The beginning of a New Year is a time associated with taking stock of the past, looking forward to the future, and making resolutions. Actually this is a continual practice in our lives. Events such as the birth of a child, changing jobs, or simply moving, entail at some level making a new beginning. The embracing of change can be difficult at the time, yet in hindsight, the new beginning is often an event which inspires positive growth in our life.
This process of beginning and growing in new ways is also a part of our spiritual journey. Beginning in Baptism, “the person baptized is configured to Christ. Baptism seals the Christian with the indelible spiritual mark (character) of his belonging to Christ.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC), 1272.) Baptism begins the journey of holiness “to be perfect as your Heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt. 5: 48) and it is restored through the grace received in the Sacrament of Reconciliation which has sometimes been referred to as the sacrament that renews this baptismal state of grace or a type of “Second Baptism”.
In the spiritual life, embracing the path of change in our life and seeking sacramental forgiveness involves ongoing reflection and prayer. St. Ignatius of Loyola developed the daily Examen recognizing the importance of beginning anew each day. The Catechism of the Catholic Church speaks about the perseverance to seek continual growth in holiness, saying, "The Church on earth is endowed already with a sanctity that is real though imperfect." In her members perfect holiness is something yet to be acquired: "Strengthened by so many and such great means of salvation, all the faithful, whatever their condition or state - though each in his own way - are called by the Lord to that perfection of sanctity by which the Father himself is perfect." (CCC, 825.)
The path of our holiness weaves through many ordinary life events. In his Apostolic Exhortation, Gaudete et Exsultate (GE), Pope Francis encourages the faithful to see life’s challenges as opportunities for new growth saying, “At times, life presents great challenges. Through them, the Lord calls us anew to a conversion that can make his grace more evident in our lives, “in order that we may share his holiness” (Heb 12:10). At other times, we need only find a more perfect way of doing what we are already doing: “There are inspirations that tend solely to perfect in an extraordinary way the ordinary things we do in life.” (GE, 17.)
Persevering in our spiritual life has also been expressed by a few saints as Nunc Coepi or Now I Begin. The experience of beginning over and over again is a common path for each of us when we grow in faithful holiness. The emphasis on “Nunc” or “Now” affirms the importance of the present moment and the Grace of God that it holds for each one of us. St. Rose Phillippine Duchesne known for her faith-filled courage and humility, wrote, “Do not look back to the past, or forward to the future. Claim only the present for it holds God’s will.”
In Gaudete et Exsultate, Pope Francis writes about the Spirit revealing the Will of God in the present moment - “Always ask the Spirit what Jesus expects from you at every moment of your life and in every decision you must make, so as to discern its place in the mission you have received.” (GE, 23.)
As this new year and a new decade begin, my prayer for you is to embrace the mission God entrusts to you and to live the fullness of the present moment so that you will “allow the Spirit to forge in you the personal mystery that can reflect Jesus Christ in today’s world.” (GE, 23.)
By Most Reverend William T. McGrattan, Bishop of Calgary
Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,
The holy days of the Christmas season are upon us.
This year, at the Vigil Mass for the Nativity of Our Lord, we hear the familiar narrative from Matthew’s Gospel of Jesus’ humble birth among us in fulfillment of the scriptural promises. Joseph, a “righteous man” is faced with a situation he does not fully understand and yet in the simple words of the Gospel, “he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him.” And in that moment, Joseph becomes a model of trusting in God and following His Will.
These inspiring events of Mary and Joseph, annunciations and dreams, angels and shepherds, stars and adoring magi serve to captivate our imaginations and invite us to celebrate the profound simplicity of God’s presence among us as a humble and innocent child. The Son of God is born into the human world and gives flesh to God’s saving power. These scripture passages announce hopeful messages of “Peace on Earth,” “Good will to all,” and the absolute steadfastness of God’s promise to save His people. Indeed, such messages of “Good News” are welcomed among the poor, the vulnerable, and all of us who recognize the need for God’s salvific love in our lives.
