Men from the God Squad and several Catholic churches in the Calgary Diocese recently came together to give an old church a facelift in Brocket, Alberta, located on the Piikani Nation between Fort Macleod and Pincher Creek.
The work done at St. Paul’s was more than just some exterior painting and repairs. It was also symbolic.
Deacon Tom O’Toole, who is assigned to St. Paul’s, said the parish is a community of elders and it doesn’t have all the resources within the Nation to handle some of these bigger projects.
“We think it’s an opportunity in the spirit of truth and reconciliation to show the universality of the Church in its beauty and diversity,” said O’Toole, who has been at the parish for about six or seven years. “They did some of the harder work that we were not able to accomplish on our own but we gave them something too.
“We paid them with our affection. We fed them. They brought their own food. But we participated in that. And our elders were here. It wasn’t just a simple act of splashing paint on a building. It rolled up into a bigger purpose which is to bring all God’s people together and show the beauty. These people who came from St. Peter’s, I’ve known them for a long time. So I’m not surprised how fantastic they are and a few of them have come to help before so they’re not a stranger here either. That to me is how relationship is built and how truth and reconciliation makes its way around the bases so to speak.”
During his ministry as a Deacon, O’Toole has also been assigned in the past to St. Peter’s.
Sean Lynn, who spearheads the God Squad organization, said about a dozen volunteers came out in late August to do some work on the aging St. Paul’s building.
“It was a great opportunity for us to put into action a love for the Church and reach out to the First Nations’ community showing that we want to work with them, we want to start those conversations, we want to be present in their community. And the Church, it’s a way of reopening the dialogue with them,” explained Lynn.
Lynn also wanted to give a big shout out to Dan Lebsack of Cougar Painting, who joined the work crew for the St. Paul’s initiative, offering his professional experience, advice and expertise as well as his painting skills.
“They did great work. A great service that we all appreciate. I announced it in the church,” said Rev. Roy Jayamaha, of St. Paul’s. “We really appreciated their great efforts. It was a wonderful thing. They put their heart and soul and work for our community. It was a great thing.
“We believe that the door to salvation is always open and so are the doors to our church. Our mission is to be fully devoted to Jesus by opening our arms to those in search of the truth. We show God’s love and concern for our fellow humanity at every opportunity. Through works of charity and opening our doors to listen and love, we feel that we are walking in the footsteps of Jesus Christ.”
The God Squad, a Catholic men’s organization, whose vision through the guidance of St. Joseph, is to form and strengthen men, inspiring them to embrace God’s vocation in their lives.
Other volunteers included people from St. Peter’s, Holy Spirit and St. James churches in Calgary as well as St. Mary’s in Brooks.
Father Roy was originally from Sri Lanka and arrived in the Calgary Diocese in 2014 after having worked as a missionary in Pakistan for 38 years. Bishop Frederick Henry appointed him pastor of St. Paul’s in January 2016.
“My prayer for this community is that together we will rediscover the joy of the Gospel, bringing many people back to church by our personal witness. The youth and children are our future and together we must strive to find new ways and means to share God’s love for creation. My faith tells me, it is the work of the Lord we are doing and He will guide our steps forward,” said Father Roy.
Feeling socially anxious? This video may help.
Learn about the spotlight effect and see if this applies to you and your thoughts. If it does, calm down, walk into the room, and be yourself.
Our lifestyle and choices affect other people and the environment. We do not live in isolation even when we think that we are making private, personal, and individual acts or decisions that do not involve others. Our action and inaction have consequences on others and the world around us.
As consumers in today’s world, it can be overwhelming to make purchasing decisions that have less of a negative impact on others and the environment, as it is not as simple as it seems. For example, not all recyclables are the same. Not everything labeled as “made from recyclable materials” is actually 100% made from recyclable materials as these materials degrade in quality over time. And just because it’s recyclable doesn’t mean it’s actually being recycled especially when these products do not make their way to the recycling facilities. Recycling materials also require so much energy to process that reusing might be a better alternative to recycling. Our heads spin… we can easily burn out and give up.
In order to make good and responsible choices that support our lifestyle, it is beneficial to understand the concept of circular economy. Watch this six-minute video and learn to see beyond the products as you understand their life cycle and their impact on people and the environment.
One of the most interesting things I learned from my Gong Gong, which is Chinese for “grandpa”, was that he grew up as the tenth child in his family. That came as a profound struggle for him since his family wasn’t well-off, and as the tenth child he usually perceived or felt the lack of parental comfort that his older siblings would get more regularly. He told me this story because I, on the other hand, have grown up as an only child. This difference in growing up is how a lot of my conversations with him have centered around life advice founded in the principles of gratitude, perseverance, and honesty. I am only able to see him in person every summer for about a week or so, and I take his lessons to heart, especially now that I have been unable to go visit him in precaution of his health.
Gratitude was the first and often returned to principle that my conversations with my grandpa would go. Primarily since I was an only child, I had no siblings to worry or quarrel with regarding attention or care from my parents, which is why my grandpa instilled into me how wholly grateful I should be when I’m looked after regarding all matters of my life: food and water, shelter, education, and most importantly, a parental devotion to forming my initial relationship with God. Since my grandpa told me tales of feeling neglect, I understand that he instilled this value into me because he wanted to emphasize how extremely blessed I am and should never take it for granted.
