Recently I took up the task of re-organizing cupboards, drawers, and files at home. Some of the things I do not use daily but consider important enough to keep offer a bittersweet mixture of memories. More sweet than bitter now are items that remind me of my father, who died fifteen years ago this month. The surprise discovery was a hastily sketched diagram of my father’s family tree. It is in my handwriting so I must have asked him to tell me all he could remember some time before he died. Although I was ruthless in discarding things I no longer needed, I carefully slid this paper back into the folder with a plan to transcribe the diagram into an electronic format for preservation. Otherwise, I revisited items that I know very well: dad’s silver pen, his harmonica, a cardigan. I don’t bring them out too often because although they carry the fondest memories they also evoke the strongest longing. Focusing on items that belonged to a loved one we miss is a powerful act of devotion. When I hold dad’s pen I recall the vigour reflected in his handwriting. When I pick up the harmonica I hear not only the music but also the joyful laughter that accompanied those occasions when he played. When I wear the cardigan, I almost feel his arms around me. These somatic, physical reminders are usually a comfort though sometimes too much to bear. More than a memory in and of themselves, the items convey the actions, personality, and relationships of the person we love, inviting us to experience that love again and to continue sharing that love in the world. For the same reason, Catholics venerate the relics of the saints.
“The religious sense of the Christian people has always found expression in various forms of piety surrounding the Church’s sacramental life.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1674). One of the earliest examples of the veneration of relics comes from the second century after the Bishop of Smyrna, St. Polycarp, suffered martyrdom by burning at the stake. The Church of Smyrna wrote a letter to the rest of the Church describing the events surrounding the martyrdom. Near the end of the letter, the authors explain the dual purpose of veneration of the body: commemoration of the one who has died and training for those who continue to live the faith.
And so we afterwards took up his bones which are more valuable than precious stones and finer than refined gold, and laid them in a suitable place; where the Lord will permit us to gather ourselves together, as we are able, in gladness and joy, and to celebrate the birth-day of his martyrdom for the commemoration of those that have already fought in the contest, and of the training and preparation of those that shall do so hereafter. (The Martyrdom of Polycarp, trans. J. G. Lightfoot, accessed January 10, 2018).
Consider that the martyrs are those who suffered bodily and lost their life in the flesh on account of their faith in Christ. Therefore, it is not incidental that the faithful of Smyrna venerated not an abstract symbol of their Bishop but the remains of his physical body, which was the vehicle for his witness to the faith. God works through the instruments of the saints on earth and so the relic of a saint does not have magical power but is a sign of God’s work. By venerating the relic, we show that God’s work in the saint’s life of holiness is to continue in the world through us.
Our faith is incarnational; our salvation rests upon God taking human flesh, followed by the suffering and death of that flesh, and its resurrection on the third day. The veneration of a bodily relic may seem gruesome considering that we rightly concentrate on loving life, saving lives, and protecting life. However, if we pause to consider with the eyes of faith, we realise that the crucifixion was gruesome and the mortal body does die. But the gruesome aspect is only half the picture. The eyes of faith also see the glory of the resurrection. At the end of the Nicene Creed we profess that we look forward to the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come. We profess our belief not only in Jesus’ resurrection but also our belief that “God, in his almighty power, will definitively grant incorruptible life to our bodies by reuniting them with our souls, through the power of Jesus’s Resurrection.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 997). The bodily relic of a saint that strikes us as gruesome is in actuality a reminder of the dignity due to all human bodies. As St. Paul taught, the body, a temple of the Holy Spirit, is relevant even after death.
What of the commandment to worship God alone? Devotional practices, such as the veneration of relics, must be properly understood and be experienced as an extension of the liturgical life of the Church so that they advance the knowledge of the mystery of Christ and do not become permeated by superstition (cf. Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, 13). Classical theology makes a distinction between adoration (latria) and veneration (dulia). Adoration is worship due to God as the Creator. Veneration is a sign of reverence or respect shown to a created person. Our religious practice reflects this distinction. The gesture of genuflection is a sign of adoration and is therefore reserved for God alone in the Most Blessed Sacrament and for the Holy Cross from the solemn adoration during Good Friday until the beginning of the Easter Vigil. Only God is to be adored so it is not appropriate to genuflect towards a relic of a saint. To show respect to the saint for his or her holy life in a gesture of veneration, you might bow your head, kiss, or touch the relic or case in which the relic is held (called a reliquary). Relics are often born in procession, shown to the sick or the dying, and an impetus for asking the intercession of the saint for healing. If the faithful are blessed with the relic, they should kneel during that blessing.
