St. Joseph Basilica, Edmonton
May 12, 2016
This afternoon we shall gather to march through the streets of Edmonton. There will be opportunities for speeches, which is good. We know, through, that far more important than words is the simple fact that we are marching. Such an action is an act of witness, which contains within itself its own message. The message that we bring to the city through our witness is twofold.
It is a message, first of all, of defense and advocacy. In the course of our Archdiocesan conversations in the Every Life Matters series, a comment was shared expressing worry that we are imposing our beliefs upon others' free exercise of conscience. In fact, such a comment is well known to anyone engaged in the pro-life movement. Often we are accused of seeking to impose our beliefs upon society. In fact, though, this is not a matter of imposing our beliefs or position on society, or of interfering in another person's autonomy or choice. Our centuries-long and steadfast opposition to abortion, and now to the legalization of assisted suicide and euthanasia, is not an imposition but a defense. We are defending the dignity of every human life. We are standing against the message, implicit for example in the Supreme Court's Carter decision, that there are some lives not worth living. We are upholding the principle necessary for all people — believers and non-believers alike — to live together in common society: the killing of the innocent is always morally wrong. We defend the inalienable dignity of every human life at all stages of existence, and we advocate that this dignity be upheld in family life, in medical practice, and in the laws of our land. There is, of course, an imposition taking place, but not by us. It is coming from the State, moved by a particular worldview.
Which brings us to the second aspect of the message implicit in our march: a clear challenge to an increasingly prevalent vision of reality that is decidedly unchristian. In this worldview, the sovereignty of Almighty God is replaced by the will of the autonomous self. From this perspective, I become the final arbiter of my life and its destiny; God, and any consideration of his saving purpose, any thought as to what he might have to say about the matter, is eclipsed. Our act of marching says: With this worldview, we beg to differ. God exists. He is Creator, Our lives matter to him. He has a purpose for each of us. By the sending of his Son and Holy Spirit God has revealed that he acts in our lives, in our history, to guide us and save us and bring us to the fulfillment of the destiny he has determined for each of his beloved children.
Our current circumstances demonstrate with stark clarity that we are living in the midst of two opposed and competing visions of reality. When we consider the Scriptures, we are reminded that this situation is nothing new. In fact they identify the basic point upon which the two worldviews diverge. In the Gospel passage from John, Jesus is praying to the Father for his disciples who will remain in the world after his return to heaven, and says this: “Father, the world does not know you.” There is the fundamental issue: knowing the Father. Knowledge of the Father draws us out of ourselves and into a true and expansive apprehension of reality. Apart from this knowledge, we end up trusting nothing outside of our own minds, and our view of reality thus necessarily becomes limited and myopic, centred only upon the self and its desires.
This is why Jesus goes on to say in his prayer that he has made the name of the Father known to his disciples. The antidote to the problems that arise from not knowing the Father is, obviously, to make him known. This is the reason for witness. It is not easy and it takes courage. Indeed, in the first reading we heard the Lord say to St. Paul, “Keep up your courage! For just as you have testified for me in Jerusalem, so you must bear witness for me in Rome.” Today the Lord is saying the same to us. Keep up your courage. Do not despair. Bear witness to me in Edmonton. I have made known to you the name of the Father. Make it known now to others.
Now, when the Lord says, “Keep up your courage,” this is not meant in the sense of finding reasons for courage and hope within ourselves. Our courage and determination spring not from our own capacities but from the fact that we are not alone, that God is with us, that God is engaged, and that God will bring about the victory. We do not know when or how, and sometimes it is very difficult to stay strong and keep focused when it seems that we are continually losing ground to a culture of death. But consider again the first reading. Paul is arrested and brought before the chief priests and council. The narrative tells us that these people were divided among themselves over the resurrection of the dead. In the light of Jesus' words we can understand this division to spring from the fact that they had not yet come to know the Father. In their division they fell upon themselves instead of Paul, and Paul continued in the pursuit of his mission. In other words, a vision of reality from which knowledge of the Father is excluded cannot stand; it collapses in on itself. What endures is what is real, and what is real is God's love for his people and his determination to save them from death. The Church's proclamation of the Gospel of life, through word and witness, cannot be defeated, in spite of all appearances to the contrary, and will be brought by God's grace and power to fulfillment in accord with God's design. This is the basis for our courage. This is the reason for our witness. This is why we march.
May the grace of the Eucharist this morning deepen our faith in God's presence and power, and thus encourage us to make known, in word and witness, the knowledge of our Heavenly Father revealed in Christ his Son. Amen.
Most Reverend Richard W. Smith
Archbishop of Edmonton
May 12, 2016