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
For parents like Brenda-Lee Kearney, the mass is delightfully chaotic, yet peaceful. She and her husband Mike have an 11-year-old son with FASD, Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder. They love Jacob and they love their church. But bringing Jacob to mass is difficult and after Kearney approached her parish priest with an idea, the Special Needs Mass began.
The once-monthly, then bi-weekly masses became a regular 5 pm Sunday mass after pastor Fr. Jerome Lavigne moved to St. Pat’s in 2018. And the Kearneys are grateful. With a mission to create a loving, supportive and compassionate community that renews and restores faith and hope to families and children with special needs, the mass shows “God is really at work here in our parish,” says Brenda-Lee Kearney. Parents with special needs children often stay after mass for welcome fellowship. While most participants are from the parish, others attend as word of the mass spreads. “I believe most of us are parenting our kids in a community that doesn’t understand our reality. We are understanding of each other because we are living it.”
That message resonates with Fr. Matthew Schneider. “There is a natural sense of community when we come together to worship. Where possible, it’s nice to be able to add elements that make worship more meaningful to certain groups of people,” says Schneider, who said the Special Needs Mass at St. Pat’s on June 22.
A former Calgarian now living in Washington, D.C. where he’s working on a Doctorate in Theology, Schneider says one Catholic church in Washington hosts a regular mass that features an interpreter for the deaf. Other masses are conducted in languages other than English. He likes what St. Pat’s has consciously done to accommodate a group of believers often marginalized in the greater society.
In addition to the dimmer lights, the 5 pm Sunday mass features visual “cue cards” that tell parishioners went to sit, kneel or stand. The pictures show the appropriate action along with a simple message such as, “Please kneel for the communion rite.”
“Typically, we have the same songs at these services. It’s all part of dialing back on the sensory experience. Many of these children benefit from a very calm environment,” explains Kearney.
As my pregnancy progressed, medical concerns for the baby’s life and my own life were discussed. The doctors recommended ‘terminating the pregnancy’ at around 27 weeks. I refused all ideas of ‘terminating.’ Then the doctors suggested testing to see if the baby would have chromosomal issues. This would not change my decision, but the result may have affected their ideas on how to treat this high-risk pregnancy with respect. The test came back normal, and we learned that we were having a son. We immediately gave him the first gift that parents can give their child, his name. Brandon Joseph.
It became ‘medically necessary’ to deliver the baby early, thereby terminating the pregnancy, but not necessarily the baby. Immediately after birth, baby Brandon was baptised.
Every day of Brandon’s life had value because of the effect his personality had on each person who met him – his parents, his sister, and the doctors, nurses, volunteer cuddlers, interns, roommates, and extended family. Brandon lived for seven months. Just as any loved one who dies in a family, his memory continues to influence our family to this day.
Today, I am the educational resource consultant for Calgary Pro-Life Association. School teachers invite me to their classrooms to give presentations on positive self-esteem, and the miracle of life/fetal development, to students in grades five to 12!
During one presentation, students hear the sound of the fetal heartbeat that started between 18 and 22 days; then learn that at four weeks, they were the size of my thumb nail; at six weeks their brain was developing, and at 12 weeks they were the size of my thumb! We continue to talk about the development of the fetus until birth.
All of us have a responsibility to affirm life in our culture. We need to ask ourselves: How are we modeling the virtues of motherhood to our daughters and the virtue of fatherhood to our sons? How are we raising men who will support women in that natural affection that they ought to have for their children?
Tell everyone you meet, no matter the age or stage in life, that they really matter and that they have a life purpose that is exciting to watch as it continues to be revealed day by day! This is how we share the pro-life message so that women and men will know that they have the right to life; and the right to choose life for themselves; for their own children now, and in the future.
One of the humbling privileges of serving as the vocation director of our diocese is coming into contact with young men who sincerely desire to give their lives to our Lord and the service of His Church. I would like to briefly share with you the impact one such of those young men has had upon me in the last year and a half.
You may recognize the young man in the photograph as the one who presented the oil to be blessed as Oil of the Sick only two weeks ago at the Mass of Chrism. He and I first came into contact over Skype while he was still serving on a NET Ireland team. He had been diagnosed with cancer there which threw a wrench in his plan to return home at the end of his missionary year with the hope to enter the seminary for our diocese. His doctors were confident that he would recover there and return home well.
