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

Monday, December 31, 2012

Who's In Control?

Travel disruption. Ugh! It happened to many once again at this very busy travel time. Serious winter storms have caused airport cancellations and delays and have made roads impassable. Frustration and frayed nerves everywhere! What is most frustrating of all is that we are unable to do anything about it. Weather is beyond our control. All we can do is adjust, and we tend not to do that very graciously when we are out of control.

Hmmm. This raises an interesting - and important - question. How do we adjust when circumstances beyond our control disrupt our plans? The brick wall is not limited to capricious weather patterns. Time and again we run up against far more serious matters that stop us in our tracks and make us reassess things: sudden illness, the loss of a job, the death of a loved one, a natural calamity and so on. Adjustments in cases such as these are usually temporary. We change plans as necessary to deal with the situation, all the while with the intention of re-claiming control and getting back to normal, or to what we had originally planned.

On January 1st, however, the liturgy of the Church calls us to an adjustment which is both radical and permanent. The call is to adjust our plans - our life plans! - in the light of God's will for us. This means accepting, in peace, the truth about just who is in control.

The particular celebration marking the first day of the year is the Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God. To say that any plans she might have had in mind were disrupted by the plan of God would be an understatement. By the message of the angel Gabriel she learned that she had been chosen for a unique place in God's saving plan for the world: she was to be the virgin mother of the Son of God made flesh! Her response was an immediate and faith-filled acquiescence to the will of God, an adjustment that, although radical, was nevertheless in wondrous continuity with a life thoroughly imbued with faith. Mary knew that the only one truly "in control" is God, who guides the course of world events in accordance with his plan, and who calls us to adjust our hopes and desires in light of his saving purpose.

As the new year begins, let us pray that we will learn from Mary's example of faith and be ready, not just at those out-of-control moments but always, to adjust our lives as necessary to live in accord with God's will.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Make Haste! Don’t Rush!

The Gospel passage for the Fourth Sunday of Advent (Luke 1:39-45) tells us that Mary goes “with haste” to visit her kinswoman Elizabeth. Our Lady is in a hurry. The two reasons for her haste teach us that we, as Christians, should be in a hurry, too. From the message of Gabriel, Mary has learned that she is to give birth to the long-awaited Messiah. In addition, she is told that Elizabeth, who is well beyond child-bearing age, will give birth. Her joy and her desire to help impel Mary to go to Elizabeth with no waste of time. The sharing of joy and the service of others admit of no delay.

Furthermore, we learn from Mary that joy and service are not unconnected. To the one in need, Mary shares her joy, which in turn causes Elizabeth to rejoice as she learns its reason. “Blessed is she who believed that there would be* a fulfilment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.” Mary’s joy is not only that of a mother about to have a child. It has a much deeper wellspring, stemming from the truth of God’s fidelity to all his salvific promises. Christian service must embrace a witness to joy. By the fact of our joy we announce its source: Jesus Christ. This, in turn, generates hope and joy in those who recognize and accept the truth of the One we proclaim.

The “rush” so typical of our day at Christmas time is nothing more than frenzy, running around in malls and panicking in the kitchen, and it leaves us exhausted. This is very different from Christian haste. Like our Lady, as we come to know the truth of God’s nearness and fidelity in Jesus Christ, we want quite naturally to share that joy quickly, especially with those in need. In no one other than Jesus Christ can real hope and joy be found. Far from exhausting us, this kind of haste is exhilarating and life-giving.

Merry Christmas! May the wondrous mystery of Christ’s birth from the Virgin Mary free us from useless hurry and impel us to genuine Christian haste.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Always?!

The excerpt at Mass yesterday from St. Paul's letter to the Philippians (4:4-7) surprises and makes us wonder. He calls us to rejoice in The Lord, and to do so always.... Always? Really? That is a little unrealistic, isn't it? How can we be joyful always when so often we experience the opposite, namely, sadness. Indeed, the world is enveloped in sadness right now because of the horrible mass shootings in Connecticut. We have been in mourning for quite some time over the terrible plight of the people of Syria. To say nothing of the abiding sadness over the destitution of so many on our planet.

Furthermore, St. Paul goes on in that same passage to say that we should not worry about anything. Yet, there are many things which cause us to worry and fill us with anxiety: serious illness, family difficulties, financial hardship, bleak work prospects and so on. How can the Apostle direct us not to worry?

The key to understanding lies in the all-important phrase that lies between and unites the two invitations: The Lord is near. Precisely because Jesus is with us, we need not worry and we do, indeed, rejoice. From this it is clear that Saint Paul is speaking less of an emotion than of a conviction. As Christians, we are utterly convinced, with every fibre of our being, that Jesus is here with us. He is not a God who remains aloof and indifferent to our plight. Through the Incarnation, Passion and Resurrection of Jesus, he has shown his desire to draw close and become intimately involved in the details of our lives. By that same resurrection he demonstrated that his love is victorious over all evil, and that all will be turned to the good in accordance with God's plan to rescue his people. Therefore, we rejoice. Sometimes, this Christian joy will find visible emotive expression, at other times not. But at all times it abides deep within the heart, often invisible beneath sadness and worry, acting as that secure foundation that enables us to bear hardship without descending to despair.

That passage from Philippians is thus an invitation to faith, to hand over all things to Christ in confidence. Here St. Paul is giving his own answer to the question posed by the crowds to Saint John the Baptist in yesterday's Gospel passage. In expectation of the imminent arrival of the Saviour, they ask: "What must we do?" John's reply is that they must live just lives. Paul's reply is to have faith. The two responses are mutually complementary. By faith, we hand over all to Christ with trust in his love and power. This gives rise to a "peace which surpasses understanding", a peace which frees us from self-focus in order to give our attention to the injustices around us that harm our brothers and sisters. The act of faith is the wellspring of acts of justice. Concern for justice, in its turn, gives visible expression to the authenticity of our faith. (cf. James 2:14-26).

Rejoice always, indeed!

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Every Heart Broken

Twenty innocent children murdered, alongside six adults who no doubt tried to protect them. The news leaves us in shocked disbelief. Even though we may have not known the children or their families, our hearts weep.

This senseless tragedy also awakens within us a powerful desire to reach out to the families in solidarity, compassion and love. There is no more effective solidarity than prayer. When we pray we are one with the suffering and grieving. And so we lift the children and their families to God, who we know weeps with them and us.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Have we Room for Silence?

In Advent we hear John the Baptist described as a voice crying out in the wilderness. Anyone who has visited the Judean or any desert will be struck by a particular feature of this wilderness: its silence. Wonderful, really. It is a welcome respite from the world of noise and babble in which we are constantly immersed.

Yet the message of this voice in the wilderness, “Prepare the way of the Lord,” gives us pause. This message is of such importance that it cannot be directed only to arid geographical expanses. It is of such universal reach that it must be referring to another kind of “wilderness”, another space which itself is marked by the silence that enables one to hear. In absolute silence, words break in with remarkable clarity and cannot but be heard. No more important word can be spoken to us than that of God. It is heard most clearly when we make our hearts a “wilderness”, that is to say, when we cultivate within ourselves a silence that cancels out all noise other than the voice of the Lord.

Not easy, but certainly possible, and definitely desirable. As I travel I notice more and more passengers using so-called noise-cancelling headphones. The many noisy distractions of an airplane, for example, are “cancelled out” (sort of) so that one may hear only that which one wants to hear, such as music. That which one not only should want but also needs to hear is the voice of God. All that distracts from this voice should be “cancelled out”. This is far more of a challenge than putting on earphones! It means being deliberate about finding time and space to be quiet. It also means seeking the grace of prayer, the help of God to lift from our minds and hearts all the “noise” of plans, anxieties and unanswered emails so as to focus on “the one thing necessary” (cf. Luke 10:42): what Christ wants to say to us.

This Advent, let’s find time to be silent, to become an interior “wilderness”, in order really to listen to the only thing that really matters: God’s loving plan for us in Christ.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Hopeful in Troubling Times

Advent, which began yesterday, points in hope toward the end of times, when Christ will come again in glory. In yesterday's passage from the Gospel of Saint Luke (21: 25-28, 34-36), Jesus speaks of end-of-time signs that will cause people to "faint from fear", yet he encourages his followers "to stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is near at hand."

We don't need to wait until the end of the world before we encounter "signs" that can give rise to deep anxiety in our lives. Family strife, financial hardship, illness, unemployment, the troubled world situation such as in the Middle East, can all be the cause of unease and fear. The Lord's message is the same; do not fear. Why? Because our redemption - i.e. Jesus - is near at hand. The Lord who first came to us in the Incarnation, and who will come again at the end of time, does not abandon us in the meantime. He is the reason we do not fear, but remain hopeful at all times.

This hope sets us free. Fear paralyzes; hope liberates. Yesterday the Holy Father released an apostolic letter motu proprio, i.e., on his own initiative, on the service of charity. He reminds us that charity is "a constitutive element of the Church's mission", together with proclamation of the word and celebration of the sacraments. In other words, charity cannot be absent from the life of anyone who chooses to follow Jesus Christ. Yet fear can stand in the way. Responding to the signs of our times with fear closes us in on ourselves and off from others. Responding with hope, however, sets us free of self-concern and expands our awareness to encompass the needy in our midst.

