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

Monday, August 31, 2015


This week the Archdiocese of Edmonton is marking some wonderful milestones. We do so with great joy, so I'm happy to share the news with you.

First, on Wednesday we celebrate the twenty-fifth anniversary of the arrival in Edmonton of the Priests of the Society of St Sulpice. Founded in the seventeenth century in France by Jean-Jacques Olier, this community of priests is dedicated to the formation of seminarians. At the invitation of Archbishop Joseph MacNeil, the Sulpicians came to Edmonton and assumed responsibility for the care and formation of men studying for the priesthood at Saint Joseph Seminary. Their ministry has been exemplary, and they enjoy the confidence of the Bishops of Western Canada, whose dioceses they serve. The Sulpician Fathers are a great blessing to the Church, and it will be my joy this week to celebrate this anniversary with them.

Second, at another Catholic post-secondary educational institution in Edmonton, we shall formally open with God's blessing a new students' residence. Saint Joseph's College has operated on the campus of the University of Alberta since 1926. One long-held dream has been to establish a residence for women students in addition to the men's residence that has existed for many years. After a great deal of careful planning and hard work, this dream is being realized. Congratulations to all! As we gather on Thursday of this week for the formal blessing, please pray that all the students who will call this home may come to know the love of Christ that permeates this College community.

Finally, and also on Thursday, I shall be present when we celebrate the welcoming by Catholic Social Services of the Edmonton Pregnancy Crisis Centre into their family. The dignity of human life from beginning to natural end inspires the entire social outreach of the Church. It is the reason the Edmonton Pregnancy Crisis Centre reaches out in love and support to expectant women. From this principle Catholic Social Services embraces any who are in need. The two together are an obvious fit. As we celebrate this milestone I ask for your prayers for the protection and honouring of all human life.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Who Else is There?

I love the passage from the Gospel we heard on Sunday. (cf. John 6:53, 60-69). Deeply moving, it is one of my favourites.

Jesus has been giving what we have come to call his Bread of Life Discourse, in which he offers himself, fully and completely, as Bread for the life - even eternal life - of the world. It is scarcely possible to imagine a self-offering more complete, ratified unmistakably in his later death on the Cross. Yet what is the response of many of the disciples to this total gift of self? The passage tells us that they walked away, returning to their former way of life. We are told that they found his teachings too hard to accept, so they turned away and abandoned him.

What must have been going on in the heart of Jesus as this unfolded? Heartbreak comes to mind. He offers himself fully, in love, and he is rejected. Then he turns to the remaining disciples, and asks if they, too, will leave him. Peter gives the response, which, to my mind, is one of the most moving in all of Scripture: "Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God."

Who else is there? Notice that Peter does not focus upon what Jesus said. His attention is upon who Jesus is. He does not counsel Jesus to soften his message. He does not advise him to find another, easier way of expressing the truth. He looks beyond what has been said to the One who said it. Because Jesus is who he is - the Holy One of God who alone can lead us to eternal life - there is no one else to follow. Our call is not to reject the messenger because of the message, but to accept the message - however difficult - because we trust the Messenger.

A good question to reflect upon these days is: What is my response when I receive from Jesus and his Church a message I find hard to understand or accept? Do I stay with Jesus or do I leave? Or do I remain with him only conditionally, accepting some things and not others?

Jesus offers himself to us completely, without measure or condition. The response he seeks from us is likewise total. Let's pray that we, too, will know him for who he is, stay with him, and never walk away.

Monday, August 17, 2015

The Church Guy

Near where I live is a family with four young children. One day they were playing in their backyard when I arrived home. The little girl, five years old, saw me and came running over. She said, "Hey! Aren't you the Church guy?" "Well," I said, "Yes, I guess I am." She looked at me again and said, "Then why aren't you in Church?"

I've thought about that question a lot since then, because it finds an echo in the questions or comments that we often hear directed at "Church people." It will frequently take the form: "Why don't you keep your faith "in Church," which is to say, faith and its insights should have no place in public discourse and are best kept confined within Church walls, an entirely private affair.

For us "Church people", we know this is impossible. Not because we seek to impose our belief on anyone, as is mistakenly (and frequently) charged against us. We do not impose; we propose. And what we have to propose is something extraordinarily beautiful: the message of hope, which is the Gospel.

The urgency of the need to share this message is clear. All around us we see many manifestations of a serious crisis besetting humanity, namely, a lack of hope. I think of young children speaking to me of depression in their lives or troubling their friends. In Canada the news last week was full of reports of a growing use of the narcotic fentanyl, and this not long after reports of Health Canada giving permission for the use of the so-called "abortion pill." At the current time in our country we are pondering the impact of the Supreme Court decision in February allowing physician assisted suicide and euthanasia. Globally we see heartrending images of refugees from the Middle East and Africa risking - and losing - their lives as they flee across the Mediterranean Sea seeking a better life. These examples can be multiplied. Together they give evidence of a lack of hope.

This gives rise to immense sadness in our hearts because we know it need not be this way. There is a reason for real hope. That reason is the sure love of God, made manifest and active in Jesus Christ. This conviction impels us not to keep our hope-giving message to ourselves, not to confine it within Church walls, but to announce it with confidence and joy.

