Have you had the opportunity to be in the presence of a Saint?
I mean an official acclaimed-by-the-Church, 'capital-S' Saint?
Can even a small experience, an experience shared with thousands of others
have the ability to change your life in a positive and deeply meaningful way?
I think we have all met someone, or have been in the presence of someone, who has remained embedded in our memory. This person might have inspired you or lent you hope, reached out to you, or lifted you up. This person might have taught you, or forgave you. This person may have had patience with you or protected you, or noticed you in a time of need. This person may have prayed with you and for you. This person loved you.
As I say this, people emerges from your memory right?
The reality that we remember people like this is why we are marking this Feast Day today. On this day we honour Pope Saint John Paul II, and give thanks to God for giving this man to the Church and to us. We remember him because we acknowledge his sanctity, his saintliness, and the impact that he has had in our lives (even fleetingly). We honour him because of how obviously he has called us towards sanctity ourselves.
Pope Saint John Paul II was many things during his life on earth. If I were to choose just one adjective to describe this great man, it would be to call him a loving-encourager. He stood up for 27 years, after 32 years of priesthood, as our Supreme Pontiff, the Shepherd of the Church, the Successor to St. Peter, and the Vicar of Christ – with a strong voice and magnanimous heart that encouraged us through his teaching and prayer. He gave us so much, and all along continued to call us towards our own vocations of holiness.
For the past several weeks, I have had an image I found on the internet as my computer's desktop image. It is Saint John Paul II alongside his own quote:
"Real love is demanding.
I would fail in my mission if I did not tell you so.
Love demands a personal commitment to the will of God."
This wisdom, and realistic acknowledgement of the challenges of everyday life is a fruitful reminder for me in my own vocation. This call to love comes from a homily given in 1979, one year after his election as pope.
In 2002, on Thursday July 25th at 4pm, I had a personal encounter with this Saint during World Youth Day in Toronto. Immediately, I wrote this reaction in my sketchbook:
"THE POPE IS HERE!! JOHN PAUL II IS HERE! HIS HOLINESS IS HERE! He drove past, and I was 6 feet away! 6 FEET! Thank you God for this blessing and opportunity."
I then continued with a few of my own notes from his opening address to the giant crowds:
"Jesus did not proclaim the beatitudes, he lived them! The beatitudes are a picture of those who have accepted the Kingdom of God. To those, Jesus speaks, calling them Blessed. If you look at Jesus, you see what it means to be meek & merciful, to be a peacemaker. Let us listen to this Voice...let us listen to the voice of Jesus. The church today looks to you with confidence to BE the Beatitudes. Only Jesus is the TRUE MASTER! He knows what is in each person! Today He calls you to be the salt and light of the world. Young people, answer the Lord with strong and generous hearts. He is counting on you – never forget! He needs you and your enthusiasm to be the bringers of Truth in the New Millennium."
This was arguably one of the strongest and most consistent messages of St. John Paul II – calling out to young people – teaching us, praying for us, pointing us to Jesus Christ and towards holiness, courage, and action.
As I sat listening to him and writing his words, I knew that he was making a papal address to thousands of people gathered around him, and to the whole world – but I also felt like he was speaking just to me. It was a profound experience, and one that made my eyes leak.
A Saint is not made in heaven.
A Saint is truly made on earth, as a person living his or her life in the place and time God has chosen them.
We can pray that we meet in our lives at least one person who we can call a 'living saint'.
These living saints are far more numerous than the number of officially canonized Saints recognised by the Church. All of our cherished 'capital-S' Saints were already recognised, long before their arrival in heaven or their canonization, by the people who knew them during their earthly life as holy and saintly people – as living saints.
A saint is someone who knows God's presence, and looks to Jesus Christ for life and hope. A saint follows in a humble way the path of God's will for them. A saint is one who is recognised by others as holy—in this life—through their choices, words, actions, and example.
A saint lives his or her life ready to respond to God's call. They are ready to serve, give, suffer, and pray, according to the circumstances they find themselves in, and the talents they have been given. A saint inspires others to follow their gaze, and to walk in the same direction as they are going – and that direction is towards Jesus Christ.
