In the coming year, Pope Francis is inviting the Church to chart a course that will invite young people to be front and center at the upcoming Synod in the fall of 2018. The theme of the Synod is, Young People, the Faith and Vocational Discernment. It will offer the universal Church, and the Diocese of Calgary, the opportunity to examine how she might lead young people to recognize and accept the call to the fullness of life and love which can be experienced when we encounter Christ. In preparation for this Synod, young people will be asked to help identify how the Gospel touches their lives and how they might desire to participate in proclaiming this mission. Surveys are being circulated electronically so that the perspectives of young people can become the guiding input for the Synod.
The preparatory document for the Synod, released in January of 2017, begins as follows: “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full” [Jn 15:11]. This is God’s plan for all men and women in every age, including all the young men and women of the Third Millennium, without exception.”
Young People, the Faith and Vocational Discernment is divided into three parts. The first urges listening to reality. The second highlights the importance of discernment in the light of faith in order to make life choices that truly correspond to the will of God and to the good of the person. The third focuses on the pastoral action of the ecclesial community. Each of these three aspects is rooted in joy recognizing it as an affirming sign of confirmation that God’s Will is being followed.
The preparatory document goes on to say, “Proclaiming the joy of the Gospel is the mission entrusted by the Lord to his Church. The Synod on the New Evangelization and the Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium treated how to accomplish this mission in today’s world. The two synods on the family and the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Amoris laetitia were, instead, dedicated to helping families find this joy.
In keeping with this mission and introducing a new approach through a Synod with the topic, Young People, the Faith and Vocational Discernment, the Church has decided to examine herself on how she can lead young people to recognize and accept the call to the fullness of life and love, and to ask young people to help her in identifying the most effective ways to announce the Good News today. By listening to young people, the Church will once again hear the Lord speaking in today’s world. As in the days of Samuel [cf. 1 Sam 3:1-21] and Jeremiah [cf. Jer 1:4-10], young people know how to discern the signs of our times, indicated by the Spirit. Listening to their aspirations, the Church can glimpse the world which lies ahead and the paths the Church is called to follow.”
A vocation is all about love. It is a life of love in a concrete, particular form that comes from God. Each vocation begins with God’s love for us. In that love, He is calling us to a particular form of life. This love involves first God’s total gift of Himself to us, and then in response our total gift of self to Him.
Jesus tells us in the Gospel according to St. John, “You did not choose me, but I chose you” [Jn 15:16]. Sometimes we ask ourselves, “What do I want to do in the future” or “What life will I choose?” Discerning a vocation invites us to ask: “What does Jesus want for us?”; “What life will bring Jesus the greatest glory?” and ultimately to say, “I want what Jesus wants.” A vocation is the particular life God has chosen for us, and for which He has specifically created us. A vocation means to be sent by Jesus on a mission to help Him bring God’s Kingdom to the world, and it calls for much love, courage and sacrifice on our part, made possible by the love and grace of God. The key to discovering our vocation is first to welcome Jesus’ great love for us into our hearts.
This vision of discerning a vocation, living Christ’s love fully and accomplishing a unique mission that furthers the Kingdom of God on earth inspires the 2018 Synod and its preparatory document. Importantly, the path to this Synod during the papacy of Pope Francis has laid the foundational cornerstones which support vocational discernment – the vital role of families, the desire to pray and the call to mission.
These three areas of family, prayer and mission rooted in joy are foundational to the healthy discernment of a vocation.
In the apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia (The Joy of Love) on love in the family, Pope Francis affirmed the importance of family life and the ways in which pastoral ministry is extended to support families. He further describes families as the place where love and faith are shared and lived saying, “Love is shown by little things, by attention to small daily signs which make us feel at home. Faith grows when it is lived and shaped by love. That is why our families, our homes, are true domestic churches. They are the right place for faith to become life, and life to grow in faith.” In so many ways, parents introduce their children to the faith and model for them a love relationship which mirrors the love of the Father.
