May is the month in which we traditionally honor Mary, the mother of Jesus. She is the woman most recognized in our Church and many devotions such as the rosary are dedicated to her. I often used to ask myself, ”Why is it so important to get to know Mary?” I have come to know that there are many reasons, but the reason that resonates with me most is her ability to remain faithful to God through thick and thin.
She had many trials in her life. Growing up in Palestine under the Roman occupation, young women were often under threat from the violence and power that was exerted by the Roman occupiers. In addition, there was a moral standard that often put women in a very fragile situation. Mary experienced this in a personal way when she accepted through faith to be the Mother of God. She accepted, knowing that her pregnancy would look very ambiguous. She took a leap of faith.
That faith sustained her as she had to travel nine months pregnant to Bethlehem with Joseph, ending up giving birth in a cave or stable. This same faith in God helped her to bring up her son, Jesus, only to let him go at thirty years old to become an itinerant preacher, because this was his calling. She watched him be flogged and crucified, powerless to help him other than to accompany him as he walked those final hours. She knew extreme emotional pain. Mary must have asked often, “Why this Lord?” The Gospels tell us that she held to her faith. Mary remains for me a person to turn to for comfort when times get rough. She has been there.
But Mary also knew joy and expressed it when she could. The beautiful Magnificat that she proclaimed to her cousin, Elizabeth, testifies to that joy. In the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, one of the meditations speaks about Mary meeting Jesus after the resurrection. This would have been a joyful moment for her to finally meet her son again. Her gratitude to God serves to remind us that God bestows blessings on us even in difficult times.
Do you have a favorite story about Mary? What in her life resonates with your life today? I invite you to come to discover her and how she remained a woman of faith.
There is a story about a traveler who came upon three individuals working with stone. Curious as to what the workers were doing with the stones, the traveler approached the first worker and asked, “What are you doing with these stones?” Grumpily and without hesitation the worker quickly responded, “I am a stonecutter and I am cutting stones.”
Not satisfied with this answer, the traveler approached the second worker and asked, “What are you doing with these stones?” The second worker paused for a moment, sighed, but smiled a little and then explained, “I am a stonecutter and I am trying to make enough money to support my family.”
Having two different answers to the same question, the traveler made his way to the third worker and asked, “What are you doing with these stones?” The third worker stopped what he was doing, bringing his chisel to his side. He looked at the traveler with a beaming smile on his face and declared, “I am a stonecutter and I am building a cathedral.”
I believe that St. Joseph as the earthly father of Jesus would have been like the cathedral builder. He taught Jesus the value of good workmanship, hope for a better day and love for others. He was preparing a young man for the future.
Can we become « cathedral builders ?» Are we striving to be better people through our work? At the end of the day, the following questions may be helpful:
Does my work give me life?
Did I bring hope to someone in my work today?
Can I show charity even to those that I find difficult to work with?
Did I make an effort to associate with people who encourage me in faith, hope or love?
Can I permit myself to take time for prayer and rest?
Cathedrals are slowly built by those who find meaning in their work.
This week, Montreal is hosting the Québec National Truth and Reconciliation event. From April 24 to 27 the public is invited to learn about and participate in part of the healing process of the aboriginal peoples traumatic experience of the residential schools.
From about the 1870′s right until the 1970′s, the Canadian government installed a system of schooling for the aboriginal peoples whereby the children were taken away from their families and placed in boarding schools often very far from their families and villages. These schools were mostly operated by different religious denominations such as the Roman Catholic, Anglican, United and Presbyterian churches. The trauma lived by the children and their families as well as the abuse that was sometimes experienced is understandably a source of great pain to these communities.
The Truth and Reconciliation commission has been hosted in several cities in the past few years in an effort to bring awareness, reconcile and heal the relations between the aboriginal peoples and the mainstream cultures. My experience of attending this event as a volunteer representing the Roman Catholic church has been very moving and informative. It has helped me to become aware of the impact that the residential schools had on the aboriginal communities and their people. This impact is still experienced today. We need dialogue and a furthering of mutual respect to better come to know each other.
As a Catholic, the recent canonization of Kateri Tekakwitha, is a further sign of the importance of the Aboriginal culture and spirituality to enhance our understanding of God and our faith. We all walk this path together, each contributing our experiences and cultural backgrounds. This is an important time in the history of our community and our faith.
The event is open to the public. Let me know what your experience has been at the event? I would love to hear your comments.
Saint Kateri Tekakwitha, be present to us during this time of listening and dialogue.
