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

Monday, February 27, 2012

Election Time!

In the political arena these days many minds are focused on elections. Here in Alberta there is widespread anticipation of a Spring election, and news reports from our friends in the U.S. seem to concentrate on little else.

In the Church, an election far greater in import than any of these occurred yesterday. The First Sunday of Lent has for centuries been the occasion for what we call the Rite of Election. Men and women, young and old, after a long period of preparation, are chosen, or elected, to proceed to the Easter sacraments, through which they will become full members of the Church. This is election not to an office but to life in Christ! Envisioned is not a term but eternity. It is a choice made not by people at the ballot box but by God through the agency of the Church.

This past weekend, I had the joy of presiding over two celebrations of this Rite. What remains with me in image are the smiles. As people came forward to sign the Book of the Elect and afford me an opportunity to meet them, the grins on their faces were very broad indeed. The joy of being chosen by God; the delight of knowing that, in God's eyes, they are willed, loved and necessary (to borrow words from the Holy Father's first homily); the anticipation as they look toward their adoption as God's children in Christ and full membership in the Church; the excitement that arises from finding their place in God's saving plan; all of this was reflected in those smiles.

The joy also sprang from an awareness of victory, one very different from election night political conquest. With sobriety and realism, the Church, on every First Sunday of Lent, provides a passage from one of the synoptic Gospels recounting the temptations of Jesus by the devil. The Christian journey is marked by great struggle as we grapple with the reality of temptation, and our catechumens are reminded of this on the very occasion of their election. The Catechism explains that the very word "devil" comes from the Greek diabolos, i.e., one who "throws himself across" (cf. n. 2851). Satan seeks always to throw himself across the accomplishment of God's plan, he seeks to get in the way, to thwart the divine purpose. His unsuccessful temptation of Jesus demonstrated just how powerless he is before the Lord. The victory belongs to Jesus. Indeed, "the Son of God was revealed for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil." (1John 3:8). When we live in union with our Lord, we participate in his victory, we receive strength from him to resist any seductions of the evil one as he tries to throw himself across the accomplishment of God's saving plan in our lives. Hence the joy, hence the smiles, of the elect.

May each of us this Lent be renewed in our joy at having been chosen to live in union with Christ.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Barrier-free Belief

In our society today we are increasingly sensitive to the needs of our brothers and sisters whose handicaps inhibit access to places or services. For example, elevators and ramps come to the aid of those with mobility constraints, and audio enhancements assist people with hearing challenges. We strive to remove barriers that stand in the way of a full and active life.

The Gospel for Sunday, Feb 19th, (Mark 2:1-12) raises the question: What about barriers to belief in the Lord? What stands in the way of entrusting our lives in faith and trust to Jesus Christ?
A paralyzed man is brought by his friends to Jesus for healing. They encounter barriers: a huge crowd that blocks access to Jesus as well as the roof of the dwelling. They go around the first and create a hole in the second. Removing barriers. But once they let the paralyzed man down through the roof to Jesus, his encounter with the Lord makes visible the barriers with which we all must grapple: guilt and doubt.
Jesus's first words to the paralyzed man are "Your sins are forgiven." To hear these words is a universal need, yet many wonder if they ever will hear them. I have a hunch that much of the anxiety people carry today stems from unresolved guilt. Conscience neither lies nor relents. We carry our guilt for wrongdoing until it is removed by forgiveness. Yet, as we hear in the Gospel: "Who can forgive sins but God alone?" Exactly. Only an encounter with the living God in Jesus Christ can bring the forgiveness we seek and thus remove this barrier to faith, a barrier which often finds expression in the question: "Would God really forgive me?" The answer is an unqualified YES!
And the second barrier: doubt. I often wonder what it was like for the paralyzed man to hear Jesus command him to get up and walk. Jesus was commanding him to do what he and everyone around him knew was impossible. Yet somehow any doubt that the paralyzed man may have had gave way to trust in Jesus. He heard the Lord, he trusted, he obeyed, and he walked! Do we harbour any doubts about the power of Jesus? Do we doubt even that he wants to be part of our lives? Such doubt is a barrier to faith, which is obediential trust in the love, providence and power of the Lord.

Lent is upon us; Ash Wednesday occurs this week. A time to face our barriers to faith and ask the Lord for the grace of their removal. We do this alone in the sanctuary of our conscience. We rely also on the help and prayer of others; it was, after all the friends of the paralyzed man who removed the barriers that kept him from encountering Christ. Through our observance of this holy, penitential season, may we all know the joy and freedom of a barrier-free faith.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Come in from the Outside

The Gospel of Sunday (cf. Mark 1:40-45) recorded the narrative of Jesus healing a leper. It offers some insights into the task of the new evangelization, which the Church today is very eagerly embracing.

Leprosy, at the time of Jesus, ostracized, as we learned in the first reading of the Mass (Leviticus 13:1-2, 45-46). Lepers had to dwell "outside the camp", i.e. apart from the community. Therefore, when Jesus healed the leper, he effectively restored him to regular community life, he enabled him to come in from "outside the camp."

