I was born into a faithful farm family who attended church regularly. My sister and I were among the little people who flocked to Sunday School and ran around the church basement while our parents served coffee and visited with other members of the congregation. It was with sincere devotion that I was baptized as an infant and confirmed by my own choice as an adult in the United Church.
My journey continued in the United Church when I was married, and my husband and I welcomed two beautiful children into our family. We were living in Edmonton and I was teaching at a public school when my husband received the news that he was being transferred to work in Calgary. Shortly after arriving there, we needed to look at schools for the children. As a teacher, I started to research the schools in the area and found myself drawn to the Calgary Catholic Board. My husband was baptized Catholic and so we enrolled in the neighbourhood Catholic School.
I was thrilled with the education my children received and even more excited about the learning they were doing in regard to faith. They came home with stories about their lessons and asked questions about what they were learning. The more they asked, the more I thought about my responses and I was not satisfied. I attended liturgies at school and asked questions of my husband but felt like I needed more in order to support my children on this path that I had chosen for them.
Soon, I found myself in the office at St. Albert the Great Parish and enrolled in the RCIA program. “Information is what I need”. “It is for the children”. “I am happy with my faith and the United Church”. These were the lines that I was telling myself and they were what got me started; my feet in the door I guess you could say. As we hear so often, “God works in mysterious ways”. The more I learned at RCIA, and the more I volunteered at the school, the more invested I became.
Wednesday nights became the best night of the week as I joined my sponsor and delved deeper into the faith. RCIA allowed me to grow and expand on the faith that had been fostered in me as a child. As an adult, I am acutely aware of the fact that I had an opportunity to look at faith in a new way and to choose it for myself (with the guidance of the Holy Spirit and many other faithful companions). Now, as a Catholic school teacher, I am blessed daily to learn and grow in faith alongside my students. It is with humble appreciation that I embrace each day of learning that will last a lifetime and beyond.
Interview and transcription: Solomon Ip.
Photos courtesy of L. O'Hara & Solomon Ip.
“We’re not Bible thumpers. Our job is to love, not judge,” said Denis Grady about Franciscan and Friends, a southern-Alberta mission team founded by Grady in 2002 who are currently working to support initiatives for Indigenous people within and outside of the church in southern Alberta.
When I caught up with Grady, he and a photographer friend were in Lethbridge, shooting promotional photos for their friend’s Indian Relay. He talked about how this was something that wanted to help with. The plan is to take photos of the young men on horseback, dressed in regalia to make promotional materials. The Indian Relay is to give young aboriginal men something athletic to do that also connects them to their culture, which is just one of the things Grady and his team have lent support to in recent years.
“Francisan and Friends is part of imparting the love of Christ to a hurting world,” said Grady. It is taking the words attributed to St. Francis, “preach the Gospel at all times, and if necessary, use words,” and building on them with actions, he said.
After spending time on missions to the Caribbean, where they were invited for many years to visit prisons, schools and churches, Calgary-based Grady and his team have turned their attention closer to home.
Many of us are now more familiar with the issues that Indigenous people are facing because of the uncovering of unmarked graves at former residential school sites across Canada.
It filled my heart with sorrow to read and learn more about Residential Schools these past few months, but as my older children began to ask questions about what they heard on the news, I felt it was my duty to educate myself and them as soon as possible.
“It is on all of us to educate ourselves and learn the history of indigenous people in our country,” said Grady, who has heard from his indigenous friends firsthand what their experiences were at residential school.
Now that we have the knowledge, the question of what to do is on many of our minds. “I want to help,” I recently wrote to a friend, “If there was something I could get behind, I’d do it in a heartbeat.”
This is why I was happy to be connected with Franciscan and Friends. Someone has to do the actual work of reconciliation, and organizations like this might just be a tangible way we can continue that work.
Grady was invited in 2015 by Sr. Rita Kim, Coordinator of the Diocesan Mission Council to liaise with Indigenous people and parishes in the Diocese of Calgary. He connected with Fr. Long Vu, parish priest at Holy Trinity on the Siksika First Nation in Cluny, and Fr. Roy Jayamaha, parish priest on the Piikani First Nation in Brocket, Alberta. For the past year, he and several of his team have been part of the St. Kateri Fellowship, a celebration of art, live music, and recovery.
“It is made up of people who’ve found sobriety through faith,” he said.
This month, Grady and a network of 30 to 40 volunteers will hold a First Nations Music camp, which last year was a great success.
“We had a woman come with crafts for kids, and it was amazing – they were putting their phones down and doing art work,” he said, noting that engaging people in doing things, whether it is making music or creating art is part of the ministry along with simply fostering community. It is through community and connection that Franciscan and Friends does its work.
I grew up in a community adjacent to a Reserve. I attended a Catholic school side-by-side with Indigenous students. At school we learned about their traditions, with beautiful jingle dancers, drums, dance, their traditional foods, beadwork and legends. We became friends. During that time though, I did not learn anything about residential schools. I was enthralled for a time with these beautiful girls in my class and their funny and interesting ways. But as I grew up, there was a separation that occurred. I couldn’t say it was blatant racism, but I can identify the thoughts and actions of people around me as a barrier. It was like being stuck on one side of a fence, while indigenous friends and neighbours were on the other. I don’t feel entirely innocent in this matter, and the more I read and learn, the more I realize how ignorant I have allowed myself to be.
When I grew up, I had several sad encounters – in one instance, being directly accused of racism that I never felt, but perhaps because I was unaware of my privilege as a non-minority, fell into the trap of being desensitized to the struggle that exists for Indigenous friends today. I eventually learned about residential schools and the involvement of the Church I called home. I will admit though that I filed it away as “a long time ago.”
Now I feel like I’ve awakened to a nightmare. I regret my willful ignorance. I regret the times that I could have held out my hands in friendship but did not. All of these memories resurfaced while in conversation with Grady, who said, “if you want to keep being at war, keep your distance,” adding that at first, he had a bit of anxiety about visiting the reserves, but now he looks forward to it because of relationships.
“I’m going there to see my friends, and know we’re going to make music and laugh together.”
Growing up, I remember a few well-meaning people complaining that it was impossible to work on the reserve because “the people don’t trust us.” Now that I am an adult, I know why a person might be met with distrust. I wouldn’t have trusted my past self with the attitudes and beliefs that I held. This history of well-meaning people trying to offer help is stained by a history of oppression of Indigenous people.
I asked Grady if building trust is something he struggled with. When he first began trying to lend support, he said that there was a question of sincerity.
“One person at a time,” Grady said, they have made friends and have simply supported people in doing good.
From what I have gathered in talking with Grady, it is about being authentic, and not having an agenda.
“It’s time to mix,” he said, referring to the separation and the “us and them” mentality, “and to not sabotage (efforts to do good).”
“When we began, it was basically about setting the stage and hoping people would come. And people came,” he said, referring to all of their partnerships; the St. Kateri Fellowship groups on the Siksika and Piikani nations, the First Nations Music Camps at Rafter Six ranch in Cowley, AB; to an upcoming art show; and to Friday Nights at the Bovies in the Bullhead Hall, Tsuut'ina.
For one event, “we brought down a bunch of harmonicas and gave lessons, and discovered some talented people to make music with.”
