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

Monday, April 1, 2019

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Monday, March 25, 2019

Emergency Alert

One night the other week, at a rather late hour, my mobile phone started to make a rather strange and very loud noise. I nearly jumped out of my skin! Turns out, it was the Alberta Emergency Alert system, sending an urgent message to everyone about a child feared to be abducted and in danger. Thanks be to God, the child was found soon thereafter safe and unharmed.

This emergency alert system, established to send out warnings far and wide when one life or many lives are in danger, is obviously a good thing. It emits warnings that we are glad to receive, however inconvenient, and which we would be foolish to ignore.

Christians, too, have an emergency alert system. It is called the Bible. Throughout the pages of Sacred Scripture, amidst the many assurances of God’s love, are warnings that our good Lord issues to His people to help them avoid danger. These, too, are a matter of life and death, indeed, of eternal life and eternal death. The warnings summon us to change sinful ways, and thus may be experienced as “inconvenient,” yet we would certainly be foolish to ignore them.

Such warnings were given to us in the Gospel for this past Sunday’s mass (Luke 13:1-9). As Jesus was teaching, he made reference to two recent events that were apparently on everyone’s mind: the cruel killing of Galileans by order of the vicious governor, Pontius Pilate, and the accidental death of another group caused by the collapse of a tower. Some thought this had to be divine punishment for grievous sin. Jesus clarified that God does not do such things. At the same time he issued a warning: sudden death can come to anyone, for a variety of reasons, so one must be ready through repentance, and for this there can be no delay. The time to get one’s life in order is now. Otherwise, we risk eternal punishment.

As we ponder this particular warning, at once both stark and welcome, we realize there is another implicit within it, namely, to be sure to treat our individual lives with the seriousness they deserve. This emerges as we reflect upon the encounter between God and Moses at the burning bush (Exodus 3: 1-8a, 13-15). God reveals Himself to Moses in two ways: as “I Am”; and as “the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob”. In other words, God who is Being itself, who is mysterious, transcendent and in need of nothing, nevertheless chooses, out of love, to involve Himself in the lives of His children in order to reveal His love and invite our loving response. That such a response might be real on our part, God gives us freedom, which He will respect in the act of judgement. The decisions we make for or against God in this life will have eternal consequences. Life is very serious, indeed! One way in which we can treat it frivolously is through the sin of presumption.

Jesus makes clear in the parable of the barren fig tree (Luke 13: 6-19) that, although God is merciful and patient, nevertheless we must not presume upon that mercy. St. Paul makes the same point as he warns against complacency and arrogance (1Corinthians 10: 1-6, 10-12). When God issues His warnings to repent, there must not be any postponement of our response.

I’m told that, had my mobile phone been turned off, I would not have received the emergency warning. Likewise, we shall miss the salutary warnings issued by God if we keep the Bible closed. May the Lord give us the grace to seek out His Word daily, and to heed with both dispatch and thanksgiving the warnings that He gives us.

Monday, March 18, 2019

Give Up Listening

“We’re giving up screen time for Lent!” This was what two very excited young children were anxious to tell me at the end of mass recently. For our youth – and perhaps also for many adults – there is probably no clearer indication than that to demonstrate how seriously they are taking the call to Lenten self-denial!

Since that encounter, I’ve often thought about that choice made by the children regarding what they would “give up” for Lent. Theirs is a very good decision, because it will enable them to stop paying attention to the many voices that come screaming at them during their “screen time”. So many of those voices are not good, to say the least, and can lead our children to some dark places.

That is true, in fact, for all of us. Our “screen time” takes different forms across the varying instances of print and digital media. Whether it is TV or radio programming, Internet venues, newspapers or magazines, we are all bombarded with a seemingly endless range of voices and messaging, all competing for our attention, and not all good. This leads me to suggest that we, too, can give up “screen time” by determining to give up listening to any voice or message that leads us away from fidelity to Jesus Christ. Instead, we can take up listening to our Lord, who alone speaks words worthy of our trust.

I was asked by someone just the other day if I thought that, instead of “giving up” something, it would be okay to take up a daily reading of Sacred Scripture. To that, of course, I gave a very enthusiastic YES! That is a wonderful Lenten discipline.

We need go no further than last Sunday’s Gospel passage (Luke 9: 28b-36) for biblical justification. There we heard the familiar – and always riveting – account of the Transfiguration of our Lord. As his divine nature radiates outward from his body, his identity as Son of the Father is confirmed by the Father’s own voice from heaven. This is followed by the command: “Listen to him!” To show us the way to salvation – to be that way – the Father has sent us His own Son. He hasn’t sent anyone else! So, why would we listen to anyone else as we seek happiness and truth?

Those two young children are on to something. They’ve pinpointed what is necessary for all of us to do, and not only in Lent, but always. Together, let’s resolve to give up listening to any voice seeking to influence our mindset and behaviour so as to draw us away from Christ, and to take up listening to Jesus, that we might in faith and hope follow wherever he leads us.

