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

Monday, July 10, 2017

Called to the Office



In the early years of my episcopate, when I was learning how to be a Bishop (Who am I kidding? I’m still learning!), I would at times ask my secretary to call a priest and ask him to come to the office for a visit. In those days, I might neglect to give the reason why. I would only find out later that, by not indicating the reason for the call, I had more often than not caused great angst for the priest - What did I do? Why does he want to see me? Hmmm. Maybe I need to work on my charm and friendly manner. Anyway, invitations are now always accompanied by an explanation in order to minimize the likelihood of panic attack.
 
Archbishop Smith installed as bishop of Edmonton after his time as bishop of Pembroke.
Truth to tell, we can all think of various versions of the “summons” that can elicit a sense of foreboding: students called to the principal’s office, a summons to appear in court, or “the boss wants to see you.” There are others, though, that fill us with delight and the prospect of happiness. Think especially of what fills the hearts of children when they hear that they’ve been invited to Grandma’s house. As I think back, cookies and sweets come to mind. No foreboding there!

It is this latter sense of good that arises when we hear the “summons,” or invitation, which Jesus issues in the Gospel passage for Sunday (Matthew 11:25-30). It is an invitation to rest, a call to the peace that is ours when we entrust all of our cares and burdens to Him in the confidence that He, God who loves us, will care for us and guide us toward the good. The passage is a beautiful manifestation of the wondrous tenderness of our God. No need to be anxious about this call.

Of course, there are times in our lives when we are “called to the office” by the Lord and rebuked for our sinful ways. This, too, is encountered in Sacred Scripture. After all, the first summons spoken by the Lord on earth was to repentance and faith. This can cause what could be called a “holy foreboding”, holy because it is ultimately salutary, good for our salvation. Consequently, far from fearing this kind of summons, we should actually seek it so that the Lord, by His truth and mercy, can lead us in holiness.
Procession at Santa Maria Goretti this past Sunday.
The Lord consoles with His mercy; He challenges us with His truth. Whatever the summons, if it comes from the Lord Jesus, we know it is for our good, both earthly and eternal. Therefore, let us cast aside all foreboding and respond with joyful trust.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

And Now … ?



Well, it was certainly a wonderful moment of grace. All across our land, on the Canada Day weekend, our country’s Bishops consecrated their respective Dioceses to the Immaculate Heart of the Blessed Virgin Mary. In this way the whole of our country was entrusted to the maternal care and protection of the Mother of God.

Statue of Mary which Bishop Grandin knelt
to consecrate the Diocese of St Albert to Mary.
It was not the first time that this was done. A national consecration occurred during a Marian Congress in Ottawa in 1947. Here in the Edmonton area, our first Bishop, Most Rev. Vital Grandin, consecrated his new Diocese of St. Albert (which later became the Archdiocese of Edmonton) to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. (Incidentally, for the consecration this weekend at St Joseph’s Basilica we knelt at the same Marian statue before which Bishop Grandin offered his prayer of consecration in 1871.)

So, why the re-consecration? Like children do with their own mothers, we instinctively turn to our Heavenly Mother in times of need. As we mark 150 years of Confederation in Canada, we are conscious of great need among our people. Yes, we have many blessings here, for which we are grateful to Almighty God. In many ways, Canada is a wonderful place to live. At the same time, we are aware of troubling trends and worrisome patterns that demonstrate a collective drift from Christ and his teachings. For this reason, we have turned to Mary, asking for her intercession, that we will be brought back to her son Jesus, or, indeed, will be led to discover Him if He is not yet known. We have made this act of consecration, this act of entrustment to Mary’s maternal care, with great confidence that she will hear our prayers and answer. Thus we are certain that God, in response to Mary’s plea on our behalf, will pour many graces upon our land.

Grotto at Mission Hill in St Albert.
And now…? What more must we do? Mary herself shows us. In her response to the angel Gabriel, “Be it done unto me according to thy word,” she shows us that our response to the grace the Lord wills to give us must be that of complete surrender to the will of God. Concretely, this means staying close to Jesus: by listening daily to His Word in Sacred Scripture, we become attuned to God’s will; by regular participation in the sacraments we are strengthened by God’s mercy to live the holy lives to which he calls us. It also means staying close to Mary: by renewing the prayer of consecration and by praying the Rosary each day, we keep our hearts and minds directed towards her, who seeks always to lead us to her son, Jesus. Stay close to Jesus in faith; stay close to Mary in trust. In so doing, our hearts are disposed to receive, and be transformed by, the love and mercy of God. In so doing, we shall see the act of consecration we made this past weekend bear great fruit for the good of our country in the years ahead.

Holy Mary, Mother of God, Our Lady of Canada, pray for us!
 
St Mary's Cathedral, Calgary
 

Monday, June 26, 2017

The Temptation of the Rear-view Mirror


There are many students graduating now from high school. It is a time in their lives when their gaze is focused in two primary directions: past and future. A lot of time is spent “looking in the rear-view mirror,” i.e., remembering their time in school, what they have learned, the friends they have made, happy and sad moments, and so on. At the same time, they know instinctively that they cannot keep their gaze fixed on that mirror. We are accustomed to glancing occasionally at this mirror when we are in a car moving forward. Looking solely at what is behind us as we move ahead will lead to serious crashes. So, as the students look back, they know their primary focus needs to be on what lies ahead.

