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

Monday, February 20, 2012

Barrier-free Belief

In our society today we are increasingly sensitive to the needs of our brothers and sisters whose handicaps inhibit access to places or services. For example, elevators and ramps come to the aid of those with mobility constraints, and audio enhancements assist people with hearing challenges. We strive to remove barriers that stand in the way of a full and active life.

The Gospel for Sunday, Feb 19th, (Mark 2:1-12) raises the question: What about barriers to belief in the Lord? What stands in the way of entrusting our lives in faith and trust to Jesus Christ?
A paralyzed man is brought by his friends to Jesus for healing. They encounter barriers: a huge crowd that blocks access to Jesus as well as the roof of the dwelling. They go around the first and create a hole in the second. Removing barriers. But once they let the paralyzed man down through the roof to Jesus, his encounter with the Lord makes visible the barriers with which we all must grapple: guilt and doubt.
Jesus's first words to the paralyzed man are "Your sins are forgiven." To hear these words is a universal need, yet many wonder if they ever will hear them. I have a hunch that much of the anxiety people carry today stems from unresolved guilt. Conscience neither lies nor relents. We carry our guilt for wrongdoing until it is removed by forgiveness. Yet, as we hear in the Gospel: "Who can forgive sins but God alone?" Exactly. Only an encounter with the living God in Jesus Christ can bring the forgiveness we seek and thus remove this barrier to faith, a barrier which often finds expression in the question: "Would God really forgive me?" The answer is an unqualified YES!
And the second barrier: doubt. I often wonder what it was like for the paralyzed man to hear Jesus command him to get up and walk. Jesus was commanding him to do what he and everyone around him knew was impossible. Yet somehow any doubt that the paralyzed man may have had gave way to trust in Jesus. He heard the Lord, he trusted, he obeyed, and he walked! Do we harbour any doubts about the power of Jesus? Do we doubt even that he wants to be part of our lives? Such doubt is a barrier to faith, which is obediential trust in the love, providence and power of the Lord.

Lent is upon us; Ash Wednesday occurs this week. A time to face our barriers to faith and ask the Lord for the grace of their removal. We do this alone in the sanctuary of our conscience. We rely also on the help and prayer of others; it was, after all the friends of the paralyzed man who removed the barriers that kept him from encountering Christ. Through our observance of this holy, penitential season, may we all know the joy and freedom of a barrier-free faith.