The Feast of Stephen the Protomartyr invites us all to give witness to our faith in the newborn king.
For the last years I have been blest to study in Rome, where St. Stephen’s Day stands with Christmas as a second occasion of celebration. If Christmas belongs to more close-knit family gatherings, various more public and religious encounters mark the following feast in the Italian culture. Well-wishers gather with friends and fill the piazzas and streets. Faithful may take the time to visit the nativity scenes in churches along with attending the liturgical celebrations dedicated to the saint.
We read the account of the testimony of St. Stephen in the Acts of the Apostles. The group of twelve called the saint to serve as a deacon with six others while they kept busy proclaiming God’s word. We discover in the narrative that Stephen bestowed great skills as an orator. In a testimony to the high priest, he traces God work through salvation history, revealing how Jesus fulfills God’s plans through the people of Israel. In particular, the text of Acts goes to lengths to point out that the Holy Spirit accompanies him and guides him. Inspired by God’s Spirit, St. Stephen offers his life with words that reflect those of Christ — “receive my spirit” — but now he does so as a prayer in the Saviour’s name — “Lord Jesus” (Acts 7:59).
The testimony of St. Stephen has a particular relevance in the city of Rome. One of its churches, the Basilica of St. Lawrence or San Lorenzo, remains the one of the places in the world where the faithful have traditionally revered his relics. Recently I visited this ancient site, which was originally founded by the emperor Constantine and has been rebuilt in the following centuries.
The building now has a medieval feel to it (see below). It has solid brick walls that encompass its wonders of ancient columns and mosaic floors. From the entrance of the basilica, one’s eyes rise to its elevated altar — marked by four columns that support a weighty canopy. The altar sits overtop of a lower space, an inner sanctuary that houses the relics of St. Stephen as well as his fellow deacon martyr, St. Lawrence. They remain together as two deacon martyrs of the early church.
The church of Santo Stefano Rotondo also has a particular attachment to the saint. The building dates to the fifth century and it remains the earliest church in the city built on a circular floor plan. While the church also reveres St. Stephen of Hungary, and has served the Hungarian community in Rome for the last five hundred years, it nonetheless houses a moving mural depiction of the protomartyr Stephen. It presents him serenely looking up to heaven, wearing the dalmatic vestment of the deacon, while his aggressors are weighed down with anger and stones as they try to establish their own form of justice.
For most of us the Feast of Stephen the Protomartyr pales under the piles of boxes and the other colours that mark our Christmas celebrations. Yet the date remains an invitation for us to let the birth of Jesus transform the way we live the rest of the year. St. Ambrose articulates the faith that animated the martyr: “Christ is everything for us. If you are in need of help, he is strength. If you are afraid of death, he is life. If you desire heaven, he is the way. If you want to get away from darkness, he is the light” (On Virginity, 16). Let us take a moment this day to ask for the intercession of St. Stephen. May he help us find in Christ the pattern of love and sacrifice that brings meaning to each moment of every day.
The Feasts of All Saints & All Souls
The Solemnity of All Saints, Nov. 1
All Hallows’ Day, the Solemnity of All Saints, or All Saints’ Day is a celebration of all Catholic saints held on November 1 each year. “On this solemnity, we recall the holy men and women who, having completed their earthly journeys, now live forever with God. These saints, though not canonized, offer us models of abiding faith and love of God and neighbour” (Essential Guide to Seasons and Saints, 109).
The Church teaches that by imitating the virtues lived by the saints, the saints brings us closer to Christ. When we ask the saints to pray for us, we ask them to join their wills with the will of God and intercede for us here on earth. This is the Communion of Saints which we profess every Sunday in the Creed. (Source: USCCB)
Some resources for celebrating All Saints Day with your family:
Commemoration of all the Faithful Departed
(All Souls Day) - Nov2
All Souls’ Day, also known as “The Commemoration of all the Faithful Departed” is observed on Nov. 2. The faithful on earth can assist these purgatorial souls in attaining heaven through prayer, good work and the offering of Mass. At Mass on All Souls’ Day, we pray that through Christ’s loving mercy, God’s “departed servants…may be granted pardon and peace, and be brought to the joy of God’s eternal home. All Souls Day is an especially rich cultural experience for Hispanic/Latino Catholics, who call it “Día de los Muertos” or “The Day of the Dead.”
Some resources for commemorating All Souls Day with your family:
Fr. Wojciech Jarzecki can still hear the church bells ringing throughout his hometown of Chrzanow, Poland the day Bishop Karol Wojtyla was elected Pope John Paul II.
“He was my bishop because I’m from the Diocese of Krakow. When he became a pope it was a pretty big deal,” said Fr. Jarzecki, who was only 6-years-old at the time.