Using this description, it becomes clear that I was in the presence of a saint that day in 2002: a holy and blessed man who was given a huge responsibility in the world, and has lived his life in a way that has directed the gaze of hundreds of thousands towards Christ.
In some of his first words of substance as our pope, Saint John Paul II began his inaugural homily with these words
first of all:
"You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." He continued,
"our time calls us, urges us, obliges us to gaze on the Lord and immerse ourselves in humble and devout meditation on the mystery of the supreme power of Christ himself. Brothers and sisters, do not be afraid to welcome Christ and accept his power. Help the Pope and all those who wish to serve Christ and, with Christ's power to serve the human person and the whole of mankind. Do not be afraid. Open wide the doors for Christ."
In his turn, Saint John Paul II was given the same role Jesus gave Saint Peter – to be Shepherd of Christ's Flock. He also followed carefully the advice Saint Paul gave to the young Saint Timothy:
"Proclaim the message; be persistent in any case; teach, convince, rebuke, and encourage, with the utmost patience; always be sober and alert, endure suffering; do the work of an evangelist, carry out your ministry fully."
(2 Tim 4:1-5)
St. John Paul II lived this out, right to his last day on earth, all the while urging us to do the same. His last appearance in public was one of love and suffering – he did not speak a word. He just gave the world his blessing by tracing the Cross of Christ over us.
His last words were in Polish, on the eve of Divine Mercy Sunday 2005: "Let me go to the house of the Father."
Let us take a moment today to thank God heartily for the ways that this holy witness has inspired us, has given us example, and has urged us to follow his gaze to Jesus Christ.
Homily originally given in Calgary, Alberta on October 22, 2015 - The Feast of Pope Saint John Paul II
“I am in the Aleph, the point at which everything is in the same place at the same time. I'm at a window, looking out at the world and its secret places, poetry lost in time and words left hanging in space...sentences that are perfectly understood, even when left unspoken. Feelings that simultaneously exalt and suffocate.” –Paulo Coehlo
The “Aleph” for me is my daughter who has in 2 short weeks changed my entire perspective on meeting with others through grace and meeting gracefully with God. Aurea has enabled me to place an experience to the words that I teach in my classroom, “God must be intelligible to humans beings and must be wholly experienced in tangible ways- We need only to look at the example of doubting Thomas to know that human beings must experience Christ’s mystery versus it being solely an intellectual exercise- True faith must be experienced in the beauty of the world which points to its inherent goodness and the Truths about God that can be physically touched.” When we can begin to touch God in our lives tangibly everyday, Sunday becomes an everyday experience versus an event at the ends of our weeks.
Aurea, who depends on me for now, is also on loan to me to nurture and teach love to. I participate with her in Coehlo’s Aleph, and in small ways begin to participate in the Aleph with others as well. There is a power in the meeting of eyes that connects souls and allows humanity to experience the Kingdom here on earth now. There’s no reason to wait to find your Aleph, but rather create it through habits of care, nurture, and time for the glory of God and the purpose of the incarnate nature of Christ being placed within reach on earth through us.
When God dares us to taste and see the goodness of his love, this means to reach out to others who need our help, it means to invite strangers to our tables, and most of all it means looking deeply into the eyes of the people all around us and celebrating their joys as well as delicately participating in their suffering; just as Jesus did on his journey to Jerusalem.
The thing with Pope Francis, though, is he doesn't fit nicely into any of our political parties in Canada. With all of his emphasis on caring for the environment and for the poor and refugees, you’d think he’d vote Liberal or NDP. But then he’s pro life, which is a position that those parties won’t even allow their members to hold!
And it’s even worse in the States! Everyone I know praises Pope Francis- my atheist friends, my protestant friends, fallen away Catholics… my only friends who are critical of him are Conservative Catholic Americans. You’d think conservative Catholics would be the most firmly in the Pope’s camp! This is probably not representative of all conservative Catholic Americans, but I know several. They object to the Pope on the following grounds; he believes in Climate Change ( an ‘error’ they ascribe to his scientific community being misled), he’s critical of capitalism, he’s opposed to capital punishment, and he wants us to take in more refugees. Interestingly, I share the same faith with those guys, and yet I am with the Pope on every one of those topics! (Who I also share the faith with, I’d like to point out.)
