Watch this video and learn about a very simple financial principle that will require some discipline to live faithfully.
*The video is used for illustration purposes and is not an endorsement of the financial institution.
We must all live within our means. Even with more money, without any clear purpose, we can spend more than we make. Without this clear purpose, we can get into debt which causes a lot of negative impact on our spiritual, mental, and even physical well being.
Let's keep these in mind:
Consider this... does your money own you or do you use your money to serve God and His purpose for you?
Honour the LORD with your wealth, with the first fruits of all your crops; then your barns will be filled to overflowing, and your vats will brim over with new wine." Proverbs 3:9-10
In his recent apostolic visit to Cyprus and Greece, Pope Francis addressed the youth...
"Realize that your worth is in who you are and not what you have. Your worth is not in the brand of the dress or shoes you wear, but because you are unique.
Here I think of another ancient image, that of the sirens. Like Odysseus on his voyage home, in the course of this life, which is an adventure-filled journey to the Father’s House, you too will come across sirens. In mythology, the sirens by their songs enchanted sailors and made them crash against the rocks.
Today’s sirens want to charm you with seductive and insistent messages that focus on easy gains, the false needs of consumerism, the cult of physical wellness, of entertainment at all costs... All these are like fireworks: they flare up for a moment, but then turn to smoke in the air. I understand, they are not easy to resist."
(Athens, December 6, 2021)
Consider these during Advent...
Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart." Psalm 37:4
In 2017, Canada Post broke a record for most parcels delivered in a day - 1.83 million. And this was pre-COVID. Watch this video and learn the best options out there for your Christmas shopping.
Consider these for faithful living:
Remember that Christmas ends after the the feast of the Baptism of the Lord on Sunday, Jan. 9, 2022. It does not matter what you give as presents for others. It's the heart and thought behind the gifts that matter.
Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver." 2 Corinthians 9:7
Often our "privatized" and individualistic mentality or lifestyle can make us believe that we live in isolation, and that our lifestyle choices only affect ourselves individually, "My choices, my life." But we belong to one another and no matter how private our actions are, they affect others through a ripple effect either directly or indirectly. If we believe that our life and all of creation are gifts from God, we owe it to God to care for one another by caring and preserving our biodiversity.
Fundamentally, we depend entirely on the planet’s living systems for survival. We’re a part of these systems and we cannot exist without them. The better we understand how the systems of life work, the more sustainably we can live. The less we know, the more likely we’re going to continue causing irreparable damage to Earth’s ecosystems. (Source: Dr. Peter Raven).
Ecological destruction and the loss of biodiversity obscure our ability to see and experience God, and are an affront to the Creator. The fate of the natural world and human life are fully intertwined. Ecological destruction harms human life, and human social injustice inevitably has ecological consequences. Source:Celebrate Life: Care of Creation, 1998, The Bishops of Alberta and NWT.
Consider these for faithful living:
One major contributor to the world's waste problem is fast fashion and textile waste. An average person throws away 37 kg of textiles annually and North American send over 10 million tonnes of clothing to landfill every year. Globally, new garments produced annually now exceeds 100 billion, double the amount compared to the year 2000. (Source: WCWRCanada)
This infographic tells the story of textiles in Canada, from the first shoemaker to what it will take for our circular textile future.
Consider these for faithful living:
Every year a significant proportion of electronic waste (E-waste) is exported from high-income countries like Canada to lower-income countries. There, e-waste is dismantled, recycled and refurbished in environments where infrastructure, training and environmental and health safeguards may be non-existent. (Source: WHO)
The eye-opening video documentary: Welcome to Sodom - shows how children and adolescents in Agbogbloshie, a waste site in Ghana, dismantle recycled electronics in toxic smoke. Here, a child eating just one local chicken egg will absorb 220 times of the daily limit for intake of chlorinated dioxins.
But there is hope. And it can start with us. This infographic tells the story of E-Waste, from the invention of the telephone, to the story of the first electronics recycling program in Alberta, and to what it will take for a circular future.
Consider these for faithful living
My heart was indelibly wounded in July 2018, when my 8-year-old son Caleb died suddenly. In prayer, God has revealed that some of the wounds that I have because of this traumatic event and the aftermath are because of my own disordered expectations of myself.
Shortly after Caleb died, there was a video circulating on social media about a woman whose family had been murdered, extolling her faith and the joy that she exuded despite the tragedy she had experienced. I don’t know how much time had elapsed since this woman’s tragedy, but I felt that I too should, after only a few short months, be joyful and inspiring others with my faith. Because of the expectations I had of myself, it was very hard to talk to others about my all-encompassing grief. I felt like I had nothing to offer anyone. I thought that because my grief was so big that if I shared my feelings people would not be able to handle it and they would leave, so I pushed them away. Somehow, I felt that it was better to push others away than for them to walk away. In the resulting loneliness and isolation, I learned to turn to God, spending time with Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, in His passion and on the cross. God also brought friends into my life with whom I felt I could share a small part of my grief. They blessed me with their presence, and I blessed them with mine.
