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.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Solidarity with Christians in the Holy Land

I returned home to Edmonton last evening from London, England. The great blessing I have been given, and the reason for my travel there, has been the opportunity to represent the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops at a two-day international forum July 18-19, 2011, co-hosted and co-chaired at Lambeth Palace by the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Westminster, the Most Reverend Vincent Nichols, and the Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams. At their invitation approximately ninety people came together from North America, South Africa, the Middle East, the United Kingdom, Europe and the Holy See to discuss how to manifest solidarity with and support for the Christians who are living in the Holy Land.

The conference brought together Palestinian Christians and Israeli Jews, a Muslim woman, representatives from the British Parliament, the European Union, and the European Parliament, members of the ecclesiastical and secular media, and, of course, Church officials who live in the Middle East or who work for peace in the Holy Land, including Cardinal Tauran, President of the Pontifical Council for Inter-Religious Dialogue, Cardinal McCarrick, Archbishop Emeritus of Washington, His Beatitude Fouad Twal, the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem and Bishop Suheil Dawani, the Anglican Bishop of Jerusalem.

During our two days of presentations and conversation we heard a variety of voices speak of the immensely complicated and difficult situation of many Christians in the Holy Land. Restricted mobility in their own land, unemployment, educational difficulties, and the inability of families to live together are just some of the issues with which they must grapple on a daily basis. The cry that came to us loudly and clearly was for solidarity, which I believe they experienced very tangibly in our time together.

Even though the stories we heard were of great suffering, the conference was, in fact, hope-filled. I believe this is because the very frank conversations revealed a deep desire, shared among all participants, whether Christian or not, to affirm the gift and mission of the Christian presence in the Holy Land and to work together toward a transformation of the status quo that will ensure a real and sustainable peace, based upon a recognition of the common humanity and dignity of all people in the Holy Land. The challenges are enormous, but the commitment to dialogue and action, rooted in hope, is strong. Please join with me and with all of the other participants in frequent prayer that the privileged place of God’s revelation, the Holy Land, will be a place of true peace.

On a personal note I went a few days early to London with my parents to do a bit of sight-seeing and, most importantly, to visit the place of my paternal grandfather’s birth. William Ernest Smith was born and baptized in Woolwich, which is part of Greater London and is in the Archdiocese of Southwark. I had made arrangements beforehand with the pastor of St. Peter the Apostle parish, and he and his parishioners welcomed us warmly. The visit afforded us the opportunity to see the Church of my grandfather’s baptism, to pray at the baptismal font, and to offer Mass for him at the altar. We also found and visited the street where he lived before emigrating to Canada with his family. A very moving experience, indeed. It gave us the chance to “touch” family roots. It also was a powerful reminder of the roots that all Christians share in Jesus Christ, who draws us into union with him through Baptism and thereby makes us sons and daughters of our heavenly Father.

The experience at the parish Church of being part of a universal Christian family was deepened still further when I met with the conference participants. When a family member suffers, we all suffer. Our brothers and sisters in the Holy Land are struggling and suffering in ways that many of us would find difficult even to imagine. May they know the hope that comes from real solidarity and the strength that is given by shared prayer.

Monday, July 11, 2011

A Different Sort of Construction Season

Driving around the city of Edmonton these days is enough to try the proverbial patience of Job. Construction is everywhere. Of course, it's necessary; we all know that. But still! Long lineups and extra time needed for the commute add up to a great recipe for a lot of impatience and frustration. What's more, a recent study proposed that an additional twenty-two overpasses be constructed over the city freeways in the course of the next 30 years. This won't be over any time soon, it seems.

There is a point to this rant. We are witnessing, and eventually benefiting from, repairs to the city's infrastructure. Roads need to be prepared for the sake of smooth flows of traffic, and this contributes to the overall good of citizens. But what about social infrastructure? This is every bit as, if not more, important than roadways. I am referring to how we relate to one another as fellow human beings. It is very clear that, here too, much repair work needs to be done. Our society is becoming increasingly competitive and aggressive, even violent. Witness the high incidence of domestic violence everywhere, and, in our own city, a growing number of homicides. Work on the social infrastructure is long overdue. It will take time and effort, it will be slow, it may encounter roadblocks and the frustrations that flow from them, but it is necessary.

The way forward is given to us in a small but important conference that is being held in Saint Albert this week. I dropped in on the group last evening. It is an annual event called Directions in Aboriginal Ministries and is aimed at strengthening relations with our aboriginal brothers and sisters in the Church. The focus this year is healing and reconciliation. This is the heart of any effort at repairing the social infrastructure. We need to be reconciled with one another, to live not in competition but in solidarity with one another, especially with the vulnerable. Yet before we are reconciled with one another, each person must be reconciled with himself or herself, reconciled with the truth of themselves. When we live peacefully with our own reality, i.e. with our goodness, on the one hand, and with the truth of our weakness, vulnerability and failings on the other, then we can live in peace with one another. Struggle to be someone other than I truly am leads directly to competition with others. Inability to accept my own weakness will prevent me from accepting weakness in others.

