"To you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord." (Lk. 2:11)
You are invited to spend the Christmas season with Our Lord Jesus Christ with the Roman Catholic Diocese of Calgary. Check out the Mass times for the Christmas Season in parishes throughout the Diocese of Calgary. Click here.
Tonight, as I was driving by a parking lot in the bleak and snowy weather, feeling downcast and discouraged by difficulties from recent weeks, I saw a guy dumpster-diving in a clothing donations bin in the dark. Pulling over to ask if there was anything I can do to help, I was shocked to see a guy probably in his 30's, not older than me.
He said what he needed most was a warm pair of gloves to make it through the cold night, as his was full of holes. Since all the stores were closed, I offered him mine, though they were rather worn. He hesitated, but I insisted that he tried them on – they fit. The look on his face was one of genuine happiness and gratitude, over just my old worn pair of gloves. My heart ached. We made a run to Tim’s to get some food, and I let him know about the Feed The Hungry program every Sunday at St. Mary’s. He shared with me that he went to a Catholic school growing up, so I asked him if there was anything I can help pray for. Looking away, he stood silent for what seemed like a minute, neither speaking or moving. Then, with tears in his eyes, he asked me to pray for his two kids whom he hasn’t seen in a long time. I promised I would pray for him, and in your charity, I ask that you please pray for Mike and his kids too. He was so grateful, but to me he was the real blessing tonight, as he snapped me out of focusing on myself and my own problems. God bless Mike, and may he receive all the graces and help needed to be reunited with his kids. #iamblessed
Shared by Dr. Thomas Fung, parishioner of Holy Spirit Parish in Calgary, Vice President of Calgary Catholic Medical Association. Photo credit: Dr. Thomas Fung
During the 2018-2019 school year, Shannon Griffin, principal of St. Damien School, a Calgary Catholic Elementary School contacted me about how her school could partner with the Christian Life Centre and the Sisters, Faithful Companions of Jesus to do something good for our Church and world. I knew that the Centre offers a special retreat each January, free of charge, for unemployed people, and that finding funding for that retreat is a challenge, given the current downturn in Calgary’s economy. The retreat does nothing to help people find a job; rather, it is a “heart-helping” retreat to offer support, encouragement and a renewed appreciation of each one’s personal gifts in a time when people feel quite vulnerable and often depressed. The weekend experience is called “The Gift of Hope”.
Together, the principal and I devised a plan: I went out to her school and met with all the students, by grade-level groups. I told them about the unemployment retreat and asked, “If people do not have enough money to pay their bills, would they have money to go to a retreat centre and attend a retreat that’s meant to help their hearts?” “No,” they chorused. So, I invited them to go home and offer to do four little jobs that are NOT their ordinary chores and to ask their moms to give them 25 cents for each job. When they had earned four quarters, they were to trade them in for a looney and bring it to school. If every child at school was able to bring in a looney, the school could pay for someone to make the retreat. They would be retreat sponsors!
Then, Ms. Griffin wrote a letter home to the families, explaining what we were trying to do and giving the target date for the looney collection. And a few weeks later, I went to the school, and they held an assembly and presented me with a cheque for $1,103.55! I couldn’t believe my eyes! I had no sooner received the cheque when a teacher came up and asked, “How much more would we have to give to pay for four retreatants?” When I told her, she took out her cheque book and wrote another cheque for $36.45 right on the spot! What a blessing!
When I returned home and told the Sisters and the others who work at the Christian Life Centre, there was such joy. So many were touched by the children’s and families’ generosity. We feel a real sense of being partners in hope with the school community at St. Damien School!
Written by Sr. Madeleine Gregg, fcj
Photo submitted by Sr. Madeleine.
I couldn’t go into labour without acknowledging that we are a family with six children.
I am so grateful for each of my babies; each one an unmerited gift.
Life after loss is incredibly humbling. I thought my womb was the safest place on Earth. I thought I was good at having babies. I thought miscarriage happens… to other people. What value did Jude’s short life hold, or my own? I pondered these and countless other thoughts. I kept coming back to these words:
“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. I will all the more gladly boast of my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities; for when I am weak, then I am made strong.” Corinthians 12:9-10.