That never turned out to be the case, and although he did make it back to Canada, he went through a roller coaster ride of sickness and health. His longing for the priesthood never wavered but at the beginning of April, when his doctors prognosticated that he would have only three months to a year left to live, he resigned himself to the fact he would never be ordained. Nevertheless, I asked him to consider himself my "assistant vocation director", wherein he would unite his sufferings to the Cross of our Lord for the intention of many and holy vocations to the priesthood for our diocese. He was unwaveringly committed to this spiritual work. Being present at our Chrism Mass was an opportunity for him to feel a share in our presbyterate.
Much sooner than expected, our assistant vocation director, Ted Andrew, peacefully passed from this life in the early hours of an Easter Octave morning, April 25, with his loving parents by his side.
He will be laid to rest in his hometown of Youngstown following the funeral Mass at Sacred Heart in Oyen on Tuesday, April 30. Please join me in offering your prayers and Masses for this spiritual brother of ours, that His Father will look upon him with mercy, and in His goodness, favourably hear his prayers for the growth of our presbyterate.
Presentation of the Oil of the Sick at the Chrism Mass (April 15, 2019).
Written by Fr. Cristino Bouvette, Director of Vocations
“I was raised in the People's Republic of China. I had no religion because it is a communist country. Then, God found me. He called me.
My family was going through a challenging time as my nine-year-old son was hospitalized for a year. From birth, he was diagnosed with bleeding in the brain. A vein in his brain burst, and he almost died. My life was work, home, hospital for that year. We were so tired and desperate. One day, someone gave me a wooden cross. That was my first time trying to get in touch with God.
My friend said, there is nothing you can do but ask God for help. Every day I went to work, and in the evening I stayed in the hospital with my son. I prayed daily, ‘God please don’t let him die.’ My son recovered and was released from the hospital. However, he had brain damage and many problems.
One day, in a box, I found the wooden cross again. And I realized that I didn’t keep my promise to God. I had prayed that if he saved Eric’s life, I would follow Him. Not having any idea of where to start and what to do, I contacted Ascension Parish. I learned a lot from going through the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA). The more I learned about God, the more I listen to him, the better my life gets. We still have a lot of problems with Eric’s recovery, but God supports me. My life is getting much better.
My relationships with others was a mess. I complained all the time. I would get so angry; now my relationships are better. I am a different person. Every day I ask God for forgiveness, and I also forgive others. Eric can see the change in me. He is now 14, and he goes to the youth sacrament. He can no longer use one of his hands. Daily, he lives with a four per cent chance of bleeding in his brain. We pray to God and figure a way to deal with each situation, day-by-day. There is nothing more the doctors can do. But God hears my prayers.”
An elect from the Ascension Parish, Calgary (2019).
From the day my Father, Theodore was brutally and callously murdered in Toronto, on Easter Monday, March 27, 1978, I wanted to meet his killer. I wanted to know how it was possible to do such a horrific thing. I wanted to know how he felt about destroying the lives of so many; my family’s, and his own.
We did meet. The meeting occurred in July of 2007. Because of reading about an award I received for my Therapeutic Writing Workshops and the publication of my books about healing, voice, and agency, he emailed me. Our meeting, our reconciliation, even those many years after that dark, dark day, was a rich blessing in my life and proved helpful for him too.
The word forgiveness is one that can lead to great suffering for victims and offenders alike. Victims are told that if they do not forgive, they cannot heal. Offenders are told that if they are not forgiven, they cannot move on from the crime they have committed. Forgiveness is a loaded word, with as many understandings, expectations, and definitions as there are experiences of savage loss, savage grief, savage pain.
In 2012, after too many years of thinking that my life did indeed end with my Father’s, I completed a Master’s Thesis. The title: Sawbonna-Justice as Lived-Experience. Sawbonna means shared-humanity. It also means I see you, you see me.
Sawbonna means that no one is better in the eyes of God. It means that we are good, bad, ugly, amazing, loved, loving, and free. Free to know that whether we can forgive or are forgiven by another human being, we are deeply known, cared-for, and embraced by God. A God who invites us, gently and generously directly back into our very own hearts. Hearts of love. Hearts of justice. Hearts of Sawbonna. We are seen. We each matter.
About God’s Work
As a testament to what a determined woman can do with God’s help, Thorn began Project Rachel while raising her family of six children. Project Rachel began as a diocesan initiative in 1984, and from there it gained momentum and widespread support across the United States and then Canada, which includes the Diocese of Calgary.
She recalls at that time there were no experts to call upon when she developed Project Rachel. However, she was convinced then and still now practises a post-abortion healing ministry that offers anonymity, has a strong spiritual element and includes a psychotherapeutic component. The name Project Rachel is inspired by Scripture: “Rachel mourns her children, she refuses to be consoled because her children are no more” (Jeremiah 31:15).
