Pray for Ukraine
God of реасе and justice,
we pray for the реорІе of Ukraine today.
We pray for реасе and the laying down of weapons.
We pray for аІІ those who fear for tomorrow,
that your Spirit of comfort would draw near to them.
We pray for those with power over war or реасе,
for wisdom, discernment and compassion to guide their decisions.
Above аІІ, we pray for аІІ your precious children, at-risk and in fear,
that you would hold and protect them.
We pray in the name of Jesus, the Prince of Реасе.
God Squad Canada started in Calgary with four police officers coming together in prayer. It has since grown into an apostolate over the last 25 years that influences men around the world.
Through the guidance of St Joseph, God Squad’s vision is to form and strengthen men, inspiring them to embrace God’s vocation in their lives. They strive to encourage men positively amidst today’s darkness of spiritual famine and moral confusion. God Squad wishes to reverse the breakdown of families by serving and nurturing men of all ages to be leaders in their families and communities.
Their ministry brings men together by various initiatives such as BBQ Outreach, motorcycle rides, disc golf, or by hosting an annual Men's Conference. During the Year of St Joseph, God Squad was able to stream their conference online and reach men throughout the world.
Many men over the years have been inspired to show the same servant leadership to their families that Christ has for His bride, the Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church because of these conferences. Men have discerned marriage; others the priesthood. (See “How Many of You” in God Squad’s Newsletter for November 2021 and read about Father Troy Nguyen's experience at a God Squad Conference). Others have found the strength to persevere or to take on new challenges, or to find new meaning and hope in their faith.
Some men have been sent by their wives and are now eternally grateful! Some come looking for answers. Most come just to be with other like minded men. Men need mentoring. Men need to mentor others. Men need to lead.
In an interview with Mario Toneguzzi on Faith Spotlight, Sean Lynn, president and founder of God Squad Canada says that this year’s theme was inspired by Avi Kaplan’s song “Change on the Rise" and St. John Paul II’s new springtime in his encyclical Redemptoris Missio, long before the current political winds and discourse in the media. Inspired by reflection, Sean recognizes, as farmers do, that the springtime is a time of hard work. As “we’re coming out of two years of struggle and strife” says Constable Lynn, “we need to work hard at coming together and work for healing” and building up the Kingdom of God.
Consider giving the men in your life a ticket to “Change on the Rise; Ushering in the New Springtime!”. This year God Squad has the pleasure of hosting amazing speakers: Jeff Cavins, Brett Powell, and Bishop William McGrattan, who will celebrate the Mass. All men in the Diocese (and beyond) are invited to come for the Conference at St. Michael's Church in Calgary, on March 18 & 19, 2022. You can register to attend in person or to watch via livestream. Bring your son, your father, your brother, your cousin, your friend, or even a stranger! Consider hosting a viewing party (Contact email@example.com if you need ideas on hosting a viewing party), or to host the viewing party in your parish.
And as a bonus, get free access to Chris Stefanik’s “Rise A 30 – Day Challenge” worth $45 - after you register.
Ten Reasons to join God Squad Men's Conference this year
Submitted by God Squad Canada
At any age, often without warning, we might suddenly find ourselves in the ‘desert’, a state of extreme emotional and/or physical hardship. I was in this place following the death of my twin sister. I don’t remember the details; it was simply a long, weary, grayness. I wandered through my life on autopilot, scarcely caring about my responsibilities. If I appeared to be coping it was a mirage because my heart felt arid, my feelings numbed and the future a bleak continuation of present misery. I could not find the energy to pray. Indeed, I didn’t recognize God at all in this experience. For years I was angry with God for perceived injury and persistent inattention.
Desert times often accompany chronic illness or the death of a loved one. Sometimes we have lost a job or an important relationship. Each of these circumstances cause great (and some may say necessary), grief. If we’re lucky, we will grieve in a supportive environment and eventually find our way out. However sometimes, through no fault of our own, we become stuck in a place of lifelessness and pain – a desert of the soul. By the grace of God, I eventually emerged from my ‘desert’. Life still has sorrows in every season but now I don’t feel as stranded as I did before. Curiously, what helped me is learning more about Nature’s deserts.
In nature the desert is not lifeless. It’s filled with plants and animals which have adapted to the harsh conditions. These remarkable creations not only survive but thrive. I’m particularly struck by the coping strategies of plants. Here are some of those methods which might translate into spiritual strategies to survive our own desert times.
Vast root systems
Mesquite plants can have tap roots 80-100 feet long, reaching deep into the soil to find water. Cactuses have shallow but extensive root mats which extend far beyond their stems so that they can absorb every drop of rain when it falls.