Yet, looking ahead might well be a source of anxiety. We cannot know what the future holds, and events unfolding in the world right now do not always leave us with a sense of confidence. In such a situation it becomes very tempting to keep our eyes only on the rear-view mirror, in the sense of remaining in the past, in what we know, in what is comfortable. But such a stance, motivated by fear, leaves us stuck where we are, paralyzed, unwilling to move ahead.

This can happen in the life of faith, too. Pope Francis, since the beginning of his pontificate, has been summoning us to live as the missionary disciples our Baptism makes us to be. He challenges us to look ahead, not back, to be bold, to go out of ourselves, to step out from within our comfort zones, to reach out to the unfamiliar, especially to our brothers and sisters living on the edge not only of society’s concern but also, perhaps, of our own notice. Here, the temptation of the rear-view mirror can come upon the followers of Christ. We know that the message of Christ is not always welcome, often ridiculed and rejected, in a culture that has in many ways grown allergic to the Gospel. The fear and anxiety this can arouse within our hearts can lead us to stay within the familiar, to remain rooted in what we feel we can control, to look backward and not forward, to be transfixed, that is to say, by the view in the rear-view mirror.

In fact, this is nothing new. Jesus Himself, in Sunday’s Gospel, summons his followers to have their view firmly fixed on what lies ahead, and not to be afraid of anyone (cf. Matthew 10:26-33). The Church has a mission; the Church is a mission. As followers of the Lord, we move forward in and through history with the life-affirming and world-transforming message of the Gospel. The Lord Himself warned that this would not be welcome. The persecution faced by the Church, in both the past and present, attests to this. Jesus knows that fear of rejection and harm is a natural reaction, so he reminds us that, in God’s eyes and heart, we are precious. God will never abandon us. We may indeed suffer emotional and, perhaps, even physical harm, yet such hurt is perpetrated by those who have no power to harm our immortal souls. Fear cannot be granted the determinative word. That which shapes our lives and impels them forward is trust in the living God.

It is good to look back from time to time, to glance occasionally in the rear-view mirror, if it helps us learn from what we have experienced or reminds us of the ways in which the Lord has been accompanying us on the journey. Indeed, his presence is often only recognized in hindsight. But if that glance becomes fixation, we need to avert our gaze and look steadfastly forward. We are people who are on mission; followers of the Lord who are sent. Let us move forward, trusting in the love and power of our God.

Monday, June 19, 2017

The Ultimate Re-Charge


It’s really annoying when I forget my chargers. I confess to having a few of what we generally refer to as “devices”: laptop, smartphone, iPad. They travel with me, and when the chargers don’t, I’m in trouble. Why is it that the power runs when I need the gizmos the most?! Or why is it that, when I do remember to bring the chargers, the charging stations at airports are always occupied?? If someday you pass me in an airport and see me sitting on the floor next to an outlet, be sure to take pity and say hello.
 
Portable devices are not the only things that need “re-charging.” More importantly, we do. There is so much that drains us not only of energy, but also of joy, indeed, even of life. Think of the “draw down” occasioned by anxiety, guilt, hurt, hopelessness and so on. Where do I go for the “re-charge,” i.e., what can restore me to myself, to hope, to life? I know that, like the devices, that new energy needs to come from outside of myself. I cannot be my own re-charger. Where do I turn?
 
 
 
On Sunday the Church celebrated the solemnity of Corpus Christi. At this sacred time, we focus, in a spirit of awe, praise and gratitude, upon the mystery of the Eucharist, Christ’s gift to the Church of his own Body and Blood. There is much that can be said about this wondrous sacrament. The Scripture passages for Sunday highlight its dimension of nourishment. As food is to the body, refreshing with renewed energy, so the Eucharist is to the soul. The Eucharist gives the ultimate re-charge.
 
An evocative context within which we can appreciate this dimension of the gift is provided in Sunday’s first reading (Deuteronomy 8.2-3, 14-16). It recalls how God fed the Israelite people with miraculous “manna”, or “bread from heaven,” to give them the strength they needed to journey, often exhausted and suffering, through the wilderness toward the promised land. That experience of wilderness finds an echo in our own lives whenever we experience the aridity of sinful behaviour, destroyed hopes, broken relationships, lack of meaning and purpose, i.e., anything that leaves us drained of a zeal to carry on. The real “bread from heaven” is Jesus Christ, given to us in the Eucharist. (cf. John 6:51-59) He feeds us with himself, gives us a participation in his own life - his risen life! - and thus restores to us the spiritual strength and real hope that energize us to continue the journey toward eternal life.
 
Forgetting my phone charger is an inconvenience. Neglect of the Eucharist is of far greater consequence. May nothing separate us from receiving and celebrating this great Gift.





 

Monday, June 12, 2017

God Must Not Be Eclipsed!

Our Archdiocesan Pastoral Council met on Saturday. As our guest we welcomed Gary Gagnon, the Coordinator of our Office of Aboriginal Relations. He gave us a very beautiful and moving presentation on some aspects of Indigenous culture.

As I have been in the past, I was struck once again by the centrality of the Creator in the life and thought of Aboriginal people. The Creator is acknowledged and praised as the author of life and the source of all good gifts. Personal relationship with the Creator is foundational to all human relating. In the life of our First Nations, Metis and Inuit brothers and sisters, God is not eclipsed. His light is allowed to shine to make clear the path to follow.

