Christmas time is such a beautiful time. I think of Mary often and wonder about the night she gave birth to Jesus. Did she look at him with awe? Did she stare at his button nose? Did she tickle his little toes? Did she put one finger in his little hand as his fingers wrapped around hers? Did she rub his hair and hold him tight? Did she cry? Did she say out loud, “This is my boy!”?
I am so blessed to be a mom of four beautiful kids. With each one I remember just staring at them through the night in awe of God and his blessings. Thinking that Mary was a mother just like me puts the very first Christmas in such a different light. Do we consider the anticipation that Mary and Joseph felt while waiting for the birth of Jesus? And the joy they experienced when he was born! As a parent, I know that this waiting time was very special.
A book that I read to my Kindergarten students is Little One, We Knew You’d Come, by Sally-Lloyd Jones. I invite the children to bring a baby picture to class and encourage parents to have a conversation with their child about the anticipation they felt as they waited for their child to arrive.
Do we take the time and look at the children we teach as the blessing that they are?
My sister (a doctor) just told me about a funeral she attended recently, for an eight-year-old girl. Fifteen hundred people were there. She loved school so much that she came hooked up to an oxygen tank to help her breathe. The principal moved his desk outside the teacher’s door in case the little girl needed help. Her parents spent the days at the school reading books and newspapers while their daughter was in class. Any moment could be her last. Everyone waited. Just like her parents had waited for nine months for her to be born – although this waiting was going to end with a goodbye. She went to school Friday, blueish because her lungs were failing. Her dying wish was to go to school. She would never miss the Remembrance Day Assembly. She LOVED school. She died two days later.
Staff and families did not know that Friday would be their last day with this eight-year-old girl. The principal was asked to give the eulogy at the funeral. Everyone in the school was there. She loved stuffies, and her parents brought every stuffy she owned. When the children came in the church, they were offered a stuffy to cuddle. One last act of love… to love the things she loved most!
This Christmas, let us be mindful of the impact and privilege we have to be a teacher or work in a school. We play such an important role in bringing joy to the families of the students we teach. Families send their precious little ones (or big ones) to us daily to love, teach, support, help and nurture. Each child is a gift. God’s gift. Our mission is to look into the eyes of every child we teach and see the face of God. It is a blessing to be a teacher, a coach, a support worker, an administrator and custodial staff. We all have an opportunity to celebrate the life of a child.
If the last several months have reinforced anything, it is the extraordinary grace of an ordinary moment lived well. Faced with an abrupt “stripping away” of the extras that made life very full, our little family has had to work hard to claim, in simplicity and joy, the identity of domestic church. It has been challenging and edifying to see the ordinary, mundane moments through the lens of faith.
In the slowing down, we are becoming more aware of the opportunity these moments present to us. We have come to understand more deeply the invitation to elevate them and give glory to God through them. We hunger and thirst for Christ in the Eucharist, for the community life of our parish, for song, and the opportunity to embrace our friends. Yet this hunger has also made all the more clear to me that my little family is the microcosm of that greater Church reality! We are the image of Trinitarian love to the world, through our faithful and fruitful love for each other. As St. John Paul the Great reminds us in Familiaris Consortio, “...the family has the mission to guard, reveal and communicate love, and this is a living reflection of and a real sharing in God's love for humanity and the love of Christ the Lord for the Church His bride.” And so we seek ways to tangibly image His love to our children, and through them to those around us. It is incredible how ordinary realities can become imbued with incredible spiritual symbolism. Take, for instance, a picnic!
With four small children there is nothing perfect about the planning, preparing, and living out of a picnic adventure! There is mess, there are spills, there are little hands fumbling at sandwich making and mommy working very hard to keep her patience, while daddy sweats to load enough supplies in the car for what seems like a month’s trip. There is immense effort in the instruction, between the extra time everything takes and the imperfection of the end result. Truly, my humanity rebels a little against the effort when it could be done so quickly and neatly by only me! However, I know that this is a perfect moment of learning in the schools of service and forgiveness. Inevitably I will slip in my patience once or twice as we prepare our food or load it all up. I apologize and ask for forgiveness, and they willingly grant it. I have come to realize that family life is made all the more vibrant by the ready asking for and granting of forgiveness. Certainly, the outcome of our preparations will be rustic. Yet, I am convinced that we have no idea how these moments of family unity, service to each other, and joyful celebration imprint themselves as bookmarks of joy on our children’s little souls.
