I heard the advice that if we want to grow in spiritual childhood and the gift of prayer, we should ask God to show us children at play, or with their parents.
I used to work as a recreation leader for free after-school programs and day camps. What a treasury of memories this experience holds for me! Upon reflection, I feel compelled to share my experiences with the young children, as they served as a reminder of how I was called to rely on his presence as the Caring Adult in my life, especially during this special month dedicated to His Most Sacred Heart.
One young man I knew from the after-school program, who I’ll call John, was 12 years old. I could see that his life was full of pressures: from his teachers who misunderstood him, abusive parents, and friends who pulled him down into the foolishness of youth. During our program, he would chat my ear off while simultaneously refusing to listen to my clear instructions. He really was quite challenging to manage, but I knew that God had made him good, and that the best place he could be during those evenings was our safe little room in which we held the program.
The after-school program room was full of posters with positive sayings and chairs for the children to sit in. It was no larger than the average Adoration chapel. I loved sitting at the front, teaching the children simple social and emotional skills, and seeing their little eyes attend to me. I was delighted in every face I saw and the voices that I heard. Every so often, John would miss our program after school, preferring the excitement of his friends or video games to the calm order of the program. Because I knew he belonged there, I remember standing at the door and watching for him, allowing my heart to hope that he would come again.
I also treasure the memory of a little girl who I’ll call Mary. She delighted us leaders very much, because she was always following us around, or sitting with us, telling us everything that came to her mind. Though she could be mischievous at times, whenever we corrected her, she would genuinely apologize and make an effort to do better. She was not discouraged when we reprimanded her but stayed as close as ever and audaciously expected to be loved, which she certainly was.
My least favourite part of the job was giving First Aid to the children. One time, a young girl came to me with a splinter in her palm. I thanked her for her bravery in showing me, then reluctantly retrieved the First Aid kit. Using the plastic tweezers, I removed the splinter out of her hand. I cringed as she cried out in pain, but we both knew that it had to be done. She left my little “doctor’s office” smiling and calm, free to play again.
During some professional development sessions, I learned about the importance of each child having a caring adult in their life. This person would be someone who sees and understands the child, expresses personal interest in their life, fills them with hope for the future, and encourages them amid the inevitable challenges of childhood. The mere presence of such a person in a child’s life, I was taught, can determine their capacity to flourish as a human being. Without receiving love in such a way, the likelihood of a fulfilling and happy adult life may diminish.
Jesus reveals Himself as the Caring Adult whose Sacred Heart has a special spot for each of us. When we ask for the grace to approach Him in Adoration with faith and repentance, He knows how to teach, encourage, forgive, and heal us.
This year, I signed up for a holy hour at St. Anthony’s after reading on their website that “Many rich blessings are bestowed on those who regularly adore Jesus, truly present in the Blessed Sacrament.” With a hopeful heart, I committed that time to be with Jesus, a little like the children who chose to come to our programs. He has not disappointed me. He will not disappoint you.
In our diocese, a wide range of Adoration hours are offered at parishes across the Diocese. Adoremus! Let us adore Him!
Adoration Hours schedule (Summer 2023)
Note that hours may change without notice. Please contact the Parish Office if you are not sure.
Let us spend the National Week of Family and Life (NFLW) 2023 united in prayer, reflection, and action, demonstrating our active support for family and life. Indeed, families are “guardians of life” when we love one another within our families and in wider society when we show kindness toward and care for the vulnerable and marginalized.
Note: Day 1 can begin anytime! We want to ensure everybody has the opportunity to join in and take part in this wonderful experience. Don't worry if you missed the start of NFLW, you can join in and start participating in the daily prayers and activities from any day.
Source: National Life & Family Week Daily Prayers & Activities, CCCB, 2023
Let's hang out with the Sisters
An invitation from Sr. Dianne Turner (Assistant Vocation Director of the Diocese of Calgary) to young and unmarried women:
Maybe you have a sister, and you have fun times with her, but this is about Religious Sisters having fun together, you know, the ones people call Nuns (though Nuns are a type of Religious Sisters who live a cloistered life in a monastery. If you want to know more about this distinction, just ask). So, we Sisters decided that we would gather for a night of fun and conversation, pizza supper, and Night Prayer. Personally, I am looking forward to playing some games because I truly enjoy card games, board games, charades, etc.
Then we thought it would be great to invite young, unmarried women to hang out with us for this evening, so that we could get to know each other in a lighter setting and build our friendship. What a blessing it would be to meet young women who want to get to know us. It's an opportunity to make new friends, and catch up with some old acquaintances!
Perhaps you have questions you would like answered without anyone knowing that you are talking to the Sisters. Maybe you want to meet Sisters from a variety of communities. You might simply want to have a lovely evening of free pizza and conversation, fun activities, and night prayer at the end. You might even consider bringing along a friend and your favourite game to play with the Sisters. What could be a better way to spend a Friday evening?
The FCJ Sisters have kindly offered Sacred Heart Convent for the evening, located behind St. Mary’s Cathedral at 219-19th Avenue SW, Calgary from 6 to 9 p.m. on Friday, January 13, 2023.
Please let us know if you are coming by Thursday, January 12, 2023, by contacting Sr. Dianne at 403-218-5504 or email firstname.lastname@example.org so that we can order the right amount of pizza (meatless of course, because it is Friday).
If you or someone you know is experiencing a mental health, suicide or substance use crisis or emotional distress, reach out to Alberta Mental Health Helpline 24/7 to 1.877.303.2642 or Access 24/7 at 780.424.2424
For the past two years I’ve lost a loved one to suicide inside your month. There – I said it.
It’s been a quiet grief. These have been difficult deaths to process and, not knowing what’s acceptable to say in public, I’ve kept mostly quiet out of respect for those who mourn.
And yet, I am also mourning. My pain is real and it remains. Same too with the unanswered questions which linger, like debris that’s sunk to the bottom of the ocean – still there, but normally out of sight.
Autumn has been unusually warm and charming this year. The golden leaves that glisten skyward in the hot sun. Jupiter hanging out at sundown next to the moon. It’s been hard to reconcile today’s beauty with yesteryear’s yearning for one more chance to show that it’s worth waiting for brighter days. This October, a new chance presented itself.
My heart began to pound when I missed a call from my friend, a single male in his 30s. His profile resembling that of the ones I’ve lost to suicide. In haste, I dropped everything to call him back. Once the initial catch-up chit chat tapered, I expressed my concern and asked: “How are you doing?”
He said he feels fine for several weeks. Then for a week he can barely drag himself out of bed. The depression. The anxiety. This time of year is worse than the dead of winter, at least then he can skate and ski. The warmth and light of summer is exchanged for cooler, darker, shorter days. These destabilizing changes upset familiar routines. Autumn is the toughest time of year for him.
I felt sincere gratitude that he put words to his pain. I was so thankful that he reached out. Because, if he hadn’t, I wouldn’t have known how he was feeling and I wouldn’t have known he needed support. Only God saves, however, I can be a source of support pointing toward the light.