In Brocket, a Catholic Indigenous friend pointed out to Grady that there is a shrine to Our Lady built by the Oblates over 75 years ago, which the community has devoted time and energy to restoring “with the vision and inspiration to restore processions and the Rosary.”
“The faith of Indigenous people is varied,” said Grady, meaning that “there are devout Catholics who love the Eucharist and the Rosary, and those who practice in traditional ways, calling on the Creator and using the medicine wheel,” but for Franciscan and Friends, that doesn’t present a problem.
“It’s about being open,” he said.
He’s not just talking about being open to people, but being open to the Holy Spirit. For him, a big part of that is providence and seeing God work through their efforts. The core group of Franciscan and Friends prays the Rosary together and “lives a sacramental life.”
Living by providence means that they don’t worry about some things, “we allow God to take care of it,” he said, giving an example of when they were to put on a Christmas dinner for single mothers in the Siksika.
“We had someone donate twenty turkeys, but then were faced with how we would cook them. Then along comes someone who had a bakery and it turns out that they could cook forty turkeys.”
Grady is humble when he talks about the work of his ministry. He attributes the good things to the Holy Spirit, and to the people of the First Nations within our Church and outside of it. Helping hands, community, music and initiatives that uplift indigenous communities will continue to grow if we can leave agendas at home, admit our ignorance, educate ourselves and just hold out our hands in friendship.
As we were adjusting to the difficulties of the past eighteen months something more ominous and seemingly out of nowhere, punched us in the gut as members of the Canadian Catholic Church. Ground penetrating radar studies around abandoned Indian Residential Schools had found grave sites, first at Kamloops. Common immediate responses I heard among my fellow parishioners were feelings of puzzlement, shock, and anger and expressions of general ignorance of the issue. Here was our Church, standing shamed before the Canadian public and the world, as the continuing pain and suffering of indigenous people stood revealed.
We are now challenged by these events to examine our own, and our Church’s, position in society. We might be ‘settlers’ of recent or many generations’ standing. Some of us are indigenous, and for many, perhaps most, our backgrounds are complicated. Whatever our situation we can no longer ignore questions this poses about our faith, Church, and our pasts.
I had attended the Calgary hearings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) in November 2013. I had witnessed the grueling and painful testimonies of those affected by the Residential Schools and its related intergenerational trauma, and I had stood in the lunch line listening to Commission Chair Murray Sinclair, whom I greatly admired. I have done post-graduate studies in the fields of imperial and colonial history and I had read some of the final reports published by the TRC. Still, the news out of Kamloops, and the eruption of emotion that followed came as a shock. Partly it was the way the reports came out. I had understood the events to be historical and not as enduring injustices needing resolution.
My first visit to the church of Holy Trinity on the Siksika Nation was in July when I met with the pastor, Fr. Long Vu, to discuss what historical records Holy Trinity had that were related to the community, and to let him know what was held by the Diocese. We have no Residential School records as the Diocese was not involved in operating the schools, but we were keen to know if there was anything which we could share that would fill in gaps in the existing information. Seeing the Nation for the first time reveals the stark beauty of the grasslands and the dramatic sweep of the Bow River valley as it meanders through its wide plain. I was pleased to be back again this week to attend a meeting of Bishop McGrattan and Chief Ouray Crowfoot with Council members and a diocesan team to see if we could establish some concrete ways of moving forward together. It was a good meeting. What struck me most was the graciousness and patience of the Siksika representatives, their quiet humour and commitment to get things done on the journey towards healing.
Looking out over the river valley where Treaty Seven was signed almost 150 years ago it is easy to imagine the gatherings that occurred there, and to feel the tangible presence of history. A mile or so distant, Crowfoot Residential School site, which is overlooked now by Holy Trinity Church, was demolished some years ago though its outline and footprint can still be seen. It has its own historical presence which asks to be acknowledged.
Inside the Blackfoot Crossing Historical Park there is so much to see and I would recommend you visit. What seemed to me most poignant was the space being created for the historical artifacts that once belonged to Chief Crowfoot (1930-1890), an original signatory of the Treaty, which are currently awaiting repatriation from a museum in Exeter in the United Kingdom. This is a sign of hope for the Nation – and of the erosion of the old power of colonialism.
Over these places, and in all of us who met together, I felt the spirit of God asking us to stay with the suffering and to work hard together and attempt to mitigate the ill effects of the Residential Schools. We cannot change history but here is an invitation we cannot ignore. We can seek the truths and lessons of our history by studying reliable authorities, records, the oral testimonies of elders and through honest, prayerful reflection. We are obliged by our God to do so. The past is not past – it is with us. But God is with us too.
July 16, 2021
Re: The Commitment and Contribution of the Diocese of Calgary to Reconciliation and Healing
Bishop William McGrattan has been in consultation with other bishops and diocesan collaborators to be in solidarity with the Indigenous Peoples and their leaders on the next steps in supporting survivors and in addressing the intergenerational harm caused by the Residential Schools.
The Diocese of Calgary is committed to providing a monetary contribution to a forthcoming local/regional financial appeal. This expresses the commitment of the Diocese to the ongoing work of justice and healing in our country with the Indigenous Peoples and their communities.
The amount of this monetary contribution and the details of the diocesan pastoral plans related to this initiative will be announced in September 2021.
There were 25 residential schools in the Province of Alberta. Four of these operated by the Oblates of Mary Immaculate (OMI) were within the boundaries of the Diocese. The Roman Catholic Diocese of Calgary did not operate any of the residential schools.
Download statement in PDF
Pastoral Letters of the Most Rev. William T. McGrattan, Bishop of Calgary
Shareable and delicious, pizza is a dish for friends. Parishioners and staff at St. Joseph’s in northwest Calgary know this from experience. This year their priest, new to the parish since August 2020, served them up over one hundred of his own homemade pizzas, spread over several occasions.
Fr. Marek Paczka described himself as “not a cook,” but nonetheless decided he might be able to learn to make something as simple as pizza.
The story behind the pizzas is both sad and hopeful. Fr. Marek spoke about an Italian couple who befriended him when he was a parish priest in Port Alberni, BC.
“They invited me to dinner and we became friends. I would dine at their house at least once a week for 15 years, even when I moved parishes and had to drive 110 kilometers.”
Having fallen in love with Italian culture while spending 2 years in Rome, Fr. Marek found it easy to spend time with this special couple and their friends around the dinner table, and was even included on special occasions like Christmas and Easter
“There is something about sitting down together and just facing each other,” he said, adding that in Italian culture it is common for families and friends to spend thousands of hours together at the table.
He spent many hours with his friends eating wonderful meals at dinner parties, and mentioned mushroom picking and enjoying produce from their vegetable garden.
This past year, the husband half of this couple passed away fairly suddenly from cancer. Fr. Marek was shocked.
“I didn’t make it to see him before he died,” he said, “but I did make it to his funeral.”
Because he wanted to preserve something of the friendship he had with this man and his wife and guided by his feelings for Italian cooking, Fr. Marek said he asked another mutual friend, Elvia Orli, how to make pizza.
“I could never cook the wonderful Italian meals that my friends made,” he explained, “but I thought I could try to make pizza,” he said.