Last week, our city had a surprise return of winter that covered the city with a substantial amount of snow, enough to feel like spring had left us for a few days. I had planned to go to a retreat centre in the countryside for the weekend and when the weather networks began to predict the snow fall with dire warnings of a storm, I was beginning to question whether it was wise to go. Upon calling the retreat centre to ask about the weather and how the driving was, the sister assured me that all was well. I wanted to cancel, but I needed this retreat time alone.
Heading out onto the bridge going south, I anticipated the worst. But even though the weather was difficult, the traffic was smooth going and the highway was cleared enough to be able to drive safely. I started to relax and enjoy the drive. Upon arrival, only the driveway of the retreat centre was covered with deep snow, but it was manageable.
The snow fall had covered the area with a soft blanket of snow. As I parked, three deer were pawing through the snow to eat grass. I just sat and watched them and marvelled at the beauty of it all. During the weekend, I was able to walk on a snow-covered canopy of leaves as I followed a trail in the woods. The area was tranquil and my retreat time gave me the peace that I needed.
After going home, I thought about what would have happened if I had let myself be swayed by my fears of the weather. Although the snow tires were still on the car, the roads were fairly clear and the centre was only a half hour drive I was afraid of driving alone to a place that was not familiar to me. I had to push myself to go.
What did I learn? To not be afraid of an unexpected obstacle. The snow fall had made me nervous and yet it served to add and enhance the beauty of the place where I stayed. It truly deepened my experience of an encounter with God. But I had to let go of my fear and trust that God would be there.
Has it ever happened to you that you made plans for an event and an unexpected obstacle appeared? Did you encounter God in the process?
Have you made any plans yet for your summer vacation? Have you ever thought of taking a vacation with God? Last week I wrote about planning a pilgrimage, but another way to vacation with God is to take time for a retreat.
What does it mean to go on a retreat? A retreat is to take some time away from work, family obligations or even recreational activities to be present to God and how God might be present to me. As a young mother, taking time away from family was difficult as it meant finding a caregiver or finding money that could be set aside. But as my children got a few years older, I was thankfully able to take a day or two, especially a weekend to go away alone and focus on my relationship with God. Today, I am blessed to have the luxury of being able to leave for a longer period of time. This time is a great source of life for me. I come away refreshed and renewed, no matter what is happening in my life.
What kind of retreats can we take? Some people enjoy a retreat in which there are planned talks and periods of reflection and exchange. Other retreats are what we call silent retreats with different cloistered communities and you can participate in their scheduled liturgies and prayers. Often they will offer the service of one on one spiritual direction to guide you in your prayer life and maybe respond to different difficulties that you may be experiencing.
Most retreat centres are set in natural settings either near fields and woods or by the water. These settings help to bring us closer to nature and to offer space for reflection and contemplation. For me, walking in nature calms the spirit and helps me to set aside my preoccupations and listen to God speaking inside my heart.
What has been your experience of taking time for a retreat? Do you have a place to suggest? Are you looking for a place to go? Email me, I would like to hear your questions and ideas.
As we move into the spring, many of us start planning our summer holidays. But, have you ever thought of planning some downtime with God? For a few years now, I have tried to take anywhere from a few days to a week to reconnect with God and re-evaluate the year that has past. It helps me to re-center and see my life through the eyes of God.
Some people choose to take this time to go on a pilgrimage. A pilgrimage can be done in many ways. When I was a little girl, our family would go to St. Joseph’s Oratory for a day. In fact, when I have an important decision to make and I do not have the time nor money to go far, I will go there to take a time out and reflect and pray. Other traditional pilgrimage sites in Quebec include Ste. Anne de Beaupre, Cap de la Madelaine and Lac Bouchette. Others will visit the Holy Land or famous places such as Fatima in Spain or Lourdes in France where there have been apparitions of the Virgin Mary.
If a walking pilgrimage suits you, there is a walking pilgrimage between Guelph and Midlands, the site of the Jesuit martyrs. For something more exotic, there is the Santiago de Compostela which is a walking pilgrimage that has been practiced for centuries. Pilgrims can start at any point in various European countries to converge in the Pyrenees in Spain and then end in the famous St. James Cathedral in Spain.
Why a pilgrimage? How can it help us in our relationship with Jesus Christ? For those who practice this spiritual discipline, there is a reconnection with God as they journey to a holy place and walk with others who are also searching. Taking time to recenter can open our hearts to discovering something new. I have met people who would not consider themselves as Catholic, but when faced with a crisis or a turning point in their lives, they have gone on a pilgrimage to clear their heads and find themselves face-to-face with God and how He may be connecting with them.
