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

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Speak, Celebrate, Serve

On Thursday of this week we shall hold our annual March for Life. Coinciding with the national March in Ottawa, this will be our opportunity to participate in a nation-wide effort towards the formation of a culture of life.

In his encyclical Evangelium Vitae (the Gospel of Life), Pope John Paul II outlined the three basic actions upon which a culture of life can be fashioned: speak, celebrate and serve. Whenever the opportunity presents itself we must speak to our contemporaries of the beautiful gift of life, and witness to our conviction that basic human dignity demands that every life, from fertilization to natural death, should be welcomed with love and is deserving of protection.

Since it is a wondrous gift, life should always be celebrated as good and beautiful, in a spirit of profound thanksgiving. Precisely because it is gift, life must be stewarded carefully and served so that it might develop to its full potential and reach its ultimate destiny in God.

Many organizations in the Archdiocese of Edmonton are dedicated to the service of life. We need think only of the many groups that surround a mother and her unborn child with love and encouragement as the child grows in the womb and is brought to birth, the many works of Catholic Social Services that uphold the dignity of human life through service to the poor and suffering, and the attentive care given by the staff of Covenant Health to the sick, especially the sensitive palliative care offered to the dying. Our March this week will be a wonderful opportunity to undergird our service with a celebration of life’s beauty, and to extend it to the community through word and witness.

On Wednesday evening we gather at St. Joseph’s Basilica for a prayer vigil with our young people. On Thursday morning we shall celebrate Mass there at 10:30, and then gather at the provincial legislature at 1:00 p.m. to begin the March.

Together with the other Alberta Bishops, I participated in last year’s March and will do so again this week. It is a very peaceful event, and a great occasion for us to witness to the beauty of all life. Having given thanks to God through the Mass for his gift of life, we walk quietly through the streets of Edmonton to share with our fellow citizens our conviction that every human being is “willed, loved and necessary” (Pope Benedict).

Our message and celebration is inclusive of all. We reach out to both mother and unborn child, to both the elderly and their caregivers, to both those who agree with us and those who do not. Sadly, the life issue for many has become a hopelessly polarized debate with little hope of resolution. Others, equally sadly, see it as somehow politically settled, particularly as it pertains to the question of abortion. We do not share either conviction. What we need today are radically transformed human relationships, not defined by an extreme individualism and a false notion of freedom, but by a self-giving love that welcomes the other person as gift. This is not a hope beyond the realm of possibility. It is a very real prospect when we recognize and accept the truth of our creation in the image and likeness of God, who in Christ has revealed himself as a perfect communion of persons, Father, Son and Spirit, and allow this “image and likeness” to be the guiding principle of our own human relationships with both God and one another. This was strikingly explained in the reflections offered for our Nothing More Beautiful series by Bishop John Corriveau of Nelson, B.C.

I invite you to join with me this week for the March for Life. Let us together speak, celebrate and serve, and thus make our own contribution toward a culture of life.

Monday, May 10, 2010

The Peace the World Cannot Give

Is it truly possible to know a deep and abiding peace within our hearts?

Every person longs for such a peace, but it certainly seems elusive, especially when the trials of life or the troubling circumstances of our day tend to leave us anxious. The peace we seek is possible, but it is not a reality we can attain by our own efforts; it is gift. This peace is promised by Jesus himself in the Gospel we heard proclaimed at Mass yesterday for the Sixth Sunday of Easter: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.” (John 14:27.)

This promise is made by the Lord in the context of his farewell discourse to the disciples. He is about to leave them by his death and resurrection and subsequent return to the Father. In fact, this gift that he pledges as his farewell legacy will be precisely the result of this “leaving”, because the peace that he promises is salvation. By “salvation” we mean the defeat of sin and death by the all-powerful mercy of God and the gift of loving communion with God forever. Peace is eternal life with God. This salvation, this peace, has been won for us by the Cross of Jesus Christ. One must not draw the conclusion, however, that the peace for which we seek will be ours only in the life to come. No, it is offered to us even now through the gift of the Holy Spirit, which Jesus, in the same Gospel passage, promises that the Father will send in his name.

In many of our parishes these days our attention is drawn to this gift of the Spirit in virtue of the celebrations of the sacrament of Confirmation that are taking place. The words by which it is administered express the faith of the Church that acceptance of the gift of the Holy Spirit brings peace. When I confirm, I say to the candidates “Be sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit”, to which the person replies “Amen”. Then I offer my hand and say “Peace be with you,” to which the one confirmed responds “And also with you”. The response of “Amen” is the acceptance of the gift of the Spirit, the profession of openness of heart and life to both the person of the Holy Spirit and the gifts he brings. Such acceptance brings peace, because the Holy Spirit unites us to Jesus Christ, the Risen Lord. In fact we receive Christ’s own peace (“my peace I give to you”), because the Holy Spirit is the perfect and mysterious bond of love that unites Jesus, the Son of God, with the Father. This peace of Christ not only inhabits the hearts of the individual recipient of Confirmation but also unites all those who have been blessed with this gift: “and also with you”.

The peace of our Lord frees us from fear. From the gift of the Holy Spirit, we know that God is with us, indeed, he is within us. By the action of the Holy Spirit, God speaks to us and guides us in all circumstances. God can turn all things to the good for those that he calls to eternal life, and he wills to do so (cf. Romans 8:28). Therefore, we need not be anxious or afraid. All that is needed on our part is our “Amen”, which is our acceptance in faith of God’s love and mercy, our trust that God is very near and working by the Spirit in and through the daily circumstances of our lives for the accomplishment of his saving purposes. Faith that God is near, closer than we can imagine, and that God is guiding us in accordance with his plan of love, lifts from our hearts the burden of fear and unleashes the peace that is his gift. Such a peace leaves no room for despair and is thus the reason for our hope.