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

Monday, April 23, 2018

Works in Progress

On Sunday I visited St Francis Xavier Parish in Camrose, Alberta. The pastor, Fr Pederson, took me to the site of the new Parish church that he and the parishioners are building. Although it is clearly just a work in progress at this stage, nevertheless it is already beautiful and promises to be something of extraordinary beauty when it is complete.
This puts me in mind of the passage  proclaimed at mass that same day from the first letter of John (3:1-2). “Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is.” We are works in progress. God has already made us something beautiful- his children! But he’s not finished with us yet. By his love and mercy he continually heals and transforms us, until we “see him as he is” and “become like him”. That is a state we cannot full envision, of course, but there is no doubt that the final version will be of a  beauty beyond all imagining. What a prospect! The parishioners of Camrose are understandably excited about their new church. This pales in comparison to the joy and anticipation awakened in us by the teaching of St John!

This teaching is also a necessary corrective to a messaging that is causing great harm today, especially among our young adults. I became aware of this in the course of an encounter I held recently with some university students. They shared with me the great angst - even terror - they feel, stemming from the expectation communicated to them that they have to “create themselves”. This arises from the sea of extreme individualism in which they are swimming, the absolutizing of autonomy that severs them from tradition, robs them of objective reference points, and obscures from their view any destination toward which they might orient their efforts. They feel set adrift, not knowing what to do in this apparently necessary self-creating, and they are left feeling terrified.
But it is all artifice, a contemporary echo of the ancient deception. We are not creators of ourselves. We are creatures and, as such, radically contingent. To realize and accept this is to be set free from the fear induced by falsehood. We are already works in progress. We have been created in love, redeemed by mercy, and given direction in hope. This is all from God, who alone is Creator, and who constantly re-fashions us by his grace in accordance with his saving plan for each of us. Far from terrorizing, this truth is exhilarating! May God help us to embrace this truth, and so live freely and joyfully as his children, his beloved works in progress.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Jerseys, Sticks, Ribbons and ... a Piece of Fish

It has been a beautiful - and deeply moving - sight. Beginning locally, and then spreading across Canada and throughout the world (!!), people have been donning hockey jerseys, wearing green and yellow ribbons, and placing hockey sticks outside the doors of homes, schools, and offices. This movement is born of a strongly felt desire to manifest solidarity with the families and communities mourning the tragic death and injury that has befallen the Humboldt Broncos hockey team as a result of the terrible bus crash. The impact of the tragedy reverberates widely. At meeting after meeting, event after event, participants ask me to lead them in prayer for the deceased, the injured and their loved ones, as well as for the first responders, doctors, nurses, and medical personnel who tended to the victims. Even at great distances from the small community of Humboldt (as I write, an image is circulating in the news of a teenage child in Uganda donning a jersey), people everywhere want to draw near to the sufferers by both prayer and symbol. 

I found it particularly moving to see this at play in the schools I visited last week. Students wore jerseys, we prayed at mass for everyone impacted by the tragedy, and of course, there were lots of questions when I visited the classrooms.

Not surprisingly, most of those questions were variations on WHY: why did God allow this to happen; why did young lives come to such an end; why do people have to suffer so much, and so on. To such questions, it must be openly and humbly admitted that no answer will fully satisfy. We try to make sense of what is senseless, and our efforts always fall short. We are left with the simple fact that, in life, tragedies happen that are inexplicable. This does not mean, however, that God leaves us alone to grapple with them. On the contrary, he draws very close to any who are broken-hearted to comfort, heal and show the way forward.

On Sunday, we heard the Gospel passage from Luke (24:35-48), which recounted one of the appearances of the Risen Lord Jesus to the apostles. He addressed them in their condition of fright and doubt, and asked for something to eat. They gave him a piece of broiled fish and watched as he ate it. In this, Jesus showed clearly that not only had he risen bodily from the dead, but also that he would remain with them, always near and actively participating in the events that mark ordinary everyday existence.

Into that everyday existence, tragedy will sometimes enter. There, too, especially, we will find Jesus present with us. In these days, he is demonstrating his presence and love not by a piece of fish but by jerseys, sticks and ribbons. We are not alone.


