Apr 20, 2014

Easter "Urbi et Orbi" Message of Pope Francis

Happy Easter! Christ is risen, Alleluia! Below is the full text of Pope Francis' "Urbi et Orbi" Easter message. Click here to see the video of this message.

Dear Brothers and Sisters, a Happy and Holy Easter!
The Church throughout the world echoes the angel’s message to the women: “Do not be afraid! I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised… Come, see the place where he lay” ( Mt 28:5-6).
This is the culmination of the Gospel, it is the Good News par excellence: Jesus, who was crucified, is risen! This event is the basis of our faith and our hope. If Christ were not raised, Christianity would lose its very meaning; the whole mission of the Church would lose its impulse, for this is the point from which it first set out and continues to set out ever anew. The message which Christians bring to the world is this: Jesus, Love incarnate, died on the cross for our sins, but God the Father raised him and made him the Lord of life and death. In Jesus, love has triumphed over hatred, mercy over sinfulness, goodness over evil, truth over falsehood, life over death.
That is why we tell everyone: “Come and see!” In every human situation, marked by frailty, sin and death, the Good News is no mere matter of words, but a testimony to unconditional and faithful love: it is about leaving ourselves behind and encountering others, being close to those crushed by life’s troubles, sharing with the needy, standing at the side of the sick, elderly and the outcast… “Come and see!”: Love is more powerful, love gives life, love makes hope blossom in the wilderness.
With this joyful certainty in our hearts, today we turn to you, risen Lord!
Help us to seek you and to find you, to realize that we have a Father and are not orphans; that we can love and adore you.
Help us to overcome the scourge of hunger, aggravated by conflicts and by the immense wastefulness for which we are often responsible.
Enable us to protect the vulnerable, especially children, women and the elderly, who are at times exploited and abandoned.
Enable us to care for our brothers and sisters struck by the Ebola epidemic in Guinea Conakry, Sierra Leone and Liberia, and to care for those suffering from so many other diseases which are also spread through neglect and dire poverty.
Comfort all those who cannot celebrate this Easter with their loved ones because they have been unjustly torn from their affections, like the many persons, priests and laity, who in various parts of the world have been kidnapped.
Comfort those who have left their own lands to migrate to places offering hope for a better future and the possibility of living their lives in dignity and, not infrequently, of freely professing their faith.
We ask you, Lord Jesus, to put an end to all war and every conflict, whether great or small, ancient or recent.
We pray in a particular way for Syria, beloved Syria, that all those suffering the effects of the conflict can receive needed humanitarian aid and that neither side will again use deadly force, especially against the defenseless civil population, but instead boldly negotiate the peace long awaited and long overdue!
Jesus, Lord of glory, we ask you to comfort the victims of fratricidal acts of violence in Iraq and to sustain the hopes raised by the resumption of negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians.
We beg for an end to the conflicts in the Central African Republic and a halt to the brutal terrorist attacks in parts of Nigeria and the acts of violence in South Sudan.
We ask that hearts be turned to reconciliation and fraternal concord in Venezuela.
By your resurrection, which this year we celebrate together with the Churches that follow the Julian calendar, we ask you to enlighten and inspire the initiatives that promote peace in Ukraine so that all those involved, with the support of the international community, will make every effort to prevent violence and, in a spirit of unity and dialogue, chart a path for the country’s future. On this day, may they be able to proclaim, as brothers and sisters, that Christ is risen, Khrystos voskres!
Lord, we pray to you for all the peoples of the earth: you who have conquered death, grant us your life, grant us your peace!
Dear brothers and sisters, Happy Easter!

Apr 16, 2014

Hearing the Sound of Our Faith

St. Justin Martyr Parish choir.

“All roads lead to Rome.” For one Markham choir those words recently came alive in a very special way.

The choirs of St. Justin, Martyr Parish recently returned from a whirlwind trip to Italy in March. During the 11-day pilgrimage, the choir led the music at Mass in a number of churches in Rome and throughout Italy, including the main altar of St. Peter’s Basilica. Other performances of note were at the Chapel of St. Catherine inside the Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi, accompanying the liturgy inside St. Mark’s in Venice and singing in the Basilica of St. Lorenzo in Florence and in St. Mark’s Basilica in Venice.

