Solidarity Sunday 2023
Food Loss & Waste
Learn more about this unique vocation here.
Rite of Election: Chosen by God
On Sunday, Feb. 26, 2023 the whole community gathered to witness something truly special: a joyous Rite of Election that welcomed 170 catechumens into St Mary's Cathedral as members of the Elect! This event marked the culmination of their profound spiritual journey and preparation for receiving Initiation Sacraments at Easter Vigil.
The Bishop also calls to the Godparents, urging them to accept the responsibility entrusted to them in the Lord. He asks them to show their support and love for the chosen individuals by providing guidance and instruction so that they may partake in God's sacraments.
Let us pray to the Lord for all the Elect and for ourselves, that we may be renewed by one another’s efforts and together come to share the joys of Easter.
Glory be to Jesus Christ!
Dearly Beloved in Christ!
Today, on our calendars we mark a year since a new stage of the Russian-Ukrainian war began with brutal cruelty and destruction, cynicism and falsehood. Every day of the past year has been a repetition of February 24, adding to the bitter statistics of losses and multiplying the grief experienced by many. Thousands of innocent men, women and children have lost their lives; many have been tortured, held in prisons and camps, and forcibly deported. Millions are forced to wander around the world, having lost everything, seeking refuge far from their homes. Many cities and villages have been erased from the face of the earth, leaving only traces in the history and memory of those who lived there. Countless are the deep emotional wounds from the losses, tragic memories, and longing for relatives, inflicted by the war on those who survive and are suffering - especially the children!
This war is not limited to the context of armed battles, but also occurs in the struggle for consciences, spiritual values and ideals with all the evils that war entails. Most importantly, it requires from everyone a clear choice for good or evil. The war challenges us to demonstrate our love for Ukraine, for its God-given freedom, political and human rights. War challenges the very sincerity of our love for our neighbor and the Lord God. Every Ukrainian in and outside of
Ukraine is called to discover a deeper awareness of his or her national, political and ethnic identity. The enemy are those who want to stop this process and plant other values which contradict the truths of the Christian faith, the foundations of our spirituality and our Ukrainian identity. And they are looking for all kinds of insidious ways to achieve their goals.
We, the Ukrainian Catholics in Canada, call upon all people of good will to steadfastly resist the spread of the evils of war, the killing of innocent people, and the destruction of the nation of Ukraine. Let us draw our strength from the Lord at all times in our struggle (cf. Ps. 26:1). As the Apostle Paul says , let us gird ourselves with the belt of faith and take the armor of justice, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation and the spiritual sword to "resist the wiles of the devil" and "against the principalities, against the authorities, against the rulers of this world of darkness, against the spirits of malice in the heavenly spaces" (Eph. 6:11-12). Fervent and constant prayer to the Lord is our weapon against which enemy forces are powerless, and with it we draw the grace of God. We pray not to succumb to feelings of hopelessness and oppression, excessive worries and cares (cf. Ps. 137:7).
Let us take the psalmist's words, "Your word is a lamp to my feet, and a light to my path" (Ps. 118:105) closer to heart and listen to God's voice in our lives. The word of God teaches us goodness, truth, love, understanding and ability to make right decisions that are sometimes very difficult, especially during times of deep tragedy and loss. In His word, we will find God who is near to us in solidarity, offering us comfort and healing.
Let us continue our works of mercy for the needy in Ukraine and those who seek refuge here in Canada, as a humble manifestation of our sincere faith and for the greater glory of God. In doing so, we share the time and talents with which the Lord has blessed us, knowing that everything will return a hundredfold. By giving temporal goods now, we will receive eternal goods in the future.
In solidarity and compassion with our brothers and sisters in Ukraine, who continue to suffer from the lack of food, water and other basic necessities of life due to the ongoing war, let us renew our practice of fasting and abstinence to remind ourselves of the many blessings we enjoy in our peaceful, daily lives here in Canada.
More than ever, we need to support each other through prayer, kind words and good deeds. A person who receives something through you will thank the Lord and praise Him always. "Let your light so shine before others that they may see your good works and glorify your Heavenly Father" (Mt. 5:16).
The outcome of this war is crucial and will have global significance and consequences. We pray for victory, which will be realized only when we put all our efforts together. Let us unite, pray, and work for the common good! Let this Lenten season be an opportunity to reach new spiritual heights and to better ourselves so that we can carry out our part in bringing to an end the tragedy of war.