I want him to know what I wanted my cousin and friend to know, and what I want you to know too: You are loved. You are wanted. You are an irreplaceable gift. The world needs you. Your pain is not a burden. It unlocks compassion in this oftentimes cruel world. You are responsible for your wellness, but I want to be present to you. You are not alone. This too will pass. I’ll stand alongside you until it does. I love you. And God loves you more.
October, my eyes used to be unaware of your underbelly. Until the shock. The agony. The confusion. The guilt. The anger. The reflection. The compassion. The remembrance. The magnitude of these feelings that were once foreign but have now become familiar. Lost innocence. No turning back. This is what it means to be human in relationship with other humans. Love has shattered my heart.
Yet, my faith grounds me, especially in times of violence, oppression, suffering, loss and grief. I remain firm in hope – a supernatural hope rooted in mercy and forgiveness.
Pastoral Letter for Young People
15 Minute Video Presentation of the Pastoral Letter
Knowing the right things to say
Perhaps you have gone through difficult times and received unhelpful but well-meaning comments. Maybe you just heard yourself say something that didn’t come across as well as you thought it would as you tried to console someone.
Watch this video and learn some tips on knowing the right things to say as a personal mini sensitivity training.
Feeling socially anxious? This video may help.
Learn about the spotlight effect and see if this applies to you and your thoughts. If it does, calm down, walk into the room, and be yourself.
The transfigured heart
Five o’clock. First light was beginning to peek through the blinds of our fifth wheel camper. I pushed past the temptation to remain snuggled under the blanket and forced myself out of bed. I was going to do it - I was going to climb a mountain (okay, a hill) to watch a sunrise and sit in the presence of my Heavenly Father.
My family was spending the first week of August at Dinosaur Provincial Park, joining my in-laws for a four-day adventure in the hoodoos. Our first evening at Dinosaur Park, we’d trekked to the highest point to get a full 360 of the oddly picturesque World Heritage Site. It’s an incredible anomaly among the flattest of prairie, and it’s one of the most breathtaking landscapes I’ve ever experienced. Anybody who’s been to Dinosaur Provincial Park, 43 kilometers northeast of Brooks, knows exactly what I’m talking about: after driving through miles of prairie, the world suddenly opens up. Sandstone-striped hills, hiding who knows how many millions of fossils, seem to go on forever. Standing at the top of the mountain (okay, again, hill) and breathing in the majesty of God’s creation, I had the bright idea to climb again one morning during our trip to take in a prairie sunrise over the hoodoos and hills.
Our first night camping was fraught with high winds, deafening thunder, and sheet lightning, which encouraged me to sleep in snugly that first morning (cozied up to my nine-year-old daughter, who tucked in with us at the first roll of thunder.) The following day, however, my internal alarm went off three times before I finally arose to first light at 5 am, pulled on a hoodie, and quietly slipped out of our camper while the rest of my family snoozed away.
It was quiet and dark enough that I felt a little bit disconcerted (I’ve seen a rattlesnake or two at the park), but as I began my ascent, my desire to be with God on a mountaintop (hoo-doo top?) outweighed my fear. The climb was steep and slippery in running shoes, and I laughed at myself as I huffed and puffed towards the top, bolstered by Al McGuire’s quote: “There’s no one who’s dropped on top of the mountain. You’ve got to work your way to the top.” After slips and slides and gratitude that I had no witnesses, I arrived at the apex, took a deep breath, looked around, and prayed:
Lord Jesus Christ,
Take all my freedom,
And my will.
All that I have and cherish
You have given me.
I surrender it all to be guided by Your will.
Your grace and love and wealth enough for me.
Give me these, Lord Jesus,
And I ask for nothing more. Amen.
I’d never heard Saint Ignatius of Loyola’s prayer until Father Raul Hernandez, former pastor of St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Brooks, introduced me to it. It’s a prayer that I hold dear to my heart; it’s the prayer that I turn to most often, especially when I’m experiencing something uncomfortable or discouraging.
I’m writing about a mountaintop experience, which juxtaposes quite jarringly with the valleys my soul had been experiencing as of late. I’d been suffering from bouts of crippling anxiety since school let out. When I’m not teaching, my mental health tends to take a dip - I slug through the valleys of dark days, sustained prayer and platitudes (as well as adherence to exercise and diet.) God has given me many tools to help me keep my head above water when anxiety sets in.
When I’d finally made it to the top of the hill, I realized that I wasn’t alone: having neglected a good dose of Deet, I was joined by mosquitos, happy to keep me company as I attempted to pray and settle quietly into God’s presence. It was almost laughable - I’d stolen a moment to myself to be still, and I was busily swatting away the most loathesome of insects. It was tempting to sink into defeat, something that anxiety preys on greedily, but my repeated dedication to Jesus kept me mountaintop for over an hour. Praying… and swatting.
I watched the sandstone ground warm from grey to brown as the slow light began spreading its way westward over the hills, painting everything the colour of morning. I listened to coyotes howl from the south, answered by packs from the north. I watched a flock of Canada geese in their V formation, and listened to birds honk along the shores of the Red Deer River. I sank into the majesty of God’s kingdom here on Earth. Mosquitoes and all, it was a literal mountaintop (okay, hilltop) experience.
On August 6, we celebrated the Feast of the Transfiguration. After I shared that I was writing about my mountaintop morning, a dear friend of mine noted how, when prompted by Peter to set up camp at the top of the mountain, Jesus and His disciples came back down shortly after. They didn’t even stick around much longer after God acknowledged His Son. “We can’t stay in the mountaintop experiences. Even the disciples didn’t,” she noted sagely. She then asked, “what kind of transfiguration did you experience that morning?”
My mountain morning allowed for a transfiguration of my hurting heart. Anxiety doesn’t just slip away at will, but God always brings me back to His love, despite the temptation to despair. Climbing the mountain may not have entirely quelled my anxiety, but I was reminded of God’s great love for me as He painted the skies, and I returned to my family with an assuaged soul (and a million mosquito bites.) His grace and his love were in abundance that morning. Give me these, Lord Jesus, and I ask for nothing more. Amen.
Lessons from my Gong Gong
One of the most interesting things I learned from my Gong Gong, which is Chinese for “grandpa”, was that he grew up as the tenth child in his family. That came as a profound struggle for him since his family wasn’t well-off, and as the tenth child he usually perceived or felt the lack of parental comfort that his older siblings would get more regularly. He told me this story because I, on the other hand, have grown up as an only child. This difference in growing up is how a lot of my conversations with him have centered around life advice founded in the principles of gratitude, perseverance, and honesty. I am only able to see him in person every summer for about a week or so, and I take his lessons to heart, especially now that I have been unable to go visit him in precaution of his health.
Gratitude was the first and often returned to principle that my conversations with my grandpa would go. Primarily since I was an only child, I had no siblings to worry or quarrel with regarding attention or care from my parents, which is why my grandpa instilled into me how wholly grateful I should be when I’m looked after regarding all matters of my life: food and water, shelter, education, and most importantly, a parental devotion to forming my initial relationship with God. Since my grandpa told me tales of feeling neglect, I understand that he instilled this value into me because he wanted to emphasize how extremely blessed I am and should never take it for granted.