In January, we celebrated Caleb’s third birthday in heaven. It was on Caleb’s birthday that God revealed to me in a particularly poignant way how He loves me (and all of us) through others. A person very dear to me, whom I had pushed away, offered my family a gift. When it was first offered, I was mortified, and I told myself that I could not accept it. I realized, through this reaction, how much I am and have been ashamed of my grief. I don’t want people to see my brokenness, even though all of us experience grief and brokenness in many ways. I wanted to be seen as healed, holy, joyful, and inspiring, and I thought that my brokenness got in the way. Yet it is in our brokenness that we find God. When we try to hide our flaws and imperfections, we are closing the door on God’s work in our lives, much like how Jesus could do little work in Nazareth because of their unbelief (Matthew 13:58). As I deliberated whether I should accept this gift, in prayer God clearly told me, “Let this person love you.” I listened to His voice and received this gift. In receiving it, I was able to encounter God and His awesome love for me.
I had hardened my heart to others for so long, trying to prevent it from being hurt, trying to avoid rejection and derision because of my own pain and brokenness, but in the process, I hurt my heart more than those people ever could have. I didn’t realize how God was trying to love me through others or the wounds I had inflicted on myself because of my unreasonable and unattainable expectations. Yet because God spoke to me so clearly in the “let this person love you,” I was able to reject the temptation to refuse a gift offered in love. As I received this gift, which fulfilled much of what I was unwilling to admit that I needed, I could feel God’s all-encompassing love.
While I felt assured of God’s love previously, I hadn’t realized how deeply God wanted to love me through others. For one person, it was a small act of love, but it was an all-embracing act of love from God. God demonstrated a small part of His infinite love for us all, a love that brought me peace, calm, and His personal love for me on a day that brings much anguish to this mother’s heart.
Let yourself be loved, in the way He wants to love you.
The painful truth is that I never knew my grandfather, at least in any way that a grandchild should. My grandfather went overseas to fight in the first world war, full of pride. But he returned, like so many other young men, broken in spirit. In the years after his marriage to my grandmother, life afforded him little opportunity beyond labour as a brick layer. He tried to be a man of faith, but with every bottle he drank, his sense of worth diminished. When his body finally became too tired to work, his waning years disappeared before the television screen, his mind consumed by his addiction. Whatever mercy he asked for in his final days, there is no doubt he carried tremendous pain to the grave.
How many of us carry the memories of those whose stories leave us with no tale of redemption, no dramatic moment of grace to close the curtain of life, no bright ray of hope shining on their horizon. We are left sorting through the broken dreams and fractured relationships to find a goodness we can hold up, something to tell us this life meant something.
During the month of November, the Church encourages the faithful to spend 30 days praying for the dead. Pope Francis has said: “Church tradition has always urged prayer for the dead, in particular by offering the celebration of the Eucharist for them: It is the best spiritual help that we can give to their souls, particularly to the most abandoned ones.”
It is in the words of his predecessor, Benedict XVI, where I find great hope in the gift of purgatory, the time when God purifies those souls who long to know the peace of His eternal presence, but still carry the scars and sin of this life on earth. Benedict XVI offers these words for us:
Purgatory basically means that God can put the pieces back together again. That he can cleanse us in such a way that we are able to be with him and can stand there in the fullness of life. Purgatory strips off from one person what is unbearable and from another the inability to bear certain things, so that in each of them a pure heart is revealed, and we can see that we all belong together in one enormous symphony of being.”
My grandfather lost a part of his soul on the battlefields. In this month to come, I will be praying that God, even now, is putting the pieces back together again, through His holy fire cleansing and making my grandfather whole in spirit, so he can at last rest eternally at peace in the presence of our Holy God. And for my own penance, for the times I have walked by the broken and depressed, and have not thought to share the hope found in Christ’s redemption,
I will give alms this month in support of veterans who are still living through the trauma of war for the sake of my freedom. Have mercy on us all, O Lord, and lead us safely Home.
Written by Lance Dixon, Director of Campus Ministry at St. Mary's University
For the August edition of Faithfully, we asked sacred artist Maria Muszynski, founding member of Sacred Guild of Alberta, a Lay Association in the Diocese of Calgary, to share about her journey in the sacred arts.
Why becoming a sacred artist?
I was born an artist. But why the sacred arts? I have been journeying towards this path my whole life. A journey shaped by childhood experiences, unexpected circumstances, and twists of fate.