May the message of Advent that our "redemption is near at hand" set us free from worry and anxiety in order to bring hope, by the service of charity, to all who are in need and in the grip of fear.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

The Love that Impels to Mission

Last evening the Archdiocese of Edmonton celebrated its centennial gala dinner at the Shaw Conference Centre. It was a great occasion, in which we gave thanks to God for the countless blessings bestowed upon us over the past 100 years. Before all else I want to thank the members of the Jubilee and Gala committees for having worked very hard to bring this about. Thank you very much.

The funds raised from our gala will be dedicated to serve our brothers and sisters both at home and beyond our diocesan borders. This diocese was born from that spirit of charity that impels to mission: moved by the love of Christ men and women religious came on mission to the West to establish parishes, schools, and hospitals, in which they cared for the poor and needy. That same charity continues to inhabit us and impel us to care for others. This is why we have chosen to honour our centenary by raising needed funds to help two important endeavours.

The St. Vincent de Paul society cares for the poor here in our area. I have long been impressed with their ministry and am very pleased that we will be able to give them needed support. They are a necessary presence in our city and beyond and make tangible to many the love of Christ that gives hope.


Following the call of Blessed John Paul II for the dioceses of the Western hemisphere to consider how they might support one another, I am pleased to announce that the Archdiocese of Edmonton is entering a partnership of mutual enrichment and support with our sister diocese to the north, that of Mackenzie - Fort Smith. Its Bishop, Most Reverend Murray Chatlain, traveled to be with us for the gala. We are delighted to be of some assistance in responding to the various challenges he and his people face and I know that we shall in turn be enriched by the gifts of the North.

In his message to the Archdiocese marking our centenary, the Holy Father expressed his confidence that our centennial will be for the Archdiocesan family "an occasion for a renewed consciousness of their Christian dignity and mission." Let us, indeed, make this our prayer. Through our reflection upon the wondrous mystery of having been fashioned together as that family we call the Church, may we grow in an awareness of the identity and call that is ours as disciples of Jesus Christ, so that all may come to know and embrace the saving love of God.

Monday, November 12, 2012

"A Precious Gift"

Photo by Osservatore Romano
I am in Rome for the annual visit to the Holy See of the Presidency of the CCCB. Archbishop Durocher of Gatineau, our Vice-President, and I are making the rounds of the various departments that serve the Holy Father in his ministry as universal shepherd. On Saturday we met with Pope Benedict. In addition to sharing with him something of what is happening in the Church in Canada, we presented him with a gift in commemoration of the recent canonization of Saint Kateri Tekakwitha. As an expression of the gratitude of the Catholic faithful in Canada, we gave the Holy Father a framed reproduction of the opening page of a seventeenth-century biography of Kateri written by a Jesuit who knew and worked with her. This biography was the primary source document in the cause for Kateri's canonization. The Pope received it graciously as "a precious gift".

Yesterday Canadians remembered and gave thanks for another "precious gift", that of the countless men and women who gave their lives in the service of our country. Remembrance Day recalls to our minds their example, which teaches there are things in life worth dying for, worth the entire gift of ourselves. Our country is forever grateful to the many who died that we might enjoy the freedom that is ours.

What is worth dying for? Well, according to Jesus, we are, the world is. He gave of his life that we might live. The incarnation and death of the Son of God made flesh reveals the infinite depths of God's love for us and for the whole world. The gift Jesus made of his entire life is the most "precious gift" of all, because, as we were taught in yesterday's second reading from Hebrews, the self-offering of Jesus brought to the world the offer of eternal salvation. His gift of self is the offer of a love that lasts forever. So when Jesus calls us to follow him, he is inviting us to love him totally, to make of our lives a complete gift to him.

The invitation to loving and total discipleship is behind the Gospel passage of Sunday. Jesus praises the poor widow's gift of two copper coins because she thus gives everything she has, in contrast to the vast sums contributed by the rich who give only from their surplus. By his response to the gift of the widow Jesus is posing a critical question. To those who pay attention to the amount they give, Jesus asks "What are you holding back?" In response to his invitation to love and life, Jesus asks that we hold nothing back and give our all to him. He receives this as a most "precious gift" indeed.

There is nothing to fear here. When the widow of Zarephath gave her last bit of food to the prophet Elijah (first reading), she was left, literally, with nothing for her and her son to live on. God responded to this total gift by providing all that she needed. When we give our all, with complete trust in God's love and providence, he will not fail to provide what we truly need. Jesus Christ is the Father's "precious gift" to the world. May the Holy Spirit make us more and more a "precious gift", in Christ, to our Heavenly Father.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Learning from the Saints

It has been an eventful few days, full of God's blessings.

On Thursday evening we opened our fifth and final year of Nothing More Beautiful. In this year, focused upon the lay apostolate, we wanted to begin with the family as that place where the foundational apprenticeship for the apostolate should take place. We gathered on the Solemnity of All Saints, so what an extraordinary blessing it was to have as our witness the son of a saint! Pierluigi Molla traveled with his wife Lisi from Milan to be with us. He is the eldest son of Saint Gianna Molla, the last person to be canonized by Blessed John Paul II. He shared with us how his mother demonstrated by her entire life the inseparable link between holiness and apostolate. Deeply rooted in prayer, she sought to live her life coherently, that is to say, fully consistent with her Catholic faith. This coherence led to action in the service of others. This shaped all that she did as a wife, mother, doctor and lover of life. From Pierluigi's presentation it was clear to everyone present that Saint Gianna, together with her husband, had as their first priority the handing on of the faith to their children by giving personal witness in their actions to the truth and beauty of the faith they taught. Particularly striking to me is how natural this all was for Saint Gianna. The handing on of the faith in the home flowed naturally from her love of the Lord and His Church. This is an important lesson for all parents. They do not need to be expert catechists or theologians! What is necessary is that they grow in personal holiness by allowing the Lord to love them and by loving him in return. From this love all else will flow and the home will become that place of apprenticeship for the apostolate.

What is remembered most about Saint Gianna, of course, is her extraordinary witness to the dignity of every human life. Her last pregnancy was a difficult one, and she made it abundantly clear to her husband that, should there come a need to choose between saving her or her baby, they were not to hesitate: save the baby. She insisted on offering her life for the sake of that of her child, and that is, in fact, what she did. To hear this recounted by her eldest son was deeply moving for all of us.

On Sunday I was at Saint Joseph's Oratory in Montreal for a special national celebration of thanksgiving for the canonization of Saint Kateri Tekakwitha. I was one of many Bishops who joined Bishop Lionel Gendron of Saint Jean Longueuil for the celebration. The Oratory was filled to overflowing, yet one more sign of the great admiration that countless people have for our newest Canadian saint. In her own way, she, like Saint Gianna, teaches that we grow in holiness through coherence of life and action.

By the intercession of these two holy women, may we, too, offer authentic witness to the love of Christ.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Let me See!

Yesterday I had the great pleasure of receiving representatives of our First Nations and Metis brothers and sisters, together with their leaders, at Saint Joseph’s Basilica to celebrate together the canonization of Saint Kateri Tekakwitha. This was followed by a private luncheon, during which we shared stories of the events surrounding the canonization and its significance for all of us.

The Sunday Gospel reading from Saint Mark (10:46-52) helps us to appreciate how Kateri, even though she lived and died in the 1600s, remains an instructive witness for us today. It is the story of the blind beggar, Bartimaeus, receiving the gift of sight from Jesus. Kateri shared with Bartimaeus the condition of limited sight, and, reflecting on the name Tekakwitha, I remarked in my blog of last week how the Lord had given to her the gift of inner vision, by which she could see clearly the beauty of God’s saving plan. Consideration of her baptismal name, Kateri, opens avenues of yet further reflection upon the gift of sight that comes from Christ.

The English translation of Kateri is Catherine, which means “pure,” Remember the words of Jesus as he preached his Sermon on the Mount: “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” The gift of a pure heart enables us to see the beauty of God and his wondrous plan. The opposite of a pure heart is a divided one. A pure heart seeks only God and the accomplishment of the divine will. A divided heart is concerned with things other than God, grasps after that which really does not matter, places created realities above the Creator. To the degree that our hearts are divided, we share in common with Bartimaeus the sad state of blindness. Blind to the beauty of God and his salvific teaching, we, like the blind beggar, sit at the side of the road unable to walk the path that leads to life.

Jesus asked Bartimaeus: “What do you want me to do for you?” To this Bartimaeus replied, “My teacher, let me see again.” To ask to see is to ask for the gift of a pure heart. Jesus poses to each of us the same question: “What do you want me to do for you?” Let us, without hesitation, ask for this gift of an undivided, a pure, heart. This is something we cannot attain by our own efforts. It is the gift of Jesus, by which he restores us to sight.

Monday, October 22, 2012

A New Saint: Kateri Tekakwitha!

In am in Rome to represent the CCCB on the occasion of the canonization of Kateri Tekakwitha. What joy has filled the approximately 1700 Canadian pilgrims, mostly from among our First Nations peoples! A daughter of the Mohawk and Algonquin peoples, Kateri Tekakwitha, has been raised to the glory of the altars by Pope Benedict XVI, and by this all Native peoples are honoured. Now that she has been added to the canon of the Church's saints, she stands before the whole Church as a reminder of the universal call to holiness and a model of cooperation with the mystery of grace.

