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Archbishop Joseph MacNeil is 90. Good grief! Like many people in this diocese, I can say that I knew him when he was in his 50s. Time passes, and we're all much older now than we were then. There are many memories, but one that stands out might seem mundane. I knew almost from the day I walked in the door what his episcopal motto was – Let us grow together into Christ, which he took from Ephesians 4.15. More than a personal motto, it was something engraved on the heart of the local Church during MacNeil's 26 years as archbishop of Edmonton.
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Despite our faith, we still have a hard time making sense of Easter. What has happened to Christ's body that he can pass through walls, but still eat food? He is not a ghost, but neither is he a material being in the way that we understand matter. Over the course of history, some heavy thinkers have been tempted to give up on Easter. The resurrection, some say, was not bodily; there was no empty tomb. The resurrection was more like a brilliant inspiration given from on high that helped Jesus' disciples make sense of the time they spent with him. It was a spiritual empowerment that spurred them to go forth and spread the Gospel.
One of the greatest spiritual challenges Christians face is the evildoer, especially the one who is doing evil to me. It's hard to turn a blind eye to these vipers, hard to ignore their provocations. Yet, if we are to have any peace ourselves and if the world itself is to achieve peace, we at the very least have to pick our battles judiciously. Better still, if we see them within the perspective of eternity, we will realize they are no more than irksome flies, annoying little gnats whose day will soon pass.
In Ernest Hemingway's most popular posthumous publication, A Moveable Feast (1964), the American writer stated that: "If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast." For Hemingway, the phrase captured the spontaneity, the diversity and the magic of the 1920s Left Bank where the Picassos rubbed shoulders with the Chagalls and the Joyces, and creativity in its many magical forms flourished.
My disability is invisible. When we see a person in a wheelchair or walking with a Seeing Eye dog, we immediately know they have special needs or challenges. Those of us with mental illnesses or mental disabilities don't carry visible clues to our challenges. With the stigma that mental illnesses carry, I suppose that I should be grateful that my schizophrenia isn't visible. Still, it can be hard for people to understand the kinds of accommodations my disability requires.
Easter is about many things. We celebrate God's power to overcome death, sin, and injustice, but we also celebrate the voices and wounds of the ones who died on Good Friday. To illustrate this, I would like to recount one such voice, that of an anonymous young woman who was brutally raped and murdered by the Salvadoran military in 1981, at a place fittingly called La Cruz. The story was reported by Mark Danner, a journalist.
As auxiliary bishop of the Diocese of London, I made my first ad limina visit in 1987. An ad limina visit is made every five years by diocesan bishops. It entails venerating the tombs of the holy Apostles Peter and Paul, officially visiting the four major basilicas, meeting with various officials of the Secretary of State, the curia and their respective congregations, pontifical councils and tribunals. The unquestionable highlight is, of course, meeting the successor of Peter, the bishop of Rome who, in this case, was Pope John Paul II.
One is almost afraid to say the word out loud for fear of hexing it. Spring. One day, the weather forecaster is forecasting snow and complaining when his news buddies harass him when no flakes flutter down from the sky. A few days later, record highs are being celebrated. Oops. Spoke too soon. The mercury is dropping, and we are back to ice-on-the-puddles again and snow in the forecast.
It is now almost a month past the Edmonton national event of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). This was an historic event involving thousands of former students who attended Indian residential schools, members of their families, representatives of the churches who administered the schools, and many other aboriginal and non-aboriginal Canadians from all across Canada.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) event based its procedural style around the idea of speaking one's truth in order to begin a journey of healing such that the survivor is able to arrive at a place of peace and set one's spirit free from emotional pain. In a Catholic understanding, the sacrament of Reconciliation corresponds closely to these speaking acts that occurred at the TRC. We understand the matter and form of Reconciliation as being made up primarily of words, and to this end, part of the process that we encountered at the TRC had some correlation to the speaking, the naming, the words.
Two disciples of Jesus walk away from Jerusalem, sad and disappointed. Their hopes of rebirth of the great kingdom of Israel have been dashed. The great prophet, "mighty in deed and word before God and all the people," has been killed. Jesus walks beside the disciples unrecognized and, at first, just listens to their words, their selfish complaints. They do not pity the Crucified, they pity themselves. "But we were hoping that he would be the one to redeem Israel." They are egocentric, like all of us.
One of the things I have long appreciated in Roman Catholicism is our valuing of human life in all its dimensions. I'm not referencing "respect for life" but rather the stance that looks out upon all that it is to be human, accepting and embracing and declaring it to be good. We value culture, art, music. We value our bodies, we enjoy the feast with good wine, and we value the simple loaf of bread, fresh baked. Our natural human lives, lived in nature, connected with the seasons and patterns of growth and decay is the context in which we live, and it is a way that God powerfully speaks to us.
Reports of new confirmed cases of measles in Alberta are a sober reminder that the effort to stop the transmission of highly contagious illness is everyone's responsibility. Non-immunized persons are at risk of contracting and spreading measles, and are encouraged to get vaccinated. Health care workers who are not immune and are exposed can put not only themselves at risk, but also vulnerable patients or residents. Thus, they may be excluded from work if exposed. Some schools in Calgary have taken similar precautionary measures to contain the risk of spread by sending non-immunized students home.
When the Catholic Church excommunicates a member because of his or her different theological conviction, as in the case of a bishop who defied Church authority to ordain a woman to the priesthood, does God deny both the bishop and the woman salvation? Or, is excommunication simply a disciplinary tool of the Catholic Church to exercise her authority over disobedient members?
Anyone who goes to Confession regularly knows how hard it is to be honest about your sins. Harder still to say them out loud and apologize. But the conference of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, hosted in Edmonton during the last week of March, was committed to doing both. The TRC is dedicated to honesty about what the Canadian churches and government inflicted on the native population in the residential school system.