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

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

A Church of Martyrs

The Synod administration gave us a day off today, so I took advantage of the free time to visit a Church in Rome I've long wanted to see. On an island in the middle of the Tiber River here in Rome stands a 1000 year old Church built by the German Emperor Otto III to house the remains of St. Bartholomew, one of the Twelve Apostles and after whom the Church is named, and of St. Adalbert, killed for the faith in Poland in 997.

Yet what I discovered there astonished and moved me deeply.

In 1999, as part of the preparations for the Jubilee Year 2000, St. John Paul II created a commission to study the life and mission of the martyrs of the 20th century. The commission did its work in this Basilica of St. Bartholomew for two years, collecting dossiers and relics from around the world. John Paul II wanted the memory of these contemporary martyrs perpetuated in some visible fashion. As a result, each of the small chapels along the sides of the Basilica's interior is now dedicated to the 20th century martyrs from one of the world's continents. It was extremely moving to visit each chapel and read about the martyrs honoured there: martyrs under Nazism and Communism, victims of religious persecution, many killed for resisting pressure to deny the faith and so on. It is a striking reminder that martyrdom for the faith is not something of the distant past. Neither did it end with the close of the 20th century. It is happening now.

This has been one of the things that has impressed me the most during this synod assembly. Bishops and other delegates are gathered from every country on the planet. Many come directly from situations of present persecution. Pope Francis does not tire of reminding the world of the fact that Christians in many parts of the world today are being persecuted and killed, often brutally, for the simple fact of being a Christian.

To any like myself who live in so-called "developed" Western society, this gives pause. If we claim to be Christian, are we willing to proclaim the fact? In doing so we may not suffer martyrdom, but we might very well find ourselves shunned, ridiculed or verbally attacked. How precious is my faith to me? To what degree do I allow it to shape my patterns of thought, speech and action?

For the martyrs of yesterday and today, the faith meant everything, because Jesus meant everything to them. May their witness inspire us to embrace anew and ever more deeply the joy of life in Christ and encourage us to proclaim and live it with boldness.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Holiness in the Everyday

With God's help, we can do this. It is possible to become saints. In fact, it must be possible, because it is to holiness that God calls us, and He pours out upon us His Love, mercy, strength and forgiveness to make it happen. We just need to say yes, and cooperate with the changes He wills to bring about in our lives.

These are the thoughts that were going through my mind as I participated in the Mass of Canonization of four new saints by Pope Francis at St. Peter's Basilica. Entered in the canon of the Church's saints were: St. Vincent Grossi, a simple and humble parish priest from Italy, who dedicated himself without fanfare to the care of his people, especially the young; St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception, a nun who cared for the children of the poor and the sick; and Louis Martin and Marie-Azelie Guerin, the parents of Ste. Therese of Lisieux, who created by their love a Christian home for their children.

What struck me about each of them is the simplicity, humility and "ordinariness" of their everyday lives. They attracted no attention, and certainly didn't seek it. I'm sure they would not have thought of themselves as in any way heroic. They simply sought, day in and day out, to be faithful to their duties and to live in a communion of love with Jesus and in accord with his teachings.
When a person is canonized, he or she is held up to the universal Church as a model to imitate. Well, we can each do this, with God's help. We imitate these new saints by consciously striving, in the little ordinary events of every day, to be faithful to Christ.