The most difficult times can produce the greatest spiritual blessings. God truly knows just what we need at every moment!

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Letter to the Clergy and Faithful on The Year of St. Paul

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

The year 2008 marks the 2000th anniversary of the birth of St. Paul. To honour and celebrate the life, mission, and letters of this great Apostle, the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, has declared June 2008-June 2009 to be the Year of Saint Paul. Throughout this year, the Church is called to share with the Apostle Paul in the call to conversion; to live and pray in Christ; to study and live the inspired Word of God; to rekindle a love for the Eucharist and the Church; and to respond to the universal call to holiness and mission.

The Opening of the Pauline Year in the Archdiocese of Edmonton

A solemn liturgy to mark the beginning of the Pauline Year will be held at St. Joseph’s Basilica on Sunday, June 29th, at 5 p.m. On this day, as the Church throughout the world celebrates the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul, we in this Archdiocese shall gather in our Cathedral church or in our parishes to celebrate the Eucharist and entrust this year of jubilee to God, whose love has been forcefully proclaimed by the Apostle Paul.

Practical Means of Participation in the Year of Saint Paul

Many activities are already planned or underway in this Archdiocese. For example, I have recently announced the beginning this fall of our plan for the new evangelization. Indeed, St. Paul’s eloquent testimony to the beauty of life in Christ will greatly enhance our new evangelization process, which aims to help all of us discover that there is “nothing more beautiful” than our life of faith. As well, the Archdiocese is continuing to discern and implement various pastoral goals for this local Church. How, then, to honour this privileged moment in the history of the Church in such a way that it is not perceived as a burdensome “addition” to events already occurring? The way to do so is to infuse what is already in place or planned with the teachings of St. Paul. For individuals, I strongly encourage the nourishment of your daily life of faith through a new reading of the letters of St. Paul. Paul himself was intimately acquainted with the Sacred Scriptures of Israel, and through the study of his letters, we perceive the immense significance of God’s Son, the Christ, entering into human history and offering his life for ours in the fullness of time (Gal 2:20; 4:4). I suggest spending time with Paul and his letters in the presence of our Lord through a monthly Holy Hour before the Blessed Sacrament. This time would afford us with an opportunity to grow in appreciation, knowledge and love of Scripture, which itself witnesses to Christ (Rom 1:2). Reflections on these pastoral letters can be undertaken on a personal basis, as well as through joining parish Bible studies wherever available.

As regards our parishes and institutions, I ask that current programs and initiatives incorporate Paul’s teachings. This can be as simple as beginning a meeting with a reflection from one of Paul’s letters. Likewise, programs addressed to such needs as sacramental preparation, family life and marriage matters, or issues of social justice may probe Paul’s letters more deeply.

Our priests have already been assisted to lead the faithful at Mass to a deeper understanding of passages from the letters of St. Paul. The person and the theology of the Apostle were the focus of their recent study days at Jasper, led by a Scripture scholar who specializes in this area, Dr. Margaret MacDonald of Saint Francis Xavier University in Nova Scotia.

Scripture Fest 2008, Scripture Fest Follow-up and the Year of St. Paul

I am also pleased to announce that this year’s Scripture Fest, along with the monthly Scripture Fest follow-up sessions, are dedicated to exploring the letters of St. Paul. Since Dr. MacDonald’s presentations to the priests were so well received, we have invited her to return to lead Scripture Fest this fall. As a yearly two-day event, Scripture Fest allows us the opportunity to reflect on the timeless riches of the Bible and hear recent scholarly insights. The monthly follow-up sessions this year will allow for a closer and sustained tour of Paul’s missionary journeys and letters.

Prayer for the Pauline Year

Finally, I suggest that we pray often, throughout this year of jubilee, the following prayer adapted from the one composed by St. Paul himself while in prison (Eph 3:14-21). It is a powerful expression of the hope that is ours through faith in Christ.

