Pope Francis’ Apostolic Letter, Motu proprio Aperuit illis published on September 30, 2019 establishes that the Third Sunday in Ordinary Time (January 24, 2021) is to be devoted to the celebration, study and dissemination of the Word of God.
Hope — St. Joseph must have had a lot of it, leading his very pregnant wife through the hill country from Nazareth to Bethlehem to give birth to his son. I imagine it was an arduous journey filled with uncertainty. Sometimes amidst hard times, I’m tempted to let discouragement steal my hope; I forget that my circumstances will change in time.
I crawled over the 2020 finish line, exhausted and tired, only to be met with the dead of winter. January is an isolating month in the best of times, nevermind government sanctions restricting social contact.
The reality is that life is hard for a lot of people right now; so much change and instability due to the ongoing pandemic. But what is unchanging is that our faith always gives us reason to hope. As Catholics, we carry the Good News of the Resurrection within us. With the eyes of faith, no time is wasted to perfect ourselves in love. And we can look to the great examples of the saints to help guide our path.
In a special way this year, Pope Francis invites us to renew our hope by placing an emphasis on Our Lord’s foster father. He has declared Dec. 8, 2020 to Dec. 8 2021 — The Year of St. Joseph.
What St. Joseph represents in my life is a husband and father who is a faithful, patient, humble, courageous protector. Joseph didn’t utter a single word in the Bible, rather he communicated volumes through his attentive presence.
The Holy Father Pope Francis encourages each of us with these words found in his Apostolic Letter Patris Corde: “Each of us can discover in Joseph – the man who goes unnoticed, a daily, discreet and hidden presence – an intercessor, a support and a guide in times of trouble.”
My hope is to seize this opportunity to take a deeper dive into what St. Joseph’s secure, strong, safe, steadfast fatherly presence means in my life and the life of my family.
Our family has set a few goals for the coming year to get to know St. Joseph better, and grow in relationship with him. I hope a few of these ideas will inspire you to think of ways to discover the presence of St. Joseph in your life and keep you anchored in hope.
Written by Sara Francis for Faithfully
“Why did you become a Religious Sister?” I was recently asked this question by a young woman, and I thought: “How can I answer that in one sentence?”, knowing that we had a very limited time to speak. “It was because God called me,” I said. She responded, “I know what you mean. God called me, too.” I elaborated, “I fell in love with Jesus and wanted to give my whole life to Him.”
I have often wondered why so few young women are becoming Religious Sisters. Is not God still calling young women like He called me? What do I need to do to help them open their hearts, to hear His Voice, and to answer as St. Francis of Assisi did when he heard the Lord call him to live the Gospel life: “This is what I long to do with all my heart!”
I heard the call to give my life to the Lord when I was 16. In the very core of my being, I knew that the Lord wanted me for Himself and that all my incoherent longings would be fulfilled in Him. Since my call to be a Religious Sister was completely tied up with my newly identified Franciscan way of being, I read all that I could about St. Francis and St. Clare of Assisi and was drawn more deeply into the way of life that would eventually lead to becoming Catholic and entering the Franciscan Sisters of St. Elizabeth.
Becoming familiar with the Scriptures and the lives of the Saints are extremely helpful ways to figure out what spiritual identity the Lord has given us. Spending time with Jesus is also essential in developing a life-giving relationship with Him. I used to take the family dog for a walk so that I could pray alone without anyone asking me what I was doing. The dog was most uninquisitive and non-judging. I would also recommend finding a quiet place that speaks to you of God. St. Francis liked to frequent caves in the hillside and deserted chapels.
I also was blessed to have helpful spiritual people with whom I could talk about what was going on in my relationship with the Lord. Some of these were friends around my same age. Some were older people who helped to guide me in a good direction. Spending time with the Sisters, working alongside them, praying with them—these were all beneficial activities that aided my discernment that this was the community that the Lord wanted to me join.
These Sisters were not young. I did not join these Sisters because they were young. They were vibrant, faith-filled women who had given their lives to the Lord, who were living their consecration in their ordered, stable, prayerful, loving, communal, hard-working, Franciscan way, and I loved them for it.
So, I ask the young women who are reading this: What do you long to do with all your heart?
Written by Sister Dianne Turner, OSE
Franciscan Sisters of St. Elizabeth
Photo courtesy of Sr. Dianne Turner.
In his homily for the World Day of Prayer for the Consecrated Life in 2020, Pope Francis said, "Men and women religious, who live to imitate Jesus, are called to bring their own gaze into the world, a gaze of compassion, a gaze that goes in search of those far-off; a gaze that does not condemn, but encourages, frees, consoles; a gaze of compassion." That Jesus had compassion on the people is something that we hear more than once in the gospels.
The more we come to know Jesus through praying with the gospels, the more we recognize his compassionate love for us individually and for all the world. Young people who want to know God's plan for their lives would be helped in their discernment by placing themselves in Christ's loving gaze. There they can come to know more of who they are and the gifts that they could be using to 'encourage, free and console' others in the form of life that is their vocation.