May God bless the Ukrainian people both in their homeland and throughout the world. May He grant them the strength of a strong Christian faith, of enduring good health and the support of a multitude of people of good will. May He grant victory over evil and peace to Ukraine!
Sincerely Yours in Christ,
+ Lawrence Huculak, OSBM
Metropolitan Archbishop of Winnipeg
Apostolic Administrator of Saskatoon
+ David Motiuk
Eparchial Bishop of Edmonton
Apostolic Administrator of New Westminster
+ Bryan Bayda, CSsR
Eparchial Bishop of Toronto
+ Andriy Rabiy
Auxiliary Bishop of Winnipeg
Journey through Lent 2023
This year’s Lenten reflections from CCCB are delivered by His Eminence Gérald Cyprien Cardinal Lacroix, Archbishop of Quebec and Primate of Canada, and the Most Reverend Brian Joseph Dunn, Archbishop of Halifax-Yarmouth.
As we begin our journey of Lent, may we all walk the path of renewal that is ahead of us. May each and every one of us be blessed with the grace to grow closer to Christ with renewed purpose and spiritual insight as we journey through these 40 days.
I'm worth it now
“It started when a friend of mine told me about a backpack program for human trafficking survivors in Florida.” shared Kristin Fahlman, a parishioner of St. Michael's in Calgary, “I thought it was interesting, but didn't think about it again for several years.”
It wasn’t until that one fateful evening when she attended a movie screening organized by the Catholic Women’s League at her church. It wasn't just any film; "Over 18" documents society's damage caused by pornography industries across North America and beyond.
“On the way to the screening, God reminded me of the backpack program in Florida. And that I should start a similar program here in Calgary.” shared Kristin. After the movie screening, Kristin tried to speak to Paul Rubner, who had been invited as an expert local speaker at the time, but there were just too many people who wanted to do the same. So she went home, trying to put it out of her mind. But God persisted.
Shortly after, Kristin was invited to a human trafficking workshop and, seemingly by divine intervention, her normally packed schedule was free. At the workshop, she again noticed Paul, who provided a presentation on the issue of human trafficking in the Calgary and Alberta context. She decided then that if he was available at the end of the workshop, this was the person she needed to speak with.
"When I explained my idea, Paul was extremely enthusiastic and, as it turns out, he was the key person in Calgary who would know how to implement a distribution system for the backpacks. He suggested involving the Catholic Women's League, a group I had just recently joined."
What followed was a series of meetings and brainstorming sessions between Kristin, a lawyer with a passion for social justice and deep compassion for a segment of society that very few people were aware of, and Paul, at the time a human trafficking investigator who had spent the last decade working with survivors of human trafficking and exploitation. Paul had an understanding of the needs and issues faced by survivors, along with the social agencies that sought to help them - but he knew there was more that could be done. All that was required was a group, or individuals, that had a realistic understanding of the issue that he could lend his experience and advocacy to.
“God has lined it all up for us every step of the way," said Kristin. Paul added, “We want survivors of human trafficking to recognize the strength inside of them and to realize that they are loved and accepted right in this moment.”
Long story short, IWIN - an acronym for 'I'm Worth It Now' - was born in 2019 with the support of the Catholic Women’s League (CWL). This program's mission is to make an impact on those who are often forgotten: survivors of sexual exploitation and domestic sex trafficking. And over three years later, the need for their ministry has only grown. Their services now extend to non-profit agencies in two provinces - with a vision to expand even further.
“The idea was to provide a tangible way to show trafficking survivors in Calgary, the vast majority of whom were born and raised in Canada, that people care and ‘nice things’ didn’t always have to come with strings attached.” shared Paul, who at the time was actively working with survivors and many of the agencies offering services for them.
“While IWIN doesn’t provide services directly, they provide backpacks containing essential items to the agencies that do. And given that these agencies are not-for-profit, every little bit of help they can receive means more resources they can devote to programming and helping their participants.” said Paul, adding, “One such agency in Calgary has received over $13,000 in ‘backpack support’ from IWIN in the past 2 1/2 years. The contents of the backpacks are items that the agency would have provided anyway, which means that those funds could be re-directed into other areas of the program.”
IWIN also has partnerships with an agency in Edmonton and one in Saskatoon, who also exist to provide services to trafficked and exploited women, although the Calgary program is by far the largest.
Survivors of human trafficking who received IWIN backpacks ware always filled with gratitude and appreciation for the kindness they had been shown.
"This backpack meant more than just a bag full of clothes. It gave me hope there is still good in this world".
