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

Monday, November 24, 2014

Hangers and Hope

The other day I was speaking with a couple of people who work in one of our soup kitchens in Edmonton. It is a place that provides not only food but also clothing, and among the people who come for help are the homeless of the city.

Recently a man came to them who had been provided with housing under the city's plan to end homelessness. On this day he had a new sense of hope because he had a place to call is own, and he asked for something he had not sought before: hangers! Up until that time he had for clothing only what was on his back and a change carried in his backpack. He wouldn't ask for more because he had no place to keep it. Now he did, and so he asked for hangers. When he received them, I am told his face lit up. They represented for him a new beginning and thus new hope.

This real-life episode is a stark reminder of the sad fact of real poverty in our midst, a situation that cries out for our response. It comes to mind as I listen to the teaching of the Gospel for Sunday, the feast of Christ the King. It speaks of the Last Judgment, and makes clear the basis on which the Lord Jesus, our King and Judge, will pronounce upon our eternal state: "I was hungry and you gave me food..."

The love of our God, revealed in Jesus and announced in the Gospels, calls us to service not only of the poor but also of the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick, the prisoner, and to recognize that, in serving these, the "least", we serve him.

These situations of need are real and multiple. We know that many in our midst are hungry; our food banks are busy. At the same time we are conscious of a widespread hunger in our society for meaning and truth. The thirsting are not only those seeking a drink of water but also the too many people who thirst for healing in their families. With the rise in immigration to our province, there are many new people, strangers in our land, who seek a welcome. Yet even in our homes loved ones become estranged from one another through anger and bitterness and an inability to listen. The naked are not only those who, like our friend looking for hangers, have just what they wear on their back, but also any who have been stripped of their dignity by unemployment or abuse. We know that there are many sick in our hospitals we can visit; we need also to be conscious of people suffering the less visible but perhaps more debilitating diseases of loneliness and despair. When I go into prisons to visit the inmates I see many locked behind bars longing for freedom. Yet outside of those institutions I often encounter people incarcerated by addictions and hatred, yearning to be set free from those shackles.

The rule of Jesus, our King, is that of a good shepherd, who seeks out any in need to bring them the healing of God's love. Indeed, that love is so great that he identifies himself with the needy: "As often as you did this to one of the least of these, you did it to me." He calls those who would follow him likewise to be in search of the hurting and to be merciful toward them, and thus be of real service to our Master.

In response to this call, Catholic Social Services came to birth in our Archdiocese more than fifty years ago. In many ways it serves Christ in his poor and needy, offering many "hangers" upon which those in need can reliably depend. Its annual fund-raising campaign, called Sign of Hope, raises needed funds to make many of their services possible. If you have not already done so, I heartily encourage you to make a donation. You can find out more at

Monday, November 10, 2014

Living the Cross

Last week I visited Holy Cross Academy, one of our Catholic schools in the city of Edmonton. Given the name, I used the occasion to ask the students what they understood by the Cross. The answers, I must say, were very moving. They understood well that it was the perfect sign of the extent to which they are loved by Jesus Christ. They also appreciated that the act at the heart of the Cross - self-sacrifice - was one that called them to do the same. I explored with them what that would look like in their own lives, and the responses were spontaneous, even from the younger grades: doing my chores at home, cleaning up my room (some found that especially challenging!), helping friends at school and giving to others. We spoke together about how the Cross teaches us that we are most fully ourselves when we give ourselves away.

Through self-sacrifice we make visible our appropriation of the truth of the Cross. This week our country remembers those who lived out the meaning of the Cross in a particularly dramatic way by the sacrifice of their own lives for the sake of the life and liberty of others. We stand in awe before the bravery, courage and concern for others that led men and women to "stand in harm's way" in defence of their country and fellow citizens. As we reflect upon this particular living out of the meaning of the Cross, we realize that we are each called to make of our lives a sacrifice for others in our particular circumstances.

We think, too, of the families of our war heroes. Their sacrifice also is great and deserving of our thanks. I find it always very moving to see pictures of spouses and children taking leave of their loved ones as they depart for dangerous missions. This, too, is a living out of the meaning of the Cross. On Remembrance Day we also embrace them with our respect and esteem.

We might be tempted to think of remembering as an act of looking backward. In fact, it is actually an act by which we bring the past to the present so that we might learn from it for the sake of a better future. When we apply such remembrance to the Cross of Christ, the lesson is hope. Christ's death from his self-sacrifice led to the Resurrection; it led to life. By living the meaning of the Cross of Christ, our fallen heroes gave their lives moved by the hope that Jesus has shown to be real. May this same hope inspire us to give of ourselves for others.

Monday, November 3, 2014

A Great Presbyterate

Here in the Archdiocese of Edmonton we are about to enter our annual "Mid-Term Assembly", in which our priests gather for a time of study and reflection. It "kicks off" this evening with a mass and dinner in honour of those priests celebrating a significant jubilee anniversary this year. This provides me and their brothers in the priesthood an opportunity to celebrate these men and thank them for their faithful service.

In truth, the presbyterate here in general is worthy of celebration. We are gifted in this Archdiocese with a community of dedicated and faithful priests. When I visit parishes it is a joy for me to have people make a point of telling me how much they love and respect their priests, and that happens often. (And, no, the priests aren't paying their people to tell me those things!!)

In Sunday's Gospel we heard Jesus issue an invitation to all who are weary and heavy-burdened to come to him for rest. This invitation is made concrete through the ministry of the priest. He acts in persona Christi capitis, that is, in the person of Christ, the Head of the Church. Many people do, in fact, carry heavy - very heavy - burdens: loneliness, addiction, family tension, caring for a sick child, unemployment and so on. True hope arises from our encounter with Jesus Christ, and it is the role of the priest to manifest the Lord's concern for his people and give voice to his invitation.

Perhaps we could all take a moment today to offer our personal thanks to God for our priests. Each day they offer their personal weakness and limits to God as they ask Him to work in and through their ministry for the sake of His people. May we all be open to the grace of God that comes to us daily through our priests' dedicated service.