For myself, I grew up in a Catholic family in which prayer, participation in Mass and helping others nourished my faith. By Gr. 10, I was certain that God wanted me to be a Sister and since many of our teachers were Faithful Companions of Jesus and I was attracted by their way of living, I asked to enter in the middle of Gr. 11. The training I received to pray with Scripture and the courses I took over the years to understand the Bible more all enabled me to develop a deeper relationship with Jesus. By living the vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience in community, I have been gifted with countless experiences with people of different cultures in different countries.
We religious pray often that more young men and women will hear God calling them to serve him through a lifetime of dedication as priests, brothers or sisters. If those young people feel drawn to a particular way of serving, they are encouraged to contact one or more of the communities in our diocese. They may find a sense of being at home when the spirit of a given community matches the gift of the individual.
Please join us in prayer for vocations to the priesthood and religious life especially on February 2, the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord, and on the weekend of Feb. 6-7, the World Day of Prayer for the Consecrated Life.
Every call to religious life is personal. We all have our individual way of coming to know what we want for our life. For me, Sister Ernestine Miskolczi, SSS, this awareness happened very early in life. I remember very well that when I was about five years old while visiting relatives, three-year old twin girls were dressed up as nuns by the older girls. Being shy and perhaps a loner I was sitting on the stairs looking at the twins and thinking to myself that they will not be ‘nuns’ but I will.
During my growing-up years we had Sisters who would teach us catechism during the summer holidays. These Sisters seemed always happy and that is what I wanted for my life. My teachers during high-school were all Sisters who further impressed me and helped draw me to thinking about this life style for myself. Needless to say, there were some handsome young fellows who held my hand and touched my heart but could never draw me away from my first choice.
In high school I had come to know a couple different communities of religious life. The first one that I had come to know was the one that I chose to enter right out of high school. I grew up in the wide-open spaces on a farm in Saskatchewan with blue skies from horizon to horizon. When I entered the noviciate of the Sisters of Social Service I had to move to the big city of Hamilton. Wide open spaces were gone. Three months later we were going to see Niagara Falls; what joy filled my heart, I could be in the open spaces for a while. To my great disappointment we didn’t see much open space as there were buildings practically all the way to the Falls. I soon learned that religious life wasn’t all peaches and cream. It had its ups and downs as all life does.
For over sixty years of ministry in God’s service as a Sisters of Social Service I enjoyed twenty years of as a teacher in Ontario and Saskatchewan, thirty years of parish ministry in three different parishes in Calgary, and several years of volunteer work wherever I can.
I am blessed indeed in many ways. My other works took me to see the Holy Land twice, visits to Europe three times, to Mexico three times, Los Angeles seven times. Who can want for more?
February 2nd is the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord. It is also the World Day of Prayer for Consecrated Life. To me, this feast meets a need to give praise and thank the Lord for the gift of the Consecrated people in the Church, which belongs to the sanctity of the Church, as Saint John Paul II once pointed out.
On this day the prayers of the entire Church are dedicated to every consecrated person, giving thanks to God the Father, giver of every good, for the gift of this vocation. This feast offers the opportunity to appreciate the testimony of those who have chosen to follow Christ through the practice of the evangelical counsels by promoting understanding and appreciation of the Consecrated Life within the People of God.
This day is also, and above all, a day to renew our commitment and rekindle the feelings that inspired and continue to inspire the gift of ourselves to the Lord. Throughout the history of the Church, men and women religious have been a light in the darkness by living out their various charisms, and this day, we find a beautiful opportunity to thank the Lord for their gift to the Church.
Pope Benedict XVI once said: "In today’s feast we celebrate the mystery of consecration: the consecration of Christ, the consecration of Mary, the consecration of those who place themselves in the following of Jesus for love of the Kingdom of God." (Homily, February 2nd, 2012)
May Christ Jesus bless all of us on this beautiful feast and may He continue to call many to serve Him in the practice of the evangelical counsels with a heart full of joy to serve Him and only Him.
Vivit vero in me Christus - Gal 2, 20
It was 2012. My then-girlfriend, Chelsea, had completed her BEd and had taught part-time for a year in Saskatoon. A full-time position there proved precarious, following a teachers’ strike and cutbacks. Although she loved the Catholic Saskatchewan school system, she was discerning a move to greener pastures.
I was working for the summer before entering the Ed program in my 4th year at the UBC campus in Kelowna BC, where I grew up. Having travelled to Alberta for work before school started again, I was living in a camp about 500 km drive north of Edmonton.
In June, we started a 30-day novena to St. Joseph, over the phone, to discern Chelsea’s future career path. I was most excited about her application to teach at my old elementary school in Kelowna. A move there would end the long-distance factor in our relationship and would potentially see us teaching in the same diocese if I were to get hired at my secondary school, Immaculata Regional High, after convocation.
The prayer was beautiful, but the conditions were not, at least not on my end of the call. The cell reception so close to the Northwest Territories was abysmal and forced me to walk to the top of a nearby hill, which didn’t stop the mosquitoes from tracking me down. Sometimes Chelsea would lead, other times it was me, reading the prayer on my blackberry screen between swats at mossies and checking to see if the call had been dropped. This was anything but a “When Harry Met Sally” type of romantic scene on the dusty bi-centennial highway to Greater Slave Lake; more like a real game of telephone that mostly left us wondering what words the other had just prayed.