"Thank-you so much for helping me to feel a bit more human and a bit more like I matter".
"It was a really nice surprise when I wasn't expecting it and I feel like it's a great act of kindness and I'd love to take part in something like that one day. It's really nice to get something and to feel like you don't have to give anything in return."
"This signifies that if one individual or organization believes in us, perhaps we can begin to contemplate having faith in ourselves."
The success of the IWIN program is largely attributed to the commitment of multiple groups and organizations who are dedicated to helping them achieve their goals, with a large portion coming from the Catholic Women's League in Alberta and Saskatchewan.
“Human trafficking can happen to any family in Canada and is happening mainly to Canadian citizens." Paul added.
This National Human Trafficking Awareness Day, February 22, it's critical that we consider why 95% of the trafficking survivors found in Calgary are Canadian-born. Our sisters and daughters are not exempt from the reality of human trafficking – so, it's essential that our brothers and sons join us in finding a solution. Let us not forget to open up the conversation about human trafficking, despite how uncomfortable it may seem.
Adoro te devote
The Beaver Tale
This St. Valentine’s Day, Jessica and Joseph Cyr celebrate a champagne wedding anniversary of sorts, with 14 years of marriage on the 14th. In that time, just as their family has grown to include five children, so has their extended family of faith.
The ceremonial ‘passing of the beaver pelt’ from one newlywed couple to another is a seemingly silly tradition that the Cyrs started in their Calgary Catholic community shortly after they were married, and never imagined would still be going strong today.
“I thought it would be fun to start a tradition within the Catholic community,” said Joseph Cyr. “I had the beaver hanging on my wall. It was unique to me, no one else had a homemade beaver pelt. I thought, ‘hey we can use that, and it’s something very Canadian, something that represents our heritage.’”
At the time of publication, 48 couples, with more than 100 children combined, have written their names and wedding dates on the back of this storied beaver pelt.
History of the Pelt
Back when Joseph was in high school, he earned his trapping license and trapped a beaver in a creek near his hometown of Pincher Creek, Alberta. He proceeded to prepare the beaver’s pelt for mounting onto plywood. While he had hoped to continue pursuing this hobby, the beaver was the only animal he ever trapped.
Shortly after he and Jessica married, Joseph hung the pelt in the living room of their first home, but as it happened Jessica did not exactly share Joseph’s taste in home decor. Joseph then had the idea to gift the pelt to another young couple; Jessica was very receptive to the notion and thus a tradition was born.
The Cyrs presented it to Jared and Natalie Fehr at their wedding reception with the stipulation that they must display the pelt prominently in their home until the next Catholic couple involved with their young adult community married, at which point the ceremonial bestowing of the beaver pelt would continue.
The beaver’s lodge
Currently, the pelt is in the possession of Brian and Jennifer Toner. Per the directive, it is displayed above their living-room television in Cupertino, California – one hour South of San Francisco.
Adam Pittman presented the pelt on behalf of the Catholic community at their wedding reception in November in Saskatoon.
“For us, receiving the beaver pelt was a huge honour,” said Jennfier Toner.
“It felt like our marriage was being uplifted by the prayers and thoughts of the whole group, whether we knew each couple or not. We also felt excited, because it is a delightfully ridiculous ‘gift and re-gift ' process that we now get to partake in,” Toner added.
A silly or serious tradition?
In his own way, Fr. Cristino Bouvette feels very much part of the beaver pelt tradition. He has celebrated the weddings of at least half of the couples associated with the beaver pelt, and witnessed time and again the passing on of the pelt at wedding receptions.
“It is clearly a silly tradition, but not merely a silly tradition. It is also a sign of married life being one of openness to the wider community. People marry for the sake of expanding the community of believers, expanding the community of the world,” said Fr. Bouvette.
“In receiving this memento, albeit tacky, it’s a sign of belonging to a wider community outside of your married life, which is a very important testament to the mystery of marriage. You give yourself to the other for the sake of the other, and then in that one flesh union that opens up to all others,” Fr. Bouvette added.
“It’s such a great sign to me of our ever-expanding faith community.”
Madonna House: A Song of Love
Take a half hour break and watch Salt & Light Media’s documentary on Madonna House, a community of about 200 lay men, women, and priests who have dedicated themselves to Christ by living out promises of poverty, chastity, and obedience.
Witness their joy and be inspired to find that same joy in Christ where you have been called to serve Christ in your ordinary life.
