Two Ukrainian Catholic Churches in Calgary have joined a worldwide movement to support the devastated people of Ukraine who have suffered from the vicious Russian military invasion of their country.
Since the Russian forces started a war in Ukraine, parishioners at St. Stephen Protomartyr Ukrainian Catholic Church and The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Ukrainian Catholic Church have launched several initiatives to help the Ukrainian people through this terrible crisis.
Thousands of items have been donated through various efforts and hundreds of thousands of dollars have been given.
Father Michael Bombak, of St. Stephen, says the response is incredible and he’s been “blown away” by the support.
“The first and most important thing we’re doing as a parish community, and Assumption is doing as well, is prayer. That’s number one. This whole thing has coincided at this particular acute area of time with our beginning of the Great and Holy Fast. And so we’re increasing our prayer and fasting usually at this time but we’re also doing it now with a special intention of supporting our brothers and sisters in Ukraine,” says Bombak.
“That’s number one what a parish can do and should do. That’s the first and foremost. Prayer and fasting. St. James says you can’t tell your brother that you love him and then not feed him and clothe him and take care of his needs. So we’ve had the parish mobilize in supporting the Eparchial fund - that’s our word for Diocese. All the churches in Alberta are collecting funds through Catholic Near East Welfare Association. That’s a Papal charity and that ensures that all of that humanitarian aid that we’re collecting is going to go to Ukraine and be protected that way.
“We’re very grateful for that. We’ve had a generous donor who is matching the funds to $500,000. So we are collecting money for that continually. As well, we are collecting non-perishables, we are collecting various goods, clothing for humanitarian relief. Assumption is joining us as well.”
Father Bombak says the church will continue with its Lenten services with special intentions for Ukraine and its people,
Mary Chudyk, Charity Director at St. Stephen, says all the donated items are being shipped by land or air to Toronto then by air to Warsaw in Poland. Meest, a transportation and delivery company, will drive the items to Ukraine where they will be distributed to people through various accredited institutions.
“I’m overwhelmed with the generosity of people and I’m grateful that people want to do something,” she says. “It’s just been fantastic. People have been wonderful offering support, offering encouragement, offering prayers, showing up and just helping us out.”
Dave Wandzura, a parishioner at St. Stephen, says he’s very, very sad about what’s happening in Ukraine and the people there don’t deserve this.
“They’ve actually gone through so much stress and strife in their life in the last hundred years . . . Right now, we have to send funds to the people who need it most . . . Support in any way. Prayer is one of the big ones and financial support and goods as well.”
Maria Dwulit, another parishioner at St. Stephen, who has relatives in Ukraine, says what everyone can do for the people of Ukraine is pray.
“They just need the power to fight this evil,” she says.
Father Bombak says the situation is a complete injustice - absolutely terrible to see the suffering of innocent people.
“Your immediate gut reaction is to hate. That doesn’t serve anyone in the long run. It needs to be stopped. Innocent people are dying. Innocent people are suffering greatly. People are being displaced. This is a problem that is going to affect generation after generation,” says Father Bombak.
“I was born in this country because of a previous persecution. My grandparents were displaced people themselves. You see that it’s going to have a huge impact inter-generationally. So your immediate gut reaction is anger - this sort of righteous decision that this has to stop. But that can easily turn into something that is a spiritual pitfall and that’s hatred. You have to avoid that at all costs. And yet still work as best as we can to make sure that this ends because it’s wrong.”
When talking to children about this horrendous time in human history, Father Bombak says people have to speak the truth in love. Bombak and his wife Kimberly have five children ranging in age from 13 years old to three years old.
“You can’t spare them from this. It doesn’t work. They know more stuff than we know in many ways. So you have to be truthful. But you do have to say the whole truth in a way that they’re going to understand and in a loving way,” he says. “There’s feelings of depression, helplessness.
“Our kids have voiced the concern of what can we do. That question is echoed not just with kids. We are receiving information through social media and the internet at such a rate that it feels as though we can’t do anything because we’re bombarded by that information so quickly. So my advice and the way I talk to my kids is we have to do what we can do. We’re going to pray for Ukraine right now. We’re going to pray as a family. We’re going to go out and support places that are supporting Ukraine. We can work here in the parish to support. Those are all viable options.”
Those wanting to make a financial contribution to the humanitarian efforts by the Ukrainian Catholic Eparchy of Edmonton can visit here: https://eeparchy.com/donate/
Lent is a 40-day season of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving that begins on Ash Wednesday and ends at sundown on Holy Thursday. It is a period of preparation to celebrate the Lord's Resurrection at Easter. During Lent, we seek the Lord in prayer by reading Sacred Scripture; we serve by giving alms; and we practice self-control through fasting. Called to not only abstain from luxuries, but to a true inner conversion of heart, Edmonton Catholic Schools invite our families to journey with Christ; to follow his will more faithfully.
Over the next 40 days, Faith Alive website will provide you with opportunities to participate in prayer, little-liturgies, and reflections on weekly Scripture passages, as well as activities that will highlight the lives of saints and our call to fast and to give alms.
Join us this Lenten season as we follow the 40 steps with Jesus. Click on the footsteps each day to find a short action that will help you and your family journey through Lent towards Easter.