I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that he may grant us in accord with the riches of his glory to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in the inner self, and that Christ may dwell in our hearts through faith; that we, rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the holy ones what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that we may be filled with all the fullness of God. Now to him who is able to accomplish far more than all we ask or imagine, by the power at work within us, to him be glory in the Church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

Yours sincerely in Christ,
 Richard W. Smith
Archbishop of Edmonton
Solemnity of St. Peter and St. Paul
Edmonton, June 29, 2008

Saturday, June 21, 2008

TWELFTH Sunday, A – 21/22 June 2008
Jeremiah 20, 10-13; Psalm 69; Romans 5, 12-15; Matthew 10:26-33

"Everyone therefore who acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge before my Father in haven; but whoever denies me before others, I also will deny before my Father."

What a wonderful promise! Jesus gives his instructions to the Twelve and gives them, and us through them, this wonderful promise that is at the very heart of the Christian faith. That really is all we have to do, just declare ourselves to be openly in favour of Christ and his Gospel of love.

It doesn't seem much, does it? And yet if we look at it in another way it is everything. We declare ourselves openly for Christ and of course we then have to start living accordingly. If we do not, but go back to our old ways of life we are giving counter-witness and will have disowned him; this will mean that he will disown us, as he says in the second part of his saying.

The plain truth is that if countless numbers of people down the generations had not openly declared themselves for Christ and suffered the consequences of doing so, and quite often this meant torture and death; then we would not be here today. There would be no Church building; there would be no community of Christians. The Church of today is built on the foundations of those who openly declared themselves for Christ in the past.

A famous man of the world was asked if he was a Christian. His answer was,

"Yes, but not very offensively." He meant that he did not allow his Christianity to interfere with the company he kept or the life of pleasure.

It is a bit like the Spaniard who when asked by a priest if he was a Catholic was quite indignant and said: “Of course I am”. The priest then asked him if he went to Sunday Mass on a regular basis. The Spaniard said, "Father, you know, I'm a Catholic, and not a fanatic."

There are three principal ways we can deny Christ.
We can deny him
- by our words,
- by our silence and
- by our actions.

Each of us has had moments like Peter when the cock crows; moments when we are deeply shamed by our open denial of Christ. We are put on the spot and we openly deny him. “I don’t know Jesus. I am a modern man and not a religious fanatic to manifest my faith in this way.” This is denial by words.

There are other times when we deny him by silence, by our failure to speak up. We see we are out-numbered or we are afraid we will be ridiculed and so we say nothing, but that means that a grave injustice is done, the name of Christ is mocked or an opportunity to witness Him missed.

We also deny him by our actions by living the sort of life that is unworthy of a Christian; by basing our life on lies; by manipulating others; by cruelty; by a life of ease; by pressing down the poor, by neglecting our religious life and religious activities.

Maybe you have all heard of the famous book “Tom Brown's Schooldays”. Tom Brown was very popular at his Public School; he lived with about a dozen other boys in one of the school's dormitories. He was very influential and was the undisputed leader of his gang of friends. One day a new boy came to the school. When it came to bedtime the new boy innocently knelt down by his bed to say his prayers.

Some of the other boys began to snigger, a few others began to laugh and joke, one even threw a shoe at the kneeling boy. That night Tom didn't go to sleep straight away. He lay awake thinking about what had happened to the new boy. He also began to think about his mother and the prayers she had taught him to say each night before going to bed, prayers he had not said since he came to school.

The next night several of the boys were looking forward to having fun with the new boy. But that night something totally unexpected happened. When the new boy knelt down to say his prayers, Tom knelt down also. The whole atmosphere of the dormitory changed.

Jesus tells us that He will declare Himself for those who declare themselves for Him. One of the reasons Jesus made this statement is because bearing witness to Him or not bearing witness to Him can have a profound effect on those around us.

Perhaps the most important area in which this happens is in the home. The deciding factor for Tom Brown was the influence of his mother's example. Because he was so impressed with her faith he in turn gave witness to others and influenced them profoundly. And how it is in our houses? Do we give a witness?

It has been said that every Christian occupies some kind of pulpit and preaches some kind of sermon every day. This is never more true than of parents in the home. Bishop Halder Camara from Brazil used to repeat: “You are the only Gospel some people will ever read.” Shouldn’t be this a motto for us all”.

In the course of the last twenty-six years since I was ordained I have talked to thousands of young people. Whenever I’ve had the opportunity I’ve asked them about prayer.