>> Watch video now
On 8 February 2023, the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops issued the following four pastoral letters on reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples. Intended as a framework for local engagement with Indigenous Peoples, the letters are the fruit of many months of listening, encounter, and dialogue with them, including through Listening Circles, the Indigenous Delegation to the Vatican in April 2022, and Pope Francis’ Apostolic Voyage to Canada in July of the same year.
Canadian Catholics who want a more fulsome public discussion of the law regarding medically-assisted death are being called to use their faith to move a legislative mountain. But take heart. The first item on the change agenda involves something as simple–and important–as writing letters to your Member of Parliament and key government ministers, says Dr. Peggy Thomson-Gibson.
The catch? With people’s lives at stake, there’s no time to lose.
A Catholic and Calgary physician, Dr. Thomson-Gibson recently addressed MAiD (Medical Assistance in Dying) at a special meeting held at St. Peter’s parish. There, the medical doctor encouraged Catholics to learn how “we can defend our faith without raising our voices.” To do that, Catholics need solid information about their faith–and about what’s at stake, especially with proposed changes to MAiD law, says Thomson-Gibson.
The problem with MAID
Approved in 2016, existing MAiD law allows Canadians to choose a medically-assisted death when their death is “reasonably foreseeable.” Health Canada recorded 7,595 MAiD deaths in 2020, up from 1,108 in 2016. For information about why the Church rejects euthanasia or assisted suicide, visit this page.
Looking ahead, the number of MAiD deaths to date are a fraction of what was expected had proposed amendments come into effect this March. The now-delayed changes expanded MAiD’s accessibility while simultaneously decreasing oversight, says Dr. Thomson-Gibson.
Of primary concern was a change that allowed people with mental illness as their sole criterion to choose a medically-assisted death. People with a severe long-term condition or disability could also access MAiD, opening the door for medically-assisted death to be offered instead of treatment. Opponents say this confuses the notion of a “right” to die with a “duty” to choose death over treatment. This is especially troublesome in a public health system where disabled or mentally-unwell individuals could be made to think they are a financial burden on their families or society.
Information released in 2022 shows the proposed changes also cut a mandated reflection period for those whose death is “reasonably foreseeable” under current law. Instead of a 10-day period, the changes required a single day. Another change drops the legal requirement for two witnesses to one and the sole witness could be a paid health professional.
These amendments were scheduled to come into effect in March 2023. They were delayed in late 2022, and again last week. This provides more time for study and input.
That timeline underscores the opportunity for faith-based outreach, like letters to the Prime Minister and individual Members of Parliament, says Thomson-Gibson. She suggests letter writers model respect in their letters and conversations about MAiD. Catholics looking for more guidance about how “to shed light, not heat” on hot-button topics should check out information from Catholic Voices Canada (https://catholicvoices.ca), adds the doctor.
On February 2nd, 2023, religious from eight different communities gathered to celebrate the World Day of Consecrated Life on the Feast of Presentation of the Lord. It was a joy-filled day with the celebration of the Eucharist, meaningful conversations that deepened connections, and a delightful meal shared between those present.
Hanging out with the Sisters!
On Friday, January 13th, I attended ‘An Evening with the Sisters’ at the Sacred Heart Convent in Calgary. Sisters from various communities of consecrated life gathered with unmarried women in our diocese to enjoy ourselves together. That is exactly what we did! There were Sisters from the Dominican Sisters of the Immaculate Conception, the Faithful Companions of Jesus, the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary, the Franciscan Sisters of St. Elizabeth, and the Seeds of the Word. There were also many single young women I recognized from the St. Francis Xavier Chaplaincy.
We started the evening by eating veggie pizza (since it was a Friday) and getting to know each other. I introduced myself to many of the Sisters and young women who were there. All the Sisters certainly had great stories about their interesting lives as Spouses of Christ. When one of the Polish Dominican sisters learned that I am half-Polish, she told me that I had to go and visit the beautiful country. I also got to see a few friends who are doing the Sabbatical Year program with the Seeds of the Word community. What a joy it was to hear their hilarious stories of community life while we ate dinner! I loved to hear all about their inside jokes and their sledding and skating mishaps.
The evening ended with Night Prayer, which is the last prayer Sisters pray at the end of their jam-packed days. We left behind the rowdy games to enter the calm of the chapel, where the red light of the sanctuary candle was waiting for us. To pray Night Prayer, each side of the room took turns saying the lines of a psalm. Before Sr. Dianne said goodbye to us for the night, we had a few moments of silence together in the chapel. It was a good opportunity to turn to Jesus in the Eucharist and ask Him for the grace to say yes to my vocation, whatever it may be.