There still are, unfortunately, times when I do take blessings for granted. However, this is where the principle of perseverance becomes critically important. I have to admit and take responsibility for arguments and mistakes I make, which is embodied by the occasions where I would argue with my grandpa since I couldn’t quite understand what he was talking about. The key takeaway from these admittedly unpleasant interactions is that after I apologize and more closely listen to him, I do not beat myself up over the argument or misunderstanding. This also goes for when I am trying to convey something to him; something that I perhaps have great difficulty explaining to him in a way he can understand, and the perseverance he helped instill in me allows me to find that way. I still cannot imagine how much he had to persevere as the tenth child in order to make his views or opinion known to his parents. This perseverance can then be carried over to many other pursuits in my life such as education and career.
As I’ve discussed with my grandpa, these two principles of gratitude and perseverance become tightly interwoven with the principle of honesty. Gratitude for blessings must be genuine, it cannot be flippant or sarcastic as that is not only disingenuous, but also a new source for arguments or making ungratefulness even more apparent. When it comes to perseverance, my grandpa helped me to draw a line between the two unhelpful extremes: giving up or setting boundaries too early, or not setting proper boundaries for myself. Honesty is required to temper both extremes and find a proper balance. For example, a particular lesson my grandpa gave me over one summer vacation was regarding the emotional drama that I found myself wrapped up in during my high school years. He told me that it was good that I wanted to do my best to help my friends through the drama, but that it should not come at a cost to my own emotional well-being. I realized after that particular conversation that I had to give up and properly step away from the emotional turmoil I had gotten entangled in during high school; and that ended up preserving my emotional health so that I could graduate from high school.
I haven’t been able to visit my grandpa in a long time, and even though we do video calls and occasionally send emails, nothing is comparable to being able to physically talk with him face to face. In honour of 2022’s World Day for Grandparents & the Elderly, I wish to convey my heartfelt gratitude to my grandpa for all the lessons and advice he has given me so far in life. I pray to be able to visit him again soon and catch up on all the time we’ve missed.
Why would 10 Syrian refugees want to visit Writing-on-Stone of all places? Well, if they are accompanied by dedicated volunteers who want to spend a day making new friends and meeting snakes head-on, then wishes fulfilled!
On June 11, 2022, several Syrian refugees, part of three families who have been settling into life in Lethbridge, Alberta, went on an outing to Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park. These families had not been outside of Lethbridge since their arrival to Canada. Some have been here a few years, and the latest just arrived on April 14 of this year. They relished the chance to see this Unesco World Heritage Site.
The entire day was very capably organized by Trudy Niggli and the CWL of Allerston Parish, a mission church of St. Peter’s Parish in Milk River. The day started with a Mass at St. Isidore Catholic Church in Allerston. It was a poignant start to a day that was heaped to the top with blessings and graces. The Mass was arranged specifically for the visiting Syrian families, so Fr. Salvador Ahumada’s sermon reflected on the experiences these families have gone through. He spoke of their forced relocation; seeing the weakness of man; leaving behind loved ones and belongings; grappling with learning a new language and culture. He exhorted them to hear the Lord calling them, to keep praying and to hope in Him. “You needed to be strong, and came here out of need, not want.”
He challenged them to be the ones who can make the change, to see God’s hand at work, and to lean on Him for strength. He also prayed that our society may once again be Christian, and to pray for the ones left behind. Fr. Sal reminded them that they had a responsibility to encourage others in the faith. We left the church feeling blessed and inspired.
After the Mass, we continued into the Writing-on-Stone Park, where George Kardoh played on his Karbouka (Egyptian hand drum) , accompanying the singing of Syrian folk songs. Everyone enjoyed the true Canadian experience of roasting hot dogs and marshmallows over the campfire, and dodging the smoke. The park guide, after a Blackfoot introduction, gave us a free tour of the petroglyphs, and a snake even said hi on our path!
A perfectly timed thunder burst after the campfire led into an impromptu and hilarious polka dance as we waited out the storm in the picnic shelter. It was truly a memorable day with new friends, and thought-filled conversations about the refugee situation.
This day came from an initiative of Fr. Kevin Tumback, pastor of All Saints Parish. He suggested pooling three parishes together to support the refugees. So St. Martha’s Parish, All Saints in Lethbridge, and Allerston Mission Parish near Milk River joined forces and the results have been heartwarming. All Saints Parish had already hosted two Syrian families, so their expertise was very helpful with settling the following two families.
Brian Wright, a long-time member of All Saints Refugee Committee says, "Our Syrian families do cause us to pause and reflect on how fortunate we are to be living in Canada. It is also wonderful to be welcomed to their family just as we have welcomed them. We are the surrogate family for them in Canada, and it is a lifetime journey of sharing, learning from each other, and supporting them in their everyday life in Canada. For us, it has been an expansion of our family."
Another long-time member, Maureen Barnard, reflected that we are the family for these refugees. "We are their security as we help them navigate a new culture, a new language and a new life. We are their friends when they feel alone. We are their advocate when they need help to find a job , or get to school or go to a doctor. We are their voice when they do not yet have a voice here in Canada. It is a journey worth walking with our refugees. We feel the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ walking right beside us, every step of the way. We have witnessed so many miracles as people come forward and give from their hearts, often providing just what was needed at the time."
Lana Takla, who arrived in Canada 6 years ago, talks about coming from a village where their whole life revolves around the two hundred and fifty or so residents plus the priest and their church. They are deeply dependent on our Lord for their daily lives and they miss that community when they come to Canada. They are in constant fellowship in Syria so they miss the other family members they have left behind.