The earliest intimations of the working of God's grace in Kateri's life were given in the name assigned to her by her family: Tekakwitha. This name, derived from her diminished capacity for sight, can mean a number of things: "she who feels her way ahead"; "moving forward slowly"; "one who bumps into things"; but also "one who places things in order" or "to put all into place". This diversity of meanings has to do in one way or another with seeing what lies before. It is, of course, true that Kateri's physical sight was seriously compromised due to the smallpox from which she suffered. What is equally true, however, and what is of far greater significance, is that her inner vision was clear. Deep within her heart she had received the gift of seeing clearly the truth of Christ and his Church. It is as if God, through the very name Tekakwitha and the life of the one who bore it, has drawn attention to the limits of human vision in order to point us to the true sight that comes from faith. In this Year of Faith, the life of Kateri demonstrates that the gift of faith carries with it the capacity to see clearly the beauty of God and his plan for us, which far exceed in grandeur the sensible realities of this earth.

Kateri is an instructive witness for the new evangelization. She reminds us that, to be effective, this new evangelization must not only be proposed anew but also find an open and ready welcome in the heart of the recipient. When the Jesuit missionary, Father de Lamberville, spoke of our Lord and the Christian faith, the Gospel message of life and hope found a home within her. Thus is the witness of Kateri an invitation to all of us, who will hear the beauty of the Gospel proclaimed afresh, to ask for the grace we need to receive it with joy and respond to its call to life and hope.

Our new saint also teaches us, in a unique way, that our response in faith to Jesus Christ brings healing. Among the most striking aspects of her witness is the miraculous transformation of her face soon after her death. From the age of four terribly scarred by the smallpox, her face was restored to its original beauty only minutes after she had died. This was preceded by the words she spoke just as her life ended: "Jesus I love you." The love of Christ for us, and our answering love for him, heals. How greatly do we need this lesson from Kateri today! We may not bear physical scars, but so many today carry deep emotional and psychological ones. These are inflicted not by smallpox but by poverty, addiction, loneliness, and betrayal. Yet Kateri teaches us that no wound, however deep, should leave us without hope. Let us remember her words: "Jesus I love you." These few words sum up her entire life. Kateri's facial healing is an outward sign of the interior transformation that is given to all who hand over their lives to Christ, and who do so in love.

Saint Kateri, pray for us!

Monday, October 15, 2012

Are We Asking the Right Question?

What must I do to lose weight? What must I do to get fit? What must I do to get good grades? What must I do to improve my golf swing?

Questions such as these reveal our immediate concerns. Their answers shape our behaviour: go on a diet; exercise more; improve study habits; work with a golf pro (or, in my case, seek divine intervention). Of course, if we ignore the answer, then we remain with only the question and nothing changes. This is particularly serious in the case of life's many deeper questions: what must I do to care for my family; what must I do in the face of serious illness; what must we all do to address issues of poverty, homelessness and family violence. Posing the question reveals our concern; adhering to the answer brings about change.

One question not being posed nearly enough in contemporary Western culture is that put by a man to Jesus in Sunday's Gospel: "What must I do to inherit eternal life?" (cf. Mark 10:17-30) If there is a more important question than that one, I cannot imagine what it would be! Our time on earth is very brief, yet the Gospels make clear that the choices we make during our earthly journey have eternal consequences. So the man in the Gospel passage has it right. His concern is both immediate and far-sighted. How must I live now so that I might live with God always?

By way of dramatic contrast, the questions of our times are rather more myopic: what must I do to gain in money, possessions, reputation; what must I do to improve my image; what must I do to conform to prevailing opinion; what must I do to change my immediate environment, even friends and social institutions, so that they cater to me and my desires? These are the concerns that predominate when God, and the question of life in and with him, is eclipsed. Their answers are entirely self-focused and, therefore, lead nowhere but ever deeper into that which robs us of life and destroys our social fabric: individualistic self-absorption and, to quote the Holy Father, the "dictatorship of relativism".

Our culture needs a Copernican revolution that re-directs our gaze away from self and toward the other and, ultimately, toward the Other, to God. This can happen when we learn both to ask the right question and adhere to the answer. The man in the Gospel articulates the question. Jesus gives the answer. In fact, Jesus is the answer. He summons us to fidelity, points out what is lacking in our response, and gives us the grace that enables us to change our behaviour in accordance with his direction. In the final analysis, the answer to the question of eternal life is to know, love, and abide in Jesus Christ, who says "Apart from me, you can do nothing." (John 15:5) May his grace give proper focus to our questioning, in order that we might so live in him as to inherit eternal life.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Give Thanks for the Gospel and for Faith

These are exciting times. On Sunday the Holy Father opened the Synod of Bishops on the New Evangelization for the Transmission of the Christian Faith. The Church has always evangelized, of course. This task is her raison d'ĂȘtre. Our call today is, as Blessed John Paul II put it, to proclaim the Gospel with new methods, ardour and expression. The task is urgent, and the Holy Father has summoned Bishops representing episcopal conferences around the world to reflect upon this mission.

It is also exciting! By evangelization we mean sharing with others the joy and the hope we have found in our relationship with Jesus Christ. How could we not want to share this? I have often cited Pope Benedict's words delivered in his first homily: "There is nothing more beautiful than to know Jesus Christ and to tell others of our friendship with him." Finding new ways to do so today is a very exciting challenge, indeed.

The Synod opened in Rome on the Sunday when Canadians were observing the Thanksgiving Day weekend. I am grateful for many things, especially family and friends, but my deepest thanks is reserved for the gift of the Gospel, which has brought to me the Good News and has invited me to the fullness of life and joy in Jesus Christ.

Faith is our response to this invitation. Itself God's gift, faith is the opening of the heart and mind to the person and message of Jesus Christ. In two days the Holy Father will formally inaugurate the special Year of Faith. We shall do the same for the Archdiocese of Edmonton that same day. Here is another reason for gratitude. I am grateful, of course, for the gift of faith, which defines and shapes my life as a Christian. Now I am also grateful that we have been given, through the initiative of the Holy Father, this grace-filled time to reflect upon the faith, especially as it has been given magnificent articulation in the documents of the Second Vatican Council, the Catechism of the Catholic Church and, of course, the Creed. Since faith originates in the heart, this Year of Faith is also a time to pray for the gift of a renewed conversion to the Lord.

"Give thanks to the Lord for he is good." (Psalms 107:1; 118:1; 136:1) From the divine goodness we have received the Gospel announcing life and the faith by which we respond. In these very exciting times for the Church, let us offer frequent thanks for these wondrous gifts.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Is There No Limit?

We embark this month on the Year of Faith. In its essence, faith is an acceptance of what God has revealed about himself in Christ. This includes a surrender to the wonder of his unlimited saving power. We human beings are weak and must operate within limits. Not so God. Yet we can sometimes find ourselves assuming that the reach of God's power does not extend beyond the parameters of our human judgment.

This assumption is at work in the Scripture passages proclaimed at Mass on Sunday. In the Book of Numbers, seventy elders leave the place where all the people were camped and go out to the tent of meeting, the place to encounter God. There the Lord bestows the spirit upon them and they begin to prophesy. Yet two who had remained in the camp also receive the spirit. The others are scandalized. Why? In their limited human judgement they presume that God's action would be confined to those at the tent. But God is not limited by the parameters of human judgement.

In the Gospel, the disciples report to Jesus that they saw someone not of their company casting out demons in his name and say they tried to stop him. The disciples know they are sent by the Lord to do just this work of mercy, and from this commission are presuming that only they will be the instruments of Christ's healing power. But God is not limited by the parameters of human judgement.

These are episodes that occurred thousands of years ago, but the temptation to assume limits to God's power perdures. Therefore, the Scriptures are an invitation for us to examine ourselves, and particularly our faith, and ask in what ways we are presuming that God's power is limited by human potential. For example, does my inability to forgive myself for grave sin cause me to doubt that God could ever forgive me? Does my experience of abandonment and isolation cause me to wonder if God even knows I exist? Does my experience of powerlessness make me question if God can lead me out of the mess I am in? In the face of illness, do I presume that the limits of medicine are the boundaries of God's possibility? If I am struggling with addiction, do I presume that its grip is more powerful than God's liberating grace?

Nothing is beyond God's reach. He is the Lord of the impossible. In the resurrection of Jesus from the dead he has revealed that not even the ultimate human limit of death can place any limit on his power, which transforms even death into life. As we look forward to the Year of Faith, let us pray that the Lord will increase our faith. May we all come to realize, more and more, that the reach of God's power is infinitely greater than we can dare to ask or even imagine (cf. Ephesians 3:14-21).

Monday, September 24, 2012

Beauty in Change

Today marks the opening of the annual plenary assembly of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops. This year the gathering takes place in Ste. Adele, Quebec, in the beautiful Laurentian hills north of Montreal. At this time of year one sees a lot of tour buses, packed with folks who have come to view the many colours of the leaves. It is, indeed, a beautiful sight. At the same time, though, we know that the change of colour in the leaves heralds their death. Soon they will be dying, falling off and leaving the trees bare. Come Spring, that death will give way to new life.

Change, death, new life. The realities at the heart of the Christian life. The only appropriate response to the proclamation of the Gospel is metanoia, or repentance, change. The following of Christ requires a complete change from any way of living that is contrary to the truth that is given in Him. This change involves a readiness to die, by which is meant a death to self, a death to the ego, so that the life flowing within is that of Christ.

In the Gospel passage of Sunday (Mark 9:30-37), we see that the disciples of Jesus are slow to get this. Immediately after Jesus gives his second prediction of his passion and death, he catches them out arguing among themselves as to who among them is the greatest. They have not yet embraced the implications of their choice to follow him, because they are still listening more attentively to the voice of self-aggrandizement, which inhabits us all in virtue of the abiding effects of original sin, than to the teaching of Jesus. Later, of course, aided by the gift of the Holy Spirit, they understand perfectly the full meaning of discipleship and embrace it with enthusiasm and joy, even as it leads to their own martyrdom.