As I watched the diverse group of women genuflect to the Blessed Sacrament and leave the chapel, I wondered what my life would be like in a religious community. I saw such beautiful women around me, each of them open to the invitation of Jesus in her life. God has a fulfilling plan for each one of them, and for me.
After everyone cleaned up, I grabbed some pamphlets about consecrated life and said bye to my new and old friends. I almost caught myself skipping out of the convent, because I was feeling so excited to know what God’s call is in my life!
I am thankful that I had the chance to get to know the Sisters of our diocese in such a casual setting. It can be very difficult to work up the courage to visit a religious order. Watching the Sisters enjoy themselves, I understood that they are human beings just like me. They like to eat pizza and play games. They have their own fears and dreams. But each one of them had experienced, at some point in their discernment, the courage to interact with the Sisters they felt they might be called to join.
I am reminded of a quote by Fr. Bede Jarrett O.P.: “What is love but choice, the choice of a friend? He calls us, because He loves us and He is always calling us. May He give us the silence of heart that will listen, and the discerning wisdom that will recognise, and the courage of love that will obey.”
Money habits that keep you poor
Submitted by Sr. Dianne Turner, Assistant Director of Vocation
The World Day of the Sick is celebrated each year on February 11, the liturgical memorial of Our Lady of Lourdes. It is an occasion to pray for individuals who are suffering, and to find concrete ways to draw nearer to them.
The Holy Father's 2023 message is entitled: "Take care of him - Compassion as a synodal exercise of healing". In light of the Church's synodal journey, Pope Francis invites us "to reflect on the fact that it is precisely through the experience of fragility and illness that we can learn to walk together according to God's style of closeness, compassion and tenderness."
Pastoral suggestions for the World Day for the Sick (Feb. 11, 2023) for parishes and all the faithful:
Resources for World Day for the Sick:
Voice your concerns
Spirituality & Mental Health
As human beings with both body and soul, we take good care of ourselves through healthy relationships, especially our relationship with God, and with the help of science.
Watch this video and see how both science and the Faith connect.
Living God's Word in our Life
The daily themes, Scripture readings, reflections, challenges, and prayers below were prepared by the Minnesota Council of Churches and the international Week of Prayer for Christian Unity Writing Team.
Day 1 (Jan 18) - Learning to do the right thing
According to Isaiah, God wants Judah not only to practice justice but to embrace the principle of always doing the right thing. God wants us not only to care for orphans and widows but to do what is right and good for them and anyone marginalised by society. The Hebrew word for good is yaw-tab' and it means to be glad, joyful, pleasing, to do well, to make something beautiful. To be Christian means to be a disciple. All Christians sit under the Word of God, learning together what it is to do good, and who it is that stands in need of this solidarity. As society becomes more indifferent to the needs of others, we, as the children of God, must learn to take up the cause of our oppressed brothers and sisters by speaking truth to power and, if necessary, plead their case so that they may live in peace with justice. In doing this we will always do the right thing! Our commitment to eradicate and to be healed of the sin of racism requires us to be prepared and willing to be in relationship with our Christian sisters and brothers.
A lawyer asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbour?” Jesus’ response asks us to see beyond the divisions of religion, tribe and nationality to recognise our neighbour in need. Christians likewise must see beyond these divides and the divisions within the Christian family to recognise and love our brothers and sisters in Christ.
Who are the marginalised or oppressed in your society? How might churches together walk with these brothers and sisters, respond to their need and speak up on their behalf?
Lord, you called your people from slavery into freedom,
Give us strength and courage to seek out those who are standing in need of justice. Allow us to see this need and provide help, and through your Holy Spirit gather us into the one fold of Jesus Christ, our Shepherd. Amen.
Day 2 (Jan 19) | When justice is done . . .
From the beginning the Book of Proverbs sets out to provide wisdom and instruction in “wise dealing, righteousness, justice, and equity” (1:2). Throughout its oracles of wisdom, the call to act justly and to pursue righteousness is a constant refrain, relentlessly shared and affirmed as more acceptable to God than sacrifice. In a one-sentence pearl of wisdom, the speaker testifies that the righteous rejoice when justice is done. But justice upsets the workers of iniquity. Christians, across their separations, should be united in joy when justice is done, and prepared to stand together when this justice brings opposition. When we do what the Lord requires and dare to pursue justice, we may find ourselves in a whirlwind of resistance and opposition to any attempt to make things right for the most vulnerable among us.
