I was away from home and from my husband when my miscarriage happened during my summer pastoral studies in Chicago. I remember answering the door to welcome a colleague during the first few days after the miscarriage. I was not keen for a visit since my pain was still raw, so we both just fell into a long silence after she told me how sorry she was for my loss. When I finally looked up and saw the gleam of tears in her eyes, I broke down and cried with her. Until today I still think of it as the day God wept with me.
When parents experience a pregnancy loss, frequently the grief goes unspoken because secrecy often accompanies the early stages of pregnancy. Support from the community can be rare, as most of the time most friends and family do not know anything about the loss. Even when the grieving parents do share their loss, the many kind comments and sentiments they receive often fail to alleviate the sorrow and guilt parents feel.
Surrounded by ministers who had been shaped by their life experiences and ministries, I was blessed to have been able to confide in those who understood and knew what I had been through. My experience as a liturgical minister did not help in preparing a ritual for my own child. The sorrow was very numbing and I was simply unable to be resourceful.
Looking back, words cannot express my gratitude for my thoughtful colleagues who prepared and organized a Liturgy of the Word to commemorate our loss. It is difficult to put pain adequately into words but rituals speak beyond words alone because they consist of symbolic actions and language. It allowed me to give voice to my pain through prayers and lamentations. It sanctified my experience as I was entrusted to God’s loving care and compassion.
It is truly a humbling experience to be at the receiving end of so much love and support, and to encounter Christ in the face of friends and family. As God’s people, we are not meant to grieve alone. God weeps with us. In the embrace of the community, grieving parents allow themselves to be sustained and cared for as they put the pieces of their lives back together. Our grieving should naturally unite us with the community, a place where both have something to give and receive.
The Diocese of Calgary invites parents, their families and friends to join us in a prayer gathering by attending the Memorial Liturgy for Miscarried and Stillborn Infants on Friday, March 24, at 7:00 p.m. at Sacred Heart Church, 1307 - 14th Street SW. For more information or to RSVP, please visit our website at www.miscarriageliturgy.ca.
Jesus reminded us that “the poor will always be among us” [Deuteronomy 15:11].
Frederic Ozanam (1813 - 1853) — a student in Paris, France — recognized that to carry out the mission to alleviate the plight of the poor and marginalized in society is a challenge that is more manageable through an organization. Shortly thereafter, he formed the Conference of Charity in 1833 on the evening of his 20th birthday. Two years later, the name was changed to the Society of St. Vincent de Paul (SSVP). The organization grew, and 13 years later the first SSVP conference was established in Canada.
Now, 170 years later, 871 conferences of SSVP can be found across Canada thriving on the generous dedication of more than 14,000 volunteers. In Calgary, there are more than 20 conferences involving 365 volunteers.
If successes of an army depend on its generals, so do SSVP’s achievements depend on the pastors of the parishes in which they operate. The St. Peter’s parish SSVP conference is thriving because of the pastoral leadership of Frs. Jerome Lavigne and Jonathan Gibson. Their call into action is heeded by the congregation and as such SSVP has been able to grow and receive outstanding support from parishioners, and the parish councils of the Knights of Columbus and the Catholic Women’s League.
Because of the new extension to the church, SSVP has moved from using a broom-closet-sized hamper room to an operative food storage area the size of a two-car garage! More than 75 volunteers in our parish purchase, sort and collect food; deliver hampers; visit families; assess needs and seek solutions by contacting other organizations. Shelves are filled regularly by parish donations and generous school drives.
We are grateful to all of the presidents, secretaries, treasurers and other volunteers who dedicate their time and stretch each and every donation to the maximum extent in favour of the recipients.
With an impending retirement, we often pause to take stock of our accomplishments. Leaving a legacy is about life and living; creating meaning in our lives. How do you live a full and meaningful life? Each of us answers that question differently.
