Bishop McGrattan's homily at the Memorial Liturgy for those grieving the loss of a child through miscarriage and stillbirth, November 24, 2022 at St. Mary's Cathedral.
In the communal life of the Church the witness of faith and belief in Christ is always confirmed in the following – “Faith if it is genuine works through love”. Another way of stating this truth is that in the Christian life our faith is to be expressed through acts of love.
This evening those families who have gathered, parents, grandparents, and children are united in the painful reality that they have suffered the loss of a child through miscarriage or stillbirth. Despite this pain and grief which is shared by those here present they also witness to a communal act of love in the remembering of their children in prayer.
This is also a genuine witness of faith to the sanctity of life. That all human life from conception to natural death is a gift from God who is the Creator. He is the author of all life and in Christ we come to know and believe that through his death and resurrection we receive the gift of eternal life from God the Father. This is the hope that must also unite us in the prayer of this memorial liturgy.
In the Old Testament, the remembering in prayer of God’s salvific presence in the midst of his people was always an act of “anamnesis”. It is a spiritual remembering and an act of faith in which they experienced the very presence of God’s love. In the First Letter of John this evening we heard the sacred author reminding the early Christians of this same truth. “See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are”. Other translations of this passage replace “See” with “Remember”. This evening we remember the love that the Father has given these parents through marriage. A love in which He invites husband and wife to share in His “co-creative love”, to express mutual love for each other and to be open to bringing new life, children into the world.
This vigil celebration of prayer for those children who did not receive the gift of being born into a family are still known by God as his children, like us. Although you as parents did not receive the joy of knowing your children you do share the anguish, sorrow and despair of their loss. However, in the faith that we share in being disciples of Christ, the suffering we experience now will always be transformed by Christ and that “what we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is”. This is the hope that we pray will sustain us as it did the early Christians.
In the Beatitudes Jesus teaches his disciples that despite the present circumstance of their life the future they desire will become one of blessing and happiness if they maintain their faith in Him. This is the faith that allows one to trust that the fullness of our life is revealed in Christ. This would have been the desire and the faith of these parents for the children that they have lost. To be baptized into the fullness of the life of Christ.
At the conclusion of this liturgy we incorporate the sign of light, in the lighting of a candle. Light symbolized the dispelling of darkness, and spiritually it overshadows for believers the sadness of death. The light of the paschal candle for Christians symbolizes the eternal light of the resurrection of Christ. As you come forward to light the candles for your children and their names are proclaimed, you are uniting yourselves in this communal act of love in remembering the children you mourn, but also it is a sign of your genuine faith and belief in the resurrection of Christ for your children.
We who gather support you in the loss of your children, but in faith and through our prayers, we pray that they now share in the eternal life of Christ and God the Father.
Rorate Mass is a centuries long tradition during Advent. The Masses are generally offered during Advent on Saturdays, the customary day to honour the Blessed Virgin. A Votive Mass for Mary will be offered at dawn, and lit with only candle lights.
Experience Rorate Mass in the Diocese of Calgary this year:
Children tell lots of fun stories about Santa Claus, Pere Noel, or Kriss Kringle. All of these stories remind us of how much we’re loved and of how happy we are when we give. The earliest stories we know were told about St. Nicholas, the bishop of Myra. St. Nicholas was so grateful for the life God had given him that he just couldn’t stop giving joy and hope to others—no matter how far he had to travel or how many roofs he had to climb. (Source: Loyola Press)
A special visit from the seminarians
Over the last 3 years, the Calgary Catholic School District’s faith theme has centered on 1 Corinthians 13:13, "And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love." This year, as we focus specifically on love – agape (sacrificial and selfless love), I have also been drawn to praying for and encouraging our priests.
This past spring, I attended an online meeting for the Serra Club Calgary, an organization whose mandate is to pray for and support vocations. One of the suggestions that was offered was to write cards or letters of encouragement to both priests and seminarians. I’ve never known a seminarian, so I wasn’t sure what I could say to encourage a seminarian, but since it was close to Valentine’s Day, I had my students sign a letter to each seminarian, and again at Easter.
This school year, I wondered how I could continue to offer support and encouragement in a more meaningful and ongoing way to seminarians in our diocese, and decided that each of my eight religion classes would adopt a seminarian (one of them adopted two, since there are nine seminarians). I hoped that there would be great spiritual fruit both for the seminarian, who would be receiving prayers from 25-27 students, and for my students, who would be selflessly offering prayers for someone they did not even know. Each of my classes prays for their adopted seminarian once a week and we send him a letter once a month.
We began praying for the seminarians at the beginning of the school year and sent an introduction letter toward the end of September. In October we prayed the rosary for our seminarians. I felt that it would be good for my students to get to know the person they were praying for, if the seminarian was willing and able to answer, so in our October letter we asked some personal questions, about the seminary and being a seminarian.
The students and I were excited to begin to receive cards, letters, and emails from the seminarians, and were especially happy to find out that they wanted to come to meet us while they were on their reading break.
Many students had no idea what to expect, and they were overjoyed to meet people to whom they could relate: the seminarians like to watch movies, read, play board games, sports, and video games! The students also learned a lot about seminary life. Many were surprised to learn that there are 9 years of study to become a priest, and about the amount of time spent in prayer. The seminarians were also happy to answer the hard questions that teenagers can have about our faith.
It has been wonderful for our students to discover that seminarians are real and interesting people. Many of them are in awe of these men who are normal people with fun hobbies and a great sense of humor, and who are discerning God’s call in their lives. They have learned that selfless acts, even when done without expecting anything in return, can lead to spiritual fruit for themselves as well. They know that their prayers are appreciated and joyfully received.
