I am weak. I can’t do life on my own. I am in need of a Saviour. This is what the Covid-19 pandemic has taught me.
My eyes welled up with tears as I knelt to pray after receiving the Eucharistic Jesus for the first time since public celebration of Holy Mass was suspended in the Diocese of Calgary. Staring transfixed at the crucifix, I prayed: Jesus, I need you. I’m helpless without you. I surrender.
This is not how my Covid-19 experience began.
Energy and even some excitement characterized the initial weeks of cancellations. To keep calm, I adopted a laid back attitude, got outside for walks and practised gratitude. My husband Ben and I head up a domestic church with five children ranging from 8 months to nine years old. I loved trading in my hectic chauffeur duties, for a simpler, slower lifestyle at home together. I experienced what it’s like to truly be the primary educator of my children and to boot, there were countless free resources and professionals offering virtual help.
I appreciated the empathy and compassion that society showed with the ‘we will get through this together’ mentality. I actually believed, at least on the surface, that: ‘I’ve got this.’ I experienced a vision for our domestic church that I had never dared to dream before.
But then, panic set in. What is going to happen once things open up again? Will it all seem like a dream? I noticed myself getting agitated, anxious and angry. I started to lose my peace because there were many aspects of this new life I wanted to retain, but I feared it might not be possible.
Being confined to household isolation 24/7 for months felt like a monastic existence. I could not run, nor could I hide from my own weaknesses that were barriers to fully loving my family as myself. I finally had to confront them and it was like a lightning bolt struck my heart waking me from my slumber.
I knew I was made for more. My unease felt so contrary to the holy woman I was striving to become. So I prayed for humility and courage to vulnerably peel off my camouflage. I desired to see myself the way God sees me. And through His grace, I discerned a call to a new radical self-acceptance; to become even more myself because God has even bigger plans for my life!
What I discovered through prayer and conversation is that while I possess many creative talents, I score lower in the practical skills to keep a home running smoothly. I had been holding myself to a very high standard for which I didn’t have the natural skill to peacefully pull off.
Early one morning, I walked to St. Pius X Church in Calgary and knelt outside looking through the window in adoration of Our Lord. I no longer felt trapped in silence and shame over my shortcomings, but rather felt freedom to address my challenges head on with compassion and mercy both for myself and others. Little did I know that only a couple weeks later, I would finally be reunited sacramentally with the healing, life-giving presence of Our Lord.
My greatest desire is to become a saint and for those with eyes of faith, Covid-19 continues to be a holy time where both our challenges and blessings can be used to become like Christ. While we are collectively undergoing this pandemic together, our experience is uniquely ours. Following this article are six reflections from a new university graduate, a mother, a teacher, a single person, a senior and a pastor –– each made in the likeness and image of God, each giving God glory with their lives.
Written by Sara Francis for Faithfully
Through the visions St. Margaret Mary Alacoque, devotion to the Sacred Heart became formalized and the feast day extended to the whole Church by Pope Pius IX in 1856. This Friday, celebrate this beautiful feast at home, and receive the blessings and mercy Jesus promised St. Margaret Mary to souls who honour the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus.
Devotions to the Sacred Heart of Jesus are numerous and here are some ways we may be able to observe it this year:
Domestic church. These words might mean a lot more now than they did a mere two months ago. As all of us have experienced, Covid-19, social distancing measures and the cancellation of Masses to stop the spread has affected the greater Catholic community in large and small ways.
“Mom, we are the people who walked in darkness,” my four-year-old said to me one day last week, citing the psalm we’ve been singing after sharing the Liturgy of the Word the last few Sundays before Easter, but even though there is much to be prayed for, I am seeing a lot of light shining through.
Many of us familiar with social media already know the hope that can be gleaned from the apps and resources that popular Catholics produce for wider consumption, but this unprecedented situation has had many of us reaching for our phones and computers, not only for connection with others but for prayer.
Alane Boudreau, with children and grandchildren ranging from 6 months old to 25 shared with me that their family took up an Instagram offer that Fr. Alex Mijangos, LC at Sacred Heart Church in Calgary made to join families for a live online rosary, and that night realized how well it might work for their family and friends to join in too.
“We have been saying a nightly family rosary after supper for a few years now. We always invite anyone who is with us for supper to also join us for the rosary, but we had never thought to do it live online until the social-distancing measures were introduced.
“We send out a Zoom invitation each day, and when we have all gathered, we share our intentions and then take turns saying a decade. There are usually around 6 logins, bringing us to around 20 people.
Simple and effective, this is one way for families to both connect and to receive the grace of prayer together.
“As the weeks have passed,” Boudreau said, they have focused efforts on her husband Rene’s parents who live in Nova Scotia and are “finding these weeks especially lonely and isolating.”