Such reconciliation cannot happen if God is eclipsed from our lives, both individually and communally. We encounter God in Jesus Christ, and in this encounter we meet truth. Take some time with paragraph 22 of Gaudium et Spes, the document from the Second Vatican Council on the Church in the Modern World. There the Church teaches that in Christ is revealed not only the truth about God but also the truth about the human person. God is Love, and the encounter in Christ with this divine love reveals the truth of our dignity and destiny, our immeasurable worth in the sight of God. Herein lies the ground of peace and openness to others. Yes, we are weak, but God is near. Yes, we have made mistakes, but God forgives. By the gift of the Holy Spirit, God heals us and transforms us, adopting us as his beloved sons and daughters in Christ. In other words, God reconciles to himself, an act which, if we embrace his mercy, leads us to reconciliation with the truth of ourselves and prepares us for reconciliation with others.

Our friends gathered this week at Saint Albert are facing head on the need for healing and reconciliation in the Church and in their communities. It begins with the love of God, which moves them to love themselves, as they are, and hence reach out in love, healing and reconciliation to others. May we learn from their efforts and commit ourselves to healing and reconciliation as the "cement" that will not only repair but also strengthen our social infrastructure.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Celebrating Our Identity

A couple of wonderful events to share with you this week.

First, on Sunday I joined with hundreds of members of the Franco-Albertan community to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the founding of the town of St. Albert. The celebration of the Eucharist was the summit of an intense programme of activities, which also marked the 22nd fete franco-albertaine.

This momentous anniversary allows not only the Franco-Albertan community but also the entire province of Alberta to acknowledge and celebrate its roots. Indeed, without an understanding of one’s heritage, one cannot fully grasp the full significance of one’s identity as it is lived in the present and will unfold in the future.

The founding of St. Albert makes it clear that our roots here are established firmly and deeply in the Christian faith. Together with many other Oblate missionaries, Father Lacombe travelled to the West of Canada and established Saint Albert and other missions for the purpose of announcing the Gospel of Jesus Christ. These missionaries were francophone. This means that both the Christian faith and the francophone community were implanted here in Alberta through the one and same action. Familial and communal roots define us. “La francophonie” in this province is defined inescapably by its roots in the Christian faith. So, too, is the life of this entire province influenced by those same roots. The missionaries laid the foundation for the wonderful systems of healthcare and education that we enjoy today.

The Scripture passages proclaimed at Mass that day take the awareness of our identity further still as they unveil our deepest roots in the love of God. In love God has fashioned us; out of that same love, God has redeemed us in his Son. In the Gospel Jesus speaks of the infinite communion of knowledge and love that he shares with the Father. That communion is extended to us by the gift of the Holy Spirit. Saint Paul teaches us in his letter to the Romans that this Holy Spirit is the true source of our life. By its bestowal we are given a share in God’s own life and are drawn into communion with one another. From simple human experience we know that identity is inseparable from relationship. Our deepest identity springs from the relationship that God has given us with Himself in the gifts of His Son and Holy Spirit.

By revealing our rootedness in the love of God, Jesus also makes known the “genetic code”, if you will, that shapes the way we live. From our sharing in the very life of God we know that our DNA is missionary. Jesus was sent by the Father, and the Holy Spirit was sent by the Father through the Son to the Church. Empowered by this Spirit, the missionaries such as Father Lacombe were sent here to the West. In virtue of our Baptism we continue in that line. Our call is to be the voice by which Jesus issues today the same invitation that he gave to his contemporaries: “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.”

And in our day we do not have to travel far to be missionaries. The overburdened are all around us; they are also among us. It may be the burdens life and its trials place upon us, such as sickness, financial hardship or grief. It might be the burdens we place upon ourselves, such as unrealistic expectations or the inability to forgive ourselves for wrongs we have done. Whatever the burden, Jesus wants to lift it from the shoulders of those he calls his friends and set them free, give them rest. Today, He sends us to be the carriers of His invitation, just as He sent those missionaries that brought it here one hundred and fifty years ago. Our identity is Christian; our identity is therefore missionary.

The second event occurred yesterday, July 5th. More than 160 golfers gathered together for the 19th annual Newman Golf Tournament. (That's Ave Spratt pictured beside me in the photo.) It was a great time, in spite of the mosquitoes that are plaguing this area in record numbers right now. St. Joseph Seminary and Newman Theological College receive support annually from this tournament. One great sign of the depth of love for and commitment to these two institutions is the large number of participants who have participated in the tournament every year from its inception. I take this opportunity, once again, to thank the sponsors, particularly the Allard foundation, and the many volunteers who gave of themselves to plan and successfully execute this great event.