One legacy that we are very grateful to Bishop Henry for, and that will live on for many years to come, is St. John Vianney in Providence Care Centre. This is a unique care centre that provides medical and health care services for senior adults and retired priests in a home-like setting which encourages relationships, independence and dignity through spiritual, physical, social and recreational programs.
Like all the neighbourhoods in Providence Care Centre, the priests living in St. John Vianney have developed a community they call their own; a place to enjoy their meals; their own personal suite furnished with special mementoes that form their legacy; several gathering areas for social time; a small dedicated chapel; and access to all that Providence Care Centre has to offer.
On January 11, 2017 Bishop Henry imparted a blessing on Providence Care Centre, and all in attendance. More than 100 guests took part in the moving ceremony. Now that the Providence Care Centre is complete and fully operational, the push now shifts toward the fundraising efforts to build a chapel at the northeast corner of Providence Care Centre, looking out on the beautiful Fish Creek Provincial Park.
As Bishop Henry enters retirement, he will be remembered for the legacy he created at Providence Care Centre. It will live on for generations to come.
ROAMING THE PRAIRES, Fr. Lacombe loved the simplicity of life, the beauty of the wilderness and the exhilaration of the Buffalo hunt. In his journal he notes: “Hey, I am in my element. My cart, my 3 horses, my good Alexis (handyman and hunter), and our Blackfoot cook (Suzanne), with whom I am studying the Blackfoot language, my tent, my chapel-case, my catechisms and objects of piety – behold: my church and my rectory!”
Fr. Lacombe was a dedicated teacher of the Faith. He became proficient in both Cree and Blackfoot and contributed to the creation, development and eventual publication of a Cree dictionary and a Blackfoot glossary. His greatest teaching innovation, though, is the “Catholic Ladder.”
In his book, Proclaiming the Gospel to the Indians and Métis, author Raymond Huel, Professor of History at the University of Lethbridge, states:
“The (Oblate) missionaries also demonstrated great ingenuity and flexibility in the development of instructional aids. Albert Lacombe transformed the Catholic Ladder into ‘a small masterpiece of pedagogy.’ While preaching to the Blackfoot in 1865, Lacombe supplemented his instruction with drawings made in the sand. Noticing that the visual presentation appealed to his audience, he later suspended a buffalo robe between two poles and used it to draw figures and symbols to present Biblical history. Upon returning to St. Albert, Lacombe used ink and paper to prepare more elaborate versions.”
Later, on his way to Europe to raise funds, recruit clergy and invite immigrants for Oblate Bishop Vital Grandin’s new St. Albert Diocese, he met with the Sisters of the Congregation of Notre Dame in Montreal, and they published a definitive colored edition. Fr. Lacombe shared his illustrated Catholic Ladder with his fellow missionaries and eventually it was approved by the Pope and used all over the world.
In 1870, a smallpox epidemic devastated Métis, Cree and Blackfoot communities, and Fr. Lacombe responded by visiting village after village, comforting the sick and burying the dead. He wrote to Bishop Taché, “Day and night I am constantly occupied, scarcely having time to say Mass!” Then an influx of illegal American whiskey traders in southern Alberta exploited the Blackfoot with their brand of firewater, prompting Fr. Lacombe to communicate with Ottawa. In 1871 he wrote: “While we await … an impressive (police) force to compel the fulfillment of law, we suffer unceasingly!” By 1872, Lacombe was planning a permanent mission, for himself, in Blackfoot Territory somewhere in the Bow Valley region.
It was not to be, though, as Lacombe was called away to the East on assignments for the Oblates that would keep him from southern Alberta for 10 years!
In that same year, 1872, Alexis Cardinal, Lacombe’s Métis handyman, built a small chapel-cabin for him by the Elbow River in the Springbank region, in anticipation of the Blackfoot mission.
In Lacombe’s absence, Bishop Grandin sent brother Oblates, Fr. Constantine Scollen, and later, Fr. Leon Doucet, who established Notre Dame de la Paix [Our Lady of Peace] at the site of Cardinal’s chapel-cabin in 1873. The mission was re-located to the meeting of the Bow and Elbow Rivers, where the North West Mounted Police built Fort Calgary, in 1875.
