My 95 year old mother did not know a grandparent, a cousin, an aunt or an uncle growing up. But it is like the Lord is making up for what she did not have, as now there are close to 90 of us with our families and children and grandchildren and great grandchildren. Truly, the blessings of abundance are bountiful!
Celebrating the third World Day for Grandparents and the elderly is especially heartwarming for me this year. First, to be a grandparent to 11 on earth, and to have my own mother still with us as a grandmother and great grandmother is truly a blessing.
The alignment of the World Youth Day preparations with the celebration of this day serves as a reminder for young adults to appreciate the gift of their grandparents. As they participate in the festivities in Lisbon, Portugal, this year's World Day for Grandparents and Elderly theme, "His Mercy is from age to age" (Luke 1:15), echoes a message that God’s eyes are always on us. Taken from the Visitation of Mary to her cousin Elizabeth, this verse speaks volumes of the generations who celebrate in this Mercy.
The connection between the young and the old is vitally important. Whether it is being there as a grandparent to offer support and wisdom, or whether it is accepting the outstretched hand of the young offering help, both are so very necessary. Even if your grandparents are no longer with you, there are many elderly waiting to receive the touch of a grandchild figure, or for them to be a grandparent to a child.
During the pandemic when care facilities, and other living accommodations were closed off to visitors, our family came up with an idea to be able to see mom everyday by using FaceTime. This allows us to pray the daily rosary with her, to bring to prayer those who had special needs, and to remain connected. For over 2.5 years we have continued the practice as a family, and those who are able to join in can do so on any given day.
There are countless ways to maintain strong connections with our elderly loved ones, and each small effort can make a significant difference. Looking for ideas?
As grandparents we experience the joys and sufferings of each of our children and grandchildren. There are special needs, and there are many ways that we can be a blessing to our grown children and our grandchildren. I always recall with great gratitude the many times my own parents took our children, and the mercy shown to us when we were young parents. It is this boundless mercy shown to us that I desire to pass on to our own children and grandchildren. Those blessings that we received as young parents are still felt today, as I reach out to, and try to provide a place of secure welcome to our own grandchildren.
To witness to, and to be there for our grandchildren, as our presence is required, allows our grandchildren to receive so many benefits of family living united in the hope and the promise of the gospel message.
We are called to be there, and to especially be there for our aging parents / grandparents. To be a sign of hope in a culture that wants to cancel people is so very important. It means taking a stand and to pray through our current culture, while keeping our focus on what brings life. To be people of hope, when all hope seems diminished stands as a beacon for the world. God’s plan is so much bigger than what we can imagine, and we can be that sign of hope for others. It is not about a “perfect” life, it is about allowing God’s will and His plan to unfold for our lives, having the cross at the centre. It is about caring for those that God puts in our path. The love and respect given to and from grandparents can never be diminished.
When cultures are cancelling the weak and the vulnerable, it is time to stand up, and be counter cultural. Let us be the “voice of one crying out in the wilderness” (Isaiah 40:3). Do not be afraid to be the one to show His Mercy, and to respect the life we have been given from conception to natural death.
My grandfather, when asked how to raise children, simply said, “teach them their faith, and use good common sense.” Today this is still sound advice, so simple and yet so true. His words of wisdom have stood the test of time.
As we navigate through this complex and unforgiving world, let’s revisit this advice, and may we proclaim with boldness the message of mercy to our grandchildren.
I heard the advice that if we want to grow in spiritual childhood and the gift of prayer, we should ask God to show us children at play, or with their parents.
I used to work as a recreation leader for free after-school programs and day camps. What a treasury of memories this experience holds for me! Upon reflection, I feel compelled to share my experiences with the young children, as they served as a reminder of how I was called to rely on his presence as the Caring Adult in my life, especially during this special month dedicated to His Most Sacred Heart.
One young man I knew from the after-school program, who I’ll call John, was 12 years old. I could see that his life was full of pressures: from his teachers who misunderstood him, abusive parents, and friends who pulled him down into the foolishness of youth. During our program, he would chat my ear off while simultaneously refusing to listen to my clear instructions. He really was quite challenging to manage, but I knew that God had made him good, and that the best place he could be during those evenings was our safe little room in which we held the program.