The choir prepares to sing outside the Basilica of San Francesco d'Assisi in Assisi.

The pilgrimage was the idea of Julia Iacono-Hauser and her husband and parish organist, Eric Hauser. Together, they dreamed of a trip that would strengthen the spirituality and commitment of nearly 40 music ministry members and their spouses. 

"When you have a bona fide choir that sings sacred music in four parts, it seems appropriate for them to journey home to Vatican City and sing God’s praise while obtaining meaning and a deeper sense of faith and friendship,” Julia said.

For Julie Levy, one of several lead cantors in the choir, this trip helped her understand the importance of music and its place in liturgy.

“This trip helped to enhance the spirituality and works of God’s ways in my life.” Levy said. “As a choir, we united as one in the eyes of God – both in word and in song. I couldn’t have asked for anything more. God’s meaning and our purpose came alive!”

The choir sings at St. Peter's Basilica in Vatican City.

The Second Vatican Council’s Instruction on Music in the Liturgy states that “through [music], prayer is expressed in a more attractive way, the mystery of the liturgy, with its hierarchical and community nature, is more openly shown, the unity of hearts is more profoundly achieved by the union of voices, minds are more easily raised to heavenly things by the beauty of the sacred rites, and the whole celebration more clearly prefigures that heavenly liturgy which is enacted in the holy city of Jerusalem.” Our choir continues to closely study this document.

The group poses with the dome of St. Peter's Basilica seen in the background.

As we move forward from our experience in Italy, I give thanks to God for the gift this trip has been to our parish community. With Holy Week and the great season of Easter approaching, I pray that the parishioners of St. Justin Martyr will continue hearing the sound of our faith and the voice of Our Saviour in the liturgies that our choirs serve. Ultimately, it is God’s voice we follow and His glory we sing.

Andrew Santos is Youth Minister at St. Justin, Martyr Parish in Unionville, Ont.

He accompanied the group as a photographer and videographer and looks forward to sharing his experience in pictures with the parish community in the days and weeks to come.

Apr 14, 2014

Lenten Challenges: Week 6 - Education/Evangelization

Monday: Challenge
Beginner: Make a playlist of spiritual music that you enjoy and share it with a friend.
Intermediate: Attend a lecture or public discussion centered on faith issues.
Advanced: Invite someone who's been away from the church, or never been, to attend Mass with you this Holy Week.

Tuesday: The Prayer

Wednesday: Reflection
What is it that stops me from sharing my faith with those who don’t believe? How can I expand my understanding of Catholicism?

Thursday: Tips
We have often heard the saying “Actions speak louder than words.” The things that we do can most certainly be a powerful witness to those around us, but so can our words.
The Archdiocese of Toronto has many programs available to help you grow in your faith and learn more about Catholicism. Contact your local parish, or the Office of Formation for Discipleship to find out more.

What are your tips for sharing your faith? Where do you go to learn more about Catholicism?

Apr 11, 2014

Canada's adopted Saint

Photo credit: Bill Wittman
How does one judge the value of a life? A wise, elderly man once told me, “We are not the sum of our weaknesses and failures; we are the sum of the Father’s love for us and our real capacity to become the image of his Son.”

Those who attended World Youth Day 2002 will recognize this as the message of Pope John Paul II. In a rain-soaked Downsview Park in Toronto, he told a congregation of 800,000 pilgrims to “listen to the voice of Jesus”, whose words “tell you who you are as Christians.”

Such is the measure of a saint: we are not left discouraged by an unattainable example of virtue, but reminded that we all share a universal vocation to holiness.

The 2002 global gathering delighted in JPIIs presence, many of us certain our beloved shepherd would one day be proclaimed a Saint. Twelve years later, that moment has arrived; his canonization Mass takes place on April 27 in St. Peters Square.

As the CEO of World Youth Day 2002, Father Thomas Rosica, CSB had a prime vantage point of John Paul II’s final visit to Canada. When I worked at Salt + Light Television, Father Rosica would regale the staff with stories about the Polish pontiff. Novalis has now published some of these reflections in the book John Paul II: A Saint for Canada.

