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
As the Season of Lent begins, it is a good time for us to seek an interior renewal and to face the distracting attachments and preoccupations that have become part of our often very busy lives. These forty days serve to remind us of Christ’s journey into the desert. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) tells us that “Jesus' temptation reveals the way in which the Son of God is Messiah, contrary to the way Satan proposes to him and the way men wish to attribute to him. This is why Christ vanquished the Tempter for us: “For we have not a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sinning.
By the solemn forty days of Lent, the Church unites herself each year to the mystery of Jesus in the desert. (CCC, 540)
It is this Lenten discipline of penance, renunciation, and detachment which reawakens within us the awareness of our dependence on God and His great love for each of us. While retreating to the desert might be impossible on a practical level, our Lenten observance of penance, abstinence, prayer, and almsgiving helps us to grow in Christ daily and to avoid temptation.
In particular, the psalmist’s refrain, “Be still and know that I am God” invites us to be attentive to our times of personal and communal prayer. One of the Desert Fathers, Amma Syncletica said, “There are many who live in the mountains and behave as if they were in the town, and they are wasting their time. It is possible to be a solitary in one’s mind while living in a crowd, and it is possible for one who is a solitary to live in the crowd of his own thoughts.” (Benedicta Ward, The Sayings of the Desert Fathers, Cistercian Publications: 1975, p. 19)
Listening to God in prayer is an important part of a life of faith. God desires to speak to us and we have the privilege of listening to the promptings of His Spirit through the consolations and desolations with which He graces us during our prayer. William Barclay’s reflection on prayer and silence is often quoted as follows, “… Prayer is a way of offering ourselves to God in order that He should be able to make use of us. It may be that one of our great faults in prayer is that we talk too much and listen too little. When prayer is at its highest, we wait in silence for God's voice to us; we linger in His presence for His peace and His power to flow over us and around us; we lean back in His everlasting arms and feel the serenity of perfect security in Him.”
The psalmist writes in Psalm 46, “Be still, and know that I am God! I am exalted among the nations, I am exalted in the earth. The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge.” Walter Brueggemann, a well-known scholar of the psalms, says that some psalms were written for the good times while others were written for the times when the future seemed uncertain and perhaps filled with impending troubles. These psalms were written for people living in times of change and uncertainty who were experiencing feelings of anxiety and even dismay. (The Spirituality of the Psalms, Brueggemann, pp. 19-25.) Psalm 46 provides the reassurance that God is stable when all else seems unstable. At a deeply personal and spiritual level, this is important for each of us.
This is the deeper experience of prayer and listening which the time of silence and stillness offers to us.
“In the silence of the heart, God speaks. If you face God in prayer and silence, God will speak to you. Then you will know that you are nothing. It is only when you realize your nothingness, your emptiness, that God can fill you with Himself. Souls of prayer are souls of great silence.” (Saint Teresa of Calcutta, In the Heart of the World: Thoughts, Stories and Prayers)
Let us embrace this season of Lent as a time to “be solitary in one’s mind.” (Benedicta Ward, Ibid.) If we allow God’s grace to renew our hearts during this Lenten season through prayer, then in the solitary stillness of such experiences we will know His great love, wisdom, and charity and be moved more generously to witness and share this with others.
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
What do burst pipes and penmanship have to do with being chosen by God? There are two things I remember about my first Rite of Election as a catechumen. The first is the sound of rushing water at St. Mary’s Cathedral as the backdrop to the celebration. The Rite of Election normally takes place at the start of Lent, the period of the liturgical year that helps Christians prepare to reaffirm their baptismal promises at Easter. In this particular year, the sound of the water came from a pipe in the Cathedral that had burst due to cold weather! No doubt it was memorable for the Cathedral staff, but for me, it was a poignant foreshadowing of the baptism I was preparing to undertake at Easter as a member of the elect, one chosen by God to receive the sacraments of initiation. The second thing that I remember is inscribing my name in the book of the elect, in the rite of enrollment of names. These two things are the namesake of this liturgy, the Rite of Election and Enrolment of Names.
