When I was a little girl, I remember my mom talking about her career aspirations – the things she dreamed of doing before I came along – and how when I came, she decided that staying home with me would be better. I vividly remember looking up at my mother, who was the most wonderful person I knew and in my 4- or 5-year-old mind thinking, “I want to be just like you.” I often go back to this version of myself when I start getting anxious about the path I’ve chosen; to stay home with my children like my mom before me.
Last week I found myself having the conversation about “what I do,” with other women. A bunch of soccer-moms trying to make small talk leaves me a bit wary.
“I stay at home with my five kids.” I said, eliciting replies of “Wow,” and “Five? You have five children?”, and then “and do you work?” (the question I was dreading).
“I work,” I say carefully, “having five kids means there’s a lot of work.”
A somewhat uncomfortable laugh. “Oh, of course, there is. Five! I just can’t imagine. But before kids, what did you do?”
“My background is in journalism. Now sometimes I freelance on the side,” I say.
I sense relief as I share this. A collective sigh as I share what I’ve contributed to life beyond the home. I do mean that sarcastically, because though I highly respect meaningful work outside the home, I don’t see why it can’t be on equal ground with the meaningful work many other women and I do within our homes. Aside from my household though, I am privileged to have the time for mother’s groups, school volunteering, and to commune with other moms who stay home. Women are needed in so many roles, and the choices we have today are abundant. There is a bit of material sacrifice in staying home, but I say this as a woman with the choice that many others don’t have due to poverty. The few things we don’t have compared to the time with my children are small.
I don’t view my position in the home as one might view a typical job, so I don’t want to call it a career, but I so badly want to convey to others that it is fulfilling. If I said the word “vocation,” in the soccer-mom crowd, I’m not sure what kind of looks I would get.
In explaining vocation, the Catechism of the Catholic Church (898) states that “it belongs to the laity” – that is people who are not priests or religious; ordinary people like your average mom – “to seek the kingdom of God by engaging in temporal affairs and directing them toward God’s will.”
That means that even I, an ordinary mother, have a role to play in the kingdom. In my endless laundry, in my nightly wakings with babies and in all of the budgeting, story reading, disciplining and other seemingly mundane things that I do in my home, there is the opportunity to “direct them” to God and His ultimate plan.
I certainly know quite a few Catholic mothers whose vocation also includes a career balanced with home. But I think we must remember that mothers in any walk of life are not the sum of what they do, but that motherhood is wrapped up in womanhood and indeed humanity itself.
St. John Paul II famously wrote a thank you to mothers in his 1995 Letter to Women,
“You have sheltered human beings within yourselves in a unique experience of joy and travail. This experience makes you become God's own smile upon the newborn child, the one who guides your child's first steps, who helps it to grow, and who is the anchor as the child makes its way along the journey of life.”
These important words have echoed in my heart since I began on my own mothering journey 10 years ago. Being the anchor and the guide is no easy task, but seeing those first steps, hearing those first words and having the luxury of time with my children is an immense privilege. Some days are hard, and it is on those days that I think “Was I ‘God’s own smile’ or was I Satan’s scowl to these children.”
The great responsibility of raising four boys and a little girl is a heavy burden, which some days is eased only by the very idea that God’s grace is upon my husband and me to do it. It also eases my mind to know that even great saints struggled in this vocation:
“I could never have imagined how much I would suffer being a mother,” wrote St. Gianna Beretta Molla to her husband in 1958, “… It’s a good thing you’re more optimistic than I am so you can encourage me – otherwise, my morale would be almost below zero.”
St. Zelie Martin, mother of St. Therese of Lisieux wrote in a letter to one of her daughters, “I long for rest. I have not even the courage to struggle on. I feel the need of quiet reflection to think of salvation, which the complications of this world have made me neglect.”
In some ways, life has grown only more complicated for mothers since the time of St. Zelie, but we continue to look for the very same things; quiet reflection, rest, balance.
