Although it has been over twenty years, I still easily remember a particular exchange with a student. She was in grade 12, and as often happens for homeroom teachers I had developed a deep sense of professional and personal concern for her well-being, even beyond the classroom. It was obvious that day she was upset so I asked if she wanted to talk. During the conversation she shared about relationship difficulties with her boyfriend. And in the course of that sharing it was clear to me that she was being taken advantage of. I expressed this to her and she agreed. When I asked the next logical question, why not break up with him, she gave me a reply that has stayed with me: “That’s what guys are like.”
She had come to expect that romantic relationships necessarily involved being used, in exchange for at least some feeling of being wanted. To give up with this guy and not wanting to be alone, she would just have to go through finding someone else, who would treat her the same. Her family life had not prepared her to expect better.
In the years since, having my own daughters, I am certain that conversation influenced the intentionality I try to bring to being a father. Subsequent personal and professional interactions have only reinforced the message. There is no need to share here lurid stories of what too many adolescent girls think is required of them, even absent from an actual committed relationship. And there is no need to demonize boys whose hormones and cultural messages have informed them of what to expect. What is needed are committed and loving parents, especially fathers, who can reinforce the message of inherent personal dignity and the profound beauty of shared marital sexuality. This is a tough campaign when young people are offered quick, though shallow, pleasure in place of disciplined, though joyful, anticipation of real unitive love. It has been said that one task of fatherhood is to assist daughters in finding their Prince Charming, without having to kiss a bunch of frogs.
It seems to me that the project becomes even more difficult when parents who themselves didn’t quite hit the mark feel hypocritical in wanting their children to do what they didn’t. But don’t we always want better for our sons and daughters? Don’t we always hope their happiness and success will be even greater than our own? And don’t we believe they are really worth it?
There are few real sacrifices expected of people today, except perhaps in attaining goals we have set for our own fulfillment. We are out of practice in giving of ourselves to others. We can feel resentful when someone else’s wants or needs intrude on our leisure. Yet the love of parents for their children can give us the energy to move beyond self. And it means so much. A mother of my acquaintance tells of finally having agreed to interrupt her day and play the single game of cards her son kept requesting. When his dad later asked how his day had gone, he related an experience of time with Mom that had taken up hours. Even years later it was still his memory that she had set aside so much just to be with him.
Time is a precious resource, and authentic relationships require it. And relationships, especially in families and with parents, are the strongest protection we can offer in the messy goodness of human life. The liturgical year reminds us that we live within time, but we are not alone in history. As we look forward to celebrating Christ's resurrection in Easter, we can be strengthened to live family life in God’s good grace (cf. Ephesians 3:15).
We are advocates for Catholic Education for a number of issues close to our hearts. One, we know our children have functioned much better in a faith-based atmosphere than in one without God at the center. With a common denominator of faith, everyone operates with the base belief that God is number one, our actions are to reflect Him, so hope, faith and love become central tenants around which the schools and teachers function.
With Catholic Education there is a basic belief that each individual student is made in the image of God and is therefore treated with respect and care. They are seen as unique individuals and are valued and treasured as such. They are seen for who they are in Christ and who they can become in Christ. Students are encouraged to live out Christian principles and values in every aspect of their lives.
When our daughter started at Christ the King School in Leduc, Alberta, she was greeted by each student in her class with a handshake, welcomed and felt included right away. This greatly reduced her anxiety of starting at a new school in grade 8; she had just moved from another great Catholic school in her hometown.
We highly value the dedication to excellence of the staff and administration at Christ the King in academics and life skill development. We know, and have, complete confidence that our daughters have been, and are, the beneficiaries of that excellence. Personally, as parents, we have been valued and invited to participate in the Christ the King community and have had the privilege of being active participants in our girls' education and extra-curricular activities.
Shannon and Lynnette Whitehouse
Growing up, I often recited my “life checklist” – by the age of 25 (27 at the latest) I will have a full-time job teaching, own my first home, and be married with a baby on the way. The saying is true, God laughs when we make plans. "For I know the plans I have for you", says the Lord. (Jer. 9:11)
At the age of 26, I would have told you I was at least on par with my plan. I was in a long-term relationship with someone I was sure would be my forever. Yet looking back, if I had been more honest with myself, I knew he wasn’t (and I think he did too). We were very different and yet we loved each other and celebrated our differences. But sometimes love isn’t enough.
I can recall praying through tears on a car drive home, pleading with God to take him out of my life if he wasn’t the one. I got my answer to prayer, albeit in the most heartbreaking way – he’d leave me in the weeks to come after falling in love with someone else. As with all loss, I went through the cycle of grief – but my faith was never shaken. Calling into mind the poem, Footprints in the Sand: "My precious child, I love you and will never leave you. Never, ever, during your trials and testings."