Fr. Lacombe was expected to return as an interpreter and advocate for the Blackfoot when they signed Treaty #7 at Blackfoot Crossing, in 1877, but he fell ill while travelling and couldn’t make it. Fr. Scollen replaced him.
When the Buffalo all but disappeared from the Canadian plains in 1879, First Nations bands moved onto their Reserves and the West was opened up for a trans-continental railway and the arrival of settlers to populate the prairies.
Memorization has fallen out of favour these days. In grade school I was required to learn some soliloquies from Shakespearean plays and then write them out in their entirety by memory. Today I cannot recall my own cell phone number but I could still make a fair attempt at reciting the Bard’s verse! I wonder if students are still asked to memorize anything today. Why bother, you might ask, with Google at your fingertips? Catholics have always been known for their recitation of rote prayers and the repetition of rituals. Our faith uses ritual language and gestures to affect us at a level deeper than our conscious thought. Yet, who has not at some time found themselves rattling off the words to a prayer while their mind is elsewhere? The response is not to stop memorizing but rather to consider and practice what it really means to learn something by heart.
To know something by heart means you have it memorized but it also implies that — in the way the heart animates the body by pumping blood — the text or gesture is inside of you, animating your every word, action, and thought. Think about the things that you know by heart: a recipe passed down through several generations, a loved one’s date of birth, your banking PIN. What you know by heart says something about your history, your relationships, and your priorities.
Part of our identity as Catholics includes knowing by heart the texts, gestures, and rituals that shape our belief and bind us to one another.
Most of us have memorized some traditional Catholic prayers like the Hail Mary and a blessing before meals. We also know the Lord’s Prayer and the ordinary parts of the Mass. Yet, when it comes to the Mass texts, we often know them only conditionally. It is easy enough to recite something surrounded by others reciting the same thing or when reading from a screen but if you try to recite the prayers alone, you might falter. Sometimes saying a prayer quickly can help the memory until you trip up and then have to go back to the beginning because you did not really know what you were saying anyway. Or perhaps you can sing the texts but if the melody is taken away, you become completely lost. These levels of memorization are admirable but their conditional nature challenges us to deepen our efforts by revisiting familiar texts, pondering their meaning, learning more about them, and inviting them to penetrate our hearts.
Making the effort to learn by heart is a gift you can give yourself. Once you have learned a prayer by heart, it becomes yours to pray at any time in any place. We do not always know in advance when we will need a prayer and so when the need arises, we may not have at hand a bible, a prayer booklet, and definitely not a projection screen with PowerPoint! With memory you can look into your heart for prayers to implore God’s help, receive consolation, to comfort others, to strengthen those whose faith may be wavering, or to draw together with others in prayer. If you are still looking it up on Google, it is not yet yours.
Part of our identity as Catholics includes knowing by heart the texts, gestures, and rituals that shape our belief and bind us to one another. During this season of Lent, consider learning by heart a new liturgical text. Strive not to only rattle off the words by memory but rather to savour the texts, learn what they mean, and pray the words so that, having learned them by heart, they can animate every word, action, and thought of your life.
Here are some suggested texts to learn by heart:
- Apostles’ Creed and Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed
- Gospel Canticles from the Liturgy of the Hours: Benedictus (Canticle of Luke), Magnificat (Canticle of Mary), Nunc Dimittis (Canticle of Simeon)
- Psalms, especially 23, 34, 95, 141
- Angelus and for Easter season, Regina caeli
You can find texts to memorize:
- in most hymnals
- in the Sunday or weekday missalette
- on the Internet
Tips for memorization:
- read the text over many times
- read portions of the text and repeat it to yourself
- repeat the text to others
- practice writing down the text
- test yourself on your recall of the text
- use mnemonic devices like melodies or images