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
With a servant’s heart, Joseph Gingco was pleased to help run the audio-visual equipment when his parish hosted an information meeting about the permanent diaconate back in 2013. Joseph, who has a Bachelor of Computer Science degree from the Philippines, knew his skills would prove helpful. Besides that, the life-long Catholic was curious about the topic.
Five years later, one of Calgary’s newest deacons believes God used that opportunity to serve to answer one of his prayers.
"I will seek you"
What do you get when three bishops sit down for a chat?
It sounds like the start to a terrible joke, doesn’t it? But the delegates of One Rock 2.0 got exactly that: Three bishops: Bishop McGrattan of the Diocese of Calgary, Archbishop Richard Smith of the Edmonton Archdiocese, and Archbishop Gerard Pettipas of the Archdiocese of Grouard-Maclennan sitting poised on couches, as if in our very own living rooms, not only to be heard but to hear us in a panel discussion.
“I think our bishops were surprised by what they heard,” said Fr. Cristino Bouvette who acted as moderator for the panel. But it was with compassion and sincerity that the three responded to some fairly tough questions.
We are a crowd of over 600 young adults. I recognize men and women who are just beginning university and young professionals deep into careers. I say hello to married friends who, like myself, have started to raise children. I get the sense that this is a crowd of people who are deeply invested in the Catholic faith; many of them “retreat veterans” as attendee Joey Lafleur aptly put it; people who’ve fully accepted the role of sheep following the Good Shepherd; people who are looking for real answers from those called to lead us amidst doubt, horror and confusion at what is happening to our beloved Church; people who are reaching deep into the roots of the Church and to the core of our beliefs and traditions looking for food. In conversations with some of these people, I got the sense that this panel of Bishops, those given the task of shepherds, was going to be one of the most important moments of the One Rock 2.0 experience.
The bishops spoke on a myriad of topics, but most of the discussion centered around the scandal of abuse within the Church; on the desire in some young people for more tradition and reverence in the Mass and the Church as a whole; and on our call to live as witnesses to Christ in an ever-changing and sometimes confused society.
On Systemic Abuse and Scandal in the Church
The recent report from the grand jury in Pennsylvania has rippled like a shockwave into the minds and hearts of Catholics everywhere. Even I, a self-professed news junkie, find myself turning off and shutting out these stories because it makes me seethe inside that the Church I am raising my children to love has this ugliness within it. We want to be able to trust our bishops and priests and know that they are acting, not just giving speeches and hoping we’ll get over it. The panel discussion gave me a sliver of hope as I heard humble words calling me and everyone else to continue in faith.
“The world wants us to respond in an authentic and credible way,” said Bishop McGrattan, “but it will take all of the Church – not just the bishops, not just the priests, but all of the Church to remain faithful and allow ourselves to become purified.”
He continued to say that the work of the bishops now is to “allow the silence that was there in the Church to be broken, so that those who’ve experienced abuse can speak and that the healing can continue.”
As I meandered through the crowd trying to get a sense of other’s feelings on the answers from the bishops, I asked Robyn Pashula, attending from Calgary, what she thought.
“They answered very honestly, and you could’ve heard a pin drop as they were speaking vulnerably about the effects of scandals.”
It was in this sentiment that Archbishop Smith responded to a question about the abuse allegations saying “there’s a particular horror when [abuse] takes place inside of the Church, and we need to acknowledge that. We need to study that deeply.”
He said he thought that the loss of understanding of human sexuality and how it is to be lived according to God’s design is a contributing factor, together with abuse of power and conscience in the abuse that has taken place not only in the Church but in society as a whole.
“Because this issue is of such gravity, we need to be striving to understand it fully,” he said.
Drawing from past experience, Archbishop Pettipas also had something to add,
“A number of years ago – this has come up very recently but we’ve been facing this for a long time in Canada – I spent first years of ministry in St. John’s, Newfoundland. Some of you might have heard of the Mount Cashel orphanage, or of the priests in that archdiocese who were found guilty of numerous counts of despicable behaviour towards young children.
“In those days people would say to me ‘Father, how can this be stopped?’ And one of my answers – and it may sound a bit facetious – but I would say, ‘When we stop ordaining human beings, then this will stop.’
“It’s because we are sinful human beings, called to holiness, but still sinful. This is where it comes from.”
He pointed out that never before have we understood the impact of sexual abuse like we do today. Referring to the #MeToo movement – thousands of people who are speaking out about sexual harassment and abuse, many of whom have been living in silence until 2018 – he said that we are now being challenged to make some real and lasting changes, not only in our Church, but in our culture as a whole.
The bishop and archbishops gave every indication that their work to be good leaders and stop horrific abuses within the Church will be ongoing and that the dialogue will be continuous.
On Traditional Practices in the Church
There is and always has been diversity within the Church when it comes to style of worship and preference of liturgical practice. During the Mass celebrated by Bishop McGrattan that day, I could see living examples across a spectrum with both chapel veils and raised hands during song, and while those things are small indicators of the different types present, the questions for the Bishops came primarily from young people who could be described as having more traditional leanings.
In making their deep desire for more Latin Mass and solemn liturgies known, I got the impression that many of these young men and women have often felt cast aside or out of place for their love of traditional worship within our faith, while still others who may prefer more contemporary forms of worship look on with puzzlement about the desire for the “smells and bells.”