Fast forward to the summer of 2019 – I am now 31 and still single after the breakup in 2017 despite my best efforts to put myself out there and meet someone. I trusted in God knowing he knew the desires on my heart, yet my patience was thinning. I had just returned from a summer away in Ireland with a dear friend, and I was settling into my new home in the downtown core of Calgary. “Single and ready to mingle” as they say. Little did I know that God was aligning the stars in His perfect timing – on August 16th the love of my life would walk into my world and change life as I knew it forever.
For those who know me well, they’ll attest to the fact that I enjoy storytelling, especially as it pertains to answered prayers, signs from God, or little messages sent by an angel – ever find dimes in odd places?
August 5th, 2020 was not unlike any other summer day (although I’m now 32). We had an early start that morning as my boyfriend and I were on our way to Moraine Lake to catch the sunrise and paddleboard. He had been acting strange, but I figured it was due to a 2 AM alarm clock and a lack of sleep. What I would learn later that morning is that his nerves were slowly eating away at him as he prepared to get down on one knee to ask me to be his wife (spoiler – I said yes)! August 5th is the Feast Day of Our Lady of the Snows, the name of the school where I began my teaching career. This was undeniably a sign from Our Lady in the midst of a pandemic to remind me to trust, to keep the faith, and maintain hope.
As we prepared for our December 2021 nuptials at Our Lady of the Rockies Shrine in Canmore, we enrolled in the Marriage Preparation Course offered through Catholic Family Service. While we like to think we knew everything about one another, this opportunity gave us the chance to go deeper. In reflecting on our own families growing up, we conversed about what we wanted to bring to the table when it came to building our family, and the misgivings that we wanted to avoid. We had thoughtful and reflective conversations on our 5 Love Languages (Gary Chapman), and explored the types of communicators we are and areas we need to work on. Important here was understanding that no family will ever be perfect, not even Christ’s own family – a genealogy that included an array of sinners. However, we affirmed the need to remain rooted in faith and love.
Marry the right person, in the right place, at the right time. But more than that – trust that God will lead you to the right person, in the right place, and in His time.
Hope — St. Joseph must have had a lot of it, leading his very pregnant wife through the hill country from Nazareth to Bethlehem to give birth to his son. I imagine it was an arduous journey filled with uncertainty. Sometimes amidst hard times, I’m tempted to let discouragement steal my hope; I forget that my circumstances will change in time.
I crawled over the 2020 finish line, exhausted and tired, only to be met with the dead of winter. January is an isolating month in the best of times, nevermind government sanctions restricting social contact.
The reality is that life is hard for a lot of people right now; so much change and instability due to the ongoing pandemic. But what is unchanging is that our faith always gives us reason to hope. As Catholics, we carry the Good News of the Resurrection within us. With the eyes of faith, no time is wasted to perfect ourselves in love. And we can look to the great examples of the saints to help guide our path.
In a special way this year, Pope Francis invites us to renew our hope by placing an emphasis on Our Lord’s foster father. He has declared Dec. 8, 2020 to Dec. 8 2021 — The Year of St. Joseph.
What St. Joseph represents in my life is a husband and father who is a faithful, patient, humble, courageous protector. Joseph didn’t utter a single word in the Bible, rather he communicated volumes through his attentive presence.
The Holy Father Pope Francis encourages each of us with these words found in his Apostolic Letter Patris Corde: “Each of us can discover in Joseph – the man who goes unnoticed, a daily, discreet and hidden presence – an intercessor, a support and a guide in times of trouble.”
My hope is to seize this opportunity to take a deeper dive into what St. Joseph’s secure, strong, safe, steadfast fatherly presence means in my life and the life of my family.
Our family has set a few goals for the coming year to get to know St. Joseph better, and grow in relationship with him. I hope a few of these ideas will inspire you to think of ways to discover the presence of St. Joseph in your life and keep you anchored in hope.
Written by Sara Francis for Faithfully
It was 2012. My then-girlfriend, Chelsea, had completed her BEd and had taught part-time for a year in Saskatoon. A full-time position there proved precarious, following a teachers’ strike and cutbacks. Although she loved the Catholic Saskatchewan school system, she was discerning a move to greener pastures.
I was working for the summer before entering the Ed program in my 4th year at the UBC campus in Kelowna BC, where I grew up. Having travelled to Alberta for work before school started again, I was living in a camp about 500 km drive north of Edmonton.