The leaves are at their most beautiful when they have changed and are about to die. The Christian is most beautiful when the change of heart wrought by the Holy Spirit manifests itself in a willingness to give all for Christ in the certainty of the new life he will give.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Drawing Hope from Unity

Yesterday I had the great honour of representing the CCCB at a special synod of Ukrainian Catholic Bishops gathered from all over the world in Winnipeg. The occasion was their closing banquet, where more than 800 clergy and faithful were gathered. The opportunity for a country to host a worldwide synod of Bishops outside of Ukraine is rare, and therefore an historic event. Indeed, the fact that this is the first time this has happened in Canada makes it very exciting for all of us. The occasion is doubly historic as it marks the centenary of the arrival of the first Ukrainian Bishop in Canada, Blessed Nykyta Budka. His is a fascinating story, which you can find summarized at www.archeparchy.ca/documents/history/Blessed%20Bishop%20Martyr%20Nykyta%20Budka.pdf.

This centenary, as well as this synod, is a blessing not only for the Ukrainian Catholic community but also for the entire Catholic Church in Canada. It is a blessing in virtue of the unity symbolized. The tireless work of the martyr-Bishop Budka established the basis for the unity and growth of the Ukrainian community dispersed throughout this vast land. The synod is a visible reminder of the unity of the Church in Canada with the rest of the world. The visit of the Major Archbishop of the Ukrainian Catholic Church worldwide to this year's plenary assembly of the Canadian Bishops will underscore the unity we all share in this wondrous and beautiful family of faith we call the Catholic Church. Unity in faith and joy gives hope to a world that suffers from fracture, and so we all draw hope from this gathering on this occasion.

It is precisely this message of hope through unity that the Holy Father, in his visit to Lebanon this past weekend, brought to the Middle East, that area of the world that has experienced fracture and its attendant effects of violence and grief for far too long. Around him were gathered Christians of a variety of traditions, Muslims, and other religious leaders. He called on all to work and live together in harmony and thus be protagonists of a future of peace.

Particularly moving was his address to the youth of the region. The full text is found at www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/speeches/2012/september/documents/hf_ben-xvi_spe_20120915_giovani_en.html. In a part of the world racked by revolution that has brought violence and suffering, the Pope called for a revolution of love, rooted in truth. What follows is a citation that is of pertinence for all of us. May we heed his words carefully.

"The frustrations of the present moment must not lead you to take refuge in parallel worlds like those, for example, of the various narcotics or the bleak world of pornography. As for social networks, they are interesting but they can quite easily lead to addiction and confusion between the real and the virtual. Look for relationships of genuine, uplifting friendship. Find ways to give meaning and depth to your lives; fight superficiality and mindless consumption! ... Seek out good teachers, spiritual masters, who will be able to guide you along the path to maturity, leaving behind all that is illusory, garish and deceptive.

"Meditate on God’s word! Discover how relevant and real the Gospel can be. Pray! Prayer and the Sacraments are the sure and effective means to be a Christian and to live rooted and built up in Christ. ... In Him, all men and women are our brothers and sisters. The universal brotherhood which He inaugurated on the cross lights up in a resplendent and challenging way the revolution of love. 'Love one another as I have loved you.' This is the legacy of Jesus and the sign of the Christian."

Monday, September 10, 2012

To Hear and to Speak

Yesterday I had the great pleasure of visiting the parish of Our Lady of Fatima in Edmonton, to celebrate its establishment forty years ago for the Portuguese speaking parishioners of our Archdiocese. I marvel at the courage of those who came to this country without knowledge of the culture that awaited them. Yet over the years they adapted and integrated into this society, and now enrich our community with their own beautiful heritage.

The key to cultural integration is language. Only when we can hear and understand what is spoken to us, and when we can articulate with clarity our own thoughts, is communication possible. From proper communication arises the possibility of relationship. Shared language connects. Genuine relationship is very difficult when I can neither speak to the other nor receive what is spoken to me.

The importance of language for relationships helps us appreciate the great gift given by Jesus to the deaf-mute man in yesterday's Gospel passage from Saint Mark (Mark 7:31-37). Unable either to hear or to speak any language at all, his capacity for relationship with others was seriously compromised. By restoring both his hearing and speech, Jesus restored him to the possibility of relationship with others.

Yet the import of this episode extends far beyond the man's physical healing. According to Isaiah (35:4-7), the world would know the presence of its saviour when "the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy." By healing the deaf-mute man, Jesus is revealing himself as the one promised by God to come with the gift of salvation. Giving to the man the gift of relationship with others, Jesus shows that he has come to restore all of humanity to right relationship with God!

Here we see the connection between the deaf-mute man and ourselves. We have grown deaf in many ways to the Word of God. This deafness is not natural but willful. There are a multiplicity of voices present today in society, all clamouring for our attention. We allow ourselves to become deaf to God when we choose to listen to others instead. This deafness to God closes our ears to the voices of those through whom God speaks: the voice of the Church; of the poor; of the hungry, of the oppressed. Then we can become like those criticised by Saint James (2:1-5) for showing preference, even in Church (!), to the rich over the needy.

Furthermore, this deafness binds our tongues and renders us mute. For the naturally deaf, the inability to hear sounds makes it very difficult to form them. When our ears, hearts and minds are closed to the message of God's love and mercy, we cannot clearly proclaim it to others. This is a great tragedy, because our world needs this message and, therefore, requires us to proclaim it with both clarity and conviction.

The Lord wants to heal our deafness and free our tongues so that we might speak that language which transcends all cultural difference: the language of faith. This is the language that truly unites. May we learn to hear and speak it well!

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

A Shepherd After the Lord's Own Heart

This is the gift given to the Church Monday in the ordination of Bishop Gregory Bittman as Auxiliary Bishop of Edmonton. Long ago, through the prophet Jeremiah, God had promised to guide and govern his people by raising up shepherds "after his own heart". (cf. Jeremiah 3:15). With great joy and enthusiasm the clergy and faithful recognize the fidelity of God to his promise in the choice of Bishop Bittman. In great numbers they gathered Monday at St. Joseph's Basilica, together with the Apostolic Nuncio to Canada and more than twenty Bishops, for the ceremony of episcopal ordination. Please join with me in praying for God's many blessings upon the new Bishop's episcopal ministry.

"After the Lord's heart." The heart of Jesus, overflowing with love for us, is on full display throughout the Gospels. In the passage proclaimed last Sunday (Mark 7: 1-8, 14-15, 21-23), we can sense some pain in the heart of Christ, a suffering born of love. Quoting Isaiah he says: "This people honours me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me." Forgive the play on words, but here we find ourselves at the "heart" of the matter. From the heart of the Father, Christ has come to the world to draw us to his own heart and thus enter the Father's love. The Christian life, at its heart, is a relationship of love. A merely external observance of Christian ritual or mores is insufficient. Through his critique of the empty formalism of the Pharisees and scribes, Jesus invites all of us to allow him to cleanse us interiorly, to purify our hearts, so that the union of love he wills to share with us might be brought about and deepen.

As we welcome a new shepherd "after the Lord's heart", let us be reminded of the call to open our hearts fully to the love of Christ.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Staying Tuned In

Channel surfing. Scanning radio broadcasts. Surfing the "Net". The multiplicity of messaging today boggles the mind. Only when we find something to our liking do we stay tuned in for any length of time. Otherwise, we just keep flicking the remote.

The Scripture passages for yesterday were a call to tune in to the only message that matters and to stay tuned in. Tune out all else. In the first reading we heard Joshua ask the people who they would be following. They have settled in the promised land, and Joshua has reminded them of all that God had done to lead them to their long-awaited destination. They are surrounded by a variety of "broadcasts", i.e., those of the surrounding nations who believed in false gods. Joshua knew the people would be strongly tempted to tune out the truth and tune into the falsehood, so he asks them to choose who they will follow into the future. Based upon their own experience of the goodness of God, they promise that they will serve the Lord. Yet, sadly, they did not stay tuned in. They found the seductive messages too difficult to resist, and they changed the channel.
It is an abiding temptation. When the Word of God challenges our patterns of behaviour or thinking, an easy response is to tune out. When a teaching is difficult to accept, we find another message that demands less of us. This is what is at play in the Gospel passage from yesterday's Mass. People are finding the teaching of Jesus on the Eucharist very difficult to accept, and they turn off the remote; they walk away. In what I find to be one of the most moving passages of Scripture, Jesus turns to his closest friends and asks if they, too, will leave him. Peter responds with words that go to the heart of the matter: "Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life."

It does not get more serious than this. Jesus leads us to salvation. His words lead to life. To his message, therefore, we need to stay tuned in. This is not without difficulty. His words call us to embrace the Cross, to die to ourselves and live for others. His teachings stretch our minds and blow apart our assumptions. This is why so much of his doctrine can be hard to understand or accept. Some people, like those who left Jesus, struggle with the mystery of the Eucharist. Society is increasingly rejecting his teaching on marriage, which finds an echo and is developed in St. Paul's Letter to the Ephesians (second reading), and refusing the demands which flow from it to live a life of chastity. The call to embrace a simple lifestyle, to serve the poor, to work for justice and peace, and so on call us out of a self-centered and materialistic existence and thus encounter resistance in our hearts. It's very tempting to turn the channel when the teaching is hard. But who else has the words of everlasting life? No one. The call is to stay tuned into Christ and his Word, and to follow him with integrity.