There still are, unfortunately, times when I do take blessings for granted. However, this is where the principle of perseverance becomes critically important. I have to admit and take responsibility for arguments and mistakes I make, which is embodied by the occasions where I would argue with my grandpa since I couldn’t quite understand what he was talking about. The key takeaway from these admittedly unpleasant interactions is that after I apologize and more closely listen to him, I do not beat myself up over the argument or misunderstanding. This also goes for when I am trying to convey something to him; something that I perhaps have great difficulty explaining to him in a way he can understand, and the perseverance he helped instill in me allows me to find that way. I still cannot imagine how much he had to persevere as the tenth child in order to make his views or opinion known to his parents. This perseverance can then be carried over to many other pursuits in my life such as education and career.
As I’ve discussed with my grandpa, these two principles of gratitude and perseverance become tightly interwoven with the principle of honesty. Gratitude for blessings must be genuine, it cannot be flippant or sarcastic as that is not only disingenuous, but also a new source for arguments or making ungratefulness even more apparent. When it comes to perseverance, my grandpa helped me to draw a line between the two unhelpful extremes: giving up or setting boundaries too early, or not setting proper boundaries for myself. Honesty is required to temper both extremes and find a proper balance. For example, a particular lesson my grandpa gave me over one summer vacation was regarding the emotional drama that I found myself wrapped up in during my high school years. He told me that it was good that I wanted to do my best to help my friends through the drama, but that it should not come at a cost to my own emotional well-being. I realized after that particular conversation that I had to give up and properly step away from the emotional turmoil I had gotten entangled in during high school; and that ended up preserving my emotional health so that I could graduate from high school.
I haven’t been able to visit my grandpa in a long time, and even though we do video calls and occasionally send emails, nothing is comparable to being able to physically talk with him face to face. In honour of 2022’s World Day for Grandparents & the Elderly, I wish to convey my heartfelt gratitude to my grandpa for all the lessons and advice he has given me so far in life. I pray to be able to visit him again soon and catch up on all the time we’ve missed.
Created in the image of God
After three challenging years, the 2022 graduates gathered last month at Holy Family Parish to celebrate their graduation Mass. These students were in grade 10 when the pandemic hit, having the entirety of their high school education impacted. But they focused on opportunities rather than challenges, and persevered to reach this wonderful milestone.
Our division's theme this year was “Created in the Image of God”. Throughout the year, staff and students focused on the dignity, beauty, and uniqueness of each person. This theme was embedded in the graduation Mass in many facets. On the steps near the altar, each student’s graduation picture was displayed. In the homily, Fr. Rodel Abanto spoke of graduation being a commencement, i.e., a beginning. He reminded the students that they have all been made in the image of God and have been given unique gifts to impact the world in countless ways. At the conclusion of the Mass, Fr. Rodel prayed a special blessing over the cross necklaces, which were given by the Administration for each graduate as a stirring reminder of Jesus’ abounding love for them.
This graduation was a celebration of a community of members with unique backgrounds, experiences, and stories, all coming together in a beautiful tapestry. Many students have been part of Catholic education since kindergarten. Other students joined our Catholic division at various points in their educational journeys. In a recent religion review performed in our division, Dr. Dean Sarnecki asked students who had attended school in both the public and Catholic schools if they found a difference between the school systems. The students could not specifically identify the difference but noted that there was a special feeling in the Catholic system - that it was “just different” and offered “something more.” Hard to put their finger on, perhaps, but that “difference” was pervasive.
Another tremendous aspect of celebrating our graduating class was the 16 international students who graduated alongside their Canadian classmates. These students came from Germany, Brazil, Mexico, Peru, Denmark, Columbia, Ukraine, Japan, and Poland. They forged friendships that will last a lifetime and span many miles across the globe. Each one of these students was an important piece of the patchwork, the tapestry, of the Graduating Class of 2022.
We do not know what the future holds for our graduates, but we do know we are sending them out with numerous lessons learned. They have learned to be flexible; they have learned the value of working together; they have learned perseverance pays off; they have learned to be welcoming to others in their midst, and they have learned that they are created in the image and likeness of God. With these experiences woven together, forever a part of the tapestry of the Class of 2022, undoubtedly, they will thrive.
Photos from the Monsignor McCoy High School Graduation for Class 2022
Faith-filled young people
Mr. Santiago Torres will be ordained to the Transitional Diaconate by Bishop McGrattan on Saturday, May 21 at 11 am at All Saints Parish in Lethbridge. Earlier this month, Chris Moraes, the President of the Serra Club of Calgary sat down with Santiago at his home parish of St. Bonaventure to ask him about his vocations journey and his upcoming ordination.
Can you tell me a bit about yourself?
“I am currently 33 years old. I was born in Colombia and moved to Canada when I was 16 years old with my mother, step-father and my younger twin sisters. My parents separated in my youth and moving to Canada was a challenge. At that time I was not practising my faith. I enjoy making visits to my native Colombia and visiting my father when I am there.”
Who is your favourite Saint?
My grandparents have always been very influential on me and my faith. When I was young they gave me a book about St. Dominic Savio. At his first holy communion St. Dominic said to God that he never wanted to sin again which was a very inspiring message for me. I took him as my confirmation saint and his story has inspired me to always trust in the Lord and has given me strength many times throughout my life.
When did you first become aware of your call? Who was instrumental in encouraging you to explore it?
At the age of 16 I met a girl at my school who was also from Colombia. We grew close and eventually began dating. She was very strong in her faith and brought me to Mass and encouraged my prayer life. Eventually we ended our relationship but my faith remained because of her. On one occasion I heard about a CCO Mission at my parish. My first deep conversion took place when I attended an evening of Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. I was invited to take part in a Faith Study and that was when I really started to connect all of the aspects of my faith and especially came to discover a real relationship with our Lord Jesus. After that I started to get involved with CCO and I joined the executive of the campus ministry group at the UofC. This allowed me to share with others the encounter that I had personally experienced with Christ.
How has the Diocese of Calgary been instrumental in the discernment of your own vocation?
The Blessed Sacrament chapel at St. Bonaventure is where I really began to hear the Lord calling me to his service. It was also the witness of several priests that allowed me to be open to this call. Around the time of my conversion, Father Cristino was on his pastoral internship at St. Bonaventure and he likes to recall the story that he began praying for my vocation way back then. The spiritual direction from Fr. Wilbert Chin Jon was instrumental in navigating fears, doubts and feelings of unworthiness for such an important calling. The friendship of Fr. Troy Nguyen in the early days of discernment also helped to ease some anxieties about going to spend the first few years at Mount Angel Abbey in Oregon to begin my priestly studies. \
What has been the greatest challenge that you have gone through as in your Seminary formation?