“I tried and tried and tried and it never worked. I gave up when my dough didn’t rise. I had done something wrong. But this year I thought I’d try again, so I phoned Elvia and asked her again for the recipe and had her tell me what to do.
“I realized it was simple, and this time I was successful. I was shocked because I’m not a cook. It’s just flour and water, yeast and salt and a little bit of oil.
“I made four pizzas with ham and veggies and some chives from the garden here (at St. Joseph’s) and I tested it first myself, secretly. Then I shared with my secretary and eventually a few of the other staff.
“Then one Sunday after Mass I shared pizzas with the parish.”
Thus far, Fr. Marek has made over one-hundred-and-ten pizzas for various people in his parish. “I thought that once I’d made one-hundred, I could be comfortable with it.”
“I was just fascinated by the fact that I was making pizza. I have used over 30 kilograms of flour, not to mention the meat and other ingredients.”
Inspired by a friendship and helping his relationship to his parish, pizza making has become a hobby, though Fr. Marek said that cooking has never been his passion.
He also cites the attitudes that bring communities together as another inspiration for the pizza.
“I learned this growing up and also from my time building houses in Zambia, that material things are not as important as people. The poor appreciate things, and they have a culture of making things themselves, and sharing, contributing to community life.”
“My mother grew up in a poor family and we were poor, but she shared what she had, and I suppose I wanted to share what I can do with the people around me. There is a joy in helping someone with the essentials, and I guess I am feeding people.”
A few parishioners had great things to say about Fr. Marek’s pizzas,
“The pizza is delicious, writes Susan Couture, “but what makes it so special is the love that goes into it. “The topping is always a nice surprise. We had one that had leek on it which I’ve never seen on a pizza before but it was delish.” Mia Drewniak writes, “I love the crust and the healthy toppings. Lots of garden herbs and even leeks made it on to the pizza. Inspiring!”
Out of a desire to honour dear friends, to honour a mother’s example and to serve his parishioners, Fr. Marek has in a unique way brought together tradition and connection.
Sam works for one of Calgary’s top coffee roasters and Caiti is an interior designer with a leading architecture and design company in the city. Both are faithful Catholics working in their secular fields.
“We can't underestimate the power of trying to set an example,” said Caiti. “If you can bring peace into a meeting, or a project, or the way you handle setbacks or stress, I think those things stand out. It plants little seeds and over time people start to wonder what’s different about this person.”
For five years Caiti has worked in a close knit mainly female firm. Relationships between clients, coworkers and management are essential. One way that Caiti builds trust and rapport in her relationships is by having a good attitude, working hard, being helpful, laughing and joking and trying to bring joy and calm into her office. She stresses that she is a "work in progress" in this regard, but that it is the striving that counts.
“There are a lot of reasons not to have a good attitude in my work with deadlines, pressure and stress and that can be really toxic and people can feed off each other,” said Caiti. “My hope is that people just know that they can come to me and I’ll help them.
“I think because of the stress at my work, it can be a pressure cooker for relationships sometimes. So I think in that sense there is a big opportunity to connect with them.”
Caiti has also found connection in the professional realm through shared values around family life. She’s been able to witness to her faith by sharing personally that she and Sam did not live together before getting married, for example.
“It always strikes me that I see families everywhere. A lot of my clients have families. I just see how prevalent the family still is,” said Caiti.
Caiti is grateful that when she is faced with tough situations she can go home and discuss the matter with her husband Sam and their circle of faithful friends. And for now, Caiti’s focus has turned toward her daughter Lucy while she’s currently on maternity leave this year.
For Sam, his work environment and his approach have allowed him to have lots of direct conversations about faith with his boss and co-workers. In the six years Sam has worked in management for his coffee company, his boss has initiated a lot of religious conversations with him and he asks for Sam’s opinion about Catholic matters.
“I often come away hoping I was a good representation (of Catholicism),” said Sam. “Like many conversations in life, you don’t feel you have the time to really suss things out and that’s why I come away hoping I said things properly. I guess that’s where prayer and trusting the Holy Spirit comes in.
“Coming in I expected a Catholic versus secular battle, like the secularism would be hitting me in the face everywhere, but I think I had maybe the wrong idea of what it’s like to work in the world. Most people are kind because everyone is made in the image of Christ and most people’s base setting is kindness or openness,” said Sam, a wholesale manager.
Sam tries to keep a plan of life that grounds him throughout the day, like praying the Angelus at noon, trying to get to Mass at least one other time besides Sunday, going to confession regularly and spending time with other Catholics who are also trying to live their faith in their careers.
Sam has had discussions where Catholicism is not understood and he’s faced situations where people will try to push his buttons because they know he’s Catholic, but it’s not the norm. And while there is a significant Christian presence in the coffee industry, Sam has not always felt on the same page with his fellow Christians in terms of shared values and morals.
“That’s why community is so important and to have confession and spiritual direction because without those things it’s so easy to not be able to start again when maybe you do have a compromise or you didn’t speak up,” said Sam.
But these challenges remind Sam all the more that it’s imperative that Catholics not retreat, but rather remain present in the secular world.
“I think it’s important that we Catholics go into the workplace and out into the world and try to be present, to be good examples of virtues and hope for those conversations. I think it’s important that we do that because think of a world where we have Catholics in all the trades, and boardrooms, and the legislatures, and malls. If we have Catholics in all those environments we will bring back the true understanding of what Catholicism is and we won’t have as many misconceptions and caricatures of people.”
Mathieu Couture, a devout Acadian Catholic from Bathurst, New Brunswick, met Susan Penna, an Indonesian-born ethnic Chinese lukewarm Catholic who grew up in Australia, through a secular online dating site.
Their relationship is a Catholic online dating success story.
They talked by computer and phone for a few weeks before deciding to meet up for lunch at a restaurant in Calgary. To Mathieu’s delight, everything about meeting Susan in person matched up with the woman he had met online.
“She looked how I expected her to look. She acted how I expected her to act. I think that’s rare in online dating. You’ll hear about a lot of people being fake, but this person was being honest with me and she wasn’t trying to be someone she wasn’t,” said Mathieu.
Alternatively, Susan was initially put off by Mathieu who kept checking his watch. Mathieu explained that he was interested in Susan, but he just didn’t want to return to work late.
“I guess we didn’t hit it off right away,” said Mathieu. “Susan will tell you that she thought I was stuck up.”
One date would have been enough for Susan, but Mathieu kept pursuing her. When he suggested they go for a hike, Susan’s interest was renewed by the promise of fun and adventure.
“I guess in Matty’s case, first impressions aren’t everything. I’m happy I gave him a second chance to get to know him better,” said Susan.
Back in 2014 at age 29, Susan had decided to travel the world for a year. After a few months, her travels landed her in Calgary to visit her cousin, Lia. While in Calgary, Susan hoped to find a companion to show her around while she was passing through.
Meeting Mathieu changed her travel plans and in turn her life plans.
Susan extended her stay in Calgary from one month to six months before returning to Australia. The couple continued dating long distance for another year. Mathieu visited her in Australia and once again they met up in Japan, before Susan made the decision to move to Calgary.
After a year, the couple got engaged and 12 months later they exchanged vows in the Sacrament of Marriage at St. Joseph’s Parish in Calgary. Since then, God has blessed the couple with a toddler and the recent birth of their newborn baby.