Those who benefit from the systems and structures buttressed by White supremacy and other oppressive ideologies such as “casteism” and patriarchy will seek to delay and deny justice, often violently. But to seek justice is to strike at the heart of the powers, making space for God’s just ordering and enduring wisdom in a world all too often unmoved by suffering. And yet, there is joy in doing what is right. There is joy in affirming that “Black Lives Matter” in the pursuit of justice for God’s oppressed, dominated, and exploited beloved.
There is joy in seeking reconciliation with other Christians so that we may better serve the proclamation of the kingdom. Let that joy manifest itself through our shared experiences of God’s presence in community in the known and unknown spaces where God journeys with us toward healing, reconciliation and unity in Christ.
The religious leaders Jesus addresses in the Gospel passage have grown accustomed and comfortable with the injustices of the world. They are happy to perform religious duties such as tithing mint, dill and cumin, but neglect the weightier and more disruptive demands of justice, mercy and faithfulness. Similarly Christians have grown accustomed and comfortable with the divisions that exist between us. We are faithful in much of our religious observance, but often we neglect the Lord’s challenging desire that all his disciples be one.
How can local congregations support one another to withstand the opposition that may follow from doing justice?
God, you are the source of our wisdom.
We pray for wisdom and courage to do justice, to respond to what is wrong in the world by acting to make it right; We pray for wisdom and courage to grow in the unity of your Son, Jesus Christ, who, with you and the Holy Spirit, reigns forever and ever. Amen
Day 3 (Jan 20) | Do justice, love mercy, walk humbly
We – not me. The prophet warns the people what faithfulness to God’s covenant means: “ … and what does the Lord require of you? To do justice, and to love kindness and to walk humbly with your God.” In Biblical Hebrew justice and kindness (mercy) are not different or opposite from each other. They are in fact bonded together in a single word, mishpat. God has shown us what is good, asking us to do justice by loving kindness and by walking humbly with God. Walking humbly with God means walking alongside others and therefore it is not just about the individual: my walk, my love.
The love that God invites us into is always a love which gathers us into communion: we – not me. This insight makes all the difference in how we “do justice”. As Christians we act justly to manifest something of God’s kingdom in the world, and therefore to invite others into this place of God’s loving kindness. Within God’s kingdom we are all loved equally as God’s children, and as God’s Church we are called to love one another as brothers and sisters and to invite others into that love.
To do justice, to love kindness and to walk humbly with our God, calls Christians to act together in bearing a united witness to God’s kingdom within our communities: we – not me.
“Walking humbly” was challenging for the rich young man who asked Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life. He had obeyed all the commandments from his youth, but he could not take the further step to join Jesus’ disciples because of his wealth; he was beholden to his possessions. How difficult it is for Christians to let go of that which we perceive as riches, but which keep us from the greater wealth of joining Jesus’s disciples in Christian unity.
How can our churches better respond to the needs of our most vulnerable neighbours? How can we honour every voice in our communities?
Gracious and loving God,
Expand our vision that we might see the mission we share with all of our Christian brothers and sisters, to show forth the justice and loving kindness of your kingdom. Help us to welcome our neighbours as your Son welcomed us. Help us to be more generous as we witness to the grace that you freely give us. Through Christ Our Lord. Amen
Day 4 (Jan 21) | Look, the tears of the oppressed
“Look, the tears of the oppressed.” One can imagine that the writer has witnessed atrocities like this before with sickening regularity. And yet perhaps this is the first time the writer has truly seen the tears of the oppressed, has fully taken in their pain and their subjugation. While there is much to lament, in a new looking and a new seeing there is also a seed of hope: maybe this time this witnessing will lead to change, will make a difference.
A young woman looked and saw the tears of the oppressed. The video she shot on her phone of the murder of George Floyd in May 2020 was seen all around the world and unleashed a holy rage as people witnessed, and finally acknowledged, what African Americans have experienced for centuries: undue subjugation by oppressive systems in the midst of privileged blind bystanders. Acknowledging this painful reality has led to a global outpouring of overdue compassion both in the form of prayer and protest for justice.
The progression from simply looking to seeing and understanding gives encouragement for us as actors in this earthly reality: God can remove scales from our eyes to witness things in new and liberating ways. As those scales fall, the Holy Spirit provides insight, and also, conviction to respond in new and unfettered ways. One response the churches and communities made was to establish a prayer tent at George Floyd Square, the place of his murder. In this way, these churches and communities were united in offering comfort to those who mourned and were oppressed.