Now to be clear, we are not required as Catholics to believe in climate change or to be opposed to capital punishment. All of the people I mentioned are well informed, and have done their research, and give their Ascent of Faith to the Church. But I want to suggest that what is happening is that we align ourselves so closely with our political ideologies that we sometimes confuse our ideologies with Church teaching. I want to challenge anyone who has done that to be open and ask the question- what is it the Pope is asking? We are so politicized in North America, that we have politicized our faith. The term “Religious Right” is used so commonly that it discredits both the political right and Christianity in one swipe!
Though the Pope is calling for some degree of change at the societal level, he is not calling for an overthrow of capitalism or for everyone to vote for leftist parties. I think his message is one that should challenge all of us, wherever we fall on the political spectrum. When he emphasizes the environment or love of the poor, he points at a root cause that I think our whole culture is guilty of- rampant consumerism. The call isn't to tax consumerism and so discourage it- a decidedly political solution to the problem. The call is for the transformation of hearts- to conversion. A decidedly Christian solution.
Pope Francis has been Pope for over 2 years now, decrying the sins of consumerism and asking that we be a Church that is poor and for the poor. In that time, how many of us have actually changed our consumer habits to align them with the Pope’s values? I say it’s time we heeded the call, repented of our sins, and opened ourselves to the mercy that comes with repentance.
Peter van Kampen
I love it when Pope Francis speaks, or goes somewhere, because no matter what else, I'm going to:
Of course his latest trip was like that, but times a thousand because he went to the land of hyperbole and spin, the land of the free! (I’m just teasing, I love the US) Every presidential hopeful seemed to find some way to be able to say “SEE! He agrees with me! I should be president!” In the aftermath of all of this I read a lot of commentary from Catholics, and I heard two opinions come forth again and again. One on what the media would assign as the ‘left’ saying that Pope Francis is just sooooo progressive (never mind Pope Benedict XVI laid some key theological foundation and also did a lot of the really cool things that we see Pope Francis doing… Benedict looked like emperor Palpatine so he must be all evil and religious), and on the other, the folks the media would call the ‘right’ lamenting that he’s not firm enough in his condemnation of various cultural sins in the western world. I think the most extreme thing I read was that the papacy has ‘fully abandoned’ the pro-life movement to the wolves of modern liberalism and was destroying the family.
The thing I find so fascinating, is that if you look deep enough, both of these seemingly opposing positions come from the teachings of the same guy.
It seems like our religion is forced to split itself into camps. The people who hear the mercy side of the message, and the ones who answer the call to stamp out sin. I find folks who tend towards the first camp know the merciful stories like the woman caught in adultery, or Zaccheaus up in the tree, and the folks who tend towards the second camp love the stories like Jesus cleansing the temple. I actually read an article not long ago about that one that had a title along the lines of ‘5 times Jesus didn't act very Christlike’. Seriously… I'm not joking.
So then the question is how do we, in our daily lives, navigate these seemingly opposing ways of being, when we’re called to be loving and non-judgemental in a world that endorses all kinds of sin that we’re called to fight against? I'm not going to pretend my answers to these questions are perfect, but I think if we look at all of our role models together, starting with Jesus, and looking at Popes like Francis and Benedict XVI honestly, we can get a decent idea of how to proceed. And so with that in mind, please find below my checklist of how to show the love of Christ to someone, and still disagree with sin:
“Do not judge, and you will not be judged; and do not condemn, and you will not be condemned; pardon and you will be pardoned. Give, and it will be given to you. They will pour into your lap a good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over. For by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you in return” (emphasis mine)
I get chills reading that because all at once it demands I act with love and mercy, but still hold a high standard. I need to measure out my love in the standard of truth and courage because I need others to be truthful and courageous. But, I need to measure out mercy and pardon by the barrelful because over and over again, I've relied on the mercy and pardon of the people I love, and I'm sure as heck gonna need it from God when my judgement comes.
