Like May, October is a month of special dedication to Mary and therefore also to mothers. Three of our daughters were born in October, and though not born then the due date for our eldest could have placed her there too. The youngest of these October-babies was named after my grandmother – and born the day after Gramma died. While not unexpected, her death was felt deeply by many. Though Gramma was not herself part of their social circles, friends of my parents and in-laws of our relatives honoured her and our family with their presence at the funeral. Her young great-granddaughter, less than a week old, flew with my wife back home to be there. And I drove the eight highway hours with our other six daughters.
As a group, mothers exemplify the best of those supportive qualities, especially their own children. While fathers certainly love our children too, it has been said that in some ways we learn how to father by watching our wives mother. The Second Vatican Council said the family is “a school of deeper humanity.” To be in Gramma’s presence was to learn, and being deprived of that presence (even if we know that death changes life, does not end it) fifteen years later is still a loss.
Thinking of Gramma brings memories of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. We call these Fruits of the Spirit, the result of living a life of virtue. They came from how she lived her life, but like real fruit they were enjoyed more by those around her than by the one who produced them.
Our eldest daughter commented that she wished the lesson of appreciating others better was not learned after their death. It doesn’t need to be so but we often let it be. May reminds us to appreciate what is perhaps the first of our human relationships, with our mothers. We can thank these women explicitly with words and gestures, as well as implicitly in how we generously live our lives.
Christina and her husband Japp farm near Bow Island. When I asked how Christina wanted to be described she said, “I’m a farm wife and mom just trying to get through!” and we laughed. She and I had just caught up for nearly half-an-hour as we talked about raising kids, farming, husbands, and yes, Mary and our Catholic faith. Anyone who knows Christina knows she tells it like it is. It was a fantastic, refreshing conversation.
As we were talking I learned that though she is a cradle Catholic, Christina grew up attending a Protestant youth group, and instead of causing her faith to waver, she said, it actually did the opposite, especially in regards to Our Lady. “That’s why I’m confident that we can go to her and pray with her.”
“If Jesus is the son of God,” she said, “then who is this person who God chose to be His mother? If she’s special enough for God, then she’s special enough for me.”
With a firm foundation of Our Lady’s importance, Christina said she, like so many of us has had “no ‘aha Mary’ moment.”
“She had one perfect kid and a saint for a husband,” she exclaimed at one point in our chat and I laughed in agreement because I have often felt exactly the same way. It’s true that sometimes we have to dig a little deeper to look for similarities between ourselves and Mary.
“We’re so ordinary and boring,” she said, “I love Mary; I need Mary; we named our oldest child Mary after her, but we just do normal Catholic stuff.”
By normal, Christina meant that they ask Mary’s intercession and pray the Rosary as a family.
A regular family rosary has long been an ambition of mine, but I’ll admit that we haven’t made it happen, which is why I admire that Christina and Japp did it this past Lent, which also coincided with the time that the farm holds a few less demands, and therefore allows Japp to be there for dinner and bedtime.
Christina said, “when it’s just me by myself with five kids, we manage a decade of the Rosary and sometimes it’s pretty ugly, but I just trust that Mary is happy that the children are there and that she knows that it is just life with little kids.”
“With the way the world is lately,” said Christina, we have felt called to be praying more and to make a point to do it with the kids, and to have the kids see us praying as well.”
May crowning of Mary are a beautiful way to honor Our Lady this month, and Christina said that they’d thought of doing that this year since her daughter Mary will be celebrating her First Communion a little differently than would normally happen.
As I prepare one of my own sons for the sacraments, I’m intrigued by this idea too.
When I first met Pat, it was as a parishioner of St. Bernard’s parish where her son Fr. Nathan had recently moved. After Mass one Sunday while visiting our parish, Pat and her husband Brian who had sat behind us with our wiggly bunch of four little boys, paused to talk to us and let us know that our Mass experience had been a flashback to theirs not-too-many years before. I have been grateful for that conversation ever since and have often thought of it as I have dealt with normal little boy behaviour time and again.
Raising a bunch of boys is a task unto itself, but raising them in the Catholic faith is a thing Pat knows about very well. It wasn’t always the case though, she said, recounting a wake-up-call she experienced when preparing her oldest for First Communion. “It was like being hit over the head with a 2x4,” she said, “I realized he didn’t know anything.”
Though raised in a thoroughly Catholic home, Pat said that her years in university “weakened my faith. I never stopped believing or attending Mass, but I will admit that I became a Sunday Catholic.”
Teaching her sons would bring Pat deeper into the fold of the faith, with Our Lady playing a key role.
