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

Monday, July 25, 2011

The Real Prize

As I write, the Edmonton Indy is on. From my den I can hear the roar of the engines as the cars race around the track. Thinking about this car race can provide us with a helpful metaphor that invites us to examine the way we live in Western society. The cars race at very high speeds as the drivers try to outmanoeuvre one another in pursuit of the prize. Yet they are driving I don’t know how many miles, using up untold gallons of gas, going through many sets of tires - and going nowhere. They simply go around in circles without ever leaving the site of the race.

Reminds me also of what we see in fitness centres equipped with treadmills, stationary bikes, rowing machines, etc. People run like mad, peddle like crazy or row for all they’re worth, and go absolutely no place. Kind of like the lives many are leading today. We live in a fast-paced society that is increasingly competitive and aggressive. People run around without ever getting anywhere. Often we can’t even articulate the goal we are pursuing. Such a life leaves us exhausted and frustrated.

On Sunday I met with a large number of young people who have decided to get off the treadmill, leave the track, in order to undertake a journey that actually leads somewhere meaningful. These are the young men and women who will travel with me to World Youth Days in Madrid during the month of August. The destination is not a city; it is a person - Jesus Christ. The intention of World Youth Days is to help men and women aged 18-35 encounter Jesus Christ in the context of a meeting of their peers. The first international gathering was in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in 1987. They have been occurring in their international dimension every two or three years since then. I have been privileged to participate in the ones that took place in Toronto, Cologne, and Sydney. Remarkable experiences! This year nearly 500 delegates from the Archdiocese of Edmonton will make their way to Spain to join about 6000 other Canadians and more than one million young people from around the world for this wondrous celebration of faith.

Jesus is our destination. In him we find the peace, joy and meaning for which every human heart seeks. This is the message of the Sunday Gospels, which record Jesus’s parables about the treasure in a field, the pearl of great price and the net that brings in a great catch of fish. Each is used by the Lord to speak of the kingdom of God. “The kingdom of God,” he says, “is like a treasure hidden in a field ..., one pearl of great value..., a net that was thrown into the sea and caught fish of every kind ...” (cf. Matthew 13:44-52.) The phrase “kingdom of God” is also translated as “reign of God”. The place where we need and want God to rule is, of course, our hearts. There the Lord reigns not with oppression, tyranny or caprice, but with love, tenderness and the goal of leading us to Himself forever. When we encounter Christ and experience his love and mercy, then we know with unshakeable conviction that we have arrived at our destination, that we have discovered something, someone (!), who is more precious than anything else we could ever hope to find. Then we gladly leave behind the treadmills and race courses, the meaningless pursuits, to focus on “the one thing necessary” (Luke 10:42), which is life in communion with Jesus Christ in submission to his reign of love.

This is not to say that this submission is easy. It leads to joy, certainly, but is not without sacrifice. This is because the pilgrimage to Christ is the journey of conversion. Consider that parable of the net. It brings in a great catch of fish, both good and bad. Then the bad are separated out from the good. When we truly encounter the truth of Christ and allow him to reveal to our eyes the truth of ourselves, we discover in our hearts an admixture of good and bad. Submission to his reign thus necessitates the willingness to allow the Lord to strengthen that which is good within us and to clear out what is bad. This requires humility and a willingness to be changed, to let go of any attachments – behaviours, thought patterns, illusions – that keep us from following the Lord as true disciples and leading the life of purposefulness and joy that he wills for each one of us. This can be difficult, but like the one who sold everything he had to buy the field or acquire the pearl, we gladly make the sacrifices necessary to possess, or better, to be fully possessed by the love of Christ.

Please keep us and all WYD pilgrims in your prayers as we make our pilgrimage and meet one another and the Pope (!!) in Madrid. The Edmonton pilgrims will gather in Malaga August 11th-15th, in the south of Spain, for what is called the “Days in the Diocese” as an immediate preparation for the Madrid encounter August 16th to 21st. It promises to be a wonderful occasion of grace.