River guide, Engineer, Youth Minister, and now Teacher. The path God has given me is anything but straight. I’ve been blessed with an adventurous life and a wonder wife to share it with. I spend my days teaching math and physics, and my free time exploring the world’s rivers and mountains. Sharing the world through the lens of faith with my students is one of the coolest things I can imagine.
When I am in it, I am in it. I know it, my husband knows it, and my daughter, without really knowing what IT is, knows it.
It is a dark and lonely place. The old adage “you could be in a crowded room and still feel alone.” Yeah. That is somewhat true. It is lonely in the people sense. No one understands, no one gets me, my body is present but my mind is not. In that sense, yes it is extremely lonely. What makes depression a tad different is that you’re not truly alone, your inner monologue that plays over and over like a broken record keeps you company, and OH what company it keeps!
When you have lived over a decade with this voice in your head it can easily become the one you trust the most. These last few weeks this voice and I have had our regular love affair. The hard part is, just like any love affair you tend to tune everyone else out, have your blinders on and focus solely on that one object of all your affection.
This is getting weird, I can feel you shifting in your seat saying “what the heck is this? This chick is off her rocker”. You would be right sir. I am off my rocker.
Setting the love affair analogy aside for a minute, let me describe the physical effects depression has. Have you ever run a full out marathon, like the full 26 miles? Yes? Well, look at you, aren’t you the epitome of health and fitness! I bet you like to casually bring it up in random conversation. Like, we could be talking about cheese and you say, “yes, this Gouda reminds me of the smooth pavement in the 26 mile marathon I ran last week.” And I would go on eating my cheese loathing you.
As you can guess, I have not run a full marathon, but I imagine the pure exhaustion I have is similar to that of having just run one. How would I know? Well, there was a study that said if you are pregnant, you use up as much energy as that of a marathon runner. At least I think there was, or maybe I just read that in PEOPLE, but I would like to believe it’s true. It makes me feel like a super hero. “OH, you ran a marathon? I grew a LEG!”
When I am in it, the very thought of anything exhausts me. It really is a true feat to just get my kids food. Every step throughout the day, from the moment I wake up, every decision, every movement, feels as though I am wading through 4 feet of thick goopy mud, and when it gets really bad, it’s 5 feet… and that‘s how tall I am. Yes, I am short. It gets hard to breath, and it gets hard to think of anyone else. With great difficulty, I will admit, a lot of those days, it is hard to think of my children first, and then not get annoyed that Ezzie needs a diaper change. This may seem selfish, this may seem like I am a terrible mom, or person. Trust me, that is what I am saying to myself already in those times.
My long term companion that I have been with for over a decade has convinced me that I am that. I am a terrible mother, I am a terrible spouse. What is the point? Why do I try? Why am I here? What good am I? You look awful! Why did you eat that slice of cheesecake? Oh dear GOD, why did you eat the WHOLE cheesecake?
I can hardly believe that anyone would say such things, but this is what the big D says to me. This is what I believe, for days, weeks, sometimes months at a time. So why then would I not just break up with this companion, why would I continue this abusive relationship?
Here is the simple and sad answer. It’s familiar. I know it so well. I know the ins and outs of this relationship; therefore, it can’t really disappoint me. Colm teases that I like to burrow. When I am cozy and tired. I burrow. That is what I do when I am in it. I burrow. Quite frankly, breaking up with someone you have lived most of your adult life with just can't be easily done. Have you tried it? There has been way too much investment of time. It is not a switch you turn off forever. Like any long term relationship you've had, there is a permanent imprint. Unlike a real relationship though, depression is lurking around a hidden corner trying to win you back. This relationship is one that will probably be on and off again for years, maybe my whole life. It is ingrained in every fibre of my being, and only those closest to me know when I am going through it….well now those I am closest to and all those who are reading this, in my head it’s thousands.
So, the truth is, I guess, between God, Colm, and depression, I am a polygamist...