Matthew’s account of the Beatitudes begins with Jesus seeing the crowds. In that crowd he must have seen those who were peacemakers, the poor in spirit, the pure in heart, men and women who mourned, and those who hungered for justice. In the beatitudes Jesus not only names people’s struggles, he names what they will be: the children of God and inheritors of the kingdom of heaven. As Christians we are called to see the holy struggles of our brothers and sisters in Christ.
How have you engaged with Christian groups addressing oppression in your neighbourhood? How can the churches in your locality come together to better show solidarity with those suffering oppression?
God of justice and grace,
remove the scales from our eyes so we can truly see the oppression around us. We pray in the name of Jesus who saw the crowds and had compassion for them. Amen
Day 5 (Jan 22) | Singing the Lord’s song as strangers in the land
The lament of the psalmist originates in the exile of Judah in Babylon, however, the pain of exile is one that reverberates across time and culture. Perhaps the psalmist shouted this refrain towards the heavens. Perhaps each verse was given voice between deep sobs of grief. Perhaps this poem emerged with a shrug of indifference that can only come from living within injustice and feeling powerless to effect any meaningful change. However the words were brought forth, the heartache of this passage finds resonance in the hearts of those who are treated as strangers in other lands or in their own lands.
The demand in the psalm comes from the oppressor to smile and make merry, to sing the songs of a “happy” past. That demand has come to marginalized people throughout history. Whether it was in minstrel shows, 1 or Geisha dances,2 or Wild West cowboy and Indian shows,3 oppressors have often demanded that oppressed people perform happily to ensure their own survival. Their message is as simple as it is cruel; your songs, your ceremonies, your cultural identity, that which makes you sacredly unique, is only allowable so long as it serves us.
In this psalm generations of the oppressed are given their voice. How could we sing the Lord’s song when we are strangers in our own land? We sing not for our captors but to praise God. We sing because we are not alone for God has never abandoned us. We sing because we are surrounded by a cloud of witnesses. The ancestors and saints inspire us. They encourage us to sing songs of hope, songs of freedom, songs of liberation, songs of a homeland where a people is restored.
Luke’s Gospel records that people, many of them women, follow Jesus even as he carries his cross to Calvary. This following is faithful discipleship. Furthermore, Jesus recognises their struggles and the suffering that they will have to endure in faithfully carrying their own crosses.
Thanks to the ecumenical movement, Christians today share hymns, prayers, reflections and insights across traditions. We receive them from one another as gifts borne of the faith and loving discipleship, often enduring struggles, of Christians from different communities than our own. These shared gifts are riches to be treasured and give witness to the Christian faith we share.
How do we raise up the stories of ancestors and saints who lived among us and have sung songs of faith, hope, and
liberation from captivity?
God of the oppressed,
Open our eyes to the harm that continues to be inflicted on our sisters and brothers in Christ. May your Spirit give us the courage to sing in unison, And raise our voices with those whose suffering is unheard. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Day 6 (Jan 23) | Just as you did it to one of the least of these…you did it to me
In the Gospel of Matthew, we are reminded that we cannot separate our love for God from our love for others. We love God when we feed the hungry, give the thirsty something to drink, welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, care for the sick and visit the prisoner. When we care for and serve “one of the least of these,” we are caring for and serving Christ himself.
The years 2020 and 2021 made visible the immense suffering among God’s family members. The world-wide COVID-19 pandemic, along with economic, educational and environmental disparities, impacted us in ways that will take decades to repair. It exposed individual and collective suffering throughout the world and brought Christians together in love, empathy and solidarity. Meanwhile, in Minnesota, the murder of George Floyd by police officer Derek Chauvin exposed continued racial injustice. Floyd’s cry of “I can’t breathe” was also the cry of many suffering under the weight of both the pandemic and oppression.
God calls us to honour the sacredness and dignity of each member of God’s family. Caring for, serving and loving others reveals not who they are, but who we are. As Christians, we must be unified in our responsibility to love and care for others, as we are cared for and loved by God. In so doing, we live out our shared faith through our actions in service to the world.
The prophet Ezekiel describes the Lord God as a shepherd who makes the flock whole by gathering in those who have strayed and binding up those who are injured. Unity is the Father’s desire for his people and he continues to bring about this unity, to make the flock whole, through the action of his Holy Spirit. Through prayer we open ourselves to receive the Spirit which restores the unity of all the baptised.