In June, we started a 30-day novena to St. Joseph, over the phone, to discern Chelsea’s future career path. I was most excited about her application to teach at my old elementary school in Kelowna. A move there would end the long-distance factor in our relationship and would potentially see us teaching in the same diocese if I were to get hired at my secondary school, Immaculata Regional High, after convocation.
The prayer was beautiful, but the conditions were not, at least not on my end of the call. The cell reception so close to the Northwest Territories was abysmal and forced me to walk to the top of a nearby hill, which didn’t stop the mosquitoes from tracking me down. Sometimes Chelsea would lead, other times it was me, reading the prayer on my blackberry screen between swats at mossies and checking to see if the call had been dropped. This was anything but a “When Harry Met Sally” type of romantic scene on the dusty bi-centennial highway to Greater Slave Lake; more like a real game of telephone that mostly left us wondering what words the other had just prayed.
“We must believe that the life of St. Joseph - ”
“Pray for us.”
“- Not finished – spent in the presence of Jesus and Mary – “
“Pray for us.”
“Almost done – was a continual prayer – “
“Lord hear our prayer.”
“Oh for – Abounding in acts of faith…”
And so it went for 30 days. St. Joseph must not have minded the static, because on the day following the novena, day 31, Chelsea received a call requesting her to do a Skype interview for the 5/6 split position in Kelowna, at St. Joseph Elementary. We were elated and thankful to God for his faithfulness through the intercession of St. Joseph.
Chelsea was hired to work in the much sought-after Okanagan Valley and moved from Saskatoon the next month. We were engaged that November and married by the following August. We did end up teaching in the same diocese for a year before welcoming our daughter Hannah. Early on in our relationship, Chelsea had always remained aloof about our future, leaving the distance between us to be closed, or not, by the providence of God. St. Joseph continues to be a model for this docility in our household and we have returned to that novena on recent occasions, most notably when I applied to Calgary Catholic in 2016. His influence in our lives is real and testifies to the goodness of God that cannot fail.
When people have invested their time and money to grow professionally, I believe it is misplaced modesty for them to claim they don’t know much more than the average laymen. At the same time, further education doesn’t always provide greater insights than years of experience, especially if it is also attentive and reflective. Between the two of us, with nine daughters, at this point my wife and I have over 340 years of experience in parenting. That may be why we are often asked for insights on the struggles that come with raising children.
A friend of my wife requested ideas this past week. This coupled with the looming new year got me thinking about goals and purpose. These are in everyone’s life but have different meaning for young adults. While a cliché it is enduringly true that each day is the first day of the rest of our lives – January 1 just throws that into sharper focus.
One of the good things about contemporary culture is a greater recognition of the differences between individuals. While not throwing out the good of previous social conventions, all people can take heart and be inspired by the fact that they possess certain gifts and inclinations (some of which are less common and potentially more needed) and there is exciting challenge and opportunity in them inventing the kinds of people they can be, both personally and professionally as they grow more mature. They should take seriously what they find worthwhile and see how it might be worthy of great investment of their time and energies.
Most children achieve some successes in school fairly clearly – not always in the so-called core subjects and not always where parents might want this achievement. If they are able to achieve in some areas, and show interest in those, it points toward potential elsewhere too. There is virtue in them figuring out how to do better in those areas they don’t find as easy, or as interesting. And further virtue is discovering how to ask for help and make their needs understood.
One wish I have is for young people to take seriously what it means to be authentic men and women. This is generic in becoming the best people they can as they exercise their gifts and opportunities. But is also differentiated in that we express ourselves through our sexual identity. St John Paul the Great used the term ‘feminine genius’ to bring into focus ways of thinking and acting that are usually more accessible to women. We, and young people more fully growing into themselves, can benefit our culture and our world in terms of service to others and leadership. Most of them will likely be married some day and becoming a strong spouse and parent is tremendously important. Being intentional in that character development is work for now, not simply later.
Inasmuch as they are growing into their adulthood in a weak and troubled society, there is also amazing need that they can meaningfully contribute to answering.
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.
Aames Abanto from Catholic Sunday Best offers five great reasons for Catholic gentlemen to adopt St. Joseph as their 2021 patron saint.
Christmas time is such a beautiful time. I think of Mary often and wonder about the night she gave birth to Jesus. Did she look at him with awe? Did she stare at his button nose? Did she tickle his little toes? Did she put one finger in his little hand as his fingers wrapped around hers? Did she rub his hair and hold him tight? Did she cry? Did she say out loud, “This is my boy!”?