Rite of Election
The Rite of Election is about being chosen by God to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. In this ritual, the Church chooses those who have the dispositions that make them fit to take part in the sacraments of initiation. Before the Rite of Election the priests, deacons, catechists, godparents, and the entire community arrive at a judgement about the catechumens’ formation and progress in the Christian life. In the liturgy, they present the catechumens by name to the bishop and the entire assembly and give testimony about the catechumens’ readiness. The catechumens then express personally their intention to receive the sacraments of initiation and live as missionary disciples.
Enrolment of Names
With these testimonies, the bishop accepts the judgement of the Church and invites the catechumens to offer their names for enrolment. One by one the catechumens inscribe their names as a pledge of fidelity in the book that lists those who have been chosen for initiation: the Book of the Elect. Once the catechumens have inscribed their names, the bishop declares the Church’s approval of the catechumens saying: I now declare you to be members of the elect, to be initiated into the sacred mysteries at the next Easter Vigil. From this day until they receive the sacraments of initiation those who were catechumens are now called “the elect”. Historically they have also been called competentes or co-petitioners because together, they are asking for the sacraments and the gift of the Holy Spirit. They have also been referred to as illuminandi, those who will be enlightened, because in their baptism they will be filled with the light of faith.
Holy Season of Lent
The period between the Rite of Election and the Easter Vigil is known as the Period of Purification and Enlightenment. It is to be a time of intense spiritual preparation for the elect. The time for catechesis has ended, so the elect now join with the entire Christian community in fruitfully employing the Lenten season to prepare for Easter. The readings, music, and prayers for the Rite of Election are generally taken from the First Sunday of Lent. The bishop urges the godparents and the entire community to be an example and support for the elect during this time and then they are surrounded by prayer before being dismissed to “set out with us on the road that leads to the glory of Easter.”
The Grace of Baptism
As for those already baptized who are planning to make a profession of faith and/or complete their initiation at the Easter Vigil, they have already been made ready for discipleship through the dignity and grace of their baptism. These Christians have already been chosen or elected; they cannot be chosen again. Becoming Catholic is an expression of God’s choice and a choice of the individual, but it is not a new choice by God. The community of faith recognizes their desire to be sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit and take their place at the Lord’s table. At this time, they affirm their readiness to more fully express their election by God that took place at their baptism. Then, with the whole Christian community, they join in uniting themselves more closely to Christ and coming to know in a deeper way the power of his resurrection in us during this holy season of Lent.
Written by Dr. Simone Brosig, Liturgy Consultant / Director
The moment I stepped into St. Bernard’s Church with one small child in tow and one gestating in my belly, I knew I’d be seeing more of the place. At a crossroads between our post-secondary days and life with a family, my husband Joseph and I were looking for a church to call home.
“Let’s go St. Bernard’s,” Joseph said, pointing out its 9 a.m. Mass time, ideal for our small child and in the community we’d moved to.
I entered that Sunday with trepidation. I was a new mom with a toddler son who’d received a few annoyed glances at other Masses. We were elated and a bit surprised when people at St. Bernard’s just smiled at us and told us we were doing a great job, even though our toddler behaved exactly as expected – like a toddler. A smiling woman greeted us after Mass and offered us coffee and a cookie for our son.
That warmth and kindness was what made us stay. For almost eight years, we’ve been parishioners, welcoming three more children into our family and into the Church. It is that welcoming atmosphere that receives a new kind of young family – the church family that will be the St. Francis Xavier Chaplaincy Centre.
“It will be a tremendous addition to our community,” said longtime parishioner Nancy Steudler.
Nancy and her husband Chris began attending St. Bernard’s as a newly engaged couple in 1982. They too were welcomed by the parish and were married there in 1983. As their family grew to four children, they became leaders in parish ministries, contributing the life of the parish. They and many others expressed joy at welcoming young people from across the city to worship and keep the faith alive in this church.
During an information session for the parish, Fr. Matthew Emmelkamp, pastor at St. Bernard’s/Our Lady of the Assumption and Fr. Cristino Bouvette, Director of Vocations who will oversee the chaplaincy centre answered any questions that parishioners had. Those in attendance seemed hopeful and mindful that young people are the future of the Church.
At the inaugural Mass I had a sense of hope as I watched the pews fill with young people along with parishioners I recognized – a few being founding members of the parish.
Since Bishop McGrattan was a bit under the weather, he asked Fr. Cristino Bouvette to give the homily.
Fr. Cristino cited the Gospel for that day where Jesus says “nobody puts new wine into old wineskins.”