Every good picnic begins with the preparation. As we plan what we will bring and how we will prepare it, we look to both simplicity and beauty. We pause to admire the vibrant red of a strawberry, the perfection of the inside of our watermelon, or even the gorgeous seedy crust on a loaf of bread. I say out loud, “thank you Lord for the gift of this beautiful food!”. In that moment our children are formed in the habit of gratefully walking through the day communicating with their Creator. We remind them often that grateful people are joyful people. Is there a more beautiful reflection of God’s love to the world than our joy? Possibly not! Even more profoundly, we can recall that the word Eucharist comes from the greek, eucharisteo, or thanksgiving! In this way our simple, thankful, picnic preparations remind us of the Bread of Life.
The time comes to enjoy the fruit of our labour. With our feet in the earth and our lungs filled with healing air, again we give thanks for beauty so tangible as to point our hearts directly to the Giver of all these good gifts. While we enjoy our simple picnic meal together, my husband and I meet each other’s gaze. We do not need to use words to communicate to each other that we are rejoicing in this sacred moment. Our sweet children, noticing that gaze, feel safe and sound in our family’s love. Their little hearts know, despite the chaos that may be in the world around us, that life is very good and we are held by Love. This is the extraordinary grace of an ordinary moment lived well.
Written by Emily Packard for Faithfully. Emily and her family are parishioners of St. Patrick's Parish in Calgary.
Photos courtesy of Emily Packard
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.
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
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.
Faithfully spoke with Tim Neufeld, based out of Abbotsford, BC. Neufeld first achieved success as the co-founder and lead singer of EMI recording artist STARFIELD. He has toured the world for over a decade, shared the stage with countless Canadian Country, Roots and Christian artists, and won multiple JUNO, Dove, and Covenant Awards. Tim Neufeld has been married for 15 years to Carla and is the father of three children, Haven 10, Oliver 9, and Bowen 6.
What do you love most about being a dad?
Tim: I love sharing my life with my family. Of all the different roles I play in life, the husband/father role is the most rewarding thing I’ve ever known. It’s hard being a father, but in the best sort of way, and it helps me understand more about what love really is. Becoming a father made me a whole person. It made me re-evaluate what’s most important. More than anything, I want to raise good and kind people. I feel blessed to have that responsibility!
What’s it like reuniting with your family after you’ve been on tour?
Tim: It is the most amazing feeling in the world. I’m just completing a two-week tour, and have most of the summer off, so I’m looking forward to some quality time with the kids. Family ice-cream outings, building a tree fort, and Friday movie nights are just a few of the things on the list. I get to do all the things I loved from my childhood all over again through the eyes of my kids... How cool is that?
The new single BLESSED by ‘Tim and the Glory Boys’ is available to listen to HERE.
Written by Nadia Hinds
Which man of faith in the Calgary Diocese inspires you in your vocation as husband and father? Joe Woodard shared:
Which man of faith in the Diocese of Calgary inspires you in their vocation as husband and father? Here is what Sean Lynn said:
Will I be a saint and lead my family to heaven? This is a question I frequently contemplate.
To be a father and husband requires heroism in the face of today’s secular society. God places a great responsibility on fathers. During my discernment as a single man, the thought of having children was the reason I was afraid to pursue the vocation of marriage. I was fearful about bringing children into a society that is morally corrupt and could very likely consume their souls.
Fr. Lasance shares the following regarding the raising of children. He emphasizes on the weight and responsibility by which God entrusts their care: "Married people have another important duty: they must bring up their children in the fear of God. At the day of their last judgement, we who have the care of souls do not fare like private individuals; we have not merely to answer for what we have personally done or left undone, but when we have given an account of this, we shall be asked about the condition of those who have been entrusted in our care. In the same manner, shall fathers and mothers be judged, not only regarding what their own lives have been but also to the manner in which they have brought up their children.”
