Christmas is a season
Christmas is a season and not just a day. Watch this video and learn more about the days of Christmas.
Consider these during the Christmas season
Celebrate how blessed we are with the gift of the Christ child not in a day but for a season. He is Immanuel, God-with-us.
Over the past few months as I have become acquainted with the members of the Seeds of the Word, I have come to see Our Blessed Mother in each one of them: a joyful young woman dressed in simple blue clothes, her life overflowing with the Life of God. The Seeds of the Word is a Brazilian contemplative and missionary community whose mission in Calgary began in 2014. Visiting their home, I have peeked into the community’s life of prayer, penance, and mission, which they live in cheerful hiddenness. Their contagious smiles reveal the treasure of their courageous hearts which have opened to receive and give the gift of God.
The focus of the community is intimacy with Jesus Christ through the Word of God. For them, Jesus is the Precious Seed, whom they receive in personal and communal prayer, and then share with the world. Christmas is the most important feast for the community because of the centrality of the Word of God in their spirituality. Sr. Ana Sophia shares her experience: “I always get emotional at Christmas time when we contemplate that Baby... the Word of God Who came to save the world. It is so powerful to look at Him.”
One of the newest sisters, Sr. Bridget, formerly Alissa Going, from Vauxhall, AB, professed her first vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience on December 3, the feast of St. Francis Xavier. Through these vows, she has made a commitment to her first year of consecrated life. As Sr. Ana Sophia explains,
“the call to consecrated life is a special call from the Lord, not to everyone, but just a few people who He separates from the world to Himself because these people need more than what the world offers us. That’s why we leave everything behind for Him: because those good things are not enough. We need more.”
Consecrated men and women show each of us, whatever our state in life may be, that it is only in giving ourselves to God that we can receive Him. At Christmastime, the Child Jesus reaches His sweet hands out to us in love. In order to truly hold Him in our arms, we must release our mortal grasp on all the things that pass away. If human weakness trembles at the prospect of such self-emptying, it is still when it senses the warmth of love shared in the manger.
Ana, one of the postulants said, “We do not lose anything. We just gain everything.” Sr. Mary Elisabeth remarked that as Sr. Bridget consecrated herself to God, “she was so happy, she was glowing!” It is nothing less than the radiant glow of heaven, in which consecrated people participate on earth.
The community follows Our Lady’s Christmas-time model in being both contemplative and missionary. After receiving the Word of God in her heart and in her womb, our strong and selfless Mother travelled with haste over rough hills to share the gift of God with her cousin Elizabeth. If it is contemplation to receive the embrace of God, it is mission to offer this embrace to others.
The community’s Rule of Life states that “there is no mission without contemplation.” The generous prayer lives of the Seeds of the Word overflow into their lives of mission. They are missionaries in everything they do, lovingly offering each moment of their day for the salvation of souls. “If during the day we don’t go anywhere, we are still missionaries in the house.”
The specific apostolate of the community varies based on the diocese they are in. In Calgary, the Seeds visit schools, parishes and groups to share the Word of God. Their sabbatical year program, which currently takes place internationally, is an opportunity for people of all ages to grow closer to the Word of God and to find their places in the Church. Sr. Bridget took part in the program as a way to take a step forward in discerning her call to the consecrated life.
Ana said of Sr. Bridget, “It was very beautiful to see her courage because if you want to follow Christ you need to be very courageous... to go to another place where God is calling you. It was very beautiful to see how she said yes to God’s plan, whatever it was, even if it was hard for her. We pray that many other people here in the diocese will also answer the call of God, even if it is difficult.”
Each sister in Calgary has left her family and country to share the Word of God in our city. Like Our Blessed Mother, they are eager to travel long distances and surmount tall hills for the sake of sharing the Gospel. I was blessed to be present to bid farewell to Sr. Bridget and Sr. Edith Mary as they left the St. John Paul II house in Calgary to go to the community’s new mission in the Philippines. As the door closed behind them, one of the remaining sisters said with a sad smile on her face, “this is the life of the missionary.”
“Religious life,” Sr. Mary Elisabeth insists, “takes courage to embrace, to say that I will say no to the things the world gives me and to say yes to a life that is hidden many times, a life with sacrifices many times, but a real life, a life with Jesus who is real. It's not a life of dreams. It's a real life in which you love God through people. It’s a life offered to others. It’s a life that is given 24/7.”