Monday, August 20, 2012

No Substitute for Local Knowledge

On Saturday evening I was in Provost, Alberta, to celebrate the 100th anniversary of St. Mary's Parish. A great celebration. Fr. Mahesh and the parishioners are to be congratulated. From there I had to drive across the province to Kananaskis for a joint meeting of the Executive Committees of the US and Canadian Bishops' Conferences. My GPS gave me a choice of routes, and indicated that the travel time in each case would be about six and a half hours. However, when I checked with some of the local folks, they gave me directions that the GPS hadn't: first, go here, then take this turn, then follow this road until it becomes another, etc. By taking their advice I saw for the first time some breathtaking Alberta scenery and reduced the travel time to five hours. No substitute for local knowledge.

We live in the midst of a society, which in many ways is searching for direction, often without even knowing what the destination is. In such a context, the call of the Church is to be the community of "local knowledge", which knows both the destination and the best way to get there. The "destination" for which every human heart longs, even unconsciously, is eternal life. The best way - in fact, the only way - to "arrive" at it is Jesus Christ. Jesus is "local knowledge" incarnate. Fully divine, he is the Son who lives in the bosom of the Father and comes from the Father to make known the truth of God; fully human, he has experienced humanity's condition. He has, then, "local knowledge" of the love and the plan of God, of the proper human response to the divine saving purpose, and of the union of the divine and human "yes" to each other that leads to eternal life.

As the community of those who live in and from communion with Christ, the Church participates in his "local knowledge". This communion is bestowed upon us in the Eucharist, the sacrament in which he gives us his Body and Blood as true food and drink. "Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them." (John 51:56) For more than 2000 years, the Church has lived from this communion, and by its grace has reflected upon the teaching of Christ in the light of experience. This has given rise to a tremendously rich body of "local knowledge", which the Church shares with the world in liturgy, proclamation, catechesis, art, spiritual direction, works of charity and justice, and in the witness of her saints.

Many voices are offering directions to a variety of "destinations", but the only reliable "local knowledge" that directs us to the Father is Jesus Christ. The community of "local knowledge" that leads us to him is his Body, the Church. There is no substitute for it.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Identification, Please?

I have just returned to Edmonton after vacation. While traveling I was asked often for a piece of photo identification. Whether in airports, border crossings or in hotels, the concern was the same: the verification of my identity.

What about our Catholic identity? If we Catholics were asked to demonstrate that we are who we say we are, what would we show? How is our Catholic identity to be verified? This question is on my mind because the Catholic Women's League is currently gathering for their annual national convention  in Edmonton, where the host council is celebrating its 100th anniversary with the theme "Catholic and Living It." This is extremely important. Both Blessed Pope John Paul II and our current Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, have been ceaselessly calling the Church to a new evangelization. I am convinced that we can offer no greater service to this mission than to be who we say we are, to be authentically Catholic. It is not enough to be Catholic in name only. We need to live and love its meaning. 

Catholicism begins with the encounter with Christ that occurs at our Baptism, in virtue of which we are washed clean of sin, are given new birth as sons and daughters of our heavenly Father, are initiated into the communion of the Church and receive both a dignity and a destiny. This means that Catholicism is far more than a set of beliefs and doctrines, as beautiful and necessary as those are. It is, at heart, a relationship with our Triune God and with one another; it is, in other words, a way of life.

Like any relationship, ours with Christ must be given attention and nurtured. Therefore, living an authentically Catholic life demands frequent and prayerful contemplation of the person of Jesus, allowing the wondrous truth that he is both God and man, and each fully, to permeate us and lead us to faithful discipleship. It demands a regular pattern of prayer, meditation upon the Word of God, and participation in the sacraments, especially the Eucharist.

From our communion with the Lord in the Eucharist arises the need for a Catholic to be a person of communion. This requires communion with all that Christ willed for his Church. In our daily relationships it means loving and respecting our brothers and sisters. Division in the Church makes it difficult to verify the identity we claim to have. It is verified when, as St. Paul says, "we live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God." (Ephesians 5:2)

If we love as Christ loved us, then we will give of ourselves in service. To be authentically Catholic means caring for others, particularly the poor, neglected and vulnerable. A commitment to charity and to justice can never be absent from a Catholic life authentically lived.

When our identity as Catholics can be readily verified, we are witnesses of Christ before the world and serve the new evangelization.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Time away

Friends in Christ,
I am on holidays until mid-August, so will resume blog posts when I return.
 +RS

Monday, July 23, 2012

Take a Rest from Worry


I've just completed a four-day pastoral visit to Holy Cross parish in Grande Cache, Alberta. I visited a family faith formation camp for children of the Aseniwuche Winewak Nation, whose President also gave me a tour of the Nation's offices and introduced me to their remarkable projects to enhance the economy of the region and serve its people. I spent time with inmates at the local Grande Cache Correctional Institution. Members of the parish pastoral council met with me over lunch one day to speak about the joys and challenges of the parish. Thirteen parishioners received the sacrament of Confirmation at the Saturday evening Mass, and the visit concluded with the celebration of Sunday Eucharist. Some obviously very holy parishioners even arranged to take me out for a round of golf!

Remarkably consistent in all of these encounters was the readiness of the people to give a frank assessment of the positive and negative aspects of their situation, as well as the recognition of the call to an ever deeper faith in the love and providence of God. I experienced this most movingly in my visit with the prisoners. I met with about thirty of them, and quite spontaneously they shared with me their own stories of coming to grips with the harm they had done and of their need for the Lord Jesus. They were learning that the more they turned their lives over to him the more they changed for the better.

These experiences provided a very helpful lens through which to read the Scripture readings for Sunday. They speak of Jesus as shepherd who is moved with love and concern for his people. No one is outside of the Lord's concern. No detail of our lives is beneath his vision. To accept Jesus as shepherd is to allow ourselves to be led by him, to open our hearts and our lives in their entirety to his gaze so that we might find direction from his Word. Many times the parishioners spoke of difficulties beyond their capacity even to address, let alone remedy. Yet nothing is beyond the power of the Lord, who has come to shepherd us in love and safety.

This same shepherd, Jesus, invites us in the Gospel to take some time to rest (cf. Mark 6:31). There are many ways to do this, such as taking time for prayer and for relaxation. I suggest we also take a rest from worry. There is perhaps nothing more draining than anxiety, and much of the worry we carry has to do with things beyond our control. In faith, give it to the Lord, hand it over to the Shepherd. Trust in his love, in his care, and in his power to change our lot for the good. As we were told by St. Paul, Jesus is our peace (cf. Ephesians 2:14). Placing our full faith in him and following his lead transforms anxiety to peace. There is no better rest than that.

Monday, July 16, 2012

A New Bishop for the Church

Lots of excitement around Edmonton these days. On Saturday it was announced that His Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI, has appointed Reverend Father Gregory Bittman Auxiliary Bishop of Edmonton. "Father Greg," as he has been known around these parts, has served the Archdiocese in a variety of capacities, currently as Chancellor and Judicial Vicar. He is widely admired for his personal integrity, devotion to duty, and zeal for the mission of the Church. The Archdiocese is richly blessed by this appointment, as is the Church in Canada.

There is a lesson in this for all of us. It was best summarized by another Bishop friend of mine who, reflecting upon his own nomination, said, "God surprises. We adjust." Long ago, through the prophet Jeremiah, God said "I know the plans I have for you." (Jeremiah 29:11). The act of faith means not only recognizing that God is in the driver's seat but also actually letting him drive. Where God leads may not exactly be what we had in mind for our lives. When the direction becomes clear, the temptation may very well be to grab the steering wheel, but the response of Christian faith is to adjust our plans to God's and conform our will to his. This need to die to self and live for God ought not surprise us. It is the very pattern imprinted on our lives at Baptism.

In a "me first" culture that absolutizes autonomy, a "God first" way of life is difficult to understand and follow. Yet only in this way is genuine happiness achieved. After all, the plans that God has for each of us are for "a future of hope" (Jeremiah 29:11).

Bishop-elect Greg, congratulations, and thanks for saying yes to the Lord. It is a reminder to all of us to put God's will first. Ad multos annos!!!

Monday, July 9, 2012

Thank you Sisters!!!


The Archdiocese of Edmonton is living a sad time of transition these days. The Sister Adorers of the Precious Blood, here since 1925, have carefully discerned that their presence can no longer be sustained. We have grown to love the Sisters deeply, so their departure fills us only with deep sadness. Yet we cannot fail to thank God for the gift that they have been for us throughout these many years.

The Precious Blood Sisters are a contemplative community dedicated to a life of prayer, and their prayers have sustained the lives of many and offered hope and comfort. How many people over the years have come to them with their difficulties, their anxieties, their impossible situations, to ask the Sisters to pray for them! And the Sisters have done so faithfully.

These prayers have always been united with their adoration of the Precious Blood of the Saviour. Christ's Blood is the sign of his infinite love, manifest as it was poured out upon the Cross in sacrifice for his people. As such it is the sign of victory over all that is evil, even death itself, a victory won through suffering. The life of the Sisters is one of personal self-offering in union with the paschal mystery of Christ for the sake of others, and we have been the beneficiaries.

Yet we would be remiss if our thanks for the Sisters did not extend beyond the help we have received from their prayers. They are also bequeathing to us a legacy of faithful witness that both inspires and challenges us.

We can well imagine how difficult these recent years have been for our Sisters. A gradual process of very careful discernment led them to the realization - a very painful one - that their presence here could no longer continue and that, therefore, they would need to unite themselves to other sister monasteries. They responded with trusting self-abandonment into the hands of God, who they knew would never abandon them. A new and hopeful direction for their lives is the result.