I find solace in the community of women I’ve built over the years; people who understand what the Catholic faith teaches about family and vocation. Without these gracious and welcoming women, I might’ve thought that staying at home with children is not for me. Coffee flows in the homes of my friends, and an understanding ear is there when I need it.
My mother converted to Catholicism when I was a child, and her example of fervent love for God and practice of the faith has shaped my motherhood. Hence, I also find encouragement within the Church I was brought up in. I’ve been blessed to encounter priests who smile on my family and welcome their noise and laughter, even in the middle of their homilies. I’ve been fortunate to have encountered those amazing people who will hold a baby, or just smile kindly at us when the children are being children. And in my role at home, it is my joy to bring the Church and its beauty to my children.
Written by Jessica Cyr, parishioner of St. Bernard / Our Lady of Assumption in Calgary.
One of the humbling privileges of serving as the vocation director of our diocese is coming into contact with young men who sincerely desire to give their lives to our Lord and the service of His Church. I would like to briefly share with you the impact one such of those young men has had upon me in the last year and a half.
You may recognize the young man in the photograph as the one who presented the oil to be blessed as Oil of the Sick only two weeks ago at the Mass of Chrism. He and I first came into contact over Skype while he was still serving on a NET Ireland team. He had been diagnosed with cancer there which threw a wrench in his plan to return home at the end of his missionary year with the hope to enter the seminary for our diocese. His doctors were confident that he would recover there and return home well.
That never turned out to be the case, and although he did make it back to Canada, he went through a roller coaster ride of sickness and health. His longing for the priesthood never wavered but at the beginning of April, when his doctors prognosticated that he would have only three months to a year left to live, he resigned himself to the fact he would never be ordained. Nevertheless, I asked him to consider himself my "assistant vocation director", wherein he would unite his sufferings to the Cross of our Lord for the intention of many and holy vocations to the priesthood for our diocese. He was unwaveringly committed to this spiritual work. Being present at our Chrism Mass was an opportunity for him to feel a share in our presbyterate.
Much sooner than expected, our assistant vocation director, Ted Andrew, peacefully passed from this life in the early hours of an Easter Octave morning, April 25, with his loving parents by his side.
He will be laid to rest in his hometown of Youngstown following the funeral Mass at Sacred Heart in Oyen on Tuesday, April 30. Please join me in offering your prayers and Masses for this spiritual brother of ours, that His Father will look upon him with mercy, and in His goodness, favourably hear his prayers for the growth of our presbyterate.
Presentation of the Oil of the Sick at the Chrism Mass (April 15, 2019).
Written by Fr. Cristino Bouvette, Director of Vocations
“I remember being four or five-years-old, walking through the ravages of WWII feeling determined to make something good out of the chaos, destruction, death and suffering brought on by what I think of now as a senseless war.
My outlook on life then and now was inspired by a devoted and loving dad and a dedicated and faithful mom. They taught me to love others as God loves you, be good to others as God is to you and to be a giver and let God give you as much as He is sure to give – these are the lessons that I tried to live up to. My thoughts of becoming a nun were triggered by the musicale that was part of our graduation in 6th grade. I was asked to sing my role in the song: “I wonder what I’ll be when I am big someday.” I was told to sing: “ I want to be a nun (3 x) when I am big someday.
About God’s Work
As a testament to what a determined woman can do with God’s help, Thorn began Project Rachel while raising her family of six children. Project Rachel began as a diocesan initiative in 1984, and from there it gained momentum and widespread support across the United States and then Canada, which includes the Diocese of Calgary.
She recalls at that time there were no experts to call upon when she developed Project Rachel. However, she was convinced then and still now practises a post-abortion healing ministry that offers anonymity, has a strong spiritual element and includes a psychotherapeutic component. The name Project Rachel is inspired by Scripture: “Rachel mourns her children, she refuses to be consoled because her children are no more” (Jeremiah 31:15).