When they first met, dating a Catholic was not a prerequisite for Susan, so she didn’t mention it in her online profile. On the other hand, faith in a prospective spouse was important to Mathieu, so he stated his religious beliefs upfront on his profile. And it was this detail that caught Susan’s attention.
“I don’t normally make the first move, but he was just one of those special ones that made me think, who is this guy, and I had to ask,” said Susan. She asked him where he went to church and a connection was instantly made.
During their courtship Mathieu began going to St. Joseph’s 5 pm Mass to hear Susan sing in the choir. The pair would go out after for a bite to eat.
They soon found out that Mathieu’s faith was firm, while Susan considered herself lukewarm. Growing up Susan practiced Chinese Buddhism for the first 10 years of her life, until someone introduced Catholicism to her family and one by one they all converted. While Susan said she’s always kept a prayer life, she did not have a strong sacramental life. But as her relationship with Mathieu matured, so did her faith. Now as a family, they go to Mass every Sunday.
Mathieu thanks his grandfather for bringing him to Mass as a child. In his early-20s Mathieu’s grandfather died. At his funeral Mass in a state of grief, Mathieu experienced a profound experience of the Holy Spirit reassuring him that everything would be okay. That was the beginning of Mathieu’s reawakening of his faith and shortly after he regularly began going to Mass on his own.
Mathieu said he had been using online sites for a couple years to look for a wife, but there is a stigma that people are disingenuous and use these platforms just to hook up for one night stands.
“Online dating started to work when I started to be genuine and more honest with myself, for example when I clearly stated my faith on the online sites,” said Mathieu.
“You want that person to like you for who you truly are. It’s important to share your faith, share your beliefs. I think if you do that the people who reach out to you will be people who genuinely want to get to know you.”
This is a story of how a chance meeting changed the trajectory of my faith journey. We are all on a faith journey, whether you believe you are or not. I had always felt ‘Catholic’ because I had attended Catholic elementary and high school in Saskatchewan but going through RCIA as a 19-year-old confirmed me in my faith and invited me to participate in a formalized way.
When I became a teacher with the Calgary Catholic School District, my faith practices were supported by the district’s expectation that teachers attend church regularly. Later, when I became an administrator, I felt a keen responsibility to be the faith leader in my building. I was in a groove with my faith journey (maybe the groove was actually a rut!); I was comfortable where I was. I attended church regularly and served in a variety of roles in my parish. I was not looking for or expecting a faith trajectory change. Then I met Sister Madeleine Gregg, FCJ.
I met Sr. Madeleine within the first week that she moved to Calgary in 2015 to work at the FCJ Retreat Centre. Sr. Madeleine is a Faithful Companion of Jesus and had moved from Tuscaloosa, Alabama where she had lived and worked for the previous 22 years. Dr. Gregg, as she was known to her students at the University of Alabama (Roll Tide!), taught in the Multiple Abilities Program where she guided pre-service teachers to reach their full potential in working with diverse learners. Sister Madeleine had a fulfilling career in higher education. She published more than 40 scholarly articles, many of which won awards from various organizations. Her latest (and greatest) publication is a children’s picture book. It tells about the youthful experience of the foundress of her congregation, Marie Madeleine d’Houet and what she learned by being sent to time-out when she was naughty.
In the past five years, the people working at the FCJ Centre have reinvigorated it and are working hard to make known what they offer. Sessions aimed at spiritual growth, themed retreats and prayer experiences, on-line work, Spiritual Directors training, opportunities to make a retreat based on the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola, and many other initiatives keep the place hopping. My faith journey continued on an upward path, greatly aided by Sr. Madeleine, who suggested I make a specially designed retreat, called ‘Jumpstart Your Prayer Life’ silent retreat. I was really nervous about doing a silent retreat and was sure I wouldn’t be able to keep from talking for an entire weekend. But I did keep quiet except when I was sharing the results of my prayer with Sr. Madeleine. I loved it! At a different time, the ‘Take a Break’ silent retreat was an enlightening experience, filled with Sr. Madeleine’s suggestions for scripture reading. Recently, I made another silent weekend retreat, under the direction of Sr. Ann Marie Walsh, also an FCJ Sister who works at the Centre.
Retreats are special times. In between, additional work in spiritual direction has also been a source of knowledge and growth in faith. In these sessions, I can explore my actual beliefs and really think about how I am integrating my faith with my life. Spiritual direction is another regular practice that helps me unravel the word of God. It is hard work to stay in my inner world and sort out what I really believe from what I think I believe.
From my chance meeting with Sr. Madeleine in an elevator as we traveled one story of the Telus Convention Centre at the District Opening Mass, to now where a cherished friendship exists, it has been a pleasure to learn and work with her. As a principal in the Calgary Catholic School District, I have had opportunities to be shaped by her teaching at school as she visited and taught students about a variety of faith-formation topics. Special times have also been shared at my cabin in Invermere, sometimes on retreat and sometimes filled with jelly making and flower-bed transplanting.
To say that Sr. Madeleine has changed my life is an understatement. She is faith-filled, inspiring, and energetic. As a convert to Catholicism herself, her personal testimony is awe-inspiring and her faith in God is unwavering. Being in her presence has ignited a spark in me to develop a faith more like hers and to share it with others.
Thanks be to God!
Some of my fondest memories attending a catholic school were walking the 2 blocks or so to St. Mary’s Parish for school mass. Along with the holy mass itself, I enjoyed the brief reprieve from school work, a chance to visit with my classmates while walking, and singing in the school choir. I had learned harmonies from my mom singing at mass on Sundays, (and to Celine Dion at home) and loved to create music alongside my peers. Welcoming people at the door, reading Scripture, playing an instrument, and intercessory prayer; school mass gave us the opportunity to practice using our gifts for the glory of the Lord.
When I was 16, our school sent a bus-load of students to Prud’Homme Saskatchewan to attend a Face to Face Retreat. I later learned that Prud’Homme was also the first retreat my now husband attended, although neither of us remember meeting. At the retreat there were talks about God’s love and the saints, praise and worship sessions, time to attend the Sacrament of Reconciliation, one on one prayer ministry, and musical Adoration. I was moved by the love these young people had for our Lord.
During one of the worship songs, I vividly remember looking at the worship leaders thinking how lucky they were to witness this fire at each retreat. In that moment I whispered under my breath, “Lord, it would be so cool to do that.” The Lord answered that little prayer and 3 years later I was given the privilege of singing and serving with Face to Face Ministries for what would become 4 incredibly faith formative years. During these years, the seeds of service, self-sacrifice, prayer, and faith that my Catholic education had rooted in me, blossomed into an undeviating love for our Lord that continues to grow today.
Now raising our own 4 children, I am so grateful to pass along the good, the true, and beautiful to them through the gift of Catholic education. I am grateful to be able to root their identity in Jesus, our firm foundation, especially as our world faces such confusion of identity today. I am grateful to introduce to them the Sacraments that bring true life and peace to their souls. I am grateful to read to them the lives of the Saints so that they have role-models of virtue, and someone to relate to in times when they fail. I am grateful to teach them the rosary, so that one day they would recognize the importance of prayer and Our Lady’s intercession. I am grateful to bring them to Mass and Adoration so that they know our Lord deserves their time, and so that they know where to go when facing a difficult decision.