This yearning for the love of God first experienced in the home leads us to seek a relationship with Him through prayer and sacrament. Indeed, this time of prayer can lead us to the “new creation in Christ” of which St. Paul speaks in his letters. Prayer is transformative. Pope Francis highlights this transformational impact of prayer when he says, “Read a passage from the Gospel every day. It is the power that changes us, transforms us; it changes lives and hearts.” Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium (Joy of the Gospel) emphasizes two points among several others – the primacy of prayer in a faith-filled life and the call to live out that prayer life in faithful mission.
A religious mission is prompted by a realization that a positive change needs to happen and a commitment to work towards the realization of that change. The call to build a better world is one that young people today can grasp in many ways. A world where violence is lessened and eliminated; a world where tolerance and love replace hatred and fear; a world where justice and peace replace enslavement and human trafficking; a world where the gifts of creation are respected by responsible stewardship and the environmental abuses cease; and a world where the sanctity of life from conception to natural death is honoured. Pope Francis describes the mission saying, “A better world can be built also as a result of your efforts, your desire to change and your generosity. Do not be afraid to listen to the Spirit who proposes bold choices; do not delay when your conscience asks you to take risks in following the Master.” It is this call or charism which inspired the foundation of religious orders in the past to begin hospitals, schools, and social services. That call is no less present today. It just takes different forms.
Every young person is called to discover their unique vocation to love. This takes concrete form in life through a series of choices that find their expression in marriage, single life, ordained ministry, consecrated life, etc., in social and civil commitments, professions and work, sustainable lifestyles, and ultimately the commitment to the dignity of life from conception to natural death for each human person in the world. The goal of a young person’s vocational discernment is to discover how they are being called by God to embrace their future lives, in the light of faith, and to know the fullness of joy to which everyone is called.
In Fr. Cristino’s article on page 11 (Carillon), he outlines how the Synod’s phase of consultation will unfold in our diocese through the Catholic schools and parishes. In addition to this, a group of young people from Calgary have been invited to participate in a country-wide consultation on October 10 through Salt & Light TV with Cardinal Farrell. The questions and interventions posed by young people in this cross-country encounter will be based on Young People, the Faith and Vocational Discernment which will serve as the reference point for the discussion at the Synod.
With the recent pastoral assignments taking affect in the diocese as of August 2017, I have appointed as Vocations Director, Fr. Cristino Bouvette and a Vicar for Catholic Education, Fr. Jerome Lavigne. Collaborating with me and their brother priests, they will be able to further this pastoral engagement with our young people through families, parishes, the Catholic schools, universities, and parishes. The teamwork with our Youth Ministry Office, the Catholic teachers in our schools and the many lay volunteers is necessary if this engagement of our youth is to bear fruit. To outreach to their parents and to strengthen the relationship between the parish, school and family, we are beginning to pilot a new parish based sacramental preparation program in five of our parishes. The engagement of the parents is key dimension of this program and it is a recognition that we can’t keep doing things “the same old way” if we hope for different results. The new evangelization calls for a new ardor and new methods in proclaiming the Gospel.
Finally, on October 19, the importance of our youth and young people will be the focus of the annual Bishop’s Dinner highlighting the future of our local Church. It will be a celebration that brings together our parishes, lay associations and local community service groups that are essential in promoting such a diocesan vision in addition to the sponsors and benefactors who generously support such initiatives. I acknowledge and thank Henry and Sharon van der Sloot for their leadership of this event. The young people who will be in attendance and those directly involved in the presentations are the next generation that the Church and society will look to for the “future sustainability of the human family” as Pope Francis is indicating through this Synod. I invite you to come and enjoy a wonderful evening as we prepare for the Synod and celebrate Young People, the Faith and Vocational Discernment in our diocese.
☩ William McGrattan
Bishop of Calgary
The month of September marks the beginning of a new school year. Given the growing rhetoric in Alberta that is once again advocating for an end to Catholic public schools, I thought it is important to outline why maintaining the Catholic ethos and identity of our schools is critical in the face of such arguments. This fall we will also have the election of new Catholic trustees who must be committed to promoting the vision and mission of our publicly funded Catholic schools.