And in my weakness, I was met with many new and old consoling friends. To my friends still looking for a husband or wife and wanting to start a family. To my friends who silently struggle with infertility. To my friends who’ve experienced miscarriage, stillborn or infant loss, loss of a child to sickness, suicide, an accident and other kinds of loss. Thank you for opening your hearts to me this past year. Our family and friends loved us back to life with each act of kindness.
Pregnancy after loss is incredibly humbling. I carried distrust of my body and anxiety throughout this pregnancy. I am grateful for the ways my eyes have been opened to the world of hidden suffering.
Nearly a year later, Jude continues to come into my life in the most unexpected moments. I am still his mother and he my son. And he continues to transform my interior life and turn my gaze from ground-level to the glory of God.
As most of us know by now, life isn’t as it appears in a nicely lit, staged snapshot. But it’s good to let our lights shine and to celebrate the joy that triumphs over the woundedness and pain we each uniquely experience throughout life. Here’s to this final stretch of pregnancy (due date Oct. 6). Praying for a safe labour, blessed birth and all the unfolding of life that is to follow!
Written by: Sara Francis
With climate change getting so much media coverage, it’s easy to see why some Catholics are asking questions about what they can do to support the papal call for Christians to unite in caring for what Pope Francis calls, “our common home.” Other Catholics don’t spend much time thinking about it. They’re too busy planting, weeding and harvesting food, flowers—and faith.
This summer, volunteers planted a 3,000-square-foot vegetable garden at the Mount St. Francis Retreat Centre at Cochrane. The potatoes, carrots, squash and swiss chard were put to good use; the food is shared between Feed the Hungry’s (FTH) Sunday dinners at St. Mary’s Cathedral and the Calgary Food Bank. “The food bank really is a ‘bank,” says Linnea Ferguson, program lead for the Calgary Catholic Diocese’s FTH program. “We take from that bank for our Sunday night dinners, so it’s nice to deposit some food there, too.”
Although FTH is more closely aligned with social versus environmental causes, the connection between food and life is obvious, notes Ferguson. “By actively participating in the production of local produce, I think Feed the Hungry shows care for our common home and how much we respect the dignity of the people we feed.”
Care for Creation
Over at St. Joseph’s parish in northwest Calgary, parish council has adopted some care for creation initiatives sparked by the 2015 papal encyclical, Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home. This spring, Knights of Columbus planted a courtyard area with plants donated by a long-time parishioner. “It’s really beautiful,” says parish council member Marilou LeGeyt. “We’ve got a variety of flowering plants, including roses, monkshood and black-eyed Susan. Next year, the Knights will divide those plants and sell the extras as a fundraiser.”
After all the planning and planting were done, the project yielded three wins for the parish. The garden is a fundraiser, a beautiful space by the Church entrance and its gives parishioners an opportunity to take an ecological piece of their church community home to their own gardens.
In late September, the courtyard hosted a Blessing of the Animals. The event attracted dogs, fish, cats and turtles! In line with Laudato Si and its focus on dialogue, St. Joseph’s parish is also exploring the addition of a vegetable garden on the church property. The concept is meant to nourish St. Joe’s place in the wider community, says LeGeyt.
At St. Peter’s parish, a team of volunteer gardeners is taking responsibility for the gardens built as part of a major reconstruction project. Led by parishioner Sylvie Fung, who’s also active with the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, the grounds include several well-kept flower pots, ground-level plots and a new grotto. The latter includes an outdoor rosary.
To help the growing number of faithful who visit the space to pray, Fung tucks several rosaries and prayer cards into two solar lamps at the garden entrance. “People take the rosaries, so I’m always looking for more,” says Fung.
Members of her garden team take turns watering the pots and checking to make sure the freshly-landscaped shrubs and perennials are doing well. But the job can get a little prickly. While the space between the church and alley has been beautifully landscaped, these beds include a number of Canada Thistle, an invasive (not Canadian!) weed species known for its thorns and deep roots, both of which complicate eradication.
Fung encourages her fellow gardeners to weed these “beds of thorns, beds of suffering” as an act of faithful sacrifice. “It’s the perfect job to recite the Chaplet of Divine Mercy,” says Fung with a smile.
