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

Monday, February 29, 2016

Trust the Forecast

Last week I had my heart set on a round of golf planned for Friday. Yes, a round of golf. In February. In Canada. The only place it is possible even to imagine such a thing is where I happened to find myself - Victoria, BC. The Bishops of Western and Northern Canada were gathered in that city for our annual meeting. A few of us usually try - not always successfully - to add a day for some golf. Alas, it was not to be. The weather forecast announced rain for that day. Rats.

I waffled over whether to trust that forecast. The temptation to stay and chance it was, I admit, rather strong. After all, forecasts are sometimes wrong. However, weather predictions are now based on increasingly sophisticated technology that enables the observations of atmospheric developments and trends. Forecasts increase in accuracy as a result and can largely be trusted. So I made the decision to trust the forecast and came home to Edmonton Thursday night.

The readings we heard on Sunday from Sacred Scripture announce a different - and far more important - type of forecast. This one is based on centuries of observation not of atmospheric patterns that govern the weather but of relational ones that shape human life. The reading from Exodus (3: 1-8a, 13-15) contains the first divine announcement to Moses of God's concern for his suffering people. God is the author of life and knows that we are fully dependent upon him for all things. Therefore, he is attentive to our every need. When we cry out to him, he hears and answers. God relates to us, his creatures, with tender mercy and steadfast love. This is an unchanging pattern.

For our part, observation of our behaviour patterns shows clearly that we are not so steadfast in our relationship with God. Ever since that piece of fruit was fatefully plucked from the tree by Adam and Eve, we have demonstrated a tendency not to rely upon God but to go it on our own - with entirely predictable results. Time and time again, self-reliance has led to problems, to put it mildly.

These observations lead to the forecast announced by Jesus in the Gospel: "Unless you repent, you will all perish as they did." Unless you repent ... Repentance is a decision to give up all illusion of self-reliance and the sin it engenders and to turn back to trusting dependence upon the wisdom and providence of God. Refusal of such repentance, that is, the stubborn persistence in the eclipsing of God from all deliberations shaping my life and that of others, leads to a "perishing". This is not a question of divine retribution for sin. It is the simple truth that, like a plant separated from water, the one who chooses self over God soon withers and dies.

"Unless you repent..." This forecast is brought to us by the very Word of God. It is, therefore, unfailingly accurate. Let's be sure to trust in it and act accordingly.

Monday, February 22, 2016

The Code Breaker

A couple of months ago I saw an interesting movie about code breaking in the Second World War. It told the story of British people of extraordinary intellect investing enormous amounts of time and energy to crack the coded messages of the Nazis and thus unlock their meaning. They needed to discover the "key" that would enable them to decipher and interpret the messages they were intercepting. Fascinating stuff.

What key unlocks the meaning of life? I often get the impression that many people today - too many - are struggling with the question of the meaning of their lives. Life is indecipherable, and that causes great anguish. Nowhere is this felt more acutely than in times of suffering. When meaning and understanding lie beyond our grasp, in spite of great efforts to uncover it, the result is immense frustration and, often, deep despair.

The good news - the GREAT news - is that there is a key that unlocks the meaning of the whole of life. We've had it for quite some time now, yet for a variety of reasons this key has been laid aside and forgotten while others have been substituted in futility. The key of which I speak, of course, is Jesus Christ.

From the Second Vatican Council, the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World (Gaudium et Spes) has this to say about Jesus: "The Church fully believes that Christ, who died and was raised up for all, can through His Spirit offer man the light and strength to measure up to his supreme destiny....She likewise holds that in her most benign Lord and Master can be found the key, the focal point and goal of man, as well as of all human history." (GS, 10) Why are we looking elsewhere??!! As St. John Paul II would later put it, in a phrase I love to cite: "Jesus Christ is the answer to the question that is every human life."

When we encounter Jesus, we meet the key. In him we find the full truth about both God and ourselves (cf. GS, 22). We have unlocked for us the meaning of human life, as we discover the truth of our dignity and destiny. On Sunday we heard St. Paul remind us that "our citizenship is in heaven". The Gospel account of the Transfiguration of Jesus revealed his heavenly glory in which he wills us to share. In other words, it is toward eternal life that we are destined, and this goal shapes how we understand our "here and now" and how we are to live in it.

No need to spend great efforts to unlock what appears to be life's coded and hidden meaning. The meaning is given to us clearly in Jesus Christ.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Filled with Pride

 I'm so proud of them!

Yesterday we held a press conference at our Archdiocesan offices to launch the statement of the Alberta Bishops pertaining to the legalization of assisted suicide and euthanasia. Joining me were Mr. Austin Mardon, a man who has many times over the years spoken publicly about his schizophrenia, and Mr. Mark Pickup, who has done the same with respect to the MS that limits his mobility and confines him to a wheelchair. 

Their words to the media were very moving and compelling, as they shared their love for life and decried these practices which convey a message that the life of people who suffer or are disabled is less worthy of living than that of others. Also present were Dr. Matthew Meeuwissen and Dr. Magdalena Michalska. Their words drew our attention dramatically to the terrible impact legalization of assisted suicide and euthanasia has on those involved in healthcare and on the institution itself. These ways of ending life are the antithesis of medicine. Healthcare workers now find themselves at serious risk of being pressured to act contrary to both the Hippocratic oath and their conscience.