The after-school program room was full of posters with positive sayings and chairs for the children to sit in. It was no larger than the average Adoration chapel. I loved sitting at the front, teaching the children simple social and emotional skills, and seeing their little eyes attend to me. I was delighted in every face I saw and the voices that I heard. Every so often, John would miss our program after school, preferring the excitement of his friends or video games to the calm order of the program. Because I knew he belonged there, I remember standing at the door and watching for him, allowing my heart to hope that he would come again.
I also treasure the memory of a little girl who I’ll call Mary. She delighted us leaders very much, because she was always following us around, or sitting with us, telling us everything that came to her mind. Though she could be mischievous at times, whenever we corrected her, she would genuinely apologize and make an effort to do better. She was not discouraged when we reprimanded her but stayed as close as ever and audaciously expected to be loved, which she certainly was.
My least favourite part of the job was giving First Aid to the children. One time, a young girl came to me with a splinter in her palm. I thanked her for her bravery in showing me, then reluctantly retrieved the First Aid kit. Using the plastic tweezers, I removed the splinter out of her hand. I cringed as she cried out in pain, but we both knew that it had to be done. She left my little “doctor’s office” smiling and calm, free to play again.
During some professional development sessions, I learned about the importance of each child having a caring adult in their life. This person would be someone who sees and understands the child, expresses personal interest in their life, fills them with hope for the future, and encourages them amid the inevitable challenges of childhood. The mere presence of such a person in a child’s life, I was taught, can determine their capacity to flourish as a human being. Without receiving love in such a way, the likelihood of a fulfilling and happy adult life may diminish.
Jesus reveals Himself as the Caring Adult whose Sacred Heart has a special spot for each of us. When we ask for the grace to approach Him in Adoration with faith and repentance, He knows how to teach, encourage, forgive, and heal us.
This year, I signed up for a holy hour at St. Anthony’s after reading on their website that “Many rich blessings are bestowed on those who regularly adore Jesus, truly present in the Blessed Sacrament.” With a hopeful heart, I committed that time to be with Jesus, a little like the children who chose to come to our programs. He has not disappointed me. He will not disappoint you.
In our diocese, a wide range of Adoration hours are offered at parishes across the Diocese. Adoremus! Let us adore Him!
Adoration Hours schedule (Summer & Fall 2023)
Note that hours may change without notice. Please contact the Parish Office if you are not sure.
For converts, the journey on the road to Roman Catholicism is as varied as their individual personalities and experiences. My journey was a rather circuitous route, due in part to a neurological disorder – but I’m getting ahead of myself.
Our three children are now adults, but when our youngest was just starting school, she began displaying sudden twitches and jerky movements which seemed out of her control. Our initial concern soon turned to alarm as the movements became more pronounced, and as she also began making odd sounds as well. We checked with our family doctor, who referred us to a pediatric psychiatrist over the Christmas break. After a lot of listening and observing, he gave us his diagnosis: Tourette Syndrome.
In some ways it was a comfort to have a name for the condition, but we also felt anxious about what the future might hold. My husband and I read everything we could get our hands on about Tourette Syndrome and found out that most people learn to cope with this neurological disorder, though it isn’t an easy condition to live with. We also learned that the involuntary movements and sounds are called motor tics and vocal tics.
School became a nightmare for our daughter. She felt humiliated, confused, sad and, most of all, concerned about “disturbing” the other students with her frequent vocal and motor tics. Finally, we made the decision to homeschool her, in an attempt to salvage our collective sanity. I quit my teaching job.
I’ve noticed that, from my childhood, when faced with distressing experiences I seek solace in books. This was no exception. As we launched into the new experience of homeschooling, I buried myself in my spare time in the works of authors I have long loved, including C. S. Lewis. One line from Lewis’ book The Problem of Pain had a profound impact on me: “Pain removes the veil. It plants the flag of truth within the fortress of a rebel soul.” As I sat one day at our dining room table, reading and absorbing those words with my twitching, barking daughter beside me working on her math lesson, it did indeed feel as if a veil was being ripped off my old perceptions of myself, of God, and of the world. I knew I needed to go deeper and find a better way to cope with this new reality.
C. S. Lewis led me to one of his favorite authors, G. K. Chesterton, whose books I ate up with an eagerness that my husband found rather baffling. Fascinated by Chesterton’s conversion to Catholicism, I then started reading the works of other notable converts – Cardinal John Henry Newman, Dorothy Day, Thomas Merton, and Scott Hahn. My concept of our relationship with God was challenged by their insights.