My father was a Polish soldier who fought with the Allied army and my mother was a refugee in a displaced persons camp. After the war, by chance, they both decided to settle in Calgary. My mother converted to Catholic Christianity when she agreed to marry my father. Mother’s side of the family were Russian Orthodox and we celebrated Christmas and Easter (twice!) with the extended family. On occasion I attended the All Saints Russian Orthodox Church and feasted my eyes on the iconostasis which separated the sanctuary from the nave. From the cadence and the passion of the choral voices singing the liturgy in the loft, to the intense images that were illuminated by hundreds of candles lit by the faithful – all of these elements left an indelible impression that shaped my sensibilities and my soul.
In comparison, the Queen of Peace Polish Catholic Church - which was the church we attended - was innovative on the outside (built in 1968 and shaped like a gleaming white teepee) but bereft of warmth inside because of its plain concrete walls and lack of imagery (minimalism and constructivism was “in”). Only a framed copy of the Black Madonna of Czestochowa, Queen of Poland, resided above the altar. Over the years, as the population of Polish immigrants increased, many contributed their talents to the beautification of the church. Today the stained-glass windows, once plain, resonate with stories while the walls are warmed with carved traditional architectural features and religious imagery. It is a testament to the transformational power of art and faith.
I began my personal journey into the sacred arts when St. Mary’s University offered a Sacred Arts certificate program. The first course I took was Painting in the Western Renaissance Tradition. Other courses followed – traditional iconography, calligraphy and illumination, and even stained glass. A trip to Italy to see the glories of Rome, Florence and Ravenna was a special highlight. In 2014, I was one of 5 students to complete the requirements for the certificate in the Foundations of Sacred Art. The Sacred Arts Guild of Alberta (SAGA) was conceived by a handful of like-minded souls who wished to delve even deeper. SAGA brings in local and international specialists in illumination, iconography, calligraphy, sculpture - and in the near future Byzantine mosaic - to nourish the skills and spirits of our guild membership leading to a wonderful resurgence in the creation of sacred arts here in Alberta.
Share about other artists who inspired you
My journey has taken me through many mentors most notably iconographer Peter Murphy, David Clayton (The Way of Beauty) and the brilliant illuminator Jeb Gibbons. I am also inspired by the traditional work of Aidan Hart, and the contemporary style of Philip Davydov, among others. I am drawn both to the classical Greek/Byzantine and Romanesque style of icons, and to Marian images in particular because of my Polish heritage. Like Saint John Paul, faith in Mary kept me strong through many trials and tribulations including surviving cancer.
Sacred art is not ‘art’, it is theology, it is a way of praying and connecting with God and all His wonderful creation. I am humbled that people have expressed their admiration of what I do, but I thank the spirit of God who moves through me when I sit and begin the first line. Every stroke is meditative and reflective and prayerful. It is an act of salvation, my connection to the divine. Peter Murphy and Aidan Hart believe that a fragment of heavenly reality is revealed within the sacred image, as it is revealed in the holy Scriptures and through the blessed sacrament. It is ‘extraordinary’ in every sense of the word.
Any advice for novices in sacred art?
The best advice for beginning sacred artists is to be mindful while you are working – hold the focus and pray. Breathe. Practice your drawing skills which is key. Find a good teacher or mentor who inspires you. Learn from everyone you can and practice. The typical stereotype of the hermit monk writing icons alone in his hovel does not fit today, so find and join a community of similar-minded artists. And practice more. Do not worry about the medium you use because it is the message of the image and the intent of the artist that are more important.
Writing an icon is like praying twice. “Lord Jesus Christ, God of all, enlighten us, imbue the soul, the heart, the intellect of Your servant.” So begins the iconographer’s prayer. And is it still relevant today? In the age of Covid-19 and all its’ uncertainties and anxieties - more than ever.
I remember going past the dorm buildings, down the hill, through the cafeteria, and out into the coulees in the Oldman River. It was dark out — the University of Lethbridge hadn’t installed the floodlights yet — and so the only light I could see by was the moon reflecting off of the clouds, sailing eastward on a full chinook wind. I came to the crest of the coulees and just stood there, unsure of exactly what was going on or what exactly I was hoping to accomplish by getting fresh air.
And that’s when He came to me.
The song’s chorus goes:
“And He walks with me, and He talks with me,
And He tells me I am His own,
And the joy that we share as we tarry there
None other has ever known.”
It sounds cliché, and it probably is, but I can’t deny that I felt the presence of the Holy Ghost there that night, riding in on the wind, wrapping me tightly in His embrace, teaching me that I am beloved regardless of my academic abilities. To accept that God loves me as a cerebral exercise is one matter, but to experience it in the heart is another matter entirely. I think I began to understand this all more clearly that night. I felt peace in the midst of the academic storm, and joy in the midst of personal trial. Most importantly, I knew that I was His own.
I stood on the coulees for quite some time, the wind washing over me and carrying all of my anxieties out to Saskatchewan (or wherever the chinook winds go). When I finally left to return to another few hours of pounding my keyboard, I knew that regardless of how my academic work turned out, of more importance was that I would turn out, because I have a loving God who will light a lamp and sweep the house to find His lost coin.
