Thursday, December 31, 2009

New Year's Eve 2009 - Pope St. Sylvester I - Christmas Traditions

Today is the seventh day of Christmas and New Year's Eve. The liturgy of the day, while maintaining the Christmas tone of joy, notes in the readings our propensity to the end of the calendar ("Children, it is the last hour") from the First Epistle of John and yet, that, with God all is forever new ("In the beginning was the Word") from the Gospel of John.

Church Tradition enshrines the praying today of the Miserere (Psalm 51) to lament the sins and failings of the year now closing along with the Te Deum, thanksgiving to God for all the blessings received from the Lord's hands this year.

Today the Church also commemorates the life and death of Pope St. Sylvester I, who died on December 31, 335.

The date of his birth is unknown, and his pontificate is better known for the apocryphal stories surrounding it than any actual occurrences: Take, for instance, the story of his slaying a dragon (see illustration for proof) and raising the reptile’s (are they?) victims to life; or that he cured Constantine of leprosy and later baptized the emperor; and who can forget the Donation of Constantine?

Popular folklore and piety notwithstanding, Sylvester rightfully remains an important figure in the early church. The son of man named Rufinus, Sylvester was made bishop of Rome after the death of Pope St. Miltiades.

During his twenty-one year pontificate, three of the great churches in Rome were constructed: St. John Lateran, St. Croce, and St. Peter. Further, Sylvester was instrumental in stemming the spread of Arianism throughout the Western church, as well as the promulgation of orthodox christology (homousion of the Son) in the wake of Nicea I (325).

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Christmas Traditions, OLD...


From the time of Mgr Joseph-Eugene-Bruno Guigues, the bishops and archbishops of Ottawa have celebrated the Christmas Midnight Mass in Notre-Dame Cathedral Basilica and the Christmas Morning Mass at the Motherhouse of the Sisters of Charity.

So, for the third time, I took part in these rituals wearing a new mitre, made with material recycled from a cope to match the diocesan centennial year Marian Congress (1947) Chasuble. The photos are from a visit to the infirmary where the elderly sisters participated in a hymn sing in French, a stop in the board room and a luncheon in the dining-room: a lovely tradition and a great experience.

...and NEW....

Last year, I invited the priests to an exchange of greetings at my residence, followed by a luncheon in the cathedral's parish hall. It was well-received, so we repeated the event yesterday, to the delight of all involved.

Dress for the occasion was casual, but some pastors had parish obligations (several funerals) and other commitments. Herewith some photos:

Six priests ordained in 2009 and serving in Ottawa: two from Ottawa Archdiocese and one each from the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter, the Dominicans, the Companions of the Cross, the Montfort Fathers

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Canada's First Christmas Carol - "Jesu Ahatonhia" - Photos from Sunday's Diaconal Ordination - Ottawa Grieves

Today I will receive the priests of the Archdiocese at a Christmastide luncheon.

Perhaps in some churches these days Canada's first Christmas carol, written by the martyr St. John de Brébeuf, is part of the parish repertoire.

Here is a bit of background to the hymn tracked down on various web sites. The illustrations of the carol with Canadian stamps from 1977 indicate also how postage rates have increased over the years.

TWAS IN THE MOON OF WINTERTIME: The Huron Christmas Carol (Father Jean de Brébeuf, English Words by J. E. Middleton, 1926; Music: Jesous Ahatonhia, French Canadian melody)

'Twas in the moon of wintertime
When all the birds had fled
That mighty Gitchi Manitou
Sent angel choirs instead
Before their light the stars grew dim
And wond'ring hunters heard the hymn:

Jesus, your King, is born;
Jesus is born!
In excelsis gloria!

Within a lodge of broken bark,
The tender Babe was found
A ragged robe of rabbit skin
Enwrapped His beauty round
And as the hunter braves drew nigh,
The angel song rang loud and high:

Jesus, your King, is born;
Jesus is born!
In excelsis gloria!

