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

Monday, June 27, 2016


More than once I have witnessed a scene that, I am sure, many others have seen also. I can remember at least two occasions when I saw a young parent walking hand in hand with a very young child. In one hand the parent held that of the youngster. In the other hand was a smartphone. Can you guess where the parent’s attention was directed? Of course … the smartphone. Very sad, really. The unspoken message being given to the child is that she is less important at that moment than whatever message is coming across the smartphone. The parent was allowing the device to become a distraction from something of obviously far greater importance, namely, the little child.

The Scripture readings for last Sunday challenge us to look at the distractions that we allow to creep into our lives, those things that take our attention away from what is of greatest importance. In a sense they ask, “What is our smartphone?” “What do we need to put down or put away in order to fix our attention on what is most precious?

The Gospel account from Luke (9:51-62) tells us that Jesus “set his face to go to Jerusalem”. It is a small phrase full of meaning. To set one’s face means to follow with firm resolution a particular path or direction, allowing of no distraction. Jerusalem is the place where he was to die and rise; the city, in other words, where he was to fulfill the destiny given him by his heavenly Father. At all times, not just in this episode recalled for us, Jesus was focused only on fulfilling the will of his heavenly Father. Nothing could distract him from that; nothing was more important; nothing was more precious.

And we are his followers. We are a people who have been given a destiny in Christ: eternal life. The life we live on earth is a pilgrimage under grace to the fulfillment of this destiny. We, too, are called to “set our face”, to be firmly resolute, in the pursuit of this goal. But, oh how we allow the distractions to creep in! In so many ways we “lift up the smartphone" and allow it to distract our attention away from the goal of eternal life that has been “placed in our hands,” as it were, by the gift of Jesus Christ.

St. Paul helps us to understand this. In the passage we heard from his letter to the Galatians (5:1, 13-18), he teaches that the path we are to follow with firm resolution is that of love. “[The] whole law,” he tells us, “ is summed up in a single commandment, ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’” He explains that this path of love is the way of self-gift and self-sacrifice for the sake of the other, for the sake of the communion that God wills there to be among all people. Yet we allow self-indulgence to get in the way. To paraphrase, time and again we lift up the smartphone of selfishness and self-absorption such that its very enticing messages distract us away from what we should be doing: loving one another.

The consequences of this distraction of self-concern are dramatic and tragic. It causes division in the home as family members place individual pursuits ahead of their duty in love to each another. It gives birth to divisions and inequities in society as concern for the common good gives way to idolatrous worship of the autonomous self. It engenders fear and defensiveness among nations, as borders and walls are prized more highly than communion among cultures.

God’s Word is a clarion call to put down the “smartphone”, to put away from our lives all that distracts us from our destiny of eternal life. It summons us to do away with self-indulgence and to set our faces toward the immediate duty of loving one another as Christ has commanded us to do.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Internally Displaced

This blog is posted on World Refugee Day, 2016. The day lifts up to the world and its governments the heartbreaking plight of millions of men, women and children around the globe who have had to flee home and country to escape violence and persecution. To global efforts, the Church adds its own charitable works, undergirding everything with prayer to God that hearts and minds be stirred everywhere to work for peace and justice for all.

Among the refugees are countless persons designated as "internally displaced." They have had to flee home and town yet remain within their country's borders. They are caught in a kind of "no man's land," since the rescue efforts undertaken by nations often will focus solely on those who have crossed frontiers and thus qualify for the official designation "refugee". Yet these people suffer no less than others, indeed, perhaps even more, since they have yet to reach safe haven and danger to life follows them closely. May they, too, and find real help and rescue!

This special day can also serve to highlight a challenge that we face in our own homes. I've often thought that the term "internally displaced" and "refugee" can apply analogously to many family situations today. When I visit schools, I see children showing signs of their own internal displacement as, for example, when they come to school early and stay late because they find it safer or more comfortable at school than at home. Without leaving family, there is an "internal displacement" from a happy home life. Family dysfunction can leave people experiencing a kind of "refugee status" even while remaining within their own walls.

The millions of refugees in motion around our planet struggle mightily to keep their families together. Their sorry plight moves us to do all that we can to help them, as we must. Let's keep in mind also the families in our own country who need our prayers. May they, too, receive healing and a "return to home".

Monday, June 13, 2016

What’s My Distance?

