The lineup for a free hot meal organized by the Diocese of Calgary often begins an hour before the doors to St. Mary’s Parish Hall open at 3:30 p.m. Rain or shine, wind or snow, people come by the hundreds. Most arrive on foot, some aided by canes or walkers. Others come alone. The adults will all take a seat beside others gathered at the long communal tables, but some will never speak.
Those with children walk around to the hall’s back entrance. Pushing strollers, carrying toddlers, holding the hands of shy children and smiling at the antics of tweens and teens, they will be seated in the family section of the weekly supper known as Feed the Hungry (FTH). At one dinner held this past summer, a young mother travelled 90 minutes—taking three city buses—for the opportunity to take her three boys out for a meal. Illness keeps her from working. Her boys keep her from giving into despair.
Faith, hope and charity
A modern-day version of the Christmas story plays out near St. Mary’s Cathedral nearly every Sunday night of the year. Here, the menu includes a hot meal served alongside a good helping of faith, hope and charity.
A downtown Calgary institution since 1994, FTH welcomes as many as 500 people to its Sunday suppers. The event gives many of its guests temporary respite from emergency shelters. They are joined by parents with low income who welcome a break from meals made with items found in emergency food hampers; seniors parenting grandchildren; single people, couples and families couch-surfing through their wait for affordable housing; working parents for whom a couple of days off work to nurse a sick child means the month’s pay cheque no longer covers rent and food. Other guests may like to sleep “rough,” but welcome a tasty hot meal made and served by kind people.
Across the room from the family tables sit the less-than-sober. Every guest, regardless of age or situation, will receive table-side service of salad, a hot meal, beverages and desserts. Guests are welcome to ask for seconds and it’s not uncommon for the volunteer servers to step in when they see a young eater who’s not happy about the night’s fare. “Your little boy doesn’t like tonight’s entrée? Let me check with the chef. We’ll find him something.”
For a few hours once a week, there is always room at this inn.
It takes a village
Every FTH meal is sponsored by a parish, company or community group, says Program Manager Sartre Jean-Gilles. Sponsors donate $5,000 and agree to supply up to 100 volunteers. To keep everything running smoothly, another set of regular volunteers serve as Team Leads and oversee specific stations. The menu is managed by other rotating teams of volunteer cooks. Some cooking teams are organized around parish links. Others are staffed by groups of friends.
Bishop William McGrattan likes the way FTH garners widespread community support. While many of its benefactors are Catholic, others participate simply because they seek to serve the less fortunate. The Bishop is also a fan of how FTH enables children to serve alongside their parents.
On Dec. 16, an anonymous sponsor will treat dinner guests to live entertainment. Each of the diners will also receive a $10 gift card for a fast food restaurant. Those cards were donated by parishioners, FTH sponsors, vendors and volunteers.
Watching the first group of diners enter the hall, one of the Dec. 9 volunteers smiles. He’s been here before and he’s pleased to be back. “I’ve learned not to judge.” He doesn’t need to know why his guests are there. He’s just grateful they have a place to come.
Written by: Joy Gregory
In the Christmas story of the birth of Jesus the names of the historical figures Caesar Augustus, Quirinius and Herod stand out. These men do not enter into the manger scene. They generally escape our imagination and interest, even if they played significant roles in the ruling Roman Empire. Yet the Evangelist, St. Luke, makes a special effort to link them to the birth of Jesus. The references to these men ground the events of the Gospels in world history. They emphasize the point that the birth of Jesus really happened, and it happened at a specific point in time, around the time of these rulers of the Roman Empire. So the birth of Jesus is more than just a heart-warming story. It is a world event.
The names of Augustus, Quininius and Herod also hold a different, far greater significance in light of the Nativity of Christ. Some years ago at the Synod on the Word of God a recent Holy Father indicated that the birth of Jesus is not simply another world event, but the event that gives meaning to all events. He states:
“The history of salvation is not a small event, on a poor planet, in the immensity of the universe. It is not a minimal thing, which happens by chance on a lost planet. It is the motive for everything, the motive for creation. Everything is created so that this story can exist, the encounter between God and his creature.”
When we celebrate Christmas and hear the account of the birth of Christ, may we be fully aware of how this is not just one more event in world history. It is the climax that gives meaning to our lives, our actions and our events, as it does for all peoples and all times.
By: Fr. John Kohler
The liturgical year in the West begins with the Season of Advent on the Sunday closest to the feast of St. Andrew on November 30 and lasts about four weeks until the eve of Christmas. The word Advent means “coming” and as St. Bernard of Clairvaux explains:
We know that there are three comings of the Lord . . .
The first and second “comings” are visible. The third “coming” actually comes between the first and second, like a road on which we travel from the first coming to the last, is invisible, and is where St. Bernard focuses our attention for the season of Advent.
The intermediate coming is a hidden one; in it only the elect see the Lord within their own selves, and they are saved. . . Because this coming lies between the other two, it is like a road on which we travel from the first coming to the last. In the first, Christ was our redemption; in the last, he will appear as our life; in this middle coming, he is our rest and consolation.
The birth of Jesus and the End Times are two dramatic events. Yet we live out our discipleship in the time and space between. As St. Bernard explains, the “middle coming” of Jesus is hidden; it takes place deep within each one of us as we progress along our spiritual journey. In stark contrast to the sensory overload we experience in commercial culture during this season, the liturgical character of Advent cultivates the stillness and quiet that enables us to experience Jesus as our rest and consolation in this middle coming. While we do well to remember our redemption by commemorating the birth of Jesus and to express our faith that Christ will come again, Advent invites us to prepare our spiritual lives and hearts to receive Jesus within ourselves.
By: Dr. Simone Brosig
In the cold and dark days of our January and February, there are three feasts accompanied by sacramentals that especially help us to bring the light of Christ into our lives and to know that God is with us in a very personal way throughout the year.
• Blessings and Prayers Through the Year: A Resource for School, Parish, and Home, Elizabeth McMahon Jeep
• Blessings and Prayers for Home and Family, Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops
By: Dr. Simone Brosig
Catholic Pastoral Centre Staff and Guest Writers