It may be difficult to look with bodily eyes on the forearm of St. Francis Xavier that you are invited to venerate in our diocese on January 21 or 22, 2018. Yet, in the same way as the items used by my father inspire me through their physical qualities to experience and take up the inner qualities of his love, so the bodily relics of the saints, gazed upon with the eyes of faith, invite us to recognize God’s work in the saint’s holy life and to continue that work in our own lives.
By Dr. Simone Brosig
Director of Liturgy, Diocese of Calgary
Our Catholic parishes in the Diocese of Calgary are vibrant in their diversity and that includes people with disabilities. All disciples are called to be Christ’s hands and feet in the world. Including people with disabilities is not so much about doing things for them as it is about recognizing and cultivating their unique gifts and then helping them to share their gifts with the community so that they can be returned to God with increase. Here are six ways to include people with disabilities in the life of your parish.
- Ask rather than assume.
- See the person first, the disability second.
- Respond to your community.
- Be taught by the masters of problem-solving.
- Be not afraid.
- Receive God’s gifts with gratitude.
People with disabilities are often more able than we know. It is respectful to ask: What are your gifts? What are your limitations? What would make it possible for you to fulfil this ministry? Many of us want to help. Even though our hearts may be in the right place, we run the risk of being over–protective or condescending. Instead, ask directly if someone needs or wants your help.
Take the time to learn the person’s name and use it. Don’t replace the name of the person with the name of the condition. For example, it is better to say, “Bob has autism” rather than referring to Bob as, “that autistic boy.”
Do you have people with limited mobility, who cannot access the facilities or are being kept from ministries because they cannot access the ambo or the choir loft? If so, install a railing near the ambo or assign a server to assist with stairs. Is it possible to sometimes sing from a more accessible location or to bring the microphone to a lector? Are people in wheelchairs able to access all the facilities and is there a place for them in the assembly? Do you have any large print resources for those who are visually impaired or any parishioners who could communicate in sign language with those who are hearing impaired?
People with disabilities are masters of problem-solving, adaptation, and innovation. In that way, they often do things differently to accomplish the same goal. Take the time to learn from the person where the limitations lie and how to overcome them. Listen to their suggestions with an open heart and mind.
Don’t avoid inviting people with disabilities to serve in ministry out of fear that more challenges and problems may arise. People with disabilities are beautiful and whole just as they are and their talents are gifts from God waiting to bear fruit in your community.
This is the first principle of Christian stewardship. Disabled people in the assembly need to see people like themselves in positions of leadership and people without disabilities need an opportunity to receive all of God’s gifts, those coming from people with and without disabilities.
A Hug from God is All you need
Even with the Extraordinary Year of Mercy behind us, doors across our diocese remain open for you to experience the peace, love, and joy brought by participating in the sacrament of Reconciliation. In addition to the regular parish schedule, the sacrament of Reconciliation will be available at parishes throughout the Diocese of Calgary all the Wednesdays of Advent from 7:30–8:30 p.m.
Nov. 20 • Christ the King
Catholics celebrate the sacrament of Reconciliation because we recognise that sometimes we fail to do as we ought and because we believe in God’s mercy and forgiveness. The priest can help you and you can trust the Holy Spirit to guide you. Even if you don’t know how you can change your life, showing up makes you open to the grace that the sacrament brings. The Diocese of Calgary invites you to re-discover the meaning of the sacrament of Reconciliation in your life. Action: Do you celebrate the sacrament of Reconciliation regularly? If so, share your positive experience with someone this week. If you are afraid to go to Reconciliation, speak about your reservations with a priest or someone you know who does participate in the sacrament.