Regardless of the state of life to which God calls him or her, each Christian is called to a courageous life of contemplation and mission. As Christmas draws near, we are each invited to open our hearts to the Infant Jesus, that Adorable Little Seed, Who wishes to be planted firmly in our souls and to bear the fruits of love, peace, and joy in our lives.
Feasts during the Christmas season are about family, friendship, and the expression of gratitude, but for many of us, often these feasts can lead to overeating.
Watch the thought-provoking video by Fr. Mark Mary of the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal on our relationship with food, material attachments, and our sisters and brothers in need.
Consider these when eating especially during the Christmas season...
Share with others the gift of food, made with an abundance of love.
Better is a dinner of vegetables where love is than a fatted ox and hatred with it."
The Christmas Season
Find links to blessings and other resources below to help you celebrate this special feast of Holy Family with your family and friends.
One of the only two Holy Days of obligation outside of Sundays in Canada is a Solemnity dedicated to Mary's motherhood. We close out the Christmas octave with a day to honour Mary as the Mother of God. Find links to blessings and other resources below to help you celebrate this special feast with your family, friends and community.
Epiphany of the Lord
Epiphany means “manifestation”, that moment when we suddenly understand something that previously was hidden from us. Christmas is about the Incarnation, the coming down of the Son of God to become human, one of us. Epiphany is the showing of the Christ Child’s divinity, which is beginning to manifest itself in the world.
Learning how to Listen
Listening is often referred to as an art — as in the ‘art of listening’. Reams of books have been dedicated to defining ‘how’ to listen, and even define ‘types’— Deep listening, Full listening, Critical Listening, Therapeutic Listening and so forth. Many motivators and healers speak about the difference between hearing and listening, with one comic wisely noting that the biggest mistake by most human beings is that they hear quickly, listen half, understand a quarter and tell double. For some commentators, the real issue is that so many of us are primed to respond even before we have fully heard another’s point of view. We arrive with our minds made up, and it is difficult to hear when we are speaking.
This critical fact is a major reason that so much grief continues across so many areas. It is also why many of our institutions are almost systemically structured not to allow the voice of minorities to be heard. Our dominant cultural and political institutions are structured around laws, practices and values defined and developed by those traditionally in power, and so they are often deaf to voices and practices that are not their own. We have seen this most glaringly in recent times in relation to how Governments have worked with First Nations, Métis and Inuit communities, often bringing settler values and solutions to issues, rather than sitting in community with Elders to understand Indigenous points of view. And then Governments feign surprise when agreements aren’t reached.
Sr. Helena Burns, in her column A la Carte, makes a good point about how western cultures have always approached Indigenous peoples and notes, ‘It’s of the utmost importance to listen right now. Listen to the Indigenous voices and experiences themselves — silenced for so long. Some of these are horror stories and we must not look away.’ As importantly, she argues that without listening, ‘non-Indigenous today can risk the same old rushing in, do-gooding, problem-solving — simplistically thinking we comprehend situations, and speaking “for” others.’ This reminded me of a similar conversation that was had in Australia when the impact of the missions and the Stolen Generations (equivalent to the Sixties Scoop) dominated the headlines.
At the time, the university I was at ran an in-country program where we embedded non-Indigenous students with Indigenous communities. I recall one of my Deans telling me that he’d taken the latest group of students up for their weeklong placement. As always happened, the kids arrived ready to transform the communities and filled with advice; and they were always frustrated when the Elders asked them to sit by the fire and to reflect, with the instruction that they would be called on when the time was right. Instead of learning about the people — and the land that they were on — they wanted to transform them. It was always a humbling experience for our students to gradually understand that reconciliation was more significantly achieved when they found a way to listen first.
One incident has always stood out for me. One time my Dean noticed a bright pink building in the Bush where our students had gathered every term. Unfamiliar with this he asked an Elder about it. ‘That’s always been there, but last week a group of Social Workers hired by the Government flew up and painted the building pink to help our men reconnect with their feminine side.’ When my Dean said he hadn’t noticed it before Auntie explained that several months earlier a separate group of Government advisors had flown in to paint the building blue so that Aboriginal men could reconnect with their masculinity. Perplexed, my colleague asked what the building was for. ‘Nothing,’ said Auntie. ‘We built it to keep the white fellas busy so they would stay out of our business. They come up and paint the building and get our signatures and then go back to collect their grants. In the meantime, we focus on serving our community.’