Thorn knows that mothers of aborted babies go through different types of grieving and often seek forgiveness in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. They are not the only ones who are traumatized from the loss of their child. Fathers who didn’t want the abortion, grandparents and siblings who later learned about it are also devastated.
Thorn has travelled to 28 countries speaking to thousands about not only the impact of abortion on men, women and on our culture but of what God’s ultimate plan is for humanity revealed to us through the science of the human body.
Thorn takes great joy in seeing her children value life. Now they’re all grown, and there are 14 grandchildren for her and her husband to enjoy. Each of her kids, she says, along with their loving partners and her grandchildren “are just a delight to my heart.”
Despite needing to lay low for health reasons, she said she’s still busy looking to expand and develop a framework for post-abortive healing in places around the world because, she explained, “you can’t just use an American model in other countries.” Her research has led her to seek communities of sisters who are already, as she said, “the boots on the ground” serving the people where they are.
In Milwaukee she says, she’s running a program for African American pastors who want to learn about post-abortive healing. There is a great need but “not a lot of help.”
Theology of the Body
This March, she’ll find herself at the Theology of the Body Conference in Calgary to speak to attendees about the science that undergirds the Theology of the Body, much of what she says is “well researched, but not well known.”
We have been seeing the effects of the sexual revolution since the 1960s culminating in what many in the Church refer to as a culture of death. Thorn spends a lot of her time explaining the wounds many of us experience as a result, with scientific studies to help her show the audience hard facts.
What we will hear from her is much deeper than what we heard from high school sex education.
Armed with the facts of male and female biology, the science of attraction and the biochemistry of sex and conception, Thorn will take us through the beauty of God’s plan for the human body.
“We haven’t really understood how awesome we are in terms of our sexuality,” she said, adding that over time the wonder and beauty of sex have been lost. What she’ll share with us will be concrete, uniting what the Church teaches with scientific fact, which will further our knowledge of what she says is “God’s intentional plan.”
Looking at all she has achieved and the ministry she continues to grow, attendees to the upcoming conference will be blessed to be part of her journey and work.
Written by Jessica Cyr
I was working in our garden shed one day when one of my teenage sons came in and asked me if he could get the Snapchat app on his phone. As a Gen X parent raising kids in the digital age, my kids know more about digital technology than I do. However, I was aware that on this particular app, images are sent and received and then disappear in a few seconds at the other end. My initial thought was, “what would be the purpose of an app like this other than to allow the sending of inappropriate images?”
I had to think quickly. Before entering the password into his phone to allow him to download the app, I had an opportunity for a conversation.
I asked him why he thought Snapchat was created and how he planned to use it. He told me that a lot of his friends had it and were using it to chat and send photos. We then chatted about my concerns of using it for sexting, bullying and communicating in a space that lacks accountability.
At that moment, I realized that it would not be a matter of IF he saw inappropriate images or pornography, but WHEN. So, we reviewed an earlier conversation about the dangers of pornography, the exploitation of others and how pornography can become addictive.
I also knew that if I wanted him to come to me if he ever struggled with pornography, I needed to let him know how I would respond before it happened. So, I assured him of three things:
I take this relational, proactive approach with my kids. Here are my top tips for keeping your kids safe from porn:
Written by Cliff Wiebe, Community Development Specialist | Calgary Pregnancy Centre
The Exodus 90 challenge is a “spiritual exercise” meant to be a “roadmap to freedom that engages the whole man and transforms his very way of life.” The eight men in our Exodus 90 fraternity have engaged in this 90-day-long gruelling battle of man versus flesh in an attempt to grow closer together, rid ourselves of every earthly desire, and draw near to a God who calls from the Exodus epic, “Let my people go!” To do so, we have committed to the three pillars of fraternity, asceticism, and prayer, meeting every Saturday morning at the abode of our eighth member and spiritual guide, Father Cristino.