I was contemplating this sentiment at a retreat held by Christopher West in 2015, and suddenly something clicked. If I wasn’t courageous to take up the challenge of raising holy children, how can I expect other men to maintain the faith through successive generations? The fact that I cared so deeply for the souls of children and their upbringing is the exact reason why I needed to be a father. I knew this was what God was calling me to do.
St. Paul writes in Ephesians 5:25 “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ also loved the church, and delivered himself up for it”. When we read this passage, we ought to contemplate what God is calling all husbands to do. Each man is to lay down his life for his wife and family as Christ did for his Church. Christ delivered himself through excruciating pain and suffering on his journey to Calvary to be crucified.
While being a father carries burdens, it also brings many joys and consolations. One of the most moving times in my life was when I gazed into the eyes of my son, Joseph shortly after he was born. Watching him grow and learn things for the first time has been very exciting. It melts my heart when he imitates us at mass or spontaneously asks to initiate our family rosary. Daily life is sprinkled with little blessings like these. Now, rather than dwelling too much on how the evils of this world can lure our children, I focus on how I can teach my son to know, love and serve God. This is what it means to be a father.
As a father, I pray to St. Joseph - head of the Holy Family, for his intercession to be a heroic father and husband.
St. Joseph, pray for us.
Written by John McDonald
Mother's love during my incarceration was unceasing, and ever so deeply was her devotion. She not only gave birth to me; at this point, she protected and preserved me when I was most vulnerable. Her hiatus would have been to my detriment; I would have failed not only survival but possibly the will to live also. From turning myself in to finishing my sentence in the Penitentiary, mother remained lovingly reliable. Even after denial of bail, she was the trumpet and glue holding the network of family and friends in a state of love for me. Mom was my window to my family and the outside world. She was the visitor I can count on every few days, rain or shine. Behind the glass, I saw tears held back and selfless fake smiles to protect me from negativity.
My guilt poured as she aged 10 years in the span of one, from all the stress. The prosecutor wanted 14 to 16 yrs and mother just wanted to make sure I was going to survive the next few years. Often when I was able to call out, I couldn't speak when my mother picked up. Like a lost little boy that needed his mom, and had nothing left in me to go on, I couldn't speak a word, not even hello. If I had spoken, I would have come undone in the worst way, and in jail, its forbidden to cry at all because you would immediately get preyed upon. “Who is this?! I am going to hang up if you don't talk?!” Then she went silent for a few seconds because intuitively she sensed it was me. “Son? I know its you, I know you can't talk, and you need to hear my voice. Listen to me; you will be ok; everything will work out. I love you son, and everyone loves you. We will not stop loving you and will always be here for you.”
As an immigrant, oblivious to Western incarceration, she asked my lawyer if there was a way she can go to jail with me so she can feed me because I was shriveling up from the outcome. She prayed constantly and cried out to God everyday and night. She fasted and made many promises to God wanting to trade her life for mine. I tried to stop the visits, but mother never failed on them, even when I became so hopeless and couldn't go on believing there was anymore hope to get out or survive and I wanted to be forgotten because of the pain from the glimmer of hope.
Mom always reminded me to pray to God constantly and told me God will take care of me in there and He will watch over my isolated children. Mother was at every court session, many times with food in hand hoping to give me a bite because it absolutely tortured her to see me so thin. Years later to this day, I watch her pray everyday before every meal, and I see her do it under her breath for everything. She reminds me that no one stands besides another as much as a mother for her child. There is nothing comparable to a mother's love in my opinion. From my childhood to my incarceration and the aftermath, my mother had become my hero because of all that she is and continues to be in my life.
Written by Kyle T. in Calgary for Faithfully
So, I keep trying. Although sweeping the floor with a two and four-year-old is something akin to shoveling while there is an extreme snowfall warning in effect, I do believe it shows the depth of our love. And even though every corner of the house, don’t be fooled, every corner is filled with dust, but as the main area is clean, this should reflect my love.