I grew up in the United Church, and my husband and I attended Protestant Churches with our children during the early years of our marriage. But after reading the stories of famous converts to Catholicism I felt drawn, like a magnet, to a little Catholic church in our neighborhood. I had never been inside, even though we had lived just two blocks away for almost twenty years. My husband decided to join me, and as we entered the church building together one Sunday, as Mass was about to begin, we had absolutely no idea what to expect.
At first it felt very foreign, but we kept attending. Before long, we found ourselves signed up for a Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults course (RCIA), with a group of other spiritual explorers. We were increasingly captivated by what we heard every Tuesday night at the RCIA class. In the Catholic Church we found people who were unafraid to gaze on Christ’s suffering, and as I followed their gaze, I was confronted with a love that shook me to the core. I felt like I finally understood Chesterton’s astute comment: “The Catholic church is bigger on the inside than it is on the outside.”
As the highly anticipated "Restoring the Feminine Heart" Women's Conference approaches (May 26-27), the Beloved Daughters Ministry team shares with Faithfully about their event and the ministry's mission. Read on to discover what this exciting conference has in store.
For those who have never heard of the Beloved Daughters Ministry, it's a lay-run women's ministry established in 2020 to support women at every stage of life as they rediscover their identity as beloved daughters of God.
Initially created to host annual women's conferences within the Diocese of Calgary, the ministry adapted to an online presence due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Through social media platforms, they share blog posts (written by many local women), weekly Sunday reflections, and host Advent and Lenten mini-retreats at various parishes. The ministry offers connection, relatability, and encouragement to women, helping them stay rooted in the truths of their identity in God.
“Restoring the Feminine Heart”
The ministry conference team, guided by prayer and discernment, has carefully chosen the perfect topic and speakers for this inaugural event. With the theme “Restoring the Feminine Heart”, they are eager to delve into the true identity and unique gifts that women possess.
"We hope to be able to provide the beginnings of restoration and healing to women who have experienced wounds in these areas, especially where in today’s society there is much confusion and distortion regarding the identity of the individual." said Rikka, one of the founders of the Beloved Daughter Ministry. The team also hope to shed light on God’s thoughtful design in creating humans male and female in His image and likeness, as well as the gift that we are to each other.
Women going to the conference will be examining how pressures from society, others, and even themselves, have hindered the ability to live out their truest identity. They will unpack how they can freely live out of the giftedness of our femininity.
Jake & Heather Khym
The team is beyond excited to welcome guest speakers Heather Khym (most commonly known as a co-host on the Abiding Together Podcast) and Jake Khym (Registered Psychologist and co-host of the Restore the Glory Podcast).
Jake and Heather Khym are a married Catholic couple from Abbotsford, BC. They are the founders of Life Restoration Ministries. Their ministry is devoted to creating opportunities for Jesus to encounter people, empowering disciples to deepen their faith. They achieve this through evangelization and formation focused on unlocking the heart. On their podcasts, Jake and Heather regularly share personal stories of their own journey towards healing and restoration with great vulnerability.
When asked why Jake & Heather Khym for their first women’s conference, Rikka revealed, “The three of us first heard Jake Khym speak at Rise up 2014 in Calgary and his message blew us away. He spoke into each of our hearts differently, but prominently.”
The launch of the all-female Abiding Together Podcast, featuring Heather Khym, piqued the team's interest even more. One of their team members found great healing through listening to the Restore the Glory Podcast, hosted by Jake Khym (a registered counselor), and Dr. Bob Schuchts (a registered psychologist).
“In listening to the honesty and relatability in which they share their experiences, combined with their professional and ministerial background, we immediately knew that having them speak at this conference would be just what was needed to create an environment of hope and healing for the attendees at our conference.”
"We believe that Jake and Heather can beautifully demonstrate the harmony and unity that can exist within relationships as we each journey towards wholeness."
A Pentecost Gift
Mothers, daughters, grandmothers, granddaughters, aunts, nieces, sisters, and girl-friends! If you are a woman over the age of 18 then there is a place for you at this conference! Nursing infants, and female adolescents 14 years and older coming with their mother or guardian, are also welcome.