“Who can forget the powerful images of the Holy Father’s visit to this vast country in 1984, 1987 and 2002,” Father Rosica asks. “From Vancouver to Newfoundland, from the First Nations longhouse in Midland to the origins of the Church in Quebec, the Holy Father crisscrossed this vast land from sea to sea. He is the Successor of Peter, but also the Successor of Paul, the missionary of the gospel.”

In his 93-page book, Father Rosica outlines the ways John Paul II’s 2002 visit to Canada shaped our church, and considers the ways he challenged us to fully live out the Gospel. John Paul II: A Saint for Canada can be purchased online at the Salt + Light Store or Novalis.ca.

Naturally, Salt + Light Television will be broadcasting the canonization Mass live with repeats throughout the day. Many cable providers are offering a free preview of S+L until the end of May. Visit saltandlighttv.org to learn how you can watch the celebrations on April 27.

Kris Dmytrenko is a Communications Coordinator in the Archdiocese of Toronto’s Office of Public Relations & Communications.

Apr 9, 2014

The Day You've Been Waiting For

If you've been putting off confession, I know the feeling. There are few experiences more unsettling than admitting one’s failings. We invest so much energy into crafting our image — personally and professionally – it takes courage to admit that we don’t have it all together.

The other obstacle is time. When the regular confession time at your parish conflicts with your schedule, it’s all too easy to let the months go by.

If you can relate to these challenges, then today is meant for you. Wednesday, April 9 is the Day of Confessions, when most of the 225 parishes across the Archdiocese are offering the Sacrament of Reconciliation at various times.

Visit our Day of Confessions website to find the times at a parish in your neighbourhood. To help you prepare, here are 10 helpful tips:
1. The hardest part about confession is walking into the church. Make your spiritual health a priority by going today.
2. Don’t be afraid of returning to confession after a long absence. Let the priest know it’s been a long time, and he’ll guide you through the process. You can also print out this helpful confession guide, available in eight languages.
3. Priests have heard it all before, so you can’t shock them. Remember that priests go to confession too, so they know exactly what it's like to be on your side of the confessional. 
4. Examine your conscience beforehand. Here are some questions to get you started. 
5. The one thing you really don't want to confess—that’s probably the thing you need to confess. 
6. Worried you’ll be too nervous to remember your sins? Write them down on a piece of paper. 
7. Be honest and straightforward. At the same time, the priest does not need to hear a play-by-play of what lead up to each particular sin. 
8. If you feel like you’ve been confessing the same sin over and over, don't give up. God is merciful. 
9. Ask a spouse, sibling or best friend to keep you accountable for going to confession regularly. 
10. Tell someone how liberating it was to receive God’s forgiveness. It might encourage them to go to confession, too.

Remember, you’re one of thousands of people going to confession today in the Archdiocese. Appearances aside, not one of us has it all together. But God, in his mercy, is eagerly waiting to restore you to wholeness.

Kris Dmytrenko is a Communications Coordinator in the Archdiocese of Toronto’s Office of Public Relations & Communications.

Apr 8, 2014

Lenten Challenges: Week 5 - Fasting

Monday: Challenge

Beginner: Think about what takes up the most from your free time (TV, computer games, a hobby) and give that up for the week. Spend that time instead with your family or friends, helping them out.
Intermediate: Fast from negativity. Resolve to try your hardest not to say anything negative this week.
Advanced: Give up your smartphone for the week—outside of needing it for work-related reasons. (There’s a reason this one is advanced. No games, no reading, no social media via your phone.)

Tuesday: Prayer

Wednesday: Reflection

How attached am I to my possessions, my time, my food? Is God more important to me than everything else in my life?

Thursday: Tips

Fasting isn’t just something for us to do during Lent. We are called to fast on all Fridays (except for solemnities).
Fasting doesn’t need to be related to food items. We can fast from hot showers, from sleeping in our beds, and from electronics.
What are your tips for fasting?

Friday: Sharing

How did your fast go this week? Were you successful in putting God first in your life?

Apr 7, 2014

A Partnership of Equals

The following post was written by Genevieve Anderson, Chaplaincy Leader at Notre Dame Catholic Secondary School in Brampton. Below she shares her experience of travelling to Nicaragua to do mission work with her students.