In 1991 Pat went on pilgrimage to well-known apparition site Medjugorje,
“That made a huge difference in my life,” she said, “Mary played a huge role in guiding me and leading me back to her Son.”
Pat started praying the Rosary again and talking to her sons about Jesus and Mary and the Church. It took her two weeks to fully unpack all that had happened in Medjugorje to awaken her faith to Brian, and “he was fascinated,” she said. “My experience changed his life.”
I first met Sarah when we travelled to World Youth Day in Toronto in 2002 as part of an over 80 person group. My now-husband made the same trip, and it was he who suggested I give Sarah a call.
The Stamp family resides in Vauxhall, Alberta and their story is a beautiful one. They have six children and “one in heaven,” Sarah said.
Mary Josephine is the name of the baby that Sarah and her husband Greg said goodbye to 9 years ago this October when she passed away at 20 weeks gestation.
“I’d like to say that the praying the rosary was comforting,” she said, “but really, at the time it felt like just going through the motions.
But, I think going through the motions brings us hope; we live the hope by just saying the words.”
I was awestruck by how much wisdom Sarah has as a result of her family’s loss, and by the ardent conviction that Our Lady was there all along.
“She picks you up and keeps pushing you toward her son,” Sarah said. “I think she helps you to trust Jesus more.”
Later, Sarah found an icon of Our Lady of Sorrows that touched her heart enough to hang it on her wall. “She has this little tear on her face. It is just so beautiful to me – that she cries with us, and that she feels our pain.
She has always been my mother, but somehow this icon makes her real.
“I know that without tears of sorrow, we wouldn’t be able to love as God calls us to love, and in my time of sorrow, she was right there with me.”
With incredible strength, Sarah and her family carry on, but with new hope.
“When I experienced the pain that I hope no one experiences,” she said, “I got to know what it meant to love Jesus. He was so close. There was a point where I couldn’t even stand, and I needed to lean on people, but also, the more I leaned on Mary, the closer I came to Jesus.”
“I also think sometimes “Mary gets to hold my baby,” and through all of this, I have realized that heaven is a lot closer than I thought.”
I could have talked to Sarah for another hour or more, but as our little ones started to need us, one of the last things she said about Our Lady really struck me: “Part of Mary’s power is in loss; when mothers have lost so much there are no words in our hearts, it is a broken heart that you’ve never felt before, and that can really crush you.
“But I ask myself, if this hadn’t happened to us, would I have been that connected with Mary?”
These are words that I myself will contemplate for years to come. All of us have some suffering and grief, and though it’s hard sometimes to see that the Queen of Heaven understands there are sometimes powerful reminders, like Sarah’s story that she truly does.
“I love that God gave us an example to follow – he gave us a mother, and did not leave us alone.”
To grow up with the name Mary puts a lot of pressure on a Catholic girl. Emulating Our Lady is hard even for those of us who don’t share her name, but who can blame Catholic parents the world over?
Mary Ma has lived 22 years with the name, and recently came to have a deeper relationship with her namesake, the Blessed Virgin.
“I haven’t always had a robust relationship with Mary,” she said, admitting that “I found her unapproachable and I became discouraged because she was sinless and I knew I could never be like her.”
But it was in 2019 while meditating on the Annunciation as part of a Catholic Christian Outreach faith study that changed things. “One of the topics was Our Lady’s docility to the Holy Spirit at the Annunciation and that study made me see her as a person.”
“When I was a child, I prayed the rosary with my family and no one would think that I didn’t have a strong relationship with Mary.”
On Ash Wednesday this year, Mary completed the Consecration to Mary guided by Fr. Michael Gaitley in his book 33 Days to Morning Glory.
"Marian consecration basically means giving Mary our full permission (or as much permission as we can) to complete her motherly task in us, which is to form us into other Christs." Gaitley says in the book.
On Ash Wednesday Mary said she “levelled with (the Blessed Mother), saying I know I haven’t been a good daughter, and I have been distant, but I am going to try to love you personally.”
Certainly now, Mary has solidified her faith in the Blessed Mother by joining a branch of the Legion of Mary as part of the St. Francis Xavier Catholic Community. Nine or ten members meet weekly to pray the rosary and keep one another accountable in their journeys to serve Christ.
This year the slightly relaxed Covid-19 restrictions, afforded our family the opportunity to attend all Triduum Masses at St. Mary’s Cathedral. Since my husband Ben volunteered as cameraman for the cathedral livestream, the children and I gratefully attended the liturgies upstairs in the crying room, so we could experience the Triduum together as much as possible.