By going deep and wide in our prayer life, we will be more likely to receive the comfort of the Holy Spirit. So when our daily Scripture reading becomes rote, keep reading. When our prayers become stale, keep praying. When we don’t feel the least bit holy, keep coming for the Eucharist. Staying accessible to God increases the likelihood that eventually we’ll feel his presence.
Small leaf surfaces
Cacti have leaves so narrow that they resemble spines. This is to reduce the loss of water to the environment.
When we’re hurting it’s OK to withdraw from the world. Well-meant comments can feel overwhelming so reduce contacts and commitments if you need to. But don’t isolate entirely. Keeping even a sporadic connection to our community or parish ensures the fraternity we may not even realize we need.
Succulents have evolved to store water in their leaves, stems and even in tubers underground.
In our driest times we might find hidden reserves in places we never expected. I discovered peace at silent retreats which I’d previously avoided. A woman I know found meaning in writing a book about her husband’s terminal illness.
Ephemerals are short-lived desert plants which bloom and die in one season leaving hardy seeds which can lie dormant for years until it rains again.
Even in the midst of sadness, there can be moments of surprising joy. I can recall a milestone birthday, filled with light-hearted teasing, shortly after my sister died. I was glad to be alive that day but so sad afterwards that my twin couldn’t celebrate her milestone too. Nevertheless, the memory of having been happy gave me hope that I could feel that way again.
Desert times are difficult and nobody chooses them willingly. But if they come we need not fear them. We can trust God to help us survive until we experience the joy He has in store for us, beyond the desert.
The upcoming season of Lent mirrors the 40 days Jesus spent in the desert. Traditionally this is a time of sacrifice and increased prayer. It is an opportunity to feel some discomfort in solidarity with Jesus who spent his desert time with no sustenance and being harassed by the devil. Most of us will not feel that level of deprivation at Lent but we can remember and pray for those who do.
Consider the following for family activities in 2022:
A message from Pope Francis
“God’s love is proclaimed ‘through the living and concrete word whereby a man and the woman express their conjugal love’. The two are thus mutual reflections of that divine love which comforts with a word, a look, a helping hand, a caress, an embrace. For this reason ‘to want to form a family is to resolve to be a part of God’s dream, to choose to dream with him, to want to build with him, to join him in this saga of building a world where no one will feel alone’ ”. AL 321
In this very short video of Chris Stefanick, he uses a line that should make us think about our ability to not only gauge where others are but also set the stage for where others can and perhaps should be. Chris reminds the students that they have the power to bring joy in the lives of others, that we are all called to serve others in humility.
So he says, "Don't be a thermometer that gauges the temperature of that room. Be a thermostat that sets the temperature of that room."
Isn't this true? We can choose to either be passive and we become bystanders in life, or we can choose to be active and contribute to the life of others. Christ calls us to be "salt" that changes the flavour of everything.
Consider this... Does the room turn dark when you enter or does it light up when you're around? Are you remembered for your kindness and concern for others or do you just like to blend in and disappear? Christ calls us to be more!
You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot.
“Those schools in Brooks are sure doing amazing things.” This comment made by my father-in-law started it all. I was four months away from graduating, unsure where I would end up, so I decided to look into ‘those schools’; after all, they were in my hometown.
I remembered the old brick building from my primary school years. Aesthetically, the outside still looked the same, but I would be forever changed by the inside. As I opened the heavy brown metal door, I clearly recall being overcome with an indescribable feeling. My heart fluttered and an overwhelming sense of peace and calm came over me. Even to this day, I cannot explain exactly what I experienced, but I do remember thinking, I need to be here.
The secretary, who is one of the most amazingly kind individuals I have ever met, greeted me at the front office. Her eyes were so welcoming and warm. We exchanged pleasantries and the reason for my visit. I took a seat, and shortly afterwards I was greeted by the principal. She too made an impression on me. Sitting in her office, not knowing her for more than five minutes, I could tell she was a sincere, kind, and compassionate soul, the kind of person anyone would want to work for. I shared my desire to do my teaching practicum at Holy Family Academy. It was a new adventure for the school to take on a practicum student, but she granted me the opportunity. We finalized plans and exchanged information, and that was the beginning of my journey in Catholic Education in Brooks.
Over 20 years later, my journey continues. Throughout the years, I have had the pleasure of teaching at Holy Family Academy and St. Joseph’s Collegiate, and currently I teach at Christ the King Academy. I have taught some of the best students one could ask for in almost every grade and subject. I have also taught the toughest of the tough, the ones others might give up on. Being able to use my faith as a guide, helped me immensely. They were the most challenging group I taught, but they had the biggest impact on me.
