March 29, 2010
It is always a special blessing and joy for the clergy and faithful of the Archdiocese to assemble for the Mass of Chrism. This is true once again this year, but we cannot deny that our celebration tonight occurs in the midst of some very troubling days for the Church. We are aware of the scourge of sexual abuse of minors perpetrated by a small number of clergy coming to light in some countries of Europe. As the scandal unfolds some media reports are even claiming that the Holy Father himself has been negligent in his leadership pertaining to these heinous crimes. Gathered at this particular time we must not fail to speak of this and bring it to the Lord, seeking from him wisdom and direction.
Concerning our Holy Father we should be aware that people who have examined closely the media reports are raising their voices in his defence, pointing out that they are based largely upon misrepresentation of the facts. Any impartial observer can see that Pope Benedict is deeply troubled by the harm that has been done to young people. He does not hesitate to manifest his sorrow and empathy to victims. And he has clearly demonstrated his resolve, both before and after assuming the papal office, to confront this problem and lead the Church on "a path of healing, renewal and reparation" (cf. Pastoral Letter to the Catholics of Ireland, 2). The Bishops of Canada affirm our complete confidence in the strong and decisive leadership he has shown and continues to show when dealing with this terrible problem.
At the same time that we stand firmly behind the leadership of our Holy Father, we also share with him the profound sorrow arising from the undeniable fact that some clergy have hurt innocent children, and some Bishops have badly mishandled their responses to these crimes. We cannot run or hide from these things, and we have no desire to do so. They need to be squarely faced with the Gospel principles of healing, truth, light and repentance. The Church in Canada first confronted this scourge more than twenty years ago, and has been working ever since to provide healing to victims, remove perpetrators from ministry and create safe environments for children and other vulnerable people. Now, as this terrible news comes to us from abroad, many questions will once again be raised, and of course they need to be forthrightly and transparently addressed.
Now, as this terrible news comes to us from abroad, many questions will once again be raised, and of course they need to be forthrightly and transparently addressed.
One fundamental question within the hearts of each one of us is this: in the face of this or any crisis, where do we find hope? This is an important question, because we as the people of God are called at all times, especially in dark moments, to be ready to give a reason for the hope that is ours (cf. 1Peter 3:15). The answer to the question is found in tonight's Scripture readings. They proclaim that the reason for hope at all times is found in the person of Jesus Christ. Jesus is our hope. So let us now do as the people of the Nazareth synagogue once did; let us fix our eyes on the Lord and listen carefully to his teaching.
In the Gospel for this Mass, Jesus speaks words of self-revelation. He identifies himself as the one who is sent in the power of the Spirit, the fulfillment of the ancient promise spoken ages ago by the prophet Isaiah. The hopes of the poor for good news, the captive for freedom, the blind for sight and the oppressed for relief all find their fulfillment in Jesus Christ.
In announcing good news to the poor, Jesus addresses not only those suffering from material want but also people of every age, since we are, each one of us, nothing without God and receive all things from Him. When Jesus preaches release to prisoners, his words extend not only to the incarcerated but also to any who are locked behind walls of fear and anxiety, held captive by a lie, or imprisoned in self-righteousness. The Gospels record many miracles by which the blind were restored by Jesus to physical sight; but the words and actions of our Lord were also aimed at blindness to moral truth or sightlessness before the mystery of human transcendence. To bring relief to the oppressed, the Son of God emptied himself and became incarnate so as to enter fully into the human condition. He assumed to himself the sin, pain and suffering of the human race, brought it to the Cross, and revealed by his resurrection the victorious power of divine love and mercy.
In other words, the mission of Jesus Christ embraced all of humanity in the entirety of its needs and sufferings. In his outreach to the world of every age, Jesus was what the Book of Revelation would later call "the faithful witness". In his words, his actions, and above all by his death and resurrection Jesus was at all times faithful to the will of the Father. In this way he gave perfect testimony to the fidelity of God to all of the divine promises to be near to his people, to hear them, and to rescue them from all that harms them.
And Christ remains always with us. This is why, when the sinfulness of the Church's members, and especially when the failings of some of her leaders, is painfully evident, we do not lose hope. This is why we continue joyfully in the mission we have from him, even though we are aware of weaknesses and faults. Christ is with us; Christ is within us. By the Spirit that he gives us he continually sends us forth, with the gifts we need, to face with hope the challenges that confront us and announce with joy his Gospel to the poor, captive, blind and oppressed of our day.
To all dimensions of life our lay people are sent with the good news of the Gospel, convinced that it has the power to change humanity from within and make it new (cf. Evangelii Nuntiandi, 18). Our women and men religious are sent to serve in the midst of the world as reminders of Christ's self-giving love and never-failing presence. Our deacons are sent to be signs of Christ the servant, who has laid down his life to bring healing and salvation to all who suffer. To one and all I want to express my deep gratitude. Thank you for striving in all aspects of your daily lives to be faithful witnesses to the truth and beauty of the Gospel, especially in difficult times.
I would like to say a special word of thanks to the priests who are gathered around me this evening. The Chrism Mass is an occasion given to us and to the Church to thank the Lord for the gift of the priesthood and to seek his grace as we commit our lives anew to him and to his people. I share with you, Fathers, the anger, sadness and discouragement that arise when some of our brothers fall prey to the mystery of evil and cause great harm. I also understand the deep disappointment occasioned by a failure of leadership among Bishops in whom you want and need to have confidence. In moments when we feel demoralized, our call is to fix our eyes on Christ. He who has instituted the priesthood and has called us to its exercise has the power to turn all things, even moments of dark crisis, to the good. Let us always find our hope in him.
And continue to trust in the support of your people. In this special Year for Priests the Church has given thanks to God for the mystery of the priesthood and for those who live and exercise it in the Church today. In this year we have seen that the people of God understand well the necessity and beauty of the priesthood, and are ready to support their priests with prayer and love. Fathers, you are surrounded tonight by parishioners who love and support you. Our people recognize that the vast majority of priests in the world are dedicated to their calling and seek only to do good for the people entrusted to their care. They deeply appreciate the gift you make of yourselves in order to lead them to Christ and help them to follow him faithfully. To their thanks I add my own. Thank you for your faithful collaboration with me in service to the people of the Archdiocese. As we continue our participation in the mission of our Lord and Master to announce his Gospel, and as we face together any problems that confront us, I pledge you my support and rely upon yours.
Now I invite you to renew your priestly commitment. Do so with confidence in Christ and in the love and support of his people.
Richard W. Smith
Archbishop of Edmonton