How are the “least of these” invisible to you or your church? How can our churches work together to care for and serve “the least of these?”
God of Love,
We thank you for your unending care and love for us. Help us to sing redemption songs. Open wide our hearts to receive your love and to extend your compassion to the whole of the human family. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Day 7 (Jan 24) | ‘What is now does not have to be’
Job was living the good life and unexpectedly suffered the loss of his livestock and servants, and endured the devastation of the death of his children. He was suffering in his mind, body, and spirit. We all have suffering that is manifested in our minds, bodies, and spirits. We may pull away from God and others. We may lose hope. Yet, as Christians, we are unified in our belief that God is with us in the midst of our suffering.
On April 11, 2021 in Minnesota, Daunte Wright, a twenty-year old, unarmed African American man, was fatally shot by a White police officer during a routine traffic stop. This incident occurred during the Derek Chauvin trial for the killing of George Floyd.
It is easy to feel hopeless when we are once again reminded that we live in a fractured society that does not fully recognize, honour, and protect the human dignity and freedom of all human beings. According to Fr. Bryan Massingale, a leading Catholic social ethicist and scholar in racial justice, “Social life is made by human beings. The society we live in is the result of human choices and decisions. This means that human beings can change things. What human beings break, divide and separate, we can, with God’s help, also heal, unite and restore. What is now does not have to be, therein lies the hope and the challenge.”
In prayer, Christians align their hearts to the heart of God, to love what he loves and to love as he loves. Prayer with integrity therefore aligns the hearts of all Christians beyond their divisions, to love what, whom and how God loves, and to express this love in our actions.
The Magnificat is Mary’s song of joy for all that she sees God is doing: restoring balance by raising up the lowly; righting injustice by feeding the hungry; and remembering Israel, his servant. The Lord never forgets his promises or abandons his people. It is easy to overlook or undervalue the faith of those who belong to other Christian communities, particularly if those communities are small. But the Lord makes his people whole by raising up the lowly so that the value of each is recognised. We are called to see as He sees and to value each of our Christian brothers and sisters as He values them
God of Hope,
Help us to remember that you are with us in our suffering. Help us to embody hope for one another when hopelessness is a frequent unwelcomed guest in our hearts. Grant us the gift of being grounded in your loving Spirit as we work together to eradicate all forms of oppression and injustice. Give us the courage to love what, whom and how you love, and to express this love in our actions. Through Christ Our Lord. Amen.
Day 8 (Jan 25) | The justice that restores communion
The Book of Psalms is a compilation of prayer, praise, lamentation, and instruction from God to us. In Psalm 82, God calls for a justice that upholds the basic human rights to which all people are entitled: freedom, safety, dignity, health, equality and love. The Psalm also calls for the overturning of systems of disparity and oppression, and fixing anything that is unfair, corrupt, or exploitative. This is the justice that we, as Christians, are called to promote. In Christian community we join our wills and actions to God’s, as he works his salvation for creation. Division, including that between Christians, always has sin at its root, and redemption always restores communion.
God calls us to embody our Christian faith to act out of the truth that every person is precious, that people are more important than things, and that the measure of every institutional structure in society is whether it threatens or enhances the life and dignity of each person. Every person has a right and responsibility to participate in society, seeking together the common good and wellbeing of all, especially the lowly and the destitute.
In Jesus and the Disinherited, the Revd. Dr Howard Thurman, who was spiritual adviser to the Revd Dr Martin Luther King Jr., states that: “We must proclaim the truth that all life is one and that we are all of us tied together. Therefore, it is mandatory that we work for a society in which the least person can find refuge and refreshment. You must lay your lives on the altar of social change so that wherever you are, there the Kingdom of God is at hand.”
Jesus tells the parable of the widow and the unjust judge in order to teach the people “about their need to pray always and not to lose heart” (Lk 18:1). Jesus has won a decisive victory over injustice, sin and division, and as Christians our task is to receive this victory firstly in our own hearts through prayer and secondly in our lives through action. May we never lose heart, but rather continue to ask in prayer for God’s gift of unity and may we manifest this unity in our lives.
As the people of God, how are our churches called to engage in justice that unites us in our actions to love and serve all of God’s family?
God, Creator and Redeemer of all things,
teach us to look inward to be grounded in your loving Spirit, so that we may go outward in wisdom and courage to always choose the path of love and justice. This we pray in the name of your Son, Jesus Christ, in the unity of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Catholic Pastoral Centre Staff and Guest Writers