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Sr. Cecily Graves' Funeral Homily

Funeral for Sr. Cecily Graves | 2017 - All Souls Day

By Bishop Emeritus Frederick Henry

For a Catholic, with the Feasts of All Saints/Souls it would be hard to pick a better time for a funeral.

For some time now, scientists have been sending signals into the cosmos, hoping for a response from some intelligent being on some lost planet.Even if inhabitants outside of the solar system existed, communication with them would be impossible, because between the question and the answer, millions of years would pass.

The Church has always maintained a dialogue with the inhabitants of another world -- the saints. That is what we proclaim when we say, "I believe in the communion of the saints." Here, though, the answer is immediate because there is a common centre of communication and encounter, and that is the risen Christ.

We are like the embryo in the womb of a mother yearning to be born. The saints have been "born" - the liturgy refers to the day of death as "the day of birth." To contemplate the saints is to contemplate our destiny. All around us, nature strips itself and the leaves fall, but meanwhile, the feasts of the saints/souls invite us to gaze on high; it reminds us that we are not destined to wither on this earth forever, like the leaves, or to be covered up by snow.

Sr. Cecily’s Funeral reminds us that our bodies will one day give out. Somewhere, sometime, sooner or later, we will experience the startling reality of death. Then what? Is it all over for the individual? Nothing but extinction, absolute silence, darkness? Will there be no more love, no more joy, no more laughter?

Jesus assures us that there is a future for us. He has personally walked ahead of us through the doors of death and came back and say there is light, love and laughter and rejoicing in the presence of God.

Our funeral liturgy reminds us of Job:  “For I know that my Redeemer lives, and that at the last he will stand upon the earth; and after my skin has been destroyed, then in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see on my side, ....”

Listen again to the consoling words of Scripture:
Paul to the Corinthians: “Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died... and then at his coming those who belong in Christ”.

John 12:26: “Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am. There will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honour.”

Instead of looking back at Sr. Cecily’s life, we all bring to this celebration so many memories of her, and various experiences and events, and it would be easy to fall into a nostalgia-like experience but I tried to imagine what she would say to us today and here is what I came up with. 

Sr. Cecily might very well say: The first thing to do would to overcome our indifference and insensitivity to the poor. What we are to do for them in practice can be summed up in three words: love,  help, and evangelize.

  1. Love the poor. Loving the poor means first of all respecting them and recognizing their dignity. Francis of Assisi would remind us that they are not simply our "fellow men" or our "neighbours": they are our brothers and sisters!
  2. The duty of loving and respecting the poor is followed by that of helping them. It is not about getting angry with God in face of the misery of the world, but angry with ourselves."Oh God, where are you? Why don't you do something for that innocent creature?" But an inner voice replies: "I have done something -I created you!"  Sr. Cecily, from time to time, would came to my office with a tale of woe from near or far and say : “Bishop, what are you going to do about it?” I would say - good issue, bad question - “What are we going to do about it?”
  3. Finally, evangelize the poor. This was the mission that Jesus recognized as his own par excellence - reading from the scroll of Isaiah:”The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor." The poor man does not live on bread alone but also on hope, and on every word that comes from God's mouth.

Her imagined words are not surprising as they are based in the Franciscan tradition: Quote from a letter of St Francis of Assisi  - the Office of Readings for October 4. “Furthermore, let us produce worthy fruits of penance. Let us also love our neighbours as ourselves. Let us have charity and humility. Let us give alms because these cleanse our souls from the stains of sin. Men lose all the material things they leave behind them in this world, but they carry with them the reward of their charity and the alms they give. For these they will receive from the Lord the reward and recompense they deserve. We must not be wise and prudent according to the flesh. Rather we must be simple, humble and pure. We should never desire to be over others. Instead, we ought to be servants who are submissive to every human being for God's sake. The Spirit of the Lord will rest on all who live in this way and persevere in it to the end. He will permanently dwell in them. They will be the Father's children who do his work. They are the spouses, brothers and mothers of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Praying for those who have died should be a quiet fondness for them before the Lord. We pray for Cecily today with a quiet fondness.

Remembering our departed loved ones like that, praying for them, keeps us in ongoing communion with them. We believe that they are with the Lord, who is also with us in this life.

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A Fond Farewell to Sr. Liz

Sister Elizabeth Lynch has been a member of the Sisters of St. Ursula of the Chatham Union for 63 years. Growing up in what is now called the district of Cliff Bungalow, she attended Holy Angels Elementary and Junior High School and St. Mary’s Girls’ High School in Calgary. Since her profession and training to be a teacher, she has been missioned to Ridgetown, ON, Rockyford, AB, and Edmonton. She taught elementary grades over a course of 19 years and then moved into pastoral ministry in Stratford, ON, Drumheller, AB and Calgary. In Calgary she also served as a diocesan chaplain in long term care and worked with AHS in Chaplaincy at the Alberta Children’s Hospital.

It was 1921 when the first Ursuline Sisters came to the Diocese at the request of Bishop McNally. Two were from the USA, one from Chatham, ON and a postulant was from Toronto. The superior was Sr. Angela Sidley. The order was independent of other Ursuline communities and was officially called Calgary Ursulines, a corporation unto themselves. They established the first English speaking novitiate in Western Canada.

