Leader of Canada's Bishops: Church Will Be as United as Its Pastors

Archbishop Smith Concludes Plenary Assembly

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CORNWALL, Ontario, OCT. 21, 2011 (Zenit.org).- Here is the text of the homily delivered today by Archbishop Richard Smith of Edmonton, the newly elected president of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops.

The homily was given at the closing Mass of the bishops’ plenary assembly, which began Monday and ended today.

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In today’s Gospel passage the Lord gives two admonitions, which, upon an initial cursory reading, might appear to be unrelated. The first is a call to read the signs of the times in order to recognize the moment, the “now,” of the Lord’s visitation. The second is a call and challenge to timely and prudent reconciliation. Scripture scholars differ as to whether the two are related or independent sayings of the Lord. Gaudium et Spes would have no doubt on the matter. Its teaching on reading the signs of the times highlights a fundamental unity between their proper interpretation and the reconciliation of humanity.

In its famous teaching, Gaudium et Spes speaks of the need for the Church to announce the Gospel in order to foster reconciliation among all humanity. To accomplish this task the Church must scrutinize the times and interpret them in the light of the Gospel. What are the deep questions of the day? With what difficulties are our people struggling? How are we to understand the various dynamics of human relating and societal evolution that are having such negative consequences for our youth and our families? What are the signs of hope? What are the indications that the Lord is near to us in love and in power?

This task of scrutiny and interpretation falls to us in a particular way. Not exclusively, of course; we have many theologians, philosophers, social scientists and psychologists to assist us. But as pastors we have a unique responsibility to understand our world, its dynamics and its pressures, in order to meet our people in their lived reality with a message of hope. We exercise this role not only in our individual dioceses but also as a Conference.

Within this latter perspective there is one particular sign of our present times that I believe we, precisely as a Conference of Bishops, are uniquely placed to address with a reason for hope. It is the sign of a fractured humanity. To scrutinize this sign is a complex endeavour, because the centrifugal forces acting upon society are multiple. The result of those forces, though, is clear. Our society is marked by individualism and separation that lead to terrible loneliness and isolation, and by an aggressive competition for more goods or perceived individual rights that leaves the weak and vulnerable on the margins.

As a Conference of Bishops we offer a hopeful countersign to all of this when we are able to offer ourselves as a sign of unity. When we speak of the Church as sacrament, we speak of her as both sign and instrument of unity, of reconciliation among all peoples. If it is in the nature of the Church to be such a sign, it must be the same for her pastors in their common exercise of teaching, sanctifying and governance. This is no easy task. If we are not vigilant, those same centrifugal forces operative not only in society but also among our own people can come to inhabit us. The unity of the Church, which renders it possible to be a sign of reconciliation in the world, is dependent upon a unified episcopate.

And we are unified. It is important to name this. This past week we have engaged a number of issues that have demonstrated differing opinions at the level of prudential judgement. That is no surprise and should be expected. Our unity is at a deeper and more important level, that of faith and doctrine, of course, but also at the level of our common sacramental bond and of the palpable mutual trust, friendship and support that obtains among us. We need to be assiduous in maintaining this unity, because the human dilemma of which Saint Paul speaks in the first reading can always threaten it.

We leave this place conscious of our need to scrutinize and interpret the signs of the times in order to foster reconciliation and unity among our people. As Bishops we echo the call of the Lord to a fractured world to become reconciled. May the Lord help us as a Conference always to be in sign what we proclaim in word.

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