direction. The needed course correction cannot happen soon enough.
Good St. Joseph, pray for us! Lead us by your prayers to the setting of our lives on the right course.

Monday, March 12, 2018

More Light? Let Me Think About That

Well, we’ve “sprung ahead.” Through the early hours of Sunday morning the clocks were rolled ahead by one hour. It meant a bit less sleep, but the move will yield more hours of light in the course of the day. I love that. Particularly in the northern climes of Edmonton, it will mean in the summer months enough hours of light that I can tee off at 7pm and still get eighteen in.
More light is wonderful, right? Spirits lift, activity increases. Who wouldn’t want more of this??

Yet, as we ponder our love affair with light, we hear Jesus say this: “The light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light” (John 3:19). Pardon? I thought it was the other way around. But then he goes on to explain, saying “because their deeds were evil. For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed.” (19-20)
Ah yes. Exposure. Light does have that tendency to bring things into full view. Often there are some things in our lives that we would rather not expose, actions of which we are not particularly proud. Keeping them in the dark seems appealing.
But that’s not a good idea. As the saying goes, we are as sick as our secrets. Lent is a privileged time to look at the areas of our lives where we do, indeed, prefer darkness and shun the light, precisely in order to make the decision to expose them to light. Not just any light, mind you. The light to seek is that which “has come into the world,” a phrase used by Jesus to refer to himself. The call of Lent is to step out of the shadows into the light which is Jesus. To do so is to step into his love and into his mercy, so this kind of exposure is not to be feared. It is necessary for healing. It leads us to freedom.
The opposite to “springing ahead” is “falling back”. We shall say that in the autumn when we turn the clocks back one hour. The expression is telling. The last thing we want to do is to fall back into the darkness of sin and error, especially if we have sprung forward in faith by exposure to Christ’s light. So, let’s pray not only to step into the light this Lent but also to stay there.

Monday, March 5, 2018

The Price of Exchange

A few weeks ago, I needed to get some American currency for a trip to the U.S. There was no time to get to a bank, so I decided to use one of those currency exchange kiosks at the airport. I was delighted to discover that the exchange rate they charged was actually better than I would have found at the banks. That delight, though, was short-lived as I saw that rate translate into actual dollars to be paid. Gulp. The price of exchange can be rather high.

On Sunday, we heard the account of Jesus encountering some money changers (John 2:13-25). It took place in the Temple, understood by the Jewish people to be the sacred dwelling of God, or, as Jesus referred to it, his Father's house. Jesus cleansed the Temple by driving out the money changers, since they had turned this holiest of venues into a marketplace.

As we ponder this scene, let's bring to mind the Christian doctrine that understands the human soul to be, itself, a temple in which God dwells, in virtue of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit into our hearts by the Risen Christ. The question arises: what exchanges am I allowing within me; has my soul become a "marketplace" in need of cleansing?

The other two Scripture passages from Sunday's mass give greater precision to these questions. Exodus 20:1-17 recounts the giving of the Ten Commandments. We might ask, "Do I exchange obedience to the commandments of God for the following of my own whims and desires?" In his first letter to the Corinthians (1:22-25), St. Paul observes how God's wise and loving plan of salvation, because it is centered upon the Cross, can seem like foolishness in the eyes of unbelievers. This cautions us to ask if we are exchanging trust in divine wisdom for confidence in human logic. Other questions come to mind: do I exchange virtue for vice, holiness for sin, truth for falsehood, reality for illusion and so on. The fundamental exchange at the root of all these "transactions" is that of trading faith in God for reliance upon the Self. This is the essence of the original sin in the Garden of Eden, and the price of that exchange was high beyond measure: the entrance into history of sin and death. Every time we ratify the original sin by making it our own, each time we exchange good for evil, we take to ourselves some of this cost and defile the temple of our soul. The temple stands in need of purification.

This is exactly what Jesus wishes to do for us in this Lenten season. The instrument by which he cleanses our temples is not a whip of cords; it is the sacrament of Penance. There, by his tender love and mercy, our hearts cease to be a marketplace of unholy exchanges and become once again a sacred space reserved for the praise of God.