Here we find that Aboriginal culture points in its own way to what Saint John Paul II long ago identified as the root cause of the tragic suffering affecting the people of our day: "the eclipse of the sense of God and of man." (Evangelium Vitae, 21). When God is eclipsed, the light of truth gives way to the darkness of falsehood. We lose sight of the full meaning of human existence as created by God. Stumbling in the darkness, we end up on paths that lead away from clarity and happiness toward confusion and misery.


This brings us to the urgent importance of the mystery celebrated on Sunday: the Most Holy Trinity. St. Paul teaches that the light of the knowledge of God shines in the face of Christ (cf 2Cor 4:6). So, in Christ, the mystery of God has been revealed to us, has shone forth. The one and only God is a Trinity of Persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The light of this knowledge enlightens the mystery of the human person. Since God is, in himself, a perfect communion of love, his choice to create us arose not from need but out of desire. Pope Benedict XVI drew from this the beautiful conclusion that every person is "willed, loved and necessary" in the sight of God.

This message, arising from the very mystery of the Trinity, of the beauty of all human life is urgently needed today. Far too many people, especially among our youth, feel that they do not matter or count, that they are less worthy of consideration than other persons. Small wonder. Messaging abounds to the effect that one's "worth" is conditioned by wealth, beauty, talent, achievement and so on. The mystery of the Trinity enables us to see that the truth is just the opposite: our worth and dignity is inherent, not conditioned by any illusory external standard. We are the beloved children of God. Therefore, every life matters!

Rather than eclipse God, may we reflect his light by fully acknowledging and honouring the beauty and dignity of each person, at every stage of life and in all circumstances.



Monday, June 5, 2017

The Touchdown of the Holy Spirit



The other day a tornado touched down about 250 kilometres south of Edmonton. Awesome and terrifying. Witnesses spoke of its power, which, as we know, can bring great destruction in seconds.

On the Solemnity of Pentecost, celebrated on Sunday, we recall another experience of a powerful wind. “When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting.” (Acts 2:1-2) This was the coming of the Holy Spirit upon the Church as Jesus had promised. As the gift of God, the Spirit is infinitely more powerful than any earthly phenomenon. Yet, the effects of the bestowal of this gift are not destructive but transformative. Hearts are changed, understanding is granted, and hope becomes the motor force of human lives.

Why the transformation when the Holy Spirit “touches down” on the soil of earthly existence? Because the mission of the Holy Spirit is to draw us into a living union with Jesus Christ. By this gift of the Spirit, bestowed now in the sacraments of the Church, the very life of Jesus becomes the principle of our own. As St. Paul once put it, “It is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me.” (Galatians 2:20)

An immediate consequence of this is the banishment of fear. One of the most beautiful phrases from the mouth of Jesus is this: “I will not leave you orphans.” (John 14:18) Remember that he is the only Son of God. Through our union with him by the gift of the Holy Spirit, we are adopted by God (!!!) and thus become, truly, children of our Heavenly Father. It was precisely as orphans that Jesus found us when he came from heaven. We had been “orphaned” from God by the lies and deceptions of the devil, and thus made vulnerable to all the many ways the evil one seeks to lead us astray. No wonder a world that does not know God or has eclipsed Him from consideration experiences deep anxiety! It is the angst of orphans!!! The reason Christ came and was revealed to us was to destroy the works of the devil (1John 3:8) and make manifest the love of God. By overcoming in us all that “orphans” us from God, Christ has drawn us to himself and given us the gift of adoption. His Father has become Our Father, the One who knows us, cares for us, understands our every need and will never abandon us. We are orphans no longer!!! Be not afraid!!



While the tornado’s touchdown has immediate effects, that of the Holy Spirit usually brings about change only gradually. That is because the gift of the Spirit interacts with our human freedom. We need to choose to open our hearts to receive the gift and surrender to the Spirit’s power. Yet even such a choice is ours only by the Spirit’s gift, so let us not fail to call daily upon the Holy Spirit, asking Him to unite us ever more deeply to Christ, that we may live in true freedom as the children of God.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Communicate Hope and Trust

That’s the heart of the message issued by Pope Francis for World Communications Day of 2017. This year the event falls on May 28th, which in the liturgical calendar is the Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord. The two - hope and Ascension - are clearly linked, and touch the core of the reason why Christians have - and communicate - hope.

For a number of years now, on or near World Communications Day, our Archdiocesan Office of Communications has been hosting a media breakfast. This gives me a chance to sit down with local media professionals to discuss, first of all, the Pope’s message, as well as important local issues. Within the framework of the Pope’s message, we can understand the unparalleled opportunity that modern means of communications have to give a message of hope to our world. I see this played out particularly not only when a “good news” story is conveyed, but also when reporting sheds light on difficult and painful issues and thus provides the impetus for responsive action and positive change. In Alberta we need think only of the coverage one year ago of the Fort McMurray fire. Media both warned us of the danger and helped us to see the good that issued forth from the people as they hurried to help. From that unspeakable tragedy, the last word actually belonged to hope because of the way the story was covered by all media.