In order to hear the other, we need to stop speaking. The Austrian pianist Alfred Brendel noted that the word Silent contains the same letters as the word Listen. Mother Teresa once said, ‘God speaks in the silence of the heart. Listening is the beginning of prayer.’ True listening is clearly a difficult concept for many of us, but it’s not as though we don’t have a guide to follow. The Gospels show us how Jesus modelled the art of listening. He moved among the masses and heard their cries (Mark 1); he shared water with a Samaritan woman when cultural dictates forbade it (John 4); and of course, he prayed to the Lord, and guided his disciples. Jesus never spoke through formulas, but rather presented parables that reflected the complexities of the situation or teaching he presented. In the familiar, and perhaps overused phrase, he met people where they were. I believe it’s fair to say that people felt heard. And this, in the end, is what we all want, and certainly what we desperately need. Listen; Silent. They are one and the same.
In his recent apostolic visit to Cyprus and Greece, Pope Francis addressed the youth...
"Realize that your worth is in who you are and not what you have. Your worth is not in the brand of the dress or shoes you wear, but because you are unique.
Here I think of another ancient image, that of the sirens. Like Odysseus on his voyage home, in the course of this life, which is an adventure-filled journey to the Father’s House, you too will come across sirens. In mythology, the sirens by their songs enchanted sailors and made them crash against the rocks.
Today’s sirens want to charm you with seductive and insistent messages that focus on easy gains, the false needs of consumerism, the cult of physical wellness, of entertainment at all costs... All these are like fireworks: they flare up for a moment, but then turn to smoke in the air. I understand, they are not easy to resist."
(Athens, December 6, 2021)
Consider these during Advent...
Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart." Psalm 37:4
Media updates from CCCB: December 7, 2021
After careful assessment of the uncertainty and potential health risks surrounding international travel amid the recent spread of the Omicron variant, the Canadian Bishops, Assembly of First Nations, Métis National Council, and Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami have jointly decided to reschedule a delegation to the Vatican in December 2021 to the earliest opportunity in 2022.
The decision to postpone was a heartbreaking one, made after careful consultation with delegates, family members, community leaders, public health officials and the leadership of each of the three National Indigenous Organizations. Particularly for many elderly delegates as well as those who live in remote communities, the risk of infection and the fluid nature of the evolving global situation presents too great a threat at this time.
We take comfort in the desire, conveyed to us by the Holy See, that the safety of the delegation should inform any decision to move forward. It is also important to note that the delegation is postponed not cancelled.
Currently, the world’s health experts are still learning about the transmissibility of the Omicron variant. As more information becomes available, we will continue to assess the feasibility of future travel plans, based on guidance from the Canadian government and relevant international authorities.
Our shared commitment to walking together towards healing and reconciliation remains strong. We understand that the Holy See is very much committed to rescheduling this visit in the new year and we look forward to the opportunity for Indigenous Elders, knowledge keepers, residential school survivors, and youth to participate in private meetings with Pope Francis.
For further information:
Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops – firstname.lastname@example.org
Assembly of First Nations – email@example.com
Métis National Council – firstname.lastname@example.org
Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami – email@example.com
Media updates: December 2, 2021
Three Alberta indigenous leaders will be among the delegates traveling to Vatican City this upcoming December to meet with His Holiness Pope Francis as part of national healing and reconciliation efforts.
“We as an indigenous community, we never gave up the need to heal,” said Chief Wilton Littlechild, who was chosen as a delegate by the Assembly of First Nations. “We are doing this and we are going. I think that is a willingness on our part …. We are going and that should be a message within itself. We are willing to work with this and with you. Please help us now. We are putting our hand out, meet halfway and let's shake hands. It is really important to show good intent.”
Chief Littlechild, of the Ermineskin First Nation, is a former Treaty Six Nations grand chief and former commissioner of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Chief Littlechild has worked with the United Nations for more than 40 years advocating for indigenous peoples. He is a survivor of residential school.