Thorn knows that mothers of aborted babies go through different types of grieving and often seek forgiveness in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. They are not the only ones who are traumatized from the loss of their child. Fathers who didn’t want the abortion, grandparents and siblings who later learned about it are also devastated.
Thorn has travelled to 28 countries speaking to thousands about not only the impact of abortion on men, women and on our culture but of what God’s ultimate plan is for humanity revealed to us through the science of the human body.
Thorn takes great joy in seeing her children value life. Now they’re all grown, and there are 14 grandchildren for her and her husband to enjoy. Each of her kids, she says, along with their loving partners and her grandchildren “are just a delight to my heart.”
Despite needing to lay low for health reasons, she said she’s still busy looking to expand and develop a framework for post-abortive healing in places around the world because, she explained, “you can’t just use an American model in other countries.” Her research has led her to seek communities of sisters who are already, as she said, “the boots on the ground” serving the people where they are.
In Milwaukee she says, she’s running a program for African American pastors who want to learn about post-abortive healing. There is a great need but “not a lot of help.”
Theology of the Body
This March, she’ll find herself at the Theology of the Body Conference in Calgary to speak to attendees about the science that undergirds the Theology of the Body, much of what she says is “well researched, but not well known.”
We have been seeing the effects of the sexual revolution since the 1960s culminating in what many in the Church refer to as a culture of death. Thorn spends a lot of her time explaining the wounds many of us experience as a result, with scientific studies to help her show the audience hard facts.
What we will hear from her is much deeper than what we heard from high school sex education.
Armed with the facts of male and female biology, the science of attraction and the biochemistry of sex and conception, Thorn will take us through the beauty of God’s plan for the human body.
“We haven’t really understood how awesome we are in terms of our sexuality,” she said, adding that over time the wonder and beauty of sex have been lost. What she’ll share with us will be concrete, uniting what the Church teaches with scientific fact, which will further our knowledge of what she says is “God’s intentional plan.”
Looking at all she has achieved and the ministry she continues to grow, attendees to the upcoming conference will be blessed to be part of her journey and work.
Written by Jessica Cyr
From the moment Phyllis and Clem Steffler walked into Evanston Summit, they knew it was destined to be their new home. “Phyllis was ready to move in the next day,” laughs Clem. Retired and living in Airdrie, the couple was seeking greater ease in their lives, without the worry of maintaining a home and cooking their meals. They’d been looking at options when Judy, from Covenant Living’s Evanston Summit, met them at their local church and invited them to a BBQ. They walked in and immediately loved the welcoming, attractive front entrance.
Their instinct was confirmed several months later when their daughter, a public health nurse in Toronto, was in town. “We took her to several retirement residences,” Phyllis recalls. When they got to Evanston Summit, she turned to her parents and said, “Dad and Mom, this is the place for you.” The couple moved in on July 18, 2018.
Laura Tysowski pays homage to her late role model and author of The Passion of Loving, Micheline Paré. In her letter Laura shares what she learned from the book and what she wished she told Micheline before her death. Micheline Paré worked as a Compassionate Care Consultant and as the Diocese of Calgary Pastoral Care Coordinator at Rockyview Hospital. Her message of love and hope is something we all could benefit from at a time of loss.
My Dear Micheline.
When we met for the first time somehow our souls locked. I was sitting in the front row and you came up to me with a smile and touched my hand and whispered in my ear "You are beautiful". It's been months since we last talked. I'll never forget the day we first met at St. Cecilia's Roman Catholic Church. It was May 17, 2018 at the Diocesan Pastoral Care Course #84. "Caring with Compassion".
I sincerely apologize for not getting back to you sooner. As Benjamin Franklin once said, "Don't put off until tomorrow what you can do today. From this I learned the value of time; snatch, seize, and enjoy every moment of it. No idleness, no laziness, no procrastination: never put off till tomorrow what you can do today.
I was wanting to go and have coffee with you at the Rockyview General Hospital and maybe I could volunteer with you in working with the elderly. I did complete the course, "Caring with Compassion" and now I'm an Exemplary Pastoral Minister.
I have the two books titled "The Compassion of Loving" you signed and gave me during the course. I have two because I promised that I would get one signed by the Honorable Senator Dan Hayes who wrote the preface to your book "The Congruent Compassionate Approach".
Catholic Pastoral Centre Staff and Guest Writers