Yet the message of the Pope, even though it is directed in the first instance to media professionals, nevertheless has broad application to all of us. We know we are confronted daily by what the Holy Father strikingly refers to as a cycle of anxiety, to which we must put a stop. The antidote is hope. What opportunities do we have to offer hope to the people we encounter in our daily lives?

It is very important not to offer our response to suffering and anxiousness on the basis of some kind of naive optimism or a refusal to acknowledge the real evil that is at work in our world. As followers of Jesus Christ, we must look at our world situation squarely in the eye and offer a message of hope thoroughly imbued with realism. Only thus will it be received as credible.

The message offered by the Church throughout her existence has been - and always will be - that God’s loving purpose for humanity cannot be overcome by evil. The power of God’s mercy over sin and evil, even over death, was on full display in the Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. As we celebrate the Lord’s Ascension we see clearly the reason for which the Son of God became one of us and conquered death: to lead us to God. Life eternal with God is the destiny that God himself has bestowed upon us. That destiny is now a living and real hope because of what Jesus has done for us. As we pray in the liturgy, where Christ has gone we hope to follow by the power of his grace at work within us now, especially in those moments when evil and suffering appear to have the upper hand.

They never have the upper hand. The Lord’s departure to heaven does not translate into absence from this earth. As he himself promised, “… remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt 28:20). Through the gift of the Holy Spirit, Jesus remains with us, acting in the power of that same Spirit to bring to fulfillment in each of us the saving will of the Father. Therefore, have no fear; cast off anxiety. Jesus is with us. He is the reason for our hope.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Beware the Waterfall




I’m in Niagara Falls this week, leading a retreat for some of the priests of the Hamilton Diocese. I’ve been to these Falls a number of times, yet they never cease to take my breath away. Extraordinarily beautiful, awesome and … dangerous. One would not want to be carried away by the current and over the Falls!
 
One striking feature I’ve often noticed is the contrast between current and Falls; what seems to be a rather calm looking current upstream leads steadily and inexorably to the immense and life-threatening cascade. Unaware of the Falls ahead, one could easily allow oneself to be carried along by the flow of the river. Once aware of the lurking danger, however, a mighty effort of paddling upstream, against the current, would begin. At that point one would be instantly aware of just how powerful is that “gentle” stream.

As I ponder the majestic sight from this particular perspective, I find myself thinking of the questions I’ve been posing to candidates for the sacrament of Confirmation. Bishops are rather busy these days celebrating many of these liturgies. In the course of the ceremony, just prior to the anointing with sacred chrism, the candidates are invited to renew their baptismal promises. They are asked if they renounce Satan and believe in God. The questions get to the heart of our Christian life. By baptism, we are a people who give a resounding “No!” to the Evil One and to all that is contrary to God’s revelation and commandments. Motivating this “NO” is a powerful “Yes!!” to God and to all that he reveals about Himself and demands of us. Often, though, we get it backwards, and say “No” to God and to his teachings, and “Yes” to evil and to what is wrong. It is easy to happen, because the “No” to God can feel like floating gently along the stream of worldly logic, while our “Yes” to God can be experienced as a rowing against this powerful current of “everybody’s doing it” morality. Yet the flow of this “river” leads to danger. The boat needs to get turned around, and quickly.

How to do this? Well, we need to accept that this current leading to peril is too powerful to row against unaided. For this reason, God Himself gives us the help we need. He sends the Holy Spirit, identified by Jesus in Sunday’s Gospel as the Spirit of Truth (cf. John 14:15-21). By the light of the Spirit we discern what is truly right from what is really wrong, and are given the grace to remain in the truth. Furthermore, the Holy Spirit actually reverses the current of our lives by uniting us to Christ, who is the Way not to death but to the Father and eternal life.
 
The Church is preparing for the great celebration of Pentecost. Let’s prepare our hearts by closely examining the current along which our lives are presently flowing. Let’s not be deceived by appearances of ease and popularity. We might very well be headed toward danger. May the Holy Sprit renew our hearts and place us in the right direction by uniting us more deeply to Christ, the river Who leads to life.
 
 

Sunday, May 14, 2017

The Archbishop in Kindergarten


It’s a wonder I ever passed this grade. Who knew it could be so difficult?
 
I spent Wednesday of last week visiting a few schools in Red Deer. In one of them I was taken to meet the children of the kindergarten class. There they asked if I would read to the kids a book written to tell the Easter story.

“Sure! I’d be delighted!”

So, they gave me a chair and all the children sat on the floor around me. I read the story aloud to them, and they listened with rapt attention … or, so I thought.

As I neared the end of the not-so-lengthy tome, one of the children hollered out, “Hey! Aren’t you gonna show us the pictures??!!”

Oops. Forgot I was supposed to do that. Another indignant little voice then piped up: “Start over!”

I thought to myself, “How is it possible to mess up something like reading a story to a kindergarten class?”

But I did. Total failure.

The principal and teachers were stuffing their fists down their throats to stifle the guffaws. I can well imagine that copious salt was poured into this wound of embarrassment when the kids later told Mom and Dad that the Archbishop doesn’t even know how to tell the Easter story. Not one of my finer moments.
 
Tell the story and show the pictures. As I think about it, that’s a pretty good way to explain evangelization. It is not enough simply to tell what God has done for the world in Jesus Christ. That story, as astonishing and beautiful as it is, needs to be illustrated by the “pictures” of lives that have been transformed by God’s merciful love, and those pictures need to be shown to all who listen.
 
