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

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.