Mazyed Takla, who came to Canada with his family in October, 2021, felt that he misses the food, the weather, their music, their friends and their homes.
George Kardoh, the most recent arrival (April of 2022), expresses that he feels welcomed and loved here in Canada but awaits anxiously the rest of his family. He feels very alone at times.
They all love the fact that they can trust a bank, the government, and they know that no one here will try to do them harm. They trust us but there are still many challenges - learning a new language, cultural and food differences, financial burdens, and the longing to be reunited with family left behind. The Refugee Committee embraces the work we do as servants of the Lord. We are His body on earth, and we are richly rewarded in this work.
“So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God.” (Ephesians 2:19)
How’s your neighbourhood? Do you know your neighbours? A good relationship with our neighbours helps us to feel at home especially in the summer when we spend more time in our yards.
Watch: How to be a better neighbour
If you realize that you do not know your neighbours at all and have not had the courage to get to know them, this video offers some helpful tips on how to break the ice and begin the art of good “neighbouring”.
Having a great neighbour is a blessing. Don’t plan to only introduce yourself when there are problems to be solved or complaints to be addressed. Be proactive and get to know them while all is well.
“…better a neighbour nearby than a relative far away.”
A good neighbour can be like family.
Contribute to growing a great neighbourhood.
I’m sitting at a workshop, flipping through the workbook and only half listening to the presenter. Then I hear her say, “Jesus is standing at the front of this room, he’s pointing to you. He’s saying, ‘I choose you!’” I look up shocked. The presenter is relating a vision her husband (in another province) had the night before. It sounds like merely an anecdote except that I was wondering at that moment if any of the challenging material we were covering was even applicable to a conscripted Eucharistic Minister like me. According to the presenter, it was not by chance or curiosity that I was here. I was called by Jesus himself. I sit up straighter and listen more attentively.
This June, as we contemplate the Sacred Heart of Jesus, it’s fitting to also contemplate how we might be called to love more like Jesus does. In his writing about devotion to the Sacred Heart, Bishop Donald J. Hying says, “If love means willing the good of the other, completely free of self-interest, we see the perfection of such charity in the burning heart of Christ. Lest we think such a love is naïve, simplistic or easy, the Sacred Heart shines forth, crowned with thorns, pierced and bleeding.”
These twin aspects of Jesus’s love for us – personal and sacrificial – are mirrored in Pastoral Care ministry. Pastoral journeying involves face-to-face, focused attention on another person. This type of love goes much deeper than good deeds. It touches people’s broken hearts and has the potential to break open our hearts in the process. That’s why pastoral care ministry requires plenty of prayer and proper training.
Recently, the Calgary diocese held a pastoral care training session facilitated by Virginia Battiste (MTS). The workshop spanned four days, over two weekends, and included topics like Pastoral Care Listening, Caring for the Aging, Grief and Loss, End of Life Care and Self Care for the Caregiver. Pastoral care is defined as offering consolation and support to a person experiencing loss or stress. This could include bereavement ministry, hospital visiting and palliative accompaniment, among others things.
I attended the session via Zoom at St. Martha Church in Lethbridge. There were about a dozen attendees from all over southern Alberta so we were able to have small-group discussions in addition to listening to the presenter from Calgary. As an Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion who takes Communion to a long term care facility, I wasn’t sure if the workshop would be applicable to me. Indeed, the first module contrasted “parish care” (which includes taking the Eucharist to shut-ins) with “pastoral care”.
Parish care is practical and often social. It might involve sharing cards, meals, rides or phone calls. It focuses on doing. Pastoral care focuses on being. It involves one-to-one listening with people who are ill, hospitalized, dying, recently bereaved or generally feeling lost and isolated. It’s all about the other person, never oneself. So though Eucharistic ministry is primarily pragmatic, it sometimes involves individuals who are sick or sad. To that extent, Eucharistic ministry can become pastoral, so Virginia Battiste’s presentation helped me to prepare for that possibility.
What does it mean to provide pastoral care?
It is about offering consolation and support in whatever form is appropriate to the other person at their time of need. It means being present, listening, trying to understand and empathize, without preaching or counselling. It is a ministry of accompaniment.
How much time does pastoral care take?
Ideally, pastoral care is offered in the context of a relationship, and relationships develop over time. However, listening happens in moments – small opportunities to receive the words which someone needs or wants to share. Often, it’s not about taking more time but about making the most of the time we have.
What are the characteristics of a pastoral caregiver?
This ministry requires patience, compassion, empathy, kindness and understanding. It asks one to be attentive to the cues and needs of the other person, to be flexible, dependable and non-judgmental. Pastoral listeners should be secure in their own identities and aware of both their strengths and their limitations.
If you feel called to pastoral listening, please consider offering your God-given talents through your parish. The need is greater than ever post-Covid. While many of us now have opportunities to share our feelings with a friend face-to-face, the same isn’t true for everyone. Some people don’t wish to ‘burden’ their friends and families with their feelings. Others still feel isolated post-pandemic and haven’t been able to return to in-person or social activities. Now more than ever pastoral outreach is needed to connect with those who feel anxious and marginalized.