“With the loving concern and care as our shepherd, Bishop McGrattan has seen that this new wine needs a new wine skin” he said, referring to the students and young professionals, along with newlyweds and families who will access the centre.
Drawing again on the Gospel, Fr. Cristino, comparing the crowd to grapes, said “many of you have begun to experience being crushed by various means and methods, because the world has an infinite number of them. And you’re beginning to be strained and purified.
“But contained within you is a power; a power that must be harnessed. A power that must be properly and lovingly cared for and maintained in order that that rich wine will be yielded.
“That power is the power of your vocation; That way in which God from the beginning of time already orchestrated in His mind a plan for your heart that when brought to fulfillment would transform this world.”
It was in this spirit that the nearly-full church celebrated Mass together with the Bishop and many of our priests. Afterward, the narthex was filled with a buzzing, joyful crowd.
The need for the chaplaincy centre has grown apparent as Catholic on-campus ministries at the city’s post-secondary institutions have stretched themselves to capacity, serving the needs of a growing contingent of young people, primarily 18-35-year-olds.
“We’re not going to be a status-quo parish,” said Fr. Cristino, pointing to the transitional stages that students, young professionals and young families are in. The aim of the St. Francis Xavier Chaplaincy centre is to be an off-campus place of transition and a launching point for the future leaders of the Church.
In order to celebrate the Dedication Mass as well as Masses for Christmas and New Years, the parish sought a temporary occupancy permit from the city. A permit could only be granted after the building passed a safety inspection. On Wednesday the 20th, just two days before the dedication, the building did not pass. Several things needed to be done in order for the building to be considered safe for the public to access the Church. The city is responsible to ensure the safety of anyone who enters a building under construction explained Fr. Avi.
“The pews needed to be anchored down, exit signs needed installing, the roof needed to be clear of all debris, the construction materials like dumpsters had to be fenced and the parking lot cleared of ice,” said Fr. Avi.
On being asked by an inspector if he had a back-up plan, Fr. Avi motioned to the heavens saying, “He is my back-up plan.” Then he, along with the renovation committee and many gracious volunteers set to work.
Finally, on December 21st with just a half-hour before the rehearsal for the dedication would begin, the inspection was complete and the permit was granted.
“There were people crying when I announced it,” said Fr. Avi, “We had all worked so hard. The inspector was surprised that we were able to get so much done in such a short time.”
When the dedication Mass took place, emotions ran high for the people who knew what had occurred in the days before, “I was numb and I was praising the Lord for the miracle that he’d performed,” said Fr. Avi.
Though the walls of the church are still unpainted and there is still work to do, the Dedication Mass was a moving event, especially for those who hadn’t yet seen the new worship space.
Christopher Rappel, renovation committee member who is active in many roles at the parish cited Bishop McGrattan’s homily saying that actually, perhaps it was fitting that the Dedication took place amidst the renovations because the church is a work in progress, and so are all of us.
Sandra Will-Krile who serves as part of the renovation committee among other jobs within the church noticed the awe with which the parishioners entered on the day of the dedication. With newly anchored pews, a high sloping ceiling and lines that point to the altar, the new space certainly made an impact.
She said the renovation committee were constantly updated on the progress, so in preparation for the temporary opening, they saw what needed to be done more than what had already been done. “But when the people walked into the space and I saw their faces,” Sandra said, “it was then that I saw it through their eyes.”
The church was full for the Dedication Mass, which “went so smoothly,” according to committee members, despite the seeming chaos that had ensued in the days prior. It was a beautiful moment for all of the parish to see their work and care come to fruition.
To a few parishioners, the anointing of the altar stood out as one of the most beautiful moments during the dedication Mass. The time and care with which Bishop McGrattan took to anoint the altar and walls was noteworthy, as this is the first time that many in the parish had witnessed a rite of this kind.
The feeling of welcoming within the walls of Ascension doesn’t happen by chance; with nearly seven thousand parishioners, Ascension boasts over 900 volunteers active in the parish who might be called the lifeblood of the community. On top of those volunteers there is an active chapter of Knights of Columbus and of the Catholic Women’s League.
Fr. Avi, along with the renovation committee members are ever grateful to these families for their support both financially and physically as the process of taking the building from two semi-separate spaces to one unified sanctuary.