From February 28 through March 10, nine students and four staff from Brampton’s Notre Dame Catholic Secondary School visited Nicaragua to be in solidarity with our sisters and brothers of the Global South. With the invitation of the rural community of JiƱocuao, and in partnership with Casa Canadiense (http://thecasa.ca/), we lived, worked, played, prayed and learned alongside visionary Nicaraguans eager to transform their communities and improve the lives of their children.

It was a testament to solidarity (and humility) that we didn’t have to pretend to be experts at masonry, or even see the classroom construction through to completion. When we arrived on site, the brick walls had already been started on the fourth classroom for their rural secondary school. When we said goodbye (after four mornings of hard work, a day of mountain climbing, and a farewell dance party) and departed for two final nights in Managua, the classroom roof was not yet the next step. (A similar delegation from Brampton’s St. Roch Catholic Secondary School continued the partnership a few weeks later.)

Getting to and from the well and fetching water several times each morning became a metaphor for our solidarity experience. As David, our Casa Canadiense facilitator, put it, “The fires of Hell opened up along the path!” What a heated effort to haul simple pails of water back to the site to mix cement and assist brick-laying!

Past the shady mango tree and the school “tuck shop” (an outdoor table), through a barbed wire fence, down a dusty dirt road, past the side of someone’s house, through scrub and bush on a narrow path downhill to the well, we trudged in single file, empty buckets in hand.

We would slosh water onto our feet or the side of the path as we struggled uphill. On the last morning, a teacher had us form a “chain”, thereby cutting down the walk, and ultimately getting more water to the site. More than once, I resisted the temptation to “accidentally” spill the cool water onto myself to get relief from the blazing sun.

Each arrival at the community well presented a different daily life activity: a woman washing laundry on a stone platform; people taking “bucket showers” in the privacy of a metal stall, sometimes helping each other by pouring water; and a group of laughing school boys slowly obtaining one small bucket of drinking water for their class.

Ultimately, solidarity means we are a partnership of equals. Canadians and Nicaraguans learn from each other despite language barriers and economic disparity. We are grateful for this annual chance to learn and live out our place in the Body of Christ.

Mar 31, 2014

Lenten Challenges: Week 4: Examining your Conscience

This week’s challenge: Examination

Monday: Challenge

Beginner: Take some time this week to sit down and reflect on your life since your last confession with an examination of conscience list.
Intermediate: Find an examination of conscience that’s geared for your state in life and read through it every evening before you go to bed.
Advanced: At the end of every day, write down and reflect on the way you conduct your life, focusing on sins of omission.

Tuesday: The Prayer

Wednesday: Reflection

How can I improve the way I examine my conscience? Am I truly focusing on improving my life?

Thursday: Tips

Examining our conscience daily is a great way to recognize and acknowledge the ways in which we have strayed from God.
What are your tips for examination of conscience?

Friday: Sharing

How did you improve your examination of conscience this week?

Mar 28, 2014

The Pastoral Plan as a Parish Tool

Fr. Frank McDevitt is the pastor at St. Paul's Basilica in Toronto. He recently preached a series of homilies about each core direction of the Pastoral Plan of the Archdiocese of Toronto. This is one of many examples of how the plan is being put into action in parishes across the archdiocese. Below, Fr. Frank reflects on what the Pastoral Plan has meant for his parish and how it will continue to impact the vision of their community going forward.

St. Paul's Basilica. Image from Wikimedia Commons

St. Paul’s Basilica Parish is in a period of transition. After having been under the care of one pastor for 13 years, his retirement has brought a new pastor.

These significant changes are a natural time for a parish to stop and consider its vision as we move forward. The area in the city which St. Paul’s serves is in rapid transition. The building of condos and the shift of the population is quite noticeable. A third factor needs to be considered; the parish is at the bottom of the Don Valley Expressway and just off the Gardiner Expressway. This draws parishioners from various parts of the city who come to St. Paul’s because of the historical significance of the parish or for aesthetic reasons.

The Pastoral Plan of the Archdiocese of Toronto was distributed to all parishioners. They were strongly encouraged to read the short version and to also go online to search out the longer version. Throughout the winter, five homilies have been preached, one on each of the five core directions of the pastoral plan. This has been done in the lead-up to a process in May when parishioners will gather to consider the state of the parish and determine the direction the parish will travel over the next number of years.