A rather extraordinary “picture” wound its way through the streets of Edmonton last Thursday. Thousands marched in the downtown area in the annual March for Life. When we tell the Easter story, we announce the Resurrection of one who self-identifies in the Gospel as “the Way, the Truth and the Life.” (cf. Sunday’s Gospel passage, Jn 12: 1-12) The Easter story we tell is about life!  On Thursday we illustrated this story by the picture of the March, born of our desire to celebrate life as God’s gift and our determination to speak out in defence of all human life at every stage and in each circumstance. We showed this picture to the city by taking to its streets. Now we pray that, by God’s grace, the telling and showing will bear fruit in the conversion of hearts and the establishment of a culture of life in our land.
 
Some food for thought: What picture is formed by the way I live my life? Is it consistent with the faith I profess as a Christian? Do Gospel story and living illustration mutually reinforce one another in the “book” which is my life? Serious business. I pray that God enable me to do a lot better in my daily living than I did last Wednesday on my visit to kindergarten class.

See more pictures of my visit here on Storify.
 

Monday, May 8, 2017

The Blue Mass


On Sunday I had the great joy of gathering at St Albert parish for their annual "Blue Mass", offered in thanksgiving to God for the first responders who protect us.

The timing was right. Just this past week we commemorated the first anniversary of the Fort McMurray fire. Looking back, we were reminded not only of the enormous danger faced by the residents of that city, but also of the heroism, professionalism, competence and selfless dedication of the first responders. It was a moment when the profound respect, admiration and gratitude of the citizens of this province for the men and women willing to stand in harm's way was on full display and expressed in a variety of ways.

What was experienced at the moment of the Fort McMurray crisis can give us important insight into the message of the Gospel proclaimed on Sunday (John 10:1-10). As I reflect on all that unfolded during that tragedy, what stands out is the importance of the voice of authority: the voice that alerted to danger, the voice that called people from their homes, the voice that gave direction, the voice that diverted people away from peril, the voice that showed the way to shelter, the voice that kept the population updated, and so on. In each case, the voice was listened to and followed, because the voice was trusted. The voice of authority was spoken by one in authority and therefore was trusted to speak only that which would lead away from harm and toward security.

The Gospel passage speaks precisely of a voice of authority that can be trusted with absolute confidence, and which is therefore the voice to be followed. It speaks of the voice of Jesus Christ. Using the familiar imagery of the Good Shepherd who loves and cares for his sheep, Jesus says that his sheep know and recognize his voice and follow his direction to pastures of safety, protected from the thieves and bandits who seek only to steal and destroy. At issue here is the pasture of eternal life and unending safety in the presence of God. In the course of our earthly lives we encounter many evil voices that attack not only the body but also the soul, seducing to spiritual danger. As we listen to the voices of our first responders who seek to protect us from bodily harm, we need also to be attentive to the voice of the One Good Shepherd, Jesus, whose voice leads us to spiritual security.

And why Jesus? Why his voice and not another? In the course of the Fort McMurray rescue, the voices of authority gave direction in accordance with an overarching plan that was formulated by those who could see the whole picture and assess the entire situation. The One who sees the whole picture of our lives, the One who, indeed, can assess the entire situation of world history, the One who sees clearly where danger lies, who knows the "escape routes" that lead away from peril, is Almighty God, who loves us beyond all imagining. He has fashioned a plan of escape for us, which in more theological language we call his plan of salvation. To carry out that plan, he has sent his well-beloved Son to be the voice of authority. So, when we listen to Jesus Christ, we can have full confidence that he is shepherding us in accord with the mysterious and loving plan of our Heavenly Father. His voice is worthy of our full trust, and in following it we find safety and peace.

One final thought about the Fort McMurray event. We were all particularly impressed by the bravery and skill of the firefighters. Yet, for many days they were forced to admit that the fire was beyond their control in spite of their best efforts. Often, we find things "out of control" in our own personal lives. Things "get away from us" in spite of everything we try to do to bring order and control. This can cause great stress and heartache and bring heavy pressure to bear on family and professional relationships. At times like these it is helpful to recall that there is one who is always in control and can turn all to the good if we but consciously surrender control of our lives to him. That is Jesus, our Good Shepherd, who loves us, speaks to us, and leads us to freedom. Let's listen to his voice and follow.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Where is Emmaus?


Slightly more than twenty years ago I made my first pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Like any pilgrim, I wanted to visit the holy sites. Among the places I wanted to see was Emmaus, on the road to which two disciples had encountered the Risen Lord Jesus (Sunday’s Gospel - Luke 24:13-35). What stands out in my memory is having been informed that there are actually three places today which tradition identifies as the possible site of that ancient locale. In other words, unlike with many of the other holy places, the precise location of Emmaus cannot be pinpointed with certainty.
 
This fact renders “the road to Emmaus" symbolically significant for the times in which we live. It now stands for a path to an unclear destination, and thus represents the life situation of many people today. With our attention drawn to an increasing variety of banal messaging and our time spread thin over myriad demands, little focus is trained upon life’s ultimate questions, such as: Where is my life headed? What is its true meaning? By what measure do I assess the rightness of my decisions? What is real and true? Or, what is my true destination? When the answer to this is unclear, then life loses any sense of confident direction. This is precisely the “road” on which many are walking today. It is a directionless path, which leads nowhere but to the confusion and unrest that bring with them the collateral effects of anxiety and frustration and hopelessness.
 