Two Alberta delegates, Angelina (Angie) Crerar and Gary Gagnon, were chosen by the Metis Nation.
Angie is a Métis knowledge keeper and elder, from Grande Prairie. Angie has volunteered for more than 50 years. She has been a board member of the Grande Prairie Friendship Centre. She is president of the Metis Local 1990. She started an Elders Caring Shelter, the first of its kind in the country. She is a survivor of residential school.
Gary Gagnon is a Métis from St. Albert (Metis Settlement). For more than 20 years, he has been employed with Edmonton Catholic Schools under the Indigenous Learning Services Program as a cultural facilitator. In 2018, Gary was elected as vice-president, Region 4 Metis Nation of Alberta
Twenty five to 30 First Nations, Inuit, and Métis Elders, knowledge keepers, residential school survivors, and youth will meet with the Holy Father at the Vatican from December 17-20, 2021, accompanied by a small group of Canadian bishops.
Edmonton Archbishop Richard Smith, president of the Alberta and Northwest Territories bishops, and Calgary Bishop William McGrattan, vice-president of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, will also travel to Vatican City.
The delegates represent the Assembly of First Nations, the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami (ITK) and the Métis National Council (MNC). Further details of the delegation will continue to be made available through these organizations as well as the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB).
About the Alberta Delegation
Chief Wilton Littlechild
Wilton Littlechild IPC CM AOE MSC QC, known as Willie Littlechild, is an indigenous lawyer, advocate, residential school survivor and Cree chief who served as Assembly of First Nations Regional Chief, as Grand Chief of the Treaty Six and as a member of Parliament.
Littlechild was born in 1944 in Maskwacis, Alberta, raised by his grandparents. He was brought to Indian residential school at the age of six, spending 14 years in the system until his completion of high school.
Littlechild graduated with a Bachelor of Physical Education degree in 1967, then obtained a master's degree in physical education from the University of Alberta in 1975. He is the first Treaty Indian from Alberta to obtain a law degree, completed at the University of Alberta in 1976. That year, the Maskwacis Cree Nations bestowed on him with a headdress as an honorary chief and endowed him with his grandfather's Cree name, Mahigan Pimoteyw, which means Wolf Walker.
Chief Littlechild was a member of the 1977 Indigenous delegation to the United Nations and worked on the UN and OAS Declarations on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. He continues to work with the United Nations to this day. He was a Member of Parliament for Wetaskiwin from 1988 to 1993.
Chief Littlechild is a member of the Ermineskin Cree Nation. In 2009, Littlechild was appointed as a commissioner to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada where he served for six and a half years.
He has been inducted into Canada's Sports Hall of Fame. He has received the lndspire Award for law and justice, Pearson Peace Medal; four Centennial medals, the Order of Canada, the Order of Sport, three Queen's medals, and received six university doctorate degrees.
Chief Littlechild and his wife Helen are most proud of their children Teddi, Neil, Megan, and Angel Tina, three adopted children, nine grandchildren and three great-granddaughters.
Gary Gagnon is a Metis from St. Albert (Metis Settlement). For more than 20 years Gary has been employed with Edmonton Catholic Schools under the Indigenous Learning Services Program as cultural facilitator.
Gagnon was seconded with the Archdiocese of Edmonton as coordinator of the Office of Indigenous relations in 2016 for a two-year term. In 2018, Gary was elected as vice-president, Region 4 Metis Nation of Alberta. Gagnon is a trustee for Lac Ste. Anne Pilgrimage.
He sits as an Indigenous Advisor the Canadian Catholic Indigenous Council. He performs prayer and smudging rituals as Indigenous cultural volunteer with Sacred Heart of First Nations Peoples church in Edmonton and Our Lady of Mercy Parish in Enoch.
Angie (Mercredi) Crerar IS 85. She was born July 3, 1936 in Fort Resolution, NWT. In 1947, she was taken from her home and placed in residential school at Fort Resolution. For over 10 years, her Metis traditions, language, heritage, childhood and name were taken from her. She was known as number 6.
Angie left the residential School when she was 17 years old. She and her late husband Doug Crerar have 11 children, 24 grandchildren, and 16 great grandchildren.