The seminary is a place that really helps you to get to know yourself. It is an interesting balance of guidance, formation, and evaluation. At times it can magnify your shortcomings, and there are times when you find yourself comparing yourself to the other gifted and faith filled young men. It does, however, also help to discover the great gift of the priesthood and to accept that despite feelings of unworthiness, that God can indeed call you to serve him in this vocation.
What has been your greatest joy or consolation in this journey?
The abiding understanding that God always responds to openness with faithfulness and that he wants to fulfil you with happiness. The relationships that are forged with your brother seminarians allow you to wrestle with the doubts. It is a true brotherhood and gives you strength for the journey of discernment.
In the few months that it has been established in our Diocese, have you been aware of the Serra Club and its activities?
Yes, absolutely. Sometimes the seminary can become a bit of a bubble and you just keep your head down and keep working towards the goal. It is a wonderful realisation that you are not alone on your journey and that there are many dedicated people out there praying with and for you. The letters of encouragement from students and lay people have been a great blessing to me and I am grateful for the presence of the Serra Club and the work that its growing membership is doing to promote and support vocations in our Diocese.
What is the thing you are most anticipating as your ordination to the transitional diaconate it approaches?
The thing I am most excited for is simply just “Living it” and being entirely dedicated to the ministry of the deacon. I am sure it will bring new questions, new challenges, and new learning. The ordination brings both a sense of finality of one process but also a new beginning of a new one in the ordained ministry.
What piece of advice would you give to a young person who feels like they might have a call to a religious vocation?
First of all, talk to someone about it. A spiritual director, vocations director or your parish priest will help encourage, guide, and help you to know that you are not crazy for thinking you might be called to the priesthood. Fr. Wilbert was able to reassure me that despite my insecurities, that God would sustain and inspire me to keep saying “Yes.” Secondly, Give the Lord the chance to show you that He is God and that he knows and loves you and that wants what is absolutely best for you.
Photo credit: Chris Moraes.
Are you always running late?
If you struggle with always being late.... It's a new year and an opportunity for an improved version of you!
Watch this video and learn from Jackie Angel (Ascension Press) on some practical tips on how to overcome this bad habit.
How to combat this habit?
Source: Jackie Angel, Ascension Press
“Infinitely wiser would it be to urge young people to give to the Lord, in a legionary membership, the first fruits of [their] free time. Those first fruits will inspire the whole life and keep the heart, and face too, serene and young. And there is still left an abundance of time for recreation, doubly enjoyed because doubly earned.” (The Official Handbook of the Legion of Mary, pg. 186)
These words, taken from the Legion of Mary handbook, were the words of the first spiritual reading that the new members of the St. Francis Xavier Chaplaincy (SFXC) Mater Misericordiae praesidium heard at their first meeting, in mid-November of 2020.
The Legion of Mary is a lay apostolic organization founded in 1921 in Dublin, Ireland, by the Servant of God Frank Duff. The Legion apostolate focuses on bringing souls to Christ through His Mother Mary, by means of evangelization and the spiritual works of mercy. Taking its name and structure from the Roman Legion, the Legion of Mary seeks to emulate its discipline, loyalty, and sense of duty. Since its inception, the Legion has spread to over 170 countries, with over a million members serving souls all over the world. In our diocese of Calgary, there are about 24 praesidia (the name for groups of the Legion, normally attached to a parish) under the Queen of the Most Holy Rosary Curia (the higher body of the Legion overseeing all praesidia in our diocese).
The praesidium of the St. Francis Xavier Chaplaincy, formally established in April 2021, is the newest among these praesidia, taking the name of Mater Misericordiae (Latin for Mother of Mercy). A Legion of Mary praesidium for young adults and university students was in the works prior to the pandemic and, after much work, online meetings began in November 2020 with the help of two experienced legionaries from the Curia. For nearly eight months, the faithful
members of Mater Misericordiae praesidium met over Zoom every Saturday morning until mid-July, when they were finally able to meet in person.
The weekly meeting of the praesidium consists of praying the Legion prayers (known as the Tessera) together, giving reports on the work members have been assigned, and discussing sections of the Legion of Mary handbook. Members also hear an allocutio, an address given by our Spiritual Director, Fr. Cristino Bouvette, to help motivate the members in their apostolic work and help them better understand the Legion handbook.
The assignments that members receive each week are geared towards evangelization and outreach, with the ultimate goal of bringing souls closer to Christ through the Blessed Virgin Mary. Due to the pandemic, assignments were primarily virtual and limited to helping family and friends grow in the faith, or speaking to someone who was lonely or isolated. Members report on their assignments each week, enabling members to help each other with their works and keep them accountable. This special bond between members is seen through the use of the terms “brother” and “sister” to refer to each other, indicative of the Legion as a family.
The legionaries of Mater Misericordiae praesidium have experienced a great deal of spiritual a growth as a result of Legion involvement. Among many things, members have expressed growth in their relationship with Our Lady, and a deeper realization of Christ’s call to holiness and mission. Above all, being able to grow in these things alongside others has been one of the greatest blessings for them.
Under the auspices of Mary and the spiritual guidance of Fr. Cristino Bouvette, the SFXC Mater Misericordiae praesidium continues to grow, with about eleven active members and a growing number of auxiliary members (members who pray for the Legion). The legionaries of Mater Misericordiae hope to continue to spread devotion to the Blessed Mother, especially amongst young people, and inspire them to serve others in complete union with her.
In ‘The Idea of a University,’ John Henry Newman (now Saint) outlined his vision of a liberal education that spoke of the virtues and purpose of a university. Originally an Oxford man, his famed conflict at Oriel College where he argued with the Provost that a tutor needed more engagement with undergraduates, resulted in Newman being cast out of his beloved institution and turning instead to a life of research. It wasn’t until many years later that he was drawn back directly into the academy when he was invited to help found the Catholic University of Ireland in Dublin. And although there were too many obstacles for the university to succeed, it galvanized Newman’s love for and understanding of the unique gifts of Catholic education. Indeed, in his Letters and Diaries he is quoted as saying, ‘from the very first month of my Catholic existence … I wished for a Catholic University.’
Newman’s now famous treatise reminds us of the unique charter of a liberal arts, and of a Catholic, university: ‘the end of University Education,’ he tells us, is to provide ‘a comprehensive view of truth in all its branches, of the relations of science to science, of their mutual bearings, and their respective values.’ Newman recognizes that true education is about the ‘real cultivation of the mind’, one that ‘grasps what it perceives through the senses … which takes a view of things; which sees more than the senses convey.’ Newman was not advocating for a narrow definition of one area of study but for the importance of developing critical thinking skills, a well-rounded understanding of poets, historians, philosophers, mathematicians, theologians and more. It is this comprehensive field of understanding, embedded in an unshakable moral foundation, that would allow graduates to enter ‘with comparative ease into any subject of thought, and of taking up with aptitude any science or profession.’