Even if we don’t feel able to take on Pastoral Care ministry in all its richness, we might still employ pastoral listening in our daily lives. All around us people who are struggling and simply need to be heard; perhaps that coworker who appears forlorn or that neighbour who lost their beloved pet a month ago or even a downcast family member. We can ask, “How are you doing?” or “Would you like to talk?” and take some uninterrupted time to listen without the need to offer solutions or even affirmations. We can be a reflection of God’s sacrificial love in someone else’s life, a teeny, tiny replica of Jesus’s own Sacred Heart.
May is a month often associated with the veneration of Mary, the mother of our Lord Jesus Christ. One meaningful way to express our devotion to her is by undertaking a Marian pilgrimage. While it is common to think of organized Marian pilgrimages as the only way to embark on one, a meaningful Marian pilgrimage may be had by simply planning one that you journey alone, with another person, or with your family or a group of friends.
A key part to making a Marian pilgrimage is to embark on a physical journey to a spiritual place. This can be far which will require a considerable trek or can be short as a few blocks' walk. What is essential is the desire to offer this special homage to our Lady and to pray and reflect while going towards the destination and back. This resource provides guidance on how to make a spiritual pilgrimage (printable, one page).
Here are some suggestions of destinations for your Marian pilgrimage...
Don't miss the chance to make a pilgrimage during Our Lady of the Cape statue tour in Calgary and Canmore:
A pilgrimage may cause some frustration or inconvenience... don't complain.
Gracefully accept the sacrifice and make it an offering of love.
"May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power, and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light." Colossians 1:11-12
"Consumerism has led us to become used to an excess and daily waste of food, to which, at times we are no longer able to give a just value. Throwing away food is like stealing from the table of the poor and the hungry." Pope Francis, 2013.
About 17 percent of global food production may go wasted, according to the United Nations Environment Programme’s (UNEP) Food Waste Index Report 2021, with 61% of this waste coming from households, 26% from food service and 13% from retail.
As a good steward of our resources, we are called to do our part to reduce food waste by being more conscious of our choices and actions.
Seven quick reminders:
Even the smallest actions: reflecting on food waste, avoiding overbuying, mindful of leftovers - are movements in the right direction, sowing the seeds of change.
“It is a return to that simplicity which allows us to stop and appreciate the small things, to be grateful for the opportunities which life affords us, to be spiritually detached from what we possess, and not to succumb to sadness for what we lack.” Laudato Si' #222
In preparing for this great feasting season of Easter, we abstained, prayed and gave alms. What would happen if we lived the Easter season with as much fervour as we live Lent?
What can we do to colour our spiritual lives with Easter joy during this liturgical season?
Why should Lent be the only time we make resolutions? God has graces in store for us this season, just as he did during Lent. We only need to keep our eyes peeled so that we don’t miss them.
"fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith."
~ Hebrews 12:2
Excerpts taken from Fr. John Bartunek's article in SpiritualDirection.com:
"How can we celebrate the Easter Season more fully?"
Watch this short video on the four facts about fasting by Chris Stefanick.
Aside from fasting from food and abstinence from meat on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, the spirit of fasting goes beyond merely depriving ourselves of food. The act of fasting is an act of emptying ourselves in order to make more room for God in our lives. It is an act that tells us that we're okay even when we don't eat as much or when we do not snack at all as we focus our minds and hearts to the Lord.
Eating can often become a mindless activity that fills our boredom. Fasting reminds us that our core belongs to God and that we ought to be detached from whatever distracts us in order to be fully attached to God, to be grounded in Him.
As we fast and abstain from meat, we detach ourselves from our usual comforts and open our minds and hearts to the needs of others, especially to those who are suffering from the ravages of war. We unite our prayers in solidarity with our suffering brothers and sisters as we turn our backs on our petty concerns.
This is the spiritual workout which will help us to become saints... no longer focused on ourselves but on God and with the needs of those who are suffering.
Consider this... This sounds noble... "I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.”" (Luke 18:12) but this was the line of the Pharisee who did the right thing but did not have the right heart.
Let our fasting be one that will change the heart and the mind... may our fasting help to free us as we have been made to be free to honour and worship God.
In this very short video of Chris Stefanick, he uses a line that should make us think about our ability to not only gauge where others are but also set the stage for where others can and perhaps should be. Chris reminds the students that they have the power to bring joy in the lives of others, that we are all called to serve others in humility.
So he says, "Don't be a thermometer that gauges the temperature of that room. Be a thermostat that sets the temperature of that room."
Isn't this true? We can choose to either be passive and we become bystanders in life, or we can choose to be active and contribute to the life of others. Christ calls us to be "salt" that changes the flavour of everything.
Consider this... Does the room turn dark when you enter or does it light up when you're around? Are you remembered for your kindness and concern for others or do you just like to blend in and disappear? Christ calls us to be more!
You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot.
Catholics, or Christians in general, can sometimes forget that we are both body and soul as human beings. We are not spiritual beings like the angels even when our human nature also has a spiritual dimension. We are human beings beautifully made by God, body and soul.
How we see and treat ourselves will often shape how we see and treat others.
Christ became one of us as a human being, body and soul, in His incarnation while continuing to be God at the same time. He even bothered to be raised both in body and soul in His resurrected state because we matter. We matter to God both in body and soul and only death separates both from each other. Thus, the Lord opens for us the path of the resurrection to eternal life.
If you struggle with always being late.... It's a new year and an opportunity for an improved version of you!
Watch this video and learn from Jackie Angel (Ascension Press) on some practical tips on how to overcome this bad habit.