The Sisters taught in St. Anne’s, Holy Angels and Sacred Heart Schools and in later years at St. Charles, St. Paul, Forest Lawn, St. Margaret’s and St. Francis High schools. They also had a music school in Calgary. In 1929, they were asked to send Sisters to Rockyford. There they taught at St. Rita’s and had boarders from the country during the week.

In 1934, the Calgary Ursulines were amalgamated with the Chatham Union of Ursulines. Young women who entered from the West travelled to Chatham for their religious formation. The Sisters in our diocese opened a convent in Drumheller in 1935 to respond to the bishop’s request for social workers in that town. They also taught music and kindergarten. For many years Ursulines gave catechism classes to students of public schools on Saturdays and did the same in various country places during the summers.

Sr. Elizabeth, the last Ursuline of Chatham in our diocese, will be leaving Calgary in mid-November. We thank Sister and all of her congregation who so generously served southern Alberta.

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Trails to Mount Saint Francis Retreat Centre

SEPTEMBER 18, 2016: The day began with a 3 km walk down the hill to Mount St. Francis. I don’t believe the conversation has changed much over the years from the original pilgrimages to the Holy Land. People talked about their families, about their friends, their health, politics and they talked about the beauty of nature as they walked to the Mount. They also talked about God, about how lucky they were to be healthy enough to walk and to have all of their senses to experience the beauty around them. This was a wonderful way to start off the day. I think St. Francis would have applauded.

The second annual Trails to the Mount was under the canopy of an Alberta blue sky, a mostly sunny day with very few raindrops. The surroundings of nature and animals were present to show how beautiful our environment is with the creatures we share it with. Saint Francis’ life was one of service, and it exemplifies love of all creation and our responsibilities to care for it.

In the spirit of ecumenism, Catholic Bishop Fred Henry and Anglican Archbishop Greg Kerr-Wilson with Britton Mockridge, Susan Campbell and the friars relayed stories and scriptural readings sharing Pope Francis’ commitment to protecting the environment and helping the marginalized no matter how difficult the task. They stressed the ongoing need for compassion, caring and outreach to those who are hurting among us. They encouraged groups such as ours–Mount Saint Francis Friars and the Order of Saint Lazarus–to continue their work together, and as individuals, to make a difference in the world and to join with other Christians with an ecumenical spirit. The music by Carrie Monk and Carrie Stoesz brought scriptural truths to life through singing All Creatures of God and King as well as the chosen prayer of the United Nations a few years ago, The Prayer of Saint Francis. The words of this song put the day into a crystal clear reality for all – we know what we have to do.

The day proceeded with the blessing of the animals. We could see how the people who attended showed love and care to their animals. The reverence they showed was very evident as they approached the friar performing the blessing. Some of the older people said that their animal helps them to exercise and reduces their feelings of isolation. As many Catholic/Christian celebrations are associated with great food and refreshments, Mr. Martin Doyle’s food wagon continued this age old tradition with humour, service and caring.

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace... ~ St. Francis

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A Day of Mercy and Vocations Discernment

Vocations to the religious life might seem to have been dwindling in recent decades, but we appear to be in a new springtime of interest now. Several young women attended a recent Lenten vocations retreat at St. Joseph’s parish in Calgary, adding to the growing evidence that young people are still drawn to an experience of living the life of Christ in today’s world. Woven throughout the day was the theme of Thirsting for Mercy, and the 10 discerners had a chance to interact with several Sisters from various religious communities within the Diocese.

The day kicked off with Mass, followed by a Scriptural reflection on Isaiah 55. Next was a presentation by Fr. Luan Pho, a Dominican priest, who graciously shared his faith journey: From the poverty of a post-Vietnam War life to that of a ridiculed immigrant in the United States, to finding merciful love and acceptance in a youth group at his local parish. This loving acceptance eventually led him to consider the priesthood, enflaming in him the desire to share God’s love and mercy with others in the way he had experienced them.

Once the discerners had a chance to meet and talk in small groups, the morning continued with a musical interlude. Songs and hymns that focused on the theme of God’s infinite mercy were played and sung, such as There is a Wideness in God’s Mercy, and a beautiful recording of Cece Winans’ Mercy Said “No.”

For the second half of the day’s proceedings, the retreatants listened to and shared their thoughts on the story of the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well, and how Jesus’ merciful approach transformed her life.

After viewing What is a Vocation? by Fr. Mike Schmitz, the participants assembled in groups of two or three to engage in eight-minute sessions with each of the religious communities in attendance. They had an opportunity to learn about the charisms of the communities along with personal stories of the Sisters.  Present for the retreat were Sisters of Providence, Dominicans, Seeds of the Word, Faithful Companions of Jesus, Franciscan Sisters of St. Elizabeth, Franciscan Missionaries of Mary, and the Society in the Image of the Triune God.

The day concluded with the Chaplet of Divine Mercy, along with an opportunity for receiving the sacrament of reconciliation. Feedback from the participants was both positive and encouraging, giving the Vocations Planning Committee responsible for the event valuable information for future vocations events.

Young women considering a vocation to religious life are encouraged to contact Sr. Lucille Field, S.I.T.G., at (403) 461-1094 or email lucille.field@calgarydiocese.ca and visit the ­Facebook page at facebook.com/AveMariaDiscernmentHouse.

Additional events will also be announced on the Calgary Vocations Retreat Facebook page, found at facebook.com/calgaryvocationsretreat.

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