Maria added, “This conference is sure to be an enriching and impactful weekend filled with connection, rest and restoration. You can look forward to being amongst a community of lovely women gathering, learning and praying together!”
It is truly a gift for our Diocese to have this conference offered in Calgary, and especially on the weekend of Pentecost. The Holy Spirit will be present and ready to shower the women in attendance with an abundance of graces!
Together with the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB), Bishop McGrattan is urging the faithful to continue to oppose the expansion of MAiD in Canada. The CCCB has just issued an Open Letter to the Government of Canada and a Message to the Catholic Faithful on May 9 re: Permitting Persons Living with Mental Illness to Access Euthanasia/Assisted Suicide. We ask you to share the Bishop's message with your friends and family:
Let us spend the National Week of Family and Life (NFLW) 2023 united in prayer, reflection, and action, demonstrating our active support for family and life. Indeed, families are “guardians of life” when we love one another within our families and in wider society when we show kindness toward and care for the vulnerable and marginalized.
Note: Day 1 can begin anytime! We want to ensure everybody has the opportunity to join in and take part in this wonderful experience. Don't worry if you missed the start of NFLW, you can join in and start participating in the daily prayers and activities from any day.
Source: National Life & Family Week Daily Prayers & Activities, CCCB, 2023
This St. Valentine’s Day, Jessica and Joseph Cyr celebrate a champagne wedding anniversary of sorts, with 14 years of marriage on the 14th. In that time, just as their family has grown to include five children, so has their extended family of faith.
The ceremonial ‘passing of the beaver pelt’ from one newlywed couple to another is a seemingly silly tradition that the Cyrs started in their Calgary Catholic community shortly after they were married, and never imagined would still be going strong today.
“I thought it would be fun to start a tradition within the Catholic community,” said Joseph Cyr. “I had the beaver hanging on my wall. It was unique to me, no one else had a homemade beaver pelt. I thought, ‘hey we can use that, and it’s something very Canadian, something that represents our heritage.’”
At the time of publication, 48 couples, with more than 100 children combined, have written their names and wedding dates on the back of this storied beaver pelt.
History of the Pelt
Back when Joseph was in high school, he earned his trapping license and trapped a beaver in a creek near his hometown of Pincher Creek, Alberta. He proceeded to prepare the beaver’s pelt for mounting onto plywood. While he had hoped to continue pursuing this hobby, the beaver was the only animal he ever trapped.
Shortly after he and Jessica married, Joseph hung the pelt in the living room of their first home, but as it happened Jessica did not exactly share Joseph’s taste in home decor. Joseph then had the idea to gift the pelt to another young couple; Jessica was very receptive to the notion and thus a tradition was born.
The Cyrs presented it to Jared and Natalie Fehr at their wedding reception with the stipulation that they must display the pelt prominently in their home until the next Catholic couple involved with their young adult community married, at which point the ceremonial bestowing of the beaver pelt would continue.
The beaver’s lodge
Currently, the pelt is in the possession of Brian and Jennifer Toner. Per the directive, it is displayed above their living-room television in Cupertino, California – one hour South of San Francisco.
Adam Pittman presented the pelt on behalf of the Catholic community at their wedding reception in November in Saskatoon.
“For us, receiving the beaver pelt was a huge honour,” said Jennfier Toner.
“It felt like our marriage was being uplifted by the prayers and thoughts of the whole group, whether we knew each couple or not. We also felt excited, because it is a delightfully ridiculous ‘gift and re-gift ' process that we now get to partake in,” Toner added.
A silly or serious tradition?
In his own way, Fr. Cristino Bouvette feels very much part of the beaver pelt tradition. He has celebrated the weddings of at least half of the couples associated with the beaver pelt, and witnessed time and again the passing on of the pelt at wedding receptions.
“It is clearly a silly tradition, but not merely a silly tradition. It is also a sign of married life being one of openness to the wider community. People marry for the sake of expanding the community of believers, expanding the community of the world,” said Fr. Bouvette.
“In receiving this memento, albeit tacky, it’s a sign of belonging to a wider community outside of your married life, which is a very important testament to the mystery of marriage. You give yourself to the other for the sake of the other, and then in that one flesh union that opens up to all others,” Fr. Bouvette added.
“It’s such a great sign to me of our ever-expanding faith community.”