How to combat this habit?
Source: Jackie Angel, Ascension Press
Even moments of stress can be holy. When complaining about getting the ladder up to put up Christmas lights in the cold, a student re-framed the situation to say at least you have a house and are healthy enough to climb up! By shifting our perspectives slightly, we were able to see ordinary encounters as holy moments.
The impact of teaching and learning through the various waves of the COVID 19 pandemic has impacted everyone and affected us in different ways. We noticed in conversations that at times it was challenging to see the light along the journey. Even as faith-filled educators we had to cope with uncertainty and make sense of God’s intention for us. It is in times like these that our faith can really be our strength, if we look for it.
At our school we started with a reflection on our daily encounters. Rather than simply overlooking a helpful gesture or beautiful sunrise, we wanted to absorb those moments. Those moments can be fleeting, yet so powerful.
To transfer this to students, among several initiatives, we implemented a call to identify holy moments. One of the activities that we had students participate in was a “Holy Moments” chain. Students would add their moments to the chain which was connected and displayed in the hallways.
We found that by intentionally sharing holy moments, perspectives changed. The act of re-framing situations to see the blessings in our midst allowed us to see our call to be joyful people, who act with gratitude. However, joyful participation in the challenges of life isn’t always easy. By identifying holy moments, it has also affirmed the gift that we have in our Catholic school with faith in the Lord at all times. We walk with Jesus every day! It is a blessing to be able to journey through hard times together knowing that God calls us to lift one another up when we are down. When you stop and look for it, even on your hardest day there is a holy moment that will make you smile.
The foundation of our school as a community of faithful has not been more relevant than it is today. We need to know that God is with us. It is up to us to actually pause and notice His presence in our lives. The only question left to ask is, what holy moments have you had today?
The vocation to teach is a great gift. To authentically live one’s faith life in a Catholic School unleashes the power of the Holy Spirit, drawing those who are searching, those who are yearning to grow toward God together. Being a witness to the mighty power of the Spirit I can testify to the fact that the Spirit is moving in our schools. I have been blessed to minister to the children through weekly gatherings in our gym under the auspices of “Hymn Sing” – a time of preparation for our school liturgical life – through song, scripture, and prayer. The tiny seeds that are sown grow in places and in ways that are surprising and lovely to behold.
It was after a long weekend that a grade 3 student came running toward me in the hallway one bright Monday morning. “Mme, I have to talk to you. I had a dream last night and God wants us to have a Jesus Club at our school. I know that I love Jesus and I know that there are other kids who love Jesus too, but Mme, I don’t know who they are! We need to have a place, we need to have a time where we can find those kids and talk about this. Can you help?”
This was the beginning of our school’s Jesus Club – an idea inspired by the Holy Spirit through the enthusiasm and energy of a child who wished to live her faith authentically. Throughout that school year, 108 students, one third of our school’s population, journeyed through our lunchtime Jesus Club, growing through scripture, prayer and games to walk more closely with Our Lord.
The following school year we began, through our Hymn Sing time, to explore how to live the corporal works of mercy as a response to that year’s faith theme “Knock and the door will be opened.” The call for us to care for the needs of the poor, the need of the sick, the needs of those who are enslaved resonated deeply with the students, especially with one boy. An idea began brewing within him. A call to action soon followed. He harnessed the energy and enthusiasm of 5 of his school mates, and they formed “Little Saints: the corporal works of mercy in action”. These children championed one bottle drive each month to raise money for the St. Vincent de Paul Society, the Mustard Seed, and Feed the Hungry before COVID closed our schools last year. Through their promotion of each bottle drive, they spoke to the student body, made posters, counted, and sorted bottles and made hundreds of friendship pins and bracelets as rewards for participants.
These children who receive the Word with such loving fervor are examples to us all. They are the fertile ground on which the good seed falls and bears fruit. Their openness to the power of the Holy Spirit inspires their actions and forming tomorrow’s leaders. I am privileged to work with children every day in our Catholic schools. Their enthusiasm serves to inspire us to become like little children who receive the Word wholeheartedly and run with abandon into the vineyard of the Lord – helping His Kingdom come.
Your priests are exhausted – like everyone else I suspect. It is a form of spiritual tiredness that comes when fathers are not able to be with their families as they wish. Certainly, it is tiring to care for a family, but then again, there is a gift of life that flows from being with your family as you care for them. Those fathers (and mothers) who labour in foreign countries to send back remittance monies to support their families know one thing for sure: phone calls and Facetime are just not enough. The priests of Calgary confronted this during the pandemic year because they are not “pious bureaucrats but pastors” (Pope Benedict’s phrase) – and they miss their family-flock. Yet they also know whose priests they are: Jesus Christ’s – and the Eucharistic Lord has never abandoned them.
It was my surpassing honour to be invited by these very priests to lead them in a retreat in these – pray God! – waning days of the Pandemic. I wrote them a note:
Do you remember the beginning of this annus horribilis? Celebrating the Easter mysteries with a few people in Church. Scrambling to find ways to render virtual that which is essentially incarnational – the Eucharist. Worrying about pastoral care and meeting payroll. Who can forget the Holy Father’s solitary Urbi et Orbi prayer for the end of the pandemic? His words still challenge: “We find ourselves afraid and lost in this time to choose what matters and what passes away, a time to separate what is necessary from what is not. It’s a time to get our lives back on track with regard to you, Lord, and to others,” And so it goes on month after month. Even the most introvert of us priests have been stretched thin by the dual experience of isolation from our people and still bearing the burden of their stress. As in all times of challenge, the best and the worst of people emerged: politics and medicine divided our communities. And what about each of us? In this Retreat we will support each other as every morning we reflect on the challenge of the Holy Father’s solitary Urbi et Orbi prayer for the end of the pandemic: “We find ourselves afraid and lost in this time to choose what matters and what passes away, a time to separate what is necessary from what is not. It’s a time to get our lives back on track with regard to you, Lord, and to others.”