What are your experiences of pilgrimage? Have you ever thought about taking one? Or do you know someone who has? Let me know what you think?
Here is a message from Pope Francis, drawn from his Easter homily.
Dear Brothers and Sisters, In the Gospel of this radiant night of the Easter Vigil, we first meet the women who go the tomb of Jesus with spices to anoint his body (cf. Lk 24:1-3). ….It is an event which leaves them perplexed, hesitant, full of questions: “What happened?”, “What is the meaning of all this?” (cf. Lk 24:4). Doesn’t the same thing also happen to us when something completely new occurs in our everyday life? We stop short, we don’t understand, we don’t know what to do. Newness often makes us fearful, including the newness which God brings us, the newness which God asks of us. We are like the Apostles in the Gospel: often we would prefer to hold on to our own security, to stand in front of a tomb, to think about someone who has died, someone who ultimately lives on only as a memory, like the great historical figures from the past. We are afraid of God’s surprises; we are afraid of God’s surprises! He always surprises us!
Let the risen Jesus enter your life, welcome him as a friend, with trust: he is life! If up till now you have kept him at a distance, step forward. He will receive you with open arms. If you have been indifferent, take a risk: you won’t be disappointed. If following him seems difficult, don’t be afraid, trust him, be confident that he is close to you, he is with you and he will give you the peace you are looking for and the strength to live as he would have you do.
There is one last little element that I would like to emphasize in the Gospel for this Easter Vigil. The women encounter the newness of God. Jesus has risen, he is alive! But faced with empty tomb and the two men in brilliant clothes, their first reaction is one of fear: “they were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground,” Saint Luke tells us – they didn’t even have courage to look. But when they hear the message of the Resurrection, they accept it in faith. On this radiant night, let us invoke the intercession of the Virgin Mary, who treasured all these events in her heart (cf. Lk 2:19,51) and ask the Lord to give us a share in his Resurrection. May he open us to the newness that transforms. May he make us men and women capable of remembering all that he has done in our own lives and in the history of our world. May he help us to feel his presence as the one who is alive and at work in our midst. And may he teach us each day not to look among the dead for the Living One. Amen.
Happy Easter Season!
During this Holy Week, let us remember another important Lenten practice, the practice of prayer. What is prayer? Prayer is the connecting of our hearts and minds to God. Prayer is the unique way in which we communicate with Him, each of us praying in our own way.
There are many forms of prayer, but for today, let’s talk about what is termed as personal prayer, that is, prayer on a one on one with God. I like to think of personal prayer as having a private conversation with God as a friend who loves me unconditionally and who desires what is the best for me.
So how to address God? To begin with, start by first thinking about how you see God working in your life. The most basic of Catholic prayers, called the Sign of the Cross is a good way to start. Here we pray to God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Each of these are very appropriate ways to begin to address the God of our Catholic faith. Or, we can address God through some of His attributes, such as God of Love, or God of Hope, depending on the attribute that we most associate with Him.
The next part of our prayer would be to speak of who God is for us. For example, We might say “Heavenly Father, who created us in His own image” or “Jesus our brother who redeemed us”. This helps us to name who God is for us.
The third element of our prayer would take the form of a request. Is there a special need that we have or a special problem that we would like God to help us with, or maybe we may ask Him to do something for someone else?
The last part of our prayer should finish with who we pray through such as “through Jesus Christ and with the Holy Spirit”
These four parts constitute a practice that is often used in Christian prayer. If we prefer to remember our traditional prayers such as the “Our Father” or the “Hail Mary”, all of these four parts are included.
Whatever you do decide to do, either to make your own prayer or to pray through a traditional prayer, what is most important is that you do pray.
God is waiting to hear from us, let us respond to his loving invitation.
There are so many things to say about Pope Francis, and much has been already said. Maybe too much! Certainly his opening gestures and homilies are genuine evidence of his superlative qualities as a spiritual father. And these qualities were apparently on full display from his time as Archbishop of Buenos Aires, Argentina. Here are some splendid pieces that delve a bit deeper than the typical media item on the latest occupant of St. Peter’s chair plus some words from Pope Francis himself. Enjoy!
1) In the Atlantic magazine: Slum Priests: Pope Francis’s Early Years
2) In Commonweal magazine: Pope Francis & the Junta (this piece is an important antidote to the New York Times-led campaign to discredit Francis over the past week)
3) Pope Francis’ inauguration homily – full text
Update: Pope Francis will visit prisoners and celebrate Mass with them – on Holy Thursday no less, according to this report.