The homilies were not preached in order, rather when the scripture best complemented the theme. Part of the homiletic process drew the distinctions between the diocesan concerns and the concerns of the parish. Vocations, for example, which is very much about service to the church in the Pastoral Plan, was developed to acknowledge the vocational life of most members of St. Paul’s, which is single life or marriage.

The Cathedral as a Sign of our Mission was centred on the concern for stewardship in parish life.

Response appears to have been reasonable, though there are always those who are somewhat ambivalent.

Through the rest of Lent and the early Easter season, homiletically we will continue to draw from the Pastoral Plan and encourage all parishioners to prayerfully prepare for the process taking place in our parish in mid-May.

This process will encourage the parishioners to take ownership of the parish, to celebrate the gifts and talents present in our community, and to reflect on the nature of the parish as we move forward.

The beautiful interior of St. Paul's Basilica. Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

Mar 24, 2014

Lenten Challenges: Week 3 - Almsgiving

Monday: Almsgiving

Beginner: Find 5 items in your home that you can do without, but are still fairly new, and donate them to an organization that can use them (like a homeless shelter, etc.)
Intermediate: Give up an item that you pay for but you can do without, and with the money that you save, donate to charity, whether that be to your parish, a local Catholic organization or an overseas mission group.
Advanced: Every paycheque you receive this Lent, donate 10% of it to charity, whether that be to your parish, a local Catholic organization or an overseas mission group.

Tuesday: The Prayer

Wednesday: Reflection

In what areas of my life do I own “too much stuff”? What can I let go of to help me focus on God more?

Thursday: Tips

Add your almsgiving into your monthly expenses, just like you would with your bills.
What are your tips for almsgiving?

Friday: Sharing

How did you share what you have with those in need this week?

Mar 17, 2014

Lenten Challenges: Week 2 - Service

Monday: Service

Beginner: Thank a bishop, priest or member of a religious congregation for the service they provide to the Catholic faithful—invite them out for coffee or invite them to your home for a meal.
Intermediate: Buy a coffee for someone living on the street and learn their name and something about them.
Advanced: Find an organization to volunteer with and sign up to help out! (Message us if you need help with this one, we know lots of great organizations.)
Super-advanced: Do all the challenges listed above: beginner, intermediate and advanced!

Tuesday: The Prayer

Wednesday: Reflection

Do I view my day-to-day work as a way to serve others? How can I better develop a servant’s heart?

Thursday: Tips

The best help we can give to those around us is by doing our day-to-day jobs and tasks with joy and kindness.
What are your tips for serving others?

Friday: Sharing

What did you do this week to serve others? How did those around you react?

Mar 13, 2014

Happy Anniversary Pope Francis!

One year ago today on March 13, 2013, thousands of people gathered in St. Peter's Square after white smoke arose from the iconic conclave chimney, signalling Habemus Papam, "We have a pope!" The crowd waited patiently for over an hour to catch the first glimpse of our new pontiff.

Finally, out stepped Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the man we now know as Pope Francis.

You can watch that memorable moment here.

As he emerged on the balcony, the crowd went wild. We heard stories afterwards of the confusion that ensued in that crowd. "Who is that?" "Where is he from?"

Finally, the band quieted down, the crowd stopped cheering and Cardinal Bergoglio's first words as Pope were spoken:
Brothers and sisters good evening. You all know that the duty of the Conclave was to give a bishop to Rome. It seems that my brother Cardinals have gone almost to the ends of the earth to get him… but here we are.
Our office has put together this infographic with some highlights of Pope Francis' papacy thus far. We encourage you to share it with your friends and celebrate the leadership of our humble pontiff. Certainly this only scratches the surface.

As we celebrate the one-year anniversary of Pope Francis' election, we invite you to reflect on your faith journey in the past year. Was there something in particular that Pope Francis said or did that challenged you to live your faith more deeply? How are you proclaiming the joy of the Gospel, as encouraged in his first Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium? What gives you reason to hope?

One year has passed. On March 13, 2013, we could never imagined what Pope Francis' new style would bring. But here we are. 

Happy anniversary Pope Francis!

Marlena Loughheed is a communications coordinator with the Archdiocese of Toronto's Office of Public Relations and Communications.