He could have never anticipated that years later he would literally continue to be so close to the late pontiff and be able to share that sense of closeness with his Calgary Diocese and beyond.
Fr. Jarzecki has gifted Sacred Heart Parish in Strathmore with a rare first class relic of the modern-day saint. He served as pastor of Sacred Heart Parish for more than 10 years before being reassigned last year to St. Michael’s Parish in Bow Island, Alta.
“The major impact that he made in my life was to show that the faith is not just something you have in your room; That the faith can mold your life, can mold the life of society and the country. Faith is not a theoretical thing, but it’s a practical thing,” said Fr. Jarzecki.
And the Catholic faith doesn’t get much more practical than relics. Three years ago Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz gifted Fr. Jarzecki with two first class relics of St. John Paul II’s blood.
During a medical procedure the Pope’s blood was drawn and kept in vials for a potential blood transfusion. After the Pope died, Cardinal Dziwisz had the unused blood turned into first class relics. Fr. Jarzecki called up the Cardinal to ask for a relic, and after some papal procedures, his request was granted. He traveled to Poland to receive the relic and bring it home to Canada.
The relic looks like dried blood on a tiny piece of cloth encased in a pyx-like container with a glass top. Today, the relic is kept at the Sacred Heart Parish office and is brought out to venerate inside a reliquary on special occasions such as Oct. 22 – the feast day of St. John Paul II.
At this time the parish community meets in the Holy Cross Collegiate gymnasium, while they raise funds to renovate a former IGA building into their new church building. The long term plan is to build a St. John Paul II chapel that will permanently house one of two relics; the other would be placed in the church altar.
Sacred Heart parishioner Tomas Rochford is honoured that his parish houses John Paul the Great’s first class relic because he admires the late pontiff for authorizing the writing of The Catechism of the Catholic Church, deepening the Church’s teachings on sexuality with The Theology of the Body and upholding the dignity of the person amidst political corruption.
“I find inspiring his ability to stand against the two great forms of tyranny in the last century – the fascism and nazism of Germany, but also communism, both of which affected Poland, and to come out of that situation not bitter, but reminding us that the answers to the moral, political, social problems are not to be found in a better, more powerful state, but in Christ ultimately,” said Rochford, the high school religion teacher at Holy Cross Collegiate in Strathmore
“That’s such an important witness even today when different forms of totalitarianism, even democratic totalitarianism, which is not as obvious as being taken to a gulag, can take authentic freedom away. I think John Paul II in his writings and the witness of his life is definitely someone we can turn to in this day and age.”
Fr. Jarzecki hopes the relics will make tangible the life of St. John Paul II and that the lessons taken from history provide important guidance for how to live (or not to live) today.
He remembers it wasn’t until he was 17-years-old in 1989 when Poland began to regain its freedom from communism. He remembers how the Communist Government put his father under house arrest because he was part of the Solidarity Movement in Poland opposing communism.
“When (Pope John Paul II) was speaking to Polish people during the Communist (rule) he didn’t talk about taking up arms, what he was basically saying is you are children of God and no one can take that away from you. God gives you freedom, this is not a government gift,” said Fr. Jarzecki.
“He showed how our faith can be so powerful if we follow it. Nobody believed communism could come to an end and it collapsed because of the Catholic faith.”
Hope — St. Joseph must have had a lot of it, leading his very pregnant wife through the hill country from Nazareth to Bethlehem to give birth to his son. I imagine it was an arduous journey filled with uncertainty. Sometimes amidst hard times, I’m tempted to let discouragement steal my hope; I forget that my circumstances will change in time.
I crawled over the 2020 finish line, exhausted and tired, only to be met with the dead of winter. January is an isolating month in the best of times, nevermind government sanctions restricting social contact.
The reality is that life is hard for a lot of people right now; so much change and instability due to the ongoing pandemic. But what is unchanging is that our faith always gives us reason to hope. As Catholics, we carry the Good News of the Resurrection within us. With the eyes of faith, no time is wasted to perfect ourselves in love. And we can look to the great examples of the saints to help guide our path.
In a special way this year, Pope Francis invites us to renew our hope by placing an emphasis on Our Lord’s foster father. He has declared Dec. 8, 2020 to Dec. 8 2021 — The Year of St. Joseph.
What St. Joseph represents in my life is a husband and father who is a faithful, patient, humble, courageous protector. Joseph didn’t utter a single word in the Bible, rather he communicated volumes through his attentive presence.
The Holy Father Pope Francis encourages each of us with these words found in his Apostolic Letter Patris Corde: “Each of us can discover in Joseph – the man who goes unnoticed, a daily, discreet and hidden presence – an intercessor, a support and a guide in times of trouble.”