“We must believe that the life of St. Joseph - ”
“Pray for us.”
“- Not finished – spent in the presence of Jesus and Mary – “
“Pray for us.”
“Almost done – was a continual prayer – “
“Lord hear our prayer.”
“Oh for – Abounding in acts of faith…”
And so it went for 30 days. St. Joseph must not have minded the static, because on the day following the novena, day 31, Chelsea received a call requesting her to do a Skype interview for the 5/6 split position in Kelowna, at St. Joseph Elementary. We were elated and thankful to God for his faithfulness through the intercession of St. Joseph.
Chelsea was hired to work in the much sought-after Okanagan Valley and moved from Saskatoon the next month. We were engaged that November and married by the following August. We did end up teaching in the same diocese for a year before welcoming our daughter Hannah. Early on in our relationship, Chelsea had always remained aloof about our future, leaving the distance between us to be closed, or not, by the providence of God. St. Joseph continues to be a model for this docility in our household and we have returned to that novena on recent occasions, most notably when I applied to Calgary Catholic in 2016. His influence in our lives is real and testifies to the goodness of God that cannot fail.
Immediate and drastic changes took place the spring and summer of 1999. I gave up my part-time job, sold our acreage and relocated to Wetaskiwin, Alberta, in September. I prayed to God to please help me find a new purpose for my extra time and energy.
A thought emerged to help grade-ones learn how to read! I recalled how difficult my grade one experience was when I could not speak English. I remembered the shame and humiliation I felt when I was strapped because I could not read. I thought through my new-found inspiration. Later that day, we were in the principal’s office of Sacred Heart School and I expressed my desire. The principal, Mr. Simms, replied, “I could use 25 more like you.” One week later in the school year of 1999-2000, I embarked on my mission!
Now, I’m well into my 18th continuous year in the grade one class of Mrs Zoria Verhegge, who is a caring, talented, and highly professional teacher.
Let me share my one-hour daily routine, starting with checking in at the office. Next, I’m welcomed by the teacher(s) and students as Grandma Rose. After singing Oh Canada and partaking in daily prayers, Mrs V. would update me on any current information. Each day, I work with two students, so I take the next two pupils on the roster one at a time. I spend about 20 minutes with each on a one-to-one basis. Enroute to our ‘room’, we pass a bank of lockers displaying the even numbers. I cover the numbers, and the child counts by 2 to 100. Once at our desk, we open our word work to show the ten new spelling words. The child will read as best they can. We then talk about each word, use it in a sentence, and print them on a whiteboard. Next, the words are covered and erased if spelt correctly by the student. They are delighted when the board is totally cleared. Lastly, the words are neatly printed in their workbook. This child is praised for their efforts and receives a sticker. By mid-January, several pupils are able to make simple sentences that are kept in a separate scribbler.
Back in the classroom, Mrs V. often asks me random questions, reflecting on my experience as a mother and grandmother. These questions contribute to classroom discussions. My presence is helpful in another aspect because some children don’t have a “grandmother” figure in their lives. Then…times up! I bid them goodbye for another day. I check out, and as I walk to the exit, I thank God for such a safe and caring Catholic school, where I have the privilege of helping some children learn to read.
I continue to volunteer with a vested interest because the more I pour into this service, the more healing I receive for my personal juvenile trauma. Truly a win-win situation.
When people have invested their time and money to grow professionally, I believe it is misplaced modesty for them to claim they don’t know much more than the average laymen. At the same time, further education doesn’t always provide greater insights than years of experience, especially if it is also attentive and reflective. Between the two of us, with nine daughters, at this point my wife and I have over 340 years of experience in parenting. That may be why we are often asked for insights on the struggles that come with raising children.
A friend of my wife requested ideas this past week. This coupled with the looming new year got me thinking about goals and purpose. These are in everyone’s life but have different meaning for young adults. While a cliché it is enduringly true that each day is the first day of the rest of our lives – January 1 just throws that into sharper focus.
One of the good things about contemporary culture is a greater recognition of the differences between individuals. While not throwing out the good of previous social conventions, all people can take heart and be inspired by the fact that they possess certain gifts and inclinations (some of which are less common and potentially more needed) and there is exciting challenge and opportunity in them inventing the kinds of people they can be, both personally and professionally as they grow more mature. They should take seriously what they find worthwhile and see how it might be worthy of great investment of their time and energies.
Most children achieve some successes in school fairly clearly – not always in the so-called core subjects and not always where parents might want this achievement. If they are able to achieve in some areas, and show interest in those, it points toward potential elsewhere too. There is virtue in them figuring out how to do better in those areas they don’t find as easy, or as interesting. And further virtue is discovering how to ask for help and make their needs understood.
One wish I have is for young people to take seriously what it means to be authentic men and women. This is generic in becoming the best people they can as they exercise their gifts and opportunities. But is also differentiated in that we express ourselves through our sexual identity. St John Paul the Great used the term ‘feminine genius’ to bring into focus ways of thinking and acting that are usually more accessible to women. We, and young people more fully growing into themselves, can benefit our culture and our world in terms of service to others and leadership. Most of them will likely be married some day and becoming a strong spouse and parent is tremendously important. Being intentional in that character development is work for now, not simply later.
Inasmuch as they are growing into their adulthood in a weak and troubled society, there is also amazing need that they can meaningfully contribute to answering.
As I put away the last of the Christmas decorations and sweep up the tinsel amidst the fallen pine needles of the tree, my thoughts are turning towards the coming weeks. During the past Christmas season, we’ve been celebrating and contemplating the birth of Our Lord and Saviour. We’ve decorated our homes with festive cheer, brightened our mantles with Nativity scenes, and filled our tables with delicious things to eat and drink. Now we enter into Ordinary Time of the Church, and for some, this can seem like a return to the mundane. As a member of Opus Dei, I welcome this time of the year and see it as an opportunity to begin again, to find greater meaning and fulfilment in my ordinary, daily work and life, and most of all to grow in my friendship with Christ.
Everyday brings a new struggle to transform the little things of ordinary life into an encounter with Our Lord ... it starts when my alarm goes oﬀ at 5 and I welcome the new day in which to serve Him. It’s my favourite time of day, I’m the only one up and I can spend some quiet time in mental prayer and spiritual reading. I usually order my day with hours of work making sure there’s time for God throughout. One of those times is daily Mass where again I oﬀer my entire day and talk to Our Lord in the depths of my heart. I also try and make it outside, even when it’s cold, to shake the cobwebs out of my head, go for a walk and say the rosary. While meditating on the mysteries of Our Lord’s life, I’m also able to appreciate the beauty of God’s creation, the crunch of snow under my boots, the roll of the foothills meeting the mountains, the big blue Alberta skies.
Back in the house, there are meals to make, rooms to tidy, paperwork to be done. Yet each duty brings with it an opportunity to pray for someone, to do my work well, and to make it a pleasing offering to God. Making time for friends is a must and during this pandemic, it has been a challenge. However, FaceTime and Zoom with family and friends brighten the day. There are so many lonely people out there just waiting to hear a friendly voice, someone’s laughter, to comfort and encourage them. I end the day thanking our Lord for all the blessings, seeing Him in everyone I met or talked to; I ask forgiveness for those times I did not please Him, knowing that tomorrow brings a new day, a new beginning.
Time with family and friends always brings cheer to these wintry months. Our family welcomed the winter season with great anticipation, as we enjoy many of the winter sports. My husband Brian is an excellent skier. He put all four sons on skis before they were two. And if we weren’t skiing we were tobogganing down the nearby hills or snowshoeing in the back 40. If you live in Canada you’ve got to learn to embrace the snow and cold. Bundle up and get outside. You will find all of the Siray’s outdoors during the winter months. We also discovered that it brought us closer together as a family ... lots of laughter, good conversations, and praying together. Now that Fr. Nathan is in Canmore, it provides an excellent opportunity to make a pilgrimage to Our Lady of the Rockies, to pray and to see our son. His vocation to the priesthood has been such a blessing for our family ... always encouraging and lifting us up when needed, joining in the family celebrations when he’s able, playing with his nieces and nephews.
Thus this Ordinary Time in the Church is anything but ordinary, it’s a time of grace and thanksgiving. A time to walk with Our Lord and his disciples while meditating on the Gospels. One must strive to listen to His words and deepen one's knowledge and friendship with Him. A time to care for those around you, to smile, to give encouragement to those in need. A time to look for joy and be optimistic about the future. A time to discover the richness of your ordinary life.
Aames Abanto from Catholic Sunday Best offers five great reasons for Catholic gentlemen to adopt St. Joseph as their 2021 patron saint.
Priest Assignment; Deacon Assignment; Clergy Personnel Announcements
Christmas: A Light of Faith, Hope, and Love in our World
The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light… (Isaiah 9:2)
This Christmas Eve we will hear the words of the prophet Isaiah ring out “the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light”. How does one begin to describe the experiences of this past year? It is as if a shadow has been cast over our lives by a “pandemic of darkness”. Many here and across the globe have lost their lives to COVID-19 with their families left to mourn their passing, many have survived the virus with lasting effects, and others have risked their lives to provide medical care and to conduct the scientific research leading to a vaccine. It has left many marked by profound sadness, isolation, and fear.
There is also some understandable impatience with the health precautions and restrictions that place limits on our normal ordinary human interactions such as work, social activities, family interactions, and religious gatherings. Yes, we all have had to make sacrifices.
It is into this world, here and now, that God’s love is being revealed. It is a light that comes to us in darkness.
The Nativity of Christ which we celebrate at Christmas is not merely a recollection of an historical event or of a birth which took place in the past. It fixes our gaze on the future, on his second coming at the end of the ages while acknowledging His presence here and now in our lives, each and every day. With the challenges that we have faced this year we might be tempted to give up, to not see Christmas and its celebration through this light of faith, hope and love.
A prayer to the Immaculate Conception beautifully captures the action of God and the docility of our Blessed Mother, “Father, the image of the Virgin is found in the Church. Mary had a faith that your Spirit prepared and a love that never knew sin, for you kept her sinless from the first moment of her conception. Trace in our actions the lines of her love, in our heart her readiness of faith”. God has traced the lines of Mary’s readiness of faith and love through our lives during this Advent season in the acts of love and sacrifice which each of us have freely accepted for the good and the wellbeing of others. They have probably gone unnoticed in the eyes of the world, much like Mary’s “fiat”, which was a simple response of yes to accepting the will of God. In our Catholic tradition, Mary has always been a type or model of the Church’s response to the will of God. As Mary came to believe, to conceive and to give birth to Jesus, the Son of God, this same action of God tracing His grace and love in our lives can come to birth this Christmas with a renewed sense of hope.
As St. Ambrose said, “You also are blessed because you have heard and believed. Home - I am Blessed 2020A soul that believes both conceives and brings forth the Word of God and acknowledges his works. Let Mary’s soul be in each of you to proclaim the greatness of God” (Office of Readings, Monday of the 4th Week of Advent). This year as we approach the celebration of Christmas, the I Am Blessed campaign of the Diocese is once again an opportunity to witness to our faith despite the suffering we may be experiencing, to recognize the blessings from God in the midst of our daily reality, and to seek out opportunities to be a blessing for others through prayer, giving, and in our acts of service for others.
As we prepare for Christmas, and the octave of this feast, let us rediscover how connected we are to one another. I invite us to experience in this coming year the hope that is found in the promises of God as did Mary. In the words of Pope Francis, Christmas is the feast that “returns us to the horizon of hope, a horizon that does not disappoint because it is founded on the Word of God” (Angelus, 1st Sunday of Advent, December 1, 2013). The incarnate Word, the nearness of God which we celebrate on the Solemnity of the Nativity of Jesus, has transformed human history and can restore in each of us this profound gift of hope.
In this time of pandemic when we look for that light in our darkness, I offer my Christmas greetings and heartfelt best wishes to all the faithful of the Diocese.
I express my gratitude and esteem for the witness of pastoral charity exhibited by the priests and the deacons who exercise the role of Christ the Servant, the presence of the religious communities that offer their unique charisms and a witness to holiness, the co-responsibility of the lay faithful - including the volunteers and parish staff - as a living sign of Christ in the world, the role of the teachers and catechists in our schools and parishes, and the essential gift of family life that is shared so readily in an expression of sacrificial love and an openness to new life. Finally, to those who have both in the past and now serve at the Catholic Pastoral Centre, I am grateful for the dedication and cooperation that is expressed in our desire to be of service to the parishes of the Diocese in these challenging times. May God bestow his blessings upon all of us as we look forward in faith, hope and love to the coming year.
Sincerely yours in Christ,
+ William T. McGrattan
Bishop of Calgary
Download Letter in PDF
As the National Catholic Women's League (CWL) celebrates 100 years, the Alberta Mackenzie Provincial Council is delighted to share in this wonderful anniversary. The following message is delivered by Judy Look, President of Alberta Mackenzie CWL.
Christmas Message from the Alberta Mackenzie CWL President: Judy Look
Christmas Messages from
Christmas Message from the Grouard-McLennan Diocesan Council CWL President: Christine Becher
Christmas Message from St. Paul Diocesan Council CWL President: Lolain Alsmo
Christmas Message from Calgary Council CWL President: Jan Myhre
Are you new with the Catholic Women's League?
The Catholic Women’s League of Canada was organized nationally on June 17, 1920 and granted federal incorporation on December 12, 1923. The League is officially recognized by the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) as a lay association of women and is affiliated with the World Union of Catholic Women’s Organizations (WUCWO), a world-wide federation holding membership in the conference of International Catholic Organizations (ICO) and having consultative status with agencies of the United Nations.
Learn about the Catholic Women's League of Canada - Alberta Mackenzie Provincial Council
The Alberta & Northwest Territory Bishops have released a letter about the COVID-19 vaccination (Dec. 2, 2020). Download Letter here
Many people might be surprised that the question is even being posed. What could be wrong about receiving a vaccine, when we know that vaccinations save lives? The moral issue arises from the fact that vaccine development and testing often make use of cell lines derived from either the tissue of aborted fetuses or destroyed human embryos. Therefore, reception of a vaccine developed and produced from this unethical research presents us with a dilemma that seriously engages our conscience. The short answer from our Bishops on whether it's okay to be vaccinated against COVID-10 is: Yes, it is. Learn more about it from the Bishop's letter re: COVID-19 Vaccine.
Though we all have new restrictions being put into place for the pandemic, it need not be the same for our preparations for Advent. Advent still remains a joyful season. A time to prepare our hearts and our homes for the coming of infant Jesus. What is more simple than a child? God Almighty presents himself to us in the form of a child, approachable, little and simple. God works outside of time, He sees all things and knows all things. He has known that we would go through this season with a different approach and perhaps that is precisely how He intended it.
To approach this season without the hustle and bustle we typically endure, the endless wrapping, the loud and busy households with tons of visitors coming in and out for the holidays. We have been permitted such a time as this, peeling away at what has become the norm of chaos, back to the simplicity of our nuclear families or even just our single households. This season may have a different feel to it, more solemn, more quiet, but all the more able to be attentive. Attentive to the details of your home, relationships with people and especially to the coming of infant Jesus.
If you have yet to decorate your home or begin your Advent preparations, here are a few great local resources:
Written by Rikka Borras, Beloved Daughters YYC
Here is an Advent giveaway from Faithfully! A printable Advent Devotional for children "Jesse Tree" - best for children age 5-9 years old. The Jesse tree devotional will help children connect the custom of decorating Christmas trees to the events leading to Jesus’ birth, a great companion for the Advent season.
Written by parishioner Pat Grappolini, a retired teacher who occasionally teaches for the Calgary Catholic School District. Her family have been parishioners of Holy Name Parish in Calgary. Read one amazing story a day, from Dec. 1 to Dec. 24 and get inspired to create your own Jesse Tree!
This Advent, Calgary area single mothers and babies may get a boost thanks to a generous benefactor.
An anonymous donor has announced they will match all financial contributions to Elizabeth House up to $20,000 before December 24, 2020.
“It’s so encouraging to get a phone call out of the blue...because we tend to be head down when times get tough,” said Michelle Haywood, Elizabeth House program coordinator. “This was a real lift in the spirit and confirmation that God will provide no matter what.”
Elizabeth House is a transitional home for single at-risk pregnant and new mothers with a child up to two-years-old. They typically serve mothers under the age of 25 who are working through a history of domestic violence, trauma/mental health challenges or substance use.
“We used to say we set people up for successful independent living, but we know the reality of being there out on your own as a single mom,” said Michelle Haywood. “What we hope to do is build resilience so that when stuff happens, which it inevitably will –– when hard things happen, they can get back up again. They have those inner resources and are connected in their community.”
Normally Elizabeth House can take up to seven women at a time, but it’s less these days due to social distancing restrictions. For the moms currently living there, the pandemic adds an extra layer of stress.
“Living in a shelter is a completely different world than facing a pandemic in your own home. The restrictions are stronger, the isolation is greater,” said Haywood.
If a woman needs to isolate she would have to quarantine inside her bedroom. Her overall access to community support is diminished at a time when she is trying to build skill and connections to be able to transition out of Elizabeth House.
The news of this donation matching program has brought hope to these women and a feeling of worth.
“Matching the contributions are making this possible for them because we are that net that can catch both mom and babe for that time period,” said Haywood. “But it’s also about them knowing there is a community out there that cares and is willing to donate.”
The Calgary couple, who asked to remain anonymous, has been donating to Elizabeth House for 20 years because they sincerely believe in the cause. After having visited the house and researching the organization, they are certain it is a reputable, well-run charity by the Catholic Diocese of Calgary.
“There are a lot of charities that have big names out there. This is one that does good work, but maybe doesn’t get the same recognition as others,” said the donor.
“We also realize it’s a difficult time for charities. Realizing it’s a tough time for a lot of people, we are still called as Christians to share what we have.”
This matching program coincides with the diocesan I Am Blessed Campaign, encouraging the faithful to give generously through either acts of service, financial donations to parishes, schools, diocesan programs or prayer for others such as a Mass, rosary or novena.
For those who cannot give financially to Elizabeth House right now, prayers are also welcomed as is looking into the process to become a volunteer. But for those who can give, Haywood said this money will sustain Elizabeth House for some time.
“When we say we’re in this pandemic together, here is the action you can take. We can do a lot with a little,” said Haywood.
Written by Sara Francis for Faithfully
The volunteer walks the length of the snow-covered sidewalk. She turns around when the front door of the subsidized housing unit swings open. A man steps outside and waves before he bends to pick up the groceries from his front step. This is a special delivery of COBS bread and groceries. The groceries include milk and cream with best before dates two and three days hence and it’s delivered to families the day it’s donated. Some families get the extra food every week, others on the weeks when they get bi-weekly or monthly deliveries of donated bread. These families can also call for a full hamper with fresh produce, frozen meat, cheese, milk, eggs and grocery store gift cards. The Thursday drop is extra for families who welcome some extra help. They never know if the extra food box will include school snacks or fresh fruit and a bakery pie. They do know this delivery is an act of kindness. It’s the food hamper equivalent of a neighbour sharing extra food—and they are grateful.
The woman at the next drop is one of three grandmothers on the Thursday List who are helping to raise grandchildren. “God bless you,” she calls out to the volunteer. “I had extra milk last week so I gave it to a neighbour,” she says. “That’s perfect,” says the volunteer.
Nine short months ago, the volunteer, one of Calgary’s 900 Vincentians, would have chatted with people at each drop. These days, she and others leave groceries on front steps, ring door bells and step back. They also wear masks and use disinfectant when they can’t wash their hands—because this is what Jesus would want them to do. “There’s a pandemic, but Christ’s work continues,” adds Theo van Besouw, president of the Calgary Central Council for the Society of St. Vincent de Paul (SSVP).
SSVP is an internationally-renowned lay Catholic charity with roots on the mean streets of 19th century France. The organization operates in 150 countries, including Canada. Here, much of SSVP’s work with the economically-vulnerable focuses on delivering emergency food hampers and helping people avoid homelessness by assisting with temporary crises.
In Calgary, the Central Council oversees the work of 23 conferences and three particulars. Each conference works within parish boundaries. The North, South and West particulars meet with conferences in their geographic areas. “We get together to see how we’re doing and those with more resources help the others,” explains Rina McDermott. The president of a conference in northwest Calgary, she also represents that conference on the West Particular.
“St. Vincent de Paul gets a lot of attention during Advent, but our work is year-round,” adds van Besouw. Across the nation and in Calgary, SSVP is the single-largest faith-based charity on the front lines of poverty. “We help everyone, regardless of faith. If you call, we answer,” says van Besouw.
People who live in the Calgary Diocese may learn about SSVP after calling a local parish to ask for help. Others get information from the website, ssvpcalgary.ca. In Calgary, 211 operators with the City of Calgary also direct people who need food to specific conferences or to the Central Council phone number. Every week, Central receives up to a dozen calls or emails from people asking for help. Those folks are matched to conferences who can bring them help. “St. Vincent de Paul is also aligned with other charities who can bring people food. We’re building relationship with other groups all of the time,” says van Besouw.
Conferences with lots of Vincentians (SSVP volunteers) continue to provide food hampers during the pandemic. Others have suspended their hamper programs due to concerns about their volunteers. “But we are certainly not closed,” insists van Besouw. “Some of the conferences now give people grocery store cards instead of food. The pandemic has helped us be more creative. We’re learning to do contact-free deliveries of food and grocery store cards and we’re keeping in touch with people by phone. We want to keep the people we serve and Vincentians safe, but we also want to feed people.”
On-boarding new Vincentians is bit complicated, because the pandemic makes it difficult to conduct security checks. “But if you want to get involved with SSVP, or to start a conference at your parish, please reach out. We welcome new ideas at the table,” says van Besouw.
Written by Joy Gregory
Christmas time is such a beautiful time. I think of Mary often and wonder about the night she gave birth to Jesus. Did she look at him with awe? Did she stare at his button nose? Did she tickle his little toes? Did she put one finger in his little hand as his fingers wrapped around hers? Did she rub his hair and hold him tight? Did she cry? Did she say out loud, “This is my boy!”?
I am so blessed to be a mom of four beautiful kids. With each one I remember just staring at them through the night in awe of God and his blessings. Thinking that Mary was a mother just like me puts the very first Christmas in such a different light. Do we consider the anticipation that Mary and Joseph felt while waiting for the birth of Jesus? And the joy they experienced when he was born! As a parent, I know that this waiting time was very special.
A book that I read to my Kindergarten students is Little One, We Knew You’d Come, by Sally-Lloyd Jones. I invite the children to bring a baby picture to class and encourage parents to have a conversation with their child about the anticipation they felt as they waited for their child to arrive.
Do we take the time and look at the children we teach as the blessing that they are?
My sister (a doctor) just told me about a funeral she attended recently, for an eight-year-old girl. Fifteen hundred people were there. She loved school so much that she came hooked up to an oxygen tank to help her breathe. The principal moved his desk outside the teacher’s door in case the little girl needed help. Her parents spent the days at the school reading books and newspapers while their daughter was in class. Any moment could be her last. Everyone waited. Just like her parents had waited for nine months for her to be born – although this waiting was going to end with a goodbye. She went to school Friday, blueish because her lungs were failing. Her dying wish was to go to school. She would never miss the Remembrance Day Assembly. She LOVED school. She died two days later.
Staff and families did not know that Friday would be their last day with this eight-year-old girl. The principal was asked to give the eulogy at the funeral. Everyone in the school was there. She loved stuffies, and her parents brought every stuffy she owned. When the children came in the church, they were offered a stuffy to cuddle. One last act of love… to love the things she loved most!
This Christmas, let us be mindful of the impact and privilege we have to be a teacher or work in a school. We play such an important role in bringing joy to the families of the students we teach. Families send their precious little ones (or big ones) to us daily to love, teach, support, help and nurture. Each child is a gift. God’s gift. Our mission is to look into the eyes of every child we teach and see the face of God. It is a blessing to be a teacher, a coach, a support worker, an administrator and custodial staff. We all have an opportunity to celebrate the life of a child.
Novelist Jeanine Cummins uses these lines from Chilean poet Pablo Neruda´s poem “The Song of Despair” as an epigraph in her novel “American Dirt.” The novel tells the story of a mother and son from the State of Guerrero in Mexico who wage an unbelievable struggle for life and freedom from the violence that engulfs this state and others in Mexico.
Just the other day I received a phone call from Paloma, a young mother from Guerrero who is in hiding with her husband Santiago and three small children. I have known Paloma since she was born. She has no formal education, but she is an incredible young woman and a great mother. Santiago’s two brothers were recently murdered by members of a crime cartel; Santiago managed to escape, but everyone in the village knows that his name is on the hit list. I helped the family contact a human rights organization that is trying to get them asylum in another country. However, due to the COVID pandemic, all of that paperwork is presently on hold, and the family remains in hiding.