In a word, I am grateful for Catholic education because it was an extension of my domestic church; it cultivated the virtues my parents instilled in us at home while preparing me for a life of docility to the Spirit.
St. John the Baptist is one of my favorite saints. I even gave our eldest son the name John for his second name. And I chose St. John the Baptist as his patron saint.
I consider St. John the Baptist as the First Evangelizer who proclaimed Jesus as the Messiah. He directed everyone to Jesus. In one painting he is seen looking at others while pointing his finger to Jesus. What an apt depiction of this great saint!
I dreamt that one day I can be like John the Baptist who would point others to Jesus. And lo, and behold, that time came in 2020 when after a week of training in the Philippines I returned to Calgary to take on my service role as Live Christ, Share Christ Mission Coordinator.
The Live Christ, Share Christ (LCSC) Mission provides opportunities for the Catholic lay faithful to MEET Christ, LIVE Christ, SHARE Christ. Through their formation programs, LCSC makes the Gospel narration of the visit of the Virgin Mary to her cousin, Elizabeth come to life: When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. (Lk 1:41)
Just as God had been faithful and kept His promises to Mary, Elizabeth, and John, we are reminded that God likewise reveals His wondrous works to each of us as well.
Even in the midst of lockdown and quarantine, hand washing and masking, self-isolation and social distancing during this pandemic, God constantly draws us to Himself and shows us that He is, indeed, our Father.
MEET Christ through the Word of God
I leap for joy because despite the pandemic through God’s grace we launched the Liturgical Bible Study (LBS) in the Calgary Catholic School District using virtual technology. Through zoom meetings, we guided high school students in finding the connections between the Sunday liturgical readings. They discovered that the first, the second, and the Gospel readings are interrelated and have a common message that gives it unity.
Through LBS the students realized that the Bible is not a mere historical document. They soon realized that the stories of our faith ancestors in the Bible shed light to present life situations. From the insights they gathered throughout the session, the students were able to understand the pandemic in the context of the scripture readings.
SHARE Christ to The Ends of the Earth
I leap for joy because despite the pandemic through God’s grace us we will be fully engaged in the new evangelization, beyond borders and across boundaries. In our first LCS alone we had participants from New Zealand, USA, Canada and the Philippines. Life in Christ means we should let Jesus continue His work of salvation through us, with us, and in us. The Catholic lay faithful are called to be missionaries through the power of the Holy Spirit. We are all called to be workers in God’s vineyard. Through virtual technology the opportunities to share Christ are boundless.
Together, let us leap for joy as we MEET Christ, LIVE Christ, and SHARE Christ.
Elizabeth House will again be participating as a partner charity in the Ride for Refuge ending on October 2, 2021. Our goal is to support the great work that Elizabeth House accomplishes, in offering young pregnant women and young women with babies a safe and loving home, while empowering their journey to independent living. This year our ambition is larger and with your help we hope to reach our lofty goal!
#NOBIKESREQUIRED to participate at 2021 Ride for Refuge! Register yourself, gather your friends, and select a fundraising activity you love. Do whatever you can, wherever you can, and sky is the limit. Of course you can still do the 5km,10km cycling, or the 5 km walks, but you don’t have to!
So what's next?
When Fr. Kevin Tumback (Pastor, All Saints Parish in Lethbridge) speaks about his past, it’s clear that a pivotal figure is his father, Andrew Clement Tumback, known to all as Tiny.
Tiny was the second youngest of twelve children and spent most of his life farming in Eston, SK. He was married to Audrey for 61 years, had seven children (living) and died at the age of 93, having witnessed the ordination of two sons and the arrival of eight grandchildren. Yet these many achievements do not begin to capture the essence of a man who, according to Fr. Kevin, was introverted, reflective and well-read. “My father was liked and respected,” Fr. Kevin said, “his funeral was packed.” Tiny’s influence was perhaps felt most keenly by his children, whom he formed in faith, mostly by setting a good example.
Fr. Kevin shared a seminal incident from his youth which speaks volumes. After an infraction, young Kevin was punished by having to clean out the chicken coop, not the Tumback coop but the neighbour’s. “It was hot and stinky work,” Fr. Kevin recalled. “It was my punishment but Dad was working right there beside me the whole time.” Tiny was instinctively demonstrating the way God the Father never leaves us, even as we face the consequences of our own sins. Though a cradle Catholic, Tiny didn’t take his faith for granted. He had a firm devotion to the Rosary, the Sacred Heart and especially the Eucharist. He was an altar server well into his senior years to demonstrate one’s duty to participate at the Holy Mass. He also helped out neighbouring farmers and delivered eggs and milk from the Tumback animals to needy families.
Tiny Tumback wasn’t a demonstrative person. He practiced what Fr. Kevin refers to as the “ruffled hair” form of affection. “Dad treated each of us differently… but we all understood it. You need to acknowledge (each child’s) strengths and weaknesses and Dad was good for that… One of my father’s nicest compliments, the day after I was ordained was, ‘Well son, if you’d gone straight from high school into the seminary you would have made a really lousy priest. But with your years of experience you’ll make a good priest.’” Tiny was referring to Fr. Kevin having worked 15 years in the corporate sector before joining the seminary.
Priest Assignment; Deacon Assignment; Clergy Personnel Announcements
Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,
The reported discovery of the remains of 215 children at the former Kamloops Indian residential school has shocked the consciousness of our country, its people, the Church, and the world to the painful and dark reality of our Canadian Indian residential school system. This has also surfaced once again the suffering and trauma which continues to mark the lives of our indigenous brothers and sisters and their communities.
On behalf of the people of the Diocese of Calgary, I personally share in this devastating sorrow and express my deepest regret at the loss of the lives of these children and the enduring pain which residential schools have caused within our indigenous communities. In solidarity, we must act in the pursuit of justice, reconciliation, and true healing.
As the Bishop of Calgary, through this statement, I personally recommit the Diocese in expressing the apology and regret made by the Bishops of Alberta and the Northwest Territories in 2014 to our indigenous brothers and sisters.
We, the Catholic Bishops of Alberta and Northwest Territories, apologize to those who experienced sexual and physical abuse in Residential Schools under Catholic administration.
The picture and images of children’s shoes placed at the front steps with lit candles remind us of the voices of these children and the need for restorative justice. In prayer, we unite ourselves with our suffering brothers and sisters so that the Spirit will show us the path of solidarity in promoting true justice and healing.
For those families deeply impacted, we ask for the intercession of St. Kateri Tekakwitha for them to receive consolation, healing, and strength.
Sincerely Yours in Christ,
+William T. McGrattan
Bishop of Calgary
June 4, 2021
The statement of Bishop McGrattan on the murder of a Muslim family in London, Ontario was read by Fr. Adrian Martens in his position as Coordinator of Ecumenism and Inter-Religious affairs at a rally and peace march across City Hall, Tuesday evening, June 8, 2021.
June 8, 2021
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
On June 6, 2021, a family out on a walk was targeted for their Islamic beliefs. This attack has resulted in the deaths of four family members including a girl as young as 15, and a nine-year old boy still in hospital.