What can one new parish priest say to such a crew of faithful ministers? Hopefully, only what Jesus wants him say. I think it is always just a variation of Christ looking a priest in the eye saying, “You are my priest, and I love you.”
Looking a priest in the eye? Leading a retreat in pandemic times has a very strange quality: it is ‘virtual’. Conscious of a hundred pairs of priestly eyes, I could only see a checkerboard pattern of faces. But from the start as I sat and listened as they greeted each other joyfully I know that what was before me was not “virtual” at all – it was a quilt of servants of the sacraments woven by the Spirit. A quilt sustained by the prayers of God’s People in Calgary
What did the Spirit lead us to reflect on? Simply, that which is the very essence of a priest’s life: the Holy Eucharist. Indeed, we have not been able to celebrate the sacred mysteries with many others but we priests have still been able to meet our Eucharistic Lord daily. We long to respond to the longing of our people for Communion – but we also are called to respond to the intimate longing that the Lord has for each of His priests.
Did you know that there are certain prayers in the Ritual of the Mass that a priest says quietly – or to use an old phrase “secretly”? For example, as he purifies the vessels from which he has just partaken of the Body and Blood of Christ the priest whispers, “What has passed our lips as food, O Lord, may we possess in purity of heart, that what has been given to us in time may be our healing for eternity”. Every Friday morning those who pray the Divine Office recite Psalm 51 and say, “then in the secret of my heart teach me wisdom”. What is the wisdom of these intimate or “secret” prayers? This was the theme we explored in the Lord. And the Lord was gracious as He always is.
Retreats are not ever times of running away from reality – no that would be Netflix and YouTube. In a retreat one runs into the heart of reality – God’s heart. It is not a time for pious words or flowery ideas – but for the Word that meets our reality. That is what the Eucharist is: our offering of the reality of our lives to God and God giving us the Real Presence of His Son. The questions were real and raw: how do live with chaos as the rhythm of life is turned upside down? What will priesthood look like after this immersion in a separated virtual society? It seems like priests are both under a microscope and yet marginalized like the Church – where are we being led?
To the Eucharist – always to this source of our very being. And we found in the secret prayers of the answer of Jesus, “Do not be afraid, it is I”.
“You must be Olivia. We’ve been waiting for you!” These words stand out as the first time in my life I had felt genuinely welcomed. I was a cradle Catholic, but I was hesitant about faith. I’d accepted a position at a Catholic school under the guise that I’d gone to a Catholic school, so I could surely teach at one. I didn’t even really want to be a teacher – my practicum experiences had left a sour taste in my mouth (seemed apropos, given the general trajectory of my life – disappointment after disappointment after disappointment.)
Imagine my surprise when, after a totally-unexpected job offer, I walked into St. Joseph’s Collegiate in Brooks, Alberta, ready for more disappointment, only to be welcomed with the most genuine of greetings: “We’ve been waiting for you!”
Waiting? Waiting for me? For me? What for? I was a disappointment. Never good enough. Never accomplished enough. I’d always been convinced that the only thing those around me saw was my failure. I worked so, so hard to combat these beliefs, but my strength wasn’t enough. The harder I worked to prove myself, the stronger the lies about my identity piled up. I believed that I would never amount to anything worthy of love.
Those lies brought me to the brink on a regular basis. I was fractured. Cracked. Even so, the light got in. Before the Holy Spirit nudged me not-so-gently from Nova Scotia to Brooks, chance meetings with those who knew Jesus punctuated my life: Sarah, a classmate in a first-year English class at university, whose quiet faith both intrigued and unsettled me.
She’d invite me to faith activities on campus, but that just “wasn’t my style.” Claudette and Theresa, two religious sisters who frequented the gym at which I was employed. They were so, so kind, and I always felt that they saw the real me – the me that even I was incapable of fully accepting. But I never followed where I now know they were praying for my heart to be led: to Jesus.
God brought me to Brooks. Slowly but surely, He’s been delivering me from the weight of the lies I’d carried around my entire life. Over the course of the last decade and a half, He’s shown me what love looks like, and He’s revealed that love in a myriad of ways.
Don’t get me wrong. I still struggle, but now I see the lies that I believed for so long for what they are. The sure knowledge that they are lies and that God is healing me makes the weight of suffering manageable. Jesus says “my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” – this is the absolute truth.
It was with arms wide open that I was invited into my new place of employment, my new city, my new life. It was with arms wide open that I was invited to experience the miraculous healing of a loving Saviour. I’ve been a teacher with Christ The Redeemer Catholic Schools in Brooks for 14 years, and even though I have a myriad of stories that reveal the amazing opportunities Catholic education has afforded me, it’s that greeting the moment I first stepped into St. Joseph’s Collegiate – a greeting that so very much juxtaposed with the life I’d lived up until that point – that will forever be my first and most fundamental memory of Catholic Education in Brooks. It’s a love that I know intimately now, and a love that allows me to welcome others - with open arms, naturally.
