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

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.