O children of the forest free,
O songs of Manitou
The Holy Child of earth and heav'n
Is born today for you
Come kneel before the radiant Boy
Who brings you beauty, peace and joy:

Jesus, your King, is born;
Jesus is born!
In excelsis gloria!

The "Huron Carol" (or "'Twas in the Moon of Wintertime") is a Canadian Christmas hymn (Canada's oldest Christmas song), written in 1643 by Jean de Brébeuf, a Jesuit missionary at Sainte-Marie among the Hurons, near Midland, Ontario. Brébeuf wrote the lyrics in the native language of the Huron/Wendat people; the song's original Huron title is "Jesous Ahatonhia" ("Jesus, he is born").

The song's melody is based on a traditional French folk song, "Une Jeune Pucelle" ("A Young Maid"). The well-known English lyrics were written in 1926 by Jesse Edgar Middleton, and the copyright to these lyrics is currently held by The Frederick Harris Music Co., Limited.

The English version of the hymn uses imagery familiar in the early 20th century, in place of the traditional Nativity story. This version is derived from Brébeuf's original song and Huron religious concepts.

In the English version, Jesus is born in a "lodge of broken bark", and wrapped in a "robe of rabbit skin". He is surrounded by hunters instead of shepherds, and the Magi are portrayed as "chiefs from afar" that bring him "fox and beaver pelts" instead of the more familiar gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

The hymn also uses a traditional Algonquian name, Gitchi Manitou, for God. The original lyrics are now sometimes modified to use imagery accessible to Christians who are not familiar with Native-Canadian cultures.

The song remains a common Christmas hymn in Canadian churches of many Christian denominations. Canadian singer Bruce Cockburn has also recorded a rendition of the song. It was also sung by Canadian musician Tom Jackson during his annual Huron Carol show. The group 'Crash Test Dummies' recorded this hymn on their album "Jingle all the Way" (2002).

In the United States, the song was included as "Jesous Ahatonia" on Burl Ives's 1952 album Christmas Day in the Morning and was later released as a Burl Ives single under the title "Indian Christmas Carol." The music has been rearranged by the Canadian songwriter Loreena McKennitt under the title "Breton Carol" in 2008.

In retelling the story of the Nativity, Father Brébeuf used symbols and figures that could be understood by the Hurons, and the hymn entered the tribe’s oral tradition. It was sung by the Hurons in Ontario until 1649, when the Iroquois killed Father Brebeuf [and Gabriel Lalemant], wiped out the Jesuit mission and drove the Hurons from their home.

In Quebec, to which many of the Hurons escaped, the carol re-emerged and was translated into English and French. This version is still sung today throughout Canada and is considered a national treasure that it has been celebrated on a set of Canadian postage stamps.

Ronald G. White, an illustrator of children's books, used Native motifs in the 1977 Canada Post stamps series to illustrate the carol: (10¢ for mail in Canada) three hunter braves see an angel in the northern lights, (12¢ for mail to the USA) they follow the star to the lodge where the infant is to be found, and (25¢ for international mail) they worship at the crib.

Brébeuf is also known for naming the Native Canadian game of lacrosse, as it is called today, because the stick used in the game reminded him of a bishop's crozier.
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Homily for Diaconal Ordination of Jeffrey Nelson - Feast of the Holy Family (December 27, 2009) at St. Theresa’s Church, Ottawa, ON

FOLLOWING MARY'S LEAD IN SERVICE [Texts: 1 Samuel 1:20-22, 24-28 (Psalm 84); 1 John 3:1-2, 21-24; Luke 2:41-52]

My dear ordinand and my dear brothers and sisters in Christ:

If one were to imagine Luke as a preacher of the gospel about Jesus and ask about his favourite motifs, the heralding of “good news” to the poor and outcast would rank high on the list. So also would the themes of the universality of God's saving purpose, the blessings of poverty and the dangers of wealth.