Monday, March 11, 2019

Chosen and Tempted

This past weekend we celebrated the Rite of Election. For the last months or even years, men, women and children have been following a catechumenal journey towards full membership in the Catholic Church. Now, having discerned with their sponsors and catechists their state of readiness, they were formally elected – or chosen – to proceed to the Easter sacraments. As I met each of them on the weekend, their joy was palpable! How could it be otherwise? Through the mediation of the Church, they have been chosen by Christ to be members of his Body.

I often say that the people who journey to the Church via the RCIA are wonderful witnesses before everyone who already are counted among her members. They remind us of the wondrous blessing it is to be chosen by our Lord, something never to be taken for granted.

The fact of being chosen both gladdens and astonishes. Throughout Scripture, narratives of call invariably recount the wonderment that seizes the one chosen. Think of Moses (“Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” – Ex 3:11), Isaiah (“Woe is me! I am lost…” – Is 6:5), or Peter (“Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” – Lk 5:8). As the Lord draws near and makes known to us his choice, we are instinctively aware of our sinfulness and weakness. This, in turn, makes us susceptible to the temptation to turn – even run – away from the call of the Lord.

On the same day that the catechumens were chosen for the sacraments of initiation, they and we heard the Gospel passage recalling the temptations that Jesus suffered in the desert following his Baptism. He was tempted by the devil in three different ways to surrender his trust in the wisdom and providence of the Father and turn away from the mission he had received. Of course, Jesus would have none of it and sent the devil packing.

To be chosen to live as sons and daughters of our heavenly Father is to be called to rely in all things upon his mercy and love, and not to rely upon ourselves. It is no surprise, therefore, that the devil will tempt us to run away from our call by substituting reliance upon God with dependence upon ourselves. This leads to disaster. Note well: the name by which the devil is usually called – Satan – means adversary. The evil one is in no way for us but entirely against us. His temptations aim at our ruin. He is also known as our accuser (cf. Rev 12:10), and thus will tempt us to make the reality of our sinful state – rather than the wisdom and mercy of God – the prime determinant of our response to the Lord’s call. With the strength that comes from Christ himself, in virtue of our union with him in Baptism, we can and must resist any seduction that entices us away from readiness, in faith, to accept God’s choice and call.

It is truly wonderful to be chosen by Christ. It is a joy to experience the healing power of his mercy, by which he enables us to live in accordance with this choice. Life in Christ is not without temptation, so long as we live in a world corrupted by sin. Yet, life in Christ is one in which we live by the power of his victory over sin and death. Therefore, let’s not be afraid. Let us welcome his choice and follow him in joy.

Monday, March 4, 2019

The Annual Checkup

It is that time of year again for that annual check-up we call Lent. This is a checkup of the spiritual kind, an examination of the soul.

When we go to our annual visit with a medical doctor, it often happens that he or she will send us for further examinations. The objective is to “look within” to see what is happening inside the body. This glance into the interior happens through blood tests, x-rays, CT scans and the like. The aim, of course, is to achieve a through and accurate diagnosis, so as to set out a plan for healing.

But what about the soul? Now, there’s a question we don’t hear posed quite often in popular discourse. There is no shortage of discussions around physical health and how to improve it. Yet, that dimension of our lives which must be healthiest of all – the soul – gets no attention at all.

Lent reminds us of the need for the spiritual checkup. It calls to mind that the soul grows very ill indeed when attacked by the virus we call sin. Here, too, an interior examination is required, but no lab test or x-ray will give us the information we need. The light that fully exposes our inner truth, and which points the way to both diagnosis and healing, is the Word of God. There we find all the elements of a good medical examination: symptoms, diagnosis and the way forward to healing and prevention of recurrence.

With regard to symptoms of a spiritual malady, we are invited by the Scriptural passages proclaimed on Sunday to take a look at how we speak and act. From Sirach: “When a sieve is shaken, the refuse appears; so do one’s faults when one speaks.” From Jesus: “for it is out of the abundance of the heart that the mouth speaks.” What is the quality of my speech? Do I disparage others? Do I use foul language? Do I gossip? These are symptoms that point to an inner problem. We also hear Jesus say, “how can you say to your neighbour, ‘Friend, let me take out the speck in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the log in your own eye?’” Am I living with a critical judgmental attitude toward others and not paying sufficient attention to my own need for healing? This, too, is symptomatic of a spiritual problem that needs attention.

As to diagnosis, we are given this repeatedly throughout Sacred Scripture. The disease is sin, the refusal to live in accord with the teachings of Christ and the promptings of the Holy Spirit, and the choice to follow instead my own desires. The remedy is God’s mercy, which restores us through forgiveness.