Last year when churches were closed and no one could attend Mass during the Easter Triduum, our family was given the grace to see the pandemic as an opportunity to fortify our domestic church. What seemed like one-off makeshift solutions at the time have now become annual family Easter traditions.
Our own celebrations began at home again on Holy Thursday by meditating on the Last Supper with the children using a miniature altar and figurines. This was inspired by my training as a children’s catechist with the Catechism of the Good Shepherd program. This lectio divina style meditation set the mood for my husband to prayerfully perform an in-house foot washing. And following this we sat down to eat a Seder-inspired dinner.
What struck me was the word ‘slave’ interwoven throughout the Triduum. In my understanding a central theme of the Seder meal is reflecting on the significance of the Egyptian slaves finding freedom through the Exodus.
On Good Friday we continued our meditation by praying the Way of the Cross as a small family cohort at Mount St Francis retreat centre just outside of Cochrane.
I allowed this life-changing truth that Jesus died on the Cross and rose again to free me from my slavery to sin and death to penetrate my heart.
And on Holy Saturday we had a quiet day waiting in hopeful anticipation of the Resurrection that meets us on the other side of the Cross.
The candlelit Vigil Mass is truly the climax of our liturgical year. I was awestruck by the magnificence and beauty of the words sung in the Exsultet. Again the reality of being set free from the slavery of my sin and death captured my imagination.
Here’s an excerpt from the Exsultet
This is the night
that even now throughout the world,
sets Christian believers apart from worldly vices
and from the gloom of sin,
leading them to grace
and joining them to his holy ones.
This is the night
when Christ broke the prison-bars of death
and rose victorious from the underworld.
With my lenten pilgrimage concluded, I pondered in what ways God’s grace had worked in my life to set me free from the slavery of my sin.
God loves you and me personally and unconditionally and the only thing standing in the way of His love is our own turning away from Him. And for those with eyes of faith to see that all circumstances: the good, the challenges, the everyday mundane, are all opportunities to grow in greater love of God and His Church.
Happy Easter from our family to yours! And may the victory over sin and death carry on in our heart for the 50 days following Easter until Pentecost!
Names are interesting. Though we don’t usually choose our own, they give insight into one’s background. My parents had chosen another name for me but hearing that my aunt and uncle wanted to use it for their expected child, Mom and Dad left it for their use. My female cousin ended up not needing the name they reserved, but I had already been born, and named after my dad. There was a period of years when my dad thought being called ‘junior’ by friends telephoning our number (back when whole families shared a single line) was too much for me to bear; he offered to have my name changed.
My wife has commented that amongst the biggest decisions we made for our children was picking their names and their godparents. We have viewed both as consequential. At the beginning, we didn’t know we had naming rules.
When I was growing up back in the old country (Saskatchewan), there was a family at my school who had five children, all of whose names began with the same letter. At the time this seemed a very strange thing to do – especially when the names they used were less than common.
Not every family limits the choices they allow for this key mark of identity, something the individual will probably have for the rest of his life. But I suspect most do. Sometimes they are as simple as not giving a traditionally male name to a daughter. It could be more specific and involve a particular number of letters (this is the case for a family in our acquaintance). You’d think that especially as we hoped from the beginning to have a larger family, and as it turned out that we were going to specialize in daughters, that we wouldn’t make it even more difficult to find good names.
We knew that we wanted our children to share their names with strong and virtuous individuals. The devotional practice of reverencing patron saints made this pretty standard for Catholics; our daughters are each named after a canonized saint, biblical woman, or esteemed member of the family. After naming our first three daughters, we discovered that we had created a further rule: we would not repeat initial letters for first names, nor could initial letters be vowels.
These final two requisites don’t have substance in themselves, but the challenge of finding names that find all criteria somehow added to the experience for us. While our girls have not placed the same restrictions on themselves in regard to their Confirmation names, they have each selected worthy patrons and sponsors.
Taking names seriously is part of not only our faith, but more deeply even, God’s own nature. The second commandment tells us that misuse of God’s name is an offence. There is something of consequence here that I’m not sure we pick up very well in the 2020s.
Scripture also uses names to mark changes of life: Abram to Abraham, Sarai to Sarah, Jacob to Israel, with Saul to Paul being one of the biggest. Just like the number forty represents transformation: in the Sinai, on the Ark, and with Jesus in the desert. We have just finished journeying with Jesus (“God saves”) as we’ve walked through Lent. While we likely haven’t changed any names in this time, we may have examined who we truly are, as named children of the Father. Though we suffered for forty days, Easter is now a fifty-day celebration – where fasting and mourning are behind us. The promise of spring’s new life echoes the New Life we have been promised. And our celebration of this reality means something about how we live. That’s something I’ve been thinking about too …
When I am asked to define what makes a Catholic school unique, aside from Religion classes, I often reply that it’s about the faith-based education, which is wholistic and permeates each subject, each class, each doorway, each heart. It’s a feeling.