Prominent, too, in Luke's depiction of the way things are for Christ Jesus and His followers, are the role of the Holy Spirit in both the life of the Teacher and His disciples. Prayer and praise of God are frequently on His lips and on theirs, as are the joy and praise which dwelling in God's presence brings.

Luke was deeply aware of the role and significance for the early Christian community of the twelve apostles to whom Jesus entrusted governance of the faith community He established. But the evangelist was equally conscious of the
key role played by women in receiving, supporting and furthering God's saving plan during Jesus' public ministry and in the first years of the fledgling Church.

Only Luke tells us that, as Jesus went through the Galilean cities and villages proclaiming and bringing Good News of the Kingdom of God, and that “the Twelve were with Him” accompanied by some women—Mary Magdalene, Joanna the wife of Herod's steward Chuza, Susanna—“and many others, who provided for them out of their resources” (8:1-3).

The word that is used of the women's ministry is in Greek diakonein, from which we get the word “deacon”, the ministry to which Jeff is being ordained today.

That women, and especially Mary, model a disciple's receptivity to the gospel message is powerfully displayed in the account Luke gives of Jesus' conception, birth and infancy. Unlike Zechariah's doubting question to the angel Gabriel on learning his wife would conceive (1:18), Mary's question at the annunciation contained no connotation of unbelief (1:34).

Gabriel explained that her conception of Jesus would take place by the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit so that her child would truly be called “Son of God” (1:35). Mary's reply manifests the classic expression of trust in all God might ask of a creature, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word” (1:38).

As the infancy narrative develops, we see Mary continue to ponder on the meaning of what is happening to herself and her Child. After the shepherds come to marvel at their new-born Saviour and Lord, we are told that “Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart” (2:19).

That same response is hers at the close of the episode where Jesus was lost and then found in the Temple, declaring that He had to be in His Father's house, about His Father's business, “His mother treasured all these things in her heart”.

The gospel invites us to ponder ourselves on the mystery of family life, the context in which Jeff will carry out his diaconal ministry. At the heart of family life are all the joys and happiness of the human condition, including Hanna’s gratitude for the gift of a son, Samuel whom she dedicates to God’s service.

Whenever the Lord enters into people's lives, whether in dramatic or every day ways, the joy of communion with God overflows into prayer and praise. As St. John tells us in the second reading, we are privileged, through our baptism and faith in Christ, to become sharers in God’s life—a process that continues our whole life long.

How that dynamic works itself in each person or each family’s life is an exercises of the mysterious and transforming power of God’s grace. St. John says that we can, in fact, know very little about our future glory, only the conviction that we have in faith which asserts that “when Christ is revealed [as he will be in his coming in glory at the end of time] “we will be like him, for we will see him as he is”.

Indeed, the sorrows, anxieties and concerns of daily human life are not absent from any family life in which parents and children seek to find their own place as they grow to full maturity in Christ. Just listen to the dialogue and how it echoes conversations in your family: “Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety?”

Jesus' reply did not resolve the pain of the loss as he said, “Why were you searching for me?” As Luke remarks, “they did not understand what He said to them.”

And so on this day in which our brother Jeff is ordained to diaconal ministry we pray for Janet his spouse and for their three children and newly-born grandchild that they may enjoy a family life that is truly blessed by the Lord, where each may find his or her right place in God's household by listening to others and by being heard.

Our brother in the Lord, Jeff will soon receive an outpouring of the Spirit of God to enable him to serve God's people in diaconal ministries. He is fully convinced that, no matter what eloquence or learning may be his from his studies and earlier career, the power of his ministry to touch people's lives derives from the proclamation of Jesus. This truth holds in the places from which our ordinand has come and where he has already served and where he will minister.

In his diaconal ministry our brother will come to comprehend more deeply that the paschal mystery which is found in family life is also in the lives of the poor, marginal, hospitalized or home-bound sick to whom, like the first deacons, he is called to minister.