My journey toward seeking the heart of Jesus began over a decade ago with a book. The book challenged my entire view of masculinity as the world had presented it to me, suggesting “Deep in his heart, every man longs for a battle to fight, an adventure to live, and a beauty to rescue.” I was convinced that a man must endure some suffering to understand that he has what it takes, to speak truth to the lies he has been told, and to seek the heart of Jesus is the true fulfilment of every desire.
Being open to this truth has not been easy, as greater intimacy with the heart of Christ has always opened greater intimacy to my own heart, revealing deep woundedness and fragility. Allowing my vocation as a husband and father, teacher and chaplain to bury me in the battle has at times drawn me away from that search for intimacy with Jesus. Therefore, the Exodus 90 journey has been a welcome change of pace. Once more into the fray.
Exodus 90 has demanded a daily commitment of hourly prayer, a scriptural focus on the Book of Exodus, close contact with the fraternity, and a Levitical list forbidding alcohol, desserts, television, music, and the internet, to name a few. These are topped off with the pleasant addition of cold showers, fasting and abstinence twice, and exercise three times a week.
What binds our fraternity together is the common desire for transformation. Exodus 90 has not failed us yet in providing that opportunity, and although at times we have failed to meet its standards, our skin is growing thicker and our hearts are ever-softening. I ask that you pray for us as we die to ourselves in order to rise again this Easter.
 Those Catholic Men, Inc. “Exodus 90” Apple App Store, Vers.1.0.2 (2019)
 Eldredge, John. (2001) “Wild at Heart: Discovering the Secret of a Man’s Soul” Thomas Nelson.
Written by Joseph Lawrence
Outdoor photo: (from left) Dustin Greenwald, Michael MacKinnon, Desmond Sanesh, Fr. Cristino Bouvette, Brian Salisbury, Joseph Lawrence, Matthew Szojka, Phillip Morin
The occasional ambulance siren and the thrumming of a helicopter hovering a few hundred feet above ground were piercing the stillness of a beautiful afternoon in Panama city’s Cinta Costera.
If it weren’t for the tens of thousands of young people present along this three-kilometre stretch lining the city’s Pacific Coast, you would think you were in an abandoned city.
The stillness was incredible.
“Do not be afraid. Be courageous to be a saint in today’s world,” one could hear blazing through the loudspeakers.
“Perhaps, as Church, we have been unable to transmit this with sufficient clarity, because at times we, adults, think that young people don’t want to listen.”
Those were the words of Mons. Jose Ulloa Mendieta, the Metropolitan Archbishop of Panama. His impassioned homily on Tuesday’s opening Mass was a rousing call for every young Catholic listening.
“Do not be afraid. You need to be heard. You need to keep making us adults nervous.”
Stepping Back: Preparing for a Pilgrimage
After having missed Krakow in 2016, a group of friends and myself decided sometime in early 2018 to go to Panama and “just do it.” And so that’s what we did — we bought our flights, paid the registration, and waited for January.
As the months flew by, it was becoming more and more apparent that this really was going to be a pilgrimage. Not that we didn’t know that ahead of time, but the questions we had during preparations made us realize things we otherwise wouldn’t have had if this were a vacation. Are we going to stay at a school gym or with a host family? Do we have a safe place to leave our stuff? Would I have a bed? Would we be able to do some laundry? How about my cameras: should I bring them? Which lenses should I bring? Do I really need them?
With all these little luxuries that I would otherwise take for granted on a normal vacation, I can’t help but see a significant parallel with our own spiritual life.
Aware of the fact that a wheelie luggage for this trip was a no-go (given the amount of walking we’d be doing), I was determined to fit all my clothes and belongings in a hiking pack — a small pack that forced me to reduce all that I’m bringing to not only the essentials, but to just enough quantity for these essentials.
One pair of shoes. Just enough clothes. Bible. Journal. No cameras.
Isn’t this true with our own spiritual life? The lesser the baggage, the better we’re able to focus on the journey. The lesser our attachment to earthly possessions, the greater the freedom we experience.
