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

Monday, January 30, 2012

Faith - a Gift to Treasure and Develop

A couple of important events to note this coming week.

First, the personnel of Edmonton Catholic Schools will gather on Tuesday for their annual faith development day. About 3000 people - trustees, administration, teachers, support staff - will assemble to celebrate the Eucharist and reflect together upon the gift of faith. Not a bad idea, that. Faith in Jesus Christ is the heart of our Catholic school system. It is also the heart and fuel of every Christian life. What ECS is doing is a sign of what must occupy all Christians at all times: the development of the faith.

Reflecting upon the upcoming Year of Faith to which he is summoning the Church, Pope Benedict, in an address last Friday to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, stated that the renewal of faith must be the first priority of the Church in our day. This Year, he said, is "an opportune moment to point out to all the gift of faith in the Risen Christ, the clear teaching of the Second Vatican Council and the invaluable doctrinal synthesis offered by the Catechism of the Catholic Church."

Faith in the Risen Christ means: acceptance that Jesus is who he says he is, trusting in his fidelity to us and in the life-giving power of his Resurrection, believing that he is with us as he promised. In short, faith is believing in the love of God for us (cf. 1John 4:16). Such faith in the person of Christ leads naturally to full acceptance of his message. The Lord's teaching has been handed on in the Tradition of the Church. Hence the need to pay special attention to the great signposts of that Tradition. Pope Benedict is highlighting in particular the teaching of the Second Vatican Council and the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

Developing the faith means growing in our knowledge and love of Christ and surrendering ever more fully to his message. May there be, indeed, a profound renewal of faith throughout the Church.

The second event will take place on Thursday, the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord. This is also the World Day for Consecrated Life. Its purpose is to focus our attention and esteem on the great witness of consecrated life in the Church and world, as well as to offer men and women in religious life the opportunity to renew their commitment to the evangelical counsels. I have known many wonderful sisters and priests in religious orders and have been moved by their example. Think of the priests and sisters who have touched your lives and offer a prayer of thanks to God for their witness. May the Lord of the harvest bless the Church with an abundance of consecrated and holy women and men, whose witness will inspire many to faith in Christ.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Salt and Light Television - A Beacon of Hope

I arrived in Toronto from Tel Aviv Saturday evening, and now have a series of meetings both here and in Ottawa over the next couple of days before returning to Edmonton. This has given me the opportunity to drop by the Toronto studios of Salt and Light Television today. I saw their setup, met with the staff and celebrated Eucharist with them. Founded by Father Thomas Rosica in the wake of the 2002 World Youth Days in Toronto, this Catholic network is dedicated to being what the Lord has asked all of his followers to be: salt of the earth and light for the world.

Particularly striking is the youth of the entire team. (Except for Fr. Rosica, that is. Since he and I are the same age, we can only qualify for "young at heart".) At Salt and Light one encounters young adults who are truly committed to the new evangelization. When I met with them as a group, their questions revealed a real desire to make known to others the joy and excitement they have received from their relationship with the Lord and the service of His Church. And this is precisely what they are doing through their beautiful and very professional programming. If you are not yet familiar with them or their work, check them out at We owe a great debt of gratitude to Fr. Rosica and his team, together with their benefactors, for their ministry of evangelization and catechesis in the world of modern communications.

On another note, this is the annual Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. Christians throughout the world are gathering to pray for the unity so deeply desired by the Lord for his followers. The unity of the Church is inextricably linked to the new evangelization. As Jesus himself taught, it is precisely through the witness of unity among His followers that others will come to believe in Him. Division weakens our credibility before the world. Please be sure to offer prayers, not only this week but always, that the Holy Spirit will lead us to overcome our divisions and thus one day rejoice in the unity for which Christ gave His life.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Jesus - He who has broken down the dividing wall

I'm sitting at the shore of the Sea of Galilee, resting with some tea after a wonderful two days here in the area of Capernaum. Once the meetings of last week were concluded, I entered a week-long period of retreat in the Holy Land. Eighteen years since I've been here, and it is terrific to be back to this place where it all began.

The contrast between this week just beginning and the last is striking. The meetings of the Holy Land Coordination focused, as I mentioned in my last post, upon the situation of the Church here and sought to offer solidarity to our suffering brothers and sisters in the faith. (Click here for our final communique.) We heard stories of frustration, separation and tension as people struggle to find a solution that will bring lasting peace to this troubled part of the world. This current week, visiting the holy sites associated with the earthly life of our Lord, is a reminder that the solution has been given.

