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

Monday, June 18, 2018

What Are We Letting In?

I was traveling across the Archdiocese recently for a parish visit, with one of our permanent deacons doing the driving. We discussed a number of things in the course of the drive, including many of the pastoral challenges we encounter among our parishioners and families. As our minds turned to some of the root causes of the difficulties, the deacon made a very good point. He spoke about the ironical approach many of us take to securing our homes. We will spend a lot of time and money on locks, bolts and sophisticated security systems in order to keep out from the sanctuary of the home persons seeking to do us harm. Yet, once safely ensconced in the house, we turn on the television. By that simple act, we let into our homes and into our minds a dizzying array of voices and messages, a great many of which exert an influence that is anything but good. Excellent point.

Sports fans gather around a hockey broadcast at the mall.

This raises the question: what are we letting in? Not just into our homes but into our minds? Are we even conscious of this? It is, in fact, an urgent issue. So many of the problems besetting individuals, families and society arise from what we “let in” to shape mindset and behavior.

On Sunday we heard two parables of Jesus, by which he teaches about the dynamics of the Kingdom of God. (Mark 4:26-34). When Jesus speaks of the Kingdom, he means God’s exercise of sovereignty in our lives and invites us to submit fully to it. In these parables he describes the working of God’s sovereignty by means of the imagery of seeds. He speaks first generally of the dynamic of slow and deliberate growth of all seeds. Second, he makes a specific comparison with a mustard seed, which, although very small, will grow to become “the greatest of all shrubs.”

A television being blessed during a house blessing.
As we strive to counter the false and damaging messages we have allowed into our minds, this teaching of Christ is a reminder to allow in the Word of God. His voice alone is safe and trustworthy. By opening our hearts and minds to God’s Word, his sovereignty will take hold in our lives. If, trusting in his love, wisdom and providence, we submit to God, his rule will slowly and surely transform us. Even if we begin with small steps (e.g. reading Scripture for five to ten minutes daily), the “mustard seed principle” will take effect and God’s grace will bring about great transformations in our lives and in our world.

Let’s pay very close attention to what we let in, to be sure that no intrusion will seduce us away from hearing and heeding the Word of God.

Padre Pio TV channel broadcasts in Italy and online.

Monday, June 11, 2018

A Summit of Real Consequence

There has been much talk in recent days about summits. The G7 summit just concluded in the province of Quebec. This week shall witness another “summit” as the leaders of the United States and North Korea meet in Singapore. These are significant gatherings, since they bring together the head officials of major world powers. One would naturally hope that they might contribute meaningfully to the development of the global common good. Yet, according to news reports, the meeting in Quebec was more an event of acrimony than unity; the one about to take place in Singapore has enormous potential to effect good on the Korean peninsula, but many seem reluctant to herald the event as the launch of sure positive change. We tend to respond to these meetings with rather more doubt than confidence.

As we witness and reflect upon these political gatherings, I suggest we would do well to turn our attention to another summit of real consequence. It occurs not periodically in remote places, but daily in churches throughout the world. I refer to that “summit” we call the celebration of the Eucharist, the Mass. The Second Vatican Council speaks of the liturgy of the Church as both “source and summit” of the Church’s life (cf. Sacrosanctum concilium, 10; Lumen gentium, 11). This is especially so in the case of the Eucharist, in which Christ renders himself substantially present in the transformed gifts of bread and wine, offering himself to the Father for the life of the world. From it flow all the graces we need for discipleship; to it we go as the “peak” moment of Christian existence. It is a summit made so by the presence of the Risen Lord, who, by the grace of his death and resurrection, draws us to unity and empowers us for good works.  It is thus the ground for real hope, inspiring within us full confidence. No political summit can equal this!

Among the petitions offered in the Third Eucharistic Prayer of the Mass is this beautiful one: “May this Sacrifice of our reconciliation, we pray, O Lord, advance the peace and salvation of all the world.” Jesus Christ offered his life on the Cross for the world. In every mass, that self-same sacrifice is sacramentally renewed. So, as world leaders gather in their summits, ostensibly to make this world a better place, let us be sure to gather for ours. The Eucharist is the summit fashioned by the Lord himself and gifted to us. Containing within itself the power truly to change the world, it is the summit that is of real and lasting consequence.