To help us prevent recurrence, Jesus poses a question that should awaken in us much reflection: “Can a blind person guide a blind person?” In so many ways there is a blindness to truth and goodness that inhabits us. This can arise from inexperience, from lack of formation or, indeed, from sin. As we acknowledge our inability to see, we recognize the need for a guide to lead us along the right path, but following someone of equal blindness will get us nowhere. Yet, this is what is happening to us in so many ways. We choose to follow the multiplicity of “blind guides” that reach us with their messaging through the modern means of social communication. Anytime a person or message leads us away from the Word of God, we have the proverbial situation of the blind leading the blind.

The Word of God is incarnate in Jesus Christ. Only he can lead us in life; only with the help of his grace can we hope to avoid a recurrence of the disease of sin. This Lent, let us allow Jesus, the divine physician, to examine us closely by His Word, and then accept gladly and thankfully the medicine of his mercy and his help not to sin again.

Monday, February 25, 2019

And the Oscar Goes To …

I awoke this morning to the news that the Academy Awards had taken place last night. In the newspapers and online, headlines trumpeted the winners of the various awards. As I glanced at the names of the actors and films, I came rapidly to the conclusion that I live on another planet. I am not a moviegoer and the names were mostly foreign to me. Clearly, however, this is a big deal for many, many people.

Hmm. I wonder how many of the people enraptured by the awards ceremony were equally seized by the drama that unfolded in the Gospel passage proclaimed at mass that same day. Hollywood is the capital of the unreal, yet it garners an enormous amount of attention, commentary and money. The Gospel of Jesus Christ centers us upon what is real. The “screen” on display as we read its pages presents the fullness of life itself. What attention are we paying to it? How do we interact with it?

It is very easy for today’s individualistic mindset to shape our own. This tempts us to write our own “screenplay” and presume to assign to the Lord the role that he should play in our lives and the manner according to which he should act. Yet, Jesus is simply not to be scripted by us. As Word of God, he speaks to us what he has heard from the Father and makes known to us how we are to act in the drama we call salvation history. Moreover, as Word of God made flesh, crucified and risen, he assumes the lead role and thus, as our exemplar, demonstrates clearly how we, too, are to live.

My suspicion is that many people today, upon hearing the words of Our Lord, might be tempted to play the director and call out, “Cut!” “Do a retake!” “You’ve wandered off script!” Such a reaction likely inhabited the hearts of all those who first heard Jesus speak the words recorded in Sunday’s passage from St. Luke.

“But I say to you that listen, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. Do to others as you would have them do to you.” (Luke 6: 27-31) I’m not so sure the listeners would have awarded an Oscar to Jesus for that! As Our Lord pointed out, we normally script our own lives by loving those who love us and lending to those from whom we are sure to receive back. Nothing extraordinary there, he said. Jesus is calling us to more; much more. Indeed, he is teaching that life in accordance with our identity as his followers will necessarily require a radical re-write of our mindsets and behavior patterns. The script to follow is not one of our own making but that which is given by the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

A world separated from God will not be inclined to give that script an award of any kind. But recognition of its beauty and veracity was, in fact, awarded when Jesus rose from the dead. That is the headline that should capture – and keep – our attention for all time.

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Be Carried by the Tide

Over the last year and a half or so, I've been reaching out in a number of different ways to the parishioners of this Archdiocese to find out what's on their minds. I've hosted listening sessions for a variety of groups, as well as town hall gatherings on the occasion of parish visits. Weaving its way through everything I’m hearing is deep anxiety.

People have been sharing with me their concerns about things happening in the Church, our schools and our hospitals, as well as about recent trends in our society. They tell me about challenges at home. Young adults have been very open with me about their fears of not measuring up to expectations, or the angst that arises when they are told they need to create themselves. Of course, the economic challenges facing our province right now are foremost in people’s minds, especially when people’s livelihoods are on the line. These, and other circumstances are causing great and widespread worry.

At all times, but particularly in moments as difficult as these, we need to guard against an especially debilitating form of amnesia: forgetfulness of the providence of God. The love of God is beyond measure, and Jesus taught us to trust absolutely in the Father’s certain care for our every need (cf Matt 6: 25-34).

In the last while my mind has taken me back to a beautiful teaching of St John Paul II, in a document I number among my favourites: Novo Millennio Ineunte. In paragraph 38 he says this: “This is the moment of faith, of prayer, of conversation with God, in order to open our hearts to the tide of grace and allow the word of Christ to pass through us in all its power: Duc in altum!” Here is the remedy for our fears. There is at work in the Church and in the world a great “tide of grace.” Our Lord will never abandon us, and without cease pours out his love to carry us along and provide for our needs. Let’s not swim against the tide by self-reliance or by stubborn persistence in sinful patterns of thought or behaviour. Instead, let’s open our hearts to him, listen attentively to his Word, confess our sins, and worship Him alone so that we will know the joy of being carried by this tide of grace to true peace and joy.