Dear People of the Archdiocese of Regina,
Warm greetings. Well, wintry greetings but with warm good will! This brief message is an overview of the roadmap for our truth and reconciliation journey over the next few weeks.
From December 17th to 20th, an Indigenous delegation will be going to meet Pope Francis in Rome. Its aim is to create meaningful encounters of dialogue and healing, and to prepare the Pope for his pastoral visit to Canada. As you know, in late September the Catholic Bishops of Canada offered an unequivocal apology to Indigenous Peoples, which provides a context for the forthcoming trip to Rome as a step towards reconciliation.
Like our own process of the sacrament of reconciliation, we begin by acknowledging the truths of where and how we as Catholics have been the source of deep pain and wounds; what we have done and what we have failed to do. Pope Francis will have an opportunity to hear about the effects of colonization, the signing and breaking of treaties, the legacy of residential schools, and intergenerational trauma. Many of the stories he will hear will touch these painful truths, and that is an essential step towards healing that will lead to a meaningful encounter and relationship building.
Let us be in solidarity with this Indigenous delegation and the efforts of the Canadian Church as it takes steps on this healing and reconciling journey. Truth, new beginnings and right relationships pave the way towards Reconciliation.
Let us embark on this journey following the movement of the Advent liturgical cycle, beginning with the feast of Christ the King, by entering into the five stage process of the sacrament of reconciliation: examine, confession, repentance, reparation and reconciliation. Each week we will provide educational opportunities to better understand our history and current challenges.
A key landmark on this journey will be December 12th, the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, when the Church in Canada celebrates The National Day of Prayer in Solidarity with Indigenous Peoples. This initiative, coordinated since 2002 by the CCCB Advisory group the Canadian Catholic Indigenous Council, marks this feast as a day of prayer, solidarity and reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples.
Our Lady of Guadalupe, Patron of the Americas, appeared in Mexico in 1531 as an Indigenous woman to St Juan Diego, whose Indigenous name was Cuauhtlatoatzin (“Eagle Who Speaks”), and spoke to him in his Indigenous language of Nahuatl. She is wearing the black sash around her waist which is an Aztec Maternity Belt that Mexican women would wear to indicate they were with child.
On this day, December 12th, we will have a special pew collection, in which parishioners across our archdiocese will be able to support the TRC Healing Response. Together, we can pool our resources to support Indigenous-led initiatives to assist in repairing the wounded relationships of the past.
Our Lady of Guadalupe calls us to stand in solidarity with Indigenous Peoples. Through her intercession may we as a church give birth to new relationships and a new way of walking together on the road to reconciliation.
Watch video message HERE
From Archbishop Donald Bolen:
We have all heard the devastating news that has come out of Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation with the discovery of 215 children found buried at the Kamloops Indian Residential School in unmarked graves. There is an outflowing of emotion: outrage, dismay, profound grief. And we have questions, many unanswered questions that need to be asked in the coming days and weeks. This shared history of residential schools profoundly impacts residential school survivors, and indeed all Canadians.
Here in the Archdiocese of Regina, we have a responsibility to look anew to the four Catholic operated Indian Residential Schools within our diocese: the Marieval Indian Residential School on the Cowessess First Nation, the Lebret Indian Industrial Residential School on the White Calf First Nation, the Muscowequan Residential School near Lestock on the Muskowekwan First Nation, and the St. Philip’s Residential School near Kamsack on the Keeseekoose First Nation. There are cemeteries at these schools as well.
Recent reports have stated that there are at least 35 unmarked graves on the site of the Muscowequan Residential School. Indigenous communities here in Saskatchewan are speaking about the importance of using the same ground-penetrating radar technology to search for unmarked graves on other sites of former residential schools. The Archdiocese has a moral obligation to assist in that process, to support the Indigenous communities carrying out that work, and to walk alongside Indigenous brothers and sisters as we face anew the waves of suffering that were part of residential schools. In the coming days, we will seek out ways to enter into conversation with these communities while also continuing the dialogue that has already begun with others so that we can offer support and assistance in this work.
As an Archdiocese, we are striving to show our support and stand in solidarity with the Indigenous community. In the last few days, we have been connecting with and supporting the kohkums (grandmothers) and friends who have been deeply affected by this. Over the past four years, we have taken a number of steps to build right relationships and to walk together in truth and reconciliation. We are mindful, however, that events such as we have heard and experienced are extremely re-traumatizing to the survivors of residential schools. We acknowledge and understand that the road ahead is long and that there is much work to be done. We are in the process of consulting with Indigenous Elders and community leaders on how best to respond as a church. We will have more to communicate in the coming days in terms of direction, ideas, and ways that we can take concrete steps as a church towards healing and reconciliation. It is ever important to walk together in a spirit of humility and repentance and to honestly acknowledge the ways that we have caused deep pain to Indigenous communities.
We know that we cannot hide the past, and we cannot ask people who carry heavy burdens from the past to set those aside. We need to deal honestly with the past, to know as much as possible of what happened, to repent and ask forgiveness where appropriate, to walk together as much as we are able in the present, and to work together where possible in building a better future.
We are profoundly sorry for the hurt that actions and decisions of our church in the past have caused to Indigenous Peoples and in ways that we presently re-traumatize by our actions and inactions. We have heard and acknowledge that apologies are not an end point but a starting point, and are learning how to walk in solidarity. On this journey, we have embraced a simple saying that I learned from Indigenous friends years ago, “nothing about us without us.” As an Archdiocese, we invited Indigenous Elders and leaders to join us in establishing an Archdiocesan Truth and Reconciliation body. Since 2017 that group has helped us to identify what work can be done in parishes and schools, in formation, and in the joint pursuit of justice, and we have engaged in that work. We will continue these conversations in the coming days. A key part of what lies ahead will be working together in the field of education, so that more and more people will come to know the history of Indigenous Peoples, the wisdom of their traditions and ways, the suffering they endured, the legacy of colonization in today’s society, and ways of constructively walking together today.
May the Creator bring consolation to Indigenous Peoples, perseverance to us all in the pursuit of justice, a healing of relationships, and the grace of being able to walk together in our day.
Yours in Christ,
+ Don Bolen
Archbishop of Regina
Christ is Risen! Happy Easter, everyone!
When Jesus first called his disciples, he invited them to leave their homes, the security of their lives, to follow him. And when, after the devastation of his death, they found the stone rolled away, when they found the tomb empty, when the Risen Lord came walking alongside of them, when he showed them his wounded hands and side, their world turned upside down once again. Soon filled with the Holy Spirit, they were sent, with joy, in an entirely new way beyond the bounds of the familiar.
Over the years, I have had a recurring dream. Until a few days ago, I had not thought of this dream as being connected to Easter. Whenever I have had this dream, I have been deeply stirred by it. It comes in two forms. In the first, I am a little child, wondering around in our farmyard, and decide to leave the yard, and to venture out into the field, beyond the safety of the yard. And I find a place there, not too far away, a grove of trees with tall wild prairie grasses, a place of shelter, not far from the farmyard, but a place where I am welcomed, a place where people have dwelt, a beautiful, inviting place.
The other variant of the dream is connected with our little country church of St. Elizabeth=s, a few hundred metres from our farmyard. In the dream, this time as an adult, I go out beyond the church yard, past the cemetery, over the slightly more hilly prairies there, and find an old home, a building to explore, a place of discovery.
At one point after having these recurring dreams, I drove out to the home of my early childhood, and to our little country parish, and wondered around, looking for some trace of either of these places, but found none, only beautiful open prairie. The dreams are, strangely, of a treasure hidden in those fields, a treasure connected with the past, as though the land carried its own memories that we can=t quite access. Above all, there are of a treasure that we find by leaving the security of home, by leaving the church building and bringing whatever we have received and learned and become, into dialogue and active engagement with the world around us.
To be baptized into the death and resurrection of Christ, to live with a paschal faith, is to be a part of a community that is summoned to go into places of struggle, of suffering, of darkness, and to be – above all by our actions – a witness to life. It is to be a community, as St. Paul describes for the Corinthians, that is “afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies” (2 Cor. 4:8-10).
The pandemic has been difficult for us as society, and it has been difficult for us as church. We have had to learn new ways to build up the community, new ways to reach out to others, new ways to evangelize. We have been dragged out of our comfort zones. We=ve been displaced, and summoned to find a new place in the family of things. Now on this 2nd Easter of the pandemic, having had a year bracketed by two seasons of Lent for something new to gestate within us, I think the Risen Lord, in the power of the Holy Spirit, is speaking a word to us.
Just as surely as the first crew of disciples, fishermen, tax collectors, and what all, went forth into the world empowered by the Holy Spirit, just as surely as these fields behind me – which are now looking rather barren – will soon be a place of growth and beauty and fruitfulness, so too is the Holy Spirit doing something new in us. Any new way will need to be faithful to the wisdom of the past, but that doesn’t mean just repeating things the way they have always been. Jesus told his disciples that those trained for the kingdom are “like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old” (Mt 13:52).
That discernment is upon us now in the church. Some aspects of it seem fairly clear. Faithful to the Lord himself, we need to listen deeply to those who are hurt and wounded in our midst, and in a special way to those whose wounds we as church have caused. We need to learn how to accompany in a truly compassionate Christ-like way. We need to be centred on mission. Moulded by the death and resurrection of Christ, we need to engage the world around us, not with anger, not from a perspective of power, but with a spirit of dialogue, a humble willingness to learn, a readiness to inspire, with convictions about the worth and dignity of life to uphold, praying at all times to be led by the Spirit of the Risen Lord.