I would go on walks outside again throughout my degree whenever I was overwhelmed and anxious; even now, it has been a very present help in the midst of the pandemic. And still, every so often, God finds me on these walks and speaks with me in my heart, and we share that joy together that “none other has ever known”.
Written by Solomon Ip, a parishioner of St. John the Evangelist, Calgary.
One of Calgary’s newest vegetable gardens is located in the backyard of Elizabeth House (EH), a maternal care home that’s now growing ready-to-eat plants alongside healthy babies. In a world hungry for good news, this project fits the bill, says Michelle Haywood, program manager at Elizabeth House.
Opened by the Catholic Diocese of Calgary more than 20 years ago, Elizabeth House provides supportive housing to at-risk pregnant and parenting women who need a safe place to live. Seeded into two new raised beds, this year’s inaugural garden is busy growing everything from lettuce to tomatoes, carrots and squash. It’s also nurturing at least one young resident’s interest in vegetable production—and it all began with a group of Catholic men who dared ask the folks at EH a simple question: How can we help?
The raised beds, like every other landscape revitalization project undertaken at Elizabeth House since 2017, were built by the St. Peter’s Council of the Knights of Columbus. That’s the year the council’s Grand Knight Peter Dugandzic reached out to Haywood. That conversation laid the foundation of a relationship that’s flourished over four years, thousands of dollars and hundreds of volunteer hours.
“What the Knights have done here is amazing, but it’s about more than landscaping,” notes Haywood. “There’s also a sense of being cared for by this group of gentlemen offering their hands and hearts to help us. It’s hard to put that kind of support into words.”
Love in action
By 2018, Dugandzic was leading a group of Knights of Columbus in some serious hands-on work. Together, the men transformed the home’s weed-filled backyard into a summer oasis, complete with new sod and a new patio, outdoor furniture, a barbecue, perimeter shrub beds and an underground sprinkler. That same year, another council based in Airdrie provided the labour to re-side EH’s home and detached garage.
Last year, the Knights tackled the home’s front yard, again adding fresh sod, shrubs and irrigation.
“Everybody was pretty excited when Peter brought the idea to the council,” remembers Lu Scarpino. Sworn in as the Grand Knight at St. Peter’s this July, Scarpino was the council treasurer when the project began. “Elizabeth House is doing great work and it’s nice to be able to support that. I think we’ve built a relationship that will continue for many years,” adds Scarpino.
Fr. Jonathan Gibson agrees. The pastor at St. Peter’s parish, Fr. Gibson says the relationship between the knights and Elizabeth House reinforces the governing principles of the Knights of Columbus. Charity, unity, fraternity and patriotism have all been strengthened by the project, says the priest. He views the relationship between the Knights of Columbus and Elizabeth House as a real-world example of how these knights live the heart of the gospel by doing work that cares for the women and children who live at Elizabeth House.
With the vegetable garden beds built and seeded, Dugandzic and Haywood are now focused on relocating a grotto built on the grounds of the original EH site in the Mission district. The stone work will be done by the same skilled tradesmen who built the grotto and one at the new Our Lady of the Rockies church in Canmore. The statue of Mary is being repainted by Dugandzic’s wife, Dorothy Voytechek. The new grotto will include a glass panel to protect the statue from the elements.
The grotto will be added to the backyard; already a place of refuge for residents, their children and EH staff, says Haywood. Given the complications of COVID-19, she knows the Knights at St. Peter’s didn’t have their usual opportunities to fundraise in 2020. That means some of the costs incurred were covered by individual knights and their families.
Dugandzic, who’s already working with Elizabeth House on projects for 2021, says he launched the EH project as a way to invigorate the Knights he led. Looking back, he admits the project’s success goes way beyond the physical spaces they created. “Elizabeth House is dear to our hearts. We like the work that they do. That house is nearly always full and it feels good to know our knights have helped make it an even more special place.”
Written by Joy Gregory for Faithfully
Written by Christina Candra, a parishioner of St. Joseph's Parish in Calgary.
If the last several months have reinforced anything, it is the extraordinary grace of an ordinary moment lived well. Faced with an abrupt “stripping away” of the extras that made life very full, our little family has had to work hard to claim, in simplicity and joy, the identity of domestic church. It has been challenging and edifying to see the ordinary, mundane moments through the lens of faith.