As human beings with both body and soul, we take good care of ourselves through healthy relationships, especially our relationship with God, and with the help of science.
Watch this video and see how both science and the Faith connect.
Pope Francis has declared that the Third Sunday in Ordinary Time is to be devoted to the celebration, study and dissemination of the word of God “that the life of our people be constantly marked by this decisive relationship with the living word that the Lord never tires of speaking to his Bride” (Aperuit Illis, 2). In 2023 the Sunday of the Word of God falls on January 22.
Download: 2023 Liturgical/Pastoral Resource from the Dicastery for Evangelization for Sunday of the Word of God
Here are five liturgical suggestions for making the most of this universal invitation from the Pontiff.
Focus on the centrality of the Bible for Christians. In the Gospel, Jesus quotes what we heard in the first reading from the Prophet Isaiah. The word of the prophet is the foundation for his teaching and the call of the first disciples. In the second reading Paul tells the Corinthians that Jesus did not send him to baptize but to proclaim the Gospel and that “it is the power of God”.
2. Bless Ministers of the Word
Following the Homily, invite ministers of the Word to stand (e.g. lectors, psalmists, leaders in RCIA, liturgy of the word for children, and scripture study). Bless them with hands extended:
Blessed are you, Lord God,
Source of all light and all goodness,
you sent your Son, your living Word,
to reveal to humanity the mystery of your love.
Look with mercy upon these women and men who proclaim your word
and lead your people closer to your teaching.
Bless X them in their ministry
so that they may be nourished by your Word,
be transformed by it and faithfully announce it
to their brothers and sisters in your Church.
We praise and thank you, Father,
in the name of Jesus your Son,
and in the love of your Holy Spirit,
God of glory for ever and ever.
Adapted from the blessing of lectors in Celebrations of Installation and Recognition, copyright Concacan Inc.,2005. All rights reserved.
3. Universal Prayer
Introduction to the petitions:
Dear sisters and brothers,
nourished and formed by God’s Word
let us bring our needs and petitions before Him.
In addition to the petitions you have prepared for today, include some for the Word of God to come to life in your community, for example:
Prayer at the end of the petitions:
Grant, O God, that our lives be marked by your living word.
Hear these, our prayers,
and help us to proclaim the good news of the kingdom.
Through Christ our Lord.
4. Eucharistic Prayer
You might use Eucharistic Prayer III for Various Needs and Occasions (Jesus the Way to the Father). Its Preface focuses on Christ as the “Word” of God. Roman Missal p.764ff.
5. Enthroning the Bible (For use in homes, schools, and with RCIA or Bible Study groups)
The faithful have shown reverence to the bible as the inspired word of God since ancient times. The enthronement of an open bible has often served as a symbolic invitation to delve into the sacred text as the source of our spiritual life. You might use this short ritual from the American Bible Society to enthrone the Bible at home, in schools, and with RCIA or Bible Study groups.
6. More Resources
Watch this video and go beyond merely having a picture-perfect family Christmas dinner. Let Christ be at the center of all things.
“Help me!” Out of a dark bathroom in a long term care home, I heard a plaintive cry and froze. I was there to bring the Eucharist, nothing more. I turned to seek out an attendant and heard again, “Don’t leave me!” Heart pounding, I crept forward, identified myself loudly and turned on the lights to find an elderly woman on the toilet. With shaking hands I cleaned her and helped her to stand up. She leaned against me as we washed our hands. Secretly I thought, “I have wiped Christ’s bottom.”
Jesus said that whatever we do for the least of his brethren we do for him. This is true whether we cook for our family, give alms to the poor or serve at Mass. However, it might be particularly true when we are called to move out of our comfort zone and give more than we intended to. For example, when we offer to buy a street person a coffee and he chooses a whole meal with it. Or we call to check in on a friend and she spills out her woes for an hour. When we give of ourselves we prefer to have a measure of control over the experience but that is not how God gives of himself. God gave his only son, and Jesus gave his lifeblood for us. God continues to give constantly and completely, so we are called to do the same. This kind of self-emptying service is what Pope Francis called “the art of accompaniment”.