The nightly rosary also comes with a special treat:
“Our kids all go to the wonderful St John Choir Schola in Calgary, a choir school for homeschoolers, so they have been taught to sing. Their grandparents are true Cape Bretoners who love music, so at first, we would simply sing a song for them before and after the rosary.
“As these things tend to grow, it has expanded into all ages singing songs, now with choreography and costumes, using whatever we have in the house.
“It has definitely brought cheer and laughter to the grandparents, and our married adult children who are living in other cities.”
I am inspired by stories like this and of others’ too, who have taken the initiative within their homes to keep the life of the Church alive and well through this time apart from our church communities.
“For us, it’s been important to keep Sundays set apart,” said Caitlin Marr, a Calgary mom of two girls. The family still dresses up for Sunday Mass, and Marr and her husband Todd rearrange their dining room, putting candles and icons around their TV screen to livestream Mass, “so the girls know that it is more than just family movie time.”
Social media is awash with ideas and postings of things families are doing. From a seven-church pilgrimage on Holy Thursday with a few socially distanced friends to a visit here and there from friends dropping Easter gifts and spiritual aids, we as a church are finding ways to thrive in both beautiful and innovative ways.
I’ve had feelings of emptiness accompanied by feelings of abundant grace. We were already choosing to homeschool this year with Saint John Choir Schola to support us, and fortunately, that transition has been seamless, but I know the stress of being a new homeschooler, and that is what many are going through now.
Being trained in the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, a Montessori-based program for children, I felt somewhat equipped to guide the children through Holy Week alongside my husband, though we have mourned the loss of being surrounded by our friends and family as we celebrate the liturgy.
On Holy Thursday, a fellow catechist was kind enough to drop some material for a presentation of the Last Supper. I felt so blessed as my seven-member family sat around our coffee table, looking at a miniature version of the disciples around a table with a peg doll Jesus, a cup, bread and wine.
On Saturday night we lit a fire for our very own Vigil and passed light to one another from a homemade paschal candle. As we explained the liturgy to our children, my husband and I had a deeper understanding of the great mystery we were missing, and a sense of urgency to pray for the day when we can unite within the walls of our churches again.
“I like it when Father does this better,” said one of my sons, which will hopefully gratify our parish priest, whom we value very much.
“So do I,” I thought.
And in the midst of this, our priests and religious are still hard at work to provide spiritual food for us. With online homilies and messages of hope, as well as reaching out online, our Church is making do and getting by as we have for thousands of years across the world in times of crisis.
Written by Jessica Cyr for Faithfully
Photo courtesy of Jessica Cyr
While I have spent most of my teaching career in Catholic Education systems in Saskatchewan and Alberta, I did not grow up attending Catholic schools. I was one of those people who didn’t discover that sense of “it just feels different” in a Catholic school until I began my teaching career at Father Gorman School in Lloydminster. Now don’t get me wrong – I had a wonderful upbringing in rural Saskatchewan. My little school was not a Catholic school but I loved it with all my heart. And the truth is, I always felt I was “very Catholic” based on my connection with our little church, St. Mary’s. Many of my memories of growing up are tied to that church. We attended Sunday Mass and gathered for fall suppers, wedding receptions, and potlucks after the celebration of First Communion and Confirmation. While I always proudly identified myself as a Catholic, I can see now that I basically grew up as a “Sunday Catholic.” Going to Mass was non-negotiable and my mom and dad saw to it that all of my siblings and I received all of our Sacraments. I said my nighttime prayers and we had books about Jesus in our home, along with a crucifix and religious statues. Beyond that though, I don’t remember thinking a lot about my faith on a daily basis.
My first taste of Catholic Education came in 1986 when I started my teaching career and I quickly “got it.” For children who are blessed to go to Catholic schools, they are immersed in their faith every day. I learned how blessed my students were to be able to pray together every day. They got to know God more deeply because we could read the Word of God together. My students learned to serve their brothers and sisters through acts of social service and social justice. Perhaps most importantly, they had the opportunity to celebrate the Eucharist at our school Masses. These experiences, and so many more, happen in every Catholic school in Alberta.
In our Catholic schools today, our students are not living a “Sunday Catholic” kind of life. They are learning to know our faith deeply and they live their faith every single day. I can think of no better description of what is happening in our Catholic schools than with the words from the Gospel of Matthew. “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hidden. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before human beings, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” Our students are the light – they are shining brightly every day, not just on Sundays, because of the good and holy work that is happening in our Catholic schools. I am proud to be part of the story.
Written by Joann Bartley, Director of Religious Education
Holy Spirit Catholic School Division
At only 37, John Chick has accomplished tremendous achievements. He played professional football for 12 years in the CFL and NFL, winning two Grey Cups and being named the League's Most Outstanding Defensive Player before retiring in 2018. He and his wife Catherine have nine children, and more souls in heaven due to miscarriage.