In the slowing down, we are becoming more aware of the opportunity these moments present to us. We have come to understand more deeply the invitation to elevate them and give glory to God through them. We hunger and thirst for Christ in the Eucharist, for the community life of our parish, for song, and the opportunity to embrace our friends. Yet this hunger has also made all the more clear to me that my little family is the microcosm of that greater Church reality! We are the image of Trinitarian love to the world, through our faithful and fruitful love for each other. As St. John Paul the Great reminds us in Familiaris Consortio, “...the family has the mission to guard, reveal and communicate love, and this is a living reflection of and a real sharing in God's love for humanity and the love of Christ the Lord for the Church His bride.” And so we seek ways to tangibly image His love to our children, and through them to those around us. It is incredible how ordinary realities can become imbued with incredible spiritual symbolism. Take, for instance, a picnic!
With four small children there is nothing perfect about the planning, preparing, and living out of a picnic adventure! There is mess, there are spills, there are little hands fumbling at sandwich making and mommy working very hard to keep her patience, while daddy sweats to load enough supplies in the car for what seems like a month’s trip. There is immense effort in the instruction, between the extra time everything takes and the imperfection of the end result. Truly, my humanity rebels a little against the effort when it could be done so quickly and neatly by only me! However, I know that this is a perfect moment of learning in the schools of service and forgiveness. Inevitably I will slip in my patience once or twice as we prepare our food or load it all up. I apologize and ask for forgiveness, and they willingly grant it. I have come to realize that family life is made all the more vibrant by the ready asking for and granting of forgiveness. Certainly, the outcome of our preparations will be rustic. Yet, I am convinced that we have no idea how these moments of family unity, service to each other, and joyful celebration imprint themselves as bookmarks of joy on our children’s little souls.
Every good picnic begins with the preparation. As we plan what we will bring and how we will prepare it, we look to both simplicity and beauty. We pause to admire the vibrant red of a strawberry, the perfection of the inside of our watermelon, or even the gorgeous seedy crust on a loaf of bread. I say out loud, “thank you Lord for the gift of this beautiful food!”. In that moment our children are formed in the habit of gratefully walking through the day communicating with their Creator. We remind them often that grateful people are joyful people. Is there a more beautiful reflection of God’s love to the world than our joy? Possibly not! Even more profoundly, we can recall that the word Eucharist comes from the greek, eucharisteo, or thanksgiving! In this way our simple, thankful, picnic preparations remind us of the Bread of Life.
The time comes to enjoy the fruit of our labour. With our feet in the earth and our lungs filled with healing air, again we give thanks for beauty so tangible as to point our hearts directly to the Giver of all these good gifts. While we enjoy our simple picnic meal together, my husband and I meet each other’s gaze. We do not need to use words to communicate to each other that we are rejoicing in this sacred moment. Our sweet children, noticing that gaze, feel safe and sound in our family’s love. Their little hearts know, despite the chaos that may be in the world around us, that life is very good and we are held by Love. This is the extraordinary grace of an ordinary moment lived well.
Written by Emily Packard for Faithfully. Emily and her family are parishioners of St. Patrick's Parish in Calgary.
Photos courtesy of Emily Packard
Written by Emily Rochford. The Rochford family are parishioners of Sacred Heart Parish in Strathmore, AB.
It is June and the time of year when our young people complete their studies and gather for the celebration of their graduation. But this year is different. The COVID-19 Coronavirus restrictions have curtailed the in-person gatherings and reshaped them into “virtual graduations.” This is new for all of us but it should not diminish in any way the joy we feel at seeing young people succeed whether it be the milestone of a graduation from kindergarten or the graduation from Grade 8, Grade 12, College or University.
I add my voice to the good wishes and encouragement which our graduates of 2020 are receiving. You are a graduating class with unique stories to tell and we anticipate the wisdom of your insights and leadership in the future. The following are for your reflection as you celebrate the completion of studies and look toward the next steps – be it further studies, a career, a religious vocation or some time to chart your future path in life.
The impact of a Catholic education was recently highlighted by Dr. Anthony Fauci, MD who has had a critical role in the pandemic leadership for the United States. Dr. Fauci graduated from Regis High School and in his own words he stated the “tenets of the Jesuit tradition sustained him throughout his life and career.” The imprint of a Catholic Education shapes the character of a person in striving to live a life of goodness but also in assuming roles of responsibility in promoting the common good in both ordinary and extraordinary forms of service.
As graduates of 2020 it seems to me that you are being offered three important lessons during this pandemic.
In a recent video message to young people commemorating the 100th anniversary of St. John Paul II's birth, Pope Francis spoke about the challenges and obstacles faced by St. John Paul II as a young man and how his deep faith enabled him to overcome them. Pope Francis expressed the hope that the life and faith of St. John Paull II would “inspire within you the desire to walk courageously with Jesus, who is “the Lord of risk, he is the Lord of the eternal ‘more.’" (Pope Francis, May 18, 2020)
Graduates of 2020, persevere in prayer, follow the promptings of the Holy Spirit and know that the Lord who calls you to embrace His Love will accomplish good works in and through you. Seek the “eternal more” as you celebrate your graduation in 2020.