A deacon needs to keep ever in mind that it is Christ's Word of Truth that can transform doubting, hurting and needy men, women and children who open themselves to his message and gift of the Kingdom into salt for our earth, light for our world.

Jeffrey's task as deacon will be to help all God's children let their light shine before others and give glory to God in Heaven.

My son, I pray that Mary's Magnificat which we recite at vespers every evening truly be your prayer all the days of your diaconal ministry!

My son, you are being called to the order of deacons. The Lord has set you an example to follow. Do the will of God generously. Serve God and humanity in love and joy. Look upon all unchastity and avarice as worship of false gods; for no one can serve two masters.

Never turn away from the hope which the gospel offers; now you must not only listen to God's Word but also preach it. Hold the mystery of faith with a clear conscience.

Express in action what you proclaim by word of mouth. Then the people of Christ, brought to life by the Spirit, will be an offering God accepts. Finally, on the last day, you will hear Him say, “Well done, good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of your Lord”.

(Thanks to Frank Scheme for photos of the ceremony.)

The congregation joins in praying the litany of the saints for the prostrate diaconate candidate...

...followed by the laying-on of hands and the prayer of ordination

The Nelson family poses for a celebratory photo following the ordination ceremony....

Scenes from the reception:

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The citizens of Ottawa are mourning the loss of a police officer killed in the line of duty, the sixth since policing was established in 1847(the last was in October 1983). This reminds us of the debt we owe each day to those who serve and protect the public order at the risk of their lives.

Sincere sympathy to the family of Constable Eric Czapnik and to his fellow officers on their loss. R.I.P.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Remembering the martyr St. Thomas Becket - Christmas Travel, Visits

Today is the fifth day of Christmas and the liturgical commemoration of St. Thomas Becket.

Becket is famous in our time as a result of T.S. Eliot's Murder in the Cathedral and subsequent adaptations on stage and screen. He is also an example of what is known as "the grace of state": someone named to an office (king, bishop, priest) is given by the Lord graces to live that in a way that might not have been anticipated beforehand.

Thus in the biography that follows, we discover how Thomas Becket's faith gave glimpses of potential for holiness even as these were overcome by other dimensions of his life. But on his choice for the office of Archbishop of Cantebury, for his administrative ability and his relationship with the king, led to his "conversion" first to a life of piety and then onto the path to holiness. Hence the importance of praying for bishops and other leaders who hold office in the church
and in public life to live their vocation as God would have them.

Thomas Becket was born in London, England in 1118. His father was a Norman knight, Gilbert, who had become a prosperous merchant in London; his mother was also Norman, and he had at least two sisters.

Thomas was noted for his piety, his strong devotion to Our Lady, and his generosity to the poor. Richly endowed by nature, he was tall, handsome, strong, and athletic, with dark hair, pale complexion and a prominent nose. His sight and hearing were unusually keen, he had an excellent memory, and he was a gifted speaker and debater.

He enjoyed playing field sports as a boy, and as a young man, his energy, his practical ability, and his initiative exceeded his wisdom and his judgment. He was educated at the Merton Priory in Sussex and at the University of Paris.

When he returned to England at twenty-one, he obtained an appointment as a clerk to the sheriff’s court, where he showed great ability. He was determined to make it on his own in the world now that his parents were both deceased.

After three years, he was taken into the household of Theobald, the Norman monk-archbishop of Canterbury. The young Thomas gradually climbed up the ecclesiastical ladder of success via his charm, his generosity and his adaptability. He was ambitious, and refused no opportunity for advancement. He enjoyed having a "good time", but at all times his life was marked by purity and holiness. The archbishop assigned him the post of archdeacon, and, at the age of thirty-six, he was recommended by Theobald to the young King Henry as chancellor.

Henry II was a man of great ability and vigor with a genius for both leadership and organization; however, he was also self-willed, arrogant, demanding, and passionate. He was power-driven and was obsessed with obtaining complete control over every power in his kingdom. As his chancellor, Thomas had a personal fondness for Henry and devoted all his efforts to serve and please the young king.