I am blessed to see Catholic education come full circle, as I am now teaching the children of some of my past students. The values and morals we instilled in our students then are becoming evident in the parents they are now and are reflected in their children who sit before me in class, an affirmation that we are doing good things here.
I still sense that indescribable feeling every day when I go to work. It fills me with contentment every time I open the doors. I was reignited in my faith and finally felt a sense of purpose, and I will be forever grateful for walking through those doors the first time. Trust me when I say, “Those schools in Brooks are sure doing some amazing things.” You should check them out.
My journey with Catholic education started in St. Catharines, Ontario, at a job fair that was being held by Brock University. Gary Chiste was standing at the Christ the Redeemer Catholic Schools’ booth with a pack of Smarties and a contagious smile on his face. “Come for an interview!” he exclaimed. I had never thought about moving to Alberta. My plan in life was to work for the school board I had grown up in. I’d move back to my hometown, teach at my local Catholic high school and likely live with my mom to help around the house. But Christ the Redeemer had Smarties… and I couldn’t resist the Smarties.
I have grown up in Catholic schools all my life because I was blessed with parents who believed in the value of Catholic education. But after spending time with students in the classroom, something was definitely different about the Catholic culture at Christ the King Academy. Each interaction with students was done through a love of Christ and with authenticity. Conversations became more meaningful because of the vulnerability that students and staff experienced. It was evident my colleagues were called to be educators and that they were living out their vocations by having real and genuine interactions that were mastered through the teachings of the Gospel. Even through challenging moments, when students had to be disciplined, they were met with grace and with the understanding that they, too, were a child of God.
What I love most about Catholic education is how we pray before a hard quiz or exam; how we can stop what we are doing to teach a lesson from the Bible, how we discipline with the teachings of Jesus.
What I love most about Catholic education is how we can have prayer services for fish that have died in our classrooms, the love that our students have for one another, despite their differences because they share the same faith.
What I love most about Catholic education is the moments that go unexplained because of the Holy Spirit at work: when a student who is struggling the most “gets it” or when a student who has no connections to friends in the class suddenly gets invited to play at recess.
I am thankful for the many opportunities I have had with students and conversations I have had with staff members. I’m thankful for the moments that have challenged me both personally and professionally. I look forward to what the Holy Spirit has in store for me and my students.
Reverence for Christ, love and laughter are paramount in the home of Irene Sarmiento and Ernesto Lozano, who met and married in their home-country of Mexico before emigrating to Canada with their growing family 11 years ago. They’ve been married for 26 years and they have six children.
“On our wedding day, we received the blessing of the bishop who married us, and one of the wedding gifts was a papal blessing from Pope John Paul II. I feel we’ve had tons of grace helping us on our journey,” said Irene.
That journey would carry them far from their beginnings, but when they arrived in Canada, they found a new home in their Catholic communities in Calgary.
“When we went to Church and I saw the tabernacle, I felt at home, because the Church is everywhere, and it is actually like you have a family,” said Irene, commenting that the Church community in Canada welcomed them with open arms when they arrived.
The family of the Church welcomed another couple into its midst in 2014, when Jean-Francois (JF) and Ana Church said, “I do.”
Though they met one another and attended JF’s prom together in 2006, they had a long journey toward marriage. As both of them journeyed separately toward a deeper relationship with God and a greater understanding of the workings of the Holy Spirit in their lives, they formed a friendship that blossomed into love as they eventually served in youth ministry together in Ottawa.
“It is such an intimate relationship when you are working with someone and being guided by the holy spirit and teaching about God,” said Ana. “You really get to see that person’s heart and where they are at and where their relationship with God is at. At the time I thought, ‘these are all the qualities that I’m looking for in a husband.’”
Both said they feel they were guided to one another by God.
“For some time, I thought I wanted to be a priest,” JF shared, saying he took a yearlong discernment retreat to find out.
“The answer for me was clear that I was called to exemplify the Holy Family, and that’s a tall order. I didn’t know who the lady would be at that time, but every time there’s a shadow of doubt, I know that I discerned this and that God has a plan for us.”
God’s plans are mysterious and beautiful. As I listened to both of these couples share their memories, my own came vividly to mind. Thirteen years ago on February 14th, my husband Joseph who had also discerned the priesthood but felt called to have a family, married.
As I walked down the aisle of our hometown church on the arm of my dad, I remember being awestruck. My thoughts raced, but I remember thinking that this was the church where our parents had brought us to be baptized, and where we had walked down the aisle to receive the Eucharist countless times, and here we were on the same path toward something entirely new and sacred. We felt truly at home in the Church in that moment.
