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

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.