He gives thanks to God for the gift of his body, mind and soul, which have allowed him to strive for excellence. Chick believes the body is a temple of the Holy Spirit and the pathway to glorify God.
“I see the physical world as God created it – all good and meant to point us back to Him. We were all created in His image and likeness,” said the former Saskatchewan Roughriders, Hamilton Tiger Cats and Edmonton Eskimos player.
“I’ve always loved the physical world,” said Chick. “I’ve always loved the pursuit of: how can I get this better. Every offseason for 12 years, I would not rest on how good the last season was, but how I can do better at what I wasn’t doing well.”
Chick has counted setbacks as blessings in his life, which have further motivated him and reminded him that where he is weak, God is strong.
“How many look at the glass half empty and woe is me. Regardless of what we have been ‘blessed’ with, we are all called to glorify God with our bodies,” he said.
“For me, you don’t have to look too far to see a lot of us are victims of something broken. In us or around us and we are victims of maybe our vices.”
Chick’s body has experienced several setbacks in his pursuit of his dreams. At 14, he was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. At the time, this news devastated his family. In college he experienced Bells Palsy and later in his professional career he had the onset of alopecia, a hair loss condition, and vitiligo, a skin discoloration condition, not to mention countless sports injuries throughout his life.
“Miscarriages, moves, trades, cuts, injuries, God always found a way (into my life). I attribute it to my family and experiences of the Holy Spirit,” said Chick.
Growing up in Wyoming as the eldest of three, faith was central in Chick’s life. His father modelled a devout faith life working as a Catholic youth minister.
So when a healing priest came to town after Chick’s diabetes diagnosis the family went to see him, and everyone had a powerful conversion experience through prayer to the Holy Spirit.
“It doesn’t mean we lived a perfect faith life, but we were always dependent on the sacraments,” said Chick.
Today, he lives in Florida where he is devoted to raising his own family in the Catholic faith. He incorporates faith and fitness into the running of his own life-coaching business called Ironwill Fitness.
Self-care has been central to his success, and he is trying to share his wisdom with his clients.
“We are supposed to love our neighbour as ourselves. But how can I love my neighbour if I’m not loving myself?” said Chick.
“How can I improve my capacity to be that servant leader? It’s taking care of myself first.”
God Squad Conference recordings, including the session with guest speaker John Chick, are now available online: https://godsquad.ca/2020-conference-recordings
Written by Sara Francis for Faithfully
Photos courtesy of John Chick
God is always waiting for our conversion to his mercy and love. For a large portion of my life I was haunted with the darkness of childhood abuse. This is my journey into God’s call and falling into His overflowing grace. As a five-year-old child I was playing in our local playground with children from the local church. When they left, I went home and asked my mother if I could go to church. My mother said I could go with the neighbours, but I wasn’t brave enough to go.
Later, I attended a Catholic high school because my mother believed in academics. In Grade 12, I completed a water pollution project for a Religion class and received a mark of 98%. From that moment, I believed that my vocation would be in the Sciences. That same year (1972), at the age of 17, I became pregnant and consented to an abortion supported by both sets of parents (Catholic and non-Catholic). The day I had the abortion I shut the door on God! I believed I was not worthy of His love; I had killed my own child. By this time, the darkness of my childhood abuse and the weight of an abortion had left my soul in complete darkness. The mask I continued to wear could not hide the pain, and I struggled. I knew one day that the darkness would envelope me and I would end my life: the pain of my soul too unbearable.
With a husband and my daughter my world was unravelling; filled with anger, guilt and darkness. I was asked to become a Catholic so my daughter could continue to attend a Catholic school. To me, it was nothing more than a course, I was never going to be a Catholic. But God had other plans. What I could not or would not do for myself, I would do for my daughter. It was the 3rd scrutiny during the Purification and Enlightenment process that things began to change. Prior to this Scrutiny, I had gone to Reconciliation and confessed my sins. God has an eraser of grace; He forgave me; the door of grace flooded opened. During the 3rd Scrutiny, in his fatherly love, the late Fr. Keith Sorge let me touch his vestments and I fell into the wellspring of God’s love. The search out of the darkness of my soul began, but it was only after a severe leg injury (run over by an ATV) that I could face the overwhelming pain and terror of childhood sexual abuse. The cry of the poor—that is what God hears in our prayers.
In gratitude for God’s grace, I became involved with the RCIA, Project Rachel, CWL, Hike for Life, Eucharistic Ministries and Lector ministries. I obtained a Master’s from Newman Theological College (Edmonton) focusing on Pope Francis’ Laudato Si’. Today, I am currently raising the awareness of Care for Our Common Home and Food Loss and Waste (FLW) through a CWL resolution and presentation to politicians and Catholic organizations. God had never left my side nor stopped calling me into His grace as I am a testimony to His love.
Written by Jeannette Nixon, St. Patrick’s Parish Calgary.
Catholic Pastoral Centre Staff and Guest Writers