As in my old recurring dreams, in the world outside our comfort zones we will find human life, with all its suffering and brokenness, its blessings and joys, its varied history and its promise, it=s beauty and struggles, its wonder and mystery. Christian discipleship is an adventure, initiated by a God at work in the created world, the paschal work of undoing the power of death, transforming the created order by self-giving redeeming love. Let us embrace it anew.
Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and enkindle in them the fire of your love. Send forth your Spirit and they shall be created. And you shall renew the face of the earth.
Again, Happy Easter!
Yours in Christ,
+ Donald Bolen
Archbishop of Regina
Holy Thursday and Good Friday take us to bleak places, places of great angst. A garden where grief is felt and betrayal happens, a trial where disciples run away, a death verdict, a painful walk to the place of death, a burden too heavy to carry.
Over the years I have had the privilege of walking with a number of people who carry unbearably heavy burdens, and have experienced unspeakable darkness. They sometimes ask, how can they keep going, where are they to find hope, where is God in the midst of their trials, how can they continue to believe?
There are times when words don’t help much, or at all. Superficial responses only add to the pain. Sometimes all you can do is be there, opening yourself to the pain by walking alongside, being with people in it. You hold the hope by being there, and by not giving up, not abandoning people. You accompany by being there with them in the desolate places, knowing that they are also sacred places. People who are deeply wounded will tell you, that kindness helps, it helps to heal.
In the Holy Thursday and Good Friday liturgies, we learn that this is God’s way. At the heart of what we as faith community remember of the night before Jesus died is a meal, a paschal meal which is all about brokenness. Bread is broken anticipating the breaking of Jesus’ body. Jesus surrenders his life to be broken because we are wounded, broken. God’s response to the great wounds of humanity is to be there with us in the pain. A friend who carries very heavy burdens said to me recently, it matters to her that on the cross, Jesus prays, “my God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” She asked, don’t interpret that away as Jesus just praying a line from Psalm 22. He knew abandonment. He knew that depth of darkness that hope struggles to find.
It matters that the resurrection happens in the heart of darkness. A divine response that doesn’t know the depths of human pain can’t reach the depths of human pain. And as we live these days of Holy Thursday and Good Friday, I invite you to resist jumping ahead to the resurrection. Theologian Paul Tillich notes that we lose something key when we “become insensitive to the infinite tension which is implied in the words of the Apostles’ Creed: ‘suffered… was crucified, dead, and buried…, rose again from the dead.’ We already know, when we hear the first words, what the ending will be: ‘rose again;’ and for many people it is no more than the inevitable ‘happy ending’.” We lose the understanding that God in Jesus knew pain, abandonment and death, and was buried in the earth.
Let the Holy Thursday and Good Friday liturgies teach us something about accompanying others in pain, and not running away. Let them teach us about actions that can bring healing when words can’t. I love words, but words have their limits and their place. For some of us, there is a constant temptation to come up with an answer, a reason, an explanation that somehow is going to make it better. I don’t know if anyone beneath the cross of Christ called out to him that it was going to be ok. Walking with others is more important than our explanation of why it’s OK. I don’t think it helps to give the crucified Christ, or our crucified brothers and sisters, all the reasons there are to continue to hope. Hope needs to be incarnated in presence. Jesus’ mother Mary and disciple John were there. Others brought spices, and prepared a tomb, did what they could, being there.
The most powerful messages that come through the Holy Thursday and Good Friday liturgies are in fact wordless: washing the feet of others. Bread broken, anticipating a body broken. The veneration of the cross. Lying prostrate at the start of the Good Friday liturgy. When God, author of the created order and the human condition, is crucified and buried, lying prostrate in silence speaks more articulately than words.
May these liturgies be an encouragement and invitation to each of us to have the courage to stay with others in those places of pain. God walks with us for the duration, even when the situations we are in are not fixable. Let us do likewise for each other. The Jesuit Ignacio Ellacuria, assassinated in El Salvador because of his solidarity with the poor, put it this way: nothing is more important than the exercise of mercy toward a ‘crucified people.’
Lord, our prayer today is a mostly silent prayer before your cross. May we see you in our crucified brothers and sisters. May we show you mercy there. In our hours of darkness, may others be signs of your presence to us when we can no longer carry the weight or the hope ourselves. May our hearts and minds be ever more open to and bearers of your great mercy. Through Christ, Our Crucified and Risen Lord, Amen.
Yours in Christ,
+ Donald Bolen Archbishop of Regina
Warm greetings in the Lord.
A short time before this video message was filmed, our Premier announced that further restrictions are being imposed on Regina and surrounding area because of the recent spike in cases of a Covid variant. Regina residents may not expand their household bubble, and all indoor gatherings are restricted to immediate household members only. Restaurants and licensed establishments must close for in-person dining. Many event venues and non-essential indoor locations are temporarily closed. Travel is not recommended in or out of the Regina area unless absolutely necessary. If you live in Regina, now is not the time to go to visit family who live outside of the city. The press release noted that if we undergo these restrictions for 2 to 4 weeks, it could turn the situation around quickly.
Places of worship for Regina and area, however, remain at the current capacity level, which is capped at 30 persons. I join many in expressing profound gratitude that at a time of significant restrictions, places of worship in Regina and area have not been further restricted. It is an acknowledgment that we offer something that is essential to the well-being of many in our society. Faith leaders argued strongly that worship services, with very rare exceptions, have not been places where the virus has spread, and that we have been diligent in taking all the precautionary steps asked of us. With the gift that we have not been shut down – as many other public places have been – comes the responsibility and obligation to be exceedingly careful over the coming days.
It is an extraordinary situation we find ourselves in as a society. Earlier today I had the opportunity to have a conversation with an infectious disease physician, who wanted to speak to me about the current medical crisis in Regina. The large and exponentially rising number of cases of the Covid variant in the city has caused incredible stress on the health system here. The variant spreads more quickly, is more dangerous, than the original strain, and the risk of the situation getting further out of hand is real, potentially resulting in many more cases, many more deaths. At the same time, efforts to provide a vaccine have accelerated in the area, and access to a vaccine is proceeding much more quickly than anticipated. In this race between the virus variant and the vaccine, it is clearly time for decisive action.
All of this is playing out for us, as Christian community, at the holiest time of the year. It feels brutal that we are at a critical juncture in dealing with this pandemic precisely in Holy Week, for the second year in a row. But suffering and brutal experience are right at home in Holy Week. We are about to celebrate Palm Sunday, a liturgy which begins with the triumphant entry of Jesus into Jerusalem; but that joy soon dissipates and turns into the procession to calvary, where the Lord is taunted, beaten, crowned with thorns, and crucified. Palm Sunday takes us from promise to pain, as the one who came to bring life is put to death. The deeper narrative, of course, is of a love which gives of itself fully, and this death will not have the last word.
I was recently reminded of a theological reflection which noted, there are some who say, ‘things are always getting worse in the world’ – as the saying goes, ‘we are going to hell in a handbasket’ – and others note that ‘things are always getting better,’ though it is a bumpy road. It is easy enough for both schools of thought to find ample evidence to back their arguments. A deeper truth is that these two trajectories are not opposed, that things can indeed get better and worse at the same time. And they do. Indeed they are.
In the Palm Sunday liturgy, we hear of an incredible darkness, as the Word through whom all things came to being was silenced, put to death, buried in a tomb. But as St. Paul notes, where sin abounds, grace abounds even more. An incredible grace is also in evidence, a love which knows no bounds. Love and death are caught in a great showdown. Palm Sunday leaves us there.
Our pandemic also has us in a showdown, as the rampant spread of a Covid variant is confronted by our best communal efforts to protect the vulnerable and to defeat a virus that can bring death.
Friends, in this drama unfolding in our midst, just as in the drama that we are drawn into in the Palm Sunday liturgy and in Holy Week, we are not passive bystanders. We’re all called to participate in this drama, in this struggle between life and death. Let me suggest three ways in which we can do so.
Firstly, we can take all the precautions that we are asked to take. While parishes have not been vectors of the virus spreading, we need to be especially vigilant now. We do well to take seriously the travel advisory issued for Regina and area communities. Outside of Regina, in other parts of the Archdiocese, we need to be very cautious as well, as we enter into Holy Week with an easing of restrictions; it’s not a time to ease up on our attentiveness to detail.
Secondly, we can enter deeply into the celebrations of the coming days, whether in person or virtually. These celebrations take us to the heart of our faith. In accompanying the Lord to the cross and ultimately to the resurrection, we can find a wellspring of hope and joy that is very deep, because it is born out of the worst that human life can bring, and proclaims that life and love have the last word.
Finally, tomorrow, Thursday, we celebrate the great Feast of the Annunciation, centred upon Mary’s faith-filled response to the Angel Gabriel: “let it be done unto me according to thy word.” Mary’s yes opens the door to God’s desire to come and dwell in our midst. Let us ponder and emulate Mary’s openness to the will of God and her embrace of the mystery of God’s great desire to come into our midst. Let us accept the invitation and do our part in God’s great dream of transforming and redeeming the world from within, be walking with us, dying and rising for us.
Let’s close with a prayer that brings together some of the strands in this meandering meditation:
Lord Jesus, you came among us to bring life. In your suffering and death, you revealed a boundless love. In your resurrection you plant the seeds of a hope within us which can withstand darkness and pain. Be with us now in this time of pandemic. Protect us, watch over all our medical professionals, and all who are doing all they can to accompany those who are suffering and to prevent the further spread of the virus. Give us courage as we face our own struggles, frustrations and darkness at this time. May we always know your Risen presence. Fill us with your Holy Spirit. Help us to offer our fiat, to say to you with our whole hearts and our whole lives, “let it be done unto me according to thy will.” Through Christ our Lord, Amen.
