‘Hear the Word of God and Do It’ : Archbishop Smith’s Pastoral Letter

By Lorraine Turchansky
Chief Communications Officer

Archbishop Richard Smith has written a major pastoral letter to Catholics in the Archdiocese of Edmonton, inviting them to explore Scripture more deeply as they respond to the call of Pope Francis to become missionary disciples of Christ.

Entitled Living in the Word of God, the letter comes in two parts: an eight-page message to all the faithful, and a longer supporting document, Pastoral Initiatives, aimed at helping clergy, parish leaders and archdiocesan staff to accompany the faithful on their discipleship journeys. Together the documents outline the Archbishop’s pastoral priorities over the next five years.

The essence, he says, is really quite simple: Listen to the Word of God, and then put it into practice.

“The primary role of the letter was to have the diocese respond to the initiative that’s really been at the heart of the pontificate of Pope Francis, calling us to understand our Baptism, to embrace it, and to live everything that that means,” Archbishop Smith said in an interview.

“So what does it mean to be a disciple of the Lord? What does it mean to follow him, to be on mission? The Lord himself helps to clarify that when he says being a disciple is basically two things: Listen to the word of God, and put it into practice – ‘Hear the word of God and do it.’” (Luke 8:19-21)

Archbishop Smith is stressing the embrace of Scripture in the first two years of his pastoral plan, asking Catholics “to be focused on God’s word as the central word, that moral compass that guides our whole lives. To make it central, to listen to it, appropriate it.” 

The letter suggests a number of concrete ways in which the faithful can incorporate attentiveness to the Word of God in their everyday lives, whether it’s at home with family, in the parish with friends, through social media networks, or through formal Bible study courses.

Having a Bible at home is key, says Archbishop Smith. For those looking to buy one, he recommends the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) translation, because it is the same one that is used when Scripture is proclaimed during the Eucharist.

“That way, when we are praying Scripture in our daily use, it’s the same translation that we hear proclaimed from the pulpit on Sunday.”

And encountering the Word need not be limited to reading from printed books; digital media has a recognized role in the letter. The Archbishop notes that there are many Scripture apps available for smartphones, so you can always have the Word with you.

The Archdiocese has begun sharing daily Scripture excerpts combined with creative imagery on its social media accounts, and a series of video portrayals of important passages will be published over the course of each year. For those who just don’t have time to wade through the letter right away, the Archbishop himself recorded a Pastoral Letter in 60 Seconds video.

He said the final three years of the plan will focus on the ‘doing.’

“What does it mean to put the Word of God into practice? Traditionally, in the Christian life that really means three ways in which we respond, and they all go together: Worship, witness and service.

“We respond first by giving praise and thanks; that’s our act of worship, supremely so in the Eucharist.  We’re called to give witness before others of the truth that’s communicated to us in the Word of God. And finally, we know that that Word of God calls us to service. As Jesus famously said, the way he summarized all of God’s commands – Love God with everything that you are, and love your neighbour as yourself – that’s the life of service and charity.

“I just want people to consider that Living in the Word of God means all of this. The letter focuses us on what it means to be a disciple and spells out in very concrete ways how we do in fact put God’s word into practice.”

Living in the Word of God was released on September 14, the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross, the same date as Smith’s first major letter as Archbishop, Pastoral Priorities of the Archdiocese of Edmonton, in 2011.

Copies of the 2017 Pastoral Letter and supporting documents are posted at http://caedm.ca/letter.