Mar 10, 2014

Lenten Challenges: Week 1

Monday: This week’s challenge is about Prayer

Beginner: Little to no prayer life? No problem, Lent is the perfect time to begin. Pick a prayer that you already know or if you’re feeling more ambitious, learn a new prayer (the Divine Mercy Chaplet is a great one to learn). Pray this same prayer each morning when you wake up and in the evening before you go to sleep.

Intermediate: You know that prayer that you almost never say because it’s way too long? (Whether that be the Rosary, attending a weekday Mass, Eucharistic Adoration, or another devotional, etc.). Make a commitment to pray that prayer every day this Lent.

Advanced: Invite someone to pray your prayers with you this Lent. This is difficult because we often try to “fit in” our prayers, and praying out loud with someone else slows us down. (Trust us, this one is actually really hard to pull off!)

Tuesday: The Prayer

Wednesday: Reflection

What is it that stops me from praying? What do I need to do in order to consistently maintain a prayer life?

Thursday: Tips

Set aside particular times each day to pray. Turn off the radio in your car and pray during your commute. Students, pray during your bus ride or walk to school.

Make your prayer life realistic. Don’t force yourself to pray a 30 minute devotional if it's simply not realistic. New moms, one of the best prayers is just “Jesus I trust in you” or “Jesus have mercy on me.”

Any tips for improving your prayer life?

Friday: Sharing

How did your week of prayer go? Do you feel closer to God this week?

Mar 5, 2014

From Palms to Ashes, Part 2

Earlier on our blog, we shared some of basic facts about Ash Wednesday. Like many traditions in our church, the penitential practice of wearing ashes has evolved from ancient roots. Fr. Michael Busch, rector of St. Michael’s Cathedral, provides a brief history lesson for us:
Despite all the references in Scripture, the use of ashes in the church left only a few records in the first millennium of church history. Thomas Talley, an expert on the history of the liturgical year, says the first clearly datable liturgy for Ash Wednesday that provides for sprinkling ashes is in the Romano-Germanic pontifical of 960. Before that time, ashes had been used as a sign of admission to the Order of Penitents. 
As early as the sixth century, the Spanish Mozarabic rite calls for signing the forehead with ashes when admitting a gravely ill person to the Order of Penitents. At the beginning of the 11th century, Abbot Aelfric notes that it was customary for all the faithful to take part in a ceremony on the Wednesday before Lent that included the imposition of ashes. Near the end of that century, Pope Urban II called for the general use of ashes on that day. Only later did this day come to be called Ash Wednesday.
At first, clerics and men had ashes sprinkled on their heads, while women had the sign of the cross made with ashes on their foreheads. Eventually, of course, the ritual used with women came to be used for men as well. 
In the 12th century the rule developed that the ashes were to be created by burning palm branches from the previous Palm Sunday. Many parishes today invite parishioners to bring such palms to church before Lent begins and have a ritual burning of the palms after Mass.
If you’ve missed a morning or noon Mass, there’s still time to receive your ashes. Mass will be celebrated at St. Michael’s Cathedral at 5:30 pm. Contact your local parish for more Mass times in your neighbourhood.

Kris Dmytrenko is a Communications Coordinator in the Archdiocese of Toronto's Office of Public Relations & Communications.

From Palms to Ashes, Part 1

Be prepared to receive a few stares today. If you’re an observant Catholic, you’ll likely attend a service commemorating Ash Wednesday. So you can expect a few comments like, "Do you know you have dirt on your forehead?" To help you respond, we did a little research. First, here are the basics about the ashes:

So, if the ashes come from palms leaves, where do parishes get their palms? It’s unlikely that you will be asked this question, but I was curious just the same. I called Holy Family Parish on King Street West in Toronto. Fr. Martin Hilbert explained that they purchase their palms from a religious supply store. On Palm Sunday, they are distributed to the faithful, who are invited to return the palms to the parish a few weeks before Lent the following year. The palms are then burned into a fine ash—a smelly process, the pastor tells me. Since burning (or burying) the palms removes the blessing, the ashes must be blessed during the Ash Wednesday liturgy.