The big moment came when I asked myself - What did he give me this year?
Lorenzo, you constantly give me lessons in humility. You challenge my every thought about myself as a patient, extra loving, non-yelling person. You make me laugh at how much you already understand humour and silliness and intonation. You melt my heart when you ask me to “cudo” you each night in your big-boy bed. I am awed by your ability to express yourself to anyone, and everyone who’ll listen and I look up to your courage and heart-on-sleeve passion.
So, I’d say this year when it comes to your birthday gifts, you gave me many more gifts than I could’ve ever purchased for you.
I can’t wait to see your pushed-out, soother-toothed smile, hear your lisp and feel your pudgy fingers around my neck tomorrow morning. I can't wait to brush your screamed-out tears off of your dry cheeks and help you “boow nose peas” when it drips. I pray I will find the grace that I’m certain God is providing me, to be extra patient with your loud voice and big emotions and help your brother and Papa, to do the same.
You are my love baby, my Valentine’s Day reminder to have extra love in my heart and I can’t wait to sweep the floor out of love for you again tomorrow.
Papá (Sebastian), Elias and I love you so much we could just “ea chew”. We love every moment of you. And I love that my call in life is to live the little things for you with great love, sanctity and joy. Thank you for challenging me always and keeping me in check with my pride. I love being your Mama.
Written by Cyra Roman, parishioner of St. Peter's Parish in Calgary
When I was a little girl, I remember my mom talking about her career aspirations – the things she dreamed of doing before I came along – and how when I came, she decided that staying home with me would be better. I vividly remember looking up at my mother, who was the most wonderful person I knew and in my 4- or 5-year-old mind thinking, “I want to be just like you.” I often go back to this version of myself when I start getting anxious about the path I’ve chosen; to stay home with my children like my mom before me.
Last week I found myself having the conversation about “what I do,” with other women. A bunch of soccer-moms trying to make small talk leaves me a bit wary.
“I stay at home with my five kids.” I said, eliciting replies of “Wow,” and “Five? You have five children?”, and then “and do you work?” (the question I was dreading).
“I work,” I say carefully, “having five kids means there’s a lot of work.”
A somewhat uncomfortable laugh. “Oh, of course, there is. Five! I just can’t imagine. But before kids, what did you do?”
“My background is in journalism. Now sometimes I freelance on the side,” I say.
I sense relief as I share this. A collective sigh as I share what I’ve contributed to life beyond the home. I do mean that sarcastically, because though I highly respect meaningful work outside the home, I don’t see why it can’t be on equal ground with the meaningful work many other women and I do within our homes. Aside from my household though, I am privileged to have the time for mother’s groups, school volunteering, and to commune with other moms who stay home. Women are needed in so many roles, and the choices we have today are abundant. There is a bit of material sacrifice in staying home, but I say this as a woman with the choice that many others don’t have due to poverty. The few things we don’t have compared to the time with my children are small.
I don’t view my position in the home as one might view a typical job, so I don’t want to call it a career, but I so badly want to convey to others that it is fulfilling. If I said the word “vocation,” in the soccer-mom crowd, I’m not sure what kind of looks I would get.
In explaining vocation, the Catechism of the Catholic Church (898) states that “it belongs to the laity” – that is people who are not priests or religious; ordinary people like your average mom – “to seek the kingdom of God by engaging in temporal affairs and directing them toward God’s will.”
That means that even I, an ordinary mother, have a role to play in the kingdom. In my endless laundry, in my nightly wakings with babies and in all of the budgeting, story reading, disciplining and other seemingly mundane things that I do in my home, there is the opportunity to “direct them” to God and His ultimate plan.
I certainly know quite a few Catholic mothers whose vocation also includes a career balanced with home. But I think we must remember that mothers in any walk of life are not the sum of what they do, but that motherhood is wrapped up in womanhood and indeed humanity itself.
St. John Paul II famously wrote a thank you to mothers in his 1995 Letter to Women,
“You have sheltered human beings within yourselves in a unique experience of joy and travail. This experience makes you become God's own smile upon the newborn child, the one who guides your child's first steps, who helps it to grow, and who is the anchor as the child makes its way along the journey of life.”
