A reflection by Fr. Robert “Buddy” Smith, S.F.M. (1933-1997)
We have just ended our yearly celebrations that recall the birth of Jesus. Our belief that the Son of God has become part of human life — has entered time — should mean that the Christian has a special appreciation for the events of human history because Christ is not frozen in the past. His final words in St. Matthew’s Gospel, “I am with you always, to the close of the age,” remind us of his living presence through all the events of human history.
History is what we make at this moment. It is the unfolding of God’s plan in the everyday events in the lives of all people. We are all makers of history. And in that task, Christ accompanies us.
Different experiences in different parts of the world help us to appreciate the living presence of Jesus in the midst of what is taking place. We look for God moving through the events of people’s lives. From the vantage point of Canada, as we start a new year, perhaps our world could be likened to a warm day in summer when, on the horizon, clouds take shape and dull rumblings can be heard, rumblings such as the problem of world hunger, the surprising power of multinational (and transnational) corporations over nations and people, the domination of poor countries by well-off countries, the oppression of peoples, the reckless exploitation of natural resources.
Confronting the events of history with the power of the Gospel is the mission of Christ that we are expected to share in today. Most people stay away from an involvement in the serious problems that affect the world because these problems are so overwhelming. It would be like trying to push a freight train into motion. What we have to realize is that the freight train is already moving. The processes that are bringing about change are already going on. We are called to be part of this effort, to get on board, to build a new and different kind of a world than we now have.
If we were to ask the question that the people asked John the Baptist, “What then shall we do?”, the first thing would be to become aware of what kind of a world we live in — this world in which Christ is present. From within the parish or community, a small group of concerned people could take on the responsibility to study problems that affect our world, in distant places yes, but also within our own country; to analyze the root causes of these problems and to search for an effective action that the local or parish community might take on these problems.
Pope Paul VI said in 1971, “It is up to the Christian communities to analyse with objectivity the situation which is proper to their own country, to shed on it the light of the Gospel’s unalterable words and to draw principles of reflection, norms of judgment and directives for action from the social teaching of the Church.”
The challenge is to join with our brothers and sisters throughout the world who participate in an historical process. To join with them in their struggle is to become an active participant in the same historical process that leads to a real transformation of the world.
We need a mobilization, an effective organization of our communities so that the full weight of the Christian conscience of our country be brought to bear on the problems of justice, both national and international. The challenge is to join with our brothers and sisters throughout the world who participate in an historical process. To join with them in their struggle is to become an active participant in the same historical process that leads to a real transformation of the world.
The presence of God in human history calls for a practical response from men and women of faith. Today this might mean helping a refugee family to settle into our neighbourhood. Perhaps it means asking a few questions about the way Indigenous people in Canada have been treated.
We leave you with these thoughts at the start of the New Year. Our call is to discover God’s road through life. So this is a search that is new and ever-present for each one of us. This presence of God among us runs through time, through this historical moment. We invite you to participate in this presence of God in the world, to extend the Reign of God to all creation. This is now our moment in time.
“Now is the time to look over the horizon to the world that awaits us and see things another way, as Jesus did.”
Fr. Robert “Buddy” Smith, S.F.M.
Fr. Buddy Smith of Antigonish, Nova Scotia, served most of his 40 years of priesthood working with the poor in the Dominican Republic and Nicaragua. While at home to serve on Scarboro’s General Council in the 1970s, he was active in many ecumenical social justice coalitions in Toronto, particularly with the Taskforce on Churches and Corporate Responsibility, challenging Canadian corporations to act ethically overseas. He also served on the front lines of the human rights struggle in Latin America and was instrumental in helping Chilean and Argentinean refugees seeking sanctuary in Canada.