Monday, June 4, 2018

We Know He's There!

I never cease to be amazed by the insights of children. As we celebrated this past weekend the Solemnity of Corpus Christi, or The Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, my mind went to a story recounted for me years ago by a parishioner. In a religious education class for ten-year olds, the teacher asked: "What is the difference between Jesus on the crucifix you see on the wall and Jesus in the Eucharist." After a few minutes of silence, one little girl said, "Well, when I look at the crucifix I can see Jesus, but I know he's not there. When I look at the Host, I know he's there, but I can't see him."

What is the difference between Jesus on the crucifix you see on the wall and Jesus in the Eucharist?
Exactly. We know he's there! This is the astounding and exciting mystery of the Most Holy Eucharist. Jesus is truly present, body and blood, soul and divinity. What were once simple gifts of bread and wine are bread and wine no longer but the real presence of our Crucified and Risen Lord. As he promised, Jesus gives himself to us in this wondrous sacrament as nourishment for our pilgrim journey. To the faithful reception of this gift is linked the pledge of eternal life (cf. John 6:54).

In the readings for the Solemnity, there is an important teaching in the Letter to the Hebrews that I wouldn't want us to miss. It speaks of the power of the blood of Christ, with which we have communion at mass, to "purify our conscience from dead works to worship the living God!" (Heb. 9:14) Jesus came among us to restore humanity to right worship. Ever since Adam and Eve surrendered to the lie of the devil, humanity has been plunged in the misery that results from wrong worship, from the worship not of God but of the self, not of the Creator but of the created. The lie is that God is not to be trusted, that He is a threat to our autonomy and freedom, that we can instead be self-reliant and find happiness in the pursuit not of God's will but of our unbridled desires. This same lie continues to be perpetuated in our own day. Its frequency of repetition gradually lulls the human conscience to sleep, to the point that what is abhorrent to God and the moral law is viewed and hailed as worthy of celebration and good for humanity. The heartbreaking result of the recent referendum on abortion in Ireland is just the latest tragic example. The conscience must be purified so as once again to worship rightly and thus see reality rightly, and for this we must have communion with the blood of Christ, as Hebrews teaches. This communion is given uniquely in the sacrament of the Eucharist.
The words of the little girl are of great import. They point us to the One who makes himself present to us in the Eucharist, the One who alone has the power to transform the world. May the Lord guard us from all indifference to this great mystery, awaken within us a renewed zeal to partake of his Eucharistic presence, and by his power heal our personal and collective conscience for the transformation of our world.


Monday, May 28, 2018

Carmelite Jubilee in Edmonton

This week I shall have the great joy of celebrating with the Carmelite monastic community near Devon, AB, the 25th anniversary of their establishment in the Archdiocese of Edmonton. This community of contemplative nuns came to Canada from Macau, and eventually settled in this Archdiocese at the invitation of the late Archbishop Joseph N. MacNeil. Their witness to us has been a great blessing, one which is urgently needed in our day. Here I highlight three important aspects of that witness.

Life in the Carmel is marked primarily by silence. External stillness is necessary for that interior quiet, which alone disposes us to listen attentively, lovingly and obediently to the Word of God. How we need and crave silence in our day! Our environment is characterized more by babble and chatter, a veritable tsunami of noise, which serves only to distract from what is essential and worthy of our attention, and which thus gives birth within our hearts to anxiety and frustration. The Carmelite Sisters offer a beautiful sign that effectively reminds us of the need for stillness of mind and heart. Their witness teaches us that, even though we may not be called to give our lives over entirely to a life of contemplation, nevertheless we are summoned to adopt a contemplative attitude to all that we encounter in life. What is of God? What not? What will lead us closer to Him; what leads us away?