Watch full message HERE
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ of the Archdiocese of Regina, and all viewers,
Warm greetings in the Lord. This coming Sunday, the 4th Sunday of Lent, marks the middle of Lent, and is traditionally called Laetare Sunday. Laetare means ‘rejoice’, and the tradition of a day of rejoicing in the middle of Lent is an old one. The opening antiphon sets the tone, drawing on passages from Isaiah and the Psalms, as it proclaims, “Rejoice, Jerusalem, and all who love her. Be joyful, all who were in mourning…”
I was part way through preparation for this message when the news broke yesterday that restrictions on faith communities are easing up as of March 19, and we will be returning to 30% capacity, up to 150 persons, as long as all the other protective measures are kept. That is definitely cause for rejoicing. March 19th is the Feast of St Joseph, and on this Year of St Joseph, we will have additional reason to celebrate.
Tomorrow, that is Thursday March 11th, we will be marking one year of the pandemic in Saskatchewan. A vigil is be held virtually ( https://www.covidvigil.ca/ ), with the title, ‘Together in Remembrance, Together in Hope’. As society and as church, we can use a boost in terms of hope. The joy quotient was getting pretty low out there. When Lent rolled around this year, more than one person said to me, we started Lent a year ago and it’s like it’s never left. The challenges, experienced on so many levels, have left many feeling rather raw, and our communal and individual wounds and tensions have been in full display. The level of frustration and grumpiness has been higher in recent days than I can ever remember. Yesterday’s announcement means that many more people will be able to take part, in person, in Holy Week and Easter celebrations. For this we give great thanks.
But the joy and hope which Easter bring are meant to resonate at a much deeper level than the good news of easing restrictions. Even as tensions around covid start to ease, we know well that human life in general, and life in the Year of Our Lord 2021 in particular, is marked by a seemingly endless set of challenges and tensions.
Years ago I came across a quote from Pope Paul VI, from 1975, late in his papacy, when the tensions surrounding the Encyclical Humanae Vitae were in full bloom, and the Pope was being seen as indecisive and trapped. In that context, Pope Paul wrote down these words: “What is my state of mind? Am I Hamlet or Don Quixote? On the left? On the right? I don’t feel I have been properly understood. My feelings are ‘Superabundo Gaudio’, I am full of consolation, overcome with joy, throughout every tribulation.” Superabundo Gaudio, overflowing with joy. He is quoting St Paul to the Corinthians (2 Cor 7:4), who was also writing in the context of significant tensions.
Dear brothers and sisters in the Lord, how do we find our way to that place, a place where we carry a deep internal joy despite the brokenness of our world and the stresses within ourselves? That is a very good Lenten question.
In this coming Sunday’s Gospel, we hear about Nicodemus, an influential Jewish leader who comes to Jesus at night, under the cover of darkness, searching for understanding. Nicodemus is obviously attracted by Jesus’s ministry and teachings, as he says, “we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.” But he is also puzzled. I think we can understand him as a person who is struggling to believe. He is a helpful person for us to accompany, for many of us can relate to that struggle. Jesus speaks to him about the need to be born from above, to be born of water and Spirit. He shares with Nicodemus that he will be lifted up, foreshadowing his death on the cross, and speaks these beautiful words that we know well: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life” (Jn 3:16).
We don’t hear how Nicodemus reacted, but we do hear of him again later, speaking in the Sanhedrin for the need for a fair trial, and then present after Jesus’ death on the cross, providing spices for the burial as was the custom.
I encourage you, and myself, let’s go to Jesus as Nicodemus did. Let us present him with our questions, our struggles, our wounds. Jesus told Nicodemus that light had come into the world, a light which exposes our darkness, and we might add, brings healing, and renewal. Jesus’ words didn’t likely answer all of Nicodemus’s questions, but the conversation led him to accompany Jesus on the road that led to his death and ultimately to his resurrection. The Lord extends that same invitation to us. He allows us to live in the tensions of the present moment, in the incompleteness of our lives, but to do so with hope. And to see things in a paschal way.
I have a poster near my desk these days which reads: “Sometimes when you’re in a dark place you think you’ve been buried, but you’ve actually been planted.” It takes faith and trust to see things that way when we’re feeling overwhelmed, frustrated, or buried.
We are living in this time between Winter and Spring. Many of us have the experience that when we leave work, we now drive home in the sun. The days are getting longer. We yearn for more light, and we know it is coming. The earth is still frozen, but it is starting to give way to warmer days. That is a good Lenten metaphor. The light is coming into the world. Three weeks from now we will gather, or watch on livestream, as we light the paschal candle in the darkness and proclaim the victory of life over death. Let us trust that light and go to the Lord in order that God’s light might find its way into all the corners of our hearts and our lives that need to be touched by its healing rays.
As we listen to the splendid hymn “Now the Green Blade Riseth,” let’s pray with the help of the first and last verses:
Now the green blade riseth, from the buried grain,
Wheat that in dark earth many days has lain;
Love lives again, that with the dead has been:
Love is come again like wheat that springeth green.
When our hearts are wintry, grieving, or in pain,
Jesus’ touch can call us back to life again,
Fields of our hearts that dead and bare have been:
Love is come again like wheat that springeth green.
Watch video Message HERE
Dear friends in Christ in the Archdiocese of Regina, and all listeners, warm greetings. We are now two weeks into Lent, and the church extends a word to us, to persevere in opening ourselves to the Holy Spirit on this Lenten journey.
This coming Sunday, the third Sunday of Lent, we will hear St. John’s account of the cleansing of the Temple. And at the end of the Gospel reading, there’s a sentence that jumped out at me this year – in part because I was working with a different translation of the Bible. It’s interesting how different translations can bring new insights and allow us to hear new things in the text. The translation I’m used to working with, the NRSV on which our lectionary is based, leads us to understand that Jesus knew what was in the hearts of those who were critical of his actions, when it says that he “needed no one to testify about anyone; for he himself knew what was in everyone.” But the NAB makes the statement more general: Jesus “did not need anyone to testify about human nature. He himself understood it well.”
The Lord knows the human heart. God knows us, knows us well, knows us better than we know ourselves. As the wonderful Psalm 139 proclaims:
O Lord, you search me and you know me,
you know my resting and my rising,
you discern my purpose from afar.
You mark when I walk or lie down,
all my ways lie open to you.
For it was you who created my innermost being,
knit me together in my mother’s womb.
There is great consolation in this. God knows our wounds, the ones that are deepest within us; knows our deepest desires, the ones that motivate us most profoundly; knows our gifts, our joys, our sins, our brokenness, our dreams. I sometimes pray these words from William Wordsworth, celebrating the human condition authored and loved by God:
Thanks to the human heart by which we live,
Thanks to its tenderness, its joys, and fears,
To me the meanest flower that blows can give
Thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears.
But God also knows that the human heart needs work, our hearts need work, need transformation and renewal. Jesus doesn’t go into our hearts as he went into the temple, throwing out everything that doesn’t belong there, but the Holy Spirit would like to have a go at uncluttering the temple of our hearts. I think it is the Holy Spirit that whispers to me each Lent that old Chinese proverb, ‘if you do not change directions, you are likely to end up where you are heading.’
After Jesus had cleansed the temple, those present asked him for a sign to show what authority he had to go into the temple and throw out the money changers. They are in effect saying give us a sign that allows us to believe in you. He responds enigmatically, mysteriously, “destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.” In Matthew’s Gospel, when Jesus is asked for a sign, he says the only sign he will give them is the sign of Jonah, who spent three days in the belly of the whale.
What sign do we look for that would allow us to trust more deeply that God is lovingly present in our lives? What sign would ease our doubts and lift our fears? As it was for the disciples who followed Jesus on the road to Jerusalem, so to for us – the ultimate sign Jesus gives a paschal sign. It’s about dying and rising. It is the lived sign of being willing to give himself completely in love, unto death. And the revelation that death is not the last word for God, that after three days, Jesus is raised from the dead. The full revelation of God in Jesus’ dying and rising addresses directly the deepest questions that arise from our human experience, questions about suffering and injustice and death.
In this coming Sunday’s second reading, St. Paul says that while others seek signs and look for wisdom, “we proclaim Christ crucified,” which will seem foolish, but “the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.”
This coming Friday, March 5, is the World Day of Prayer, and its theme this year is ‘Build on a Strong Foundation.’ When we pray, we may look for specific outcomes that seem good to us. I believe that God does answer our prayers, but not by allowing us to bypass suffering and death. God draws us into the paschal experience that life is stronger than death, that God can bring life from the ashes of our brokenness. On the cross, Jesus entered into the place of greatest vulnerability. And God invites us too into places of great vulnerability, not to abandon us, but to reveal to us what resurrection might look like in the face of our deepest wounds and brokenness.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, I encourage you to invite the Holy Spirit into your lives anew this Lent, asking the Spirit to cleanse our hearts and lead us to a deeper trust in God and in the life God gives us. Join me in praying, if you will, this prayer of Thomas Merton:
My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following Your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please You does in fact please You. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that, if I do this, You will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it. Therefore I will trust You always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for You are ever with me, and You will never leave me to face my perils alone. Amen.
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Dear brothers and sisters in Christ in the Archdiocese, and all tuning in for this message for the second week of Lent, warm greetings.
Thankfully, our polar vortex is behind us now. The word Lent comes from the old English word ‘Lenten’, which means Spring. In this province Spring comes slowly, and that serves as a good metaphor for Lent, and the slow transformation of ourselves into people of the Kingdom. In the early church, the desert fathers and mothers went to live in the wilderness in order to open themselves completely to the transformative grace of God in their lives. They called the desert the furnace of transformation. That’s also a good image for Lent.