The warmth of a people
After waiting at Parroquia de Santa Maria for a few hours (together with hundreds of other pilgrims waiting for a ride to their accommodations), Xiomara finally arrived and came to see us. She and her husband, Rolando, together with their children Carlos and Andrea, would become our host family for the remainder of our stay.
The Mejia family was a real blessing. They made a home for those who needed one — mi casa es su casa, they say. But they weren’t the only ones: throughout the week, many of the people you’d meet on the streets would always be up for some conversation, despite us not speaking the same language. Hola! De que pais? My two years of Spanish in university was definitely useful, however horrible. I always asked them to speak slowly, otra vez y mas despacio por favor, so that I could understand them a little better. Then we were fine, or at least it seemed to me. And when we got to a point where we really could no longer understand each other, we would just end the conversation by laughing at ourselves. Ha!
I was struck by how friendly these people were. Late one evening, the manager of a local supermarket let us in their staff room to eat the free dinner we claimed at his store. On another occasion, several Muslim men set up a table outside their Mosque, handing out bottles of agua fria to the pilgrims who just came from the opening Mass not too far away. A big sign on their gate said: Bienvenidos amigos peregrinos (Welcome, pilgrim friends).
And who can forget that dreadful 21-kilometre hike to the vigil site: walking under the searing 35-degree heat for several hours, these friendly people boosted our morale by offering us a ride to our destination. At one point, a woman stopped her vehicle in the middle of the road and offered us a ride to her house nearby, urging us to take a rest and use the bathroom. And she wasn’t the only one!
A few hours and an obvious raccoon tan later, we finally made it to the vigil site: a vast, open field in an outer-city suburb that became the home for tired and exhausted pilgrims that night. It was an incredible experience: when the Holy Father led Adoration, the place was perfectly quiet and still. There we were, a few hundred thousand young people sitting out in the open under the clear night sky, adoring our Eucharistic Lord from a mile away. Later, when it came time for the Benediction, we all sang the Tantum Ergo. It was incredible. Everyone spoke different languages, but we all chanted that ancient hymn in unison — singing the Lord’s praises in the language of Holy Mother Church, which we all knew. It was a beautiful moment that sent chills down my spine: the sense of universality, of Catholicity, was so tangible.
A sense of where we came from
A few days before, we attended a Traditional Latin Mass (TLM or the Extraordinary Form of the Roman rite) at a downtown Carmelite parish where Archbishop Alexander Sample was preaching. The Archbishop of Portland, OR has become somewhat famed because of his orthodoxy and fidelity to the teachings of Vatican II on the sacred Liturgy.
“Why are you here today?” asked the Archbishop, addressing a congregation full young people from all over the world. “You never grew up in this liturgical tradition, so why are you drawn to it?”
My experience of WYD has not been without its own share of wishy-washiness in the Liturgy. On two separate Masses — one even celebrated by a Cardinal — people seemed to be more intent on “celebrating” their culture instead of ordering all our attention to Jesus in the Eucharist. At one point right after communion (when everyone was about to kneel and pray), a priest took the mic and asked everyone to stand up and clap our hands to the rhythm of the song his choir was singing. On another occasion, a group went in front right after communion and started dancing to an upbeat, Caribbean-style dance music — the sort of which you’d hear on an Expedia cruise commercial — which was supposed to help everyone “better reflect on the Mass.” Yikes.
Hence, being at a TLM that afternoon was a source of assurance and an experience of the sacred, giving us all a sense of where we came from.
“I think it’s important for young people to see, experience, and participate in the Mass of the Ages…the same form of the Mass that nurtured our grandparents and so many of the saints we venerate today.”
Put out into the deep
Having gone to several conferences before, I never thought that World Youth Day would hang heavy on my heart the moment it’s over. However, this one is different.
Throughout this entire pilgrimage, a message that I kept on getting from the catechesis, homilies, talks, and conversations was do not be afraid. And how appropriate — I was at an event started by a saintly man who never tired of saying the same thing during his pontificate.