I am so blessed to be a mom of four beautiful kids. With each one I remember just staring at them through the night in awe of God and his blessings. Thinking that Mary was a mother just like me puts the very first Christmas in such a different light. Do we consider the anticipation that Mary and Joseph felt while waiting for the birth of Jesus? And the joy they experienced when he was born! As a parent, I know that this waiting time was very special.
A book that I read to my Kindergarten students is Little One, We Knew You’d Come, by Sally-Lloyd Jones. I invite the children to bring a baby picture to class and encourage parents to have a conversation with their child about the anticipation they felt as they waited for their child to arrive.
Do we take the time and look at the children we teach as the blessing that they are?
My sister (a doctor) just told me about a funeral she attended recently, for an eight-year-old girl. Fifteen hundred people were there. She loved school so much that she came hooked up to an oxygen tank to help her breathe. The principal moved his desk outside the teacher’s door in case the little girl needed help. Her parents spent the days at the school reading books and newspapers while their daughter was in class. Any moment could be her last. Everyone waited. Just like her parents had waited for nine months for her to be born – although this waiting was going to end with a goodbye. She went to school Friday, blueish because her lungs were failing. Her dying wish was to go to school. She would never miss the Remembrance Day Assembly. She LOVED school. She died two days later.
Staff and families did not know that Friday would be their last day with this eight-year-old girl. The principal was asked to give the eulogy at the funeral. Everyone in the school was there. She loved stuffies, and her parents brought every stuffy she owned. When the children came in the church, they were offered a stuffy to cuddle. One last act of love… to love the things she loved most!
This Christmas, let us be mindful of the impact and privilege we have to be a teacher or work in a school. We play such an important role in bringing joy to the families of the students we teach. Families send their precious little ones (or big ones) to us daily to love, teach, support, help and nurture. Each child is a gift. God’s gift. Our mission is to look into the eyes of every child we teach and see the face of God. It is a blessing to be a teacher, a coach, a support worker, an administrator and custodial staff. We all have an opportunity to celebrate the life of a child.
From coast-to-coast, people of faith will give special thanks this weekend for the Canadians whose life’s work produces the food we find on our grocery store shelves and kitchen tables. Bob Bateman appreciates the gratitude and prayers. But the High River grain farmer has a bit of a confession. While he likes to celebrate Thanksgiving with his wife Karen and their four kids, he gives special thanks when harvest is done. “It’s always a big relief to get the harvest off because you work so long and so hard to get that crop in the bin.” This year, his harvest wrapped up in September—and Bateman, who’s already planning next year’s crops—has been thanking God ever since.
In Southern Alberta, the Thanksgiving holiday typically coincides with the harvest of an edible bounty that ranges from potatoes to pumpkins, carrots, cabbages and onions. The region also produces bread wheat, the durum wheat used to make pasta, sugar beets, canola, high-quality barley for brewing beer, and a growing number of pulse crops sold to international markets that want Alberta’s beans, peas, chickpeas and lentils.
Growing wheat, barley, canola and field peas on land that overlooks the majestic Rocky Mountains, Bateman says there were times this harvest season when mechanical problems threatened the operation. “I told Karen, I think the good Lord is teaching us patience.”
Knowing that harvest-time field fires were common in their area due to dry conditions in August and September, he and Karen were profoundly grateful when they discovered and repaired a mechanical issue before it caused a fire. Looking back, “I know we were being watched over and protected,” says Bateman, a parishioner at St. Francis de Sales in High River.
Kyle and Carla Gouw farm near Taber, where they grow onions, fresh peas, sugar beets, silage corn, barley, alfalfa and beef “This year was the exact opposite of last year,” notes Gouw, who attends mass at St. Augustine in Taber. In 2019, early snow ended harvest operations before they were complete. The Gouws harvested some of last year’s crops in the spring of 2020. This year, they were done harvest by early October.
Gouw says it’s tough for him to think about being especially grateful at Thanksgiving. “I feel like its Thanksgiving all year long,” says the father of four. Like Bateman, Gouw converted to Catholicism. Both men attend the parishes where their wives grew up in the faith.
The son of a Dutch immigrant, Gouw says his relationship with the Holy Spirit comes naturally. “Farmers spend a lot of time on their own. And when you’re alone, you’ll often find yourself talking to God.”
Fr. Mariusz Sztuk, parish priest at High River, knows both men and their families. “What I see in both of these guys is they have respect for the field.” Raised on a farm in Poland, the priest feels a kinship with people who share his own appreciation of the land. “Both of these guys have this sense that the land is a gift given to them. They believe they need to take care of what they have.”