These are precisely the sentiments that inhabited the hearts of the two disciples on the road to ancient Emmaus. It is important to observe that their road did have a clearly known destination at the end of it. Yet, they were nevertheless downcast and without hope. They thought that Jesus was dead and forever absent from their lives. When he appeared to them, sadness gave way to joy and despair yielded to hope. From this we understand that clarity of destination is to be found not in a place but in a person. Our destination is Jesus. He who came from heaven to lead us to our Father in heaven is one with the Father (cf. John 10:30). In Jesus, our lives are given true direction and meaning. In him, our restless hearts find rest (St. Augustine) and we are at peace.
 

What is more, Jesus accompanies us on our pilgrim way as he leads us to himself. The reaction of those two disciples to the presence of the Lord with them on the road tells us clearly that there is no greater joy than that which arises from knowing he is near. I particularly love the image of the “hearts burning within” the disciples as Jesus explained to them everything in Sacred Scripture that pertained to himself and his place in the accomplishment of God’s saving plan for the world. That “burning” is the hope that arises from the clarity of God-given understanding of the divine purpose centered on and achieving fulfillment in Christ Jesus. It is the joy that issues from the awareness that the Risen Lord is with us at every moment of the journey, rendering himself particularly present in the sacraments of the Church, above all in “the breaking of the bread,” the Eucharist. The “burning” at the Lord’s presence leaves despair in ashes as it ignites within us an energy that impels us out of ourselves toward others to tell what we have experienced.
 
So, let’s put an end to time wasted on unnecessary searching for direction and meaning. These are given in Christ Jesus, who draws near to us as our companion and destination. Let’s open our hearts to him, that they, too, will burn with love for our Lord and the desire to announce his presence to others.
 
Join me on the next Holy Land pilgrimage in December. Visit here.
 

Monday, April 24, 2017

The Love that Heals is the Mercy that Restores

Archbishop Emeritus Lavoie and Archbishop Smith receiving gifts at St Kateri celebration Mass

On the weekend, I had the great joy of gathering with First Nations parishioners and other people of the Archdiocese to honour St. Kateri Tekakwitha. This gave us the opportunity to reflect upon her story and example. What a wonderful saint the Lord has raised up for the world in this first Native North American to be canonized!
Statue of St Kateri at the Catholic Campus

Among the many things that have been recounted of her, what has often struck me is the miraculous event of healing surrounding her death. Throughout her life, she bore on her face terrible scarring, the result of the smallpox from which she had suffered. As she lay dying, the only words she uttered repeatedly were: “Jesus, I love you.” These words gave expression to the great love she had borne throughout her life for the risen Lord; a love out of which she had turned her entire life over to him. Moments after her death, witnesses testified to the disappearance of the scars as her face was restored to its original beauty.

We may not bear external scars, but we certainly know what it is like to carry internal ones. Humanity today is deeply wounded. Psychological and emotional scars are borne by many people, the result of hurts, disappointments, betrayals, addictions, abuse, bitterness and so on. When left unaddressed, the interior wounds in the individual person fester and give rise to communal collateral damage: in the family, the civic community and even among nations. St. Kateri’s example has left us a teaching that must be heeded with great urgency: the handing over of one’s life to Christ in a relationship of love opens the heart to the healing for which every human person and our entire world is clearly longing, and that only our Risen Lord can give.
Divine Mercy Sunday at Our Lady Queen of Poland
The Kateri celebration was followed the next day by Divine Mercy Sunday. The coincidence of events is providential. It underscores what we know from experience: the divine love that heals reaches us as mercy. St. John Paul II, who established Divine Mercy Sunday, opened his great encyclical on mercy thus: “It is ‘God, who is rich in mercy’ (Eph 2:4) whom Jesus Christ has revealed to us as Father…” (Dives in Misericordia, 1). God our Father is all-loving and most merciful. When, in Christ and out of love for Christ, we present our wounds and scars to him, he heals us by the divine mercy that restores us to the beauty that is ours as his children.

St. Kateri, pray for us. By your intercession, may we all be fully open to the gift of divine love and mercy, and thus know the joy and peace that flow from God’s gift of healing.

Read the full story on the St Kateri Celebration here.

Sister Kateri played a role in the canonization of St Kateri

Monday, April 17, 2017

Hindsight Grounding Foresight



The Easter Vigil is a liturgy of extraordinary depth and beauty. The solemn proclamation of Easter (Exsultet) unfolds beneath the flaming paschal candle and announces the Risen Christ as the light that dispels all darkness. The expanded Liturgy of the Word traces the awe-inspiring course of salvation history leading to the wondrous event of the Resurrection. The Baptismal Liturgy extends to the recipients of this sacrament the gift of new life in Christ, and welcomes them into his embrace through membership in his Mystical Body, the Church. The liturgy culminates with the sacrament of the Eucharist, in which the Risen Lord renders himself truly present in fulfillment of his promise always to be with us and as food for our journey toward the fullness of life in heaven.