This flexibility and transferability is often what our Catholic universities use to defend and define the liberal arts education that we provide. In response to the demand, at times from Government itself, that we should focus exclusively on the trades or jettison the arts writ large to focus on true vocational training for jobs, pundits like myself write impassioned articles debunking the false notion that our graduates fail to forge incredible careers. We cite extensive evidence of the impact that Arts graduates have at the top of Fortune 500 companies, heading top law firms, and more. And while this defensiveness is predictable if tedious, it is a reminder of the danger of contemporary society’s devaluation of the principles of a Catholic, liberal education.
Beyond the public apologia, however, our Catholic institutions in Canada do more than defend against narrow pigeonholing. The true work of our institutions is to create holistic learning hubs, where intellectual culture is not chauvinistic but pluralistic by nature; where social capital isn’t defined by dollars but by public accountability; and acts of charity are not tax write-offs but imbedded in the very purpose of human understanding and behaviour. Yes, we want our students to have incredible careers, and they do — but we remind them always that they have a higher calling, which is to transform society for the better and to advocate for the common good.
For John Cappucci, the Principal of Assumption University, ‘the greatest challenge facing Catholic higher education is demonstrating that attending a Catholic university or college is more than just learning about Catholicism. It is about linking Catholicism to the challenges of the daily work. For example, following the example of Pope Francis’ Laudado Si’. Peter Meehan, President at St. Jerome’s University, argues that ‘the journey to truth includes both faith and reason. Uniting the heart and the mind, faith and reason allow us to explore the questions facing humanity, from biological and business ethics, ecumenism, ageing, death and dying, to the ecology, globalization and issues of responsible citizenship and government. Confident in Christian truth without being proselytizing or triumphal, we see liberal arts education as underlying a deeper human need to grasp the world in all of its complexities.’
These values are timeless, but they are also relevant to our contemporary challenges. David Sylvester, President of the University of St. Michael’s College makes this point about the pandemic itself: ‘Catholic universities, because they are fundamentally oriented to building up the common good and their long-standing community partnerships, have been at the forefront of the COVID response and have been real pillars of hope not just for their students, staff and alumni, but for their neighbours. It really did expose the need for the work that Catholic universities undertake and the servant leadership our students and faculty provide.’
Catholic colleges and universities have also been at the heart of creating important ecumenical conversations, understanding that dialogue between faith communities is critical to an empowered and empathetic world. One of the challenges that Catholic postsecondary institutions often face is that they are assumed to be theological schools or exclusive enclaves. In fact, our institutions are open to all, and they revel in the conversation that they generate with different faith communities, and indeed with the wider world itself, secular or otherwise. In the end, our institutions focus on the life of the student, pushing for a holistic education: mind, body and spirit. It is not unusual for students to flourish in our environment when they have felt uncomfortable in the public institutions.
Recently, at St. Mary’s University in Calgary, I was delighted to receive two letters from both a parent and a former student, thanking the institution for the foundational learning, and the comprehensive education, we provide. The reason for the correspondence: the student had just completed both an internship at the Indiana University School of Medicine and graduated from Seattle Pacific University with a PhD in Clinical Psychology, and then accepted a postdoctoral fellowship position with the Harvard School of Medicine and Boston Children’s Hospital, the top-ranked paediatric hospital in the U.S. For the father, our small Catholic university allowed his daughter ‘to develop academically, emotionally, personally and spiritually.’ He concluded, ‘As the Chinese proverb says, “When you drink water, think of its source.’” For his daughter, it was the pastoral and individualized experience that allowed a ‘soft-spoken’ and shy individual ‘to grow and gain courage to participate and ask questions.’ She concluded: ‘The path towards a Ph.D. truly takes a village, and I am privileged to have had you all as teachers and mentors.’
The twenty-two Catholic institutions represented by the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities in Canada all look to this type of testimonial to encapsulate the goal and the values of our institutions. As Pope Francis has argued, Catholic education is called to build a humanism that ‘proposes a vision of society centred on the human person,’ and that draws on ‘the great testimonies of the saints and holy educators, whose example is a beacon’ that can illuminate our service, and that is dedicated to the ‘mission of offering horizons that are open to transcendence.’ That surely is the ‘end’ of Catholic higher education — and in that respect our work is just beginning.
O truly blessed night!
The sanctifying power of this night dispels wickedness, washes faults away, restores innocence to the fallen and joy to mourners; drives out hatred, fosters concord and brings down the mighty.
These time honoured words of the ancient hymn we call “The Exsultet” summarize beautifully and powerfully the immensity of what happens on the night of the Solemn Vigil of Easter. When the floodgates of grace which we call baptism are opened up that night in Christ’s Church each year, the world is changed over and over again.
The Easter Vigil this year was doubly meaningful for the faithful and our Elect throughout the Diocese. Who will ever forget the Sacred Triduum of 2020, passed much like the first Passover of the Jews, hiding in our homes as the shadow of death passed over the land? The only Easter Vigils celebrated last year were virtual or non-existent. What joy, then, this year for the maximum capacity allowed in our churches to be gathered in person to usher in the celebration of our Lord’s Resurrection. The triumph of that earth-shattering event is always manifested so clearly by the baptism of adults into the Mystical Body of Christ, His Church. Everything listed in that quote with which I began this article is accomplished by the pouring of those sacred waters. I referred to this Triduum as doubly meaningful, but not only because last year we never had one and this year we did; in fact, it was a “first Triduum” for two classes of our RCIA participants. Last year, there was a group of RCIA candidates and catechumens prepared to receive their sacraments at Easter but which had to be postponed until the summer. It was such a joy to see many of them seated in the congregation- still Catholic infants themselves- welcoming a whole new batch of Christians into the family.
O truly blessed night!
Perhaps I should have referred to this year’s Easter Vigil as triply blessed, for it was not only two years of RCIA cohorts being received and watching it unfold for the first time but it was a different ‘first time’ for a sizeable portion of those in attendance at St. Mary’s Cathedral. Not necessarily the first time to be part of the Vigil and Triduum, but the first time for the St. Francis Xavier Chaplaincy (SFXC) community to be celebrating it there, and with our chief shepherd, no less!
It was a powerful witness for us all- chaplaincy participants and chaplain alike- to take part in the Triduum in our mother church around our Bishop. It was a helpful reminder of the role of a Vicar- he who stands in the place of the Bishop who desires to be present but cannot be- that sometimes, the Vicar can be where he belongs: at the service of the Bishop who fulfills his mission as Christ in our midst. My day to day life is spent serving the university students and young adults of the Chaplaincy community and not a few of them remarked to me afterwards how moving it was for them to watch Fr. Cristino step aside from his usual role in leadership as Bishop McGrattan stepped up to lead the flock entrusted to his care in prayer and worship while also conferring the sacraments of initiation. SFXC’s new home never felt more like home than in the presence of the head of our household.
It was a beautiful demonstration of what it means to be the Church, what it means for the Church to grow and what Christ’s Resurrection from the dead has truly made possible. It was an honour and a joy for the SFXC to welcome seven new sheep into the flock, and all the more by our shepherd himself.
O truly blessed night!