We view Lent, among other things, as a time of sacrifice, and we prayerfully ponder what we are going to give up for Lent. That is good and right, but the readings from the second Sunday of Lent put the whole question of sacrifice into a larger framework. And they also give us a window into the transformation that God desires for us.
The first reading for this coming Sunday, from the book of Genesis, tells the story of Abraham bringing Isaac up the mountain, where he has been asked to sacrifice his son. A few chapters earlier in the Book of Genesis, we hear the beautiful account of God bringing Abraham outside at night and asking him to look up at the sky and count the stars if he can – which of course he can’t – and then says, so shall your descendants be. Abraham’s wife Sarah was without child. When the whole thing seemed pretty much hopeless, Abraham being 100 years old and Sarah 90, Sarah bore a child. And they called him Isaac, which means laughter, because they were so taken by surprise. So Isaac was not only Sarah and Abraham’s beloved child, he was also the visible sign, the testimony that God’s promise would hold true. There would be no descendants without Isaac.
Of course God intervenes, Isaac is saved, and Abraham is praised for his trust, and God provides an offering for the sacrifice. The story in its origins was probably intended to show, among other things, that the God of Abraham did not desire the child sacrifice practiced by some neighbouring religions. I once had the opportunity to hear an inter-faith discussion about this passage, as it is of great importance to Jews and Muslims as well as to Christians. The different schools of interpretation of this story make for a fascinating conversation.
But for us on this second Sunday of Lent, the Abraham and Isaac story is linked to two other readings. In today’s Gospel, we hear Mark’s account of the transfiguration. Jesus and his disciples are on the road to Jerusalem, and he has been telling them that he is going to be put to death, and that he will rise again. They are bewildered and frightened. Then he takes three of them, Peter, James and John, up the mountain. Like the first reading, it’s on the mountain that something new is being revealed about God. For a brief moment, the disciples see Jesus in dazzling light, speaking with the great prophets of the past, Moses and Elijah. Here is the one they have been following, now seen as the fulfillment of their deepest hopes. They hear the voice of God saying ‘this is my Son, the Beloved. Listen to him.’ Peter wants to hold on to the experience, wants to build tents for them, wants it to last. It doesn’t last. But it gives them a glimpse of what is to come, and perhaps the strength to live through the passion and crucifixion of Jesus without losing all hope.
In the second reading, one of the most important passages of the entire New Testament, St Paul, with the story of the sacrifice of Isaac in mind, and above all with the death and resurrection of Christ in mind, writes to the Romans and asks rhetorically, if God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but handed him over for us all, how will he not also give us everything else along with him? Paul will go on to offer us two great litanies to communicate how nothing can get in the way of God’s love for us revealed in Jesus Christ.
Let’s go back to where we started to the question of sacrifice, and the matter of our transformation. In the history of religion, there are numerous stories of people offering sacrifices to God that bring reconciliation and God’s blessing. But the Christian vision is different. God is the key actor. On the cross, God is the one who offers God’s own self, in the person of Jesus, to heal the broken relationship. As we pray at Mass, Christ became “the Priest, the Altar and the Lamb of sacrifice.” It’s not ultimately about what we sacrifice in order to win God’s pleasure, it’s about embracing the wonderful gift of God’s own self, and being transformed by that.
The transformation that the season promises is a paschal transformation. God draws us into his dying and rising, and invites us to live in the freedom of those who in turn can spend ourselves at the service of others, because we are loved by a boundless unimaginable love.
Friends, please join me in praying the Peace Prayer of St Francis of Assisi, who grasped at a very deep level the change that God desires for us:
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me bring love.
Where there is offence, let me bring pardon.
Where there is discord, let me bring union.
Where there is error, let me bring truth.
Where there is doubt, let me bring faith.
Where there is despair, let me bring hope.
Where there is darkness, let me bring your light.
O Master, let me not seek as much
to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love,
for it is in giving that we receive,
it is in self-forgetting that we find,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
it is in dying that we are raised to eternal life.
Greetings, brothers and sisters in Christ, on this Ash Wednesday, as we embark on the Lenten journey.
The season of Lent provides us with 40 days to let God’s transforming grace into our lives in a new way, so that we might live more deeply, more faithfully, with greater joy, hope, conviction and compassion. I think most of us would acknowledge that there’s lots of room for growth in that regard in our lives.
In preparation for this week’s message, one of my working group colleagues mentioned the film Groundhog Day, which I went back to watch, after many years. The film is something of a parable about moral growth. The main character, at the start of the film, is something of a scoundrel, completely self-centered, arrogant and obnoxious, and on the first day of the film, Groundhog Day, he acts like a complete jerk. The next morning when he wakes up, he discovers, to his complete bewilderment, that he has woken up to the same day all over again. No one else is reliving that day, but he is. This happens over and over again through the film, presumably thousands of times. He keeps living the same day over and over again, and only he is aware of that. He is able to change the decisions he makes each day, and to see the consequences of those decisions. At the start, once he has gotten past the bewilderment with what is happening, he uses the information from previous days for his own selfish ends. Seeing the futility of it all, he falls into a kind of a depression, and tries to end it all. That doesn’t work. He keeps waking up to Groundhog Day. Eventually he starts to have some empathy for others, and slowly starts to move out of his self-centredness, and to use what he has learned to start helping others. Finally, finally, he lives the day well enough that when he wakes up, it’s actually February 3rd.
The film is based on a simple clever hypothesis: what if we would live the same day over and over again until we got it right, until we lived it well. We don’t, life isn’t structured that way. But life is structured in such a way that each new day we get a chance to begin again, to try to live better. In some sense, God has structured the human condition in such a way that we are invited to learn from each previous day and to grow in wisdom, compassion, holiness, hope and joy.
That takes us back to the season of Lent, 40 days to give particular focus to God’s transformative desires for us, and the need to open to that grace. In a recent reflection, our Archdiocesan theologian Brett Salkeld noted that the biblical focus on 40 – 40 days after the flood, Israel wondering 40 years in the desert, Jesus praying 40 days in the wilderness – is likely connected to the reality that 40 is the number of weeks a human child gestates in its mother’s womb. Brett notes that when the Bible uses the number 40, it is telling us that something is gestating, something new is preparing to be born. That’s a good mindset for us at the start of the season of Lent. What is God trying to bring to birth in us?
In the film Groundhog Day, the character has a seemingly endless opportunity to make changes, to live better. We have been given time by God. As Annie Dillard notes, time is one thing “we have been given, and we have been given to time. [And] time gives us a whirl.” But time is not endless, and our opportunities to make changes are not endless. Listen to this insightful quote from the novel The Sheltering Sky, by Paul Bowles, who writes:
“Because we don’t know when we will die, we get to think of life as an inexhaustible well. Yet everything happens only a certain number of times, and a very small number, really. How many more times will you remember a certain afternoon of your childhood, some afternoon that’s so deeply a part of your being that you can’t even conceive of your life without it? Perhaps four or five times more. Perhaps not even that. How many more times will you watch the full moon rise? Perhaps twenty. And yet it all seems limitless.”
Time is not endless. One thing Jesus seems to insist upon with his disciples is that the time for change, for conversion, for holiness, is now. His opening proclamation in Mark’s Gospel is this: the Kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, that is, change your ways, and believe the good news.
So as we embark on this season of Lent, I think we do well to acknowledge that we need Lent, we need a time of renewal, we need God, we need mercy. Lent begins by being signed with ashes, in the form of a cross, though this year, because of pandemic protocols, the ashes will be gently dropped on us. But you can imagine them in the form of a cross on your forehead. The ashes are a sign of our woundedness, a reminder of the reality of death, of brokenness, of things falling apart. A reminder of our society as it is… ourselves as we are, beneath the facades of wellness and wholeness.
Lent doesn’t leave us in ashes. It moves us towards resurrection. It moves us towards God’s ability and desire to turn our darkness into light, our selfishness into other-centredness, our sinfulness to holiness – if and as we open ourselves to God’s redeeming grace. So let us embark upon this season not with fear and trepidation, but with a sense of relief, a sense of awakening to the need for real change, and a trust in God’s merciful desire to bring about that change, in us, and in our communities.
In each weekly Lenten message, I will draw on a prayer or two from our tradition, and in this first Lenten reflection, I would invite you to listen to the words, addressed to God, from the Preface to the first Eucharistic Prayer for Reconciliation, which can be used all year round, but is especially timely for Lent:
O God, “you do not cease to spur us on to possess a more abundant life and, being rich in mercy, you constantly offer pardon and call on sinners to trust in your forgiveness alone. Never did you turn away from us, and, though time and again we have broken your covenant, you have bound the human family to yourself through Jesus your Son, our Redeemer, with a new bond of love so tight that it can never be undone. Even now you set before your people a time of grace and reconciliation, and, as they turn back to you in spirit, you grant them hope in Christ Jesus and a desire to be of service to all, while they entrust themselves more fully to the Holy Spirit.”
Let’s end with the Anima Christi:
Soul of Christ, sanctify me.
Body of Christ, save me.
Blood of Christ, inebriate me.
Water from the side of Christ, wash me.
Passion of Christ, strengthen me.
O Good Jesus, hear me.
Within your wounds hide me.
Permit me not to be separated from you.
From the wicked foe, defend me.
At the hour of my death, call me
and bid me come to you
That with your saints I may praise you
For ever and ever. Amen.
Watch video message HERE
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
One of Advent’s greatest treasures, especially in the days directly leading up to Christmas, is the the ‘O antiphon’ tradition. Many who may not be acquainted directly with the O antiphons will likely know them through the verses of the much loved hymn O Come O Come Emmanuel. The O antiphons are used as antiphons for the Magnificat each of the seven days leading up to Christmas in the Catholic Church’s evening prayer, and are generally used as part of the Gospel Alleluia at Mass those days. The tradition dates back to the early Middle Ages. In more recent times, some Anglican, Lutheran and Presbyterian churches also incorporate the O antiphons in their prayer and devotional life.