“We take pride in the quality of food that comes off our land,” adds Bateman. “Producing a very safe product and improving our land, that’s important to us.”
Written by Joy Gregory for Faithfully
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.
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.
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
Through the visions St. Margaret Mary Alacoque, devotion to the Sacred Heart became formalized and the feast day extended to the whole Church by Pope Pius IX in 1856. This Friday, celebrate this beautiful feast at home, and receive the blessings and mercy Jesus promised St. Margaret Mary to souls who honour the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus.
Devotions to the Sacred Heart of Jesus are numerous and here are some ways we may be able to observe it this year:
Domestic church. These words might mean a lot more now than they did a mere two months ago. As all of us have experienced, Covid-19, social distancing measures and the cancellation of Masses to stop the spread has affected the greater Catholic community in large and small ways.
“Mom, we are the people who walked in darkness,” my four-year-old said to me one day last week, citing the psalm we’ve been singing after sharing the Liturgy of the Word the last few Sundays before Easter, but even though there is much to be prayed for, I am seeing a lot of light shining through.
Many of us familiar with social media already know the hope that can be gleaned from the apps and resources that popular Catholics produce for wider consumption, but this unprecedented situation has had many of us reaching for our phones and computers, not only for connection with others but for prayer.
Alane Boudreau, with children and grandchildren ranging from 6 months old to 25 shared with me that their family took up an Instagram offer that Fr. Alex Mijangos, LC at Sacred Heart Church in Calgary made to join families for a live online rosary, and that night realized how well it might work for their family and friends to join in too.
“We have been saying a nightly family rosary after supper for a few years now. We always invite anyone who is with us for supper to also join us for the rosary, but we had never thought to do it live online until the social-distancing measures were introduced.
“We send out a Zoom invitation each day, and when we have all gathered, we share our intentions and then take turns saying a decade. There are usually around 6 logins, bringing us to around 20 people.
Simple and effective, this is one way for families to both connect and to receive the grace of prayer together.
“As the weeks have passed,” Boudreau said, they have focused efforts on her husband Rene’s parents who live in Nova Scotia and are “finding these weeks especially lonely and isolating.”
The nightly rosary also comes with a special treat:
“Our kids all go to the wonderful St John Choir Schola in Calgary, a choir school for homeschoolers, so they have been taught to sing. Their grandparents are true Cape Bretoners who love music, so at first, we would simply sing a song for them before and after the rosary.
“As these things tend to grow, it has expanded into all ages singing songs, now with choreography and costumes, using whatever we have in the house.
“It has definitely brought cheer and laughter to the grandparents, and our married adult children who are living in other cities.”
I am inspired by stories like this and of others’ too, who have taken the initiative within their homes to keep the life of the Church alive and well through this time apart from our church communities.
“For us, it’s been important to keep Sundays set apart,” said Caitlin Marr, a Calgary mom of two girls. The family still dresses up for Sunday Mass, and Marr and her husband Todd rearrange their dining room, putting candles and icons around their TV screen to livestream Mass, “so the girls know that it is more than just family movie time.”
Social media is awash with ideas and postings of things families are doing. From a seven-church pilgrimage on Holy Thursday with a few socially distanced friends to a visit here and there from friends dropping Easter gifts and spiritual aids, we as a church are finding ways to thrive in both beautiful and innovative ways.
I’ve had feelings of emptiness accompanied by feelings of abundant grace. We were already choosing to homeschool this year with Saint John Choir Schola to support us, and fortunately, that transition has been seamless, but I know the stress of being a new homeschooler, and that is what many are going through now.
Being trained in the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, a Montessori-based program for children, I felt somewhat equipped to guide the children through Holy Week alongside my husband, though we have mourned the loss of being surrounded by our friends and family as we celebrate the liturgy.
On Holy Thursday, a fellow catechist was kind enough to drop some material for a presentation of the Last Supper. I felt so blessed as my seven-member family sat around our coffee table, looking at a miniature version of the disciples around a table with a peg doll Jesus, a cup, bread and wine.
On Saturday night we lit a fire for our very own Vigil and passed light to one another from a homemade paschal candle. As we explained the liturgy to our children, my husband and I had a deeper understanding of the great mystery we were missing, and a sense of urgency to pray for the day when we can unite within the walls of our churches again.
“I like it when Father does this better,” said one of my sons, which will hopefully gratify our parish priest, whom we value very much.
“So do I,” I thought.
And in the midst of this, our priests and religious are still hard at work to provide spiritual food for us. With online homilies and messages of hope, as well as reaching out online, our Church is making do and getting by as we have for thousands of years across the world in times of crisis.