Living and working in Brooks, about one hour west of Medicine Hat on the Trans-Canada highway, results in long bus trips for school teams. The longest bus trips are reserved for the 6-man football team. This is because the league is province-wide, so travelling to and from Edmonton in one day for a game is not out of the ordinary.
It’s interesting to remember the conversations that occur on bus trips that long. I have had the opportunity to drive the bus for the football team on several occasions. Usually, the rides are juxtaposed by periods of silent snoring and cacophonous adolescent male singing, but sometimes conversations of substance emerge.
I remember driving home from a game one day a couple of years ago when two of our senior players were sitting near the front with the head coach and myself. I was driving. The topic of relationships came up. These two players were tough, intelligent men. They were survivors. They had come to Canada a few years before from Colombia. Neither had a father that was active in their lives, and both exuded swagger and machismo. Both were involved in long-term relationships with young women, also from Colombia.
In the process of the conversation, the question of love, and what it really meant, came up. What does it mean to truly love another person? The coach and I embraced this opportunity to reflect on and explain the sacrificial nature of love that comes from Christ and that we are called to mirror this kind of love in our relationships with others. These two boys were engrossed in the conversation. They really wanted to know how to be a good partner to their girlfriends, how to love them properly. They knew that secular society’s explanation for love was incomplete, and they were thirsting for wisdom and truth.
The beauty of Catholic education is that these conversations can happen openly and honestly, even on a long bus ride back from a football game. The truth of Christ’s love for us and how that love is the exemplar for our relationships was fully shared and with God’s grace, settled in the hearts of those two men. Almost three years later, both these men are excelling in post-secondary education and both are still with the girlfriends they had when that conversation occurred. Hopefully, one day, I will be invited to a wedding or two!
As Catholic educators, it’s important to take time this Lent to embrace opportunities to share your faith with your students. Christ truly is the way, the truth, and the life! It may even make a long, tiring bus ride one of the most memorable moments in your car.
Although it has been over twenty years, I still easily remember a particular exchange with a student. She was in grade 12, and as often happens for homeroom teachers I had developed a deep sense of professional and personal concern for her well-being, even beyond the classroom. It was obvious that day she was upset so I asked if she wanted to talk. During the conversation she shared about relationship difficulties with her boyfriend. And in the course of that sharing it was clear to me that she was being taken advantage of. I expressed this to her and she agreed. When I asked the next logical question, why not break up with him, she gave me a reply that has stayed with me: “That’s what guys are like.”
She had come to expect that romantic relationships necessarily involved being used, in exchange for at least some feeling of being wanted. To give up with this guy and not wanting to be alone, she would just have to go through finding someone else, who would treat her the same. Her family life had not prepared her to expect better.
In the years since, having my own daughters, I am certain that conversation influenced the intentionality I try to bring to being a father. Subsequent personal and professional interactions have only reinforced the message. There is no need to share here lurid stories of what too many adolescent girls think is required of them, even absent from an actual committed relationship. And there is no need to demonize boys whose hormones and cultural messages have informed them of what to expect. What is needed are committed and loving parents, especially fathers, who can reinforce the message of inherent personal dignity and the profound beauty of shared marital sexuality. This is a tough campaign when young people are offered quick, though shallow, pleasure in place of disciplined, though joyful, anticipation of real unitive love. It has been said that one task of fatherhood is to assist daughters in finding their Prince Charming, without having to kiss a bunch of frogs.
It seems to me that the project becomes even more difficult when parents who themselves didn’t quite hit the mark feel hypocritical in wanting their children to do what they didn’t. But don’t we always want better for our sons and daughters? Don’t we always hope their happiness and success will be even greater than our own? And don’t we believe they are really worth it?
There are few real sacrifices expected of people today, except perhaps in attaining goals we have set for our own fulfillment. We are out of practice in giving of ourselves to others. We can feel resentful when someone else’s wants or needs intrude on our leisure. Yet the love of parents for their children can give us the energy to move beyond self. And it means so much. A mother of my acquaintance tells of finally having agreed to interrupt her day and play the single game of cards her son kept requesting. When his dad later asked how his day had gone, he related an experience of time with Mom that had taken up hours. Even years later it was still his memory that she had set aside so much just to be with him.
Time is a precious resource, and authentic relationships require it. And relationships, especially in families and with parents, are the strongest protection we can offer in the messy goodness of human life. The liturgical year reminds us that we live within time, but we are not alone in history. As we look forward to celebrating Christ's resurrection in Easter, we can be strengthened to live family life in God’s good grace (cf. Ephesians 3:15).
Blessed are the sick
My life used to be crazy fast-paced. I was always filling my time, planning for the future, and writing out the steps I needed to follow to get where I wanted to go. Now, I don’t know what I will be able to do tomorrow or a week from now, never mind in a few years!
This has been one of my biggest challenges living with chronic illness. Letting go of what I thought and hoped my life would be and accepting what it is.
I had formed a large part of my identity around my ability to work hard. School was always hard for me, but through a lot of work I not only managed to successfully earn my PhD in biomolecular science, I was darn good at what I did.
When my health made it clear I should switch careers, I moved into human services. My goal was to become a counselor so I did online courses towards a Masters program. As my health caused me to slow things down, I had to calm my stubborn and competitive sides and let go of this goal. With each step “backwards” I was very frustrated with the limitations I faced. However, I also found I preferred the little things to the big I had been pursuing. So I started an online business (Lisza’s Gifts) that allows me to use both the analytical and creative parts of my mind and might provide some long-term financial support as it grows.
Through my many years of school I learned to ask questions and accept help. But I have discovered that it is not as easy to ask for help with personal things. My health is such that there are often days when showering is so exhausting I need to nap, so how am I supposed to clean my house? Or when I’m in a crazy amount of pain and I need my “good” painkillers but I can’t get up to get them, how am I supposed to prepare food? I knew that eventually my Crohn’s colitis and other conditions (both identified and those still under investigation), would leave me homebound, but in my early 30s? This was completely unexpected.
Right now, my life seems to be all waiting. Waiting to get lab results. Waiting for the referral to yet another specialist. Waiting for more tests. Waiting in the ER. In these times of waiting, grace upon grace is granted. I receive help from family and friends to shovel snow, grocery shop, pick up prescriptions, drive me to and from appointments and the ER. I have the prayers of many people and the time to pray for them in return. I get to spend more time learning about my faith and myself. I have started to learn how to focus on what I need more than what I need to do.
In 2020 my health went from inconvenient to unbearable. The worst part? The doctors do not know how to improve my situation. I don’t know why half my symptoms start or why some of them randomly stop. I either need to sleep a ridiculous amount or I get insomnia. If I’m lucky, I have 4 good days between my Crohn’s treatments every 4 weeks. I struggle with the loneliness and isolation; then I struggle with having patience with the people I do speak with.
I believe that most people would say that I have more bad in my life than good, but I cannot control my circumstances. I can only control how I respond to them. It has been a steep learning curve to reach a place where I have largely accepted that my health will dictate more about my life than other factors. However, that doesn’t make it easy and I grieve every time.