Nov. 27 • First Sunday of Advent
The readings for this first Sunday of Advent remind us that the spiritual life is a journey. Any trip takes preparation and effort. It can be easier to stay where we are but the journey also brings rewards—new experiences, new friends, great photos, and transformation. Our pilgrim journey is no different. The prophet Isaiah compares the spiritual journey to climbing a mountain. It requires wakefulness and effort to reach the summit. The sacrament of Reconciliation might seem like an insurmountable peak especially if we have been coasting on the plains for a while but this effort need not be a burden if we keep in mind the purpose of the journey and what awaits us at the top. The real reward of the spiritual journey is union with God through Jesus Christ, which we experience as a deep peace. So this Advent put on your hiking shoes and take up your response to the Psalmist: Let us go rejoicing to the house of the Lord! Action: Stay awake and take note of the call to discipleship in everyday moments.
Dec. 4 • Second Sunday of Advent
Isaiah prophesies that Jesus will bring reconciliation between even natural enemies: the wolf with the lamb, the cow with the bear, even the small child with the venomous snake. Who are your enemies? Do not lose hope for reconciliation. Through Jesus we too can experience reconciliation in our lives and in our world. John the Baptist calls all people to repentance so that we can live in harmony with one another and welcome one another in the same way Christ has welcomed us. We can hope that through steadfastness and endurance we too can prepare the way for Lord’s healing of division. Action: Look in your community and among your neighbours, family, and friends. Where there is division, take the first step towards reconciliation.
Dec. 11 • Third Sunday of Advent,Gaudete Sunday
With God anything is possible. There is the danger to think that God will never forgive you or that you cannot change yourself or the world. In Advent we are reminded that we do not need to do everything ourselves. Jesus has ransomed us and we respond to the psalmist by crying out: “Lord, come and save us.“ It may be that the healing or the change for which we long does not come quickly enough for us. Advent is also about waiting. In Advent, we have to be patient and trust that the coming of the Lord is near. With God, the blind can see, the lame walk, the sick are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor receive good news! The Lord continues to do these things for us but we have to put aside all substitutes for God in order to see and receive the healing promised through Jesus Christ. Action: Look for the goodness of God in your life, in the people around you, and in the world.
Dec. 18 • Fourth Sunday of Advent
The problems of life are not always as they seem. Mary was engaged to Joseph but before they lived together she was found to be with child. What was Joseph to do? He planned to dismiss her quietly, but then an angel appeared and all his problems took on new meaning. The child is conceived by the Holy Spirit and he will be the Saviour! Joseph was afraid but had faith and did as the angel commanded. In difficult times you do not need to walk alone. Next week we celebrate the birth of the Christ child, Emmanuel, God with us. In times of trial, turn to prayer; invite Jesus, Mary, and all the saints to guide you and advocate for you. Action: The angel’s promise is fulfilled as we celebrate the birth of the Christ child. Amidst the trials of your life, be like Joseph; in faith and humility lay your turbulence in the manger and know that God is with you.
The Diocesan Forum in Initiation (the Forum) works through the Office of Liturgy and with the Religious Education Secretariat to carry out the Bishop’s mission of Christian Initiation in the Diocese. The Forum supports parish initiation teams by providing formation in initiation ministry, researching best practices, and building relationships with parishes. Members of the Forum are people of prayer with experience in catechesis and ministry. They have discerned a calling to this ministry and enjoy working as part of a team.
The Forum invites new members as needed. If you are interested in joining the Forum or for more information, please contact the Director of Liturgy at 403-218-5524 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Prepare and host the Rite of Election annually along with the Office of Liturgy, Diocesan Liturgical Commission, and Sacred Music Committee
- Conduct research on current issues and practice in initiation ministry
- Prepare annual formation in the diocese for initiation ministers
- Prepare resources for parish initiation teams
- Build relationships with parish initiation teams
- Attend monthly Forum meeting (usually Thursday, 5:45 – 7:45pm)
- Participate in ongoing formation through reading and discussion
- Complete assigned action-items between meetings
- Cultivate relationship with assigned parish initiation teams
- Attend and assist Forum events (e.g. Rite of Election, workshops etc.)
- Two-year commitment.
- Leadership experience in initiation ministry or other related experience.
- Demonstrated commitment to ongoing ministry formation (e.g. attendance at diocesan workshops, TEAM program, Catechetical Certificate Program, NAF Institutes, or other)
- Provide a reference from someone at the parish who can testify to your leadership and pastoral experience.
- Provide the name of your current pastor for reference.