Herein lies their greatest gift to us: a living example of what it means to have faith. Faith is more than a set of beliefs. Fundamentally and primordially it is a relationship with the living God, a relationship of love and of trust. Many times in our own lives we have experiences analogous to that of the Sisters. We find ourselves at our wits' end in the face of a seemingly impossible difficulty, or what we had envisioned as our future suddenly evaporates before our eyes. If at moments like these we fully abandon ourselves to God, He will take over. He will intervene and give direction to our lives, and with that direction a renewed hope.

Sisters, thank you for your prayers and your witness. We love you and we promise to pray for you as you have prayed for us, asking God to fill you with the blessing of consolation and hope as you step into a new future with Him.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Manifesting God's Concern for His People


There is a spirit of great joy in the Archdiocese of Edmonton these days. We have received the gift of a new priest for the service of God's people. On Monday, July 2, Deacon Miguel Irizar was ordained a priest in the presbyteral order for service in this Archdiocese. The joy and thanksgiving that surrounds this and any ordination is spontaneous among God's people. Love and respect for priests seems to be written into our Catholic DNA.

The ministerial priesthood is a wondrous mystery. Those who exercise it are called by God to do the impossible, to do by God's grace what could never be accomplished unaided, namely, to act in persona Christi by a particular sharing in Christ's threefold office of priest, prophet and king. For this reason it is conferred in sacrament by a special bestowal of the Holy Spirit. By ordination the priest is swept up into something infinitely greater than himself. He is given a particular and permanent participation in the unfolding, here and now, of God's plan of salvation accomplished in Christ. His life, therefore, must be one of continual surrender to God's salvific purpose, of putting into practice in his life what John the Baptist once said of his own: "I must decrease and Christ must increase."

The mystery of the priesthood and the wide breadth of its responsibilities was recently summarized beautifully by the Holy Father. In his homily at the Mass to conclude the Year of the Priest, Pope Benedict XVI said that the priest is called "to manifest God's concern for his people." This is true of all ages, of course, but it strikes me as particularly pertinent in our own day. I am increasingly convinced that the host of problems currently besetting Western society stems ultimately from a failure to know and to take seriously God's self-revelation in Christ. Through the gift of his Son and Holy Spirit, the Father has made known to the world not only that God exists, but that God is love, a tri-personal communion of love, and that, precisely as love, he draws near, to love, touch and heal his people and draw them to a share in his own life. When one accepts this truth and, in faith, surrenders to it, life changes and we are possessed of a love and a peace that is beyond understanding, regardless of the circumstances of our lives.

Today, offer a prayer of thanks to God for the priests you know, and even for the ones you don't. Pray for the gift of ever deeper sanctification in their lives, so that, in spite of inevitable human weakness, they will be effective reminders to all of the love and nearness of God.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Taking Seriously the Serious


As I write this I'm on a flight to Toronto. The crew has just completed the demonstration of safety procedures, to which no one (including, I confess, yours truly) has paid any attention. Amazing, when you think of it. We've been shown what to do "in the unlikely event of an emergency." Rather serious, that. Yet, we did not take it seriously by paying attention.

Yesterday the Church celebrated, as a solemnity, the birth of Saint John the Baptist. By according to this event the highest degree of importance (a solemnity), the Church is saying that the life and witness of this last of the prophets is to be taken very seriously indeed. His message and example are not for the Christian to ignore.

The life of Saint John the Baptist was, from beginning to end, entirely oriented to Jesus Christ. He leapt for joy in his mother Elizabeth's womb when she heard the voice of Mary, who carried within her the Saviour. John prepared the Lord's way by calling to repentance. He pointed him out when Jesus appeared for Baptism. His greatest act of witness was martyrdom at the hand of Herod. So, too, the life of every Christian - wholly oriented to Christ. In a culture that celebrates self-aggrandizement, John's affirmation that "He must increase and I must decrease" does not easily find an echo. Yet that is precisely our call, imprinted upon us at Baptism.

Still more challenging is John's witness to the truth. He called a spade a spade, not hesitating to point out the sins and infidelities of his day, prevalent even among the religious leaders. His particular criticism of King Herod and his wife ultimately got him killed. Truth summons to change, and that is usually unwelcome. Yet, since Jesus Christ is the Truth, those who follow him must not do other than live in accordance with truth and be ready to speak it. And there is no shortage of contexts in which we need to do so. The truth about the dignity of human life from conception to natural death; the truth about marriage and family life; the truth about social justice, with its demands to both care for and advocate on behalf of the vulnerable, all must be spoken to expose and challenge the lies and illusions that plague our culture. Will such statement of truth be resisted? Of course. But that is no reason not to speak it.

Let's heed the Church's call, implicit in the celebration of the birth of this great saint. Let's take seriously the serious by pointing to Christ in all we say and do, and by both living and speaking the truth in love.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Love and Hope

I write from Ireland, where I have been participating in the International Eucharistic Congress. Approximately 1200 pilgrims, accompanied by 17 Bishops, form the Canadian delegation. It has been a beautiful celebration of love and hope as we gathered in a unique way around our Lord, present in the Eucharist.

It is precisely this message of love and hope that needs to be carried home. This became painfully evident on Friday, when a judge of the B.C. courts ruled unconstitutional the prohibition of assisted suicide. In a tragic irony, this was the very same day when the Church celebrated the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. This heart of the Lord is celebrated as the wondrous sign of God's love and compassion for his people, especially the suffering. On that day, we at the Congress celebrated the sacrament of the sick. How beautiful and moving it was to see the weak and needy turn to the Lord to find healing, strength and hope in the midst of their pain. When we allow the heart of the Lord to shape our own, it is obvious we are called to respond to the suffering of the elderly, the sick and the handicapped by surrounding them with love, comfort and hope, and not by encouraging them to end their lives or doing so for them!!!

Here follows the statement of the Canadian Conference of Bishops in response to the court ruling:

"The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) has learned with dismay of a ruling on assisted suicide by a judge of the BC Supreme Court. The Catholic position on this question is clear. Human life is a gift from God. Therefore, as is taught in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 2280, "We are stewards, not owners, of the life God has entrusted to us. It is not ours to dispose of."

Being stewards of life also requires each of us and all society to respond to the physical, emotional and moral sufferings of people of all ages, particularly those seriously ill or handicapped. In this regard, as the Bishops of Canada stated in 2005, we stand before a fundamental option, the response to which reveals the true nature of our society's heart. Do we show concern for the sick, the elderly, the handicapped and vulnerable by encouraging them to commit suicide or deliberating killing them by euthanasia? Or, instead, by fashioning a culture of life and love in which each person, at every moment and in all circumstances of their natural lifespan, is treasured as a gift?
The CCCB President will issue a more detailed reflection at a later date, once there has been opportunity to review the lengthy 395-page ruling. The ruling by the B.C. Supreme Court gives Parliament a year in which to consider the question. This will also give the CCCB opportunity to make submissions in due course."

Monday, June 11, 2012

Eucharist and Family

I write this blog post on the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ, traditionally known as the feast of Corpus Christi. This year it falls in the immediate wake of the World Meeting of Families, which occurred recently in Milan. The proximity of these two events invites us to consider the relation between the mystery of the Eucharist and the gift of the family.

What we know about our faith is what we have received from others. This means that we ourselves have a responsibility to hand on to others what we have learned, so that people of every age may come to know the joy that springs from the gift of faith. When it comes to the Eucharist, it is a matter of receiving and handing on what is central to our lives as Catholics.

In the home children receive the faith from their parents, who are handing what they had received from their own parents. When I think of my own upbringing I realize more and more what I owe to my parents. I have studied a lot of theology, and have pondered and prayed about the Eucharist for many years, but the very core of my belief in the Eucharist and my love for this sacrament was forged not in the classroom, but by the teaching and witness of my parents. They went to Mass and, therefore, so did I, with my brother and sisters. This was not a negotiable matter. Mass, we learned, is the special place where we encounter the Lord Jesus in a way that can occur nowhere else. The Mass is the real presence. Bread and wine are truly changed into the Body and Blood of Christ. My parents taught me the duty of reverence before the Blessed Sacrament, suggesting often by their glares when I misbehaved in Church that I just might not live to tell the tale! From them I learned that the Most Holy Eucharist is Jesus Himself. All that came later through study was simply a development of this core received in the family. The transmission of the faith hinges in an undeniable way upon the handing on that takes place in the home. Central to that transmission must be the teaching in the home of the beauty and mystery of the Eucharist.

Accepting the truth of the real presence of the Lord in the Eucharist will inevitably bring about a change in family life and in society itself. The Eucharistic presence of the Lord is more than a “presence with”, as wondrous and comforting as that might be. It is a “presence to”. It interacts with and engages the other and invites to communion. Jesus alone can transform our world. He can change our families and our society, if we but accept the truth of his real presence in the Eucharist and learn by our encounter with him to be really present in love to one another.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Mystery and Hope

You may have heard the story of the Bishop, who decided to visit one of his Catholic schools and ask the students questions about the catechism. That day one young boy was having difficulty speaking clearly because his mouth was slightly swollen from a hockey accident the night before. When the Bishop asked him to explain the Trinity, he said, "Wahn Gawd, Three Perthonth." The Bishop said, "Pardon?", and the student repeated, "Wahn Gawd, Three Perthonth." Bishop: "I'm sorry but I cannot understand what you are saying." Student: "You're not thuppoth'd to; it'th a mythtery!"