Written by Jessica Cyr for Faithfully
Photo courtesy of Jessica Cyr
While I have spent most of my teaching career in Catholic Education systems in Saskatchewan and Alberta, I did not grow up attending Catholic schools. I was one of those people who didn’t discover that sense of “it just feels different” in a Catholic school until I began my teaching career at Father Gorman School in Lloydminster. Now don’t get me wrong – I had a wonderful upbringing in rural Saskatchewan. My little school was not a Catholic school but I loved it with all my heart. And the truth is, I always felt I was “very Catholic” based on my connection with our little church, St. Mary’s. Many of my memories of growing up are tied to that church. We attended Sunday Mass and gathered for fall suppers, wedding receptions, and potlucks after the celebration of First Communion and Confirmation. While I always proudly identified myself as a Catholic, I can see now that I basically grew up as a “Sunday Catholic.” Going to Mass was non-negotiable and my mom and dad saw to it that all of my siblings and I received all of our Sacraments. I said my nighttime prayers and we had books about Jesus in our home, along with a crucifix and religious statues. Beyond that though, I don’t remember thinking a lot about my faith on a daily basis.
My first taste of Catholic Education came in 1986 when I started my teaching career and I quickly “got it.” For children who are blessed to go to Catholic schools, they are immersed in their faith every day. I learned how blessed my students were to be able to pray together every day. They got to know God more deeply because we could read the Word of God together. My students learned to serve their brothers and sisters through acts of social service and social justice. Perhaps most importantly, they had the opportunity to celebrate the Eucharist at our school Masses. These experiences, and so many more, happen in every Catholic school in Alberta.
In our Catholic schools today, our students are not living a “Sunday Catholic” kind of life. They are learning to know our faith deeply and they live their faith every single day. I can think of no better description of what is happening in our Catholic schools than with the words from the Gospel of Matthew. “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hidden. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before human beings, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” Our students are the light – they are shining brightly every day, not just on Sundays, because of the good and holy work that is happening in our Catholic schools. I am proud to be part of the story.
Written by Joann Bartley, Director of Religious Education
Holy Spirit Catholic School Division
At only 37, John Chick has accomplished tremendous achievements. He played professional football for 12 years in the CFL and NFL, winning two Grey Cups and being named the League's Most Outstanding Defensive Player before retiring in 2018. He and his wife Catherine have nine children, and more souls in heaven due to miscarriage.
He gives thanks to God for the gift of his body, mind and soul, which have allowed him to strive for excellence. Chick believes the body is a temple of the Holy Spirit and the pathway to glorify God.
“I see the physical world as God created it – all good and meant to point us back to Him. We were all created in His image and likeness,” said the former Saskatchewan Roughriders, Hamilton Tiger Cats and Edmonton Eskimos player.
“I’ve always loved the physical world,” said Chick. “I’ve always loved the pursuit of: how can I get this better. Every offseason for 12 years, I would not rest on how good the last season was, but how I can do better at what I wasn’t doing well.”
Chick has counted setbacks as blessings in his life, which have further motivated him and reminded him that where he is weak, God is strong.
“How many look at the glass half empty and woe is me. Regardless of what we have been ‘blessed’ with, we are all called to glorify God with our bodies,” he said.
“For me, you don’t have to look too far to see a lot of us are victims of something broken. In us or around us and we are victims of maybe our vices.”
Chick’s body has experienced several setbacks in his pursuit of his dreams. At 14, he was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. At the time, this news devastated his family. In college he experienced Bells Palsy and later in his professional career he had the onset of alopecia, a hair loss condition, and vitiligo, a skin discoloration condition, not to mention countless sports injuries throughout his life.
“Miscarriages, moves, trades, cuts, injuries, God always found a way (into my life). I attribute it to my family and experiences of the Holy Spirit,” said Chick.
Growing up in Wyoming as the eldest of three, faith was central in Chick’s life. His father modelled a devout faith life working as a Catholic youth minister.
So when a healing priest came to town after Chick’s diabetes diagnosis the family went to see him, and everyone had a powerful conversion experience through prayer to the Holy Spirit.
“It doesn’t mean we lived a perfect faith life, but we were always dependent on the sacraments,” said Chick.
Today, he lives in Florida where he is devoted to raising his own family in the Catholic faith. He incorporates faith and fitness into the running of his own life-coaching business called Ironwill Fitness.
Self-care has been central to his success, and he is trying to share his wisdom with his clients.
“We are supposed to love our neighbour as ourselves. But how can I love my neighbour if I’m not loving myself?” said Chick.