“The Church will have to initiate everyone – priests, religious and laity- into this “art of accompaniment” which teaches us to remove our sandals before the sacred ground of the other.” (Evangelii Gaudium 169)
I am coming to understand The Art of Accompaniment through a series of talks given by Fr. Tim Boyle at St. Martha’s Parish in Lethbridge . So far Fr. Boyle has noted that accompaniment is not quite the same as caregiving, although it might include that. To accompany someone is to first of all recognize that God is with them. As guest speaker Reno Guimond said, “We are not bringing God to anyone. God has been there long before we show up. We go to see where God is.” Besides recognizing God in each person, we also need to understand how God works in the world.
Fr. Boyle encouraged his listeners to imagine God “delighting” in the world as he created it. “God has invested himself in creation,” Fr. Boyle said. “This is not a one-time event but an evolving artwork. If God accompanies us as an artist not as an engineer then God is vulnerable to the unfolding of Creation… God suffers in the process… God chooses to spend himself on creation.” This form of sacrificial support was expressed ultimately by God becoming human and Jesus’ death and resurrection.
For us, sacrificial giving of ourselves is often a challenge. Society dictates that one must preserve oneself, must learn to ‘Say No’, and ration one’s time and energy. Yet Creation shows otherwise. Fr. Boyle used the examples of salmon making death runs upstream to spawn, and sunflowers drying up to produce seeds for food and for procreation. “Like salmon and sunflowers, every creature, in order to reach their full potential, needs to empty themselves out”, Fr. Boyle said. So how is this achieved in practical terms? How does one accompany another person, whether continuously or when called upon?
It begins when we accept God’s accompaniment of us. This happens through grace which Fr. Boyle suggests is “like manna – something given by God every day which cannot be stored up but only taken advantage of that day.” Grace is not a weapon or superpower, it doesn’t enhance our abilities. Indeed it requires us to first accept that we have no ability without God. We are flawed and vulnerable beings made precious by God’s acceptance. It is God’s grace that sustains us, sanctifies us. When we understand this dynamic we are better prepared to handle the vulnerability of others, to accept it, and handle it gently.
Since my first incident of extreme vulnerability in long-term care, my ministry partner and I have been called upon to assist a few others at their times of greatest need, in life and even approaching death. While I still feel my heart pounding each time, the experiences have been deeply humbling. I know God is helping me learn how to cherish the sacred ground of others.
Find out why the term “Annulment” is problematic and why it’s not the same as the Declaration of Nullity. Watch this brief video with Fr. Mark-Mary.
It takes three to make a marriage: man, woman, and God. It only takes one for marriages to fail.
He answered, “Have you not read that the one who made them at the beginning ‘made them male and female’, and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate”. Matthew 19:4-6
All things beautiful last forever, and beauty involves joy, hardships, mutual self-giving, and sacrifice.
What's happening in the Diocese of Calgary?
Perhaps you have gone through difficult times and received unhelpful but well-meaning comments. Maybe you just heard yourself say something that didn’t come across as well as you thought it would as you tried to console someone.
Watch this video and learn some tips on knowing the right things to say as a personal mini sensitivity training.
Five o’clock. First light was beginning to peek through the blinds of our fifth wheel camper. I pushed past the temptation to remain snuggled under the blanket and forced myself out of bed. I was going to do it - I was going to climb a mountain (okay, a hill) to watch a sunrise and sit in the presence of my Heavenly Father.
My family was spending the first week of August at Dinosaur Provincial Park, joining my in-laws for a four-day adventure in the hoodoos. Our first evening at Dinosaur Park, we’d trekked to the highest point to get a full 360 of the oddly picturesque World Heritage Site. It’s an incredible anomaly among the flattest of prairie, and it’s one of the most breathtaking landscapes I’ve ever experienced. Anybody who’s been to Dinosaur Provincial Park, 43 kilometers northeast of Brooks, knows exactly what I’m talking about: after driving through miles of prairie, the world suddenly opens up. Sandstone-striped hills, hiding who knows how many millions of fossils, seem to go on forever. Standing at the top of the mountain (okay, again, hill) and breathing in the majesty of God’s creation, I had the bright idea to climb again one morning during our trip to take in a prairie sunrise over the hoodoos and hills.
Our first night camping was fraught with high winds, deafening thunder, and sheet lightning, which encouraged me to sleep in snugly that first morning (cozied up to my nine-year-old daughter, who tucked in with us at the first roll of thunder.) The following day, however, my internal alarm went off three times before I finally arose to first light at 5 am, pulled on a hoodie, and quietly slipped out of our camper while the rest of my family snoozed away.