I think most of us learned in 2020 how we are less in control than we thought. I think the quote stating that we are all in the same storm, but in different boats applies well. There are things we can do to improve the ride even though we cannot change the storm, such as remembering that Christ is in the boat with each one of us.
New year, new growth
When people have invested their time and money to grow professionally, I believe it is misplaced modesty for them to claim they don’t know much more than the average laymen. At the same time, further education doesn’t always provide greater insights than years of experience, especially if it is also attentive and reflective. Between the two of us, with nine daughters, at this point my wife and I have over 340 years of experience in parenting. That may be why we are often asked for insights on the struggles that come with raising children.
A friend of my wife requested ideas this past week. This coupled with the looming new year got me thinking about goals and purpose. These are in everyone’s life but have different meaning for young adults. While a cliché it is enduringly true that each day is the first day of the rest of our lives – January 1 just throws that into sharper focus.
One of the good things about contemporary culture is a greater recognition of the differences between individuals. While not throwing out the good of previous social conventions, all people can take heart and be inspired by the fact that they possess certain gifts and inclinations (some of which are less common and potentially more needed) and there is exciting challenge and opportunity in them inventing the kinds of people they can be, both personally and professionally as they grow more mature. They should take seriously what they find worthwhile and see how it might be worthy of great investment of their time and energies.
Most children achieve some successes in school fairly clearly – not always in the so-called core subjects and not always where parents might want this achievement. If they are able to achieve in some areas, and show interest in those, it points toward potential elsewhere too. There is virtue in them figuring out how to do better in those areas they don’t find as easy, or as interesting. And further virtue is discovering how to ask for help and make their needs understood.
One wish I have is for young people to take seriously what it means to be authentic men and women. This is generic in becoming the best people they can as they exercise their gifts and opportunities. But is also differentiated in that we express ourselves through our sexual identity. St John Paul the Great used the term ‘feminine genius’ to bring into focus ways of thinking and acting that are usually more accessible to women. We, and young people more fully growing into themselves, can benefit our culture and our world in terms of service to others and leadership. Most of them will likely be married some day and becoming a strong spouse and parent is tremendously important. Being intentional in that character development is work for now, not simply later.
Inasmuch as they are growing into their adulthood in a weak and troubled society, there is also amazing need that they can meaningfully contribute to answering.
The beloved daughters
How often do we make plans, only to have them not go “as we planned”? Perhaps similarly, Mary had an idea of what plans were to unfold for her life. However, when approached by the Archangel Gabriel, her ‘yes’/fiat to God’s will transformed these ideas.
For us, the beginnings of this woman’s ministry, from what we perceived the Holy Spirit’s promptings to be, didn’t even come from a woman. It came from the encouragement of a man. Inspired by his perspective, the three of us gathered over vietnamese cuisine and multiple coffees to iron out our vision of hosting Calgary’s first Diocesan Women’s Conference.
It was the end of January 2020 when what we had was a venue and a date. We had an event before we even had a ministry! We had exactly 4 months to pull everything off and by God’s grace, every door opened for us. We had approval from the Diocese, a theme, amazing speakers, a production team, and tickets were being sold as soon as registration opened. God was very good. Despite the start of COVID-19 precautions, we were optimistic that our event would still occur. That is, until the end of March, where we sadly decided to postpone the event. It was difficult to believe that we were getting all the green-lights in planning over a short period of time, only to have the world literally shut down. Nevertheless,God was still very good. He had and has a plan for us. As a team we perceived this downtime as an opportunity to build a strong foundation for a ministry, that if God so willed, would flourish. We were given this opportune time to create the ministry, reach women locally via social media, create a social media presence and attempt to collaborate with local communities to get the ministry running despite the pandemic.
Reflecting on the Magnificat, I am reminded that we are nothing without the Lord and His grace in our life. As humans, we often lack the practice of gratitude. Mary gave a joyful claim: “all generations shall call me blessed.” She recognized the work of God in her life; that He was to make her the Mother of the Saviour of the world! Her ‘yes’ surely was a sign of gratitude, a quality that many acquire through virtuous practice and prayer. When I realized we were no longer able to proceed with the conference, I was disappointed and my motivation seemed to wane. I did not reflect on what God was conveying to us during the initial quiet months of COVID-19 restrictions. I didn’t “ponder” these things as Mary did. It is possible that Our Lady would have been overwhelmed, yet she never questioned Gabriel. Instead, she prayed and pondered everything interiorly. I can now recognize the generous gift God provided us. Our vision for this ministry is to continue saying ‘yes’ even when feeling discouraged. It is important to me that women in Calgary have a space to rediscover their identity and grow in virtue.
The virtue of humility echoes throughout the Magnificat. St. Teresa of Avila defines humility as: living in the truth. The truth of who we are, and who God is. As we grow in knowledge of this truth, everything and everyone is put into proper order. When one knows the truth of who they are, there is no longer the need to compare, or compete. Instead, secure and confident in the Father, one then forgets themselves and is present to others. In Mary, we see this lived out in full. Confident in her identity as a beloved daughter of God- that had already been rooted within through her practice of prayer and virtue- upon receiving her mission, Mary is able to forget herself, and goes with haste to tend to Elizabeth. Similarly, we hope that the Beloved Daughters Ministry becomes a platform for women. That our contributors, resources, and events, will aid women along the journey of growth in prayer, virtue, and friendship as they lean into their belovedness.
After postponing our conference, we were offered the opportunity to host a live-streamed Virtual Pilgrimage through Canmore’s Shrine. Our website launched on August 22, 2020 - the Queenship of Mary, which also happened to be the Shrine’s patron feast day. It was evident that Our Lady had held our hand through all this and so we dedicate this women’s ministry to her.
Mary is our example of how to magnify the Lord. If there is anything we desire, it is to do the same; that our ministry magnifies the Lord.
It is June and the time of year when our young people complete their studies and gather for the celebration of their graduation. But this year is different. The COVID-19 Coronavirus restrictions have curtailed the in-person gatherings and reshaped them into “virtual graduations.” This is new for all of us but it should not diminish in any way the joy we feel at seeing young people succeed whether it be the milestone of a graduation from kindergarten or the graduation from Grade 8, Grade 12, College or University.
I add my voice to the good wishes and encouragement which our graduates of 2020 are receiving. You are a graduating class with unique stories to tell and we anticipate the wisdom of your insights and leadership in the future. The following are for your reflection as you celebrate the completion of studies and look toward the next steps – be it further studies, a career, a religious vocation or some time to chart your future path in life.
The impact of a Catholic education was recently highlighted by Dr. Anthony Fauci, MD who has had a critical role in the pandemic leadership for the United States. Dr. Fauci graduated from Regis High School and in his own words he stated the “tenets of the Jesuit tradition sustained him throughout his life and career.” The imprint of a Catholic Education shapes the character of a person in striving to live a life of goodness but also in assuming roles of responsibility in promoting the common good in both ordinary and extraordinary forms of service.
As graduates of 2020 it seems to me that you are being offered three important lessons during this pandemic.