“How can I improve my capacity to be that servant leader? It’s taking care of myself first.”
God Squad Conference recordings, including the session with guest speaker John Chick, are now available online: https://godsquad.ca/2020-conference-recordings
Written by Sara Francis for Faithfully
Photos courtesy of John Chick
God is always waiting for our conversion to his mercy and love. For a large portion of my life I was haunted with the darkness of childhood abuse. This is my journey into God’s call and falling into His overflowing grace. As a five-year-old child I was playing in our local playground with children from the local church. When they left, I went home and asked my mother if I could go to church. My mother said I could go with the neighbours, but I wasn’t brave enough to go.
Later, I attended a Catholic high school because my mother believed in academics. In Grade 12, I completed a water pollution project for a Religion class and received a mark of 98%. From that moment, I believed that my vocation would be in the Sciences. That same year (1972), at the age of 17, I became pregnant and consented to an abortion supported by both sets of parents (Catholic and non-Catholic). The day I had the abortion I shut the door on God! I believed I was not worthy of His love; I had killed my own child. By this time, the darkness of my childhood abuse and the weight of an abortion had left my soul in complete darkness. The mask I continued to wear could not hide the pain, and I struggled. I knew one day that the darkness would envelope me and I would end my life: the pain of my soul too unbearable.
With a husband and my daughter my world was unravelling; filled with anger, guilt and darkness. I was asked to become a Catholic so my daughter could continue to attend a Catholic school. To me, it was nothing more than a course, I was never going to be a Catholic. But God had other plans. What I could not or would not do for myself, I would do for my daughter. It was the 3rd scrutiny during the Purification and Enlightenment process that things began to change. Prior to this Scrutiny, I had gone to Reconciliation and confessed my sins. God has an eraser of grace; He forgave me; the door of grace flooded opened. During the 3rd Scrutiny, in his fatherly love, the late Fr. Keith Sorge let me touch his vestments and I fell into the wellspring of God’s love. The search out of the darkness of my soul began, but it was only after a severe leg injury (run over by an ATV) that I could face the overwhelming pain and terror of childhood sexual abuse. The cry of the poor—that is what God hears in our prayers.
In gratitude for God’s grace, I became involved with the RCIA, Project Rachel, CWL, Hike for Life, Eucharistic Ministries and Lector ministries. I obtained a Master’s from Newman Theological College (Edmonton) focusing on Pope Francis’ Laudato Si’. Today, I am currently raising the awareness of Care for Our Common Home and Food Loss and Waste (FLW) through a CWL resolution and presentation to politicians and Catholic organizations. God had never left my side nor stopped calling me into His grace as I am a testimony to His love.
Written by Jeannette Nixon, St. Patrick’s Parish Calgary.
A hundred days ago, my husband and I said our vows before the altar of our Lord. If you were to ask me five years ago if I would be where I am at now, I would not have imagined this present moment. In fact, sometimes when I wake up in the morning and he greets me good morning, I would still think to myself, “Oh right — I’m married!”
Quite honestly, sometimes I feel it has not sunk in… but then again, it has only been 100 days. These past few months, friends have always asked us, “How’s married life?” Almost every time, I would mutter a quick, “oh it's great", or "well, it's new!" and such.
But how is it, really.
I have always thought that it will be an easy “transition” to the married life for Ryan and I because we have been together for many years, but I was caught by a surprise: I thought I knew him well enough; however, since we’ve been married, I have learned many new things about my husband! Don’t get me wrong: I knew what I was getting into — that the man I was going to marry was a man of values and had the characteristics I prayed for.
By new, I meant those things that you don’t really discover until you live together. And while some may think that you first need to experience living with someone before you marry them, they are completely missing out — being married (and now living together) gave us more reasons to get to know each other on a more meaningful level. While it could be difficult sometimes, I’ve learned that through those “new” experiences, we could still love each other even more.
“You need to communicate.”
Talk about the little things. Do not complain, nag, blame, or accuse. Your spouse cannot read your mind, and you cannot assume the other person knows what you’re thinking or feeling! There will be some occasions when they will know something is not right, but one cannot always expect this. It's important to cultivate patience, especially when your spouse does things differently than you do — and even more when you think your way of doing things is much better. Ha!
Experience the Gift
Be a gift and allow your spouse to be a gift to you — to love you without speculating that they only do things for you out of obligation because now, you’re married. Allow your spouse to accept you and love you, knowing that they will find your self-offering a gift that is precious. Cherish and serve them because you love them. Allow your spouse to do the same and do not question or limit their love for you despite of however little or much they seem to do. Every time I ask Ry to do something for me and he isn’t really up for it, he would always say jokingly, “It’s okay! I'll do it! Die to self!” It’s our running joke, and although he says it tongue in cheek, I appreciate it because I know that he is not only giving all he can, but he is giving all that he is.