For years, I didn’t know how to explain the “feeling” to those who hadn’t experienced it for themselves. Then I returned to school and completed a degree in Journalism, and it was my new career that helped derive that explanation.
As a community news reporter I have been invited into several schools in Okotoks and area, and though still intangible there is a different feel to walking inside the Catholic schools as opposed to the public. There is warmth; one can sense the presence of God in the smiles that greet them, in the crosses and images that mark the entrance to the school. This is not to say public schools are cold and unfeeling places, but the faith, the gifts of Jesus and the Holy Spirit in the halls of a Catholic school are palpable.
Perhaps nothing spoke to me more than Christmas concert season, during which reporters take in concerts from each school over the course of three weeks. I noted a marked difference in the calm, the reverence and respect in the air of Advent celebrations – whether in church sanctuaries or school gyms – as opposed to the hectic, often chaotic public productions that focused more on snow and gifts than the birth of Jesus.
In those moments, in the peace I feel as I enter a Catholic school, I am grateful for the education I received in these same halls years ago. I am grateful for the opportunity to have my children grace the same schools, feel that same embrace of faith in their education journey, know that God is ever-present, and learn to treat one another as the images of the Lord we are.
The values they espouse, the empathy they have gained, and the ability to see God’s work in every day life are treasures I hope they cherish throughout their lives.
Some still do not understand what I mean when I describe the feeling of walking into a Catholic school – of the warmth that overwhelms the senses; of appreciating you have entered a house of faith and pure, real joy; of knowing your children are in safely in God’s hands as their teachers guide them, as they learn and shape their life view and growing minds.
But I understand, and my children understand – and we will be forever grateful for the opportunity to benefit from a Catholic education.
For students in our Catholic schools, Shrove Tuesday heralds the coming of Lent. This year, however, for many schools, there were no pancakes prepared by staff or community volunteers. The pancake breakfast, a tradition beloved by students and staff, like so many other community celebrations, have been impacted by COVID-19. This includes Ash Wednesday.
Inherent to our Ash Wednesday ritual are the words spoken at the tracing of the cross on our forehead: “Turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel.” This year, within schools, there were no words spoken, nor a cross traced upon the forehead. Instead, a reverent silence was observed as our chaplains sprinkled ashes upon our heads. This was different from our normal experience of receiving the blessed ashes. Seeing the cross of ashes on the foreheads of friends and school staff is always intriguing for students and for others in the wider community who often ask what the mark means. We might say something to the effect of: “The blessed ashes remind us that we are marked by God and demonstrates to others that we are committing to change, a conversion of heart, in preparation for Easter.”
This year, however, there were no casual inquiries about ashes upon foreheads. Again, this is one of the effects of the pandemic. We understand that the experience of some students and staff in terms of our faith celebrations, many relegated to online experiences, are not as we have been accustomed. There is, however, consistency in our Ash Wednesday scriptures. This steadfastness of the Word is important especially during these times of change.
The readings we experience on Ash Wednesday help our students and staff understand that we all have a need for repentance and that “God is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and rich in kindness” (Joel 2:13). St. Paul reminds us that the world sees the presence of Christ in the way we act (2 Corinthians 5:20-6:1). This is central to the Catholic school whereby through action and word, and the example of Christ, students are inspired to learn and are prepared to live fully and to serve God in one another. Finally, in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus reminds us that almsgiving, prayer, and fasting are to be conducted humbly. These actions are inherent in our personal Lenten journey.
Although the pandemic has changed many of the routines in our schools and impacted how we perform our rituals, we know that our faith traditions and the gift of Catholic Education give us resiliency and the hope to persevere in times of challenge. We are each called to bear witness to Jesus who models the necessity to walk humbly with God and with each other towards the renewal, hope, and transformation that culminates in Easter. Lent invites us to journey through the desert of our sin to the foot of the cross and ultimately, to share in the light of the resurrection of Jesus. We are, after all, Easter people. That will not change!
The Diocese of Calgary offers the following points to encourage and guide our active participation in the Holy Week, Triduum & Easter sacred liturgies during these pandemic times.
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:
Catholic Pastoral Centre Staff and Guest Writers