Like any charity or not-for-profit, the work of our Catholic parishes is borne as much by unpaid supporters as by paid staff. Indeed, the staffs’ role often includes recruiting and coordinating volunteers to help them. It takes many hands and minds to do God’s work. So many, that we can be unaware of how much is actually being done within our parish boundaries. As a step towards recognizing the impact of volunteers we would like to highlight a few individuals from around the diocese. We hope you will recognize yourself among these people or even be inspired to assist in a different capacity.
Every volunteer is a star in their parish universe and we wish we could name and praise them all. Unfortunately our pages are limited, but our gratitude is boundless. Readers are welcome to identify the volunteers closest to their hearts by leaving a comment below.
My life used to be crazy fast-paced. I was always filling my time, planning for the future, and writing out the steps I needed to follow to get where I wanted to go. Now, I don’t know what I will be able to do tomorrow or a week from now, never mind in a few years!
This has been one of my biggest challenges living with chronic illness. Letting go of what I thought and hoped my life would be and accepting what it is.
I had formed a large part of my identity around my ability to work hard. School was always hard for me, but through a lot of work I not only managed to successfully earn my PhD in biomolecular science, I was darn good at what I did.
When my health made it clear I should switch careers, I moved into human services. My goal was to become a counselor so I did online courses towards a Masters program. As my health caused me to slow things down, I had to calm my stubborn and competitive sides and let go of this goal. With each step “backwards” I was very frustrated with the limitations I faced. However, I also found I preferred the little things to the big I had been pursuing. So I started an online business (Lisza’s Gifts) that allows me to use both the analytical and creative parts of my mind and might provide some long-term financial support as it grows.
Through my many years of school I learned to ask questions and accept help. But I have discovered that it is not as easy to ask for help with personal things. My health is such that there are often days when showering is so exhausting I need to nap, so how am I supposed to clean my house? Or when I’m in a crazy amount of pain and I need my “good” painkillers but I can’t get up to get them, how am I supposed to prepare food? I knew that eventually my Crohn’s colitis and other conditions (both identified and those still under investigation), would leave me homebound, but in my early 30s? This was completely unexpected.
Right now, my life seems to be all waiting. Waiting to get lab results. Waiting for the referral to yet another specialist. Waiting for more tests. Waiting in the ER. In these times of waiting, grace upon grace is granted. I receive help from family and friends to shovel snow, grocery shop, pick up prescriptions, drive me to and from appointments and the ER. I have the prayers of many people and the time to pray for them in return. I get to spend more time learning about my faith and myself. I have started to learn how to focus on what I need more than what I need to do.
In 2020 my health went from inconvenient to unbearable. The worst part? The doctors do not know how to improve my situation. I don’t know why half my symptoms start or why some of them randomly stop. I either need to sleep a ridiculous amount or I get insomnia. If I’m lucky, I have 4 good days between my Crohn’s treatments every 4 weeks. I struggle with the loneliness and isolation; then I struggle with having patience with the people I do speak with.
I believe that most people would say that I have more bad in my life than good, but I cannot control my circumstances. I can only control how I respond to them. It has been a steep learning curve to reach a place where I have largely accepted that my health will dictate more about my life than other factors. However, that doesn’t make it easy and I grieve every time.
I think most of us learned in 2020 how we are less in control than we thought. I think the quote stating that we are all in the same storm, but in different boats applies well. There are things we can do to improve the ride even though we cannot change the storm, such as remembering that Christ is in the boat with each one of us.
As I put away the last of the Christmas decorations and sweep up the tinsel amidst the fallen pine needles of the tree, my thoughts are turning towards the coming weeks. During the past Christmas season, we’ve been celebrating and contemplating the birth of Our Lord and Saviour. We’ve decorated our homes with festive cheer, brightened our mantles with Nativity scenes, and filled our tables with delicious things to eat and drink. Now we enter into Ordinary Time of the Church, and for some, this can seem like a return to the mundane. As a member of Opus Dei, I welcome this time of the year and see it as an opportunity to begin again, to find greater meaning and fulfilment in my ordinary, daily work and life, and most of all to grow in my friendship with Christ.
Everyday brings a new struggle to transform the little things of ordinary life into an encounter with Our Lord ... it starts when my alarm goes oﬀ at 5 and I welcome the new day in which to serve Him. It’s my favourite time of day, I’m the only one up and I can spend some quiet time in mental prayer and spiritual reading. I usually order my day with hours of work making sure there’s time for God throughout. One of those times is daily Mass where again I oﬀer my entire day and talk to Our Lord in the depths of my heart. I also try and make it outside, even when it’s cold, to shake the cobwebs out of my head, go for a walk and say the rosary. While meditating on the mysteries of Our Lord’s life, I’m also able to appreciate the beauty of God’s creation, the crunch of snow under my boots, the roll of the foothills meeting the mountains, the big blue Alberta skies.
Back in the house, there are meals to make, rooms to tidy, paperwork to be done. Yet each duty brings with it an opportunity to pray for someone, to do my work well, and to make it a pleasing offering to God. Making time for friends is a must and during this pandemic, it has been a challenge. However, FaceTime and Zoom with family and friends brighten the day. There are so many lonely people out there just waiting to hear a friendly voice, someone’s laughter, to comfort and encourage them. I end the day thanking our Lord for all the blessings, seeing Him in everyone I met or talked to; I ask forgiveness for those times I did not please Him, knowing that tomorrow brings a new day, a new beginning.