This attack was truly heinous and against what we all stand for as Canadians.
Firstly, I want to express the closeness of the Catholic and Christian community to the Muslim community. Over the years, side-by-side, we have spoken out jointly on the Rohingya Muslim crisis and the terrible mosque shooting in Quebec. Again, today we stand with Muslims against all religious hatred or intolerance of religious belief and practise. We stand together to denounce all forms of fear, hatred, and aggression against any person based on religion, gender, or culture. As our teaching at the Second Vatican Council states: “…the right to religious freedom has its foundation in the very dignity of the human person as this dignity is known through the revealed word of God and by reason itself. This right of the human person to religious freedom is to be recognized in the constitutional law whereby society is governed and thus it is to become a civil right,” (Dignitatis Humanae, 2).
We, Muslims, Christians, and people of goodwill, must stand together to fight against intolerance and ignorance of religious belief or practise and protect this freedom which is a basic civil right.
May we continue to advance the great work we have done together with the Calgary Interfaith Council, Habitat for Humanity, Calgary Catholic Immigration Services, and other venues. May we be reminded that there are more things that unite us than what divides us and that we must stand together against hatred, violence, and religious intolerance.
Yours in God,
+William T. McGrattan
Bishop of Calgary
Download Letter in PDF
Let us join in prayer:
Sometimes children reveal experiences which then help encourage revitalization. Even simple, trivial remarks influence choices to improve our normal state. Each day contains invitations to do and be better – to better show love.
There is a story that I often have opportunity to share which I think illustrates this point. At that stage of our family life it was my more common practice to attend monthly recollections – reflections offered to men that helped us in our lives as husbands, fathers, and professionals. My wife herself enjoyed similar gatherings for women (and has done a better job of making these a priority in the ensuing years). While the content was always worthwhile, I don’t happen now to remember the particular topic of that evening. In the midst of it however, the priest mentioned his experience in the Confessional of commonly hearing wives and children speak of their fear in the face of husbands’ anger. And he thereafter continued with the rest of the meditation.
When I returned home that night my wife asked how the recollection had gone and I explained the topic, which I then remembered. I also shared Father’s comment about fear in the face of husbands’ anger. And I added, “Is that funny?” By this I meant, isn’t it strange that some families have that experience. My wife replied, “Not really.” Having not experienced abuse in her childhood, and more importantly to me, my having never been violent, I asked her what she meant. She commented further, “Sometimes your anger seems so big.”
That whole exchange has remained with me since then. And I began paying attention. I noticed my own response to being around other men when they exhibit ‘big anger’ and how their families did as well – my work as a marriage & family therapist sometimes places me in the midst of such experiences. I won’t argue that anger is never appropriate, or that being loud isn’t sometimes useful for drawing attention where needed. Neither will I deny that some women struggle with expressions of their own anger; please remember that I have lived with nine daughters. But I echo Aristotle who wisely commented that when, to whom, about what, and with what intensity we express our anger are also important considerations.
The fact that it is common for wives and children to be fearful in the presence of their husbands and fathers should make us pause. Communication, of which anger is a subtype, is meant to share and benefit relationships. Non-destructive argument is meant to advance better ways by which to relate. And relationships are expressions of love, whether conjugal, paternal, platonic, or simply human. Is our anger in the loving service of justice, or is it prideful self-assertion?
One of the readings at our wedding was from 1 John. There the beloved apostle writes that we love because God first loved us (verse 19); we chose this as a motto for our family. But in the verse right before it, the Holy Spirit communicates through John: “In love there can be no fear, but fear is driven out by perfect love: because to fear is to expect punishment.” That this Fathers’ Day would see a renewal of and recommitment to love in all families.
For a second year in a row, gathering restrictions will prevent graduates from Calgary Catholic high schools from participating in the types of graduation ceremonies that many of us associate with a typical Grade 12 year. Gone are the cap and gown ceremonies with families packed into the auditorium, the valedictory address delivered to thunderous cheers from the assembly and the banquet meal shared together with peers. In our Catholic high schools, this also means that the traditional celebration of a school graduation Mass with classmates and faculty will not be proceeding. Many of us remember these traditions fondly and feel a sense of remorse for this year’s graduates that they will miss these familiar rites of passage.
However, school communities have responded to the challenges with innovative solutions and alternatives. Graduation is too important to miss – this is the culmination of many years of effort for students and their families. Graduation also holds a hopeful promise for the future, a time where young women and men further explore their place in the world and come to a deeper understanding of themselves and God’s creation. As a Catholic community, we fail to respond to the goodness and blessings abundantly displayed around us when we miss the opportunity to celebrate our graduates.
This year, our high schools are building on what they learned last year to create personal and meaningful celebrations to acknowledge students and their families. A special Mass for graduates was celebrated by Bishop McGrattan at the Shrine Church of Our Lady of the Rockies and the recording will be shared with every graduate and their families. Schools have recorded valedictory speeches and greetings from school staff to share electronically. And, taking advantage of good weather and abundant space outdoors, schools are arranging “drive-through” events and photo opportunities for students to receive their certificates in a safe manner.
Far from being a token celebration, this adapted way of marking graduations allows for an intimate and personal celebration for each individual. As Bishop McNally High School principal, Neil O’Flaherty affirms, “Despite students being asked to repeatedly acclimate to the uncertainty of the coronavirus, celebrating one’s graduation, with family members lovingly alongside, is one tradition that COVID 19 could not prevent. Each high school has made the event uniquely their own and, as we have done at Bishop McNally, each student’s personal accomplishment has been individually (and collectively as a class) celebrated, in a safe manner, with a creative and memorable flair befitting any graduation, past or present.”
Catholic schools have felt particularly called to create spaces of welcome and encouragement for our students during the pandemic. Faced with restrictions on gathering, we are paying special attention to engaging, seeing and celebrating each student. Mackenzie McManus graduated in 2020 from All Saints High School under similar conditions. Her grad class was the first graduating year from the high school in Calgary’s deep south and she fondly remembers the experience of the drive-through grad. “The important part of graduation for me was to be able to walk the stage and get a picture in my cap and gown”, says McManus, “The drive-through grad did that quite nicely.” She noted how much effort it took for staff to arrange the drive-through. Allowing that special time for each graduate extended the event to three days for teachers and support staff who took turns holding congratulations signs and cheering for each student who came through.
Please pray for all Catholic school graduates and their families during this month of June. May the experience in our schools equip them with the knowledge and wisdom they need to continue to grow, learn and serve.
A prayer for Graduates
Lord God, giver of all wisdom and grace,
bless the students who have worked diligently
to prepare for graduation.
Guide and direct them as they go forth
to encounter new opportunities and challenges in the world.
As they continue to nurture their gifts,
help them to stand up for their Christian beliefs
and to further develop values and virtues
that promote communities of fellowship and caring.
May they always act with responsibility and practice integrity
that they may be living witnesses of your word
and instruments of your peace.