My hope is to seize this opportunity to take a deeper dive into what St. Joseph’s secure, strong, safe, steadfast fatherly presence means in my life and the life of my family.
Our family has set a few goals for the coming year to get to know St. Joseph better, and grow in relationship with him. I hope a few of these ideas will inspire you to think of ways to discover the presence of St. Joseph in your life and keep you anchored in hope.
Written by Sara Francis for Faithfully
Aames Abanto from Catholic Sunday Best offers five great reasons for Catholic gentlemen to adopt St. Joseph as their 2021 patron saint.
Written by Bishop William T. McGrattan | December 5, 2019
A saint for today
Faithful Catholics take great comfort in reaching out, through prayer, to the communion of saints, triumphant and penitent. Many Catholics even keep a kind of on-call list of favourite saints based on namesakes, vocations and intentions. We invoke Mary for issues related to motherhood, we plead Peregrine’s assistance for loved ones with cancer, we call out to St. Anthony of Padua for all things lost, from keys to causes.
Fr. Myles Gaffney wants to add Saint Kateri Tekakwitha to the list of saints Canadians call on when they seek God’s help. The current vicar of Indigenous Affairs, Fr. Gaffney now serves the Calgary Diocese as the pastor of St. Michael’s parish in Pincher Creek.
There, he spends much of any free time researching and writing about Saint Kateri. While her indigenous heritage makes Kateri a somewhat obvious choice as a protectress of Canada, the environment and ecology, Fr. Gaffney says contemporary Catholics have much to learn from this saint’s experience of advanced prayer. “That’s something a lot of people don’t know about her, but it should really strike a chord in today’s world. Kateri could be the greatest contemplative that we know about in North America.”
Fr. Gaffney learned about Kateri when writing his first book, Signposts of our Faith: Canadian Witnesses to Vocation and Mission. That book was published in 2010 and by the time Fr. Gaffney took a 2016 sabbatical to study her life further, the priest was recognized as a Kateri scholar. During his sabbatical, the priest visited Kateri shrines in upstate New York and studied almost 400 pages of biographies and letters, including reports from first-hand witnesses of her life and miracles.
That research informs a presentation the priest has given at international Kateri Conferences, seminaries in the United States and Canada. He’s also presented to smaller groups of indigenous peoples and Catholics who want to learn more about the first Native North American Saint. Fr. Gaffney says the presentation is a work-in-progress that may eventually be published in book form.
Written by Joy Gregory
Tens of thousands of Roman Catholics converged on St. Peter’s Square on Sunday, Oct. 13 for the canonization of Blessed Cardinal John Henry Newman. Medical doctor Thomas Bouchard of Calgary was one of many Canadians in the jubilant crowd. A week before the event, Bouchard admitted he was not sure where he’d be seated. “I’m happy to be where ever I’m placed,” said Bouchard, who was grateful to bear witness to the canonization of a saint whose work informs his own intellectual, professional and personal life.
Newman, who died in 1890, will be the patron saint of seekers. He converted to evangelical Christianity as a young man and was later ordained a priest in the Anglican church. Renowned as an Oxford academic, theologian and poet, Newman was received into the Catholic church in 1845 at the age of 44. Newman embraced the Catholic tradition as a call from God, but acknowledged his conversion, a controversial move in the United Kingdom, ended some relationships with friends and family.
Introduced to Newman’s theology at Newman Centre of McGill University, Bouchard attributes his intellectual formation in the faith to the Catholic academics who lectured there. Friends from that period of his life include Fr. Kim D’Souza, a Toronto priest who is studying in Rome. Bouchard was D’Souza’s guest at the canonization.
“The miracle that led to Cardinal Newman’s canonization is incredibly beautiful,” says Bouchard, who says the story has special resonance for him as a family doctor who delivers babies. The miracle involves an American woman who experienced severe bleeding during her fifth pregnancy. Alone with her other four children, Melissa Villalobos realized she was bleeding so badly she was likely to die. Devoted to Cardinal Newman since her days at university, she called out to Newman for help. The bleeding stopped and an ultrasound done later the same day confirmed her placenta was no longer torn.
The miracle, which occurred in 2013, was formally accepted by Pope Francis in February 2019.
To Bouchard, the miracle demonstrates the universality of the saints. “They care about everybody and I just think it’s beautiful that Newman, who is an academic, is also interceding on behalf of this woman.”
St. John the Evangelist
Back in Calgary, Newman’s canonization received special attention at St. John the Evangelist parish in Inglewood. A Roman Catholic parish of the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of Saint Peter, St. John offers a special welcome to Anglicans who seek to join the Catholic Church.