Well, yes, the Trinity is a mystery. Its full comprehension is, indeed, beyond our limited human understanding. Yet, it remains important to ponder it, because this mystery of God's being unveils truths about us that give meaning and hope.

By sending His Son and Holy Spirit, the Father has revealed to the world that God is, yes, one God, who is nevertheless a Trinity of Persons, an "eternal exchange of love", as the Catechism puts it (n. 221). Furthermore, in the very act of revealing His nature, God has made known His plan for us. The gift of the Holy Spirit unites us to Jesus, the only Son of God, so that, through this union, we are adopted as God's children and thus become co-heirs with Christ of eternal glory! (cf. Romans 8:14-17) Moved solely by love, God has created us with an eternal destiny, and has redeemed us in Christ to bring it to fulfillment. Herein lies the basis of our inalienable human dignity: we are fashioned by God to be His children for all eternity, to share forever in His "eternal exchange of love."

In the mystery of the Trinity, we thus find the meaning of our own lives. We also find the reason for hope. God is not indifferent to our situation. On the contrary, God draws near, He gives Himself to us, and guides our every step and moment toward Himself, if we but accept Him in faith and love. There is no reason for fear.

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, world without end. Amen!

Monday, May 14, 2012

Freedom of Conscience and Religion

I would like to bring your attention to a statement issued today by the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) on the protection of freedom of conscience and religion.

Today, communities of faith throughout the world are experiencing a worrisome erosion of freedom of conscience and freedom of religion. There are even numerous distressing attacks on both these intimately related freedoms. Sometimes this happens by overt violence. Sometimes it involves more subtle means that limit the respect owed to the conscience of each person, or inhibit the right of all religions, or of their individual believers, to live their faith publicly and to follow the dictates of a well-formed conscience.

The Bishops of Canada are very concerned about encroachments on freedom of conscience and on the free practice of religion, both internationally and in our own country. Not only are Christians now the most persecuted group in the world, but even here in Canada we see a tendency to limit freedom of religion to a narrow concept of freedom of private worship, while at the same time limiting public expressions of religion. This narrowing is a violation of, and a threat to, the inherent rights possessed by everyone. Freedom of conscience is the right of each human person to “act in conscience and in freedom so as personally to make moral decisions” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 1782). Freedom of religion flows from freedom of conscience, and gives it communal and social expression. These two interrelated rights are not something given by the state, but an inherent part of our common human nature.

This is why the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops is releasing its Pastoral Letter on Freedom of Conscience and Religion. The letter explains that these freedoms are essential to the common good of countries such as Canada where diversity is the norm.

The pastoral letter, addressed to everyone of good will, calls on Catholics, all believers, and even those of no faith, 1) to affirm the right of religion to be active in the public square, 2) to maintain healthy Church-State relations, 3) to form consciences according to objective truth, and 4) to protect the right to conscientious objection. The letter also encourages all faith communities to contribute to the formulation of public policy and the common good, and concludes by exhorting believers not to compromise their convictions, but to stand up for their faith, even if they must suffer for it.

You may find the statement on the CCCB website here.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Tending the Vine

I do not have a green thumb. I was once entrusted with a cactus, and even it died. You get the idea. Gardening is terra incognita for me, so I will not normally make use of horticultural imagery to underscore homily messages. However, the duty to speak of the Gospel passage for the Fifth Sunday of Easter (cf. John 15:1-8) allows me no choice, because it is precisely such analogy that Jesus uses to convey his teaching.

"I am the vine, you are the branches." In this way our Lord speaks of the vital union between himself and the disciple brought about by his Paschal Mystery. As life flows into the branch in virtue of its union with the vine and enables it to bear fruit, so, too, do life and fruitfulness flow in and through us from our communion with Jesus. And just as a branch will wither and die if cut off from the vine, so, too, are we dependent upon our Lord for life and for the good works we wish to accomplish in his name. "Apart from me you can do nothing."

When you have a moment, read Romans 6: 3-11. This is St. Paul's primary teaching on Baptism, where he speaks at verse five of growing together with Christ, an image derived from the practice of grafting a branch onto a stem. His point is the same as that of Jesus: we must be "grafted" onto the Lord if we are to receive the life he came to give. Such "grafting" occurs at our Baptism. Of course, this begs the question: what attention am I paying to this relationship? Even I know that a plant needs tending if it is to live.

Striking in this regard are the references made by Jesus to pruning. He is the vine, yes, but his Heavenly Father is the vinedresser. In love and mercy our Father tends the vine, and prunes away from its branches that which is not healthy so that it will bear the fruit he intends. This pruning takes place by means of the Word which Jesus speaks. In other words, our fruitfulness as disciples will derive first and foremost from allowing ourselves to be "pruned" by attentiveness to the Word of God and its call to conversion. To live as branches grafted on to the vine that is Jesus necessitates prayerful attentiveness to Sacred Scripture, so that we might hear and heed its call to personal repentance. This listening leads necessarily to the sacraments, where the grace of mercy enables the conversion to which the Word calls us.

Pruning. "Ouch!" Yes, letting go of that which is not healthy for our souls can hurt at first, and the pain felt will be in proportion to the degree of our attachment. But what is at stake is the fullness of life that comes from our union with Christ. Let's not hesitate to allow the Vinedresser to do his work.

Monday, April 30, 2012

To Whom (or What) are You Listening?

If you read this blog, the chances are good that you are connected to a wide variety of social network communication modes: emails, texts, tweets, Facebook notifications, and a whole host of others that I haven't heard of. Our communications world these days is an incessant plethora of voices, news alerts, ideas and, more often than not, insubstantial chatter. To whom, though, do we really listen? We hear a lot, but listening is something entirely different. Listening means pausing to pay attention, to weigh what is said, and then to make a decision as to what determinative influence it will exercise upon us. So understood, listening is difficult. Carving out time for it is a challenge to begin with. Pushing away the myriad distractions in order to concentrate is another hurdle.

Yet listening is essential to the Christian life. At the Baptism of Jesus, and again at his Transfiguration, the voice of the Father spoke from the descending cloud with the instruction: "Listen to him!" And yesterday, in the Gospel, we heard Jesus, having identified himself as the Good Shepherd, say that his sheep are those who "listen to my voice." Hence the question: to whom are we listening? Only the voice of Jesus points out the way that leads to life. That is because he is the Way. When we hear the many messages that bombard us, we need carefully to discern the good from the bad by asking if their influence leads us closer to fidelity to the Shepherd or further away.

I worry about our young people. They are more subject than any other group to the endless chatter of social networking, Internet, music videos and so on. When I once asked a high school class what most influences them and their peers, they began to speak of pop stars, TV celebrities, and so on - people I did not know. So I asked if such influence would lead them away from, or toward, Jesus. Without hesitation they replied: "Away!" My subsequent question was: "Then why are you paying any attention to them?" We need to help them listen to the one voice that is absolutely trustworthy: that of the Lord.

We can readily understand why the fourth Sunday of Easter, with its Good Shepherd Gospel, is the annual occasion for the Church's World Day of Prayer for Vocations. Jesus, the Good Shepherd, calls; we listen and follow. On Vocations Sunday we focus in a particular way upon the beauty of priesthood and religious life. The one "vocations strategy" proposed by Jesus was to pray to the Lord of the harvest to send labourers into his harvest. So please join with me in regular prayer that the many who are called by the Lord to priesthood and religious life will be enabled truly to hear his voice calling to them in the midst of much noise; that, hearing, they will truly listen; and listening, they will trust and follow.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Who Will Lead Us?


Today Albertans are going to the polls to elect a government. Citizens will have the opportunity to make a choice as to who will govern them. The provincial parties have laid out their platforms: what they will do for families, health care, education, the environment, and so on. We assess their positions in relation to ours and then make a choice, which will determine how the province will be led in the coming years.

In the Easter season the issue of governance is taken to an entirely different level. We stand before the mystery of Jesus Christ crucified and risen, and recognize instinctively that this is a leader far beyond and above all others. Jesus is one not chosen by the people but sent by the heavenly Father; he has come not to resolve transient problems but to be the answer to timeless questions; his mandate is not for a limited number of years but for all time. Jesus is not a political leader of a single province or nation but the saviour of the entire world. He does not adapt his platform to please people and attract votes, but serves in fidelity to the mission he has received from God his Father. In the liturgies of these holy days of Easter the Church proclaims Jesus Christ as crucified and risen Lord, and we are invited to accept him as the One Ruler of our hearts.

The Scripture readings for yesterday's Sunday Mass teach that we can place our complete confidence in this ruler. So often in an election campaign we hear parties accuse one another of failing to keep promises. In contrast, the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ demonstrates God’s perfect fidelity to the many promises he made through history to save his people. In the first reading, St. Peter teaches the crowd that, in the suffering of Jesus, God the Father has fulfilled what he had promised and foretold through the prophets. Peter’s teaching is rooted in that of the risen Lord himself, who in the Gospel confirms that all that was written of him in the Law and the Prophets had to be fulfilled. The life, death and resurrection of Jesus is the supreme manifestation of the fidelity of God to his promises. The long-awaited saviour, promised by God, has come in the person of Jesus Christ. God is worthy of our full trust.