I played a round of golf the other day. One of the men in our group was wearing a watch that served also as a GPS. Extraordinary technology! For each hole it indicated the distances to the front, middle and back of the green. I usually try to judge those distances myself, with the help of yardage makers on the ground. Yet seldom am I right! So, it wasn’t long before I began to ask the GPS-touting player what my distance to the green really was. Invariably that day, I was told by the GPS that I was actually much farther from the target than I had thought. It enabled me to adjust my game accordingly.

How far are we from the most important “target” of all, i.e., the kingdom of God? How do we make that assessment? By our own estimation or with the help of a “GPS”, something that can pinpoint with accuracy our position and indicate to us how we are to adjust our lives?

The Gospel for Sunday recounted the story of the visit of Jesus to the home of a Pharisee. While dinner was taking place, a woman entered, and crying copious tears anointed the feet of Jesus. The words of the Lord served like a GPS to position each of these individuals accurately in terms of their proximity to God.

The Pharisee was one who judged himself on the basis of his relation to the law of God. Because he followed the dictates of the law, he assessed himself to be very close to the target, to be righteous in the sight of God. When he hears the words of Jesus, he finds, though, that he is further away, by a wide margin, than he had thought.

Jesus directs his attention to the woman, whose tears were ones of repentance, joy and love. She has been greatly forgiven, Jesus says, and so she is able to love greatly. He is indicating her closeness to God, that she is very near indeed to the “target”, because both her tears and her actions indicate that she has been touched and transformed by the mercy of God.

The Christian life is not one of merely external observance of laws. Of course, there are precepts that we must follow. They are given to us by God and handed on through the Church as a light to guide our path. We draw near to the target, however, when our external observance is reflective of an interior transformation of heart, when, under God’s grace, we realize our sinfulness, our great distance from God, and allow his love to reach us as mercy and forgiveness.

In a world that exalts self-absorption and absolute autonomy, the temptation to self-assessment on the basis of our own perceptions is very strong. But that assessment is likely wrong. We need that GPS which is the Word of God, the Word that became flesh in Jesus Christ, if we are to know our accurate position in relationship to God. Let us stay close to Jesus, allow his Word to situate us, and adjust our lives accordingly.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Pray for Canada

The contrast in message is dramatic. On June 6th, 2016, the ruling of the Supreme Court of Canada legalizing assisted suicide and euthanasia as a response to human suffering comes into effect. The ruling contains within itself the message that there are some lives less worth living than others. The day prior, Churches throughout the world echoed with the teaching from Sacred Scripture that God responds to suffering with the gift of life. Implicit in this doctrine is the message that every life matters.

Three passages of the Bible recounted God's desire and power to restore the dead to life: the restoration of a dead child through the prophet Elijah (1Kings 17.17-21a, 22-24) and by Jesus himself (Luke 7.11-17), as well as St Paul's account of the new life that he, having died through sin, had received from his encounter with the Risen Lord (Galatians 1:11-19). To those who suffer, God responds with the gift of life. The response of the Canadian Supreme Court and (soon) the Canadian Parliament is death. Scripture thus makes very clear that the only mindset that can justify assisted suicide and euthanasia, and even hold them up as a good, is one from which any reference to the compassion and mercy of God, and consideration of God's will for his people in need, has been excluded.

We must be careful not to adopt this atheistic mindset as our own. Turning away from God leads inevitably to not only people turning against one another (e.g. legalizing euthanasia) but also individuals against themselves (e.g. normalization of suicide). We can do better than this! These choices for death follow naturally from the understanding that reality is what I make it to be, the product of my own (very limited) consciousness. When we allow God and his love to enlighten reality, our vision expands infinitely. We see that responding to suffering by killing the one who suffers is beneath our dignity as human beings. We become aware of our enormous potential as members of one human family under God to live as God would have us live and as his grace makes possible: together; in solidarity; ready to suffer with our suffering brothers and sisters; moved by the truth that every life matters and is worthy of being lived until its natural end.

As I said at the opening of our holy door to launch the Year of Mercy, by the legalization of assisted suicide and euthanasia, Canada is opening a very unholy door. It is a door of astonishing arrogance, fashioned on the presumption that we can judge the quality of another's life or determine on our own when life is no longer worth living. It claims to be a door of mercy, when in fact it is one that opens onto a room with no floor, a vast abyss in which fundamental respect for the sanctity of human life falls away and the weak and vulnerable are left with no sure foothold. Even though the State may open this door, we must be clear that it should remain solidly closed and have nothing to do with it.

Pray for our country. We are fashioning a culture of death and despair. This need not be. By allowing our minds to be enlightened anew by Christ and our actions by his grace, we can create instead a civilization of life and hope.