I have had the privilege of visiting a number of Carmels. What strikes me in all of them is the joy of the Sisters. The life to which God has called them is an arduous one. They remain in the one Carmel for their whole lives, and their regimen of work and prayer is rigorous. Yet the joy with which their individual lives are infused is evident. It is the joy that naturally arises from obedience to God's call. Our Western society is engaged in a pursuit of happiness that is both frantic and fruitless, because it is rooted in the error that peace and joy arise from indulging the Self's every desire. The Carmelite nuns remind us that the opposite is true. Joy arises not from self-pursuit but from self-gift, from a life entirely given to God and to the fulfilment of his every call and command.

Finally, by their life of prayer, the nuns teach us that we are, as human beings, radically contingent, that is to say, fully reliant for existence and flourishing upon the love and mercy of God. Prayer is the performative form of faith; because we believe in the love of God, we pray. Our prayer is directed to God not only for ourselves but also for others, and the prayers of the nuns have long been recognized as efficacious for the community. Daily do these consecrated women receive prayer requests; daily do they respond. I haven’t seen them, but I expect their prayer lists are rather long! If you've asked them to pray, you can be assured that they are doing so. Personally, whenever I visit the Carmel, I bring some Archdiocesan intentions to their attention. It is a source of great comfort to know that they are holding the entire Archdiocese in their prayers, which God surely will answer.

Please join me this week in offering our own petitions to God for their needs, and in particular prayers of thanksgiving to the Lord for leading them to us. May God grant them many more years of joyful and effective witness in our midst.


Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Retreat Time

I’m spending the week in Mabou, Nova Scotia, to lead the annual retreat for the priests of the Diocese of Antigonish. We’re gathered at the St. Joseph Renewal Centre, guests of the Sisters of the Congregation of Notre Dame.

The “time away” is a welcome and necessary opportunity to spend precious moments in silence with Our Lord. It is, indeed, a blessing to be able to set aside a block of time like this to focus upon our relationship as priests with Christ and to be renewed in his love.

Truth to tell, “retreat time” should form part of everyone’s life. Of course, taking a full week is not realistically possible for everyone. In point of fact, though, some time can be set aside - even daily - for retreat, be it only a few minutes. What is needful is a daily focusing upon what is essential: hearing the Word of our Lord and allowing that Word to open to our view how God sees and judges reality.

We swim daily in a sea of banality and falsehood, incessant messaging that insists upon the urgency of the unimportant. Without taking time to step back and assess all that comes our way, we can easily fall prey to taking as real what is not. This leads to anxiety and frustration, sentiments that are alarmingly widespread in our day. Hence the need for “retreat,” for a pause in the day to turn to Christ and see all things clearly in his light. When we learn to see and judge things in the light of the Word of God, we come to realize what truly matters. This will inevitably lead to a shift in priorities, a transition that might well be challenging but that inevitably creates order in our lives, an order that leads to peace.

Mabou is an extraordinarily beautiful place for retreat, but one doesn’t have to travel here in order to make time for the essential. That can happen just about anywhere and at any time. We just need to decide to make the time, and to do so on a regular basis.

Monday, May 14, 2018

Communicating Truth

World Communications Day, May 13th, coincides beautifully with the Gospel proclaimed for the Solemnity celebrated by the Church on that same date, namely, the Ascension of the Lord. In the mass of that Sunday, we heard this command given by Jesus to his disciples just prior to his return to the Father: "Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation" (Mark 16:15). This good news is all that Jesus has revealed to us concerning the truth of both God and human nature. In Jesus, we come to know that: God is love; that He is Father, Son and Holy Spirit, a perfect communion of love; that God has created us for Himself and has sent His Son to save us and His Holy Spirit to draw us to Himself through Christ. From this revelation, we come also to know that we are God's beloved children, created in His image and likeness; that we are radically dependent upon God for all things; that God has given us both a dignity and a destiny; that His commandments are given that we might know how to live in accord with our nature; and that He bestows upon us grace and mercy to enable us to do so.

This is good news because it is true. We can rely upon it as worthy of our full trust.