As Albertans choose a political leader, let us reaffirm our submission to Christ as Lord of our hearts. Placing our confidence entirely in him, and following his commandments, is the foundation of a real and lasting hope.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Touch the Wounds

This was the invitation of our Risen Lord to Thomas, who refused to believe that Jesus was alive unless he could see and touch him. When the doubting apostle responded to the invitation of Christ and put his hands in the wounds left by the nails and lance, he was brought to the essence of faith, naming Jesus Lord and God.

Touch the wounds. The mystical body of the risen Lord is the Church, and there are plenty of wounds in her members: those of sin and error, loneliness and grief, or suffering and anxiety. If we reach out to touch one another in our woundedness, and do so in love as a response to this invitation of Jesus, we touch the Lord himself. Through this the Lord leads us to deeper faith, as we are brought to a new awareness of both humanity's shared vulnerability and the abiding presence of the risen Lord, who heals our wounds by his own.

We might want to start doing this, and right away. In our society there is a disturbing and expanding tendency to touch one another's wounds, not for healing but for harm. The limitations and mistakes of persons are discussed openly in order to shame and condemn, a practice most visible in politics and the media, but present also in everyday water cooler conversations. When Jesus invites us to touch the wounds, we respond first by considering our own. An honest admission of our own weakness gives rise to that humility which is the necessary foundation of human solidarity. When we are aware of our own faults, the prior tendency to condemn becomes a desire to show mercy. Let's never forget the command of the Lord: "Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful." (Luke 6:36)

The Second Sunday of Easter, which we celebrated yesterday, is also Divine Mercy Sunday. Established by Blessed Pope John Paul II, this day, and the devotion associated with it, has arisen in response to the Lord's call for mercy, as received and communicated by Saint Faustina. We can understand this plea as a particular echo of the Lord's invitation to Thomas: touch the wounds. Touch one another in your woundedness, do so with love, not with condemnation but with mercy, and you will know that Jesus, who is divine mercy incarnate, is risen, alive, and ever present in our midst.

Monday, April 9, 2012

The Encounter that Changes Everything

Be glad, let earth be glad, as glory floods her,
ablaze with light from her eternal King,
let all corners of the earth be glad,
knowing an end to gloom and darkness.
These words from the Exsultet capture beautifully the message of the Church as she announces the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. Joy and light replace sorrow and darkness. This is what happens when we encounter the Risen Lord! Mary Magdalene serves as an example.

The Gospel of Easter Sunday recounts her journey to the tomb following the death and burial of Jesus. What the narrative describes of her could well be posited of all humanity. Her experience is ours.

Mary is searching for her Lord. So are all of us. The human heart seeks happiness, truth, and peace. Since only God can satisfy this thirst, this longing is ultimately a quest for God.

Mary is weeping. So, too, is humanity. Hers are tears of grief, which will come to each of us at the death of loved ones. Yet we also mourn the pain and suffering of friends, the tragedy of poverty and homelessness, or the anguish of refugees and victims of war and trafficking.

Mary is perplexed. “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” Confusion and lack of understanding darken the human mind of today. Ceaselessly bombarded by multiple, rapid-fire and superficial communication, we are losing focus, and with it the ability to think deeply. Breathtaking changes in biotechnology, the capricious volatility of the markets, the fragile and dangerous state of world politics – these impact our lives in significant ways, yet are very hard to understand. Beneath all this is a widespread loss of a moral compass. Each one seems abandoned to determining for oneself what is right and wrong, which leads to societal confusion and tension. We wonder: What is happening? How did we ever get to this point?

Finally, Mary does not recognize Jesus. She fails at first to grasp the truth of his presence, even as she addresses him. The same can be said of our world today. In society there is a widespread eclipsing of God from public life. Even in our personal lives we can act as if God is not present, or does not exist, even as we profess belief in him. Have we in fact stopped believing that the Lord is truly present with us?

Everything changes when Jesus calls Mary by name. The search ends; tears of sorrow become tears of joy; confusion gives way to clarity. This is what happens when we encounter the Lord and recognize the signs of his presence. We know that we are known; we know that we are loved; we know that we are safe. From this encounter with the Lord arises a deep peace that the world cannot give. “Peace be with you,” were the words Jesus spoke to his apostles. He speaks them also to us.

Exsultet! The Lord is risen! He is with us! Be at peace.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Love on Full Display

This is what the beautiful liturgies of this week will manifest - the love of God for the world fully revealed. On Passion Sunday we are reminded that this divine love, incarnate in Jesus Christ, remains unshakably steadfast even in the face of complete betrayal. When we commemorate the Last Supper on Holy Thursday, we shall be reminded by the the Gospel of Saint John that Jesus loves us "to the end". By this "end" is meant his death on the Cross, which Good Friday's celebration will exalt as the wood on which was hung our salvation, the place where Jesus offered his life in love to the Father for the sake of the world. Holy Saturday ponders the descent of Jesus into hell, as we say in the Creed. Hell is the ultimate consequence of a radical rejection of God's love. Yet even there the love of God pursues us. Divine love simply does not, will not, give up on us. Finally, Easter Sunday will celebrate with great joy the triumph of God's love over sin and death. By his resurrection, Jesus transcends the boundaries of space and time and thus is forever with us, dwelling within us by the outpouring of his love, the Holy Spirit.

Love on full display. How do we respond? Our verbal response will be given on Easter Sunday when we profess anew our baptismal faith in our Triune God and our surrender to his love. As we prepare for this great moment we need to ask if the words of our lips correspond to the sentiments of our hearts. This question arises from yesterday's Passion Sunday liturgy. That Mass is highly dramatic. It begins with the narrative of the triumphant entry into Jerusalem of Jesus, surrounded by joyful crowds. Moments later we hear, in the Passion account, that those same crowds soon stopped their cheering and turned against the Lord, calling for his crucifixion. Even his disciples abandoned him. The reason for the turnaround was, of course, the Cross. It became clear not only that Jesus would accomplish his messianic mission by embracing the Cross, but also that any who choose to follow him would need to do the same, just as Jesus had instructed: "If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me." (Matthew 16:24) The crowds would have none of this. They wanted Christ without the Cross and turned against him.

Have we truly embraced the Cross? Its dynamic of death to self and life for God was impressed upon us at our baptism. We make the sign of the Cross every time we pray or dip our fingers in holy water. When we renew our baptismal faith at Easter will it be only words and gestures, or will that profession correspond to a true desire to accept the Cross as the guiding principle of our lives? Let's ponder these questions deeply this Holy Week as we we witness once again Christ's love for us on full display.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Surrounded and Carried by the Church


Since my mother died suddenly March 17th, this is exactly what I and my family have experienced - surrounded and carried by the Church. At a time of deep sorrow the love of Christ and the consolation of his Holy Spirit enveloped us, reaching us through the food brought to the house, the visits at the funeral home and, above all, the prayers of the vigil and the liturgy of the funeral mass. It is wondrously true that the Church is the mystical Body of Christ. We encounter his love and mercy in and through His Church. Words really cannot express how much this truth has helped and consoled us.

Neither can they fully articulate the gratitude we feel for the many messages of comfort and remembrance, the telephone calls, and the visits. Allow me to take this opportunity to thank those of you who sent condolences to me and my family. They did, indeed, lift us up.

Now we unite with the Church in her eager anticipation of Holy Week, with its stunningly beautiful liturgical commemorations of the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus, the events by which He overcame death and gave life to the world. May the Lord's victorious love surround and carry all of us.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Zeal for the Gospel

When Blessed Pope John Paul II spoke of a new evangelization, he specified the "new" in terms of zeal, method and expression. Well, this past week I encountered plenty of the first: zeal. On Thursday I joined with Archbishop Terrence Prendergast of Ottawa to have an afternoon-long discussion with members of the Canadian Catholic Youth Ministry Network (CCYMN). Then, on Saturday, I gave a talk to a formation conference for adult leaders of youth ministry, organized and hosted by CCYMN. In each case the ardour for making known the Gospel to our young people was palpable. It was very encouraging to meet, and hear from, people who are dedicating their lives to making Christ known. Clearly, what they do is, for them, not "just a job". It is a vocation, a mission, rooted in their own personal encounter with the Lord. Pope Benedict has spoken of this encounter as an "event" - something happens, we are changed when we encounter Jesus - and this "event" of meeting unconditional divine love has certainly impelled these youth evangelizers forward, with joy and enthusiasm, to those who are especially precious to God. "Let the children come to me ..."

That zeal also arises from a deeply held conviction that the message they carry to the young is one that must be announced and which, if accepted, leads to real life. There is an urgency to this annunciation, because our beloved young are immersed in a media world that offers anything but real meaning and hope.

That is precisely what our young people not only need but want. There is a desire for depth in the teaching they receive, a longing for real foundations on which to build their lives. I have recently begun to meet with a group of students from one of our Catholic high schools in Edmonton. They are serious about their faith, and are able to articulate very intelligent questions. Pat answers, or arguments lacking solidity, simply will not do. Where can they turn to find the meaning they seek? Certainly not to most of what comes to them through television, music, the Web and so on. Young people have very accurate antennae, and I sense they are growing increasingly tired of, and disappointed by, the shallow and vapid signals they are picking up from popular media sources.

Catholic youth leaders today share this sense, and thus earnestly desire to share the Gospel with our young people. They know, as does anyone who meets the love of God in Christ, that a relationship of love and friendship with Jesus Christ gives birth to a hope and joy that is real, that endures, and that can be found in no one else. We are blessed to have the CCYMN in Canada. Please join me in prayer for God's blessings on their outreach to our youth.

P.S. Since I was speaking in the hometown of the Ottawa Senators, this is the image they used when introducing me at the youth ministry formation weekend: