The early-spring sun is barely risen when the six Sisters of the Precious Blood monastery in Calgary make their way to their chapel for morning mass. As the day progresses, the sisters will gather in the chapel four more times to pray the Liturgy of the Hours, an official Prayer of the Church, which sanctifies the day with prayer. Each woman will also spend 30 minutes in private prayer and adoration before the Blessed Sacrament. They use those precious minutes to pray for the needs of the Church, especially the Roman Catholic Diocese of Calgary, and to ask God’s blessing on the world. They also devote that time alone to pray “for the people for whom we’ve promised to pray,” explains Sr. Margaret Nadeau. Many of those prayer requests are posted on the chapel door, a physical reminder that those who live in this cloistered religious community are purposefully devoted to the world from which they’ve chosen to live apart.
Founded in Quebec in 1861, the Sisters of the Precious Blood was the first contemplative community established in Canada. In addition to the founding monastery in Saint-Hyacinthe, Quebec, the order has houses in Calgary, Regina, London and Hamilton, plus two monasteries in the United States and two in Japan.
As well as praying for the people in the communities where they live, the Sisters of the Precious Blood monastery in Calgary plays a tangible role in supporting parishes across the diocese. While the Calgary convent stopped baking altar breads several decades ago, the sisters still receive regular truckloads of hosts baked in the order’s Hamilton house.
Once in Calgary, the large cartons are unpacked into smaller boxes of hosts according to the needs of the parishes. Parishes typically pick up these smaller boxes from the monastery, which is located in Erlton, just south of downtown Calgary. Some boxes are also shipped to parishes in other dioceses.
The pandemic disrupted this aspect of life in the monastery. While orders for hosts fell in the early weeks of the COVID-19 pandemic, a few parishes in Calgary also were over-supplied. With Calgary’s diocese supporting public health protocols, that extra supply more than sustained the parishes when offering regular masses with fewer parishioners became the norm.
“One of the main sources of our income has been the sale and supply of hosts, but demand changed when the pandemic started. Orders are starting to pick up a little now and that’s good as our Hamilton house has hired lay staff and we want to keep them working,” says Sr. Nadeau. A native of Medicine Hat, she joined the Sisters of the Precious Blood 63 years ago this month. “For me, it was a way to embrace the total church in a life of prayer.”
Month of the Holy Eucharist
All Catholics are called to join that embrace in a special way during the month of April, which is dedicated to the Holy Eucharist. April was chosen because it typically includes Easter Sunday. (Even when Easter falls in March, the entire month of April is part of the Easter season.)
The dedication to the Holy Eucharist is a daily commitment for the Sisters of the Precious Blood, whose charism focuses on adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. While some of the order’s houses across Canada could not have daily mass during the pandemic, that wasn’t the case in Calgary. In the early days, Bishop William McGrattan did restrict the list of visiting priests to two individuals. Over time, those restrictions were changed to allow more priests to say mass at the monastery.
For now, visitors cannot participate in the holy hour celebration the monastery hosts every Thursday evening. The sisters understand, but miss sharing this special hour of prayers and singing with others in the faith community.
“In some ways we’re probably one of the groups of people that has been least affected by the pandemic and for that, we’re grateful,” says Sr. Nadeau. “We live a cloistered life with or without the pandemic and life here goes on every day, with our life of prayer still the biggest thing for us. We just keep on every day, just like we did before.”
Growing up in Ireland my Catholic Faith was very prominent in every aspect of my life. I felt it was woven into the very fabric of who I was as a human being and couldn't imagine a Sunday without Mass; a meal without prayer; an evening without the rosary or an Easter without fasting for forty days prior. I loved my Catholic Faith, and I was surrounded by family and friends who thought alike.
It was in my last year of High School at our year end retreat when the priest spoke about Jesus dying for our sins and clothing ourselves with the new self, that I had an epiphany. I realized, I had been living my life following the doctrines and obeying Church teachings without ever really experiencing what it was like to truly be living my Faith. I had never heard "Clothe yourself with the new self" or "The Spirit of God, who raised Jesus, from the dead, lives in you" and I was transfixed. I sought out reading material in the local Christian bookstore but found there were no Catholic books available as all Christian shops in Northern Ireland, at the time, were protestant. I read and listened to everything that was available. Billy Graham, Rev David Wilkerson, I joined a Charismatic group and a local prayer group, and I was on fire.
I was only 17 years of age and everything in my life had suddenly changed. I was so alive, my life had meaning and I imagined that others would see me differently because I no longer was my old self. I felt that even my very heartbeat sounded different and with this new self everything was magnified in such a way that I could no longer recognize my old self. I had a taste of 'New life' and it seemed my world had changed forever. I thought I would stay in that place, the place where the sun was brighter, where the leaves were greener, and everything had such an intense zeal for God and Love and openness that I could not quite grasp.
A year later, I had convinced myself that I needed to be a missionary. My parents received monthly magazines from 2 or 3 different missionary groups and it was through those magazines that I found The Frontier Apostolate in Prince George, BC and applied. Three times I went for an interview in Dublin and three times I was told that this was not to be my vocation. I was disappointed, greatly disappointed. I lost my new life, everything in me felt a little less and my zeal for 'Repenting from my sins and accepting Jesus Christ into my life' was somehow changed and I slipped back to my old ways.
A couple of years later I married and we immigrated to Canada. He was 19 years of age and I was 20. Of course, by then I had resigned myself to the fact that I would not be joining the Missions. I had my new life; four children, a happy husband, a new business, and a good parish. I embraced it, and I loved it. I had it made and yet I still had that sinking feeling that there should be more and I never forgot the spirited priests at my high school retreat or the fiery Evangelists that moved me to change.
It wasn't until I attended a three day silent retreat 20 years later that I once again gave my life to Christ. I remembered "The Spirit of God, who raised Jesus from the dead, lives in me" and I was called to immediate change. With the help of a spiritual director, a good confession and an unabandoned love for Christ, I was able to live the life I was supposed to live. I have tripped and fallen at times but always managed to get back up. I finally did get to go on missions; going to Mexico to help build houses for the Church, leading youth to two World Youth Days, and assisting with youth development in the Church. Blessings came from attending two Eucharistic Conferences, walking the Camino de Santiago twice in Spain, visiting the Holy Land, and walking in the steps of St Paul in Turkey. I was also able to meet the Holy Father in Rome. From all of this I found my mission.
My mission is the very people who cross my path daily and how I extend Christ's love to them. With this mission in mind I feel that every day is my new life and I am grateful to the priest in Dublin who refused to accept my application to The Frontier Apostolate.
This year the slightly relaxed Covid-19 restrictions, afforded our family the opportunity to attend all Triduum Masses at St. Mary’s Cathedral. Since my husband Ben volunteered as cameraman for the cathedral livestream, the children and I gratefully attended the liturgies upstairs in the crying room, so we could experience the Triduum together as much as possible.
Last year when churches were closed and no one could attend Mass during the Easter Triduum, our family was given the grace to see the pandemic as an opportunity to fortify our domestic church. What seemed like one-off makeshift solutions at the time have now become annual family Easter traditions.
Our own celebrations began at home again on Holy Thursday by meditating on the Last Supper with the children using a miniature altar and figurines. This was inspired by my training as a children’s catechist with the Catechism of the Good Shepherd program. This lectio divina style meditation set the mood for my husband to prayerfully perform an in-house foot washing. And following this we sat down to eat a Seder-inspired dinner.
What struck me was the word ‘slave’ interwoven throughout the Triduum. In my understanding a central theme of the Seder meal is reflecting on the significance of the Egyptian slaves finding freedom through the Exodus.
On Good Friday we continued our meditation by praying the Way of the Cross as a small family cohort at Mount St Francis retreat centre just outside of Cochrane.
I allowed this life-changing truth that Jesus died on the Cross and rose again to free me from my slavery to sin and death to penetrate my heart.
And on Holy Saturday we had a quiet day waiting in hopeful anticipation of the Resurrection that meets us on the other side of the Cross.
The candlelit Vigil Mass is truly the climax of our liturgical year. I was awestruck by the magnificence and beauty of the words sung in the Exsultet. Again the reality of being set free from the slavery of my sin and death captured my imagination.
Here’s an excerpt from the Exsultet
This is the night
that even now throughout the world,
sets Christian believers apart from worldly vices
and from the gloom of sin,
leading them to grace
and joining them to his holy ones.
This is the night
when Christ broke the prison-bars of death
and rose victorious from the underworld.
With my lenten pilgrimage concluded, I pondered in what ways God’s grace had worked in my life to set me free from the slavery of my sin.
God loves you and me personally and unconditionally and the only thing standing in the way of His love is our own turning away from Him. And for those with eyes of faith to see that all circumstances: the good, the challenges, the everyday mundane, are all opportunities to grow in greater love of God and His Church.
Happy Easter from our family to yours! And may the victory over sin and death carry on in our heart for the 50 days following Easter until Pentecost!
Like any charity or not-for-profit, the work of our Catholic parishes is borne as much by unpaid supporters as by paid staff. Indeed, the staffs’ role often includes recruiting and coordinating volunteers to help them. It takes many hands and minds to do God’s work. So many, that we can be unaware of how much is actually being done within our parish boundaries. As a step towards recognizing the impact of volunteers we would like to highlight a few individuals from around the diocese. We hope you will recognize yourself among these people or even be inspired to assist in a different capacity.
Every volunteer is a star in their parish universe and we wish we could name and praise them all. Unfortunately our pages are limited, but our gratitude is boundless. Readers are welcome to identify the volunteers closest to their hearts by leaving a comment below.
Names are interesting. Though we don’t usually choose our own, they give insight into one’s background. My parents had chosen another name for me but hearing that my aunt and uncle wanted to use it for their expected child, Mom and Dad left it for their use. My female cousin ended up not needing the name they reserved, but I had already been born, and named after my dad. There was a period of years when my dad thought being called ‘junior’ by friends telephoning our number (back when whole families shared a single line) was too much for me to bear; he offered to have my name changed.
My wife has commented that amongst the biggest decisions we made for our children was picking their names and their godparents. We have viewed both as consequential. At the beginning, we didn’t know we had naming rules.
When I was growing up back in the old country (Saskatchewan), there was a family at my school who had five children, all of whose names began with the same letter. At the time this seemed a very strange thing to do – especially when the names they used were less than common.
Not every family limits the choices they allow for this key mark of identity, something the individual will probably have for the rest of his life. But I suspect most do. Sometimes they are as simple as not giving a traditionally male name to a daughter. It could be more specific and involve a particular number of letters (this is the case for a family in our acquaintance). You’d think that especially as we hoped from the beginning to have a larger family, and as it turned out that we were going to specialize in daughters, that we wouldn’t make it even more difficult to find good names.
We knew that we wanted our children to share their names with strong and virtuous individuals. The devotional practice of reverencing patron saints made this pretty standard for Catholics; our daughters are each named after a canonized saint, biblical woman, or esteemed member of the family. After naming our first three daughters, we discovered that we had created a further rule: we would not repeat initial letters for first names, nor could initial letters be vowels.
These final two requisites don’t have substance in themselves, but the challenge of finding names that find all criteria somehow added to the experience for us. While our girls have not placed the same restrictions on themselves in regard to their Confirmation names, they have each selected worthy patrons and sponsors.
Taking names seriously is part of not only our faith, but more deeply even, God’s own nature. The second commandment tells us that misuse of God’s name is an offence. There is something of consequence here that I’m not sure we pick up very well in the 2020s.
Scripture also uses names to mark changes of life: Abram to Abraham, Sarai to Sarah, Jacob to Israel, with Saul to Paul being one of the biggest. Just like the number forty represents transformation: in the Sinai, on the Ark, and with Jesus in the desert. We have just finished journeying with Jesus (“God saves”) as we’ve walked through Lent. While we likely haven’t changed any names in this time, we may have examined who we truly are, as named children of the Father. Though we suffered for forty days, Easter is now a fifty-day celebration – where fasting and mourning are behind us. The promise of spring’s new life echoes the New Life we have been promised. And our celebration of this reality means something about how we live. That’s something I’ve been thinking about too …
In ‘The Idea of a University,’ John Henry Newman (now Saint) outlined his vision of a liberal education that spoke of the virtues and purpose of a university. Originally an Oxford man, his famed conflict at Oriel College where he argued with the Provost that a tutor needed more engagement with undergraduates, resulted in Newman being cast out of his beloved institution and turning instead to a life of research. It wasn’t until many years later that he was drawn back directly into the academy when he was invited to help found the Catholic University of Ireland in Dublin. And although there were too many obstacles for the university to succeed, it galvanized Newman’s love for and understanding of the unique gifts of Catholic education. Indeed, in his Letters and Diaries he is quoted as saying, ‘from the very first month of my Catholic existence … I wished for a Catholic University.’
Newman’s now famous treatise reminds us of the unique charter of a liberal arts, and of a Catholic, university: ‘the end of University Education,’ he tells us, is to provide ‘a comprehensive view of truth in all its branches, of the relations of science to science, of their mutual bearings, and their respective values.’ Newman recognizes that true education is about the ‘real cultivation of the mind’, one that ‘grasps what it perceives through the senses … which takes a view of things; which sees more than the senses convey.’ Newman was not advocating for a narrow definition of one area of study but for the importance of developing critical thinking skills, a well-rounded understanding of poets, historians, philosophers, mathematicians, theologians and more. It is this comprehensive field of understanding, embedded in an unshakable moral foundation, that would allow graduates to enter ‘with comparative ease into any subject of thought, and of taking up with aptitude any science or profession.’
This flexibility and transferability is often what our Catholic universities use to defend and define the liberal arts education that we provide. In response to the demand, at times from Government itself, that we should focus exclusively on the trades or jettison the arts writ large to focus on true vocational training for jobs, pundits like myself write impassioned articles debunking the false notion that our graduates fail to forge incredible careers. We cite extensive evidence of the impact that Arts graduates have at the top of Fortune 500 companies, heading top law firms, and more. And while this defensiveness is predictable if tedious, it is a reminder of the danger of contemporary society’s devaluation of the principles of a Catholic, liberal education.
Beyond the public apologia, however, our Catholic institutions in Canada do more than defend against narrow pigeonholing. The true work of our institutions is to create holistic learning hubs, where intellectual culture is not chauvinistic but pluralistic by nature; where social capital isn’t defined by dollars but by public accountability; and acts of charity are not tax write-offs but imbedded in the very purpose of human understanding and behaviour. Yes, we want our students to have incredible careers, and they do — but we remind them always that they have a higher calling, which is to transform society for the better and to advocate for the common good.
For John Cappucci, the Principal of Assumption University, ‘the greatest challenge facing Catholic higher education is demonstrating that attending a Catholic university or college is more than just learning about Catholicism. It is about linking Catholicism to the challenges of the daily work. For example, following the example of Pope Francis’ Laudado Si’. Peter Meehan, President at St. Jerome’s University, argues that ‘the journey to truth includes both faith and reason. Uniting the heart and the mind, faith and reason allow us to explore the questions facing humanity, from biological and business ethics, ecumenism, ageing, death and dying, to the ecology, globalization and issues of responsible citizenship and government. Confident in Christian truth without being proselytizing or triumphal, we see liberal arts education as underlying a deeper human need to grasp the world in all of its complexities.’
These values are timeless, but they are also relevant to our contemporary challenges. David Sylvester, President of the University of St. Michael’s College makes this point about the pandemic itself: ‘Catholic universities, because they are fundamentally oriented to building up the common good and their long-standing community partnerships, have been at the forefront of the COVID response and have been real pillars of hope not just for their students, staff and alumni, but for their neighbours. It really did expose the need for the work that Catholic universities undertake and the servant leadership our students and faculty provide.’
Catholic colleges and universities have also been at the heart of creating important ecumenical conversations, understanding that dialogue between faith communities is critical to an empowered and empathetic world. One of the challenges that Catholic postsecondary institutions often face is that they are assumed to be theological schools or exclusive enclaves. In fact, our institutions are open to all, and they revel in the conversation that they generate with different faith communities, and indeed with the wider world itself, secular or otherwise. In the end, our institutions focus on the life of the student, pushing for a holistic education: mind, body and spirit. It is not unusual for students to flourish in our environment when they have felt uncomfortable in the public institutions.
Recently, at St. Mary’s University in Calgary, I was delighted to receive two letters from both a parent and a former student, thanking the institution for the foundational learning, and the comprehensive education, we provide. The reason for the correspondence: the student had just completed both an internship at the Indiana University School of Medicine and graduated from Seattle Pacific University with a PhD in Clinical Psychology, and then accepted a postdoctoral fellowship position with the Harvard School of Medicine and Boston Children’s Hospital, the top-ranked paediatric hospital in the U.S. For the father, our small Catholic university allowed his daughter ‘to develop academically, emotionally, personally and spiritually.’ He concluded, ‘As the Chinese proverb says, “When you drink water, think of its source.’” For his daughter, it was the pastoral and individualized experience that allowed a ‘soft-spoken’ and shy individual ‘to grow and gain courage to participate and ask questions.’ She concluded: ‘The path towards a Ph.D. truly takes a village, and I am privileged to have had you all as teachers and mentors.’
The twenty-two Catholic institutions represented by the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities in Canada all look to this type of testimonial to encapsulate the goal and the values of our institutions. As Pope Francis has argued, Catholic education is called to build a humanism that ‘proposes a vision of society centred on the human person,’ and that draws on ‘the great testimonies of the saints and holy educators, whose example is a beacon’ that can illuminate our service, and that is dedicated to the ‘mission of offering horizons that are open to transcendence.’ That surely is the ‘end’ of Catholic higher education — and in that respect our work is just beginning.
G.K. Chesterton was a British writer of vast influence in the early 20th century, penning plays, novels, poems, and hundreds of articles and essays. He employed humour, intelligence, and humility in defense of sanity, of Christianity, and particularly of his chosen faith: Catholicism, and his work remains in wide circulation today, in many languages, touching Catholics and other Christians around the world. His writing trains the mind, challenges our preconceptions, and brings many closer to Christ.
St. Isidore Learning Center in Elk Island Catholic Schools, is a relatively new online school, and in some respects we were still looking for our particular charism when, in the fall of 2019, we started talking with some folks from the Society of Gilbert Keith Chesterton in the United States about their network of Chesterton Academies. The Chesterton Schools Network delivers a joyful, Catholic, classical curriculum through which students explore Literature and History, from the ancient to the modern, along with Theology, Philosophy, Latin, and the Fine Arts. A classical education, but in the Chesterton spirit: faithful, full of wonder and humour, without the stuffiness many would assume comes with such subjects.
“Are any of your schools online?” we asked. The answer was no. “Would you be open to the possibility of working with a publicly funded Catholic, online school from Canada?” we wondered. Yes indeed! Conversations ensued and relationships grew, and in time we submitted a proposal, which was in essence a concordance of the two curricula, ultimately a way to deliver Alberta Education courses, meeting Alberta outcomes and requirements, but doing so in a Chestertonian manner that met all the knowledge outcomes and the sequenced approach employed by Chesterton Academies.
That led us to this year. We launched as a school within a school, the Chesterton Academy of St. Isidore, with a cohort of over 60 students from across the province, a truly joyous and invigorating group of teenagers who are keen to learn and laugh together, studying online. We recently placed students in the traditional House system, a joyous occasion, in their Houses of Ambrose, Augustine, Athanasius, and Chrysostom. We’ve chosen Prefects, and started our first extracurricular club (a Philosophy club, and initiated by teenagers!) We’re already hearing from new parents, interested in next year.
Alberta is a place of educational choice, and among Alberta schools one can find Sports Academies, Fine Arts Academies, Outdoor based education, Academic Excellence and Vocational training - all manner of programming. And now, in a public separate school, we have a classical Catholic school: a Chesterton Academy.
When I am asked to define what makes a Catholic school unique, aside from Religion classes, I often reply that it’s about the faith-based education, which is wholistic and permeates each subject, each class, each doorway, each heart. It’s a feeling.
For years, I didn’t know how to explain the “feeling” to those who hadn’t experienced it for themselves. Then I returned to school and completed a degree in Journalism, and it was my new career that helped derive that explanation.
As a community news reporter I have been invited into several schools in Okotoks and area, and though still intangible there is a different feel to walking inside the Catholic schools as opposed to the public. There is warmth; one can sense the presence of God in the smiles that greet them, in the crosses and images that mark the entrance to the school. This is not to say public schools are cold and unfeeling places, but the faith, the gifts of Jesus and the Holy Spirit in the halls of a Catholic school are palpable.
Perhaps nothing spoke to me more than Christmas concert season, during which reporters take in concerts from each school over the course of three weeks. I noted a marked difference in the calm, the reverence and respect in the air of Advent celebrations – whether in church sanctuaries or school gyms – as opposed to the hectic, often chaotic public productions that focused more on snow and gifts than the birth of Jesus.
In those moments, in the peace I feel as I enter a Catholic school, I am grateful for the education I received in these same halls years ago. I am grateful for the opportunity to have my children grace the same schools, feel that same embrace of faith in their education journey, know that God is ever-present, and learn to treat one another as the images of the Lord we are.
The values they espouse, the empathy they have gained, and the ability to see God’s work in every day life are treasures I hope they cherish throughout their lives.
Some still do not understand what I mean when I describe the feeling of walking into a Catholic school – of the warmth that overwhelms the senses; of appreciating you have entered a house of faith and pure, real joy; of knowing your children are in safely in God’s hands as their teachers guide them, as they learn and shape their life view and growing minds.
But I understand, and my children understand – and we will be forever grateful for the opportunity to benefit from a Catholic education.
The sanctifying power of this night dispels wickedness, washes faults away, restores innocence to the fallen and joy to mourners; drives out hatred, fosters concord and brings down the mighty.
These time honoured words of the ancient hymn we call “The Exsultet” summarize beautifully and powerfully the immensity of what happens on the night of the Solemn Vigil of Easter. When the floodgates of grace which we call baptism are opened up that night in Christ’s Church each year, the world is changed over and over again.
The Easter Vigil this year was doubly meaningful for the faithful and our Elect throughout the Diocese. Who will ever forget the Sacred Triduum of 2020, passed much like the first Passover of the Jews, hiding in our homes as the shadow of death passed over the land? The only Easter Vigils celebrated last year were virtual or non-existent. What joy, then, this year for the maximum capacity allowed in our churches to be gathered in person to usher in the celebration of our Lord’s Resurrection. The triumph of that earth-shattering event is always manifested so clearly by the baptism of adults into the Mystical Body of Christ, His Church. Everything listed in that quote with which I began this article is accomplished by the pouring of those sacred waters. I referred to this Triduum as doubly meaningful, but not only because last year we never had one and this year we did; in fact, it was a “first Triduum” for two classes of our RCIA participants. Last year, there was a group of RCIA candidates and catechumens prepared to receive their sacraments at Easter but which had to be postponed until the summer. It was such a joy to see many of them seated in the congregation- still Catholic infants themselves- welcoming a whole new batch of Christians into the family.
O truly blessed night!
Perhaps I should have referred to this year’s Easter Vigil as triply blessed, for it was not only two years of RCIA cohorts being received and watching it unfold for the first time but it was a different ‘first time’ for a sizeable portion of those in attendance at St. Mary’s Cathedral. Not necessarily the first time to be part of the Vigil and Triduum, but the first time for the St. Francis Xavier Chaplaincy (SFXC) community to be celebrating it there, and with our chief shepherd, no less!
It was a powerful witness for us all- chaplaincy participants and chaplain alike- to take part in the Triduum in our mother church around our Bishop. It was a helpful reminder of the role of a Vicar- he who stands in the place of the Bishop who desires to be present but cannot be- that sometimes, the Vicar can be where he belongs: at the service of the Bishop who fulfills his mission as Christ in our midst. My day to day life is spent serving the university students and young adults of the Chaplaincy community and not a few of them remarked to me afterwards how moving it was for them to watch Fr. Cristino step aside from his usual role in leadership as Bishop McGrattan stepped up to lead the flock entrusted to his care in prayer and worship while also conferring the sacraments of initiation. SFXC’s new home never felt more like home than in the presence of the head of our household.
It was a beautiful demonstration of what it means to be the Church, what it means for the Church to grow and what Christ’s Resurrection from the dead has truly made possible. It was an honour and a joy for the SFXC to welcome seven new sheep into the flock, and all the more by our shepherd himself.
O truly blessed night!
I am Fr. Tomy Manjaly, the youngest in a family of seven children. I have five brothers and one sister. My sister is a nun who has been ministering to the seniors and the mentally challenged people in Bethlehem, Israel for the past 31 years. I was born and brought up in the province of Kerala, South India. Both of my parents have passed away; may they attain eternal life.
When I was in grade three, I was taught by a nun who asked me what I wanted to do when I grew up. I said that I wanted to be a priest, and she asked me to read aloud, to test me on whether I would be qualified for the priesthood. That was the first seed of a vocation planted in me. After grade ten, I joined the minor seminary, with a view to becoming a priest, for the Diocese of Imphal, Manipur, one of the northeastern states in India. I was a part of the first group of seminarians selected for that Diocese. I have had the grace to be blessed by St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta. I met St. Teresa before my ordination, when I was studying theology in Calcutta.
I was ordained at the age of 30 on April 9, 1994. I served for seven years in Manipur as an Associate Parish Priest, Pastor and school administrator of a school with 2,300 students.
On February 2, 2001, the most tragic and miraculous incident of my life took place. I was shot by a rebel group which was fighting against the Indian army for the separation of Manipur from the Indian federation. They demanded money from our churches to buy weapons. First of all, we hardly had enough money to pay our teachers. Secondly, the money was being demanded to purchase weapons to fight and kill others, which was against our Christian principles. When the churches denied them money, the rebels shot and killed five priests over a series of days and I was shot in the back on February 2, 2001. The bullet passed through my stomach, severely injuring an artery, my kidneys, colon and intestines.
As I fell on the ground after the first shot, I called out the mighty name of Lord Jesus, and God come to my aid. I cried aloud twice, “Jesus, save me!” and the second shot didn’t go through me, for the gun the rebel was using, jammed. That is when the first miracle took place. I was declared dead according to the TV news and my parents in South India watched the report in horror and sorrow.
I was taken to a private Catholic hospital by some of the people and the Associate Priest who had witnessed the incident. The hospital didn’t have enough money to pay the doctors and didn’t usually have a surgeon. But, it happened that on that day, there was a surgeon who had been hired for a two-week term. The table was set for another surgery, and I was blessed to be operated on immediately. The surgery was another miracle. Since my artery was torn, I was in need of a lot of blood. Twenty one units of blood were given to me by the people who gathered there, after hearing the news of the gun shot. Another miracle then took place. There was no blood bank nearby, but seven more doctors came to my aid from the other hospitals to give blood. After ten hours of surgery, and two days’ recovery I was able to breathe on my own. I had to have two more surgeries over the following two years, and it was during this time that I was called by Bishop Henry to serve in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Calgary. I thank God for bringing me to this beautiful and peaceful land of Canada.
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11
I arrived in Calgary on September 19, 2003. Since then I have served as an Associate Priest at St. Mark’s Church and Sacred Heart Church in Calgary, and at St. Patrick’s Church in Medicine Hat. I have also served as the Pastor in Coaldale and Picture Butte parishes, as well as St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church in Calgary, Holy Trinity Church in Cluny, and St. Patrick’s Church in Medicine Hat. I thank God for giving me another opportunity to serve Him and the people of God at Sacred Heart Church in Strathmore, starting in August 2020.
I greatly appreciate all of my parishioners, volunteers, friends, deacons and the office staff of our parish, who have made me feel welcome. Although we do not have a church building, we are grateful to Christ the Redeemer School Division for providing us a space for our worship. Please pray and help us build our beautiful church, dedicated to Our Lord's Sacred Heart, where we will have more space for worship and gathering.
May God bless you all, and may He guide your endeavours in building the Body of Christ and the Church. May St. John Paul II intercede for us.
The climate crisis has a very human face. It is already a reality for multitudes of vulnerable people worldwide. Climate warming of merely 1.5°C would cause global sea levels to rise by 0.77 metres by 2100, threatening cities and crop and pasture land around the world. Projections based on current data predict a global temperature increase of 3-4°C by 2100.
The Migrants and Refugees Section of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development has recently published and presented at a press conference on Wednesday, 31 March 2021, the resource document entitled, Pastoral Orientations on Climate Displaced People. The resource highlights the new challenges posed by climate disruption and displacement and suggests pastoral responses to the global situation and crisis.
The document can be downloaded, in various languages and formats, from the newly created webpage dedicated to climate displaced people, on the Migrants and Refugees Section’s website: https://migrants-refugees.va/climate-displaced-people/
Keywords: global warming, climate change, Laudato Si,
Reflections on the Stations of the Cross during the Covid-19 Pandemic
Reflection and prayers by Alice Matisz SDG
With reprint permission from All Saints Parish in Lethbridge
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.
Beginning on Ash Wednesday (Feb. 17, 2021) and for each Sunday of the season of Lent, Bishop McGrattan is offering spiritual renewal reflections for individuals, families and communities in the Diocese as we prepare to celebrate the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
This 8-part video series of Lenten Spiritual Renewal (15-25 minutes reflection) is a part of the Diocesan Spiritual Renewal “Duc in altum | Put out into the deep”.
Upcoming reflection themes on Sundays of Lent:
On his first reflection (Ash Wednesday), Bishop McGrattan calls for a personal renewal, for us to recognize or reimagine the deep gifts we received at our Baptism
First Sunday of Lent | The Primacy of Grace
"Opening our lives and receiving God's grace... This is how the church grows, not because of human's effort, but by us being open to receive the grace of God, and to be drawn to Christ." In today’s reflection, Bishop McGrattan speaks of the primacy of grace, that it's always God's initiative that draws us to Christ.
Second Sunday of Lent | The Call to Holiness
"The acceptance of God's grace is the beginning to the call of the path of holiness. It's the response that each of us are called to make in our lives." In today’s reflection, Bishop McGrattan speaks of the call to holiness. He reminds us of ways to reintensify or redevelop the call to holiness that we received in our baptism.
Third Sunday of Lent 2021 | Lent
“Prayer is this lifting of mind, entering into this conversation and relationship with God, lifting our heart and wanting our heart to be one with God.” In today’s reflection, Bishop McGrattan reminds us that amidst our busyness and distraction, we must always try to seek silence and solitude, to focus our minds to God. But how? Watch the video to get thoughtful examples and ideas from the Bishop.
Fourth Sunday of Lent 2021 | Listening to the Word of God
“To receive, to hear, to listen to the Word of God is the essential nature of the Church.”
In today’s reflection, Bishop McGrattan reminds us that scripture must be at the forefront of our activities and endeavour as Christians, and invites us to renew how we listen to the Word of God. “Through the scripture, we are introduced to the very life and the mysteries of God.” The listening of the Word of God through praying, reading, studying and meditating with scripture is equally important and necessary step of preparation for when we gather as a community, and when we engage in pastoral activities.
Bishop McGrattan shares the 5 steps of Lectio Divina, divine reading praying with scripture.
1. Lectio - reading of text, looking at the words we’re reading, the images of text, and to see the significance of the text and image.
2. Meditatio - what does this passage say to me, or to the early church?
3. Oratio - how does this passage of scripture move me to respond?
4. Contemplatio - how is this word of God forming in me the mind and heart of Christ?
5. Actio - how is this word making my life a gift for others?
To study Verbum Domini, download the file below.
Fifth Sunday of Lent 2021 | Proclaiming the Word of God
"..being sent forth is part of the nature of the Church. We call it the essential mission."
In today’s reflection, Bishop McGrattan brings to mind that faith is often formed by secular values or opinions of the world. As missionary disciples, we are called to recognize these limitations, to understand the challenges we face in proclaiming the Word of God, as we go forward to convey a message of love.
“Let us hurry to love others, they depart so quickly.” (Fr. Jan Twardowski)
How is one to begin sharing, publicly I might add, about something personal, intimate, humbling, and dare I say, even embarrassing? Speaking about my relationship with my father has not always been easy for different reasons, the specific details of which are beyond the scope of this testimony. By God’s grace it has become far easier to do so and I believe sharing this story can be of help, a source of inspiration, if not to many, at least to some. Suffice it to say that my relationship with dad had its ups and downs, and at times, was very challenging, frustrating, complex and even hurtful. There are many things I wish I could take back; things I said and thought, the various attitudes, behaviours, and reactions that led most often to the experience of disappointment and sorrow, for both my father and me. I have come to realize, painfully so, the accuracy of the old adage, that time flies. It moves forward so quickly, in fact, that moments of grace and opportunity can pass unnoticed before our eyes, never to return again, thus leaving us potentially bound to feelings of regret, resentment, shame, guilt, unforgiveness, and sorrow.
My father immigrated to Canada in the 1960’s, had to learn a new language, assimilate to a new culture, and being the eldest of six, focus on helping his parents and the family survive. He showed discipline, espoused a great work ethic, and took on physically demanding jobs. Eventually, he met and married my mom, and I was the second in the line of 4 children.
Difficulties began to escalate between my dad and me during my adolescence. Me seeking my independence, my dad, ever concerned about our wellbeing, trying to control and ensure I’d stay on the straight and narrow. Long story short, I made a major life-altering decision that brought about a tremendous rift between me and my family, particularly between me and my dad. As I was finalizing my decision, my father was diagnosed to be at an advanced stage cancer which required immediate and invasive treatment. The surgery and follow up treatments were deemed a success, but due to the steps I had taken, our relationship seemed to have ended. What ensued was a two year period of no communication, filled, at least on my part with a lot of anger and resentment towards my family. Regrettably, two years into his recovery the cancer returned and this time the prognosis was bleak. My dad was given 6 months to live. It was at this point in time my father called me, informed me of the diagnosis, and asked me to come and visit him. As our financial situation was not the best I reasoned that I could start putting aside some money with each subsequent pay cheque until I had enough for a flight. Unfortunately, the doctor was wrong about the amount of time my dad had. My father ended up dying within a month.
Providentially for me and my dad, I had a spouse who would not allow me to put off the visit. She immediately contacted her own father for money to pay for my flight. Within a few days I was at home and with my dad. I spent a week visiting and it was the first time that I can remember, we spent together without any conflict. In fact, there were moments of great intimacy, where I was able to help to alleviate his pain by massaging his feet, of us talking and sharing about our lives, perspectives, experiences, and yes, getting to a place of reconciliation. I returned to Calgary on a Tuesday, telling my dad I would call him daily to check in on him. The next day, Wednesday, my mom called me at 4 pm to inform me dad had died. I cried, a lot. I was moved to tears that God would grant us such an amazing grace and that my dad waited for me to come home. Even now, 19 years since his passing, I tear up as I write this reflection. Things could have ended differently, very differently. Therefore, “Let us hurry to love others, they depart so quickly.”
In closing, let me share a few points for your consideration:
Whatever the situation, seek God’s grace, the guidance of a priest, and/or the help of trusted individual.
Carla Freitag likes to giggle when she brushes her teeth. She enjoys listening to music when she draws and, if the mood strikes, she sets her drawing pencil down and begins to dance. What Freitag cannot do is talk freely about what she likes and doesn’t like, so when it was time to plan the menu for her 44th birthday party, friend and housemate Hannah Gaunt devised a friendly work-around. “We sat down with a computer and I showed her pictures. Carla chose hamburgers, French fries and chocolate cake. It was perfect.”
Freitag, who has Down Syndrome, is one of four core members who live in a L’Arche home in southwest Calgary. There, the core members live in a community with three live-in assistants, including Gaunt. “Carla is largely non-verbal, but I have lived with her for almost a year, basically 24/7. We have our own way of communicating with each other. When people try to thank me for the work I do, I say, ‘No. You don’t understand. It is such a gift to be part of this community.”
The L’Arche model of care
L’Arche is an international federation of communities that provide homes and other supports for people with developmental disabilities. Founded in France in 1964, the federation works in 149 communities in 38 countries. In Alberta, there are five L’Arche homes in Calgary and more in Edmonton and Lethbridge.
L’Arche communities challenge notions “that people with developmental disabilities are simply to be taken care of,” explains Robyn Jackson, Community Leader and Executive Director of the Calgary community. “At L’Arche, we acknowledge that we all need care, regardless of our abilities. Our communities provide the space for all of our members to discover and nurture our gifts—and to provide opportunities for people to share those gifts while giving them grace for their limitations.”
“I think L’Arche has been wonderful for Carla,” says her only sibling, Kristin Arcega, a parishioner of St. Michael Catholic Community.
“Carla can do many things independently, but she needs help with self-care and life skills. They take wonderful care of her and it’s like a family. They’ve had to change some routines because of COVID, but when they can, they go out to church on Sunday, they have a weekly prayer night, and they make sure Carla has day programs that are unique to her. She goes to an arts program on Monday and bowls on Saturdays.”
“We’ve been nothing but happy with Carla living there,” adds her mom, Ann Freitag. She and her husband David, who passed away in 2016, liked the fact that “there is a spiritual dimension to Carla’s life there. Not everyone is Catholic, but they participate in prayer, and we were grateful that she is able to attend Mass.”
Pre-pandemic, Ann brought her daughter home one weekend a month. While she misses that interaction, L’Arche has devised health protocols that allow Ann to visit her daughter. “Her home is where I am, but L’Arche is her second home.”
World Down Syndrome Day
The United Nations formally recognizes March 21 as World Down Syndrome Day (WDSD). In Canada, people are encouraged to mark the occasion by wearing colourful and mismatched socks. Socks symbolize WDSD because chromosomes are shaped liked socks and people with Down Syndrome are born with an extra chromosome.
In 2021, children with Down Syndrome are commonly integrated into public school classrooms. That wasn’t as easily done in years past “and I remember how hard my parents worked to integrate Carla,” says Arcega. While most of her education was in Calgary, Carla graduated from high school in Summerland, BC.
Looking back on those days, Ann Freitag says their efforts were worth it and she encourages other parents whose children have special needs to pursue what’s best for their kids. In addition to advocating for inclusion, the Freitags accessed other interventions, including speech and occupational therapists.
“Express your wishes and don’t be afraid to explain why you want this for your child,” says Ann. She remembers how good it was to watch her youngest daughter graduate from high school and share the excitement of another milestone in her graduation cap and gown. More recently, Carla Freitag won the Jane Cameron Award, a national art award.
Today, Hannah Gaunt is working on another milestone with Freitag. Using a program developed for people with Down Syndrome, she’s helping Freitag improve her reading skills. A hearing impairment and limited vocabulary can make Freitag difficult to understand, “but because she reads out loud and I’ve spent so much time with her, I understand what she says. She reads four books independently now. That’s so cool.”
Written by Joy Gregory for Faithfully.
Living and working in Brooks, about one hour west of Medicine Hat on the Trans-Canada highway, results in long bus trips for school teams. The longest bus trips are reserved for the 6-man football team. This is because the league is province-wide, so travelling to and from Edmonton in one day for a game is not out of the ordinary.
It’s interesting to remember the conversations that occur on bus trips that long. I have had the opportunity to drive the bus for the football team on several occasions. Usually, the rides are juxtaposed by periods of silent snoring and cacophonous adolescent male singing, but sometimes conversations of substance emerge.
I remember driving home from a game one day a couple of years ago when two of our senior players were sitting near the front with the head coach and myself. I was driving. The topic of relationships came up. These two players were tough, intelligent men. They were survivors. They had come to Canada a few years before from Colombia. Neither had a father that was active in their lives, and both exuded swagger and machismo. Both were involved in long-term relationships with young women, also from Colombia.
In the process of the conversation, the question of love, and what it really meant, came up. What does it mean to truly love another person? The coach and I embraced this opportunity to reflect on and explain the sacrificial nature of love that comes from Christ and that we are called to mirror this kind of love in our relationships with others. These two boys were engrossed in the conversation. They really wanted to know how to be a good partner to their girlfriends, how to love them properly. They knew that secular society’s explanation for love was incomplete, and they were thirsting for wisdom and truth.
The beauty of Catholic education is that these conversations can happen openly and honestly, even on a long bus ride back from a football game. The truth of Christ’s love for us and how that love is the exemplar for our relationships was fully shared and with God’s grace, settled in the hearts of those two men. Almost three years later, both these men are excelling in post-secondary education and both are still with the girlfriends they had when that conversation occurred. Hopefully, one day, I will be invited to a wedding or two!
As Catholic educators, it’s important to take time this Lent to embrace opportunities to share your faith with your students. Christ truly is the way, the truth, and the life! It may even make a long, tiring bus ride one of the most memorable moments in your car.
For students in our Catholic schools, Shrove Tuesday heralds the coming of Lent. This year, however, for many schools, there were no pancakes prepared by staff or community volunteers. The pancake breakfast, a tradition beloved by students and staff, like so many other community celebrations, have been impacted by COVID-19. This includes Ash Wednesday.
Inherent to our Ash Wednesday ritual are the words spoken at the tracing of the cross on our forehead: “Turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel.” This year, within schools, there were no words spoken, nor a cross traced upon the forehead. Instead, a reverent silence was observed as our chaplains sprinkled ashes upon our heads. This was different from our normal experience of receiving the blessed ashes. Seeing the cross of ashes on the foreheads of friends and school staff is always intriguing for students and for others in the wider community who often ask what the mark means. We might say something to the effect of: “The blessed ashes remind us that we are marked by God and demonstrates to others that we are committing to change, a conversion of heart, in preparation for Easter.”
This year, however, there were no casual inquiries about ashes upon foreheads. Again, this is one of the effects of the pandemic. We understand that the experience of some students and staff in terms of our faith celebrations, many relegated to online experiences, are not as we have been accustomed. There is, however, consistency in our Ash Wednesday scriptures. This steadfastness of the Word is important especially during these times of change.
The readings we experience on Ash Wednesday help our students and staff understand that we all have a need for repentance and that “God is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and rich in kindness” (Joel 2:13). St. Paul reminds us that the world sees the presence of Christ in the way we act (2 Corinthians 5:20-6:1). This is central to the Catholic school whereby through action and word, and the example of Christ, students are inspired to learn and are prepared to live fully and to serve God in one another. Finally, in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus reminds us that almsgiving, prayer, and fasting are to be conducted humbly. These actions are inherent in our personal Lenten journey.
Although the pandemic has changed many of the routines in our schools and impacted how we perform our rituals, we know that our faith traditions and the gift of Catholic Education give us resiliency and the hope to persevere in times of challenge. We are each called to bear witness to Jesus who models the necessity to walk humbly with God and with each other towards the renewal, hope, and transformation that culminates in Easter. Lent invites us to journey through the desert of our sin to the foot of the cross and ultimately, to share in the light of the resurrection of Jesus. We are, after all, Easter people. That will not change!
My path to participating in the 40 Days for Life (40 DFL) Prayer Vigil was a winding one. I was a child of the 60’s and 70’s and was fully indoctrinated into the culture of socially progressive values. By the time I had graduated from University, I had embraced the feminist movement. I had grown up in a Catholic family, but we were not practicing our faith, so I did not have any foundation in the teachings of our Church. It was easy for me to accept the values of feminism. I believed strongly in the right of a woman to choose to abort if she wanted to.
I met my husband after graduating. He was a practicing Catholic and was strongly pro-life. My husband’s faith grew on me because he was so faithful to the teachings of the Church. By God’s grace, I came to believe in and practice the Catholic faith that I had never known as a young woman.
During each of my three pregnancies, I was in awe of my baby growing within me, and I was amazed at the birth of each of my children. So perfect and tiny and soft and beautiful. Each one a miracle. My heart awoke to the thought that abortion was the wrongful taking of another human’s life.
One day as I was leaving church, I saw a table with 40 DFL paraphernalia on it and sitting behind it was a bright, articulate woman that I knew through my work. I was surprised to see her, and she told me that she was on the Calgary organizing team for 40 DFL. She said that my parish did not have a 40 DFL representative and asked me if I would take on that position. Suddenly, I was forced to consider what I thought about abortion. I recalled the feminist slogan, “My body, my choice”. I knew that there was more than one body in a pregnant woman. Each of my babies had their own DNA separate from mine. That slogan no longer persuaded me. The baby had no choice.
I began to study the issue. I was convinced by embryology that a fetus is a human being from the moment of conception. Human beings deserve human rights including the right to life. We don’t kill toddlers because they are small, dependent, or less developed than older children, so why do we kill defenseless babies in the womb? The answer is because it’s legal and they’re inconvenient. I learned that in Canada over 100,000 babies are aborted each year; that a baby may be aborted at any age and for any reason. This shocked me.
Most women abort because the pregnancy is unplanned, and they feel like they have no other choice. Yet, in truth, a mother always has the choice to carry the baby to term and parent the baby or place the baby for adoption. There are many supports for women experiencing unplanned pregnancy, and women need to be shown that choosing life is possible and that there is assistance available to them.
I became our parish representative on 40DFL. We stand near the Kensington abortion facility during our twice yearly 40-day campaigns and pray and fast for an end to abortion, for mothers to choose life for their babies, for the abortion workers, and for the community’s heart to be open to the truth of the value of life.
Do we make a difference? Last fall, during the 40-day campaign, a young mother with her child alongside approached one of our volunteers, named Mary, who was standing in prayer near the abortion facility with her two teenage daughters. The young mother’s child had a coloured drawing in her hand and she handed it to Mary. The mother thanked Mary for being there and told her that before her child was born, she was considering abortion, but that the presence of people near the facility praying persuaded her not to abort her baby. Her baby was now about 6 years old and was the child who had handed Mary the drawing. It is anecdotes like this that assure us that our prayers and presence there are never wasted.
My heart was indelibly wounded in July 2018, when my 8-year-old son Caleb died suddenly. In prayer, God has revealed that some of the wounds that I have because of this traumatic event and the aftermath are because of my own disordered expectations of myself.
Shortly after Caleb died, there was a video circulating on social media about a woman whose family had been murdered, extolling her faith and the joy that she exuded despite the tragedy she had experienced. I don’t know how much time had elapsed since this woman’s tragedy, but I felt that I too should, after only a few short months, be joyful and inspiring others with my faith. Because of the expectations I had of myself, it was very hard to talk to others about my all-encompassing grief. I felt like I had nothing to offer anyone. I thought that because my grief was so big that if I shared my feelings people would not be able to handle it and they would leave, so I pushed them away. Somehow, I felt that it was better to push others away than for them to walk away. In the resulting loneliness and isolation, I learned to turn to God, spending time with Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, in His passion and on the cross. God also brought friends into my life with whom I felt I could share a small part of my grief. They blessed me with their presence, and I blessed them with mine.
In January, we celebrated Caleb’s third birthday in heaven. It was on Caleb’s birthday that God revealed to me in a particularly poignant way how He loves me (and all of us) through others. A person very dear to me, whom I had pushed away, offered my family a gift. When it was first offered, I was mortified, and I told myself that I could not accept it. I realized, through this reaction, how much I am and have been ashamed of my grief. I don’t want people to see my brokenness, even though all of us experience grief and brokenness in many ways. I wanted to be seen as healed, holy, joyful, and inspiring, and I thought that my brokenness got in the way. Yet it is in our brokenness that we find God. When we try to hide our flaws and imperfections, we are closing the door on God’s work in our lives, much like how Jesus could do little work in Nazareth because of their unbelief (Matthew 13:58). As I deliberated whether I should accept this gift, in prayer God clearly told me, “Let this person love you.” I listened to His voice and received this gift. In receiving it, I was able to encounter God and His awesome love for me.
I had hardened my heart to others for so long, trying to prevent it from being hurt, trying to avoid rejection and derision because of my own pain and brokenness, but in the process, I hurt my heart more than those people ever could have. I didn’t realize how God was trying to love me through others or the wounds I had inflicted on myself because of my unreasonable and unattainable expectations. Yet because God spoke to me so clearly in the “let this person love you,” I was able to reject the temptation to refuse a gift offered in love. As I received this gift, which fulfilled much of what I was unwilling to admit that I needed, I could feel God’s all-encompassing love.
While I felt assured of God’s love previously, I hadn’t realized how deeply God wanted to love me through others. For one person, it was a small act of love, but it was an all-embracing act of love from God. God demonstrated a small part of His infinite love for us all, a love that brought me peace, calm, and His personal love for me on a day that brings much anguish to this mother’s heart.
Let yourself be loved, in the way He wants to love you.
There is much to be said for the traditional customs and disciplines of our faith. But that doesn’t stop our family from actively avoiding the forty-ONE days of Lent. When the practice of using up the shortening in the house, to prepare for reduced eating during Lent, prompted the making of pancakes on Shrove Tuesday, it might have made historical sense. Today, as a man who likes protein, pancakes on the day before required fasting and abstinence seems like a poor way to fortify myself. So, in our house, we have modified the yearly last hurrah into ‘Steak’ Tuesday.
It makes sense that each Lent offers an opportunity to take another step on the stairway to heaven, advancing in holiness by disciplining the temptations to think primarily of ourselves. Hearing the call to fast, pray, and give alms should prompt us to re-examine the many ways we choose our comfort over God and neighbour. Seeing one’s own unfiltered selfishness is not a pretty picture.
There is lots of wisdom in the liturgical cycle of the Church – times of fast and feast, recalling the stories from our family of faith. But the living out of our faith does not take place for the most part in the sanctuary and meeting rooms at the parish. Where the rubber really meets the road is in our interactions away from the consolations and encouragements of our common worship at Mass. It’s with friends, at work, and in the home that a more accurate picture of our dedication to sanctity emerges.
Sometimes family life seems like its own ongoing Lent. Each of us is continuously confronted with the needs and desires of the others: siblings, parents, children, spouse. Neither we nor they are entirely reasonable. And yet, we are still supposed to love one another – as we love ourselves (cf. Matthew 22:39b), as we love God (cf. Matthew 25:40b), and finally even as God loves us (cf. John 13:34). That’s a tough row to hoe, as the saying goes.
But the confines of a shared life together are not only a type of temptation in the desert; they can also be little Gethsemanes with not-my-will-but-thines. Last night, I overheard one of our daughters apologize to a younger sister for her excessive anger earlier in the day. There are many stumbles during a family’s day, but those are also always chances to stand up again renewed. We are proud of our daughters very often, yes, but more so we are thankful for the grace of God present in them as they work out their salvation with fear and trembling.
It has been said that not only do parents raise children, but children are able to help parents grow up too. The requirement to put another before self is constantly in front of mothers and fathers, starting when they are young, cute, and helpless, and when they are adolescent, awkward, and oppositional. This is the domestic Church in her sanctified fruitfulness. The same opportunity exists in the union of two-become-one, who in spite of the sacramental reality of marriage, remain two individuals. How often do we really seek to put the other first by understanding, by serving, by loving? Perhaps it starts easier in the exciting honeymoon phase of early life together, but it needs to continue as the nuptial years advance.
Scripture and faith more generally use much family language to describe heavenly realities. God is Father; the Church is mother; we are brothers and sisters. And we live together now in anticipation of the wedding feast of the Lamb, readying ourselves for that celebration as best we can!
The Diocese of Calgary offers the following points to encourage and guide our active participation in the Holy Week, Triduum & Easter sacred liturgies during these pandemic times.
Catholic Pastoral Centre Staff and Guest Writers