Each O antiphon draws on a prophecy from Isaiah; each offers a title for the promised Messiah and expresses our longing and need for God to come into our world. The original prayers were of course written in Latin. Let’s take a look at one of them in more detail. Isaiah had prophecied, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness—on them a light has shone” (Is. 9:2). The O antiphon begins, “O Oriens,
splendor lucis aeternae,” O Morning Star, splendour of light eternal and sun of righteousness:
Come and enlighten those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.” We know this as the verse from O Come O Come Emmanuel as follows:
O come, Thou Dayspring, from on high,
And cheer us by Thy drawing nigh;
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
And death’s dark shadows put to flight.
Each verse of the hymn ends with the invitation:
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.
And so the days leading up to Christmas unfold, as do the verses of the hymn, and we pray:
O come, Emmanuel, ransom us from our captivity;
O come, Thou Rod of Jesse, give us victory o’er the grave;
O come, Thou Wisdom from on high – teach us in her ways to go;
O come, Desire of nations, bind all peoples in one heart and mind; bid envy, strife and quarrels cease; fill the whole world with heaven’s peace.
It is helpful that we have multiple images from the prophets for the Messiah who was to come. As Christians we have four Gospels who speak of Jesus’s life and ministry from different perspectives. The Incarnation is a vast mystery, and each prophecy gives us a language to understand something of what God desires to do for us. They tap into our own need for wisdom, for leadership and covenental love, for freedom from what binds us, light within our darkest days, for God walking with us.
St Augustine, in an ‘O’ prayer of his own, prays to God, “O Beauty ever ancient, ever new,” and that has set me to pondering how the glories of our heritage still speak to the deepest yearnings of our hearts; and that today we too are to give new expressions to those deepest yearnings within us. The Jewish roots of the prophecies bring to mind new expressions of yearnings in our day from that same tradition. I don’t know if Leonard Cohen had the O antiphons in mind when he wrote to song Come Healing, but he might have.
O solitude of longing
Where love has been confined
Come healing of the body
Come healing of the mind.
O see the darkness yielding
That tore the light apart
Come healing of the reason
Come healing of the heart.
O let the heavens falter
And let the earth proclaim:
Come healing of the Altar
Come healing of the Name.
So here’s an invitation and a challenge, friends. As you prepare to welcome the Lord’s birth, take some time to listen to the deepest yearnings in your heart. And in the refining of prayer, see if those yearnings might take the shape of a prayer or two, your own O antiphons.
O font of mercy, O God of all grace, come be with us in this time of pandemic. Let us know your healing presence, let us see your face.
Watch video message HERE
One of my earliest memories of Advent, in the little country church of St. Elizabeth’s west of Gravelbourg, was the singing of the hymn O Come, Divine Messiah. When I was seven years old, we left the farm and moved to Gravelbourg itself, where our faith life was enriched by the traditions of the majority francophone community, and I learnt that there was a French version of the hymn too, that it was originally written in French: Venez Divin Messie. On this second week of Advent, I would like to offer a few reflections on the season, with reference to this wonderful hymn.
We often say that Advent is a season of waiting, and in the midst of this pandemic, we know the experience of waiting. When we hear “O Thou whom nations sighed for,” the words resonate, for the nations today are definitely sighing. Advent invites us to set our sights on the deepest sighing of the nations, the most profound sighing in human hearts, as we sing “Come, come to earth, dispel the night and show thy face, and bid us hail the dawn of grace.” Advent waiting is active, not passive. And it is meant to teach us something, to prepare us to welcome the coming of God into our lives. John the Baptist cries out in the wilderness, prepare the way of the Lord. Make straight his paths. Let the valleys be raised and every mountain and hill be made low. Here on the flat prairies of Saskatchewan we are well on our way, at least from the perspective of landscape! It’s the rest of our lives that need transforming.
The hymn O Come Divine Messiah reminds us how much we need God. We know it from the mess and woundedness in our lives, and we know it from the brokenness in our world. And it prepares us to recognize and welcome God in all the ways that God comes into our lives. The last verse reminds us that God does not come in the way we would necessarily expect: Shalt come in peace and meekness, and lowly will thy cradle be: All clothed in human weakness shall we thy God-head see.
Advent is a time where we hear of God’s dream for the human race. We hear this strongly in the readings of the prophets: that people that walked in darkness will see a great light; that God is preparing a rich banquet, where all our tears will be wiped away and death will be no more; that the wolf shall live with the lamb, calf and the lion will lie down together, and all will be well on God’s holy mountain; that God will turn our swords into ploughshares, and nations shall not lift up sword against nation. These dreams of God may be hard for us to believe and trust in. In this Sunday’s second reading we hear that God does not delay in fulfilling his promises, but that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years and a thousand years like one day. These Advent missives of hope and promise are like a plow that tills the furrows of our hearts, to loosen our doubts and break up the cynicism or despair that may have grown in us. We hear the dream of God in O Come, Divine Messiah too. The captive fetters will be broken, the long-lost fold redeemed; the night will be dispelled; we will hail the dawn of grace, and see God’s face. When life is full of difficulties and challenges, it is a tremendous act of courage to continue to dream God’s dream, to continue to hope, and to carry a deep joy within us.
One final thought, and one last theme in this Sunday’s readings. Both Isaiah and John the Baptist speak about the pathway of our God. In the desert, in the wilderness, prepare the way. A few years ago I had the opportunity to walk the camino in Spain, an 800 kilometre trek from St Jean Pied-de-Port in France to Santiago de Compostela. ‘Camino’ literally means ‘the way.’ On the road to Santiago, the way is marked out by yellow arrows. You need to stay vigilant, otherwise you get lost in a hurry. Each yellow arrow quietly speaks the message that we hear from Isaiah, who exhorts, “This is the way, walk in it” (Is 30:21), and Jeremiah, who relates: “Thus says the Lord: Stand at the crossroads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way lies; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls” (Jer 6:16). In Advent, we are encouraged to walk the good way, to prepare the way of the Lord. But the heart of the message of the season is this: our God comes walking towards us on this path. Like a shepherd seeking out lost sheep, God comes to seek us out. There is a story in the Jewish Talmud of a king who had a son who had gone astray. The king sent a message to the son, return to your father. The son sent a message, I cannot. The king sent another message. Come as far as you can, and I will come to you the rest of the way. Our God comes to us not because we are good, or holy, or deserving, or ready. But out of love. O Come, Divine Messiah, the world in silence waits the day when hope shall sing its triumph and sadness flee away.
Watch video message HERE
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, dear friends,
Here we are, at the start of Advent, aware now that we are going to have to live through every liturgical season of 2020 with the restrictions and challenges of this pandemic. There is a lot of frustration in the air, with a new level of restrictions over the next 3 weeks. But also hope, with the prospect of a vaccine in the new year, and given early reports, the prospect of an ethically produced vaccine which doesn’t create a profound moral dilemma for Catholics. For this we pray.
Meanwhile, we are called to live the present moment as well as we are able; that is all that the Lord ever asks of us. A few days ago I received an insightful email from a priest friend who asked to remain anonymous, but who has given me permission to share his reflection. He wrote, “forgive me. I don’t like to say nice things about the COVID pandemic, but a thought came to me this morning: For the first time in my entire life, this Advent is really going to be Advent, a season of waiting, a season of waiting in hope and anticipation. We should probably do something, at least personally, to recognize the gift of this and remember it, because we will probably never see this again in our lifetimes. For the first time for as long as I can remember, Advent will not be ‘Christmas already’. It will not be a month of Christmas parties. It will not be a month of Christmas concerts. We won’t be able to skip over the season of waiting to jump right into Christmas celebrations on the 1st of December like we always do. We’ll have the opportunity, like never before, to actually live Advent as the gift it is, instead of glossing right over it because we just can’t wait.”
I resonated deeply with my friend’s insight. As with every year at the start of November, as we started hearing Christmas carols in stores, I think, beautiful carols, but do we need to start just yet? The pandemic and the anticipation for a vaccine has put us into a place of waiting, and the season of Advent invites us to ground our waiting in a much deeper promise, one that we can live by, one that gives us great resources for living with joy and hope while we wait.
This Advent, my little team with whom these messages are prepared thought it might be good to have an Advent message each week, centred on one of the wonderful Advent hymns in our rich tradition. It is good and right that new composers and musicians continue to produce new Advent songs for us, but let’s not lose sight of the magnificent hymns which have come to us from past generations of peoples of faith. So in each message this year, I will reflect with you on Advent in light of one of those hymns, starting with the English hymn “People Look East”.
St Paul writes that all creation is groaning in the one great act of giving birth, and Advent is a season where we listen for what is being born, what is coming. Each verse of People Look East taps into that longing. The earth is bare but already preparing for the rose. The birds are waiting and preparing: “Even the hour when wings are frozen, God for fledgling time has chosen.” The stars are keeping watch when night is dim, waiting for the coming of a great light: “shining beyond the frosty weather, bright as sun and moon together.”
And what are they waiting for? It is love that is on the way, as the end of each verse reminds us: love, the guest, is on the way; love the rose; love the bird; love the star; love, the Lord, is on the way. The first readings of our liturgies through Advent, all from the prophets, mostly from Isaiah, remind us that God is coming into our world. We are invited to live in the presence of that promise. The yearnings within us, the yearnings of all creation, were not made to go unfulfilled. We do not live and die for nothing. We were created for a purpose. God is coming, God is creating a future for us, creating a Kingdom through and with and sometimes despite us.