I have been very impressed with the answers and even more so by the depth of their prayer-lives. Mostly they pray because they were taught to do so as young children. But I have been equally saddened by the fact the most of them have told me that prayer is practically a taboo subject in the home.

It is easy and it is truly wonderful to talk to young children about prayer. It is more difficult, but much more rewarding, to talk to teenagers and young adults about prayer.

What many Catholics are lacking is the vocabulary to deal with these things and I think that this is one of the reasons why we shy away from talking about anything to do with religion.

An important thing is to get people talking about their faith and to feel comfortable doing so. How many people would like to share their faith with others? How many are simply embarrassed by such a proposal? Somebody in the past told us that my faith is my private and personal almost intimate and secret matter. And we believe it, and we are ashamed to share our faith.

One of the most important things that ought to be discussed by the members of every family in which there are teenagers is how to make that transition from childhood forms of prayer to ones that are more suitable for adult life.

The most helpful thing for our young people would be to hear how their own parents struggled with this transition. They want to know what prayer is, and how you do it, and how it can give meaning and purpose to their lives.

This is something that really needs to be talked about, this is a duty that no true Christian should neglect, this is precisely the sort of thing that Jesus is referring to when he tells us that we ought to declare ourselves for him in the presence of others.

And what about the moral and ethical problems we are facing in our daily life? Do we dare to talk about this with our kids and teenagers? Do we give the witness to Christ and his teaching, do we acknowledge Him before our own families? Or we rather deny Him in our words, in our action or silence, and in what we have failed to do - also?

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Today I found that Sunday Reflections of Frank Doyle SJ are very appealing and interesting. And so I just copied it and paste onto my page. The original you can find on the address: Sunday Scripture Reflections with Frank Doyle SJ

15 June, 2008 - XI SUNDAY OF THE YEAR A

Exodus 19:1-6; Romans 5:6-11; Matthew 9:36-10:8

THE GOSPEL OPENS with Jesus looking over the crowds of people. He is filled with compassion for them. They are "harassed and helpless" like sheep without a shepherd. Things have not changed that much. So many today are still harassed by various forces and helpless, drifting without any real direction in their lives. "Do you know where you're going to?" Diana Ross and the Supremes sang some years ago. How many of us can really answer that question?

A rich harvest

So Jesus says to his followers: "The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few; ask the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into his harvest." Certainly the harvest is plentiful. There are about one billion Christians in the world today and that seems like a huge number. Even so we only account for one fifth of the world's population. Eighty percent still do not know Christ! And, even among many of those who carry the name Christian and have been baptised he is, to a large extent, a stranger.

However, there are many hundreds of millions who fervently belong to other faiths: Judaism, Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism. Undoubtedly these religions have profound insights into the meaning of life and they produce their own saints, prophets and mystics. It is wrong to refer, as we did in the past, to such people as 'pagans' and 'infidels'. If we really want to find pagans and infidels, that is, people who live a totally secular life, in our own time we should rather look at our own wealthy, post-Christian western societies.

Where are the labourers?

The harvest is indeed plentiful, right on our own doorstep. Undoubtedly, too, the labourers, too, are few. That does not just mean that we do not have enough priests, brothers and sisters. The call to be a harvester is being made to every single follower of Christ. It is being made to every single person here. The way each one of us does harvesting depends on the circumstances of our life: our family situation, work situation, education, personality and temperament, and so on.

One way we can ask the Lord to send labourers into his harvest is for each one of us to say to him: "Here I am, Lord. Send me." So often we pray for "vocations" but we do so in a very narrow way as if the only vocation was to be a priest or religious. And somehow we always seem to be thinking of other people, people we do not know, certainly not people in our own family or our own children. Today, let us hear the call made to ourselves and reflect on how we can answer.

The first harvesters

In today's Gospel Jesus begins by calling his first harvesters. He picked out twelve of his disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to liberate people from them and to heal every disease and sickness. Notice that the mandate is not just 'religious'. It is for both spiritual and physical healing, the making whole of the complete person at every level.