I'd like to focus briefly upon the Liturgy of the Word proclaimed at the Vigil. The proclamation of the many Scripture passages is an exercise of what I like to call holy hindsight. This part of the liturgy looks back over history and sees it anew in the light of the Resurrection of Jesus. In this light, we see a history of wondrous and ineffable love. After God created the human family we abandoned him through sin. Yet he never abandoned us, but walked with us always, intervening in our history, both collective and personal, in order to draw us back to himself. When we erred, he did not turn his back on us, but worked to turn all to our good by transforming our wrong turns into right ones and our mistakes into blessings. His definitive and decisive intervention is what we celebrate at Easter. Jesus, the Son of God incarnate, after having taken to himself all of our sins and dying on the Cross, rises from the grave, triumphant over sin and death. In this way, he reverses forever the downward trajectory on which our sin had launched human history.
 
This holy hindsight announces the steadfast love and mercy of God as always present and perennially victorious over evil. In this way, the holy hindsight grounds our hopeful foresight. We cannot see all that lies before us, but we are certain that in every event and circumstance our Risen Lord will be there, in the full power of his resurrection, to love us by guiding us, correcting us, forgiving us and leading us to eternal life. It is no wonder that our Easter liturgies resound with "Alleluia!" Christ is truly Risen and with his people. We are not alone; never alone. Let this conviction banish all fear as we place our faith fully in our Risen Lord and surrender our lives to him.
 
 

Monday, April 10, 2017

Follow or Flee?



The liturgy of Palm Sunday is dramatic. Recounting events in Jerusalem in the last days of our Lord's earthly life, it traces a path from triumph to shame. Scripture recalls that crowds of people hailed him as king upon his entry into the city, but that a few days later he was left abandoned as he hung upon the Cross. 

This commemoration poses a question that we would do well to carry with us into Holy Week: follow or flee? The crowds were quite happy to follow the Lord into Jerusalem when all seemed well. They wanted to benefit from the triumphal liberation that they supposed him to be bringing. At some point, though, it became clear exactly where the Lord's particular path was leading. The shadow of the Cross began to loom very large, and the enthusiasm for Jesus quickly evaporated. They fled. 

Entering Holy Week means entering Jerusalem with him. We follow him into the city through our participation in the solemn liturgies of the coming days. The story of the crowds in Jerusalem of old raises for us today the question of just how far we are willing to go. Will we follow or will we flee? Will we go where he leads us or will we choose to forge our own path? 

Faithful following of Jesus Christ leads to the Cross. We know that. Yet we also know that the journey does not end there. This Holy Week will culminate with the joyful celebration at Easter of the Lord's resurrection from the dead. The path of Jesus leads to the fullness of life, indeed, to eternal life. This is where he is leading us. Yet his journey also makes clear that this path passes inevitably through the Cross. The path followed by the disciple of Jesus is that of self-denial, self-sacrifice, indeed death to self so as to live for God and for others.

In our age that exalts personal autonomy to the point of idolatry, any idea of self-sacrifice or abnegation, even for the sake of a greater good, is for many incomprehensible. It is, indeed, something to flee. What Jesus teaches, though, is that flight into the self leads nowhere. That path finishes in a dead end. In light of the Resurrection we see clearly that only the Cross opens our lives up to a limitless future, to an infinite horizon. It is not something shameful from which to flee in terror but a wondrous mystery to be embraced with hope.

May the grace of the Holy Week celebrations free us from fear and strengthen our faith, so that we may follow the Lord in all things and never flee from his love.

Friday, March 31, 2017

Ad Limina (Final Part 5)


Well, today started off with a real treat for Bishop Greg and myself. Word had reached us through the week that a group of students from Austin O’Brien Catholic School in Edmonton would be in Rome for a couple of days. We learned that they had arranged to celebrate Mass with Fr. Michael Schumacher in one of the chapels in the crypt area below St. Peter’s Basilica. We wanted very much to see them, so we went over to the Basilica first thing and met up with them as they were finishing their celebration of the Mass. I must say, they are an ambitious group! They’re on a twelve-day adventure that began in Barcelona and passed through Venice and Orvieto (and probably a few other places that I didn’t catch) before coming to Rome. No wonder they looked so tired! Happy, but a little fatigued. It was a delight to be with them. 

 
As it turns out, this unplanned encounter set the stage beautifully for the meetings that had been planned. In our Catholic schools, we work very hard to create an environment fully permeated by the faith. The ultimate goal is to form our students as life-long disciples of Jesus, and throughout our history some of our students have heard the Lord call them to live out this baptismal call by means of a religious vocation. These were the precise themes discussed as we met, first, with the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life and, second, the Congregation for Catholic Education. In the former we discussed the challenge of a diminishment in religious vocations in certain areas of the world as well as the hopeful reality of an increase in others. We recalled the message of the Holy Father that we must at all times remain people of hope and never of resignation, since God is always present and at work in his Church to turn all things to the good. Therefore, we must never tire of promoting the joy, beauty and essentiality of vocations to priesthood and religious life. Our latter meeting at Catholic Education was an opportunity to affirm the great gift we have in Catholic schools and the joint responsibility shared by all believers to strengthen their identity and mission, especially in the face of the many pressures prevalent in the world today to insert into our classrooms ideologies contrary to the faith or to work against the very existence of Catholic schools. This Congregation is also responsible for Catholic universities and ecclesiastical institutes. In this respect, we spent time discussing among other things the good and challenging work of our chaplaincies, particularly where these operate in secular settings.
 