I am weak. I can’t do life on my own. I am in need of a Saviour. This is what the Covid-19 pandemic has taught me.
My eyes welled up with tears as I knelt to pray after receiving the Eucharistic Jesus for the first time since public celebration of Holy Mass was suspended in the Diocese of Calgary. Staring transfixed at the crucifix, I prayed: Jesus, I need you. I’m helpless without you. I surrender.
This is not how my Covid-19 experience began.
Energy and even some excitement characterized the initial weeks of cancellations. To keep calm, I adopted a laid back attitude, got outside for walks and practised gratitude. My husband Ben and I head up a domestic church with five children ranging from 8 months to nine years old. I loved trading in my hectic chauffeur duties, for a simpler, slower lifestyle at home together. I experienced what it’s like to truly be the primary educator of my children and to boot, there were countless free resources and professionals offering virtual help.
I appreciated the empathy and compassion that society showed with the ‘we will get through this together’ mentality. I actually believed, at least on the surface, that: ‘I’ve got this.’ I experienced a vision for our domestic church that I had never dared to dream before.
But then, panic set in. What is going to happen once things open up again? Will it all seem like a dream? I noticed myself getting agitated, anxious and angry. I started to lose my peace because there were many aspects of this new life I wanted to retain, but I feared it might not be possible.
Being confined to household isolation 24/7 for months felt like a monastic existence. I could not run, nor could I hide from my own weaknesses that were barriers to fully loving my family as myself. I finally had to confront them and it was like a lightning bolt struck my heart waking me from my slumber.
I knew I was made for more. My unease felt so contrary to the holy woman I was striving to become. So I prayed for humility and courage to vulnerably peel off my camouflage. I desired to see myself the way God sees me. And through His grace, I discerned a call to a new radical self-acceptance; to become even more myself because God has even bigger plans for my life!
What I discovered through prayer and conversation is that while I possess many creative talents, I score lower in the practical skills to keep a home running smoothly. I had been holding myself to a very high standard for which I didn’t have the natural skill to peacefully pull off.
Early one morning, I walked to St. Pius X Church in Calgary and knelt outside looking through the window in adoration of Our Lord. I no longer felt trapped in silence and shame over my shortcomings, but rather felt freedom to address my challenges head on with compassion and mercy both for myself and others. Little did I know that only a couple weeks later, I would finally be reunited sacramentally with the healing, life-giving presence of Our Lord.
My greatest desire is to become a saint and for those with eyes of faith, Covid-19 continues to be a holy time where both our challenges and blessings can be used to become like Christ. While we are collectively undergoing this pandemic together, our experience is uniquely ours. Following this article are six reflections from a new university graduate, a mother, a teacher, a single person, a senior and a pastor –– each made in the likeness and image of God, each giving God glory with their lives.
Written by Sara Francis for Faithfully
My 27 years as an educator and administrator with the Calgary Catholic School District has afforded me a myriad of gifts in the countless number of students and families I have served and the inspiring colleagues I have worked alongside. It has also given me much to reflect on in terms of my vocation. At the center of this calling is my faith. It has become that intrinsic piece of my identity as an educational leader in my school community and in the school district.
I am blessed to work in a rich faith-filled environment at St. Clare elementary school with colleagues that have a similar desire for the intentional permeation of our Catholicity. After arriving at this location five years ago, I launched a weekly staff prayer initiative which faithfully continues years after its beginning.
From its inception, colleagues would voluntarily sign-up on a morning to sharing a prayer and a short meaningful reflection of their choice. Many also include a song or a video to highlight theme or topic of prayer. Most importantly, intentions are offered for various individuals in need. This initiative has been well-received by staff with several faithfully attending on a regular basis since its beginning a few years ago. With many present, the venue has seen a pilgrimage from the office to the staffroom and now the Learning Commons library. I then make it a priority to share these stories, reflections and prayers out to inspire and inform others on staff who were not able to attend. Also included on this Faith Formation “fan-out” are special friends of St. Clare school in the school district, diocese and local parish community.
I am so grateful that my colleagues have embraced this Faith Formation initiative in the way they do as well as the faith-based measures which allow us to ensure our Catholicism permeates throughout all that we do. Many have commented that gathering as a school “family” in this meaningful manner is a great way to start the day, end of the week and build community with colleagues. Further, we have learned a lot about each other through the disclosing of personal stories which have driven the prayer and reflection shared by staff members. Personally, I always look forward to these moments as times to pause, take a step back, “exhale” as I head into my “inner chapel” to escape the busy-ness of our daily lives – even if it’s for a few minutes. I am truly inspired by my colleagues to continue to share and come together to pray and celebrate our faith.