Today I went to the Mount of the Beatitudes, and read once again: blessed are the pure in heart, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the peacemakers, and so on. In this teaching we touch the essence of the Gospel of peace, the recipe for abiding reconciliation among all peoples. Ultimately, of course, the solution is not a teaching but a person - Jesus himself. In a land where an immense concrete wall has been erected to separate Palestinians from Israelis, indeed in a world where we all can place innumerable barriers - both literal and figurative - to separate ourselves from others, from our true selves and, yes, from God, we need to reflect again on the teaching of St. Paul. Jesus, he tells us, "is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us." (Ephesians 2:14)

Putting an end to hostility. Reconciling. There is the Christian project. Hostility separates; love reconciles. Today I celebrated Mass at the Church of the Annunciation in Nazareth, the very place where the Word became flesh, where Love became incarnate, in the womb of the Virgin Mary. To destroy the hostility that divides, to be for us the peace we seek, God became one of us in Jesus. He came to earth because we cannot save ourselves, because we cannot be our own remedy. We need the grace of God to be at peace, to live in "ordered and reconciled societies," as Pope Benedict put it in his recent address to the Holy See's diplomatic corps. Jesus is our peace, and our mandate as his followers is to receive that peace and extend it to our relationships with others.

I will be praying often during this week for a real and lasting peace in this land of our Lord, and would be grateful if you could do the same.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Digging Deep

Meeting a parishioner in Gaza (© Mazur/
I write this post from Jerusalem, where I am representing the CCCB at the annual meeting of what is called the Holy Land Coordination. For the last 12 years, at the request of the Holy See, Bishops representing the episcopal conferences of North America and Europe have been coming here with the aim of demonstrating solidarity and communion with the Christians of the Holy Land. It is an opportunity to meet the local Bishops and their people and to learn about the very complex reality of life in this part of the world.

Most of the sessions take place in Jerusalem, but I have also already visited a parish in the Gaza Strip and tomorrow we travel to Haifa. A statement from the participants will be issued at the end of the visit, so I can make that available for you next week.

Since I arrived two days prior to the start of meetings in order to get over the jet lag, I had an opportunity to visit some of the holy sites here in the city. What struck me from the outset is how far below the present surface are artifacts that date to the time of Jesus. Centuries of conflict, destruction, rubble and rebuilding mean that articles scholars say pertain to the time of our Lord are often meters below the surface. You have to dig, and dig deeply, to get to the reality of things around here.
Much like the journey of our soul, come to think of it. We tend to bury our true identity under multiple levels of pretence, illusion, guilt and so on, leaving ourselves with the need for some "excavation" to discover the truth of ourselves. This is what the Holy Spirit does for us.

We just celebrated the Feast of the Lord's Baptism, at which the Father's voice from heaven identified Jesus as His well-beloved Son. Immediately prior, John the Baptist had said that Jesus would be baptizing with the Holy Spirit (cf. Mark 1: 8). When we receive this same Spirit through the sacraments of the Church, we are given the gift of vital union with Christ such that, in him, we become the well beloved sons and daughters of the Father. Our deepest reality is fashioned and brought to light.

Here in the Holy Land, when the reality beneath the surface is discovered, great efforts are made to preserve what has been found. There is nothing more precious than our identity in Christ. Let us ask the Lord to reveal it anew to us by the gift of the Spirit. By that same gift, may He help us to preserve our identity by living lives that accord with it - lives of virtue, holiness and joy.

Monday, January 2, 2012

What Makes a New Year Happy?

On January 1st, the world marks the passing of time, usually with great fanfare. This is a new beginning, and as we reflect back on events of the past year, especially the most difficult and tragic, we instinctively hope for a better and happier year ahead. Hence the common greeting, "Happy New Year". But what will make the new year a happy one? What is the source of our happiness throughout the passing of time? The answer is linked to the meaning of time itself. What is time?

This is an important question. One brief glance at our lives will show how much we allow ourselves to be governed by time. Either we have too little and are always racing against the clock to get things done, leaving ourselves exhausted, or we have too much, and we waste time in meaningless pursuits. In either case we are constantly asking, "What time is it?" A better question to pose is: "What is time?" Its answer can change our lives radically and usher in the happiness that we so earnestly seek at this and every new year.
As the entire world marks the passing of time, the Christian Church proposes its deepest meaning. Time is the succession of minutes, hours, days, months and years in which history unfolds. In the Christian worldview, this history is neither meaningless nor arbitrary. It unfolds according to a plan, God's plan, and is filled with purpose, namely the salvation of the human race. This is why Christians refer to history as salvation history. God is Creator, the author of this world and all that marks it, including time. We may mistakenly allow ourselves to think that time governs us. The truth is that God governs time and shapes it in accordance with his saving purpose.
Throughout history, God has intervened in our lives. He called Abraham and formed a people; he sent Moses to give us the law; he spoke through prophets to summon us to fidelity. Finally he so acted as to reveal perfectly the meaning of time and bring it to its fulfilment. "When the fullness of time had come," St. Paul tells us, "God sent his son, born of a woman." (Galatians 4: 4).
At the centre of salvation history stands a child and his mother. The child, God's own son, was born in time of the Virgin Mary and named Jesus. He, the eternal Son of God, entered time and assumed our human nature so that he might rescue it from sin by his death on the Cross and resurrection from the dead.
What is time? It is the "place" or "space" in which God, who dwells in eternity, comes to us in the gift of His Son, born of Mary. Jesus has ascended to heaven, but he continues to meet us in time through the gift of the Holy Spirit. When we open our lives to this encounter, we discover the meaning of time and the true source of happiness within it.