Finally, the hymn reminds us, like the Gospel for the first Sunday of Advent, that our lives are a space where we are to get ready for Incarnation, where we await the coming of God in the flesh by staying awake, by getting ready. “Make your house fair as you are able; trim the hearth and set the table…. Set every peak and valley humming, with the Word, the Lord is coming.”
Dear friends, let us allow this masterpiece of a hymn to call us to a place of deep hope, keenly attentive to the promises of God which surround us this season. If it is a season of darkness in our world and in our lives, let us not despair. God is in the midst of it, bringing something to birth. Of Advent, Karl Rahner writes: “What must live in you is a humble, calm joy of faithful expectancy, which does not imagine that tangibles of the present time are everything.” Brothers and sisters, let us drink deeply from the wellsprings of hope and promise which Advent proclaims.
Watch Video Message HERE
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
Warm greetings and good wishes of perseverance and hope at this difficult time, when the number of active cases in Saskatchewan have risen dramatically. For many, in the past two weeks, including myself, the pandemic has become real in a new way, as family members, friends, or people we know well have tested positive, are in ICU, or have died. We lift all those who have died and their loved ones, all who have tested positive for Covid and their families, in fervent prayer before the Risen Lord.
As you know, new restrictions have been put in place regarding mask usage, affecting all the parishes of the Archdiocese. The Saskatchewan Health Authority and provincial government have not imposed further restrictive steps on faith communities at this time, but have continued their conversation with faith leaders, and have let us know that there are cases of the virus having spread in worship settings in the province. They have not moved to lockdown, but have arranged a series of urgent meetings, asking what we can do and what we would recommend so that we mitigate risks, encourage adherence to the directives, and reduce movement and duration during worship services. I am grateful for the spirit of consultation which is now prevailing.
As we approach the great feast of Christ the King, I am reminded of all the places in which we are called to allow Christ to be our King: our hearts, wills, societies, the world around us. When the feast was instituted by Pope Pius XI, he wanted to invite the faithful to participate in the challenges and struggles of the societies in which they lived, but to do so mindful of a higher authority. Political structures have a rightful place in our lives, but also limits, and our ultimate authority is Christ the King. When the re-open Saskatchewan plan was first announced in late April and there was no mention of religious groups and how they would be able to safely gather, we joined with faith leaders from across the province to approach our Premier with the hope of beginning a dialogue about the importance of religious gatherings. As Catholics and citizens, we recognize that civic and health authorities have an important role to play, but we also wanted them to hear what faith communities could provide to our society at a time of deep struggle, in terms of hope, of maintaining a safe environment, and of caring for the vulnerable. The fruits which have come from these dialogues and deeper relationships are most evident in the greater numbers that our spaces are allowed than other public gatherings. While more changes are likely to come, it is helpful to remember the words of Pope Pius XI in the encyclical which instituted the feast: “there seems no reason why we should despair of seeing that peace which the King of Peace came to bring on earth – he who came to reconcile all things, who came not to be ministered unto but to minister, who, though Lord of all, gave himself to us as a model of humility, and with his principal law united the precept of charity” (20).
This year on the feast of Christ the King, we will hear the powerful words of Matthew 25 and Jesus’s parable of the last judgement. Jesus our king gives us a word, a word to live by, a difficult and challenging word. The word comes in the form of a question, the last question we are ever likely to hear. The parable tells us that at the end of time, when death is conquered and God is all in all, when we stand before the risen Lord, he will ask: when I was hungry, did you give me food? When I was thirsty, did you give me something to drink? When I was sick, or in prison, did you visit me? When I was a stranger, did you welcome me? The Incarnate Word identifies himself with those in greatest need, and tells us that we encounter him there, in what Mother Teresa refers to as Christ in his most distressing disguise.
The questions ought to make us restless, uncomfortable. They are not new; we know them, we have heard them before. Indeed if we listen closely, we hear them being asked to us daily in a thousand different ways. Sometimes it’s a beggar on the street who asks them to us; sometimes it is a victim of clergy sexual abuse who wants to be heard and respected. Sometimes it is an Indigenous brother or sister who needs help, and sometimes it’s a family member or neighbour who is struggling. Sometimes it is the unborn or those at the end of life who are pushed aside, and sometimes it’s a saint, like John Chrysostom, who reminds us that an afflicted sister or brother is “the most precious temple of all.” Sometimes it’s Pope Francis, who tells us he prefers a Church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, and sometimes it’s a critic of the church, who points out our lack of integrity.
As we prepare to celebrate the Feast of Christ the King, let us renew our commitment to love and welcome the Lord in all the ways he comes to us. Let us participate in our civic life, work with our elected officials and health authorities, and do all we can to protect the vulnerable. And in all that, let us be guided above all by the Lord, who immerses himself in the sufferings and struggles of humanity and asks us to love and serve him there: Christ our King.
Watch Video Message HERE
Archbishop Don’s Message on Patience
In his letter to the Romans (5:1-5), St Paul speaks a word we need to hear, about endurance, about patience. He notes that “suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.” When I gathered with my little drafting group to prepare this message, the consensus was that I should speak about patience. It has probably never been easy to live with a deep patience, but it seems particularly difficult today to show patience.
The pandemic is demanding an incredible patience from us, and it is exhausting us.
So many people are experiencing fatigue from the pandemic. One of my confreres said recently, passionately, “I am so sick of Covid.” So many of us are tired of restrictions, tired of masks, tired of not being able to do so many things in a normal way. Yet no matter how frustrated we get, Covid 19 continues to surge around the world, and here in Saskatchewan there has been a big spike in cases. Caring for and protecting the most vulnerable among us requires patient endurance. Looking after our own mental, physical, and spiritual health and provide encouragement and support to others suffering from exhaustion and stress requires patient endurance.
Patience is especially difficult in an age of social media, and in an age of polarization. We see something we disagree with and we respond, we express our frustration. The opportunity that we have in face to face encounters, to say “am I hearing you correctly,” or “what do you mean by that,” or “have you considered this perspective,” those are often absent in social media. And the more controversial or dramatic our statements, the more likely we are to get hits, to have people pay attention to us. But the result is often polarization instead of dialogue, misrepresentation instead of understanding. One friend put it this way for me: patience is “an antidote to the driving force to act with immediacy and respond with urgency and view every situation within the virtual world as though it was the end of all worlds.”
As a people of faith, however, we are encouraged to ask “what is God’s way?” And while there are times when God acts with urgency and decisiveness, salvation history and even modern science suggest that God generally acts with incredible patience. If the universe is almost 14 billion years old, it is instructive that God waited almost 10 billion years before creating the earth, and another 4 ½ billion years before sending a Messiah. When God becomes incarnate in Jesus, it was not the fastest way to communicate or show us the face of God. Mary was pregnant with Jesus for nine months. Jesus waited 30 years for ministry. Just before his public ministry began, he spent 40 days in the desert. He patiently walked with the disciples as they struggled to understand who he was, and how God was loving us into redemption. St Paul exhorts us, “let this mind be in you which was in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 2:5). I am thinking of Star Trek’s ‘mind meld,’ which passes everything in one mind into the brain of another. God could have done it that way, but didn’t. Instead he showed us the slow and excruciating way of giving everything, unto death on the cross. After the resurrection, the Risen Jesus only met sporadically with His apostles and other disciples. The paschal mystery, the sending of the Holy Spirit, come in God’s time, as does clarity in the teaching of the church. God is incredibly patient. And of course each of us has the personal witness of God’s great patience with us, for often, mercy takes the shape of a patience that endures.
Friends, we are about to celebrate the great feasts of All Saints and All Souls. The first shows us many paths to holiness, many ways of adapting one’s life to do it God’s way. The second, All Souls, invites us to ponder those who have gone before us, especially those we have loved, who have died. In the face of death, in the face of God’s promise to transform us, to bring us to new life, the only posture that is open to us is patient trust in the great mercy of God.
So next time you find yourself fretting, full of anxiety, or frustrated or bursting with annoyance, remember and put your trust in the slow working of God, the patient and persevering way of God with us, and try to do it God’s way, relying on God’s patience, and showing that patience to others. Rich blessings along the way.
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ of the Archdiocese of Regina,
In the coming days, the people of Saskatchewan will be going to the polls for both provincial and municipal elections. As you know, Catholics are called to be engaged citizens, and to participate in the electoral process as able, using every opportunity to serve the integral promotion of the human person and the common good. We are all aware of unhealthy developments in our democracy and in the erosion of public discourse about meaningful issues. A few days ago I sat down with a few colleagues to reflect on how we bring our faith to bear in the way we approach the election. These reflections are a result of that conversation.
The first thing we did was to attend to Pope Francis’s new Encyclical on human fraternity, Fratelli tutti, and on the fifth chapter, on “A better kind of politics.” Pope Francis observes that “for many people today, politics is a distasteful word” (176), but insists that it needn’t be so. Our current needs globally and in each nation call for “a better kind of politics, one truly at the service of the common good” (154), one “capable of reforming and coordinating institutions” (177), upholding the dignity of the human person, and putting social love at the forefront rather than economics. Love is not only personal and devotional; it has a civic and political dimension (181). It is an act of love, for instance, “to strive to organize and structure society so that one’s neighbour will not find himself in poverty…. If someone helps an elderly person cross a river, that is a fine act of charity. The politician, on the other hand, builds a bridge, and that too is an act of charity” (186).
Pope Francis offers challenging words to those engaged in politics, noting: “politics is something more noble than posturing, marketing and media spin… we do well to ask ourselves, ‘Why I am doing this?’, ‘What is my real aim?’ For as time goes on, reflecting on the past, the questions will not be: ‘How many people endorsed me?’, ‘How many voted for me?’… The real, and potentially painful, questions will be, ‘How much love did I put into my work?’ ‘How much social peace did I sow?’ ‘What good did I achieve in the position that was entrusted to me?’” (197).