In closing, as Catholics, our faith is meant to be lived and celebrated. As members of a school community, we are involved in a vocation that is about people and the forging of relationships and bonds. We are all social and relational beings who have an inherent desire for relationships and connections. This wonderful initiative of weekly staff prayer has blended both ideals together as it has built and supported a strong sense of community and as members are afforded opportunities to share their faith, lives and our stories. Most important, it has allowed us to grow spiritually and walk with each other along our respective faith journeys.
Written by: Mark Hickie, Vice Principal of St. Clare School, Calgary
Steeped in the ancient traditions of the Catholic Church and confused by contemporary secular culture, the Sacrament of Reconciliation intimidates a lot of people. Fr. John Nemanic gets that. He also understands why so many Catholics regularly participate in this grace-filled ritual—and he’s hopeful more will avail themselves of its sacramental blessings this Lenten season.
“The Sacrament of Reconciliation is the most difficult of the seven sacraments because we have to really look at ourselves honestly,” says Fr. Nemanic, the parish priest at St. Michael Catholic Community in the West Springs community of southwest Calgary.
While it can be difficult to talk about the mistakes you’ve made and the people you’ve hurt, “reconciliation is also a sacrament of growth. It helps us see where we are now—and who we aspire to be,” says Fr. Nemanic.
Biblical roots, contemporary blessings
The sacrament itself is rooted in biblical teachings, adds Fr. Fernando Genogaling of St. Luke’s in northwest Calgary. Instituted by Christ, Reconciliation invites us to seek forgiveness, express sorrow “and to take instruction on what to do in order to avoid making the sin,” explains Fr. Genogaling. “This sacrament is one of the ways we learn and experience the grace of humility. In return for confessing our sins, we receive an assurance of God’s love and grace. That is very powerful.”
“The Lord comforts us with the sacrament,” says Fr. Nemanic. The words, “I absolve you from your sins,’ are almost incomprehensible to penitents who enter the confessional with heavy but contrite hearts, says the priest. “This sacrament is so far-reaching. When people hear those words, they experience the reality that Emmanuel is with us. The closer we are to Him, the more the penitent opens up his or her heart and the more the Lord can come into that space and heal.”
For many penitents, the experience of forgiveness can be transformative. Fr. Nemanic recalls a story shared by renowned Catholic theologian Bishop Fulton Sheen. Bishop Sheen said a psychiatrist friend once told him that he marveled at the impact of Reconciliation. Whereas his clients paid him for counsel, Catholic priests gave counsel and peace—for free.
Parishes in the Diocese of Calgary hold regular confessional hours during the week on a year-round basis. While penitents can trust the confessional as a sacred and confidential space, people who don’t want to confess their sins to a priest they know can go to another parish, or attend a penitential service and talk to a priest they don’t know, says Fr. Genogaling.
He and Fr. Nemanic also recognize that people aren’t necessarily comfortable making a Reconciliation while facing a priest—and that’s okay, too. “I would say that 75 per cent of the people who come to reconciliation at St. Michael’s stay behind the screen even though they could just walk around the partition,” says Fr. Nemanic.
Those tempted to shy away from Reconciliation after a bad experience should consider what’s at stake, notes Fr. Nemanic. As he sees it, most people have also had bad experiences in at least one restaurant, but that doesn’t keep them from ever enjoying another restaurant meal. The same logic should apply to not denying themselves the blessings of Reconciliation.
And what would he say to a Catholic who is worried about not having received the Sacrament of Reconciliation for a while? “I would say, ‘just come,’” says Fr. Nemanic. Those who go regularly do so because they understand the grace it bestows. “If people would give five minutes a month, their lives would change immeasurably for the better because they’ve made themselves available to encounter the Lord’s mercy.”
Since honesty and contrition are essential to a good confession, Fr. Genogaling encourages people to spend some time examining their conscience before entering the confessional.
Written by Joy Gregory for Faithfully
I first experienced Catholicism at a Catholic hospital in South Korea. My mom and I accompanied my younger sister, who had to pay frequent visits to the hospital because of her lung ailments. Our family lived in a poor neighbourhood, where I had two direct-hit car accidents. During all this chaos, the hospital was a sanctuary, and the nuns were the kindest people I’d ever met. I felt such lightness and peace there as if the very air in the hospital garden was purer than the one outside it. The difference was so surreal even to my young mind that I remember it still to this day.
The second brief encounter was the beautiful scene of ladies praying in the church with their veils on. As a little girl, I thought it was the most beautiful happening I’d ever witnessed. Putting aside my initial exposure to Catholicism, our family generally believed in the idea of God but did not belong to any religion. After our family immigrated to Canada I suffered immensely difficult trials and setbacks in my school, health and relationships. So, I sought out God or some benign and powerful being that could rescue me.
My search for God began in high school when I was see-sawing between self-destruction and reading the Gospels for the first time. I prayed so fervently to the point of sweating. I asked God to let me experience Him in any way so that I, a mere human with so many limitations, could come to believe in His existence. One night, after one of my intense prayers, I went to bed. Sometime after falling asleep, I felt that my body lifted to somewhere very high, perhaps not even our planet or universe.