Written by Kathleen Nguyen, Religious Education Services, ECSD. Kathleen Nguyen is currently the Elementary Religious Education Consultant for the Edmonton Catholic School Division. She is the Alberta Representative on the Editorial Board for the new Religious Education Program: Growing in Faith, Growing in Christ. Kathleen lives in Beaumont and is an active member of St. Vital parish.
Interested in growing spiritually this Lent both in knowledge and in practise? Watch this short video about DOCAT!
"‘Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?’ He said to him, ‘“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.’"
Love God and love others. Learn and live.
Watch this short video on the four facts about fasting by Chris Stefanick.
Aside from fasting from food and abstinence from meat on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, the spirit of fasting goes beyond merely depriving ourselves of food. The act of fasting is an act of emptying ourselves in order to make more room for God in our lives. It is an act that tells us that we're okay even when we don't eat as much or when we do not snack at all as we focus our minds and hearts to the Lord.
Eating can often become a mindless activity that fills our boredom. Fasting reminds us that our core belongs to God and that we ought to be detached from whatever distracts us in order to be fully attached to God, to be grounded in Him.
As we fast and abstain from meat, we detach ourselves from our usual comforts and open our minds and hearts to the needs of others, especially to those who are suffering from the ravages of war. We unite our prayers in solidarity with our suffering brothers and sisters as we turn our backs on our petty concerns.
This is the spiritual workout which will help us to become saints... no longer focused on ourselves but on God and with the needs of those who are suffering.
Consider this... This sounds noble... "I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.”" (Luke 18:12) but this was the line of the Pharisee who did the right thing but did not have the right heart.
Let our fasting be one that will change the heart and the mind... may our fasting help to free us as we have been made to be free to honour and worship God.
In March of 2020, our world changed irrevocably with the immediate implementation of lockdowns, churches shuttering their doors and frequent moves to online learning for many students. We knew the pandemic and ensuring restrictions would impact upon our students but to what degree remained to be seen. During the nearly two years of living through a pandemic, students have repeatedly shown us a myriad of reactions and emotions to the ongoing issues and restrictions that have become a daily reality. As a Catholic school community, we have consistently sought to remind students of God’s continuous love for them, and that they play a very real and necessary part in God’s plan of Salvation. Faith and hope in the future are front and centre of our Christian message. Thankfully, this important and timely message was integral to an important day that we planned especially for our middle-year students at Bishop David Motiuk School and delivered virtually on January 27th, as part of our annual Faith Day.
This was a day created specifically for our students to connect with God and to find inspiration for building community within our school. We began the day with a simple but profound Liturgy led by Father Paul Kavanagh and Deacon Ryan Sales. This led us into sessions with three guest speakers. Father Leo Patalinghug, a priest and professional chef from Boston, led us on an entertaining but meaningful journey to develop our understanding of Jesus as food for our mind, body, and soul. Deacon Ryan Sales of Edmonton, shared his heartfelt journey to becoming a Deacon and how the journey is just as important as the destination. He reminded students that they are already living God’s plan for them. Finally, we finished the morning off with a video presentation created by Father Rob Galea, an Australian priest and international speaker at youth conferences, who was also a contestant on Australia’s Got Talent. Fr. Rob touched on the pandemic and how technology has been a wonderful way for us to keep in contact with each other but that it cannot replace personal connection and community. All the videos shared were specifically recorded for Bishop David Motiuk's MYP Faith Day, which was such a blessing to our school community. The sessions were directly relevant to and meant for our students during this time of great upheaval.
The execution of the day was a collaboration between several of our staff members who have become experts in navigating the challenges presented by the current pandemic restrictions. Many students shared wonderful reflections on what they heard, saw, and experienced as inspiration as they continued to live by the restrictions of a difficult school year. Many remarked that it was like the presenters were speaking directly to them and what they are going through.
As Catholic educators, we continue to teach through the lens of our faith tradition and our scriptures. We commit ourselves to “bringing Christ into our classrooms” so that students recognize that all of the facets of life and action are imbued by the presence and compassion of our loving Lord. Taking a special day each year to remind our students through the wisdom of great speakers, that we are meant for God, is a privileged opportunity to engage in the ongoing mission of evangelization. Our students are aware that the Lord accompanies them through difficult times, as members of a family, of a larger society, and at school. They know they are loved by God because they see it in action around them, and they hear about it through events such as our MYP Faith Day. What a grace it is to be able to cooperate with the Lord in sharing the beautiful message that reminds students that, “I am here with you always.” Our speakers tell us the truth of this message, and demonstrate through their inspirational talks, just where and how the Lord works in the ordinary, and in the extraordinary events such as a pandemic to draw us closer to the life of faith and hope
Written by Sunata Halliday from Edmonton Catholic School District.
Pray for Ukraine
God of реасе and justice,
we pray for the реорІе of Ukraine today.
We pray for реасе and the laying down of weapons.
We pray for аІІ those who fear for tomorrow,
that your Spirit of comfort would draw near to them.
We pray for those with power over war or реасе,
for wisdom, discernment and compassion to guide their decisions.
Above аІІ, we pray for аІІ your precious children, at-risk and in fear,
that you would hold and protect them.
We pray in the name of Jesus, the Prince of Реасе.
God Squad Canada started in Calgary with four police officers coming together in prayer. It has since grown into an apostolate over the last 25 years that influences men around the world.
Through the guidance of St Joseph, God Squad’s vision is to form and strengthen men, inspiring them to embrace God’s vocation in their lives. They strive to encourage men positively amidst today’s darkness of spiritual famine and moral confusion. God Squad wishes to reverse the breakdown of families by serving and nurturing men of all ages to be leaders in their families and communities.