The community currently celebrates Mass in the hall and downstairs rooms. The Mass is projected on screens for the people not present in the main hall. During this time, the outside perception is that this is a rather painful burden for parishioners, but volunteer coordinator Sharron Robinson, along with renovation committee members are telling a different story.
“I think the sense of community is probably even greater with the renovations,” Sharron said,
“The volunteers step up that much more.”
When asked if the current Mass arrangement feels like fragmentation of the community, both Christopher Rapell and Sandra Will-Krile disagreed saying “No, in fact, I think people have adapted to the space that we have quite well.”
They both spoke of the parishioners as a resilient community pulling together to make the space at the church work rather than attending Mass at a school, which was their alternative.
To that end Fr. Avi who had been through parish renovations before said that it is challenging to maintain the sense of community in a different building, “so I asked the construction company and consultants if we could do this in stages.” Evidently, that approach has worked for the congregation, who have worked together to make not only two parishes one, but two sanctuaries into one unified space.
The big hearts of the community has never been more evident, said Sandra, than after New Year’s Day Mass when the new sanctuary had to be cleared of everything but the newly installed pews so that the work could restart.
“We expected maybe fifteen or sixteen people to help move things back into the hall, but we got fifty or sixty!”
As their pastor and renovation committee members would tell it, the people of Ascension are unafraid of hard work and lending a hand to anyone who needs help. With that spirit pulsing through its veins, they have every reason to look forward with hope to the future.
Written by: Jessica Cyr
With a servant’s heart, Joseph Gingco was pleased to help run the audio-visual equipment when his parish hosted an information meeting about the permanent diaconate back in 2013. Joseph, who has a Bachelor of Computer Science degree from the Philippines, knew his skills would prove helpful. Besides that, the life-long Catholic was curious about the topic.
Five years later, one of Calgary’s newest deacons believes God used that opportunity to serve to answer one of his prayers.
"I will seek you"
The Diocese of Calgary has partnered with the Calgary Flames to get discounted tickets for the game on Friday, February 22, between the Flames and archrival Anaheim Ducks. Discounted tickets are $39. Each ticket purchased will help fundraise for Elizabeth House, which provides a home for at risk pregnant or parenting youth and their babies. In addition, the first 100 people to purchase tickets will be receive a voucher to an exclusive pre-game event in the Alumni Lounge and have a Meet and Greet with Bishop McGrattan. Come out and join us for a great night of hockey and entertainment, or buy the tickets as Christmas presents.
To purchase your tickets at the special price, click here.
November 23, 2018:
A friendly episcopal wager between Archbishop Terrence Prendergast of Ottawa and Bishop McGrattan of Calgary for Sunday afternoon’s Grey Cup between Ottawa Redblacks and Calgary Stampeders will benefit needy people in both cities. The Archbishop and Bishop are wagering $100 donations to aid the poor in their cities. If Ottawa wins, Bishop McGrattan will send $100 to the Shepherds Good Hope, and a package of prairie oysters! If Calgary wins, Archbishop Prendergast will send $100 to Feed the Hungry, plus a package of BeaverTails.
November 25, 2018:
November 28, 2018
To commemorate the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War, communities across Canada will mark that moment in history by ringing 100 bells. The ringing of bells emulates the moment in 1918 when church bells across Europe tolled as four years of war had come to an end.
In the Diocese of Calgary, we encourage all parishes to join in this celebration by ringing their church bells at local sunset time (4:54 pm in Calgary) on Remembrance Day, Sunday, November 11. The Bells of Peace Ceremony aims to gather a soundwave of bells as they toll 100 times from coast to coast to recognize the people who helped shape the Great War.
List of Catholic churches in the Diocese of Calgary that will be ringing the bells on Remembrance Day (Sunset time):
What do you get when three bishops sit down for a chat?
It sounds like the start to a terrible joke, doesn’t it? But the delegates of One Rock 2.0 got exactly that: Three bishops: Bishop McGrattan of the Diocese of Calgary, Archbishop Richard Smith of the Edmonton Archdiocese, and Archbishop Gerard Pettipas of the Archdiocese of Grouard-Maclennan sitting poised on couches, as if in our very own living rooms, not only to be heard but to hear us in a panel discussion.