Monday, April 9, 2018

The Door to Mercy and Hope

Like just about everyone, I always have with me a set of keys. I need them because I am always coming up against many locked doors. Without the right key, I won’t be able to enter. Sometimes, I fumble with the keys, forgetting which is the right one. I try one key after another, knowing that somewhere in the set is the one that fits the lock and enables the door to open.
There is one door that that we all seek to identify and unlock, that we all need to open, but to which we struggle to find the right key. That door is the one that opens to hope. We encounter many things that might tempt us to despair: tragedies, such as the horrible accident involving the Humboldt Broncos hockey team; cruelties that human beings inflict upon one another, like the outrageous chemical attack the other day in Syria; illness; lack of employment, and so on. In the midst of so much suffering and pain, within ourselves and in others, where can we find the reason for hope? Where is the door? What key will open it? These are questions that have bedevilled humanity throughout history. Over time, we have used different philosophies and ideologies seeking to explain existence, striving to identify and open the door, only to find that the pathways upon which they open still leave us lost, wondering and confused.
As we ponder the Gospel passage from Sunday (John 20:19-31), the door to hope that we need to open becomes evident to us. It is Jesus. The narrative recounts for us the beautiful encounter between Jesus and Thomas, who is invited by the Lord to contemplate and touch his wounds. By contemplating those wounds, we see the truth of Jesus. They make evident to us the infinite depths of the love and mercy of God. They are the wounds of the Crucified and Risen Lord, who shows by his appearances to his apostles that he will remain with his Church always, as he promised. If we live by his love and mercy, we find in him the door that opens to hope, even in the most difficult of circumstances.
The key that opens that door is faith. “Do not doubt, but believe” is the command given by Jesus not only to Thomas but also to each of us. By faith we surrender the entirety of our lives into the hands of Jesus, with full trust in the power of his love and mercy. This is why St. John teaches that faith is the “victory that conquers the world” (1 John 5:4). It opens the door, which is to say, by faith our hearts open to Christ so that his mercy floods into our lives and thus grounds them in hope.
We might fumble to find the right keys that open the many doors we encounter on a daily basis, but when it comes to the key, which is faith, God gives us the help we need to be sure that we have that key always in hand. That assistance comes to us from the gift of the Holy Spirit. He is, as St. John tells us, “the one that testifies” to the truth of Jesus. In the Holy Spirit, we are able to say of Jesus, with St. Thomas, “My Lord and my God!”
Let us, then, pray daily to the Holy Spirit, that he will continually deepen within us the gift of faith, the key that opens the door to mercy and hope, the door, who is Jesus Christ, our Risen Lord.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

A Very Welcome Breach

Lately in the news we've been hearing a lot about Facebook. What has caught everyone's attention is the enormous privacy breach that has occurred. Personal data has been harvested, and then exploited for commercial and perhaps even political gain. Privacy is important to us and we rightly expect it to be honoured. Our assumption is that firewalls will be built up around our personal information to protect it from predatory practices. That wall, however, has been breached, and many people are justifiably outraged.

Easter is all about a breach, the crossing of a boundary. This, though, is a breach that fills us not with righteous indignation but unbounded joy.

Ever since the first sin of Adam and Eve, humanity has been steadily building a wall, a barrier of separation, between ourselves and God. The wall grows higher and thicker each time we repeat in our own lives their sin of refusing to trust in the love and providence of God and to rely instead upon ourselves. The foundation of the wall is the lie that we do not need God. By surrendering to that falsehood and building the barrier upon it, we end up barricaded in upon ourselves. The result is tragic. The barrier closes out God's light, and in the ensuing moral darkness we lose sight of the truth of things and end up doing great harm to ourselves and others.  We need this wall to be breached if we are truly to live. We need the barrier to be destroyed if we are once again to live in communion with the love of God. Yet, our experience shows clearly that this is something only God can do. On our own we succeed only in building the wall higher.

The great news of Easter is that God has breached the boundary, that God has acted to destroy, indeed, to pulverize the wall constructed by our sin. He did this definitively by raising Jesus from the dead. As we ponder this, our hearts are filled not only with joy but also with astonishment at the way God has acted. God does not need any tech company to harvest our personal data and create personality profiles. He knows us through and through, better than we know ourselves. He is God, after all, the One who has created us. The personal information of each of us, indeed of all humanity through the ages - the stories of our sins, mistakes, failures and betrayals, of all the things that we regret, and from which we cannot break free as long as we are enclosed within our self-imposed barricade - is known immediately to God. He acted upon this information not to exploit but to save us. He sent his Son to become one of us, Jesus, so that he could take all of that "data", the whole history of human sinfulness, in order to erase it forever. By his willing submission to death on a cross, Jesus took to himself our sins. By rising from the dead, he nullified their power, destroying even death itself, so that we all might live again in communion with the very life of God. In the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the wall has been breached, and we are set free! No wonder the Church cries out, "Alleluia!"

The breaking down of the wall happened uniquely in Jesus. It remains for the liberating power of his death and resurrection to take hold in each of us. How does that happen?

Consider again the Facebook scandal. It has angered millions because the data harvesting and exploitation occurred without users' permission, an act that violates human dignity. Well, God will never act in our lives without our permission. In creating us, God has bestowed upon us the gift of freedom. In redeeming us, he acts in accord with that gift by respecting our freedom absolutely. We give God permission by choosing to believe, by the act of faith. When we turn to God in faith and in repentance for our sins, his love breaks down the wall by the power of his mercy, and his light and grace come rushing in to transform our lives. The more we each do this, the more we shall also find that the walls that separate us from one another - the barriers of hatred and injustice - will themselves come crashing down so that all can live in the harmony and peace God intends for his children.

Everything hangs upon our decision to believe, upon our choice to live in joyful dependence upon the love and power of God. This is why we renew the act of faith every Easter Sunday. With the help of God's grace, we re-affirm our faith, we profess once again our belief in God, and are thereby renewed in the joy that comes from seeing the barrier breached and the opening up before us of the gift of eternal life.

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.