Written by Joy Gregory for Faithfully
Four years ago my mother had a stroke. Now she has vascular dementia. It is not exactly the same as Alzheimer’s. There is a tendency to lump all dementia together as Alzheimer’s, but there are actually several kinds of memory loss. Vascular dementia distinguishes itself because its progress is neither predictable nor consistent. Cognitive changes occur in steps. There are plateaus where the person’s memory holds steady followed by sudden changes. During each plateau I accustom myself until a new step occurs, inviting a new grief.
Most difficult for me has been the loss of abilities that, to my mind, most clearly identify my mother. For example, my mother can no longer remember how to bake the German cakes, which for decades have marked the seasons of our family life – Schwartzwälderkirchtorte on my birthday, Sachertorte on my father’s. These cakes symbolized her love for us. What happens to my mother’s love now that the symbol of that love is gone? Loss of memory can feel like the loss of a person, a death before death. In fact, the social worker assigned to help me calls it ‘ambiguous grief’ because the losses occur repeatedly without finality.
Recently, I attended a liturgical congress for which the theme was anamnesis or liturgical remembering. My earlier reflections on memory had to do with the memorization of liturgical texts and how the things we remember become part of us and identify us with certain cultures and communities. I found myself wondering: if my mother no longer remembers the things that identified her, who and whose is she?
One of the papers at the conference, given by Rev. Prof. Liam Tracey (OSM), was about worship in the age of dementia. Tracey referred to the practical theology of John Swinton, who proposes that we are not what we remember rather, God remembers us. Although it may be satisfying to use memory to construct our own identity and to connect with others, Tracey explained that God’s memory is not a neurological act; we are not as we think. One of the things experts say is that when you visit people with dementia you have to enter into their reality. While I tend to identify my mother in relation to how I remember her, a spirituality of dementia invites me to consider instead how God remembers.
When we recall God’s saving deeds in the Eucharistic Prayer of the Mass, we fulfil Christ’s command to “do this in memory of me.” This anamnesis is distinct from non-liturgical recollection in that it actually makes the past events of salvation present again. It is not our individual memory of what God did for us in Jesus Christ, but God’s memory given to us in the liturgy that continues to save us. Although I grieve the changes in my mother’s cognition, her being is not ultimately determined by what she can remember. Losing memory does not have to mean a loss of identity because, for Christians, it is God who remembers.
Written by Dr. Simone Brosig, Liturgy Consultant / Director, Diocese of Calgary
I didn’t want to go. My house was a mess, my laundry piled high and my children unruly when it was time to leave. I wanted a bath and a book and an early bedtime, and I got into my mini-van thinking that the last thing I wanted to hear was someone telling me how I could have it all.
But as I sat in the room at St. Michael Catholic Community with fifty other women it dawned on me that I may not have felt like attending, but maybe what Lisa Canning had to say was the truth I needed to hear.
Canning, the author of the new book The Possibility Mom: How to be a Great Mom and Pursue Your Dreams at the Same Time, is expecting her eighth child with husband Josh. In her native-Toronto, she has enjoyed a successful career in interior design and has been featured on numerous design-themed shows and channels. Working as a speaker, podcaster and YouTuber, she seeks to inspire her followers to live their best life.
Canning spoke in the relatable way a good friend would as she led a workshop-style presentation, “She’s the girl-next-door, but she’s got it together,” said attendee Leslie Poirier.
On being invited to share, Piorier told her “Lisa, you are electric,” and many nodded in agreement.
Looking around, I could see the heads nodding as Canning shared what her first five hectic years as a mom were like, having four children and working as an interior designer at the same time.
“Many times I questioned my existence, exhausted by mom-guilt and desperate for a solution to an overstretched life,” she writes in her book.
Talking to us that evening she called herself a “petri-dish,” saying that after what she called her, “mini-van meltdown,” she just started experimenting with ways to make it all possible, and above all, trusting God.
“God just wanted me to trust Him,” she said, citing many times through the years that He had blessed her family.
After being asked many times, “how do you do it?” she has come up with a guideline for all moms to use to go from constantly feeling overwhelmed to peace.
Step one of her plan to open our lives to change is to “Identify the limiting beliefs holding you back from your best life.”
