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

Monday, September 12, 2016

Ready for the Exam?

Back to school this past week for many children. As they resume the learning process, they will soon come up against a necessary aspect of it: the examination. Students are challenged in their growth and learning by being held to standards and expectations; the examination will enable the teacher to assess how well they are doing.

I mention this because attention was drawn this week by none other than Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI to another type of examination that will face all of us. Reports are beginning to circulate about the contents of an interview he recently gave, and that will be published in English in November under the title Last Testament. When asked how he is spending the time of his retirement, he is reported to have replied that he is now “preparing to pass the ultimate examination before God.”

This is a very important reminder to all of us. In our hectic culture, the pressure of immediate urgency can make us near-sighted; we see and concentrate only on what is before us and forget the longer view. Benedict reminds us of the central truth that must govern every aspect of our lives: God has made clear to us in His Son, Jesus, that we shall be held accountable at the end of our lives for the way we have lived. Sacred Scripture and the Tradition of the Church have passed on from Christ the moral standard given from above to guide our lives. This means that we should be constantly examining ourselves against the standard, and asking God for the strength to be faithful and for his mercy when we are not. Of course, this is something Pope Emeritus Benedict has been doing all his life, and not only in this last stage of it. His is an example for all of us to follow.

How might such an examination be carried out? Well, the Scripture passages we heard proclaimed on Sunday at Mass are an excellent guide. They remind us, first, of the primacy of God’s love and of his desire to save his people through the forgiveness of sins. St. Paul is crystal clear: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” (1Timothy 1:15). That’s you and me. All are in need of the mercy that Christ alone can give. The self-examination begins with this acknowledgement of our weakness and need, and the assurance of God’s love and mercy if we are truly repentant.

The passages also are a very helpful reminder of the ways we can fall short of the standard. Perhaps we are like the people, who, according to Exodus, decided to worship a golden calf, the work of their own hands, instead of the Living God (cf. Exodus 32: 7-11, 13-14). We can have lots of idols of our own making in our lives: reputation, power, wealth, accomplishments and so on. Or perhaps we can do as St. Paul said he once did, namely, persecute the Church (1Timothy 1:13). Do we rebel against the teachings of Christ and his Church by our words or lifestyles? The parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15: 11-32) reminds us that we, too, can squander the beautiful gifts of God by using them not for the glory of God and the good of others but for the selfish pursuit of our own desires. Likewise does the parable invite us to ask in what ways we imitate the older brother. Do we stand in judgment of others, withhold forgiveness or act as if we earn God’s love by living an upright life?

Preparation for “the ultimate examination” is not something to delay, to put off until later in life. The time for it is now. From the beginning of his pontificate, and especially in this Jubilee of Mercy, Pope Francis has repeatedly stressed that, although God never tires of forgiving us, nevertheless we often tire of asking for that forgiveness. Let us be alert always to our need for mercy, and turn frequently, with contrite hearts, to God who rejoices to grant his pardon, restore us to life, and help us to be prepared to pass that all-important exam.