“Don’t be feeling like a dweeb!” Archbishop Smith assured them, going on to say that in the Mass, “you’re rooted in tradition, you’re rooted in truth and you discover the truth of who we are, the beloved children of God, and the more that our liturgy can express that ritually, the more attractive it becomes.”
He said that he has seen a “very pervasive existential angst that is gripping the lives, the minds, the hearts of people today.”
He said he’s been hearing from young people who are looking to find their identity, which is a confusing thing with the messages we’re getting from all around us today. This is why, he said, the Church is a place of refuge.
“We’re not called to create [our identity], it’s a given. We’re children of God,” he said firmly.
This could be why for some; the liturgical practices that were the norm in our grandparents’ and great-grandparents’ era have sparked something in the hearts and minds of some of our generation. When our identity as individuals is forever in question, the Church gives us the sacraments, the Mass, and the rich traditions of the ages. The tangible signs of God’s grace upon us in the context of beautiful music, and reverent ritual are not to be found anywhere else.
The discussion on liturgical practice and preference is ongoing in the Church, but as I talked to a small circle of young men and women who could be described as having more traditional leanings, there was a sense of hope in mulling over the words of our Bishops, who heard their genuine longings with open ears.
On Living Out Our Faith Authentically
In his opening remarks, Archbishop Pettipas quoted St. Peter saying, “Always be ready to tell others the cause of your joy,” when he spoke to us about the kind of evangelization we should enact. Throughout their time with us, we heard again and again that we are not to be passive, but active and authentic in times that are good, and even in times where confusion and hopelessness seem to reign.
“What I’m taking away from today is that I am church, and that whatever I do will contribute to it,” said Robyn Pashula.
It is that question, “what can I do?” that we all ask ourselves in the everyday, and in the difficult times. The first to ask a question to the panel, one young man recounted briefly that his good friend had taken his own life, and that he struggled to make sense of it.
“How do I move on from this?” he asked, also wondering simply, if his friend had gone to heaven.
“The Church has come to be more understanding and compassionate,” Bishop McGrattan answered, “That maybe the freedom that God gives us, and that maybe the full capacity of knowledge to know what to do and how to act -- that sometimes that is diminished in situations where people choose to take their life.”
I caught up with Spencer, the young man, so concerned for his friend’s soul and loved ones. Spencer is the only Catholic in his family (though his parents are supportive, he said) and so the loss of his friend, who had been an altar server and faithful Catholic himself was a huge blow.
I asked him if he was satisfied with Bishop McGrattan’s answer. “Yes,” he told me, then showed me the funeral card of his friend. I took a pause. Spencer and I agreed that Bishop McGrattan’s encouragement to persevere through these troubled times in faith was uplifting.
The bishop had encouraged us all that we can lift up the souls of the faithful departed and continue to believe in the mercy of God. Adding that through persevering in acts of faith, we can be witnesses to Christ’s mercy in these difficult circumstances.
Fathers in Faith
When introducing the Bishops to us, Father Cristino referred to a beautiful part of the Mass when a concelebrating priest asks the bishops’ blessing prior to reading the gospel; it is in asking this blessing that priest addresses the Bishops as “Father”. In that spirit, he went on to say that he hoped we could think of our bishop and archbishops as father figures too.
As they answered with honesty the questions of the day, and indeed as they continue the task of shepherding Alberta’s Catholic Church, they admit to being human beings who depend on God’s grace to serve us. In their concluding messages, each man, pledging to continue in service to us, the Church, asked for our prayers, and prayed for us.
“I pray that the acts of faith that come upon you each day might be strengthened through this gathering,” said Bishop McGrattan in his homily at Mass, “so that your lives might become a full and authentic witness of Christ.”
In 1964 at the close of the third session of the Second Vatican Council, Blessed Paul VI bestowed upon Mary the title “Mother of the Church”. It is no accident that the Council chose to situate its discussion of Mary in the Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium. In chapter eight of this document the Council affirms its special love for Mary due to her role in salvation history and instructs the Church to look to Mary as an example of what it means to be a redeemed person. By meditating on Mary in light of the Word made flesh, the Church enters more intimately into the mystery of the Incarnation and becomes more like Christ. Mary is “the model of virtues”; in contemplating her holiness, imitating her charity, and in receiving the word of God in faith, the Church herself becomes a mother.2
In 1975 the Apostolic See proposed a votive Mass in honour of the Blessed Mary Mother of the Church, which has since been inserted into the Roman Missal, and is the basis of the new liturgical celebration. The Gospel passage for the Mass, from the Gospel of John 19:25 – 27, takes place at the foot of the Cross:
When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, ‘Woman, here is your son.’ Then he said to the disciple, ‘Here is your mother.’ And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home.
Mary is simultaneously present in the Church as the Mother of Christ and as the Mother that Christ gave to humanity in the person of the beloved disciple, John.3
Tradition holds that Mary prayed with the apostles in the upper room awaiting the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost that gave birth to the Church. The members of this Church are the Body of Christ and united with Christ their Head they share the same mother, Mary. It is fitting that Pope Francis has chosen the following day to commemorate Mary’s motherly care of the pilgrim Church on earth. The new celebration reflects a maturation of liturgical veneration of Mary that “will help us to remember that growth in the Christian life must be anchored to the Mystery of the Cross, to the oblation of Christ in the Eucharistic Banquet and to the Mother of the Redeemer and Mother of the Redeemed, the Virgin who makes her offering to God.”4
By: Simone Brosig, Ph.D | Director of Liturgy
Catholic Pastoral Centre Staff and Guest Writers