These disciples are called "apostles". It may surprise us that this is the only time this word is used in Matthew's gospel. A disciple is basically a follower, someone who learns from a master and becomes more and more like him. The word 'apostle' is a more active word. It implies someone who is entrusted by his lord and master with carrying an important message to others. Obviously, of course, one has first to be a good disciple before becoming a reliable apostle.

Why twelve? Because in the old Israel there were the twelve sons of Jacob, who became the patriarchs and the heads of the twelve tribes into which Israel was divided. These twelve men are the leaders of the new Israel, the new Kingdom being established through Jesus.

A mixed bunch

They are certainly a mixed bunch of people. Some of them were probably illiterate, which was not such a serious handicap in those days when there were hardly any books. One of them was a former tax collector, one of a class much despised for its venality and corruption. Another seems to have been some kind of anti-government rebel or subversive. And one, of course, turned out to be a traitor.

It does not give us much reason to say, as sometimes people do, that "I am not good enough to do the Lord's work". When we look at the Church today in all its vastness and complexity and in the extraordinary cultural richness it has given to the world we are amazed that this was all begun by people of such limited competence. If Jesus could use them, he can certainly use me. Can I say to him today, "Here I am, Lord; use me"?

At first, these apostles are told only to go to the 'lost sheep' of Israel and to avoid the Samaritans and Gentiles. God's message is first for his own people and, in general, Jesus' own work is almost entirely confined to the Jewish community. Later, of course, the mandate is extended to people everywhere. And what are these missionary apostles to do? They are to proclaim that "The kingdom of heaven is near!"

Kingdom of God, or heaven?

This does not mean, as we mentioned on another occasion, that people are all going to die in the next day or two and go to "heaven". Matthew always goes out of his way to avoid using the name of God and 'heaven' is one of his favourite substitutes. So we are talking about the kingdom of God. And that kingdom is not a place. It might be better to speak of the reign, the kingship of God. The kingship of God is close because of the presence of Jesus Christ. We enter the kingdom not by going somewhere but by aligning ourselves totally with the Way of Jesus, when his thoughts become our thoughts, when his ways become our ways.

The apostles are to show the nearness of the Kingdom by curing the sick, raising the dead, cleansing lepers, casting out demons. These are all signs of God's loving power reaching deep into people's lives.

A programme for our own time

In modern terms that could mean:
• Bringing healing into people's lives. People can be sick in many ways, and not just physically. We can all be agents for bringing healing and wholeness back into people's lives, especially those we come in contact with.
• We cannot literally raise people from the dead. We can, however, help people to recover an interest and zest for living. People can be physically alive but dead in many other respects.
• Cleanse lepers. For us, that is to rehabilitate and bring back fully into our communities all those who, for one reason or another, are marginalised, rejected, despised, ostracised on the basis of race, nationality, marital status, religion, gender ...
• Cast out demons. In our day demons are all those suffocating and enslaving forces which dominate, manipulate and restrict our freedom to live in truth and love. They include many elements of our contemporary lifestyle, the pressures to conform to what is in fashion, whether it be clothes, food, drugs of all kinds - prescribed and non-prescribed, the tendencies to hedonism, extreme individualism, violence of all kinds. Our abortion culture is simply one of the symptoms and effects of all this. We have to start by casting out these demons from our own hearts first before helping others to true liberation.

Finally, says Jesus, "You received without payment; give without payment." Yes, all that we have are God's gift to us. God's gifts to us are literally price-less. They are meant to be used freely and liberally for the benefit of all. We are not in the business of sharing our faith for the money or the kudos it brings. To paraphrase President John Kennedy: "Ask not what others can do for you; but what you can do for others."

Saturday, June 07, 2008

08 June , 2008 - X Sunday in Ordinary time - A

Today's readings continue the theme of last Sunday where Jesus said it is not enough to say "Lord, Lord..." so to be saved and enter the Kingdom of God. In fact, as we will see, very strange people seem to find their way into it. The Gospel reading describes the call of one - Matthew. Certainly, Matthew was a highly unlikely candidate for discipleship. After all, he was a tax collector.