“I think our bishops were surprised by what they heard,” said Fr. Cristino Bouvette who acted as moderator for the panel. But it was with compassion and sincerity that the three responded to some fairly tough questions.
We are a crowd of over 600 young adults. I recognize men and women who are just beginning university and young professionals deep into careers. I say hello to married friends who, like myself, have started to raise children. I get the sense that this is a crowd of people who are deeply invested in the Catholic faith; many of them “retreat veterans” as attendee Joey Lafleur aptly put it; people who’ve fully accepted the role of sheep following the Good Shepherd; people who are looking for real answers from those called to lead us amidst doubt, horror and confusion at what is happening to our beloved Church; people who are reaching deep into the roots of the Church and to the core of our beliefs and traditions looking for food. In conversations with some of these people, I got the sense that this panel of Bishops, those given the task of shepherds, was going to be one of the most important moments of the One Rock 2.0 experience.
The bishops spoke on a myriad of topics, but most of the discussion centered around the scandal of abuse within the Church; on the desire in some young people for more tradition and reverence in the Mass and the Church as a whole; and on our call to live as witnesses to Christ in an ever-changing and sometimes confused society.
On Systemic Abuse and Scandal in the Church
The recent report from the grand jury in Pennsylvania has rippled like a shockwave into the minds and hearts of Catholics everywhere. Even I, a self-professed news junkie, find myself turning off and shutting out these stories because it makes me seethe inside that the Church I am raising my children to love has this ugliness within it. We want to be able to trust our bishops and priests and know that they are acting, not just giving speeches and hoping we’ll get over it. The panel discussion gave me a sliver of hope as I heard humble words calling me and everyone else to continue in faith.
“The world wants us to respond in an authentic and credible way,” said Bishop McGrattan, “but it will take all of the Church – not just the bishops, not just the priests, but all of the Church to remain faithful and allow ourselves to become purified.”
He continued to say that the work of the bishops now is to “allow the silence that was there in the Church to be broken, so that those who’ve experienced abuse can speak and that the healing can continue.”
As I meandered through the crowd trying to get a sense of other’s feelings on the answers from the bishops, I asked Robyn Pashula, attending from Calgary, what she thought.
“They answered very honestly, and you could’ve heard a pin drop as they were speaking vulnerably about the effects of scandals.”
It was in this sentiment that Archbishop Smith responded to a question about the abuse allegations saying “there’s a particular horror when [abuse] takes place inside of the Church, and we need to acknowledge that. We need to study that deeply.”
He said he thought that the loss of understanding of human sexuality and how it is to be lived according to God’s design is a contributing factor, together with abuse of power and conscience in the abuse that has taken place not only in the Church but in society as a whole.
“Because this issue is of such gravity, we need to be striving to understand it fully,” he said.
Drawing from past experience, Archbishop Pettipas also had something to add,
“A number of years ago – this has come up very recently but we’ve been facing this for a long time in Canada – I spent first years of ministry in St. John’s, Newfoundland. Some of you might have heard of the Mount Cashel orphanage, or of the priests in that archdiocese who were found guilty of numerous counts of despicable behaviour towards young children.
“In those days people would say to me ‘Father, how can this be stopped?’ And one of my answers – and it may sound a bit facetious – but I would say, ‘When we stop ordaining human beings, then this will stop.’
“It’s because we are sinful human beings, called to holiness, but still sinful. This is where it comes from.”
He pointed out that never before have we understood the impact of sexual abuse like we do today. Referring to the #MeToo movement – thousands of people who are speaking out about sexual harassment and abuse, many of whom have been living in silence until 2018 – he said that we are now being challenged to make some real and lasting changes, not only in our Church, but in our culture as a whole.
The bishop and archbishops gave every indication that their work to be good leaders and stop horrific abuses within the Church will be ongoing and that the dialogue will be continuous.
On Traditional Practices in the Church
There is and always has been diversity within the Church when it comes to style of worship and preference of liturgical practice. During the Mass celebrated by Bishop McGrattan that day, I could see living examples across a spectrum with both chapel veils and raised hands during song, and while those things are small indicators of the different types present, the questions for the Bishops came primarily from young people who could be described as having more traditional leanings.