“Most of us sinners live our lives in the shallow and spend our lives on the seashore,” said Bishop Barron, speaking about us being too easily amused with insignificant things and staying within our own comfort zones. “But when Christ the Lord steps into your boat and gets in your life, he will bring you to the deep.”
Do not be afraid….He will bring you to the deep.
This whole journey has been a reward in itself. Everything else was just a bonus. Now that I’m going back down to the valley after my mountaintop experience, the real earthly pilgrimage continues.
Written by: Ryan Factura
The moment I stepped into St. Bernard’s Church with one small child in tow and one gestating in my belly, I knew I’d be seeing more of the place. At a crossroads between our post-secondary days and life with a family, my husband Joseph and I were looking for a church to call home.
“Let’s go St. Bernard’s,” Joseph said, pointing out its 9 a.m. Mass time, ideal for our small child and in the community we’d moved to.
I entered that Sunday with trepidation. I was a new mom with a toddler son who’d received a few annoyed glances at other Masses. We were elated and a bit surprised when people at St. Bernard’s just smiled at us and told us we were doing a great job, even though our toddler behaved exactly as expected – like a toddler. A smiling woman greeted us after Mass and offered us coffee and a cookie for our son.
That warmth and kindness was what made us stay. For almost eight years, we’ve been parishioners, welcoming three more children into our family and into the Church. It is that welcoming atmosphere that receives a new kind of young family – the church family that will be the St. Francis Xavier Chaplaincy Centre.
“It will be a tremendous addition to our community,” said longtime parishioner Nancy Steudler.
Nancy and her husband Chris began attending St. Bernard’s as a newly engaged couple in 1982. They too were welcomed by the parish and were married there in 1983. As their family grew to four children, they became leaders in parish ministries, contributing the life of the parish. They and many others expressed joy at welcoming young people from across the city to worship and keep the faith alive in this church.
During an information session for the parish, Fr. Matthew Emmelkamp, pastor at St. Bernard’s/Our Lady of the Assumption and Fr. Cristino Bouvette, Director of Vocations who will oversee the chaplaincy centre answered any questions that parishioners had. Those in attendance seemed hopeful and mindful that young people are the future of the Church.
At the inaugural Mass I had a sense of hope as I watched the pews fill with young people along with parishioners I recognized – a few being founding members of the parish.
Since Bishop McGrattan was a bit under the weather, he asked Fr. Cristino Bouvette to give the homily.
Fr. Cristino cited the Gospel for that day where Jesus says “nobody puts new wine into old wineskins.”
“With the loving concern and care as our shepherd, Bishop McGrattan has seen that this new wine needs a new wine skin” he said, referring to the students and young professionals, along with newlyweds and families who will access the centre.
Drawing again on the Gospel, Fr. Cristino, comparing the crowd to grapes, said “many of you have begun to experience being crushed by various means and methods, because the world has an infinite number of them. And you’re beginning to be strained and purified.
“But contained within you is a power; a power that must be harnessed. A power that must be properly and lovingly cared for and maintained in order that that rich wine will be yielded.
“That power is the power of your vocation; That way in which God from the beginning of time already orchestrated in His mind a plan for your heart that when brought to fulfillment would transform this world.”
It was in this spirit that the nearly-full church celebrated Mass together with the Bishop and many of our priests. Afterward, the narthex was filled with a buzzing, joyful crowd.
The need for the chaplaincy centre has grown apparent as Catholic on-campus ministries at the city’s post-secondary institutions have stretched themselves to capacity, serving the needs of a growing contingent of young people, primarily 18-35-year-olds.
“We’re not going to be a status-quo parish,” said Fr. Cristino, pointing to the transitional stages that students, young professionals and young families are in. The aim of the St. Francis Xavier Chaplaincy centre is to be an off-campus place of transition and a launching point for the future leaders of the Church.
Catholic Pastoral Centre Staff and Guest Writers