I had the most vivid and unusual dream where I was praying to God with many other people on our knees on top of a great mountain. Although the mountain was very high, the top was a very large flat area filled with green pastures. Sun or light beamed down on this pasture. All of a sudden, the person praying next to me tapped on my shoulder and pointed to a horrendous female spirit figure standing on the edge of this mountain. This figure is a typical Korean spirit that wears a white night gown with long unkempt black hair flying all around her face. She looked blank with no distinguishable features.
I knew that she was waiting for me to be alone. I also knew that I had to fight her, even to the death if such was to be my fate. I walked toward the figure and the battle began. I was defending myself with a small cross necklace that came into my possession not too long before my search for God began. As one might expect, defending oneself with a small necklace around one’s neck against a demonic spirit was next to hopelessness. Soon I began to tire and feel so afraid for my life. Then I remembered Christ’s holy sacrifice for all humans and how He let himself be tortured because He firmly believed in God the Father’s love and mercy.
That’s when I, in the midst of this fight, put both of my arms up and put my legs together in the same way our Jesus died on His Cross. All of a sudden, the images of His pierced hands and feet flashed before my eyes as if they were powerful blows of light and also as if my own hands and feet were being pierced too. I thought that I was going to die, but everything became white. The spirit existed no more. I was in this whiteness for a brief moment. I felt so strong and happy in this whiteness like I had never experienced in my entire life. Perhaps that’s how we feel in Heaven.
This dream experience was the exact point of conversion of heart for me. If believing can be compared to gardening, this was the seed in the soil. The actual process of this seed sprouting to a baby plant took much longer and many more sinful and painful acts of evil resistance. This sprouting phase took about a decade. Even though I rebelled, broke promises and couldn’t feel any goodness, God never abandoned me. All this while, God watered my mustard seed even though nothing surfaced. I was discouraged for a long time. But when the time arrived, the amazing baby plant sprouted out of the earth and I became a full-fledged Catholic. Going to RCIA was the only thing I could do for those two years due to a health condition. My RCIA sponsor named Cathy was very helpful and gave me the perfect card. When the baby plant came out was when I could finally consciously follow God and proudly present myself as such to others.
Written by Mina from St. Patrick's Parish in Calgary.
My journey to Catholicism formally began in the fall of 2002 when I entered into the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) and culminated with my baptism and confirmation at the 2004 Easter Vigil, Saturday evening, April 10.
Practically speaking, though, my journey started many years earlier when I married my wife, Dina – an Italian ‘Cradle-Catholic’ at St. James Catholic Church, here in Calgary in 1991.
Taking our Marriage Preparation classes was really the beginning of a long period of enlightenment, where I began to experience and see more clearly what the spiritual aspects of the joining of our souls would really mean.
We both promised in our wedding vows to raise our kids in the Church, too, and so we regularly attended Mass and the Holy Days of Obligation. It was through this exposure I – then unwittingly – continued my Faith Journey.
When our family was young, we attended St. James and St. Michael’s in Calgary, and Sts. Simon & Jude Catholic Church in The Woodlands, TX. In December 1994 we purchased our first home in Somerset and began attending St. Patrick’s Parish and this became our home church.
As I progressed on my journey I started to be overcome with a desire — a strong, spiritual need — to go to Confession and receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation. I went to see “Merv” at St. Michael’s (I believe he was a Deacon there at the time) and inquired about receiving the sacrament. He explained to me I would need to become Catholic first before I could receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
Several years went by and then a close family friend asked Dina if she would sponsor her in her journey through RCIA to become Catholic. I took this as a strong sign to stop procrastinating and I made my own appointment with Sister Pauline at the church to begin my journey to Catholicism and becoming Catholic.
Meeting with Sister Pauline, I shared with her the impetus for wanting to become Catholic and explained that I came from a family who didn’t really practice — or have — a sense of faith. My now-late father was raised Catholic in Holland and we would say grace before meals when we visited with my grandparents on my mother’s side in BC, but we really didn’t have any other faith upbringing — other than the ‘Golden Rule’.
Sister Pauline accepted me into the 2002 fall intake of St. Patrick’s RCIA and you could say the rest is history — but it isn’t! The journey NEVER ends; we’re always expanding our understanding and our relationship with God.
My time in RCIA was so very special! Those I travelled with on the journey and all those who invested their time in — and shared their faith with us — took us all to previously unfathomable levels of faith and spirituality. We shared, we laughed, we cried, we broke open the Word, we prayed! It was an education and a coming alive all at the same time. It was a beautiful experience!
Written by Peter Poos from St. Patrick's Church, Calgary
Catholic Pastoral Centre Staff and Guest Writers