Over the last few days I had the wonderful privilege and blessing of being at two events, in which the participants made clear their desire and readiness to share with others the beauty of the faith. The first was the annual pilgrimage to a Marian shrine at Skaro within the Archdiocese of Edmonton. The second was a festival for young adults called One Rock, held within, and hosted by, the Diocese of Calgary. At each, enthusiasm for the faith was palpable. I am edified and encouraged by the love for the Gospel beautifully on display among the people who gathered for these celebrations of the faith.

May we each find ways, in our variety of circumstances, to be "Church people" who do not keep the faith "in Church", but willingly share it with others as the reason for hope.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Else the Journey Be Too Much

The title of this post is inspired by the reading we heard at Mass on Sunday from the First Book of Kings. The passage recounts the flight of the prophet Elijah from forces hostile to him. He is exhausted from the journey, and an angel from God appears to him, points to a cake and some water that had miraculously appeared, and gives this command: "Get up and eat, otherwise the journey will be too much for you."

Our pilgrim journey through this earthly life can easily and quickly become "too much" for us if we lack the necessary nourishment. There are extraordinary pressures weighing upon individual and family life today that leave many exhausted. When I ask folks about the most significant factor challenging their families, the answer I frequently receive is: stress. The sources of this are many. I wonder what people are doing for "nourishment" in order to keep going, and worry about the multiplicity of quick fixes and escapes to which people turn. For example, statistics tell us that alarming percentages of people are medicated with antidepressants.

The good and hopeful news is that there is available to us an all-sufficient nourishment. As was the case with Elijah, it is given by God out of His tender concern for us. Unlike the prophet's remedy, what comes to us is not cake and water but what these gifts foreshadowed: the Bread of Life, which is Jesus Himself.

Every time the Eucharist is celebrated, Jesus gives us Himself, His very Body and Blood. It is a nourishment that gives the necessary strength for this earthly journey, yes, but not only that; "whoever eats of this bread will live forever..." (John 6: 51). When the priest gives voice to the invitation of Christ to take and eat, take and drink, we can hear an echo of that angelic admonition of old: "otherwise the journey will be too much for you."

Receiving this nourishment from the Eucharistic table has implications far beyond our own individual lives. This food opens our eyes and hearts to the needs of others and impels us to act in charity. It is heartbreaking to see millions of people in the underdeveloped parts of the world starving for lack of bread and for whom the journey is thus far too much. It frustrates and, indeed, angers to no end because we are all aware that there is sufficient food for all. Why the injustice? Could it be that it stems from wealthy society's self-imposed starvation, that is to say, its willful neglect of God and the nourishment given in Jesus? Separation from God and the food He gives yields not only exhaustion but also self-centredness. The illusion of self-reliance makes the needs of others a secondary concern.

The path currently traversed by the global community has, indeed, become too much. Famine, wars, terrorism, domestic violence and more beset us daily. They are pressures that we cannot possibly bear, that we are manifestly unable to resolve on our own. They leave us frustrated and exhausted. God is calling to all of humanity in the words spoken by the angel to Elijah: "Get up and eat." Come to Christ and the food that He is. In Him we discover what this journey is really all about. In Him it is never too much.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Speed Fines Double

Signs pointing to sites of construction are everywhere on highways in these summer months. I've noticed they are often accompanied by the sign: "Speed Fines Double", sometimes with flashing warning lights. It would seem that we motorists don't have enough common sense to slow down at construction venues so as to avoid harming someone, and need to be warned of additional speeding penalties if we don't.

It's time we also learned to slow down - better, to come to a full stop - when we see the growing number of signs that point not to construction but to deconstruction, namely, the progressive dismantling of a civilization based upon absolute respect for the dignity of the human person. When such signs come into view, we need to stop and ask ourselves what we are doing. Such pause will give us the opportunity to discuss together how to reconstruct real human solidarity and the common good. As it is, right now we are speeding past such signs, seemingly oblivious to the great harm that comes from our failure to reconsider and change.

Two such signs of deconstruction have recently come to our attention. One is the making available in Canada of RU-486, the so-called abortion pill. This is yet one more method of killing innocent children in the womb. One would think that the announcement of something so lethal would have been accompanied by rapidly flashing red lights. Sadly, the light accompanying the announcement was green, as if there is nothing to worry about and society can just keep moving forward on its current route. The other is the decision of the Supreme Court last February that made physician-assisted suicide legal in this country. No warning of speed fines here; on the contrary, penalties were removed! A consultation process has been established to advise the government on the drafting of legislation to coincide with this judicial ruling. I hope and pray that many voices will be raised to call for a meaningful halt to the deconstruction so as to begin to reconstruct a culture of life.

In a letter to the editor of the Calgary Herald, Bishop Fred Henry pointed this week to the obvious irony of a situation in which only a few voices speak up in defence of vulnerable human life while at the same time we witness a global outcry against animal poaching. What have we come to?

The warning signs calling us to slow down and stop are many. They reside within our conscience. We need to start paying it heed and apply the brakes.