With simple prayers and letters, and now classroom visits, our Lord has multiplied love and brought joy and encouragement to so many people, not just the seminarians. Perhaps in the future we will find that our Lord has fostered a vocation (or vocations) in this small act of love and kindness to others.
Christmas in Elizabeth House
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The art of accompaniment
“Help me!” Out of a dark bathroom in a long term care home, I heard a plaintive cry and froze. I was there to bring the Eucharist, nothing more. I turned to seek out an attendant and heard again, “Don’t leave me!” Heart pounding, I crept forward, identified myself loudly and turned on the lights to find an elderly woman on the toilet. With shaking hands I cleaned her and helped her to stand up. She leaned against me as we washed our hands. Secretly I thought, “I have wiped Christ’s bottom.”
Jesus said that whatever we do for the least of his brethren we do for him. This is true whether we cook for our family, give alms to the poor or serve at Mass. However, it might be particularly true when we are called to move out of our comfort zone and give more than we intended to. For example, when we offer to buy a street person a coffee and he chooses a whole meal with it. Or we call to check in on a friend and she spills out her woes for an hour. When we give of ourselves we prefer to have a measure of control over the experience but that is not how God gives of himself. God gave his only son, and Jesus gave his lifeblood for us. God continues to give constantly and completely, so we are called to do the same. This kind of self-emptying service is what Pope Francis called “the art of accompaniment”.
“The Church will have to initiate everyone – priests, religious and laity- into this “art of accompaniment” which teaches us to remove our sandals before the sacred ground of the other.” (Evangelii Gaudium 169)
I am coming to understand The Art of Accompaniment through a series of talks given by Fr. Tim Boyle at St. Martha’s Parish in Lethbridge . So far Fr. Boyle has noted that accompaniment is not quite the same as caregiving, although it might include that. To accompany someone is to first of all recognize that God is with them. As guest speaker Reno Guimond said, “We are not bringing God to anyone. God has been there long before we show up. We go to see where God is.” Besides recognizing God in each person, we also need to understand how God works in the world.
Fr. Boyle encouraged his listeners to imagine God “delighting” in the world as he created it. “God has invested himself in creation,” Fr. Boyle said. “This is not a one-time event but an evolving artwork. If God accompanies us as an artist not as an engineer then God is vulnerable to the unfolding of Creation… God suffers in the process… God chooses to spend himself on creation.” This form of sacrificial support was expressed ultimately by God becoming human and Jesus’ death and resurrection.
For us, sacrificial giving of ourselves is often a challenge. Society dictates that one must preserve oneself, must learn to ‘Say No’, and ration one’s time and energy. Yet Creation shows otherwise. Fr. Boyle used the examples of salmon making death runs upstream to spawn, and sunflowers drying up to produce seeds for food and for procreation. “Like salmon and sunflowers, every creature, in order to reach their full potential, needs to empty themselves out”, Fr. Boyle said. So how is this achieved in practical terms? How does one accompany another person, whether continuously or when called upon?
It begins when we accept God’s accompaniment of us. This happens through grace which Fr. Boyle suggests is “like manna – something given by God every day which cannot be stored up but only taken advantage of that day.” Grace is not a weapon or superpower, it doesn’t enhance our abilities. Indeed it requires us to first accept that we have no ability without God. We are flawed and vulnerable beings made precious by God’s acceptance. It is God’s grace that sustains us, sanctifies us. When we understand this dynamic we are better prepared to handle the vulnerability of others, to accept it, and handle it gently.
Since my first incident of extreme vulnerability in long-term care, my ministry partner and I have been called upon to assist a few others at their times of greatest need, in life and even approaching death. While I still feel my heart pounding each time, the experiences have been deeply humbling. I know God is helping me learn how to cherish the sacred ground of others.
Aid to the Church in Need (ACN Canada, Pontifical Charity) will hold its 8th annual Red Wednesday on November 16. The goal of the event is to raise awareness and to pray for persecuted Christians, who are the most discriminated against religious group in the world.
Please consider these activities with your parish, ministry, and community:
Other resources from ACN:
These days, and especially here, it's hard to imagine that people can be discriminated, or worse, persecuted because of their faith. Unfortunately, reality isn't as such. Today, across the world, 327 million Christians live in a country where there is persecution at various degrees. Because of their faith, they endure discrimination, they get scorned, they get arrested, they get incarcerated, they get tortured and sometimes they even get killed. It is estimated that 75 % of acts of violence for religious reasons are perpetrated against Christians, which makes them the most persecuted group.
Instead of getting better, the situation is getting worst year after year. Among persecutors we find governments who fear the influence of the Church and try by all means to reduce Christians to silence. This is frequent in communist or totalitarian countries. We also find other religious groups who wish to eliminate Christians in order to become the only religious group of a region.
The persecuted find strength in our prayers which accompany them and that way they don't feel abandoned from the rest of the world. Visit: https://acn-canada.org/red-wednesday/
Aside from the churches, some Catholic schools, religious communities and community organizations will show their solidarity on Wednesday. Since 2015, the Diocese of Calgary, through its partnership with Calgary Catholic Immigration Society, has sponsored over 2,263 refugees without regard for religiosity or creed. Many of these refugees have either experienced religious persecution themselves or borne witness to hatred against religious groups. See photos below.
Catholic Pastoral Centre Staff and Guest Writers