In making their deep desire for more Latin Mass and solemn liturgies known, I got the impression that many of these young men and women have often felt cast aside or out of place for their love of traditional worship within our faith, while still others who may prefer more contemporary forms of worship look on with puzzlement about the desire for the “smells and bells.”
“Don’t be feeling like a dweeb!” Archbishop Smith assured them, going on to say that in the Mass, “you’re rooted in tradition, you’re rooted in truth and you discover the truth of who we are, the beloved children of God, and the more that our liturgy can express that ritually, the more attractive it becomes.”
He said that he has seen a “very pervasive existential angst that is gripping the lives, the minds, the hearts of people today.”
He said he’s been hearing from young people who are looking to find their identity, which is a confusing thing with the messages we’re getting from all around us today. This is why, he said, the Church is a place of refuge.
“We’re not called to create [our identity], it’s a given. We’re children of God,” he said firmly.
This could be why for some; the liturgical practices that were the norm in our grandparents’ and great-grandparents’ era have sparked something in the hearts and minds of some of our generation. When our identity as individuals is forever in question, the Church gives us the sacraments, the Mass, and the rich traditions of the ages. The tangible signs of God’s grace upon us in the context of beautiful music, and reverent ritual are not to be found anywhere else.
The discussion on liturgical practice and preference is ongoing in the Church, but as I talked to a small circle of young men and women who could be described as having more traditional leanings, there was a sense of hope in mulling over the words of our Bishops, who heard their genuine longings with open ears.
On Living Out Our Faith Authentically
In his opening remarks, Archbishop Pettipas quoted St. Peter saying, “Always be ready to tell others the cause of your joy,” when he spoke to us about the kind of evangelization we should enact. Throughout their time with us, we heard again and again that we are not to be passive, but active and authentic in times that are good, and even in times where confusion and hopelessness seem to reign.
“What I’m taking away from today is that I am church, and that whatever I do will contribute to it,” said Robyn Pashula.
It is that question, “what can I do?” that we all ask ourselves in the everyday, and in the difficult times. The first to ask a question to the panel, one young man recounted briefly that his good friend had taken his own life, and that he struggled to make sense of it.
“How do I move on from this?” he asked, also wondering simply, if his friend had gone to heaven.
“The Church has come to be more understanding and compassionate,” Bishop McGrattan answered, “That maybe the freedom that God gives us, and that maybe the full capacity of knowledge to know what to do and how to act -- that sometimes that is diminished in situations where people choose to take their life.”
I caught up with Spencer, the young man, so concerned for his friend’s soul and loved ones. Spencer is the only Catholic in his family (though his parents are supportive, he said) and so the loss of his friend, who had been an altar server and faithful Catholic himself was a huge blow.
I asked him if he was satisfied with Bishop McGrattan’s answer. “Yes,” he told me, then showed me the funeral card of his friend. I took a pause. Spencer and I agreed that Bishop McGrattan’s encouragement to persevere through these troubled times in faith was uplifting.
The bishop had encouraged us all that we can lift up the souls of the faithful departed and continue to believe in the mercy of God. Adding that through persevering in acts of faith, we can be witnesses to Christ’s mercy in these difficult circumstances.
Fathers in Faith
When introducing the Bishops to us, Father Cristino referred to a beautiful part of the Mass when a concelebrating priest asks the bishops’ blessing prior to reading the gospel; it is in asking this blessing that priest addresses the Bishops as “Father”. In that spirit, he went on to say that he hoped we could think of our bishop and archbishops as father figures too.
As they answered with honesty the questions of the day, and indeed as they continue the task of shepherding Alberta’s Catholic Church, they admit to being human beings who depend on God’s grace to serve us. In their concluding messages, each man, pledging to continue in service to us, the Church, asked for our prayers, and prayed for us.
“I pray that the acts of faith that come upon you each day might be strengthened through this gathering,” said Bishop McGrattan in his homily at Mass, “so that your lives might become a full and authentic witness of Christ.”
Bishop McGrattan held a Press Conference on Wednesday, Oct. 10 to share what we are doing to protect and prevent sexual abuse in the Church. This follows the release of CCCB Document: "Protecting Minors from Sexual Abuse: A Call to the Catholic Faithful in Canada for Healing, Reconciliation, and Transformation."
Here is the list of media coverage for the conference:
Catholic Pastoral Centre Staff and Guest Writers