Thomas was very well paid for his work and spent his earnings lavishly on entertainment, luxurious clothing, extravagant meals, and on hunting. He never failed to work hard and act prudently on behalf of the king's interests. There is evidence that during this time he was dissatisfied with himself and his "worldly life".

In 1163, Theobald died, and the king secured the election of his friend, Thomas, as archbishop, confident that he would serve all his interests and meet all his demands. Thomas was reluctant to accept the office, and warned Henry that he might regret his decision. Eventually, he did agree to accept the office and when he did, something unusual happened. Thomas suddenly became an austere and very spiritual man, devoting himself wholly to the interests of the Church. He made it clear that he was now the faithful servant of the Holy Father.

A short time later, the inevitable clash with the king occurred. Henry reasserted all the rights of the monarchy, which had been claimed and exercised fifty years earlier. Since that time, however, the papacy had established the claim of the church to control matters such as the trial of clerics and the excommunication of offenders, and had asserted its right to hear appeals and decide all cases.

The archbishop and his king were in constant conflict, and affairs reached a crisis when the king demanded that Thomas agree to the Constitutions of Clarendon (1164). This document stated that all the customs of the past were now contrary to both the law of the Church and the practice of the papacy.

Thomas hesitated, and for a moment gave way, thus breaking the solidarity of the bishops in their resistance. Then, at a council at Northampton in 1164 he reasserted his opposition and in face of threats of death or imprisonment, he escaped at night and crossed to France to seek the pope.

As archbishop, Thomas was in exile in France for the next six years, while he and the king and Pope Alexander III attempted to settle the controversy and restore peace to the church in England. Meanwhile Thomas, at the abbey of Pontigny and elsewhere, devoted himself to prayer and penance in what may be called a 'second conversion' from piety to sanctity.

When an uneasy peace was established in 1169, Thomas returned in triumph to Canterbury. Almost immediately, the King enraged by the archbishop's refusal to withdraw some censures, let words slip out that were taken to be a command to kill the archbishop as a traitor.

On December 29th, 1170, four knights from the court of King Henry II burst into Canterbury Cathedral as the Archbishop was on his way to Vespers. Just inside the cloister door, they murdered Thomas Becket, whose defense of the rights of the Church had angered the King. His last words were: 'I accept death for the name of Jesus and for the Church.'

The murder shocked the conscience of all Europe; miracles were announced immediately; the archbishop was canonized as a martyr by Alexander III in 1173; the king did public penance at his tomb, and much of what St Thomas had worked for all his life was accomplished by his death. Within three years, Thomas was canonized, and the shrine of St. Thomas of Canterbury has become one of the most popular destinations for pilgrims from all over the world.

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Departing Ottawa on Sunday afternoon, I travelled with Father Vernon Boyd to the Jesuit Novitiate in Montreal where we have received most hospitably by Father Joseph Mroz, who is holding the fort while the novices and other staff visit with family.

Only difficulty is, after shooting a few shots of the ice-laden trees near Good Shepherd church and rectory, I have either lost or mislaid my camera (in the rectory), so there are no photographs of Sunday evening or yesterday's family visits.

There's also a photographic blank of my meetings yesterday with two Ottawa-incardinated priests now living in retirement in the greater Montreal area.

The first was Abbe Hubert Laurin, who will be 80 next month and resides at the headquarters of the Pretres des Missions Etrangeres in Pont-Viau, Laval. Their lovely chapel, where Abbe Laurin was ordained in 1956 is dedicated to the Society's patron, St. Francis Xavier.

The other priest is an "honorary Oblate" (during his teaching years he resided at Deschatelets Residence on Ottawa,s Main Street), Mgr Roger Quesnel.