It was quiet and dark enough that I felt a little bit disconcerted (I’ve seen a rattlesnake or two at the park), but as I began my ascent, my desire to be with God on a mountaintop (hoo-doo top?) outweighed my fear. The climb was steep and slippery in running shoes, and I laughed at myself as I huffed and puffed towards the top, bolstered by Al McGuire’s quote: “There’s no one who’s dropped on top of the mountain. You’ve got to work your way to the top.” After slips and slides and gratitude that I had no witnesses, I arrived at the apex, took a deep breath, looked around, and prayed:
Lord Jesus Christ,
Take all my freedom,
And my will.
All that I have and cherish
You have given me.
I surrender it all to be guided by Your will.
Your grace and love and wealth enough for me.
Give me these, Lord Jesus,
And I ask for nothing more. Amen.
I’d never heard Saint Ignatius of Loyola’s prayer until Father Raul Hernandez, former pastor of St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Brooks, introduced me to it. It’s a prayer that I hold dear to my heart; it’s the prayer that I turn to most often, especially when I’m experiencing something uncomfortable or discouraging.
I’m writing about a mountaintop experience, which juxtaposes quite jarringly with the valleys my soul had been experiencing as of late. I’d been suffering from bouts of crippling anxiety since school let out. When I’m not teaching, my mental health tends to take a dip - I slug through the valleys of dark days, sustained prayer and platitudes (as well as adherence to exercise and diet.) God has given me many tools to help me keep my head above water when anxiety sets in.
When I’d finally made it to the top of the hill, I realized that I wasn’t alone: having neglected a good dose of Deet, I was joined by mosquitos, happy to keep me company as I attempted to pray and settle quietly into God’s presence. It was almost laughable - I’d stolen a moment to myself to be still, and I was busily swatting away the most loathesome of insects. It was tempting to sink into defeat, something that anxiety preys on greedily, but my repeated dedication to Jesus kept me mountaintop for over an hour. Praying… and swatting.
I watched the sandstone ground warm from grey to brown as the slow light began spreading its way westward over the hills, painting everything the colour of morning. I listened to coyotes howl from the south, answered by packs from the north. I watched a flock of Canada geese in their V formation, and listened to birds honk along the shores of the Red Deer River. I sank into the majesty of God’s kingdom here on Earth. Mosquitoes and all, it was a literal mountaintop (okay, hilltop) experience.
On August 6, we celebrated the Feast of the Transfiguration. After I shared that I was writing about my mountaintop morning, a dear friend of mine noted how, when prompted by Peter to set up camp at the top of the mountain, Jesus and His disciples came back down shortly after. They didn’t even stick around much longer after God acknowledged His Son. “We can’t stay in the mountaintop experiences. Even the disciples didn’t,” she noted sagely. She then asked, “what kind of transfiguration did you experience that morning?”
My mountain morning allowed for a transfiguration of my hurting heart. Anxiety doesn’t just slip away at will, but God always brings me back to His love, despite the temptation to despair. Climbing the mountain may not have entirely quelled my anxiety, but I was reminded of God’s great love for me as He painted the skies, and I returned to my family with an assuaged soul (and a million mosquito bites.) His grace and his love were in abundance that morning. Give me these, Lord Jesus, and I ask for nothing more. Amen.
I remember the day a girl about my height with jet black hair bounded up my driveway asking to play. I was about five years old and shy. Lori was a high energy, outgoing six-year-old and we quickly became friends. For the next three years we had adventures, playing hide and seek and other childhood pastimes, sometimes getting into mischief together.
In upper elementary, I remember finding out that the reason Lori acted differently is because she had fetal alcohol syndrome. But as young children that difference never factored in, in fact, in my eyes she was exciting and fun to be around.
Knowing Lori was a gift I received early in my life. I’ve carried the memories we made together with me ever since. And I carried her in my heart as I made the pilgrimage from my home in Calgary to Edmonton for the Papal Mass on July 26, 2022.
I prayed for Lori, one of my first best friends, an Indigenous girl who was innocently sentenced to a life clouded by the effects of a preventable syndrome. Lori was adopted and while she never attended residential school, it’s likely someone from her family tree had spent time at one of these schools. To me, her situation is an example from my own lived experience of the repercussions of residential schools felt through the generations.