Now my point. Where is the solace, the glimmer of hope, in an otherwise depressing post? My solace and my hope is when I break up with my companion, and get through the mud, come up for air, and see the light again, I think to myself, “how, how can anyone, how does anyone get through that without faith?” The same time that I am being told how awful I am, and how there is nothing but sorrow, I am screaming out “Where are you GOD?! Why is this happening?” Through the mud, through the dark, when I have doubt, by some miracle, I still fight with Him. Even when I become complacent and burrow in my depression, I can still take comfort that He hears me. My relationship with Him is just as pronounced as my relationship with Depression. When I am in love with depression I am fighting with God, and when I am in love with God, I am fighting depression. Whether you are fighting or loving, you are still in a relationship, at least that’s what my priest says.
Along with being the creator of Deep Thoughts Big Red Chair, in which she exploits her children for laughs, Sharon is also proud to be the co-creator and illustrator of the Saint of the Day for Kids app. Having attended film school, giving her life for two years with NET ministries, being a former parish and school youth minister, writing and playing music on the side, working for the Diocese of Saskatoon, and being a wife and mother, Sharon’s skill in NOT knowing what she wants to be when she grows up has allowed her to venture into exciting territory. She does not plan on changing that any time soon. With all of the gifts, projects, and talent, the main focus of it all has been evangelizing in a unique way.
Welcome to the first episode of The Silversmith Collective podcast!
On this episode:
- Lance talks Baptism with his brother in-law Shaun.
- Matt Nelson from ReasonableCatholic.com stops by for a chat about Apologetics.
Recorded Saturday, August 29, 2015
(Before Bishop Robert Barron became a bishop!)
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Thanks for listening! Please share & subscribe!
New episodes every two weeks!
Music & Sound Effects
Intro 1: Hip Hop Loop With Electric Piano Drums And Bass from http://www.freesfx.co.uk/
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Record scratch: “sckrach” from http://www.freesfx.co.uk/
Transition 2: “Systematic - Great for technological, modern applications with synth elements and funky guitar” from http://www.freesfx.co.uk/
Transition 3: “Compressed House Or Trance Drum Loop” from http://www.freesfx.co.uk/
Outro: "Pyro Flow" Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com) Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/
We are now into the month of October and the season of fall, but I want to take you back to my opening comments as a reminder of why we exist, where do we go and what do we do. We are unique because we are a Catholic school division and it is because of faith and through our faith that we create a horizon of hope. In the words of Pope Francis, “Today amid so much darkness, we need to see the light of hope and be men and women that bring hope to others. To protect creation, to protect every man and woman, to look upon them with tenderness and love, is to open up a horizon of hope.”
During the month of September, I’ve had numerous opportunities to share this question, “What does adulthood look like for the child who does not achieve in school?” It is a powerful question and should cause all of us to reflect. However, I would suggest the question is insufficient and incomplete. The addition needs to be about growing up into adulthood without faith, without some level of spirituality. In a recent article in Maclean’s magazine, Lisa Miller, director of clinical psychology at Columbia University’s Teachers College concluded the following:
Spiritually connected teens are, remarkably, 60 per cent less likely to suffer from depression than adolescents who are not spiritually oriented. They’re 40 per cent less likely to abuse alcohol or other substances, and 80 per cent less likely to engage in unprotected sex. Spiritually oriented children, raised to not shy from hard questions or difficult situations, Miller points out, also tend to excel academically.
We have the ability to raise spiritually connected students in our schools, creating a horizon of hope for each and every one of them. As a mentioned in my opening comments, “Our jobs may be to educate, but it is our calling, our vocation for everyone here, no matter your role in the division, to form. To form our students to be spiritually healthy, faith filled and hopeful!”
So remember, it is not only what adulthood looks like for the child who does not achieve but also for the child who is not spiritually connected. It is a dual mandate that we must always take seriously in our role as Catholic educators.
Peace and blessings as you continue your role in our system!
Chris Smeaton is the Superintendent for Holy Spirit Catholic Schools located in southwest Alberta.
Article originally posted on October 4, 2015 on the Superintendent's Blog - Holy Spirit Catholic Schools