In a recent video message to young people commemorating the 100th anniversary of St. John Paul II's birth, Pope Francis spoke about the challenges and obstacles faced by St. John Paul II as a young man and how his deep faith enabled him to overcome them. Pope Francis expressed the hope that the life and faith of St. John Paull II would “inspire within you the desire to walk courageously with Jesus, who is “the Lord of risk, he is the Lord of the eternal ‘more.’" (Pope Francis, May 18, 2020)
Graduates of 2020, persevere in prayer, follow the promptings of the Holy Spirit and know that the Lord who calls you to embrace His Love will accomplish good works in and through you. Seek the “eternal more” as you celebrate your graduation in 2020.
Tiffany Biensch & COVID-19
Have you ever met someone that made a distinct impression? I think most of us could answer “yes.” Maybe that person didn’t do or say very much, but in their very presence or being, they made an impact, small or large.
I first encountered a religious sister when I was in kindergarten. It was during Lent. Sister (the sands of time have eroded her name) was kind and gentle, listened intently to our five-year-old selves, and really seemed to know about Jesus.
Until that day, I had not yet understood that Jesus had eventually grown from the baby I knew in picture books to the man who would eventually die on the cross for all of us. I remember feeling surprised and a little afraid of this new revelation, but Sister’s gentle demeanour and peace about the whole thing made me think that this grown-up Jesus must be quite wonderful, and then I was very curious.
A quick online search tells me that Sisters of Providence of St. Vincent de Paul were nearing the end of their ministry in my hometown. Though I can’t recognize that sister from the photographs, I carry the memory of the day she illuminated Christ for me. I eventually forgot about her – in fact, this memory didn’t resurface until I sat down to write this story – but the imprint on my heart, the one about grown-up Jesus never left me.
It is thousands of small moments like that one that mark the lives of many of us who live in the Diocese of Calgary – churchgoing or not – and exactly why a day of prayer for Consecrated Life is something to celebrate. World Day for Consecrated Life was founded by Pope John Paul II in 1997. Men and women renew their vows of poverty, chastity and obedience in parishes worldwide.
“The vocation of consecrated men and women have been for our Church from her earliest days a living witness to the truth of the fact God alone is enough and it is ultimately He to whom we must cling now in preparation for an eternity of adoring Him forever,” said Fr. Cristino Bouvette prior to the renewal of vows at the St. Francis Xavier chaplaincy’s Mass.
Spanning the front of St. Bernard’s church on the Feast of the Presentation, Calgary’s consecrated women, along with a few priests, echoed Anna and Simeon, whose words were shared in the gospel, in proclaiming God’s gifts and committing themselves to service of Him.
“I didn’t realize there were so many sisters in our diocese,” a friend said to me after we’d welcomed representatives from some of the 28 communities of consecrated men and women within the diocese. Neither had I, I admitted, scanning the mostly unfamiliar faces.
The answer to that may lie in the fact that many of them are continually at work with the poor, sick and marginalized, not on the doorsteps of suburban housewives. But if we made a little effort to venture downtown to the FCJ Centre, or west to Mount St. Francis in Cochrane we would find religious houses of peaceful retreat.
Walk into St. Mary’s High School and you might find Sr. Dianne Turner, Franciscan Sister of St. Elizabeth teaching a class. Throughout our city and surrounding communities there are men and women of varying charisms working and witnessing to the love of Christ.
Relatively new to Calgary, but friends with various parishes in our city are the Seeds of the Word Sisters, hailing from Brazil. Inspired by their community is Brittany Andreas, 19-year-old student at Mount Royal University.
After connecting with campus ministries, reigniting her faith and looking to the future, she thought “I need to be open to everything. I can’t force my own vocation.” She began visiting the Seeds of the Word sisters’ home with a few other students. Soon, half-hour visits turned to two-hour heart-to-hearts.
“Hearing the stories of how they came to consecrated life was really beautiful,” Andreas said,
“It was also inspiring to know that they didn’t have perfect backgrounds either, because we all have mistakes that we’ve made.”
I could relate, but was inspired by the courage that Andreas showed in considering the consecrated life. When I was the same age, I wanted to run away if a sister talked to me. Having few encounters with consecrated women in the flesh, my distorted view landed somewhere between my Dad’s stories of nuns reprimanding him in elementary school, the Sound of Music’s cloistered Carmelites and the singing nuns of Sister Act. Like Andreas, it was when I had real-life encounters with consecrated men and women that I came to realize my fear was baseless.
In a conversation with Sr. Dianne Turner after Mass, I admitted to her that my impression of the consecrated vocation when I was younger and unmarried was that it meant being alone. I had many examples of Catholic wives and mothers to draw from, but not very many sisters.
“Really in the end we are not alone because the Lord is with us,” she replied,
“[We have] the angels, the saints, we are never alone. Even if we’re the only one left in our order, which will soon happen to me, but I don’t feel alone because the Lord is always with me.”
In my collective encounters with people like Sr. Dianne or the Seeds of the Words Community, I soon realized that consecrated life also means being a part of and serving a community, and that like in a marriage, that community becomes a family of love.
Sr. Dianne went on to say later in our conversation that what the young need is to pray and ask God what it is He wants. That is the very definition of discerning a vocation – listening for God’s voice.
CCO missionary Chris Kokot, 24, like Andreas has been inspired by the sisters in Seeds of the Word community.
“I’m thinking about their sabbatical year after my commitment to CCO is finished,” he said.
Sharing about how he wants to pursue God’s call for him, he said, “I think the Church needs people who know Jesus in a personal way. Many people have barriers pop up for them when it comes to Church teaching, but people who truly know God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit and live it out are what we need more of.”
Chris spends his days with CCO reaching out to students on our city’s post-secondary campuses, and getting to know them with the hope that they’ll come to know God.
“You can know about God, or you can really know Him. There’s a difference,” he said.
It is because of the similarities between charisms or gifts of CCO and the Seeds of the Word community that draws Kokot towards a possible time of discernment with them.
Young, real and welcoming were key words in the rest of my talk with Kokot and Andreas, who felt like they could relate to the young sisters who throw snowballs and watch the same sort of movies.
It is true that many of the religious we see in Canada are, as Sr. Dianne put it bluntly, “old.”
“But I can’t help that I’m old,” she said honestly, wishing that the young might see past the age of many of our consecrated and see the beauty in the life.
Her hope was to inspire women and men who might like to work in Canada, “there are so few sisters to start off with, and many young women, if they are called go online and find an order in the States.
“What we really need is the witness of religious life here.”
“There are so many wonderful orders,” she said of a few we discussed that are primarily in the United States, but we agreed that in our own nation, there is still good work to be done.
In that spirit, Sr. Dianne and the Assembly of Women Religious have a retreat planned on March 7 to encourage women age 16-35 to come and get their questions about religious life answered from sisters representing several communities.
It is with hope that we must look forward to a new generation of consecrated people, while we treasure the work and wisdom of the last.
Written by Jessica Cyr
Catholic Pastoral Centre Staff and Guest Writers