Angie has volunteered for more than 50 years, celebrating her Metis heritage. She has been a board member of the Grande Prairie Friendship Centre. She is president of the Metis Local 1990. She started, fundraised and helped build an Elders Caring Shelter, the first of its kind in the country.
In 1987, Angie was named Volunteer of the Year. She received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Esquao Awards, the Centennial Award from the City of Grande Prairie, a Caring Canadian award from the Governor General, Hometown Hero award from the City of Grande Prairie and the Queens Diamond Jubilee Medal. In 2014, she was awarded with a city park in her name, called the Angie Crerar Park.
Edmonton Archbishop Richard Smith
Richard W. Smith was born in Halifax, Nova Scotia on April 28, 1959. He studied at St. Mary's University and at the Atlantic School of Theology in Halifax. Ordained to the priesthood on May 23, 1987, he pursued further studies in theology at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, earning a licence in 1993 and a doctorate in 1998.
Pope John Paul II appointed him as Bishop of Pembroke, Ont. on April 27, 2002. He was formally installed as the seventh Archbishop of Edmonton on May 1, 2007, the Feast Day of St. Joseph the Worker. Archbishop Smith serves as president of the Catholic Bishops of Alberta and the Northwest Territories, and he is past president of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Calgary Bishop William McGrattan
William Terrence McGrattan was born on September 19, 1956 in London, Ont. He received his undergraduate degree in chemical engineering at the University of Western Ontario, followed by a Master of Divinity from St. Peter’s Seminary in London. He was ordained to the priesthood on May 2, 1987.
Bishop McGrattan continued his studies in theology at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, where he received a licentiate in fundamental moral theology in 1992. He served on the faculty of St. Peter’s Seminary in London from 1997 until 2009.
In 2009, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI appointed Bishop McGrattan as Auxiliary Bishop of Toronto. His appointment as the 12th bishop of the Diocese of Peterborough, Ont, took place on April 8, 2014. On January 4, 2017, Bishop McGrattan was appointed eighth bishop of the Diocese of Calgary, and was installed on February 27, 2017. Bishop McGrattan is the vice-president of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Even the wrapping itself can become part of the Christmas gift.
Need creative ideas for wrapping Christmas presents? If you want your wrapping to "look sophisticated, neat, and pretty, just without all the waste, exploitation, and environmental impact" --> check out these 15 eco-friendly gift wrap ideas.
Consider these for faithful living:
Like good stewards of the manifold grace of God, serve one another with whatever gift each of you has received." 1 Peter 4:10
In 2017, Canada Post broke a record for most parcels delivered in a day - 1.83 million. And this was pre-COVID. Watch this video and learn the best options out there for your Christmas shopping.
Consider these for faithful living:
Remember that Christmas ends after the the feast of the Baptism of the Lord on Sunday, Jan. 9, 2022. It does not matter what you give as presents for others. It's the heart and thought behind the gifts that matter.
Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver." 2 Corinthians 9:7
Every year the students at Christ the King Academy in Brooks, Alberta sign up for a variety of service projects and good works to help prepare their hearts for Christ’s coming during this Advent season. Usually, the students engage in works such as baking muffins, praying for the living and the dead, or cleaning up around the neighbourhood. This year however, we started what we hope to be a new tradition – writing Christmas Cards to our dear retired priests of the Diocese!
The idea came about during the grade six’s religion class, when learning about the Sacrament of Holy Orders and the life of service a priest undertakes. The students were quick to realize that the vow of celibacy meant that for many priests, we as Catholics are their family members! While priests are serving in their parishes, they are surrounded by the many families who help take care them and thank them for their service… but what happens when a priest retires?
The students were surprised to learn that our retired priests are still helping celebrate Mass and administering Sacraments where they can, despite no longer have a parish family around them. We discussed how we can show our love and thanks to these priests who spent their lives working for us, and the answer seemed clear – we would write them Christmas cards! Each student wrote a card to some of the retired priests in the diocese to let them know we are praying for them by name as a class and we are forever grateful for their years serving us.
Written by Michael Metcalf for Faithfully. Michael is a Grade 6 Teacher in Christ the King Academy, Brooks, AB.
Catholic Pastoral Centre Staff and Guest Writers