Impoverishment, violence, corruption, discrimination, impunity, injustice … these are the daily fare of too many indigenous people living in the mountains of the State of Guerrero. The reason that the above-mentioned lines from Pablo Neruda come to my mind is that Mission Mexico has for twenty years been a “fruit” for many in the midst of the “thirst and hunger” of this reality; it has been “the miracle” for many in the midst of the “grief and ruins” of this reality.
Since the year 2000, Mission Mexico has been accompanying the people of “the Mountain” of Guerrero. Approximately 500,000 people from three indigenous cultures (Na´savi, Me’phaa, Nahua) live spread out among 700 towns and villages. Mission Mexico has partnered with several trustworthy Mexican organizations to promote projects related especially to health, education, and self-sufficiency. Transformation of such a difficult reality has never been easy, but Mission Mexico has earned the gratitude of thousands of families living in this poorest region of the country of Mexico.
Now there is COVID. Everything has changed. People have gotten ill and died. It is hard to give numbers because most of the people seldom go to a hospital; medical care always involves expenses. People have lost jobs, due to the closure of all kinds of businesses. Financial assistance from illegal workers in the United States who typically send money to their families each month has diminished.
Education has been particularly hard hit. At the present time, there is no face-to-face, classroom education in the Mountain of Guerrero. Everything is meant to be online learning, using either television or the Internet. This presents an almost impossible situation for thousands of families in remote villages in the mountains.
I used the expression that “everything is meant to be online learning” on purpose, because many teachers, realizing that their students have little or no access to computers or television, are going to the villages with photocopied worksheets: they leave “homework” with the students and return two weeks later to pick up the completed worksheets and to leave more. It’s not an ideal situation for many reasons: teachers risk contagion during their travels; many parents are illiterate and can’t assist their children; if a student falls behind, there is no remedial assistance. But I admire the teachers for trying to do what they consider is best for their students.
Mission Mexico began helping sixteen years ago to build the Champagnat High School of the Mountain, a residential school for impoverished indigenous youth; it is run by a Mexican religious order, the Marist Brothers. And Mission Mexico has a bursary program for university students from particularly needy families. The hundreds of students from the high school and university are involved now in online learning, which often means that students have to move to a town where there is Internet service. The support for the high school and for the bursary program is vital to the success of the students in this endeavor.
However, it is almost impossible for Mission Mexico to meet the “usual” goals in terms of financial support. COVID has hit the Diocese of Calgary too. The level of donations to Mission Mexico has diminished. This is understandable, and I assure the people of the Diocese of Calgary that their “friends” in the Mountain of Mexico are praying for them.
I also hope and pray that as the “thirst and hunger” and “grief and ruins” of the indigenous peoples here hit almost desperate levels, God might touch the hearts of people in the Diocese of Calgary to extend their generosity, so that Mission Mexico might continue accompanying these very needy people is this time of very real need. Every looney or tooney helps.
Please consider going to the donation page on the website missionmexico.com or giving during the special collection that the Diocese of Calgary is promoting in parishes on December 12 & 13, the weekend of the feast day of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Your solidarity will change lives here.
Having the obligation to attend professional development training with some regularity, and presenters seeking to have their audiences more engaged, I am often witness to grown adults frantically looking around as soon as they hear we’re going to break into groups. The desire to belong, and even more the fear of being alone, is strong within us.
Though attributed alternately to the writers of “Charlotte’s Web” and “Stuart Little” or “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” and “Huckleberry Finn,” the quote runs that trying to explain a joke is like dissecting a frog – you gain understanding while losing your subject. This can be said also of discussing friendship. Much of its charm lies in what is unspoken.
Aristotle said there are friendships of utility and convenience – we get something that makes our way easier; there are also friends who bring us pleasure – being with them is enjoyable. But the philosopher really points to those who spur us on to being better. In the language of our faith, these relationships help us mutually perfect one another; they foster virtue. And no doubt they are also useful and pleasurable. Finding such people and making and keeping such relationships can involve lots of trial and error.
Friendships usually start with those near us, whom we encounter more than by accident. Over time we feel an attraction to this other personality and discover what we have in common. It is upon this that something of substance can be built. We give and take in an easy-going and natural process. When there are difficulties, we invest to make a fix, and we continue to grow.
For most of us, the challenges of our current day are different in kind though perhaps not in degree from what has come before, or will come hereafter. Now as always we can find opportunities to be friends more fully and deeply, to those who are already in our social circles and those who are not yet.
Recently required compliance with the imposed COVID-19 restrictions has disrupted many aspects of regular life, including our contact with others. The normal ways that we have informally cared for one another are no longer the same. While we can lament that loss, we can also be grateful for the chance to extend both how and to whom we show care. In justice, those who have first claim upon our energies are family and friends, and those in greatest need.
Every liturgical season offers renewed opportunity to become more like Jesus. Advent in particular calls us to make straight and prepare, to ease what is difficult for others. These are expressions of friendship. And we can make them even for those with whom we have no visible connection, as expression of charity, as acts of service to others in the Body of Christ. If it is Jesus’ will to be Friend to all, and we are friends to him, the deepest of connections exists already.
Catholic Pastoral Centre Staff and Guest Writers