Asking hard questions isn’t reserved for political candidates. At a time of polarization and hardening of political lines, it is also important to think about how we participate in the political process, and to recognize the ways in which our political engagement shapes both our own spiritual health and that of our communities. In addition to carefully studying how our Catholic values are or are not represented in the various party platforms, we need to also attend carefully to the impact that politics has on our souls. Do we find that our engagement with our neighbours who might not share our political commitments builds up our capacity to engage in rigorous but respectful dialogue, our willingness to work together for the common good? Do we ever find it difficult to imagine that a good person might come to a different political conclusion than we do? If we are honest before God in prayer, do we find ourselves more or less charitable, or patient, or honest, or generous, because of our political activities and commitments? As Catholics, we should recognize that the health of our society depends more on our own and our community’s growth in virtue than on who wins the next election. So I invite us all to consider that an election is not merely a matter of deciding who to vote for, but a way in which we grow or fail in virtue, a way to build up or tear down our communities.
With the forthcoming provincial election in mind, the Saskatchewan Bishops have approved a non-partisan resource for voters in our province, in collaboration with an organization called Catholic Conscience. We have set up a website, https://catholicconscience.org/saskatchewan2020/ , which “offers voters an opportunity to ensure that Saskatchewan is guided by leaders who will provide practical and efficient leadership with the good of all in mind – including the unborn, the elderly, the young, families, and those who are too often forgotten by society – as well as workers, farmers, business owners, and all future generations.” The website provides a range of information to assist with your discernment, and most notably, a chart which identifies various aspects of Catholic social and moral teaching, and provides the statements from the platforms of the parties running in the forthcoming election. Political parties have been approached and invited to update or provide new information so that anyone using the website will have as comprehensive information as possible. We are immensely grateful to be able to work with “Catholic Conscience,” and hope that you will find this website helpful.
The Catholic voting process always involves informing ourselves about the teachings of the Church and issues relevant to the election, and looking at what our voting options are. Once the election is over, we are also encouraged to stay actively and respectfully engaged with those who have been elected – whether they are our own preferred candidates or not.
Finally, we are encouraged to bring our own discernment, and those running for office, to prayer. Let’s conclude this reflection in prayer:
Lord, Father of our human family,
Your Son Jesus taught us in the Parable of the Good Samaritan
that each of us is called to care for our brothers and sisters
without concern for our differences or what divides us.
Pour your spirit out upon each and every one of us:
Give us, and all involved in the forthcoming election,
a spirit of humility, to acknowledge our failures,
a spirit of gratitude for each of the gifts that you have given us,
a spirit of wisdom, to guide our actions in accordance with your teaching.
a spirit of fraternity so that we might have concern for the most vulnerable,
and a spirit of love, so that we might abide even more fully in you.
O God, Trinity of Love, from the profound communion of your divine life,
grant each and every one of us a deeper sense of unity.
Give to us a desire to sacrifice ourselves for our brothers and sisters.
Help us live like your family did, with simplicity in Nazareth
and as the early Christian community did, whose charity spread throughout the world.
O Good Shepherd, Christ the King,
you are our guide.
Continue to guide us, then, to your will
in this, and in every moment of our lives.
Our Lady of the Rosary, pray for us.
St Joseph, pray for us.
St Joan of Arc, pray for us.
St Juan Diego Cuahtaltoatzin, pray for us.
St Kateri Tekakwitha, pray for us.
Archbishop Don’s Weekly Message – Watch HERE
Archbishop Don’s Weekly Message
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ of the Archdiocese of Regina,
Warm greetings in the Risen Lord. It is now 3 months since my last video message. It was the start of the Summer, and now we are into October. Regarding the pandemic and the guidelines for faith communities, not that much has changed. But I thought it would be helpful to give a quick overview of where we are at, and identify a couple of areas where questions have arisen and where we face challenges.
The protocols for celebrating a Mass in the Archdiocese of Regina remain unchanged. The need to sanitize hands and surfaces and the 2m physical distancing between households continue. The number allowed to attend a Mass can be 30% of building capacity, to a maximum of 150 people, and parishes need to be keeping track of the people who attend each Mass. The way communion is handled is determined locally by each parish priest and his parishioners from a short list of options that have been provided. Singing is only permitted if everyone present is wearing a mask.
The archdiocesan protocol team has recently developed some directions for parishes to hold gatherings outside of Mass. As we enter a season when catechesis and sacrament preparation would normally begin, there are ways for these type of gatherings to be held safely. Attention to detail and pre-planning continue to be important when making the decision to return to any type of meeting or gathering. Staff at the archdiocesan offices are available to assist parishes in navigating the decisions and the details.
As you are likely aware, there are different interpretations about how we as society and as church ought to respond to the pandemic. Are the directives too rigid? Are they too lax? Taking part in the societal debate on this can be fruitful, a good thing to do. Right now it feels as though on the internet you can find experts who take radically different stances. But the church here needs to work with our Saskatchewan civic and health officials, and to be guided by their directives. The working relationship we established gave health officials the confidence to allow faith communities to minister within the parameters just laid out. We continue to raise questions as they arise, and to work within their guidelines.
One question that has arisen internally in the Church concerns the dispensation from the obligation to attend Sunday Mass, a dispensation which has been widely granted by bishops throughout the world. Of course, bishops have sought to protect vulnerable people from feeling obliged to gather with groups where they might contract a serious and possibly fatal disease. We also recognized that the need to limit the number of people gathering indoors at any one time meant it was simply impossible, in larger parishes, for everyone attend Mass, at least on Sunday. As the pandemic drags on, the question of when this dispensation might end is a legitimate one. If Mass is, in fact, the center of our Catholic faith, the place where we meet Christ in the Eucharist and where we truly become who we are as Church, we dare not give the impression that it is unimportant.
The increasing likelihood of further waves of the pandemic and the continued vulnerability of many in our faith community means that the dispensation is likely to remain in place for the foreseeable future, here and around the world. That said, I would like to remind us all of the immense value of our attendance at Sunday Mass. A dispensation granted for specific legitimate reasons is not an announcement that Mass is unimportant. If you are able to safely attend Mass, I strongly encourage you to join your parish community, to receive Christ’s gift of himself to us in the Eucharist, and, in this time of separation, anxiety, and loneliness, to remember in prayer those members of our community who are not able to sacramentally join in “the source and summit” of our Christian life. It is my fervent prayer that, whether we are or are not able to attend Mass, the Lord might use these trying circumstances to draw each of us closer to Himself, given for us.
One other challenge that we face in our contemporary situation concerns the reception of the Eucharist. In offering different ways in which communion can be received, we worked with the more general guidelines of health officials, and asked questions about what would be safe and what would put people’s health in jeopardy, and we made decisions accordingly, decisions not everyone is happy with. Here, I would like to stress two things. First, the Eucharist is to be treated with reverence. Our deep conviction is that Christ is present in the Eucharist, and we should not lose sight of that. Deep love and reverence for the Eucharist is a good and holy attitude that we want to encourage in the Church. Second, it is also our deep conviction that we see the Body of Christ in the lives of all the faithful, especially the most vulnerable members of our community. Listen to this homily excerpt from St. John Chrysostom in the 4th century, about how we are to revere Christ in the Eucharist and in caring for our vulnerable sisters and brothers: “Do you want to honour Christ’s body? Then do not scorn him in his nakedness, nor honour him here in the church with silken garments while neglecting him outside where he is cold and naked. For he who said ‘this is my body,’ and made it so by his words, also said: ‘You saw me hungry and did not feed me, and inasmuch as you did not do it for one of these, the least of my brothers, you did not do it for me.’… Do not, therefore, adorn the church and ignore your afflicted brother, for he is the most precious temple of all.”
Dear brothers and sisters, may you know God’s bountiful blessings as we walk together as church, both treasuring the Eucharist and caring for the vulnerable. Perseverance to you all!
From the Catholic Bishops of Saskatchewan
As Catholic bishops of our province’s Catholic churches and institutions, we express our great concern regarding racial injustices. We join others in our community who support efforts at addressing racial injustice and respond to the scandal of how people treat one another.
The protests that began over the tragic death of George Floyd in the United States have expanded as protesters raise awareness of widespread injustice. In our own provincial context, people across the province are calling on government, businesses, and all institutions to address inequality and injustices caused by systemic racism. In our context, such systemic racism continues to impact Indigenous Peoples, and those of African and Asian descent, including most recently anti-Asian assaults and offenses in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic.
We also continue to hear of incidents here in Saskatchewan and in other parts of Canada that are of grave concern. As we observe this deterioration of human respect and kindness, we need to affirm the intrinsic dignity of every human person and seek respectful and constructive ways to solve problems and differences, versus spiraling into increasing disrespect and violence. There is far too much at stake to continue down this fateful and destructive path!
There is much to affirm on this issue in our Catholic tradition, beginning in the first book of the Bible, where we read how all peoples are created in the image and likeness of God Himself. (see Genesis 1:26-27) With the privilege of being created fully human comes the responsibility to live and act towards others as God acts towards us. St. Paul affirms this call when he states,
“If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus…” (Phil. 2: 1-5)
The privilege of our humanity carries with it the great responsibility of the preferential care of our brothers and sisters – especially those who deal with obstacles, injustices, or other barriers to their human flourishing.
One of these barriers is systemic racism. Racism affects our culture in many ways. Times of crisis – such as the current circumstance of the COVID-19 pandemic – further aggravates racism’s effects as people are under further strain and feel threatened. If not addressed, racism will tear apart human solidarity as it corrupts our minds and hearts.