“You can tell what your limiting beliefs are by paying attention to the times you say ‘I just can’t do that because…’” she said, then invited us to share a few of our own with someone next to us. The room buzzing with enthusiasm, Piorier and the mom next to her struck up what might be a life-changing conversation for them both.
“I’m Leslie and this is Ann,” Poirier said, introducing new friend Ann Hoff, “and we were just sharing that we’ve come to a point where there’s a step to be taken, but our limiting belief is basically that we’re just chicken.”
As heads nodded, and voices murmured agreements with Poirier and Hoff, other women also shared that they too struggled with things like consistency and multitasking. All of this culminated to the point that Canning was trying to make: that life is difficult for all of us, but we sometimes tell a story to ourselves that makes it seem impossible to do the things we want.
For the rest of our evening, Canning spent her time showing us that there are, as her book aptly puts it, possibilities for everyone.
“Fast forward to your funeral,” Canning said midway through the evening, leading us to ask ourselves what kind of legacy we wanted to leave behind and to take a moment to think what our own obituary might say. She had stumbled across this exercise in another book, and when she’d written her own obituary years before, she told us that she had realized that “none of these things are true right now” then took steps to make a change.
Hoff and Poirier told me they wanted to make some changes for themselves. “Because we said we were chickens,” Hoff said of the exercise, “I want to be remembered not as that, but as someone who went out on a limb and did things.” She nodded when I suggested she wanted to be described as as brave and courageous.
As we approach Extraordinary Missionary Month this October, Pope Francis has asked the Whole Church to revive its missionary commitment and reinvigorate its work to bring to the world the salvation of Jesus Christ. We’ve compiled some resources to help you prepare for this revitalization in your missionary work. You can also share what you believe is your life’s mission and then post a picture or video with your mission to your social media account (download here). Let’s show our solidarity with the global Church by participating in an activity and sharing on social media by using the hashtags #MyMission and #CatholicYYC.
Please access the resources for the Extraordinary Missionary Month here:
I lived at Elizabeth House in July 2009. I was initially staying with my Mom’s third cousin in Calgary as I needed to be away from the dad of my kid. We had been together for six years on and off as I always caught him cheating and was emotionally manipulated.
After my US trip, we didn’t see each other for three months and as usual, he was trying to win me back and I thought he changed. It was a one-time deal and then I got pregnant. It was not great news for both of us, since I had just passed on my crown as a national beauty queen in the Philippines, having represented the country in the international pageant of Miss Earth and won Miss Photogenic.
I had also just started my job in the Nestle Philippines when we found out I was pregnant. As usual, he would still have girls around and still be so sweet to me. I realized it was not a healthy situation as he was not committed, and he would always hold me back. He tried to win me back so many times, but as he was not fully committed to me, I knew I had to help myself. So, I left him knowing I would be in a better place.
But living with relatives is harder than I thought. Especially when there’s judgment in the situation and if they don’t understand the many changes in pregnancy. It wasn’t healthy anymore in that house. I even reached a point when I wanted to leave the world, but no, I couldn’t do it because I had my daughter inside of me. So, I remained strong and fought hard. I asked our Parish priest, Father Edmund Vargas, who is also a Filipino, for help. He recommended Elizabeth House.
After being accepted, I found peace. The House was equipped and the people were warm. I like the division of tasks in cleaning, cooking and also the seminars and events every week. I found my family in Canada. Elizabeth House helped me focus more on my pregnancy and prepare for my delivery as well as for motherhood. The social workers were so helpful.
I am so glad that there’s a place like this.
In the Philippines, we don’t have much help like this. That’s the reason why it has been my dream since that time (10 years ago) to put up my own Elizabeth House. And indeed, after 10 long years, I have finally started and our House is now being built.
I believe that there’s a reason for everything and nothing is an accident. This happened to me, so I would know my purpose. I have goosebumps as I write this, but I believe I have finally found my purpose. To build this House that could help many women in crisis. I know what they go through, I know their challenges, I know how to help. And, finally, I can help.
No one thought I would end up being a single mom, I was not the type. But like I said, there’s a reason for everything. I also believe that our worst moments give birth to our most amazing moments.