These important words have echoed in my heart since I began on my own mothering journey 10 years ago. Being the anchor and the guide is no easy task, but seeing those first steps, hearing those first words and having the luxury of time with my children is an immense privilege. Some days are hard, and it is on those days that I think “Was I ‘God’s own smile’ or was I Satan’s scowl to these children.”
The great responsibility of raising four boys and a little girl is a heavy burden, which some days is eased only by the very idea that God’s grace is upon my husband and me to do it. It also eases my mind to know that even great saints struggled in this vocation:
“I could never have imagined how much I would suffer being a mother,” wrote St. Gianna Beretta Molla to her husband in 1958, “… It’s a good thing you’re more optimistic than I am so you can encourage me – otherwise, my morale would be almost below zero.”
St. Zelie Martin, mother of St. Therese of Lisieux wrote in a letter to one of her daughters, “I long for rest. I have not even the courage to struggle on. I feel the need of quiet reflection to think of salvation, which the complications of this world have made me neglect.”
In some ways, life has grown only more complicated for mothers since the time of St. Zelie, but we continue to look for the very same things; quiet reflection, rest, balance.
I find solace in the community of women I’ve built over the years; people who understand what the Catholic faith teaches about family and vocation. Without these gracious and welcoming women, I might’ve thought that staying at home with children is not for me. Coffee flows in the homes of my friends, and an understanding ear is there when I need it.
My mother converted to Catholicism when I was a child, and her example of fervent love for God and practice of the faith has shaped my motherhood. Hence, I also find encouragement within the Church I was brought up in. I’ve been blessed to encounter priests who smile on my family and welcome their noise and laughter, even in the middle of their homilies. I’ve been fortunate to have encountered those amazing people who will hold a baby, or just smile kindly at us when the children are being children. And in my role at home, it is my joy to bring the Church and its beauty to my children.
Written by Jessica Cyr, parishioner of St. Bernard / Our Lady of Assumption in Calgary.
That mission is what is crudely written in a child’s handwriting on a large post-it note at the main exit of our family home. It’s a big goal - getting to heaven, especially with all the personality flaws, conflicts, imperfections - and those are just a few of my shortcomings - we haven’t even addressed the other seven people in my family!
I didn’t start out on this motherhood journey thinking I wanted a large family. Often God’s plan for our lives goes in completely different directions than expected. My husband Dave and I have six beautiful kids ages ranging in age from almost 3 to 16. Each of my children is very individual, with different needs, temperaments, wants, goals and dreams. How do we as a family balance all that chaos and get to our ultimate goal? With grace, prayer and a lot of outside help.
In what seems like a former life, I was a Special Education teacher. In the classroom every child had an individualized plan to get them to their desired educational goal. My educational goals for our kids are for them to develop good character and to learn how to learn. With these ideals in mind, our family has been through it all in the search for the perfect educational opportunity for each of the kids. At different stages of our family life, we have homeschooled, tried blended school, done online classes, gone to private schools and finally landed in publicly-funded Catholic schools.
Through it all, the one commonality that we needed to be present: faith. What we found through our educational journey was our family needs other supportive adults to help us mold our children into the godly citizens that we hope they become. We need other people to challenge us, grow with us and keep us on our journey. We have been blessed to have some amazing teachers, priests and friends help us in the formation of our kids.
Right now, all our school-age children are in the Calgary Catholic system. What a blessing to have a publicly funded system with faith intertwined into the message. Here is the beauty I see: all my children will eventually need to retain their faith in the secular world. It is easier to surround them with people who are as serious about the ultimate goal as ourselves. In this increasingly secular world, it is tough not to feel the pressures of conformity banging relentlessly at our family door. I know there is a balance, Catholic schools invite children in, from all walks and journeys. However, the backbone of the school is Christ. Sometimes it’s hard to see Him, but He is invited in. The door is open to our children and community. This allows my children to go to school with diversity in thought and culture, which gives our family the opportunity to discuss serious questions and have heartfelt conversations about topics of faith and life before they leave our home.