Through Christ our Lord. Amen
In 1673, St. Margaret Mary Alacoque received a vision of Jesus’ compassionate heart, pierced by the sins of the world, which gave impetus to the devotion of Sacred Heart of Jesus. St. Margaret Mary also received private revelations from Jesus on June 16, 1675. Read more
The Church celebrates the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus on the Friday following the second Sunday after Pentecost. The term "Sacred Heart of Jesus" denotes the entire mystery of Christ, the totality of his being, and his person considered in its most intimate essential: Son of God, uncreated wisdom; infinite charity, principal of the salvation and sanctification of mankind. The "Sacred Heart" is Christ, the Word Incarnate, Saviour, intrinsically containing, in the Spirit, an infinite divine-human love for the Father and for his brothers. (Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy).
Sacred Heart of Jesus Resources
Javier Martinez had just removed his face shield and mask when a woman suddenly appeared in the room and approached him. The woman was a resident of the memory care wing of the seniors’ residence where Martinez was working. She was also positive for COVID-19. “It happened so fast and I remember thinking, ‘it’s highly probable that I’ve got COVID,’” recalls Martinez, a registered nurse and the father of five. He was right.
Martinez is a clinical leader in the supportive living section at St. Marguerite Manor, a Covenant Care home in northwest Calgary. Two residents at that facility died in the second wave of the global pandemic declared in 2020. Martinez, however, was infected in Edmonton. He was there in November 2020 to provide support in a seniors’ care home hit much harder by the second wave of the pandemic. In addition to several deaths and widespread infection, many staff at that home were infected and unable to work.
While his first test was negative, Martinez developed body aches and a headache soon after his return to Calgary. The nurse knew he had COVID-19 well before the second test yielded a positive result. By then, he and his wife Colette had already discussed what they would do to keep the family safe. They did what they could to keep their kids, ages 13 to three, away from their dad. Still, the oldest and youngest, two of their three daughters, were infected. Both children weathered the virus well. “We were fortunate,” says their dad.
A culture of care
More than a year after the pandemic began, vaccinations and the careful of use of PPE (personal protective equipment, like masks) have imbued Martinez’s view from the front lines with a great deal of hope. In the early days, “there was a lot of uncertainty because it was brand new and we had to deal with a lot of changes. Provincial orders from the Chief Medical Officer of Health changed often, sometimes daily. One of the most dramatic shifts was the move to restrict visitors. That was really tough. Some of our residents have large families who are very close. I had to explain the health rules to many people and because these were mandated changes, we didn’t have much flexibility. This was very tough on residents and their families.”
Careful adherence to the rules definitely kept people safe, says Martinez. Only one resident and a few staff at St. Marguerite Manor contracted COVID-19 in the first wave. The second wave was harder, but by then, something else was also at work. He says some residents talked openly about having lived good lives. They were not afraid to catch the virus and die. What they did not “want was to be the person who brought the virus into the manor. That care for other people was very strong.”
Now that residents and most staff are fully vaccinated, life at the manor is more relaxed. Visitors are allowed in after screening and as of June 1, staff no longer have to wear face shields over their masks. “It’s amazing to see how things have changed for seniors in supportive living and long-term care because of the vaccinations,” says Martinez.
Looking back, Martinez thinks about what the pandemic has taught him as a Catholic man, nurse, husband and father. He knows the people he works with were negatively impacted when denied access to family and friends. He also knows many of them weathered the storm with grace.
“I guess I think about how we’re called to serve our neighbours—and to serve the best interests of our neighbours,” says Martinez. A parishioner at St. Gerard’s parish in Calgary, he also thinks about how the Catholic community supported that part of the gospel message. As he sees it, sometimes service is as simple as doing what’s best for others.
Written by Joy Gregory for Faithfully
Photos courtesy of Javier Martinez
One of the most powerful things I have ever done as a Catholic Educator is to open a new Catholic School in Airdrie. The name selection process was part of the beginning of creating our new school. In hindsight, it is amazing how important a school name is, especially a Catholic School name. On the day that our new school name was going to be announced, I was away on a retreat. Coincidentally we were doing the Stations of the Cross and I strategically volunteered to do the readings for Station 6: Veronica Wipes the Face of Jesus. Later that day when our school name was announced at the retreat, many of my coworkers were amazed that I had been selected to do the readings for Station 6. They believed it was divine intervention. I really didn’t have the heart to tell them that I had requested that station knowing that St. Veronica was our new school name!
A month later, in May of 2019, we gathered together as a staff for the very first time. With our new teachers, admin and our District Supervisor of Catholic Education we began to explore all things about St. Veronica. There is no history or mention of St. Veronica in the Bible, nor is there any knowledge of her life before or after she wiped the face of Jesus. Yet, her single selfless act to wipe the face of Jesus on his way to crucifixion remains a keystone piece of the Stations of the Cross. Her veil, the Veil of Veronica, is a sacred artifact displayed once a year at the Vatican.
Our goal that day with our staff was to generate a motto and a mission statement for our new school. The teachers reviewed scripture, watched videos and worked in groups to identify the significant characteristics of St. Veronica. It took a whole day but together they created our motto. First with three key words: Faith, Compassion, Courage. Then the teachers expanded the motto to create our mission statement: Inspired by Faith. Moved by Compassion. Led by Courage.
I was so proud of our staff, as I truly believed they had captured the real essence of who St. Veronica was. These characteristics would form the foundation for students at our school. Our patron saint, St. Veronica, is the perfect example of how to use your faith, your compassion, and your courage to do the right thing, even when that is very difficult. This is a beautiful message to share with children. So many aspects of school life relate back to this gentle, faithful woman who choose to perform a true act of kindness when Christ needed it most. Connecting this to our ability to see Christ in others and to support the way Veronica supported Jesus is a powerful message for all students at St. Veronica School.
When you ask, What’s in a name? I believe that at St. Veronica School the name Veronica challenges each of our students to be inspired by faith, to be moved by compassion for others and to let courage guide them to do the right thing. What better role model is there for children?
The vocation to teach is a great gift. To authentically live one’s faith life in a Catholic School unleashes the power of the Holy Spirit, drawing those who are searching, those who are yearning to grow toward God together. Being a witness to the mighty power of the Spirit I can testify to the fact that the Spirit is moving in our schools. I have been blessed to minister to the children through weekly gatherings in our gym under the auspices of “Hymn Sing” – a time of preparation for our school liturgical life – through song, scripture, and prayer. The tiny seeds that are sown grow in places and in ways that are surprising and lovely to behold.
It was after a long weekend that a grade 3 student came running toward me in the hallway one bright Monday morning. “Mme, I have to talk to you. I had a dream last night and God wants us to have a Jesus Club at our school. I know that I love Jesus and I know that there are other kids who love Jesus too, but Mme, I don’t know who they are! We need to have a place, we need to have a time where we can find those kids and talk about this. Can you help?”
This was the beginning of our school’s Jesus Club – an idea inspired by the Holy Spirit through the enthusiasm and energy of a child who wished to live her faith authentically. Throughout that school year, 108 students, one third of our school’s population, journeyed through our lunchtime Jesus Club, growing through scripture, prayer and games to walk more closely with Our Lord.