Sadly, there abounds other "news" that is entirely undeserving of our trust. It is that news we call "fake". In his message for this year's World Communications Day, Pope Francis draws our attention to this "fake news" and warns us against it. By "fake news" he is referring to the manipulation of means of communication so as to mislead people in the pursuit of a particular self-centered agenda. Whereas the communication of what is true, beautiful and good aims to unite people and fashion true community, the spread of falsehood separates people from one another and thus sows discord.

The Holy Father points out that, while we may think of this as a recent phenomenon, it is, in fact, nothing new. Humanity has had to grapple with the spread of the lie ever since the original "fake news" told to Adam and Eve by the devil. This renders the spread of the Gospel - the communication of truth - perennially urgent.

That urgency was underscored last week by the March for Life that occurred in cities across Canada. The thousands who march in this annual event are committed to communicating the truth of human dignity at each stage and in every circumstance of existence, especially since lies continue to be spread, such as the fiction that the child in the womb is not a person and the error that there is a right in Canada to abortion. These falsehoods are "fake news" that is lethal in its consequences. Let's continue to counter them by speaking the truth in love (cf. Ephesians 4:15), and by prayer that those who have surrendered to the "fake news", the lies used to justify abortion, will soon yield to the "good news", the truth of the wondrous beauty and inalienable dignity of every human life.

Monday, May 7, 2018

The Heart of Lydia

My thoughts are inspired by a line from Sacred Scripture, given for the mass of the day today (Monday of the Sixth Week of Easter). Acts 16: 11-15 recounts the journey of St. Paul and companions to Philippi and an encounter that occurred between him and Lydia during his first days there. We are told that "the Lord opened [Lydia's] heart to listen eagerly to what was said by Paul." A simple sentence, but there is a lot happening here.

Ruins of Philippi today.
First of all, consider Lydia herself. She encountered Paul when he went to a place of prayer and spoke to women gathered there. Lydia, described as a "worshipper of God," was among them. She listened "eagerly" to "what was said by Paul." Well, we know what Paul was about. He spoke of nothing except the Gospel, and the Gospel in its fullness. In other words, he would have been speaking about all that God had revealed to the world in his Son, Jesus Christ, and the fulfillment in Christ's death and resurrection of God's saving plan for the world. He would have made clear also that the Gospel message calls the hearer to respond to it by faith and repentance. To all of this, Lydia listened "eagerly." Now, that kind of eager response has not always been universally shared. Quite the opposite. The call to conform our lives fully to Christ and to accept in obedience and trust the truth of his revelation is not infrequently met with rejection. Yet, Lydia, listened "eagerly" and, moreover, asked that she and her entire household be baptized. The key point to see here is that her heart had been "opened" by the Lord. This is a grace for all of us to seek, and constantly. Christians live by the Word of God. Whenever we encounter hard sayings and react with resistance, Lydia reminds us to seek from God the grace of an open heart, one that receives eagerly all that God says to us, especially those words that call us to repentance, to a renewing of our minds (cf. Romans 12:2).

The context of this narrative teaches us that acceptance of the Word of God has significant consequences not only for our personal lives but also for the life of the world. Paul had gone to Philippi at the prompting of the Holy Spirit. By his preaching the Word there and its acceptance by Lydia and her household, the Gospel put down roots in Europe for the first time. It was the beginning of a wondrous history that over the ensuing centuries transformed a continent and eventually the world. Neither Paul nor Lydia could have foreseen all of that. God, however, did. I am reminded of the teaching of St. John Paul II, who often said that, "in the designs of Providence, there are no mere coincidences." The meeting of Paul and Lydia may have been experienced as a chance encounter. Not so. It was part of the mysterious unfolding of God's plan for both Lydia and the world.

Site where Lydia was supposed to have been baptized.
So, Lydia's heart becomes enormously instructive for us. Let's pray that the same grace that opened her heart to receive eagerly the message of the Gospel will be at work in ours. That Word will surely transform our lives. It will just as certainly have an impact upon the world around us, even though, like both Paul and Lydia, we shall not likely see how that will eventually play out.