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

Monday, December 22, 2014

Use the Other Lens

Not long ago I was approached by some people, who asked, “Archbishop, can we take a selfie with you?” Being the technologically astute and up-to-date person that I am, I asked, “What’s a selfie?” Then they demonstrated how the smartphone, with a camera lens on both front and back, allows one to direct the lens at oneself so that a picture might be taken in which the photographer is included in the shot together with others. With a simple touch of the icon on the screen, the device shifts back and forth between lenses, between focus on self and away from self.

There’s a lesson in this. We live in a “selfie” world. We are encouraged to keep the lens of mind and heart focused on self. All that matters is what I want or desire, and the simple fact that I desire it means that I am entitled to have it.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ is a call to use the other lens. That is to say, Jesus summons us to focus not on self but on the other, specifically upon the Other – God – and upon the other who is our neighbour. Love of God and love of neighbour is the fundamental commandment left to us by the Lord.

The perfect example of other-centeredness is Mary. In the Gospel passage of the Fourth Sunday of Advent, she receives the message from the angel Gabriel that she would conceive by the Holy Spirit and give birth to the Saviour of the world. Her attention is entirely fixed upon this message and the promise of God it conveys. She focuses not on herself but on the plan of God, and gives her fiat.

By turning her “lens” toward God and his promise, Mary comes to know God’s purpose for her in relation to his plan of salvation. This is important to grasp. She comes to know herself by focusing not on self but on God. So it is with us. Clarity with respect to life’s meaning and purpose comes not from a self-referential focus but from a careful and attentive listening to the Word of God. If I keep the lens directed at myself, the resultant picture of my life will be one of sadness, arising from lack of direction and unrealizable hopes. When the lens is fixed where it belongs, i.e., upon God’s Word given in Jesus, the picture is one of happiness and peace.

Of course, the occasional snapshot will reveal moments of difficulty. Mary knew those in abundance, as she watched her Son rejected and crucified. Yet she remained faithful to her fiat, she kept the lens focused on God’s faithfulness, and she witnessed the joy of new life granted in the resurrection of her Son from the dead.

Let’s follow her example of faithful discipleship and keep the lens of our minds and hearts where it belongs: on loving God and serving our neighbour.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Looking for Joy

As you might guess, there are times when the life of an Archbishop is not easy. Occasions arise when I have to make difficult and painful decisions, or confront situations I would rather avoid. One such occasion occurred just the other week. I knew it would not be pleasant and, to be honest, was rather anxious about it. But I knew I couldn’t avoid it. So, when the time came, I said my prayers, steeled myself, and with full reliance upon the Lord Jesus and the help of the Blessed Virgin, I went to the West Edmonton Mall.

The experience is not for the faint of heart. But the Lord was with me. Praise Jesus! I went online to look at the mall map and locate the entrance nearest to the store I needed to visit. I went in my car to that exact entrance and then – a miracle! – I found a parking spot. Then I entered the mall, discovered the store, found what I needed, and went to the cashier, where there was no line up – yes, another miracle. I made the purchase, made fast my escape, and soon found myself exiting the parking lot with songs of Alleluia echoing in my heart.

Now, as I drove away and the sight of the mall faded in my rear view mirror, some images from that harrowing experience came to the fore: the sight of many tired, worn down and frustrated people. Those images have remained with me. At this time of the year, one does not need to be long in that – or any – mall in order to witness a lot of exhaustion and burden. The question arises: are we having fun yet? These days of anticipation in the immediate run up to Christmas are supposed to be – one would expect – times of excitement and joy. In their stead, though, we see, and perhaps we are experiencing for ourselves, anxiety, burnout and distraction.

The question beneath all of this is: where do I locate the source of joy? Real joy. A joy that persists even in the midst of hardship. It is this very question that is addressed by the Scripture readings for the Third Sunday of Advent. By tradition we refer to this as Gaudete Sunday. That Latin word means “Rejoice!” The passages call us to rejoice and at the same time point us to the wellspring of true joy: Jesus Christ. The mall experience suggests that many are looking for joy in consumerism, but are clearly not finding it there. The Word of God points us elsewhere, far away from all of that superficial glitz and glitter that doesn’t satisfy. It points us to Jesus.

Long ago Isaiah spoke a prophecy of liberation (cf. 61: 1-2a, 10-11), which in the Gospel of Luke Jesus applies to himself (cf. Luke 4: 16-21). St. Paul summons us to joy by recalling the steadfast fidelity of God revealed and active in Christ Jesus (cf. 1Thess 5: 16-24). Saint John the Baptist witnesses to Jesus as the Light that dispels all darkness (cf. John 1: 6-8, 19-28). Jesus – and only Jesus – frees us from captivity, stands steadfastly by us in the circumstances of life, and dispels the darkness of sin and despair by the light of his truth and love. Look no further for joy. It is found in Jesus, and he is very near.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Sleepy Friday

If we have watched the television news over the last couple of days we've seen images of huge crowds waiting in long lines outside store entrances for sales on a day called Black Friday. As the doors open, the folks barrel in, trampling over one another, and then sometimes actually fighting over items they hope to purchase. These are scenes of frenzy and panic, in which we see products given priority over persons. Not to put too fine a point on it, but this is nuts! Consumerism run amok.

If we've been caught up in this, or to the degree to which the desire to possess just for the sake of possessing inhabits our hearts, we are likely to feel a bit sheepish as we ponder the Scripture readings for Sunday, the first of Advent. They remind us of just how far off the rails we have fallen when we are obsessed with possessing. Jesus is teaching us about what is really worth "waiting in line" for: eternal life. When God made us human beings, he made us for himself, to be with him for all eternity. That is why there is within every human heart a deep longing, which only God can fill. Advent reminds us of this by drawing our attention to the end of history, thus enabling us to keep in mind where we are going and what alone can fulfill our searching. In this light, the mad rush to fill the heart's longing with the latest deals at our favourite box store, instead of with the love and mercy of God, is more than a little embarrassing.

It is truly remarkable that people will get up very early, or not go to sleep at all, in order wait through the night to get into a store; staying awake in order to get something of which we will soon tire. Jesus calls us to stay awake, to be always alert, for something that will never lose its attraction and joy. He asks us to remain awake to meet him when he comes to take us to himself. This second advent of the Lord will be either at the moment of our death or at the end of time, either of which can occur in an instant. This calls us to be "awake" not just through the night but at all times.

Clearly Jesus is not asking us to give up all physical rest. Rather, he is summoning us to wake up from the lulling effect of falsehood. Possessions, self-advancement, money and so on are illusory achievements that lull us into the dangerous sleep of complacency and distraction. From all of this Jesus calls us to awaken, to clear our heads in order to see clearly what is important, to grasp that for which we truly do long, and so to order our lives around him, and not ourselves, that we are ready to meet him when he comes.

Black Friday is probably better called Sleepy Friday. Let's wake up from the nonsense and live sensibly in the light of the Gospel.