Tax collectors were among the most despised group of people in Jewish society of the time. Tax collectors never can be particularly popular, given their distasteful job but in Jesus' time they were collecting taxes on behalf of a hated and pagan colonial ruler. As such they were seen as collaborators and traitors both to their own people and to their religion. The Romans had the custom of farming out the collection of taxes to volunteer agents. These paid up the amount that the Romans demanded and then had to get back the money from the people. In order to make a living from such work, they needed to collect more than they had paid the Romans. This was their "commission" but there was often an element of extortion and corruption in the whole practice.

Jesus now invites one of these despised people to be one of his chosen followers. We can imagine Matthew's astonishment at being picked out in this way. It is a perfect example of Jesus looking beyond the exterior and the stereotype to the potential of the real person inside. It is a lesson for us who tend so quickly to make negative judgments of people, to stereotype and to scapegoat, to write people off. Matthew, the presumed avaricious tax agent, simply abandons his post, leaves everything behind and, full of trust, goes off after Jesus with little idea of what is in store for him. Our God is indeed a God of surprises.

Jesus' enemies followed the custom of their country and milled about Matthew's mansion. The supper was held in a courtyard to catch a breeze and so was visible. They watched the sumptuous party with disgust. During the meal, they shouted to the apostles, "Why does your Master eat with such a sinner?"

The point of challenging the apostles was both: to embarrass them at their cooperation in violating Jewish customs and to turn them against Jesus.

But Christ was buying none of it. He threw in the faces of the enemies an ancient Greek proverb that has entered the world's literature, "It is not those who are healthy who have need of a physician but rather those who are sick." Those words were the first Gospel declaration of the character of the ministry He would follow. It would be a ministry to sinners and so the origin of his centuries-old title, Christ the physician of souls.

Then He dismissed His enemies like so many school boys with a passage from the Old Testament which they knew backwards and forwards. "Go home and find out what the words mean: it is mercy that wins favor with me, not sacrifice. I have come to call sinners, not the just." If you wondered about the depth of
I have a question for you:

Please imagine that you see me in a sinking boat. I have a very fun time, I am fishing, enjoying beautiful weather, sunshine, I am enjoying my out door time … But you see that my boat is sinking. You see –because you have the better perspective- that I am in danger, that in few minutes time I will sink with my boat.

What will you do? Will you say: “OK. This is none of my business. He is adult and mature; he knows what he is doing. I shouldn’t intervene or be involved. It will only cause me problems and troubles.” Will you react like that and walk away? Or rather … you will try to save me, to organize a rescue?

You will certainly try to help me, even if I say that everything is OK, and I am well. Even if I don’t see the danger of my situation you will not abandon me. Maybe because you know me, maybe because you like me … maybe because you feel obliged?

But let us imagine another situation. You see somebody committing suicide, for example staying on the tall bridge ready to jump down into the strong and powerful stream of Saskatchewan River. What will you do? Will you pass by without trying to help this stranger? Or will you rather try to persuade, to convince him that the life is worthy to be lived and beautiful, that he is in the danger but everything will certainly change? You will not abandon this poor guy even if you don’t know him.

This is what Jesus is doing in today’s Gospel. He comes to Matthew and says: “You are in danger, you are on the sinking boat, but I can help you, I can rescue you. You have only to follow me. And, what is the answer of Matthew?

He got up and followed Him”. He didn’t try to justify himself, he didn’t try to neglect his situation, he didn’t say: “OK, take it easy, I am fine”. “He got up and followed Jesus with joy and thankfulness.

Jesus can come into our lives as he came to St. Matthew - life like a physician who gives hope to a desperate patient.

Will I still maintain that I am OK? Will I stubbornly deny that I am not sick and I don’t need any help?

Jesus tries to tell me only: You are not able to save yourself. As long as you consider yourself well and righteous you are in danger and you can not be cured.

On the other hand, there are some here today who think they are such miserable sinners that God could not forgive them. This incident with Matthew, ex-sinner, should make them realize that God is saying, "I am not He who damns, for my name is Jesus. I am here to save you, but you have to recognize that you NEED ME!!! AND MY HELP.” As long as you pretend that everything is OK, I cannot rescue you.

St. John in his first letter (1:8-10) says: “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.

I will even dare to say that any spirituality which denies the basic condition of our human life – the sin – is not authentic, and for me is very suspicious, and even more – deceptive and dangerous. I cannot save myself!!!