It is not easy to stand before the media and say these things. What impressed me deeply was that, in spite of trepidation, they stood up to stand out, and they spoke truth. Their conviction was so deep that they felt they could not do other than speak out, regardless of how they might be received. I feel immensely proud of them.

Let's follow their example. As we began on Ash Wednesday the season of Lent we heard St Paul tell us we are ambassadors for Christ. Ambassadors are spokespersons, and spokespersons speak. When we speak for life, we speak for Christ, who gave his own life to affirm the inherent dignity of every human life. When that dignity is attacked or threatened, as it clearly is with assisted suicide and euthanasia, we must, as ambassadors, not remain silent. So, too, must we stand with our physicians, nurses, pharmacists and other healthcare workers and stand up for the protection of their right to freedom of conscience.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Thursday's Paper Wraps Friday's Fish

That's an expression I grew up with in Nova Scotia. We ate fish on Friday's (I still do). The expression comes from the practice of wrapping leftovers in the newspaper of the day before and then throwing the lot out. It captures well the passing nature, the relative unimportance in the overall scheme of things, of much of what we get excited about at any given moment. What makes headlines one day is often quickly forgotten and discarded by the next.

Lent begins on Wednesday of this week. This is a sacred time to focus on what is, in fact, of lasting - indeed, everlasting - importance. In this sacred time we ponder what matters, and ask for the grace to let go of those attachments which don't.

What matters is Jesus, and our relationship with him. On Sunday we heard St. Paul put it this way: "I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the Twelve." Christ crucified and risen! Now THAT'S a headline, meant to stay always on the front page of our minds and reflect accurately the news we make of our lives.

Last week, in the course of a visit to a group of adults preparing to become Catholic at Easter, I discussed with them the meaning of Lent and how we observe it. Our discussion at one point revolved around the questions of what to give up and take up. We talked about how we have to recall, before all else, what is "of first importance": who Jesus is and who we are called to be in him. In this light, we can ask the Holy Spirit to help us discern what unholy attachments need to be abandoned (what do I give up for Lent?), and what do I need to begin doing (what do I take up?) in order to live more faithfully as a disciple (prayer, almsgiving, good example, etc.).

In these days prior to Ash Wednesday, let this be our prayer. Let's ask the Holy Spirit, first of all, to help us know and preserve what is of first importance, and thus enable us to see the change being asked of us. May the season of Lent be a time of genuine conversion and renewal for us all.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Don't Turn the Channel

I love it when young children ask me how old I am. They think I'm ancient to begin with, and it's fun to lend credence to that thought. I usually tell them I was born in the mid-1900's (gasp!), and spent most of my childhood in a time when there were no personal computers, smartphones or video games (stunned disbelief). What really seems to shock them beyond all else is to learn that, when I was their age, television offered a grand total of two channels (jaws drop). Worse, if I wanted to change the channel, I had to get up, walk across the room, and do it manually ("What??!! No remote??!!"). By the time I'm finished, the children have developed a deep sympathy for their Archbishop, who suffered such hardship growing up.

Although we can do it remotely now, nevertheless changing the channel has become more complex. There is a seemingly endless variety of channels from which to choose, and we can spend a lot of time "surfing" with the remote. We tune in only to that which interests us, and tune out all other voices and programming not to our taste. This isn't limited to the television. It also characterizes societal relationships. Less and less, it seems, are we willing to listen - to stay tuned in - to points of view that differ from our own. Not only do we "turn the channel"; but also sometimes we try to "turn the set off" altogether (witness the shouting down in public gatherings of speakers with an unpopular message).

In reality, though, this is nothing new. Consider the Gospel passage proclaimed on Sunday. Jesus returns to his hometown and preaches in the synagogue. At first the people are tuned in. Their eyes, we are told, were "fixed on him." All spoke well of him, until he began to say things they didn't want to hear. Appreciation quickly turned to anger and they instantly tuned him out, to the point of rushing him to a cliff to throw him over it!

Whenever we tune in to the Lord, and fix our eyes, our thoughts and our hearts upon his Word, we will find ourselves at times deeply consoled and re-assured. We are his beloved children. Easy to stay "tuned in" then. At other times his Word will leave us profoundly challenged. We are sinners, after all, and always in need of conversion. How do we handle the Lord's rebuke? Change the channel? That's tempting, but it's not the way of a disciple. We acknowledge Jesus as Lord and Saviour. The only response, then, is to stay tuned in, as shocking and painful as that might be, and allow his Word and his mercy to touch, heal, and transform us into the faithful disciples he calls us to be.

There's another dimension to this too, of course. Jesus said that no servant is greater than his master (cf. John 15:20). Reaction to our announcement of the Gospel will be no different than the response received by Jesus himself. Some will accept it favorably. Others will tune us out or even try to shut us down. No matter. Our call is to be faithful and to entrust everything else to the Lord. Indeed, the Gospel tells us that Jesus walked through the midst of those seeking to do him harm. Those who act against the Lord and his Gospel simply cannot prevail. Of that, his resurrection is definitive proof.

So, let's never "turn the channel" when we are addressed by the Lord. And when others seek to tune us out, let's stay faithful and keep broadcasting.