I know we have a lifetime ahead as husband and wife, and even many more experiences, challenges that will come our way. We pray that this commitment of constantly choosing to love will always draw us back to the self-giving love that Christ had for his Church. May we always see this marriage as a gift that points and leads us to Christ. After all, our vocation is to lead each other to heaven.
Marriage is an act of will that signifies and involves a mutual gift, which unites the spouses and binds them to their eventual souls, with whom they make up a sole family – a domestic church. ~ Pope John Paul II
Written by Karissa Factura.
Photos courtesy of Karissa & Ryan Factura.
High on a hill overlooking fields of barley, wheat, hay and grazing cattle sits the little country church. It can be seen from miles around if you know where to look, and as you drive closer to look upon its tall steeple and red roof you might feel as if you’d stepped back in time.
St. Henry’s, founded by Fr. Albert Lacombe and area families in 1907, received a new coat of paint and a little more life on the fourth weekend of August when men from the Diocese of Calgary volunteered for the job.
“I knew it needed to be painted,” said Fr. Myles Gaffney, parish priest of St. Michael’s Parish in nearby Pincher Creek, “so I approached the Bishop who said ‘lets nudge the men’s ministries to see if they can get volunteers.’”
In stepped Sean Lynn of the God Squad men’s ministry. He contacted professional painter Dan Lebsack, and off to the hamlet of Twin Butte they went to evaluate the work ahead.
When a weekend was chosen, the two made known that volunteers were needed, and a few responses rolled in. Armed with a paint sprayer, scissor lift donated by a nearby Hutterite colony, telehandler donated by a Calgary carpenter, scrapers and brushes, and the God Squad barbecue and food for Lynn to expertly prepare, the team set to work.
Bishop McGrattan arrived on the scene on Saturday to see everyone hard at work, “I think it’s wonderful,” he said of the entire initiative. “The men are inspired to work together.”
Bishop McGrattan was welcomed by the volunteers and members of the Historical Society of St. Henry’s who have assumed the role of caretakers of the church and cemetery since the parish closed in 2001. The Historical Society is made up of former parishioners, people whose family are buried in the cemetery and those interested in preserving the site, according to the society secretary and treasurer Lois Johnston.
The group, who’ve been hard at work to keep St. Henry’s in good repair with much of their own time and resources – with the help of visitor’s donations – were happy to accept the help that came at the diocesan request.
A few hundred dollars is donated annually by visitors to the site, many who come just to see the classic country church and surrounding views, and many to visit the cemetery and to pray and enjoy the grotto and Stations of the Cross built by Bob and Nonee Bonertz, just one of the families who’ve lived there for over one hundred years.
Ken Wittkopf, whose wife Louise (nee Bonertz) grew up as a parishioner said, “We’ve talked about it for a few years, and we’re glad it’s happening because we don’t want to lose it.”
The value of this church to its parishioners was evident, as several who were not part of the painting crew stopped to see how it was coming along. As the painting went on, memories and stories were shared.
“I was baptized here, had my first communion and confirmation here,” said Louise Wittkopf.
Noreen Fischbuch told stories of having lived right beside St. Henry’s in the rectory, which was unused by the clergy at the time.
“I had eight children in that house,” she said referring to the house mere meters from the back of the church, “and one day, we were actually a little late for church, and Fr. Kramer looked up as we came in and tapped his watch.”
Lois Johnston, whose grandfather Fred Klunker was one of the carpenters who built St. Henry’s emphasised the value of the church to the community of families who descended from those who built the church. Quite a few of them still farm the surrounding land.
“My parents were married in this church, my family attended this church and my Mom was the organ player for years,” she said, adding that she grew up on the farm beneath the hill on which St. Henry’s stands.
The general feeling from the society and volunteers was one of hope for the legacy and the future of St. Henry’s.
“The big churches came from these little churches,” said Historical Society chairman Ron Schmidt, aptly speaking of the history of Catholicism in our country – it began with missionaries and settlers, from people building small country churches whose descendants fill the much-larger churches we see today.
Upstairs in the choir loft, children were encouraged to ring the bell during the Bishop’s visit, and the sound was enjoyed by everyone below. Each person savouring their memories and nostalgia for the living and loving that went on at St. Henry’s for over a hundred years.
Written by Jessica Cyr for Faithfully
Catholic Pastoral Centre Staff and Guest Writers