Basilica Papale San Paolo fuori le Mura
These were our final dicastery visits. We ended the day with our pilgrimage mass at the Basilica of St Paul Outside the Walls, built near the place where this great Apostle was martyred and where his bones are preserved and venerated. Here we brought to the intercession of the Saint the urgent need that emerged as a theme uniting all of our encounters and to which the Apostle dedicated himself fully: evangelization. To announce the Gospel is to proclaim to our suffering world the life and hope that only our Lord can give. It is a duty of all believers.
 
Tomorrow morning, we end formally our ad limina visit with our final mass at the Major Basilica of St. Mary Major, the Church built to the honour of Mary under her supreme title of Mother of God. There we shall entrust the needs of the whole Church, especially those of the people of our own Dioceses, to the powerful intercession of Our Lady.

Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore
It has been a very effective and worthwhile encounter, a real experience of fraternal communion with the Holy Father and his closest collaborators. Having crossed this “threshold of the Apostles,” we now cross back again over those of our own Dioceses. It is always good to get back home, and this time we do so refreshed in the Spirit who unites and empowers us for the task entrusted to us as Successors of the Apostles at the service of the Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

See all more photos from Bishop Bittman here: https://goo.gl/photos/js7ueZty6MHKboX3A
 


Read the Ad Limina Blog series here.
Part 3: http://archbishopsmith.blogspot.ca/2017/03/ad-limina-2017-part-3.html
Part 2: http://archbishopsmith.blogspot.ca/2017/03/ad-limina-2017-part-2.html
Part 1: http://archbishopsmith.blogspot.ca/2017/03/ad-limina-2017.html

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Ad Limina 2017 (Part 4)

Icon of the baptism of Jesus at St Nicholas Ukrainian Catholic Parish.

Pope Francis has made clear from his pontificate that, in virtue of our Baptism, we are called to be missionary disciples. By “disciple” we mean one who has come to know the truth that Jesus alone leads to life and thus follows him by allowing his teachings and promptings to inform and shape every aspect of one’s life. By “missionary” we mean that Jesus “sends” those who follow him on mission with the message of the Gospel, especially to the poor and any who live on the peripheries of our societies. 

Monument in Piazza di Spagna

I mention this because “missionary discipleship” emerged as the unifying theme of our visits today to yet more Vatican dicasteries. The first was to the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, located in the Piazza di Spagna, very near the famous “Spanish steps” and next to the extraordinary monument to the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, visited by the Pope every year on December 8th. This congregation, since its establishment in 1622 by Pope Gregory XV, has been concerned with the missionary activity of the Church throughout the world. It oversees the work of the Church especially in Africa, Asia and parts of Oceania. Yet, as we were reminded today by the Prefect, Cardinal Filoni, the entire Church is called to be missionary. 

The missionary activity of the Church has many facets. The multiform mission of the Church is made visible in the second dicastery visited today, namely, the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development. This is a new department, recently created by Pope Francis by bringing together the following pre-existing Pontifical Councils: Justice and Peace; Cor Unum; for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People; and for Health Care Workers. Here we discussed the need to protect and uphold the conscience rights of our healthcare workers, particularly those who are pressured to perform activities that are contrary to their religious or moral convictions. As one official rather trenchantly put the matter, “Doctors are not executioners.” We also touched upon the situation of our Indigenous brothers and sisters in Canada, and the welcome, care and integration we are called to extend to immigrants in our land, especially to those recently arrived as refugees. Our country in particular was congratulated for the warm and generous welcome extended throughout our history, but especially recently, to people in need arriving at our borders. 

Since Christ died for all people of all time, the Church understands her missionary activity ordered to the fostering of deep and lasting unity among all peoples. This leads us into ecumenical dialogue, which was discussed when Bishops gathered in the afternoon at the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity. More broadly, the very important matter of interreligious dialogue occupied our attention when we met with the Archbishop Secretary of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue. In our gatherings, it has been noted that we Bishops of Canada offer a particularly wonderful and effective sign of unity in the communion we demonstrate among the Bishops of the Latin Rite and those of the Ukrainian Catholic Church. This was underscored when we met with officials of the Congregation for Oriental Churches, the dicastery that oversees the relations of the Holy See with the many Catholic Churches of non-Latin Rite who are in communion with Rome. 
 
Bishop Terrio, Fr Schumacher, Archbishop Smith, and Bishop Bittman at dinner in Rome.
 

At the end of the day Bishop Greg and I, in the company of Bishop Paul Terrio, met up with one of our priests doing graduate studies here in Rome, Fr. Michael Schumacher. We took him out to dinner in Trastevere, one of my favourite areas of Rome. We found a restaurant near one of Rome’s most ancient churches dedicated to Our Lady, Santa Maria in Trastevere. Its mosaics are of breathtaking beauty. 
 
Santa Maria in Trastevere
 

Missionary disciples. As has been observed and discussed more than once this week, humanity today knows great suffering. It is incumbent upon all followers of Christ to embrace fully our call and duty to bring the Gospel to all situations as thus proclaim real hope.
 
More photos from Bishop Bittman's Ad Limina album: https://goo.gl/photos/js7ueZty6MHKboX3A
 
Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Piazza di Spagna.