This amazing moment in my life includes giving birth to a beautiful baby girl, whom I love and cherish the most. I believe she is my greatest achievement, and now this opportunity to launch Elizabeth House Foundation Philippines.
Again, many thanks to you all! May you continue to help women and make them stronger in facing motherhood. Praying for you all and our mothers in the House, always!
We Love you!
Jeanne and Gabby
She got a headache on the bus ride home from school. Her feet ache from shoes that fit this morning but now strain against swelling flesh. She feels the baby shift inside her pregnant body, and she is both exhilarated and exhausted. Sitting to unlace her sneakers, she starts to cry. Catherine Aghaegbuna heard the girl come in and sees her sitting at the bottom of the split-entry home, her shoulders quivering. Aghaegbuna takes a deep breath and welcomes the expectant mom home. Aghaegbuna is not her mother. But on this day, and at this moment, she is all the young woman has.
Trained in addictions counselling and community service work, Aghaegbuna works at Elizabeth House (EH). Started in 1996 by the Sisters of Charity of St. Louis, the house provides a safe and supportive home to pregnant and parenting young women who need a safe place to live. To date, more than 200 young women have benefited from EH, one of two charities operated by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Calgary. (The other is Feed the Hungry).
Christians engaged in this kind of work often talk about the need to see Jesus in the eyes of the marginalized. An immigrant and a woman of colour, Aghaegbuna sees more. “I choose to work here out of my love for the youth and children,” says the woman whose typical shifts run from 5 pm to 7 am. When the mother of five looks into the eyes of the people she serves, she sees the eyes of her own children. She’s reluctant to say her parenting experience gives her an edge, but the parishioner at Corpus Christi admits that parenting her children, ages 27, 19, 18, 13 and nine, helps her through the rough spots at work. “When the women tell me, ‘I am not your daughter,’ I tell them plainly, ‘I have no reason to deceive you. I have children like you. I am a mother.’”
Moms helping moms
Since 2016, members of the St. Gianna’s Moms Group at St. Luke’s parish have made women and babies at EH house special beneficiaries of an annual Christmas campaign. Named after an Italian pediatrician who sacrificed her life for her unborn child, the moms’ group buys Christmas presents that include self-care items, make up and gift cards for the young moms. “We think about what we can do to make their day special, and some of the gifts include special notes of encouragement,” says group co-leader Michelle Widmeyer, a parishioner at St. Joseph’s.
Herself the mother of four, Widmeyer says members of St. Gianna’s feel blessed to contribute to the important work done at EH, where young women get help completing high school and preparing or starting post-secondary education or training. Life at EH also helps the women hone life skills that range from conflict management to cooking, laundry and housekeeping—all while carrying or caring for their new babies. “I can’t imagine what it would be like to be a young and single mother with very little support,” says Widmeyer.
That grassroots support for EH’s work is greatly appreciated, says Michelle Haywood, EH program coordinator. “We survive off private donations and are not funded by the government in any way,” explains Haywood, who often finds herself coordinating donations that range from money to supplies.
St. Michael’s parish, for example, recently donated a van load of baby and new mom supplies, as well as $4,000 in cash. “They provided everything from nursing bras to baby wipes. It was really something,” notes Haywood.
She also appreciates what members of the Catholic Women’s League and Knights of Columbus do to support EH. A group of Knights from St. Peter’s recently took a lead role in a major landscaping project. Individual Catholics also step up with support, including a woman from the St. Paul Centre of the Catholic school district who organized a donation drive amongst her colleagues, says Haywood.
Given how complicated the work at EH can be, program support translates into emotional support. “We serve vulnerable and at-risk women, and this can be very difficult work. When people care about what we’re doing, it’s like an emotional boost to our residents and staff,” says Haywood, whose professional work is tempered by life experience. The mom of three, including one born during her 12 years with EH, Haywood is a university graduate whose first baby was born when Haywood was still a teen.
To learn more about Elizabeth House, or to find out how you or your organization can support the program, visit www.elizabethhousecalgary.ca or email Michelle Haywood at email@example.com.
Written by Joy Gregory for Faithfully
Catholic Pastoral Centre Staff and Guest Writers