What is a Catholic school and what makes it distinct and relevant in our current society? Catholic schools are communities of faith and learning. They can be diverse in their configuration i.e. public, private or charter, yet focused on presenting the unity of truth which is acquired through reason and faith and which ultimately binds us. It might be a surprise to some, but Catholic schools are not intended to be for Catholics alone nor to exclusively advocate the Catholic faith. They are in fact school communities for all but which are rooted in a Catholic world view, ethos, and identity that serves to inform a wider view of educating our young people.
Catholic schools are not institutions of propaganda, as some would argue, nor are they to be driven by agendas, theories, and educational trends of a government ministry. The Catholic educational tradition offers experiences of learning that allow for evangelization and the catechetical support of young people in the faith. However, the task of education is much broader. It is to promote a wholistic experience of learning that forms and completes every person, preparing them for life, to appreciate the value of their life, and that of others, by offering back to society values and goods that they willingly share for the benefit of all in our society. This is the distinctly Catholic approach to education which enhances the human formation and mature development of the next generation of young people.
Pope Benedict, in his critique of our contemporary educational culture, used the term “educational emergency” to describe the increasing difficulty that we encounter in transmitting the basic values of life and good behaviour to the new generation of young people. At the core of this “emergency” is the belief that truth is relative, that what I subjectively believe to be true for myself is “truth” and must be accepted by others. Pope Francis has also identified this tension between unity and diversity of truth for educators – “Dialogue, in fact, educates when a person relates with respect, esteem, sincerity of listening and expresses themselves with authenticity, without obfuscating or mitigating one’s identity” which is nourished by an evangelical faith and inspiration. This is the role of our Catholic school teachers who must engage in this dialogue through their teaching in a society and culture which is becoming more secular.
The Catholic school curriculum needs to have this intercultural dialogue while balancing the relationship between religious education and catechesis. This initiative of intercultural dialogue is distinctly Catholic and one which we offer to society through our Catholic schools. The teaching of the Catholic religion has it own aims which are different from catechesis which promotes a personal relationship with Christ and a maturing Christian life-whereas religious teaching offers knowledge about Christianity and the Christian life in meaningful and culturally enriching ways. Catholic schools have a core curriculum of religious faith instruction that permeates all subjects. For Catholic students, this might also serve as a pathway of catechesis which must always respect a wider and more meaningful integration within the family and the life of the Church. This curriculum is primarily “knowledge-based” for those students who are not part of the Catholic tradition. It invites them to be reflective, to grow in religious literacy and knowledge while being open to a human formation that reflects the Christian understanding of the human person, their inherent dignity and destiny.
Catholic schools, both public and private, have the potential to contribute to the cultural enrichment of society. Despite the hostility towards religion, these schools will serve as a continuing recognition of the importance of religion and belief in civic society. Therefore, Catholic schools have a unique opportunity to enter these debates to teach about the value of religion and religious ways of thinking to a wider society. The key to the future mission and identity of our Catholic schools is the commitment of the parents and teachers to see Catholic education as an enrichment of our culture through such a Catholic ethos and identity. Education by its nature requires an openness to other cultures without the loss of one’s identity. We cannot lose sight of this rich tradition of Catholic education and schools.
☩ William McGrattan
Bishop of Calgary
Over the past few years, we have seen how Pope Francis demonstrates a strong Marian devotion. Anyone who has known former Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio understands well that his Marian devotion, far from being a recent manifestation, is a long-established devotion and one that is much in line with his predecessors.
On his very first meeting with his brother cardinals in the Clementine Hall on March 15, Pope Francis stressed his relationship with Mary and the role he ascribes to Jesus’ mother. He said: “I entrust my ministry and your ministry to the powerful intercession of Mary, our Mother, Mother of the Church. Under her maternal gaze may each one of you walk happy and docile on your path, listening to the voice of her divine Son, strengthening your unity, persevering in your common prayer and bearing witness to the true faith in the constant presence of the Lord.”
Forty days after his election, Pope Francis went to St. Mary Major to lead the recitation of the Rosary on the first Saturday of May, the month dedicated to the Blessed Virgin, and to take official possession of the Basilica as he had done for the Basilicas of St. John Lateran and St. Paul Outside the Walls. “Mary is the mother,” said the Pope during the recitation of the Rosary, “and a mother’s main concern is the health of her children … Our Lady guards our health … helps us grow, face life and be free.”