Their ministry brings men together by various initiatives such as BBQ Outreach, motorcycle rides, disc golf, or by hosting an annual Men's Conference. During the Year of St Joseph, God Squad was able to stream their conference online and reach men throughout the world.
Many men over the years have been inspired to show the same servant leadership to their families that Christ has for His bride, the Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church because of these conferences. Men have discerned marriage; others the priesthood. (See “How Many of You” in God Squad’s Newsletter for November 2021 and read about Father Troy Nguyen's experience at a God Squad Conference). Others have found the strength to persevere or to take on new challenges, or to find new meaning and hope in their faith.
Some men have been sent by their wives and are now eternally grateful! Some come looking for answers. Most come just to be with other like minded men. Men need mentoring. Men need to mentor others. Men need to lead.
In an interview with Mario Toneguzzi on Faith Spotlight, Sean Lynn, president and founder of God Squad Canada says that this year’s theme was inspired by Avi Kaplan’s song “Change on the Rise" and St. John Paul II’s new springtime in his encyclical Redemptoris Missio, long before the current political winds and discourse in the media. Inspired by reflection, Sean recognizes, as farmers do, that the springtime is a time of hard work. As “we’re coming out of two years of struggle and strife” says Constable Lynn, “we need to work hard at coming together and work for healing” and building up the Kingdom of God.
Consider giving the men in your life a ticket to “Change on the Rise; Ushering in the New Springtime!”. This year God Squad has the pleasure of hosting amazing speakers: Jeff Cavins, Brett Powell, and Bishop William McGrattan, who will celebrate the Mass. All men in the Diocese (and beyond) are invited to come for the Conference at St. Michael's Church in Calgary, on March 18 & 19, 2022. You can register to attend in person or to watch via livestream. Bring your son, your father, your brother, your cousin, your friend, or even a stranger! Consider hosting a viewing party (Contact firstname.lastname@example.org if you need ideas on hosting a viewing party), or to host the viewing party in your parish.
And as a bonus, get free access to Chris Stefanik’s “Rise A 30 – Day Challenge” worth $45 - after you register.
Ten Reasons to join God Squad Men's Conference this year
Submitted by God Squad Canada
At any age, often without warning, we might suddenly find ourselves in the ‘desert’, a state of extreme emotional and/or physical hardship. I was in this place following the death of my twin sister. I don’t remember the details; it was simply a long, weary, grayness. I wandered through my life on autopilot, scarcely caring about my responsibilities. If I appeared to be coping it was a mirage because my heart felt arid, my feelings numbed and the future a bleak continuation of present misery. I could not find the energy to pray. Indeed, I didn’t recognize God at all in this experience. For years I was angry with God for perceived injury and persistent inattention.
Desert times often accompany chronic illness or the death of a loved one. Sometimes we have lost a job or an important relationship. Each of these circumstances cause great (and some may say necessary), grief. If we’re lucky, we will grieve in a supportive environment and eventually find our way out. However sometimes, through no fault of our own, we become stuck in a place of lifelessness and pain – a desert of the soul. By the grace of God, I eventually emerged from my ‘desert’. Life still has sorrows in every season but now I don’t feel as stranded as I did before. Curiously, what helped me is learning more about Nature’s deserts.
In nature the desert is not lifeless. It’s filled with plants and animals which have adapted to the harsh conditions. These remarkable creations not only survive but thrive. I’m particularly struck by the coping strategies of plants. Here are some of those methods which might translate into spiritual strategies to survive our own desert times.
Vast root systems
Mesquite plants can have tap roots 80-100 feet long, reaching deep into the soil to find water. Cactuses have shallow but extensive root mats which extend far beyond their stems so that they can absorb every drop of rain when it falls.
By going deep and wide in our prayer life, we will be more likely to receive the comfort of the Holy Spirit. So when our daily Scripture reading becomes rote, keep reading. When our prayers become stale, keep praying. When we don’t feel the least bit holy, keep coming for the Eucharist. Staying accessible to God increases the likelihood that eventually we’ll feel his presence.
Small leaf surfaces
Cacti have leaves so narrow that they resemble spines. This is to reduce the loss of water to the environment.
When we’re hurting it’s OK to withdraw from the world. Well-meant comments can feel overwhelming so reduce contacts and commitments if you need to. But don’t isolate entirely. Keeping even a sporadic connection to our community or parish ensures the fraternity we may not even realize we need.
Succulents have evolved to store water in their leaves, stems and even in tubers underground.
In our driest times we might find hidden reserves in places we never expected. I discovered peace at silent retreats which I’d previously avoided. A woman I know found meaning in writing a book about her husband’s terminal illness.
Ephemerals are short-lived desert plants which bloom and die in one season leaving hardy seeds which can lie dormant for years until it rains again.
Even in the midst of sadness, there can be moments of surprising joy. I can recall a milestone birthday, filled with light-hearted teasing, shortly after my sister died. I was glad to be alive that day but so sad afterwards that my twin couldn’t celebrate her milestone too. Nevertheless, the memory of having been happy gave me hope that I could feel that way again.
Desert times are difficult and nobody chooses them willingly. But if they come we need not fear them. We can trust God to help us survive until we experience the joy He has in store for us, beyond the desert.
The upcoming season of Lent mirrors the 40 days Jesus spent in the desert. Traditionally this is a time of sacrifice and increased prayer. It is an opportunity to feel some discomfort in solidarity with Jesus who spent his desert time with no sustenance and being harassed by the devil. Most of us will not feel that level of deprivation at Lent but we can remember and pray for those who do.
Consider the following for family activities in 2022:
A message from Pope Francis
“God’s love is proclaimed ‘through the living and concrete word whereby a man and the woman express their conjugal love’. The two are thus mutual reflections of that divine love which comforts with a word, a look, a helping hand, a caress, an embrace. For this reason ‘to want to form a family is to resolve to be a part of God’s dream, to choose to dream with him, to want to build with him, to join him in this saga of building a world where no one will feel alone’ ”. AL 321
In this very short video of Chris Stefanick, he uses a line that should make us think about our ability to not only gauge where others are but also set the stage for where others can and perhaps should be. Chris reminds the students that they have the power to bring joy in the lives of others, that we are all called to serve others in humility.
So he says, "Don't be a thermometer that gauges the temperature of that room. Be a thermostat that sets the temperature of that room."
Isn't this true? We can choose to either be passive and we become bystanders in life, or we can choose to be active and contribute to the life of others. Christ calls us to be "salt" that changes the flavour of everything.
Consider this... Does the room turn dark when you enter or does it light up when you're around? Are you remembered for your kindness and concern for others or do you just like to blend in and disappear? Christ calls us to be more!
You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot.
“Those schools in Brooks are sure doing amazing things.” This comment made by my father-in-law started it all. I was four months away from graduating, unsure where I would end up, so I decided to look into ‘those schools’; after all, they were in my hometown.
I remembered the old brick building from my primary school years. Aesthetically, the outside still looked the same, but I would be forever changed by the inside. As I opened the heavy brown metal door, I clearly recall being overcome with an indescribable feeling. My heart fluttered and an overwhelming sense of peace and calm came over me. Even to this day, I cannot explain exactly what I experienced, but I do remember thinking, I need to be here.
The secretary, who is one of the most amazingly kind individuals I have ever met, greeted me at the front office. Her eyes were so welcoming and warm. We exchanged pleasantries and the reason for my visit. I took a seat, and shortly afterwards I was greeted by the principal. She too made an impression on me. Sitting in her office, not knowing her for more than five minutes, I could tell she was a sincere, kind, and compassionate soul, the kind of person anyone would want to work for. I shared my desire to do my teaching practicum at Holy Family Academy. It was a new adventure for the school to take on a practicum student, but she granted me the opportunity. We finalized plans and exchanged information, and that was the beginning of my journey in Catholic Education in Brooks.
Over 20 years later, my journey continues. Throughout the years, I have had the pleasure of teaching at Holy Family Academy and St. Joseph’s Collegiate, and currently I teach at Christ the King Academy. I have taught some of the best students one could ask for in almost every grade and subject. I have also taught the toughest of the tough, the ones others might give up on. Being able to use my faith as a guide, helped me immensely. They were the most challenging group I taught, but they had the biggest impact on me.
I am blessed to see Catholic education come full circle, as I am now teaching the children of some of my past students. The values and morals we instilled in our students then are becoming evident in the parents they are now and are reflected in their children who sit before me in class, an affirmation that we are doing good things here.
I still sense that indescribable feeling every day when I go to work. It fills me with contentment every time I open the doors. I was reignited in my faith and finally felt a sense of purpose, and I will be forever grateful for walking through those doors the first time. Trust me when I say, “Those schools in Brooks are sure doing some amazing things.” You should check them out.
My journey with Catholic education started in St. Catharines, Ontario, at a job fair that was being held by Brock University. Gary Chiste was standing at the Christ the Redeemer Catholic Schools’ booth with a pack of Smarties and a contagious smile on his face. “Come for an interview!” he exclaimed. I had never thought about moving to Alberta. My plan in life was to work for the school board I had grown up in. I’d move back to my hometown, teach at my local Catholic high school and likely live with my mom to help around the house. But Christ the Redeemer had Smarties… and I couldn’t resist the Smarties.
I have grown up in Catholic schools all my life because I was blessed with parents who believed in the value of Catholic education. But after spending time with students in the classroom, something was definitely different about the Catholic culture at Christ the King Academy. Each interaction with students was done through a love of Christ and with authenticity. Conversations became more meaningful because of the vulnerability that students and staff experienced. It was evident my colleagues were called to be educators and that they were living out their vocations by having real and genuine interactions that were mastered through the teachings of the Gospel. Even through challenging moments, when students had to be disciplined, they were met with grace and with the understanding that they, too, were a child of God.
What I love most about Catholic education is how we pray before a hard quiz or exam; how we can stop what we are doing to teach a lesson from the Bible, how we discipline with the teachings of Jesus.
What I love most about Catholic education is how we can have prayer services for fish that have died in our classrooms, the love that our students have for one another, despite their differences because they share the same faith.
What I love most about Catholic education is the moments that go unexplained because of the Holy Spirit at work: when a student who is struggling the most “gets it” or when a student who has no connections to friends in the class suddenly gets invited to play at recess.
I am thankful for the many opportunities I have had with students and conversations I have had with staff members. I’m thankful for the moments that have challenged me both personally and professionally. I look forward to what the Holy Spirit has in store for me and my students.
Reverence for Christ, love and laughter are paramount in the home of Irene Sarmiento and Ernesto Lozano, who met and married in their home-country of Mexico before emigrating to Canada with their growing family 11 years ago. They’ve been married for 26 years and they have six children.
“On our wedding day, we received the blessing of the bishop who married us, and one of the wedding gifts was a papal blessing from Pope John Paul II. I feel we’ve had tons of grace helping us on our journey,” said Irene.
That journey would carry them far from their beginnings, but when they arrived in Canada, they found a new home in their Catholic communities in Calgary.
“When we went to Church and I saw the tabernacle, I felt at home, because the Church is everywhere, and it is actually like you have a family,” said Irene, commenting that the Church community in Canada welcomed them with open arms when they arrived.
The family of the Church welcomed another couple into its midst in 2014, when Jean-Francois (JF) and Ana Church said, “I do.”
Though they met one another and attended JF’s prom together in 2006, they had a long journey toward marriage. As both of them journeyed separately toward a deeper relationship with God and a greater understanding of the workings of the Holy Spirit in their lives, they formed a friendship that blossomed into love as they eventually served in youth ministry together in Ottawa.
“It is such an intimate relationship when you are working with someone and being guided by the holy spirit and teaching about God,” said Ana. “You really get to see that person’s heart and where they are at and where their relationship with God is at. At the time I thought, ‘these are all the qualities that I’m looking for in a husband.’”
Both said they feel they were guided to one another by God.
“For some time, I thought I wanted to be a priest,” JF shared, saying he took a yearlong discernment retreat to find out.
“The answer for me was clear that I was called to exemplify the Holy Family, and that’s a tall order. I didn’t know who the lady would be at that time, but every time there’s a shadow of doubt, I know that I discerned this and that God has a plan for us.”
God’s plans are mysterious and beautiful. As I listened to both of these couples share their memories, my own came vividly to mind. Thirteen years ago on February 14th, my husband Joseph who had also discerned the priesthood but felt called to have a family, married.
As I walked down the aisle of our hometown church on the arm of my dad, I remember being awestruck. My thoughts raced, but I remember thinking that this was the church where our parents had brought us to be baptized, and where we had walked down the aisle to receive the Eucharist countless times, and here we were on the same path toward something entirely new and sacred. We felt truly at home in the Church in that moment.
“Being married is not easy, it is hard,” said Ernesto matter-of-factly, “especially being married to someone like me,” he finished with a wry smile.
I’ll confess I feel like Joseph sometimes carries an unfair burden with such an emotional, opinionated wife. But all self-deprecation and joking aside, as Catholics we have been richly blessed in the Sacraments, which feed our souls and call us to deeper conversion.
In 2011, Joseph and I walked the aisle of the same Church at my father’s funeral. It gave me comfort to recall our wedding, my First Communion and all of the Masses I’d attended there as I walked, this time with the heaviness of grief. It was in the Sacraments and in my marriage that I found solace.
This moment came to mind when Ernesto said, “when you are feeling terrible, there is always the Sacrament of Reconciliation.” He and Irene try to go often, and to normalize going for their children.
It is important for them that their children would feel at home in the church.
“When the children were little, I would take them and ask the priest if they could talk with him a little bit. That way when it came time for their First Reconciliation they weren’t going to a person they didn’t know,” Irene said.
As Irene and Ernesto recall starting their family, they remember feeling overwhelmed too.
“When you have your first child they do not come with instructions,” said Ernesto facetiously.
“Yes,” added Irene, “you have to figure it out as you go.”
Six children, including now-adult children have given them a lot of practice in parenting, and I had to resist the temptation to sit for hours picking their brains for advice about my own family. Something that is important to the couple is mentorship of parents, which they do through their involvement with a program called Family Enrichment.
As parents of young children, Mass can be a challenge. Nonetheless, Ana and JF try to attend Mass as often as possible.
In moments where certain behaviours are causing problems of concentration, JF says he tries to “remove myself mentally from the situation, as if to see myself in the third person, pretending that I’m God the Father looking at this situation; one of the kids wrote on the pew with wax crayon and I’m trying to listen to the homily.
“Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me,” and if I am pretending I am God looking in, I think “okay, this is actually hilarious.” If I miss the homily, then I know God meets us where we don’t expect it, and he’ll fill me some other way.”
“I don’t operate that way,” said Ana, “and I often feel alone in those moments.”
“So often I pray to the Holy Spirit that I need help. Sometimes (during Mass, but also in everyday life) I’m praying under my breath and the kids ask “what are you doing?” and I say “I’m inviting Jesus right now… you should too!”
It models for them that they can reach out to God when they need Him and that He will be there for us even when we might feel alone.”
“It also models for them that we are not trying to raise them to be perfect,” said JF. “We expect them to have freakouts just like we do, but in those moments there is a Holy Spirit, there is a Jesus, there is an Abba-Daddy who cares for us and wants to help. I think it is just beautiful to model that.”
To support one another in continuing to grow a relationship with God, Ana and JF have been going alternate weeks to Tuesday night Reconciliation, Mass and Adoration for almost a year.
“Having that sacred time that we can look forward to and that we protect for each other is really key. We also get to listen to the homily that day, which is really nice,” said Ana.
“It’s amazing how many saints went to frequent confession,” pointed out JF, who finds it helpful to go often and “break the cycle of sin.”
“If I’m going often, with not a lot of time between confessions, I’m forcing myself to be in a position to make an examination of conscience and go a deeper route so that I can address things in myself – other personality defects that are leading me to those sins.”
Ana and JF are a couple who’ve spent quite a long time building up the spiritual life of their family and seeking the Sacraments.
“The key is really staying vulnerable with the Lord and with each other, and I find the Sacraments just make room for that psychologically and emotionally, and bring a source of inspiration and dreaming with the Lord,” said JF.
We live in a very connected world. We hear about the bad things happening across the world in an instant. Good and heartwarming videos can easily go viral. And yet sometimes it feels like the people you live with do not even know what you're going through. While it certainly feels like you are alone, you are not alone! Watch this video on mental health and know that there are many who feel disconnected, lost, and isolated.
It's important that we reach out to someone and try our best to overcome the hesitation to talk to someone. If you need to speak to someone in the field of mental health, or visit this link for information. Alternatively, you can call 211 to access services that may make you realize that you are not alone and there is help available for whatever burdens you.
Contact 211 to access to an entire network of community, social, health and government services. Your call, text or chat will be answered by a professional 211 Community Resource Specialist who is trained to assess your need and refer you to the most appropriate service or services. 211 is available across Alberta and is offered in over 170 languages over the phone.
Why would I contact 211?
Consider this... we are made to walk this life together.
Above his bedroom door, Br. Michael Perras, OFM, has a small banner made by his great-aunt who was an Ursuline sister which reads: “To Radiate Christ”. For him, it serves as a reminder to put on Christ when putting on his habit every day. Yet it also speaks to something deeper, the call for Christians to radiate Christ to the other. Those in consecrated life have chosen this as their life’s work, whether contemplative or active, ordained or not, male or female.
The feast of the Presentation makes this clear to us — that we are to live in imitation of Christ, the “light to enlighten the nations”. This feast has long fascinated Br. Michael (Mount St. Francis, Cochrane), in particular the figures of Sts. Simeon and Anna. In Br. Michael’s words, they serve as reminders: reminders to be amazed and to give praise, reminders to hope and trust, reminders of the elders in our lives, reminders of those who pass on the amazement of encountering Christ, and as reminders of those who call out the truth of who we are — in many ways, they are types of the consecrated life itself. The feast itself is a reminder: the hints of our baptismal promises in the liturgy are a reminder that we live as children of God, in the dignity of being anointed priest, prophet and king as Christ was in his Incarnation among us. Finally, Candlemas has been traditionally seen as the tail end of Christmas, with its themes of light-bearing. It is only right then, that the consecrated life and the Presentation of Christ are celebrated together, serving to remind us that we are all called to be bearers of light, and to witness to the light — to radiate Christ into the world.
When we think of the consecrated life, the mind quickly turns to nuns and religious sisters, and for good reason. Women far outstrip men in North America to the vocation of consecrated life, both in number of vocations and variety of orders. However, they do not comprise the only groups under the term “consecrated life”. Rather, the consecrated life includes all who profess public vows of poverty, chastity in the form of celibacy, and obedience, within a permanent state of life recognized by the Church. Compared with sisters and nuns, brothers, monks and friars are far less common in North America, especially within this diocese. Some orders have come and gone quite quickly, such as the Benedictines, while others enjoyed enduring tenures among us, such as the Brothers of Our Lady of Lourdes. The Franciscans have maintained a steady presence in Cochrane from the 1940s until now, and among them lives the sole non-ordained religious brother currently in the diocese: Br. Michael.
For Br. Michael, the call to religious life “came out of nowhere”. He grew up in a parish which receive Redemptorist missions regularly, and had two great-aunts who had been Ursuline sisters, but these seemed to be more “stepping stones” to the consecrated life, not “runway moments”. His parents owned the grocery store in Glenavon, SK, which was a primer in the life of service, and this continued in his life into youth ministry work throughout Saskatchewan. However, several things drew him to the Franciscans. Having tried to live simply during his pre-Franciscan life, an added depth was encountered in religious life, where the continual call to simplicity means to live out of who one is. Community and fraternity naturally grow out of this simplicity, with the discovery that “I can live out who I am in this way” among the messiness and the goodness of community, not changing who God has asked him to be.
The centrality of the Incarnation to the Franciscan charism also drew Br. Michael. St. Francis’ life was centred upon the humility of the Incarnation and the charity of the Passion, and for Br. Michael, who has been drawn to the Incarnation since childhood, this aspect of the charism is central: “God with us”, Emmanuel. Flowing out of this incarnational reality comes a broader understanding of living the Gospel as good news, in everything done in everyday life.
Br. Michael sums up his experience of consecrated life quite succinctly in the phrase “big brother, little brother, always a brother”. As the eldest of four, being the big brother has always been a part of his life; and joining the Order of Friars Minor, the experience of “minority”, of being little and simple, is central to the charism. From this place of being a biological brother flows the life of being a religious brother. Biological siblinghood calls us to the importance of relationship and building bridges, and questions how we build links, how we forgive and reconcile, and how we engage with others with different viewpoints; it is only natural that religious brotherhood does the same in different dimensions — being present to others, listening to others on their journey, encouraging what they have and offer. Br. Michael sees his vocation as that of a link in a chain — being others’ connection to faith and to the Church, the Church’s connection to the world, and linking these together in new and unexplored ways.
Each religious brother and sister lives out their vocation in a different way, stemming from the consideration of what they have and what they offer. Historically, unordained brothers were manual labourers who made life function for their order; nowadays, many are engaged in academic pursuits or in active ministry work — Br. Michael himself works in retreat ministry and spiritual direction. Despite changing situations, the most important facets of consecrated life have not: to announce the Good News, and to witness to the Good News lived out in the lives of the people of the broader community.
For Br. Michael, consecrated life is an invitation for us to deeper listening and awareness of God’s working in our lives and those around us. In our noisy world of instant gratification, consecrated life gives us pause to reflect on what and who we are listening to. The work of fraternity, hospitality and service that so many religious carry out points out that all Christians have a vocation to community and to being the Church. The ordained priesthood can often seem removed to some, and so the accessibility of consecrated life speaks to the connection, approachability, inclusivity and dialogue that all Christians are meant to embody, to the centrality of relationship in humanity. To sum it up, consecrated life is a sign for us to live life for the other, and not for the self.
In Br. Michael’s words, consecrated life is one of “witness and connection, being present and listening” — a life remarkably similar to those of Sts. Simeon and Anne. As we approach the feast of the Presentation of the Lord, let us grow in the lessons that consecrated life teaches us: chiefly, let us grow “To Radiate Christ”.
Our homes hold a lot of what is near and dear to us. For starters, our family. The home provides shelter for the people we love.
Aside from our belongings which we need in order to function in life, our home is a shelter for the things that define us, objects that hold special meanings. Be it a special painting, a family heirloom, or that memorable walkman from the 80s.
In a Catholic home, some of the objects that hold special meaning to us are holy images or religious articles that help us think of God and the communion of the saints and the angels.
Some Catholic homes have home altars or prayer corners/rooms where the family can spend time of prayer, meditation, or teaching the Faith. This YouTube vlogger, A Catholic Mom's Life, features her prayer room as a place not only to pray but also to read and hang-out as a family apart from the living room or the kitchen.
Tips for starting your home altar/prayer corner or room...
Having a home altar or prayer corner/room can help us consciously make room for God in our lives.
Consider this... Our homes should be a refuge, a place where everyone can come home to rest, to be nourished, and to be re-energized for the next day. Carve a place for prayer and let the peace of Christ dwell in your house.
For you have been a refuge to the poor, a refuge to the needy in their distress, a shelter from the rainstorm and a shade from the heat." Isaiah 25:4
In 2021, Pope Francis invited the whole Church to a discussion of synodality. If the word takes you by surprise, you’re not alone. While the concept of synod, or church council, is not new, you won’t find synodality in a secular dictionary. The term was chosen by Pope Francis, whose papacy has often focused on evangelization. With synodality, the Pope is carefully placing evangelization into the hands of the Church’s people. From now until 2023, the pursuit of synodality calls Catholics to get together, to talk and listen, and to love and learn in a deliberate effort to move closer to Christ and the Church.
On Tuesday, January 18, I was a humble participant in a synodal conversation with more than 90 clergy and lay leaders from parishes in one pastoral zone of the Catholic Diocese of Calgary. We met via Zoom to talk about Pope Francis’s vision and to meet the Diocesan team who spent months preparing for a host of virtual gatherings. After the pastoral zone meetings are done in early February, similar e-meets (and in-person whenever possible) will be held with lay Catholics. I plan to participate again.
Bishop William McGrattan is optimistic that all of these prayerful discussions will shape the Church’s mission of service and proclamation of the gospel. Based on my experience, and several conversations the next day, I think he has reason to be hopeful. Why? Because we can’t un-spill milk.
Relationships require understanding
Almost 30 years ago, my husband and I participated in a Marriage Encounter weekend. One of my biggest takeaways was the notion that healthy relationships require that we understand that it is impossible to un-spill milk. What’s happened matters. What happens next is even more important.
I take that same concept into discussions of my experience with the universal Church. I won’t discuss confidential information shared as part of the synodal conversation. (Organizers did a great job of breaking us out into smaller groups.) I will say that I think it matters that Catholics, including lay members, are being asked, “How have you experienced journeying together as the Church?”
For some of us, the question is fraught and the answers uncomfortable. But just like you cannot un-spill milk, I’m confident that a prayerful people, guided by the Holy Spirit, will not be able to unknow what they hear at meetings like these. Information changes people. It shapes new discussions. More than anything else, it demands care.
In addition to being asked about our personal experience of the journey “as Church,” synodal participants are being asked what steps the Holy Spirit is inviting “us to take in order to grow in our ‘journeying together?’” Again, I think that’s a valuable question as it puts action back into the hand of the Church’s people.
In addition to gathering information about these two questions, the very process strengthens the relationships fundamental to our parish communities. Several participants told me (or my editor) that they appreciated the opportunity to gather with people they know; an opportunity complicated by the global pandemic, yet aided by technology and, most obviously, the Holy Spirit.
More importantly, feedback to me implies people felt empowered by the prayers and the discussions. They are already talking about their synodal experiences with Catholic peers. They are encouraging others to take part. Like Bishop McGrattan, they are hopeful. I take comfort in that hope, fueled as it is by two other theological virtues, faith and love.
Written by Joy Gregory for Faithfully. Joy Gregory is a writer, cradle Catholic, and long-time parishioner of St. Peter’s, Calgary, where she’s been active in preschool catechism programs, RCIA, and the Society of St. Vincent de Paul.