You might be surprised to learn that not every parish uses ashes created from the previous year’s palms. Collecting the old palms would be logistically challenging for a large, downtown congregation like St. Michael’s Cathedral. The Cathedral staff informed me that they purchase both their palms and their ashes from DiCarlo Religious Supply Centre.

Naturally, DiCarlo doesn’t grow the palms or burn the ashes on their Toronto premises. They source their palm leaves from a farm in Alamo, Texas. This same farm also burns the ash from palm leaves that were not used liturgically. For those palm trees, the journey from “dust to dust” is a short, streamlined process.

When did this richly symbolic tradition begin? Read our blog this afternoon for Part 2.

Kris Dmytrenko is a Communications Coordinator in the Archdiocese of Toronto's Office of Public Relations & Communications.

Mar 4, 2014

What's With the Pancakes? Learning About Shrove Tuesday

Today is Shrove Tuesday. "What's that all about?" some may wonder. Feel free to share this informative graphic with friends and family as you warm your pancake griddle.

Mar 3, 2014

Training for Your Gold Medal Moment

Just over a week ago, I awoke to the sound of the men’s gold medal hockey game, the final event of the 2014 Sochi Olympics. I threw on a Canada sweater, made a smoothie and joined a small crowd of friends who had congregated in my living room, some of whom never watch hockey, let alone show their faces before 7 a.m.

What is it about the Olympics that causes us to abandon our normal routines, gather at all hours of the day and proceed to cheer on athletes whose names we may forget in a few weeks’ time?

If you’ve spent a significant portion of your life engaging in a sport significantly less popular than hockey (I’m talking to the lugers and biathletes among us), I can appreciate that the winter Olympics represents pretty much the only time you can watch the best in the world go head-to-head at your chosen craft on regular cable.

In the other camp are people like me. I don’t usually watch a lot of sports, but I get extremely caught up in the Olympic hype, especially when it comes to the obscure sports (I’m still mourning the loss of ski ballet as an Olympic event). As I reflected on the Sochi games, I noticed some parallels between the Olympics and the spiritual life. It all comes down to the lugers and biathletes.

Luge: not your everyday sporting pursuit. Photo from here.

Biathlon: for those days when you just want some good cardio combined with target practice. Photo from here.
The Olympics celebrate the incredible hard work of those who engage in the thankless daily task of perfecting a unique skill that much of the world would not bother to give a second thought, save for two weeks every four years. When we watch the Olympics, we see an amazing calibre of performance. What we often don’t see is the journey that led to a gold medal moment.

In the spiritual life, we are called day after day to engage in the task of daily prayer and perfecting those little weaknesses that could lead us to sin. Personally, I would love it if someone cheered me on with cowbells, flags and chanting every time I prayed or received the sacraments. It certainly would provide an extra boost of motivation. But the spiritual life isn’t about putting one’s piety on display or seeking a worldly reward. “When you pray, go to your inner room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you” (Matthew 6:6).

Those lugers and biathletes who spend hours in the freezing cold at a training session for years before the Olympics are like the person who goes into his room and prays in secret. There’s no crowd or cheering – just a vision of the prize that lies ahead. That potential gold medal moment provides an extra push to keep going in the midst of hardship and exhaustion.

Our “gold medal moment” isn’t going to take place in this world. We will spend years working on an often thankless, difficult and misunderstood task: the pursuit of holiness. Just like the lugers and biathletes crashing or falling in their training, we will make mistakes and stumble along the way, oftentimes wondering why we should participate in something that seems so obscure. We will need others to pick us up when we’re down. But always on our mind is the ultimate goal of living forever with God. There, the communion of saints will be waiting to greet us with cheers far more hearty than those from a gold medal hockey crowd.

The Olympics capture our attention because we have souls that are created for everlasting glory. It gives us a glimpse into the true desire of our hearts.

Our podium is Heaven. Our congratulatory phrase: “Well done, my good and faithful servant…Come, share your master’s joy” (Matthew 25:21).

Cue the Heavenly anthem. No flag necessary.

Every athlete exercises discipline in every way. They do it to win a perishable crown, but we an imperishable one. 1 Cor 9:25 Photo from here.

Marlena Loughheed is a Communications Coordinator with the Archdiocese of Toronto's Office of Public Relations and Communications.