On the eve of his departure for Rio de Janeiro, Brazil for World Youth Day 2013, Pope Francis visited once again the Basilica of St. Mary Major and entrusted World Youth Day 2013 to Mary’s care. During his unforgettable experience in Brazil he made a side-trip to the renown shrine of Our Lady of Aparecida in central Brazil.
In his homily at the Aparecida Shrine on July 24, 2013 Pope Francis said: “When the Church looks for Jesus, she always knocks at his Mother’s door and asks: “Show us Jesus.” It is from Mary that the Church learns true discipleship. That is why the Church always goes out on mission in the footsteps of Mary.… Dear friends, we have come to knock at the door of Mary’s house. She has opened it for us, she has let us in and she shows us her Son. Now she asks us to “do whatever he tells you” [Jn 2:5]. Yes, dear Mother, we are committed to doing whatever Jesus tells us! And we will do it with hope, trusting in God’s surprises and full of joy.”
It is also interesting that Pope Francis has introduced the world to a little-known Marian devotion entitled Mary, Undoer of Knots. He has a very special devotion to Mary under this title that goes all the way back to the second century. In one autobiography of the Pope that I read it mentions that as a young Jesuit, Fr. Jorge Mario Bergoglio was completing his graduate studies in Germany, he was captivated by a Bavarian painting of Holy Mary, Our Lady Undoer of Knots that he saw in a Church in Augsburg. Bergoglio obtained a copy of the painting and brought it back with him to Argentina where he helped spread the devotion among his people. While this devotion is relatively unknown in our part of the world, it is known and loved in Argentina.
Later as auxiliary bishop and then archbishop of Buenos Aires, he encouraged the veneration of Our Lady Undoer of Knots whose devotion originated from a painting executed by the German artist Johann Georg Schidtner around 1700 and located in St. Peter am Perlach Church in Augsburg, Germany. In the painting the Virgin is shown in the act of untying a knot on a long white ribbon while crushing the serpent, which stands for evil.
The theology of Mary untying knots goes back to the second century – less than one hundred years after the death of the Apostles. Saint Irenaeus of Lyons wrote “the knot of Eve’s disobedience was loosed by the obedience of Mary. For what the virgin Eve had bound fast through unbelief, this did the virgin Mary set free through faith.” The understanding of Mary’s universal mediation and her subordinate role to Christ in human salvation is beautifully summed up in this quote from St. Irenaeus.
During his pontificate, Pope Francis has invited the faithful to entrust to Mary “the journey of faith, the desires of our heart, our needs and the needs of the whole world, especially of those who hunger and thirst for justice and peace.” He goes on to state that her “example of humility and openness to God’s will helps us to transmit our faith in a joyful proclamation of the Gospel to all, without reservation.”
In this same spirit as we mark the 150th anniversary of the birth of Canada, the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops have invited the faithful to consecrate their lives and of the entire country of Canada to Mary. We will celebrate this event in a Liturgy and with devotions at St. Mary’s Cathedral on July 1. I invite all within our Diocese to invoke Mary, the “Holy Mother of God,” to guide our country in the ways of faith in order to promote, peace, truth, justice and reconciliation.
Prayer to Mary, Undoer of Knots
Virgin Mary, Mother of fair love, Mother who never refuses to come to the aid of a child in need, Mother whose hands never cease to serve your beloved children because they are moved by the divine love and immense mercy that exists in your heart, cast your compassionate eyes upon me and see the snarl of knots that exist in my life. You know very well how desperate I am, my pain, and how I am bound by these knots. Mary, Mother to whom God entrusted the undoing of the knots in the lives of his children, I entrust into your hands the ribbon of my life. No one, not even the Evil One himself, can take it away from your precious care. In your hands there is no knot that cannot be undone. Powerful Mother, by your grace and intercessory power with Your Son and My Liberator, Jesus, take into your hands today this knot.
☩ William McGrattan
Bishop of Calgary