Time with family and friends always brings cheer to these wintry months. Our family welcomed the winter season with great anticipation, as we enjoy many of the winter sports. My husband Brian is an excellent skier. He put all four sons on skis before they were two. And if we weren’t skiing we were tobogganing down the nearby hills or snowshoeing in the back 40. If you live in Canada you’ve got to learn to embrace the snow and cold. Bundle up and get outside. You will find all of the Siray’s outdoors during the winter months. We also discovered that it brought us closer together as a family ... lots of laughter, good conversations, and praying together. Now that Fr. Nathan is in Canmore, it provides an excellent opportunity to make a pilgrimage to Our Lady of the Rockies, to pray and to see our son. His vocation to the priesthood has been such a blessing for our family ... always encouraging and lifting us up when needed, joining in the family celebrations when he’s able, playing with his nieces and nephews.
Thus this Ordinary Time in the Church is anything but ordinary, it’s a time of grace and thanksgiving. A time to walk with Our Lord and his disciples while meditating on the Gospels. One must strive to listen to His words and deepen one's knowledge and friendship with Him. A time to care for those around you, to smile, to give encouragement to those in need. A time to look for joy and be optimistic about the future. A time to discover the richness of your ordinary life.
Novelist Jeanine Cummins uses these lines from Chilean poet Pablo Neruda´s poem “The Song of Despair” as an epigraph in her novel “American Dirt.” The novel tells the story of a mother and son from the State of Guerrero in Mexico who wage an unbelievable struggle for life and freedom from the violence that engulfs this state and others in Mexico.
Just the other day I received a phone call from Paloma, a young mother from Guerrero who is in hiding with her husband Santiago and three small children. I have known Paloma since she was born. She has no formal education, but she is an incredible young woman and a great mother. Santiago’s two brothers were recently murdered by members of a crime cartel; Santiago managed to escape, but everyone in the village knows that his name is on the hit list. I helped the family contact a human rights organization that is trying to get them asylum in another country. However, due to the COVID pandemic, all of that paperwork is presently on hold, and the family remains in hiding.
Impoverishment, violence, corruption, discrimination, impunity, injustice … these are the daily fare of too many indigenous people living in the mountains of the State of Guerrero. The reason that the above-mentioned lines from Pablo Neruda come to my mind is that Mission Mexico has for twenty years been a “fruit” for many in the midst of the “thirst and hunger” of this reality; it has been “the miracle” for many in the midst of the “grief and ruins” of this reality.
Since the year 2000, Mission Mexico has been accompanying the people of “the Mountain” of Guerrero. Approximately 500,000 people from three indigenous cultures (Na´savi, Me’phaa, Nahua) live spread out among 700 towns and villages. Mission Mexico has partnered with several trustworthy Mexican organizations to promote projects related especially to health, education, and self-sufficiency. Transformation of such a difficult reality has never been easy, but Mission Mexico has earned the gratitude of thousands of families living in this poorest region of the country of Mexico.
Now there is COVID. Everything has changed. People have gotten ill and died. It is hard to give numbers because most of the people seldom go to a hospital; medical care always involves expenses. People have lost jobs, due to the closure of all kinds of businesses. Financial assistance from illegal workers in the United States who typically send money to their families each month has diminished.
Education has been particularly hard hit. At the present time, there is no face-to-face, classroom education in the Mountain of Guerrero. Everything is meant to be online learning, using either television or the Internet. This presents an almost impossible situation for thousands of families in remote villages in the mountains.
I used the expression that “everything is meant to be online learning” on purpose, because many teachers, realizing that their students have little or no access to computers or television, are going to the villages with photocopied worksheets: they leave “homework” with the students and return two weeks later to pick up the completed worksheets and to leave more. It’s not an ideal situation for many reasons: teachers risk contagion during their travels; many parents are illiterate and can’t assist their children; if a student falls behind, there is no remedial assistance. But I admire the teachers for trying to do what they consider is best for their students.
Mission Mexico began helping sixteen years ago to build the Champagnat High School of the Mountain, a residential school for impoverished indigenous youth; it is run by a Mexican religious order, the Marist Brothers. And Mission Mexico has a bursary program for university students from particularly needy families. The hundreds of students from the high school and university are involved now in online learning, which often means that students have to move to a town where there is Internet service. The support for the high school and for the bursary program is vital to the success of the students in this endeavor.
However, it is almost impossible for Mission Mexico to meet the “usual” goals in terms of financial support. COVID has hit the Diocese of Calgary too. The level of donations to Mission Mexico has diminished. This is understandable, and I assure the people of the Diocese of Calgary that their “friends” in the Mountain of Mexico are praying for them.
I also hope and pray that as the “thirst and hunger” and “grief and ruins” of the indigenous peoples here hit almost desperate levels, God might touch the hearts of people in the Diocese of Calgary to extend their generosity, so that Mission Mexico might continue accompanying these very needy people is this time of very real need. Every looney or tooney helps.
Please consider going to the donation page on the website missionmexico.com or giving during the special collection that the Diocese of Calgary is promoting in parishes on December 12 & 13, the weekend of the feast day of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Your solidarity will change lives here.
Catholic Pastoral Centre Staff and Guest Writers