When we arrived at Commonwealth Stadium, the first thing we did was take a family photo to remember our family pilgrimage as we will continue to unpack its significance in the years to come.
Next we found our seats, and while waiting for the Papal Mass to begin I noticed four middle-aged women sitting behind me wearing Every Child Matters orange and black t-shirts. Among them was Kelly Spooner who was not herself Indigenous, but came to honour the memory of her uncle (through marriage) who died in 2019 and attended residential school for six years.
“I came for strength and to renew my spirit. It’s a part of history today,” said Kelly Spooner.
Not long after, the Pope rode around the stadium greeting the crowd. Kelly ran down to the front gate to get a closer look. After he passed by she came back in tears, saying “I’m so happy he’s here.”
As the pre-Mass program was wrapping up, emcee Janelle Reinhardt asked the crowd to keep a prayerful silence.
“The stadium truly became silent, it was powerful and profound, you could only hear the humming of the buildings. It was impressive in a crowd so large,” said Amber Franco, reflecting on this poignant moment. She drove from Calgary to Edmonton with her husband Mike and seven children.
Calgary Bishop William McGrattan also took note of the prayerful atmosphere as he looked up into the crowd from ground level.
“When we entered in the procession for Mass and I saw the number of people on the field and in the stands you had this sense of the presence of Christ in those who had gathered to be with the Holy Father,” said Bishop McGrattan.
The Papal Mass was celebrated on the feast of St. Joachim and St. Anne – the grandparents of Jesus. Pope Francis used this opportunity to speak about the importance of grandparents and family cohesion during his homily.
“This message was simple, but one that everyone could receive and appreciate,” said Bishop McGrattan. “The message of a pastor who himself was advanced in age and not afraid to show the signs of declining mobility, and the need for assistance, which is experienced in every family.”
Like any good pilgrimage, there are challenging moments and as we sat in the bleachers listening to Pope Francis our children began to get a bit restless in the blistering heat. I turned my own discomfort into a small offering toward reconciliation, all the while my heart growing in gratitude for the heroic effort of our 85-year-old pontiff.
I thought this was a generous gesture toward reconciliation simply by showing up and “taking the heat” with us in every sense of the phrase. But I was also humbled by the elders some 80 years and up who had made the pilgrimage from various parts of the country also suffering their own discomforts in an attempt to heal and move forward.
My own father Deacon Richard Loftson accompanied a group of Indigenous pilgrims from Manitoba on behalf of the Archdiocese of St. Boniface. He ministers to the St. Kateri Tekakwitha Indigenous Parish in Winnipeg.
“They were thankful for the apology. They were emotional, in tears many of them. They had been waiting for so long,” said Deacon Loftson.
Bishop McGrattan also sought feedback as he encountered people affected by residential schools.
“In talking to some survivors at the various events, it was difficult for some to hear and relive these memories. For others, there was a sense of recognition that they were listened to by Pope Francis and that his words and actions were genuine in their eyes,” said Bishop McGrattan.
Like many things, the future lies with the children in hopes they will learn from history and build a more just and merciful society where no child will ever again suffer the consequences of being forced to leave their family and lose their culture and heritage.
This is why our friends Alissa and Konrad Paley of Calgary also made the pilgrimage with their three young daughters (six years and under) to the Papal Mass with the same intention as our family: to build a culture of goodwill and reconciliation in their home.
“Participating in this particular Papal Mass was really important as a Catholic and a Canadian,” said Alissa Paley. “The Church is made up of the people, we are the people of the Church. In order for the Church to work towards reconciliation we must show up.”
“I was honoured to bring my daughters with me. I know that they currently don’t understand the gravity of this event, but I hope as they grow up they may continue to pray for the journey toward reconciliation in this country.”
My thoughts have turned toward the child during this pilgrimage. Just like my friend Lori who did nothing to deserve the circumstances she inherited as a child, neither did I deserve the family and opportunities I have been afforded. Everything is a gift. In gratitude, I left Edmonton pondering how I can use the time I have left to seek holiness by laying down my life for my friends.
== More photos from our Diocesan families during the Papal Mass (click "all comments")
Catholic Pastoral Centre Staff and Guest Writers