At a Catholic school, the environment feels like home, because Christ is there. How we get to heaven is through Christ. In faith, I hope we will all complete our family mission and we will continue to learn and grow together to get there.
Written by Kimberly Cichon
“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).
Growing up in a predominantly Catholic environment, Ash Wednesday was a very special day, not only in our home but in our entire community. Breakfast on that day was the usual one, our lunch and supper quite simplified, and no meat of course. There were no snacks and particularly no sweets. We would go to the evening Mass. Using ashes, the priest would make the sign of a cross on our foreheads saying “Repent, and believe in the Gospel” or “Remember that you are dust, and to dust, you shall return”. This service concluded a day of fasting along with an occasional reminder to pray and ask God for forgiveness for our sins. The no-sweets rule applied throughout the entire Lenten season. As children, we rated this as the ultimate torture, and we could not find one reason to celebrate the beginning of Lent.
Times have changed, and we now have a slightly different understanding of Lent. While Ash Wednesday remains a day of prayer, fasting and the distribution of ashes on our foreheads as a reminder to repent, we now recognize an element of celebration that involves the Sundays in Lent. Sundays are feast days and need to be treated separately and differently. We embrace them as joyful feast days and allow for relaxation of some penances.
The following activities might be helpful to mark Lent as a special time of the year:
Reflect on the Holiest of Weeks
During Mass on Holy Thursday, we get a glimpse into the Last Supper. The priest washes the feet of twelve people in remembrance of Jesus washing the feet of the apostles, demonstrating his love for them and how they should serve others. Then he instructs them to eat bread and drink wine in memory of him and tells them that this is his body and blood that will be given up for the forgiveness of sins.
The Gospel on Good Friday describes how Jesus carried the cross, suffering and dying for our sins. This is called the Passion. We pray for people in our community and our world. We show respect and love for Jesus’ sacrifice by either kissing, touching or kneeling in front of the cross. We think about the sacrifice that God made by sending his Son to die for us.
Jesus is in the tomb. It is a day of waiting. Unlike the apostles, who were hiding in fear, we wait with hope and prayer, knowing that Jesus will emerge from the tomb on Easter. We also know that he will come again someday. Many people will attend the Easter Vigil. It begins after dark and includes many readings and songs. The new Easter Candle, which symbolizes Jesus as the Light of the World, is blessed and lit. The people who are joining the Catholic Church are baptized during the Easter Vigil.
It is the most important celebration in the entire liturgical year. Easter Sunday is a day of great joy. In the Gospel, we read about how Jesus rose from the dead. Church bells ring, we sing the Alleluia, Easter lilies bloom and fill our churches with a refreshing fragrance. Families gather for meals, and we celebrate because Jesus made it possible for us to enter into heaven.
Written by Gabriele Kalincak, Marriage & Family Life Coordinator
I was working in our garden shed one day when one of my teenage sons came in and asked me if he could get the Snapchat app on his phone. As a Gen X parent raising kids in the digital age, my kids know more about digital technology than I do. However, I was aware that on this particular app, images are sent and received and then disappear in a few seconds at the other end. My initial thought was, “what would be the purpose of an app like this other than to allow the sending of inappropriate images?”
I had to think quickly. Before entering the password into his phone to allow him to download the app, I had an opportunity for a conversation.
I asked him why he thought Snapchat was created and how he planned to use it. He told me that a lot of his friends had it and were using it to chat and send photos. We then chatted about my concerns of using it for sexting, bullying and communicating in a space that lacks accountability.
At that moment, I realized that it would not be a matter of IF he saw inappropriate images or pornography, but WHEN. So, we reviewed an earlier conversation about the dangers of pornography, the exploitation of others and how pornography can become addictive.
I also knew that if I wanted him to come to me if he ever struggled with pornography, I needed to let him know how I would respond before it happened. So, I assured him of three things:
I take this relational, proactive approach with my kids. Here are my top tips for keeping your kids safe from porn:
Written by Cliff Wiebe, Community Development Specialist | Calgary Pregnancy Centre
Catholic Pastoral Centre Staff and Guest Writers