Fr. Robert Bengry, who came to the Catholic Church through the Anglican tradition, recognizes a kindred spirit in Newman. “Unless one is entirely an adventurer, it helps to know someone has already successfully made a journey one is about to embark upon. Newman made the journey home to the Catholic Church and gives others the courage to walk in his footsteps.”
Newman teaches that “one must be prepared to lose everything in order to follow Christ,” adds Bengry. “This certainly happened to Newman—loss of friendships, status, identity—but of course one gains everything of what is truly important. Chiefly the salvation of one’s own soul.”
To celebrate Newman’s sainthood, St. John the Evangelist invited Bishop Fred Henry to give the homily at the 10 am Mass on Sunday, Oct. 13.
The parish will welcome a first-class relic of the new saint on Friday, Nov. 29. The relic will be exposed at 6:30 pm with Sung Evensong. That will be followed by individual veneration. The relic will then be placed in view for collective veneration for an hour. During that time, a number of reflections from St. Newman’s writings will be shared. The evening will feature Newman hymns and will end with Sung Compline at 8 pm.
Fr. Bengry says the event is open to anyone who wants to attend. The veneration of a Saint John Henry Newman relic has special meaning for his parishioners since the event marks 10 years since the Anglicanorum coetibus was promulgated, providing a process for Anglicans to return to the fold.
Details of Newman’s life and canonization can be found at www.newmancanonisation.com. Dr. Thomas Bouchard encourages people to read Newman’s story. Like Pope Benedict, Bouchard views stories about the lives of saints as a kind of second gospel. “Because they live out the gospel in their lives, reading about the lives of saints is really like reading the gospel.”
Written by Joy Gregory for Faithfully
Photos courtesy of St. John Evangelist, Calgary
Tens of thousands of Roman Catholics will converge on St. Peter’s Square this Sunday, Oct. 13 for the canonization of Blessed Cardinal John Henry Newman. Details of Newman’s life and canonization can be found at newmancanonisation.com. To celebrate Newman’s sainthood, St. John the Evangelist has invited Bishop Emeritus Frederick Henry to give the homily at the 10 am Mass on Sunday, Oct. 13. Weather permitting, Mass will include a procession around the block.
Mass at St. John the Evangelist
St. John's Parish priest Fr. Robert Bengry encourages Roman Catholics who do not come from the Anglican tradition to attend services at St. John the Evangelist in Inglewood. “Any and all are certainly invited. Our Mass is a form of the Roman Rite and satisfies one’s obligation to attend Mass. While our chief goal is to make a special welcome to Anglicans who want to become Catholic, we do the same for other Protestants and have a ministry to ‘reverts’ as well; those who might have wandered from the Catholic Faith but who, again, want to come home.”
Mass attendees may notice a few differences. “Our Mass, in many ways, is the old Sarum Mass used in England before the Reformation, conducted in Sacral English. There are a few prayers which come from our time as Protestants, most notably: The Prayer of Humble Access. Despite its origin, it is a thoroughly Catholic prayer beloved by so many Anglicans—and now available for all Catholics to pray.”
Learn more about Blessed Cardinal John Henry Newman:
Our Beacon of Hope
Standing inside the steel frame of the Marian Shrine of Our Lady of the Rockies under construction in Canmore, the fresh mountain breeze intermingles with the scent of burnt metal, plaster and cement. This time next summer, the doors of the shrine are expected to open for both parishioners and pilgrims.
Last spring, 144 screw piles were being drilled into a hole in the ground to help secure the foundation.
“I entered into the project right on the cusp of it really beginning to move forward. It was a really exciting moment to be there,” said Fr. Nathan Siray, who was transferred to take over as pastor in April 2018.
Today, construction is well underway: the entire steel structure erected, some framing for the walls and windows in place and the concrete floor poured.
When Fr. Siray stands inside the skeleton of the church, he imagines a feeling of overwhelm and splendor, but also connection and closeness. “It achieves this wonderful balance between grandeur and intimacy, which I think people are really looking for in a church building. I’m really excited that spirit is captured within the architecture,” he said.
Some key design features will be a larger-than-life custom-made stained-glass window of Our Lady of the Rockies in the apse of the church. It will depict Mary holding the Christ Child amidst images of the Three Sister Mountains and Canmore’s coal mining heritage.
“The moment you walk through the doors into the nave of the church, this window is going to blow you away. I think it’s going to be the centrepiece of the shrine,” said Siray.
Large clerestory windows on the upper portion of the church roof will bring in an incredible amount of natural light, explained Fr. Sirary. As the sun rises and sets you will have a different play of light and shadow in the building.
Written by Sara Francis
Photos courtesy of Our Lady of the Rockies Parish
Fatherhood Fast Forward
Catholic Pastoral Centre Staff and Guest Writers