Let us work together to end the scourge of racism and intolerance by encouraging respectful dialogue that addresses our society’s major justice issues, including addressing obstacles to human dignity, and seeks ways to bring about constructive growth and change. In the biblical tradition, such change always first involves a personal change of mind and heart – an ongoing interior conversion. “Get yourselves a new heart and a new spirit!” (Ezekiel 18:31) We can work constructively for systemic change and growth when we are open to this in our own lives.
Such change also needs to address how we engage and dialogue about difficult topics and issues. In all ways – the Christian community and all people of good will need to hold the bar high in how we behave ourselves and as we seek constructive and respectful dialogue versus the way of destructive confrontation or melancholic disengagement. Pope Francis highlights the primacy of dialogue as follows:
“If there is one word that we should never tire of repeating, it is this: dialogue. We are called to promote a culture of dialogue by every possible means and thus to rebuild the fabric of society. The culture of dialogue entails a true apprenticeship and a discipline that enables us to view others as valid dialogue partners, to respect the foreigner, the immigrant and people from different cultures as worthy of being listened to. Today we urgently need to engage all the members of society in building a culture which privileges dialogue as a form of encounter’ and in creating ‘a means for building consensus and agreement while seeking the goal of a just, responsive and inclusive society.”
Let us pray and commit ourselves to this honourable and very needed path! As bishops we join with all of you in expressing the good work of Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, completed in 2015. We have only just begun to carry out its vision for achieving reconciliation. The circumstances that we face highlighting racism, injustice and violence in our world remind us that we are at an important threshold. May we choose wisely and walk courageously as we, “… act justly, love kindly, and walk humbly with our God” (Micah 6:8).
CATHOLIC BISHOPS OF SASKATCHEWAN
One of my favourite prayers – well, it’s really an invitation to prayer – comes from the Proslogion of St. Anselm of Canterbury, and it seems to me very opportune as we enter into the Summer season. St. Anselm writes, “Come now, little one, turn aside for a while from your daily employment, escape for a moment from the tumult of your thoughts. Put aside your weighty cares, let your burdensome distractions wait, free yourself awhile for God and rest awhile in him. Enter the inner chamber of your soul, shut everything out except God and that which can help you in seeking him, and when you have shut the door, seek him. Now, my whole heart, say to God, ‘I seek your face, Lord, it is your face I seek.’”
The invitation to rest a while in God is vital for us to hear. It is Summer, and while we remain in the midst of a pandemic, some aspects of life that we have missed are being reopened. We aren’t back to normal, but we are as close to normal as we’re likely going to be for a while. It’s good to walk by parks and see people having fun, enjoying the beautiful weather, enjoying public spaces in our communities, even if we all stay 2 m apart.
The pandemic has hit each of us differently, but all have been impacted. Some have lost jobs, and some have had their work expand exponentially. Many have been cut off from their loved ones. It has dragged on, and I’ve noticed in recent weeks a collective fatigue setting in. There is a fair bit of anger and irritability in the air. You sometimes encounter a real venting of emotions about something that seems really small, and you think, something else is going on here. Sometimes you encounter that in yourself.
When we read in the Scriptures about keeping holy the sabbath, it’s interesting to see how strong that invitation is from God. We are to rest on the 7th day. When Jesus and his disciples are traveling through Galilee and Judea, he invites them to step away and rest for a while. There are many things in our culture, not bad in themselves, which move us to be busy all the time, to produce, to accomplish, to achieve, to become. There can be a strong moral overtone to all of that as well. That can set us up for burnout, or at the very least, for exhaustion, with a restlessness that keeps driving us. It’s good to remember that the one who created us, who has great plans for us, who is at work in the depths of our being, tells us on a regular basis to step aside and rest for a while.
Sometimes when I go to bed at night and start thinking about the 300 things still on my to do list or the 1100 emails in my inbox, and how I haven’t reached out to people who have asked for help, or I’ve reached out to one and ended up elbowing another in the process, I find it hard to sleep. Pope John XXIII used to pray at night, Lord, it’s your church, you look after it for a while, I’m going to sleep. My prayer is simpler, rising from the heart: O God, let me rest in you. Let me rest in you.
Many of us feel that fatigue and exhaustion, including those who have been cut off from their work. I think we would all do well to hear the Lord invite us to come away for a while and rest in him. There’s a lovely little story from the Jewish tradition that suggests that when God wakes up in the morning, God gathers the angels together and asks, “where does my world need healing today?” Sometimes the answer is, it needs healing from all the busy-ness, the hectic pace, the chaotic pursuits which keep us running all the time. We would all do well to rediscover some of the wisdom and grace of keeping the sabbath, whatever that might mean for us.
On that note, I am going to sign off for a little while from these weekly messages. I will return to them at some point in the next few weeks, sooner if there is something urgent to communicate. But before signing off, I want to extend a few thank yous: thank you for watching or following these weekly messages, and for following the livestreamed Masses and other video resources we have produced during this pandemic; thank you for carrying the burdens that this strange time has placed on you, and for the ways in which you have been able to reach out to others in the midst of it; thank you to the clergy and staff, parish council and other lay leaders who have worked to keep our communities intact over the past months; thank you to those who have worked on the financial front to secure subsidies which keep us from financial crisis, to those who have made possible those subsidies, and to those who have continued to contribute to our parishes despite not being able to celebrate our faith in the usual ways; thank you to the archdiocesan staff who have persevered, and to those who have been creative and energetic during this pandemic, especially in the field of communications; thank you to little groups I have gathered to brainstorm about homilies and about the content of weekly messages, and who have generously allowed me to share their ideas without indicating the source of those ideas; thanks to the many committees who have continued to work over the past months, with special thanks to those who work on policy and protocol and education to prevent sexual abuse and address the painful legacy of clergy sexual abuse; thanks for your understanding to those who are still waiting for a response to emails or letters, and thanks for your patience to those who are frustrated with our efforts to take steps forward as safely and faithfully as possible in our churches.
Wishing you all some time of rest during the Summer months. May we all heed the Lord’s voice to come and rest for a while, to live deeply the life he has given us, and to seek his face. God bless!
Archbishop Don’s Weekly Message Watch HERE
Expanding Numbers: Blessings and Challenges
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ of the Archdiocese of Regina, and all listening to this message, warm greetings in the Lord Jesus.
As anticipated, at the end of last week, we were informed that the numbers allowed at services of worship, including Catholic Masses, has risen significantly. We are now allowed to gather up to a third of the normal capacity of churches, up to a maximum of 150, but with the following stipulations, which are very important, and have not always been clearly presented in media reports. What is permitted, if our space allows, is up to five groups of 30 people. Each of those 5 groups need to be separated by 5 m. Within each group of 30, we still need to keep 2 m distance between families or individuals. So in fact we don’t actually have a facility that could hold 150 unless we also used halls, auditoriums, and other meeting spaces. But it is good news that we are able to gather to that extent, and is a real step forward. Of course those with health risks, the elderly, and anyone who is not yet comfortable gathering in a public place at this stage of the pandemic, are free to remain at home. The dispensation from the Sunday obligation to attend Mass remains in place.
The government-appointed liaison team that has been working with faith leaders has helped us to interpret the government directives, assuring us that a certain trust has been extended to faith communities, in part because of the work we have done to this point in taking the precautions which reduce the chances of a further spread of the virus. Faith leaders have been invited to make decisions for their congregations, and as Archbishop, I in turn entrust local pastors, in dialogue with their parish councils and drawing on our archdiocesan guidelines, to make decisions and take appropriate steps in each parish. We need to make those decisions with public safety and care for the most vulnerable ever in mind.
From the discussions with the government’s liaison team, here are a couple of cautions that I would identify for all concerned. First, given the physical distancing directives from the chief medical officer and government, it is more helpful and more realistic for us to think in terms of how many groups of 30 (or less in smaller churches) we can safely accommodate, rather than to think in terms of 150 at the outset. Second, have a plan for cleaning and disinfecting surfaces touched by parishioners prior to and after each Mass, a seating arrangement, and a plan for entering and exiting the church. Third, and most difficult of all in terms of giving communion, when people come within 2 m of each other, both need to be wearing masks.
While many have rejoiced in the last couple of weeks at being able to go to Mass for the first time in several months, there has been much discussion and in some circles, no small controversy, about how communion is being given in various parishes within the Archdiocese. We can understand why some people are upset, and feel so passionately about how we receive communion. It is a sign that your faith matters to you greatly. For some who have shared their concerns, the greatest priority is doing things in the most appropriate liturgical way possible; for others, it is doing things in the safest way possible from a health perspective; for some it is being able to receive communion in their preferred way; for others, it is holding everyone in the community together in the midst of an enormously challenging situation.
When we prepared guidelines based on the government’s directives, including several possible ways in which communion could be given, we sought to take all of these concerns into consideration. But these values need to be held in relation to each other. While we are grateful that the numbers allowed at Mass have risen, the current restrictions are indeed challenging. The surge in new cases a couple of days ago is a reminder that we need to remain vigilant.
Thank you for your patience, care and perseverance, including with those with whom you may disagree; these are tangible signs of your love for your neighbours. Thank you to all who have found creative ways to reach out to parishioners and those in need around you amidst the pandemic, ways within the parameters of what is allowed, which are genuinely helpful to others. Thank you for your efforts at maintaining communication with your fellow parishioners, for your care for the vulnerable, for your love for the Eucharist and your patience with us as we try our best to find a way forward, and to remain united as a community as we do so.
May God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – keep us all in communion and in His peace.
Archbishop Don’s Weekly Message Watch HERE