This year Pope Francis, in speaking to the United Nations, offered the following reflection about Christmas:
“These are days in which we raise our eyes to heaven and commend to God those people and situations that are closest to our heart. In this gaze, we acknowledge ourselves to be sons and daughters of one Father, brothers and sisters. We give thanks for all the goodness present in this world, and for all those who freely give of themselves, those who spend their lives in service to others, those who do not give up but keep trying to build a more humane and just society. We know well that we cannot be saved alone. … May Christmas, in its authentic simplicity, remind us that the most important thing in life is love.” (Pope Francis, December 20, 2019.)
As our communities in Faith look heavenward at Christmas, let us invite the Christ child to be born into our hearts spiritually, to transform our lives, and to strengthen the witness of our faith so that we might grow in humility and confidence as missionaries of charity for our brothers and sisters. May we proclaim His Birth with great joy and announce the saving love of Jesus Christ in the daily living of our lives.
I offer you the assurance of my prayers as you gather with family and friends to celebrate these holy days of Christmas.
Yours in Christ,
+ Most Reverend William McGrattan
Bishop of the Diocese of Calgary
December 24, 2019
Written by Bishop William T. McGrattan | December 5, 2019
Most Reverend W. T. McGrattan, D.D., Bishop of Calgary
Picture: Rest on The Flight into Egypt, c. 1510 by Gerard David
For Flory D’Souza the Outdoor Way of the Cross is a family affair.
Her father Antonio Carvalho carried the cross in the procession a few months before he died. At 91, with a cane in one hand, the cross on his opposing shoulder, he carried the cross right to the very end of his life.
“I took a picture of him carrying the last station of the Cross and I got it printed while he was in the hospital. Everyone could not believe that was my Dad,” said Flory, picturing the scene four years ago.
“For him it was just because he was a man of faith and I think a little way of saying: Jesus I’m helping you carry your cross and carrying my own cross with His. It gave him fulfilment in being part of the Good Friday event,” said Flory.
For 20 years Flory’s parents Antonio and Annie made the Good Friday pilgrimage through the city. Now at 83, Annie is unable to participate anymore, but Flory fondly remembers how important this pilgrimage was for her parent’s spiritual lives — a spiritual practice she plans to carry on.
“When my dad was interviewed by a reporter he was asked: ‘You are such a small man and you carry such a heavy Cross?’ His answer was: ‘My Jesus helps me.’ I thought what a sweet answer,” said Flory.
“When I’ve carried the cross I’ve found it heavy, but I think it’s the weight of our sins that makes it heavier,” she said.
“It has helped us know that we all have a cross to carry, but Jesus helps us to carry that cross. And He never gives us a cross too heavy to carry. It helps our faith, to go on and trust in God and be thankful that Jesus did what He did for us to be free.”
Flory has carried the Cross a number of times and has consistently attended the pilgrimage for the last decade. Since she has never been to the Holy Land she sees this as her opportunity to walk in the footsteps of Christ.
“This just means so much. The stations take you to human suffering. It was Jesus’ suffering in Calvary, but here in every station is some kind of human suffering and you are made aware of it,” she said.
Flory is no stranger to suffering. Two years after her father’s death, her husband John suddenly died at the age of 57.
“My strong Catholic faith, thanks to my parents, has helped me cope with my cross in life and these great losses,” she said.
Flory immigrated on her own to Calgary 30 years ago from Kenya. Of her five siblings, she sponsored her sister in 1992 and three years later her parents. Then eight years ago she sponsored her brother Alex Carvalho. He volunteers with crowd control for the pilgrimage.
From humble beginnings, the Outdoor Way of the Cross has grown to attract between 2,500 and 3,500 pilgrims, some from other faith traditions. And more than 200 volunteers help keep it running smoothly.
Written by Sara Francis
Most Reverend W. T. McGrattan, D.D., Bishop of Calgary
Catholic Pastoral Centre Staff and Guest Writers