By Lorraine Turchansky
Chief Communications Officer

Be bold, be steadfast, and never underestimate the power of your own personal witness. 

That was the message Archbishop Richard Smith had for delegates at the Edmonton diocesan convention of the Catholic Women’s League on the weekend. In a Saturday morning address, the Archbishop described the three ways in which a Christian actively responds to God’s call and lives out their faith: Worship, witness and service. 

“The act of faith must be enacted,” he said. “It’s not enough just to say ‘yes’ and walk away. It must be a ‘yes’ in such a way that it infuses all that we do.”

That’s where the role of witness comes in, he said. Pope Paul VI put it this way in his letter on Evangelization in the Modern World: 'Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses.'

“What needs to be communicated above all is the witness, the example that shows that the doctrine, the beautiful teaching of the Church, has landed in our hearts and transformed the entirety of our lives, so that people looking upon our lives will see, before we ever say a word, that we are Christian.”

But that’s not always easy in today’s world, Archbishop Smith conceded.   

“Where the Gospel has not yet landed, messengers of the Gospel will not be well received. Because if I’m not living a life informed by the good news of Jesus Christ, the announcement of that good news will stand before me as a rebuke, and I don’t like to be rebuked. Therefore there will be an instinctive resistance to the message of the Gospel, and its messenger will be likely to receive the same reaction that the originator of the Gospel received, that Jesus himself received. In fact, that’s exactly what Jesus promised – if the world hates me, know that it will also hate you.”

But Christians must not be thwarted or discouraged by that reality, he said, pointing to the example of St. Kateri Tekakwitha, who lived out her faith in the face of extraordinary opposition, including from her own family.

“You know as well as I do that the need to be bold witnesses just increases in our day,” he said. “We cannot be passive. We must speak, and we must be visible witnesses before others of the beauty, of the joy, of the truth, and of the hope that is the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”

Four Questions for the Archbishop 

At the convention, Archbishop Richard Smith invited questions from the audience. Here is summary of those questions and his answers, edited for length:

Q. In regard to witnessing, what happens when you get shut down? I extended my knowledge of God’s love to a person and was shot down, in great anger.

A. First of all, don’t be surprised by that. This is something that we can expect will happen. But when we do act as witnesses, we never do so alone. Never underestimate the power of what the spirit will do in and through your witness. Even the very act of rejection tells us right there and then that you’ve struck a chord, and the seed has been planted. Remember that the Church preaches to conscience, in the hope that by the Spirit that forms our consciences, the conscience of the receiver will be touched, and over time, transformed. It takes time for the human heart to receive and to allow the Word of God to transform. But be steadfast. Always be steadfast.

Q. I understand that the homilies at Mass deal with the Scripture readings of the day, but why can’t they touch on the national or international issues where people have real fears and concerns about what’s going on in the world? On the issue of the gay population, we’ve never heard the church say that these are people that we must welcome. Is the church afraid to bring these issues to the pulpit?

A. You’ve hit upon a central concern of mine and of the priests. We’re going to be taking some steps together as priests to try to grapple with this for the good of our people. This September, I’m going to be issuing a pastoral letter to the Archdiocese, and in it I will be calling everyone to live in the Word of God   ̶   to hear it and to put it into practice. If we are to hear the Word of God, it has to be proclaimed in a way that we are able to see how it enlightens our current situation, helps us understand what is happening, and enables us to respond to it. Given the complexity of what’s happening in our society today, and the extraordinary rapidity with which things are changing, that is no easy task. As a pilot project this fall, our priests will gather for a two-day event where we will first do a cultural analysis and then look to the Gospel that we’re about to get into in the upcoming liturgical year, the Gospel of Mark, and what it has to say about what we are seeing as the difficulties in our society right now.

Q. The other day I received an email from a friend with an article that concerned Development and Peace. Do they support planned parenthood or not? That is something that is out there. 

A. During my two years as president of the CCCB, a lot of this debate and concern really started to blow up. So I’ve been dealing with this for quite some time. Let me just say this: If Development and Peace were in any way supportive of abortion, does anybody think that the Bishops of Canada would support the organization for any more than 10 seconds? Of course not.

But when these sort of allegations come out, clearly the Conference of Bishops is not going to ignore them, and we didn’t. A special standing committee of bishops was established to liaise with Development and Peace so that should these allegations ever come up, we have a place where they can be instantly addressed. If there is any concern or ideas circulating about particular partners of Development and Peace in some part of the world, do not hesitate to bring them to the attention of the local bishop or the CCCB.

Q. There’s a lot of noise out there about Catholic schools. What direction can our religious leaders give us on what we should do to promote Catholic education more and to keep our schools?

A. First, there is the political dimension. So the direction we will give, given that there is an election coming up this fall, is to pay very, very close attention to those who are running for office. Do not be afraid to ask those candidates questions pertaining to their fidelity to the Church, fidelity to Catholic education and all that means. Choose as trustees people who will govern the Catholic school system in accordance with the life of the Church. Secondly, if we are aware of people who could serve as trustees, this is the time of year that we should encourage them to run for that office and then to support them. Third, whenever the actions of those we have chosen to serve in that capacity raise questions in our minds, call them to account. Write them a letter, phone them, and say ‘What gives?’ We have every right to do that.

It’s also really important for us, especially parents and grandparents, to be vigilant. As part of our witness as Christians, do not to be afraid to be bold and support Catholic schools as the extraordinary gift that they are. Do not underestimate the power of a letter, personally written, or a phone call directly to a member of the legislative assembly or cabinet minister.

Remember a little while ago, when the government was proposing certain guidelines for our schools that ran counter to our Christian anthropology, we raised our voices, you raised your voices. I understand the government got more letters on that than on many issues they’ve had to deal with. So let them know that we are very ready to be bold, to be loud, and to push back. Turning the other cheek is not a call to be Melba toast. Stand firm. Push back, lovingly, gently, clearly, but in a way that’s absolutely resolute, whenever there is anything that threatens our Catholic schools.