This particular superficial healing was a sign of the more universal and deeper cure for which Jesus was sent to the world by his heavenly Father, that remedy we call salvation. To humanity living "outside the camp" of God's communion because of its sinfulness, Jesus was sent, so that, by the power of his Cross and resurrection, he might touch this wound and thus bring humanity back in to the embrace of the Father.

The Church now continues this work of the Lord. This means that we must be attentive to the manifold ways in which people of our day are living "outside the camp" in order to invite them home. Many today live "outside the camp" of meaning, seeking in vain to find purpose. Others are "outside the camp" of hope, struggling with despair. Too common is the experience of existing "outside the camp" of sanity, witnessed in the vain pursuit of illusory objects to satisfy human longing. The sad economic plight of millions demonstrates that much of the world is living "outside the camp" of justice, caught up in individual concerns at the expense of the needy. Underlying it all is the universal human tendency, fueled by original sin, to live "outside the camp" of truth, namely the truth about God - his love, mercy and proximity - and the truth of ourselves - weak and needy, but loved and wanted by God.

Central to the task of the new evangelization is a fresh and joyful announcement of the truth, which means a new proclamation of Christ, Who is the Truth. With enthusiasm we proclaim that his healing touch brings us in from "outside the camp", by restoring us to the Father and thus to one another. Only when back inside the camp, only when living a life of love and friendship with Christ, do our questions find their answer and our longing its fulfillment.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Celebrating the Catholic Women's League

On Saturday night I joined with over 600 people to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Canada's first Catholic Women's League council, which was formed here in Edmonton. The CWL is definitely an organization worthy of celebration.

I've been observing the service of the CWL to both Church and country for a long time now as both priest and Bishop. It is a community of women who are steadfastly faithful to their Catholic identity. I am convinced that we can offer no greater service to our country and world than to be what we are, to be Catholic, authentically Catholic. In many ways we can look to the CWL as an example.

To be Catholic is to be convinced, in every fibre of our being, that there is nothing more beautiful than to know Jesus Christ. Therefore the Catholic will centre her or his life on prayer, the study of the Word, and the celebration of the sacraments, in order to grow in the knowledge of Christ and his love. Time and again I have seen the CWL look for ways to help their members fulfill their desire to grow in the faith, both within the League and in the all-important context of the family.

To be Catholic is to be a person of communion. We are, after all, the Body of Christ. This requires communion with the Holy Father and the College of Bishops. It demands a common fidelity to the teaching of the Church. I have seen in the CWL a remarkably consistent commitment to the Church's doctrine and a ready willingness to bring it to bear on fundamental social issues of the day.

To be Catholic is to reach out in love and compassion to the needy. In fact, that's how the first council in Edmonton and Canada came to be, born of concern for immigrants. A commitment to charity and justice cannot be absent from a Catholic life authentically lived. Neither, therefore, can it be lacking in the life of any Catholic institution. Far from absent, this commitment is in the forefront of the CWL, locally, nationally and internationally.

Happy centennial to the CWL of Edmonton! They will have many occasions throughout the remainder of this year to celebrate this milestone, including the hosting of the 2012 national convention, and celebrate they should. Indeed, we should all celebrate them because of the remarkable witness and service they provide in both the Church and community.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Everyone is Searching for Jesus

Job speaks for many when he says: "I am allotted months of emptiness, and nights of misery are apportioned to me . . . My days are swifter than a weaver's shuttle, and come to their end without hope." (Job 7:3,6) In the first reading of Sunday's Mass we heard this cry of anguish, an ancient lament that finds a modern echo in the suffering of a great many of our contemporaries. The fact that many people today find their lives devoid of meaning and hope is witnessed in the tragic reality of suicide and the worrisome lobbying for the legalization of euthanasia.

What is the antidote to this very real misery? Many try to find it in the various "isms" that surround us: atheism (human suffering means that there is no God), materialism (I can fill up the gap within me by a multitude of possessions), hedonism (seeking pleasure for pleasure's own sake) and so on. Yet these aren't antidotes at all. They simply prolong and even deepen the pain. The truth is that the remedy is not an "ism," not any human philosophy. It is a person: Jesus Christ.

In the same Sunday Mass a passage from the Gospel of Mark recalls Jesus healing many sick persons and casting out demons (cf. Mark 1:29-39). His presence and his touch restore to life. Particularly striking in consideration of Job's cry is the following statement: "Everyone is searching for you" (Mark 1:37). Everyone. In the immediate context of the narrative this "everyone" refers to the people of the Galilee region, but in the light of Jesus's true identity it refers to all people of all time. His presence and his love give real meaning and abiding hope.

Job's experience of emptiness is, in fact, a universal one. Therefore, it is important to understand it. The human being has been created in the image and likeness of God. This means that God has created us for himself, for a relationship of love. We experience this fundamental dimension of our nature as a longing deep within, a void that only the love of God can fill. Long ago St. Augustine captured this universal human experience in his famous cry: "Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in thee."

That our hearts might, indeed, find rest; that our emptiness might be filled; that our longing for meaning might be satisfied, God sent His Son, Jesus. This is why it is true that everyone is searching for Jesus, whether they know it or not. Only he can satisfy, simply by his presence, the deep longing of every human heart. Remember the phrase I love to quote from Blessed John Paul II? "Jesus Christ is the answer to the question that is every human life." He is the reason for our hope.