The following school year we began, through our Hymn Sing time, to explore how to live the corporal works of mercy as a response to that year’s faith theme “Knock and the door will be opened.” The call for us to care for the needs of the poor, the need of the sick, the needs of those who are enslaved resonated deeply with the students, especially with one boy. An idea began brewing within him. A call to action soon followed. He harnessed the energy and enthusiasm of 5 of his school mates, and they formed “Little Saints: the corporal works of mercy in action”. These children championed one bottle drive each month to raise money for the St. Vincent de Paul Society, the Mustard Seed, and Feed the Hungry before COVID closed our schools last year. Through their promotion of each bottle drive, they spoke to the student body, made posters, counted, and sorted bottles and made hundreds of friendship pins and bracelets as rewards for participants.
These children who receive the Word with such loving fervor are examples to us all. They are the fertile ground on which the good seed falls and bears fruit. Their openness to the power of the Holy Spirit inspires their actions and forming tomorrow’s leaders. I am privileged to work with children every day in our Catholic schools. Their enthusiasm serves to inspire us to become like little children who receive the Word wholeheartedly and run with abandon into the vineyard of the Lord – helping His Kingdom come.
I’ve always been enthralled with the simplicity of the Christian dynamic summed up in two words: “come” and “go”. Christ’s call to his disciples and in fact to each one of us Christians is an invitation from Christ “come, follow me”. After living the experience and encounter with Christ, the disciples were commanded to “go and preach to all nations”. Simple but not exactly easy.
When I came as pastor to Sacred Heart Church in Calgary the image of Christ’s beating heart has been an inspiration for the mission and work of our parish church. One paragraph in Pope Francis’ address to participants in the Pilgrimage of Catechists on the occasion of the Year of Faith struck me as pertinent to our church:
I am one with Jesus and I go forth to encounter others. If one of these movements is missing, the heart no longer beats, it can no longer live. The heart of the catechist receives the gift of the kerygma, and in turn offers it to others as a gift. What a little word: “gift”! The catechist is conscious of having received a gift, the gift of faith, and he or she then gives that gift in turn to others. This is something beautiful. We don’t keep a percentage for ourselves! Whatever we receive, we give! This is not commerce! It is not a business! It is pure gift: a gift received and a gift given. And the catechist is right there, at the centre of this exchange of gifts. That is the nature itself of the kerygma: it is a gift that generates mission, that compels us to go beyond ourselves….And so it is: love attracts us and sends us; it draws us in and gives us to others. This tension marks the beating of the heart of the Christian, especially the heart of the catechist. Let us all ask ourselves: Is this what causes my heart to beat as a catechist, union with Christ and encounter with others? With this movement of “systole and diastole”? Are we being fed by our relationship with the Lord, so that we can bring him to others, and not to keep it for ourselves? (Address of Pope Francis, 27 September 2013)
I felt convinced that our church had to bring that same dynamic of a beating heart to all who walks through our doors. Next we had to develop a pathway of evangelization for our work and we based it off of the chambers of the heart. Hospitality is the entry, discipleship and spiritual formation is the second chamber, worship is the height and most important chamber and last is sending out to evangelize. So our parishioners are encouraged to be drawn into this pathway of Christ’s heart.
Of course the pandemic has impacted our ability and forced us to do things in different ways. It has definitely been a challenging time but I believe that the need and opportunities for evangelization are greater now that when the pandemic began. It still highlights the simplicity of the Christian call to enter Christ’s heart and allow him to send us forth.
Jesus, gentle and humble of heart, touch our hearts and make them like your own.
Your priests are exhausted – like everyone else I suspect. It is a form of spiritual tiredness that comes when fathers are not able to be with their families as they wish. Certainly, it is tiring to care for a family, but then again, there is a gift of life that flows from being with your family as you care for them. Those fathers (and mothers) who labour in foreign countries to send back remittance monies to support their families know one thing for sure: phone calls and Facetime are just not enough. The priests of Calgary confronted this during the pandemic year because they are not “pious bureaucrats but pastors” (Pope Benedict’s phrase) – and they miss their family-flock. Yet they also know whose priests they are: Jesus Christ’s – and the Eucharistic Lord has never abandoned them.
It was my surpassing honour to be invited by these very priests to lead them in a retreat in these – pray God! – waning days of the Pandemic. I wrote them a note:
Do you remember the beginning of this annus horribilis? Celebrating the Easter mysteries with a few people in Church. Scrambling to find ways to render virtual that which is essentially incarnational – the Eucharist. Worrying about pastoral care and meeting payroll. Who can forget the Holy Father’s solitary Urbi et Orbi prayer for the end of the pandemic? His words still challenge: “We find ourselves afraid and lost in this time to choose what matters and what passes away, a time to separate what is necessary from what is not. It’s a time to get our lives back on track with regard to you, Lord, and to others,” And so it goes on month after month. Even the most introvert of us priests have been stretched thin by the dual experience of isolation from our people and still bearing the burden of their stress. As in all times of challenge, the best and the worst of people emerged: politics and medicine divided our communities. And what about each of us? In this Retreat we will support each other as every morning we reflect on the challenge of the Holy Father’s solitary Urbi et Orbi prayer for the end of the pandemic: “We find ourselves afraid and lost in this time to choose what matters and what passes away, a time to separate what is necessary from what is not. It’s a time to get our lives back on track with regard to you, Lord, and to others.”
What can one new parish priest say to such a crew of faithful ministers? Hopefully, only what Jesus wants him say. I think it is always just a variation of Christ looking a priest in the eye saying, “You are my priest, and I love you.”
Looking a priest in the eye? Leading a retreat in pandemic times has a very strange quality: it is ‘virtual’. Conscious of a hundred pairs of priestly eyes, I could only see a checkerboard pattern of faces. But from the start as I sat and listened as they greeted each other joyfully I know that what was before me was not “virtual” at all – it was a quilt of servants of the sacraments woven by the Spirit. A quilt sustained by the prayers of God’s People in Calgary
What did the Spirit lead us to reflect on? Simply, that which is the very essence of a priest’s life: the Holy Eucharist. Indeed, we have not been able to celebrate the sacred mysteries with many others but we priests have still been able to meet our Eucharistic Lord daily. We long to respond to the longing of our people for Communion – but we also are called to respond to the intimate longing that the Lord has for each of His priests.
Did you know that there are certain prayers in the Ritual of the Mass that a priest says quietly – or to use an old phrase “secretly”? For example, as he purifies the vessels from which he has just partaken of the Body and Blood of Christ the priest whispers, “What has passed our lips as food, O Lord, may we possess in purity of heart, that what has been given to us in time may be our healing for eternity”. Every Friday morning those who pray the Divine Office recite Psalm 51 and say, “then in the secret of my heart teach me wisdom”. What is the wisdom of these intimate or “secret” prayers? This was the theme we explored in the Lord. And the Lord was gracious as He always is.
Retreats are not ever times of running away from reality – no that would be Netflix and YouTube. In a retreat one runs into the heart of reality – God’s heart. It is not a time for pious words or flowery ideas – but for the Word that meets our reality. That is what the Eucharist is: our offering of the reality of our lives to God and God giving us the Real Presence of His Son. The questions were real and raw: how do live with chaos as the rhythm of life is turned upside down? What will priesthood look like after this immersion in a separated virtual society? It seems like priests are both under a microscope and yet marginalized like the Church – where are we being led?
To the Eucharist – always to this source of our very being. And we found in the secret prayers of the answer of Jesus, “Do not be afraid, it is I”.
Catholic Pastoral Centre Staff and Guest Writers