“Being married is not easy, it is hard,” said Ernesto matter-of-factly, “especially being married to someone like me,” he finished with a wry smile.
I’ll confess I feel like Joseph sometimes carries an unfair burden with such an emotional, opinionated wife. But all self-deprecation and joking aside, as Catholics we have been richly blessed in the Sacraments, which feed our souls and call us to deeper conversion.
In 2011, Joseph and I walked the aisle of the same Church at my father’s funeral. It gave me comfort to recall our wedding, my First Communion and all of the Masses I’d attended there as I walked, this time with the heaviness of grief. It was in the Sacraments and in my marriage that I found solace.
This moment came to mind when Ernesto said, “when you are feeling terrible, there is always the Sacrament of Reconciliation.” He and Irene try to go often, and to normalize going for their children.
It is important for them that their children would feel at home in the church.
“When the children were little, I would take them and ask the priest if they could talk with him a little bit. That way when it came time for their First Reconciliation they weren’t going to a person they didn’t know,” Irene said.
As Irene and Ernesto recall starting their family, they remember feeling overwhelmed too.
“When you have your first child they do not come with instructions,” said Ernesto facetiously.
“Yes,” added Irene, “you have to figure it out as you go.”
Six children, including now-adult children have given them a lot of practice in parenting, and I had to resist the temptation to sit for hours picking their brains for advice about my own family. Something that is important to the couple is mentorship of parents, which they do through their involvement with a program called Family Enrichment.
As parents of young children, Mass can be a challenge. Nonetheless, Ana and JF try to attend Mass as often as possible.
In moments where certain behaviours are causing problems of concentration, JF says he tries to “remove myself mentally from the situation, as if to see myself in the third person, pretending that I’m God the Father looking at this situation; one of the kids wrote on the pew with wax crayon and I’m trying to listen to the homily.
“Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me,” and if I am pretending I am God looking in, I think “okay, this is actually hilarious.” If I miss the homily, then I know God meets us where we don’t expect it, and he’ll fill me some other way.”
“I don’t operate that way,” said Ana, “and I often feel alone in those moments.”
“So often I pray to the Holy Spirit that I need help. Sometimes (during Mass, but also in everyday life) I’m praying under my breath and the kids ask “what are you doing?” and I say “I’m inviting Jesus right now… you should too!”
It models for them that they can reach out to God when they need Him and that He will be there for us even when we might feel alone.”
“It also models for them that we are not trying to raise them to be perfect,” said JF. “We expect them to have freakouts just like we do, but in those moments there is a Holy Spirit, there is a Jesus, there is an Abba-Daddy who cares for us and wants to help. I think it is just beautiful to model that.”
To support one another in continuing to grow a relationship with God, Ana and JF have been going alternate weeks to Tuesday night Reconciliation, Mass and Adoration for almost a year.
“Having that sacred time that we can look forward to and that we protect for each other is really key. We also get to listen to the homily that day, which is really nice,” said Ana.
“It’s amazing how many saints went to frequent confession,” pointed out JF, who finds it helpful to go often and “break the cycle of sin.”
“If I’m going often, with not a lot of time between confessions, I’m forcing myself to be in a position to make an examination of conscience and go a deeper route so that I can address things in myself – other personality defects that are leading me to those sins.”
Ana and JF are a couple who’ve spent quite a long time building up the spiritual life of their family and seeking the Sacraments.
“The key is really staying vulnerable with the Lord and with each other, and I find the Sacraments just make room for that psychologically and emotionally, and bring a source of inspiration and dreaming with the Lord,” said JF.
We live in a very connected world. We hear about the bad things happening across the world in an instant. Good and heartwarming videos can easily go viral. And yet sometimes it feels like the people you live with do not even know what you're going through. While it certainly feels like you are alone, you are not alone! Watch this video on mental health and know that there are many who feel disconnected, lost, and isolated.
It's important that we reach out to someone and try our best to overcome the hesitation to talk to someone. If you need to speak to someone in the field of mental health, or visit this link for information. Alternatively, you can call 211 to access services that may make you realize that you are not alone and there is help available for whatever burdens you.
Contact 211 to access to an entire network of community, social, health and government services. Your call, text or chat will be answered by a professional 211 Community Resource Specialist who is trained to assess your need and refer you to the most appropriate service or services. 211 is available across Alberta and is offered in over 170 languages over the phone.
Why would I contact 211?
Consider this... we are made to walk this life together.
Catholic Pastoral Centre Staff and Guest Writers