Catholics, or Christians in general, can sometimes forget that we are both body and soul as human beings. We are not spiritual beings like the angels even when our human nature also has a spiritual dimension. We are human beings beautifully made by God, body and soul.
How we see and treat ourselves will often shape how we see and treat others.
Christ became one of us as a human being, body and soul, in His incarnation while continuing to be God at the same time. He even bothered to be raised both in body and soul in His resurrected state because we matter. We matter to God both in body and soul and only death separates both from each other. Thus, the Lord opens for us the path of the resurrection to eternal life.
From the perspective of a priest, I, Fr Troy Nguyen, have seen the gift of Catholic education. Beginning with my time as a Deacon, I was able to visit a Catholic school in NW Calgary once a month and dedicate the whole day to speak to different grades in 30 minute intervals. From sharing the mystery of Advent with the little ones to speaking about the rational basis for our faith to the junior high students, it was a great opportunity to share the Gospel.
One of my favourite things to do is to do question period with any grade but particularly the younger kids. They ask a variety of tough questions: who created God? Does the bible talk about dinosaurs? These and many other questions challenge me to translate complicated philosophical and biblical topics into bite size pieces for an 8 year old! Most importantly, it is time just to be with the students in a very human way just like Jesus did. Whether it’s walking through the halls, going to a high school football game or playing sports with the students, it reveals that faith is not contrary to our everyday life.
I had an opportunity during lunch at an elementary school in Christ the Redeemer (CTR) to walk around and was invited to kick the ball for kickball. So I took up the challenge in my priestly attire and smoked that ball into the end of time! The kids were shocked and elated at the same time that a ‘priest’ could play kickball. At a junior high school in CTR during a girls basketball finals game, I was invited to say the opening prayer for the team and give them a blessing to calm their nerves because they were worried about this particular opponent. When they started playing, the girls from CTR played with great freedom, crushed their opponent and won the championship. They were extremely grateful for the spiritual boost and ‘divine intervention.’ To be able to share in the joys of these students with faith is a great gift.
There are many more instances I could describe where Catholic education creates opportunities to encounter our Lord and the Catholic faith. These opportunities to reach out to students are only available to me because the administration and teachers allow me to come to visit the school. It may be much more difficult if not impossible to enter another school not focused on Catholic education.
So, while there is much to be grateful for, there is much to continue to strive for if we want to maintain Catholic education. We need to pray for our teachers and administration and we need to continue to be intentional in forming their faith so that they can evangelize to our children from an authentic heart. We need to remain firm in our Catholic identity so that we can transmit the Catholic faith in its fullness and this is what differentiates us from public education.
Catholic education is a gift, but gifts need to be protected and preserved. So we give thanks to God for the gift of Catholic education, and we ask him to protect and preserve this gift so that all of our children may continue to have the opportunity to know and to love this amazing God.
I gingerly sat on my cold leather seat, tensely awaiting my van to warm up on a frigid winter day recently. As I drove down my street, I begrudgingly looked out my passenger-side window and noticed my neighbour braving the -20 weather.
To my amazement, Bill, at 101-years-old was slowly trudging through the snowy sidewalk with his walker underhand. I was completely awestruck!
Walking to the corner store is, in fact, Bill’s ordinary extraordinary regular routine. And I’ll admit my grumbly, inner monologue screeched to a halt; I felt sheepish watching him from the comfort of my van.
Bill’s example is exactly what Dr. Wojciech Brzezinski orders to maintain winter wellness and beat the winter blues. This is a topic near to my heart, as I find that these shorter, cold days challenge my own mental health.
In a phone conversation with the newly retired physician, we covered topics ranging from growing up in a convent with his family in Communist Poland, his time as a junior national pairs figure skating champion, meeting his wife in medical school and then fleeing Communist Poland as a political refugee in the 1980s.
We talked about how Brzezinski landed in Canada 39 years ago (his wife followed two years later) and spent the next seven years completing his residency specializing in surgery in Edmonton. Subsequently, he practiced medicine for 10 years in Fort McMurray and 15 years in Medicine Hat before settling in Canmore. He and his wife have raised two sons and delight in their three grandchildren. They are faithful Our Lady of the Rockies Shrine parishioners and both love keeping active with sports.
Skiing down a mountain, or going for a swim brings Dr. Brzezinski joy, especially in the bleak winter months following Christmas.
Drawing on his professional training and life experience facing adversity, he shared his three-part prescription with me for maintaining health of body, mind and soul this winter.
And for those who can’t get outside Fr. Siray suggests choosing a book or spiritual reading that is upbeat.
“This time of year, because it’s a harder time, choose something to read that’s going to lift you up – a light-hearted novel or a spiritual book that isn’t quite so heavy; I think those can be a good remedy,” said Siray.
Sunlight in Canmore can be limited in the winter because the mountain peaks block the light. During the winter, Fr. Siray prays in the darkness of the morning and evening and lights candles to make those prayer times special.
“You are always looking for those light sources; you are hungry for light throughout the day. Lighting a candle helps me to pray. It fits for this time of year. It beats some of the darkness all around,” Siray said.
At the end of our conversation Fr. Siray wanted to reassure me and our readers that “the light and warmth will return. That sense of expectation and longing for these things – I think there is something good in that too.”
Catholic Pastoral Centre Staff and Guest Writers