Now in past 83, he resides at the Oblate Infirmary and residence at Richelieu, QC at the extremity of Montreal's south shore. During his latter years, he had been interviewing persons who knew Georges and Pauline Vanier concerning their exemplary Catholic life in the possibility that one day their cause for canonization could be presented to the Holy See, a project still in course.

Mgr guided me around the residence, which has just welcomed some thirty Jesuit priests and brothers in need of nursing care, some of whom I was able to greet. From every report, Oblates and Jesuits are getting on wonferfully (as one would hope and expect).

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At Montreal's downtown Irish-built church, I celebrated the feast of the Holy Innocents with a very small congregation (Monday was a public holiday so many of the downtown workers who come to the 5:15PM daily Mass at St. Patrick's Basilica).

Attached are a couple of web-available photos that offer a sense of the majesty of this beautiful church (one of four monor basilicas in Montreal). Afterwards, supper followed in Montreal's nearby Chinatown (which boasts an English-language Catholic Mission) at an all-you-can-eat buffet.

Monday, December 28, 2009

The "Holy Innocents": the witness of children martyrs

Today is the fourth day of Christmas and on it the Church celebrates the Feast of the Holy Innocents. Here are some thoughts on this occasion from St. Augustine:

"Today, dearest brethren, we celebrate the birthday of those children who were slaughtered, as the Gospel tells us, by that exceedingly cruel king, Herod.

"Let the earth, therefore, rejoice and the Church exult — she, the fruitful mother of so many heavenly champions and of such glorious virtues. Never, in fact, would that impious tyrant have been able to benefit these children by the sweetest kindness as much as he has done by his hatred. For as today's feast reveals, in the measure with which malice in all its fury was poured out upon the holy children, did heaven's blessing stream down upon them.

"'Blessed are you, Bethlehem in the land of Judah!' You suffered the inhumanity of King Herod in the murder of your babes and thereby have become worthy to offer to the Lord a pure host of infants. In full right do we celebrate the heavenly birthday of these children whom the world caused to be born unto an eternally blessed life rather than that from their mothers' womb, for they attained the grace of everlasting life before the enjoyment of the present.

"The precious death of any martyr deserves high praise because of his heroic confession; the death of these children is precious in the sight of God because of the beatitude they gained so quickly. For already at the beginning of their lives they pass on. The end of the present life is for them the beginning of glory. These then, whom Herod's cruelty tore as sucklings from their mothers' bosom, are justly hailed as "infant martyr flowers"; they were the Church's first blossoms, matured by the frost of persecution during the cold winter of unbelief.

During this octave of Christmas the Church celebrates the memory of the small children of the neighborhood of Bethlehem put to death by Herod. Sacrificed by a wicked monarch, these innocent lives bear witness to Christ who was persecuted from the time of His birth by a world which would not receive Him.

It is Christ Himself who is at stake in this mass-murder of the children; already the choice, for or against Him, is put clearly before men. But the persecutors are powerless, for Christ came to perform a work of salvation that nothing can prevent; when He fell into the hands of His enemies at the time chosen by God it was to redeem the world by His own Blood.

Our Christmas joy is tempered today by a feeling of sadness. But the Church looks principally to the glory of the children, of these innocent victims, whom she shows us in heaven following the Lamb wherever He goes.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Holy Family Solemnity - Solennité de la Sainte-Famille

Today is the third day of Christmas, the Feast of the Holy Family (for which I wrote the following reflection for the Nouvelle Informateur Catholique [aka, le NIC]), available here in both French and English).

This morning, at St. Theresa's Church, I will ordain Jeff Nelson as a Permanent Deacon for service in the Archdiocese of Ottawa.

This afternoon, I will drive to Montreal for a couple of days of visiting with family and fellow Jesuits.


Une étude étatsunienne démontre le rôle crucial des parents pour aider leurs enfants à échapper aux expériences dommageables, même destructives pendant leur croissance.

Les enfants seraient moins exposés à faire l’expérience de l’alcool, des drogues, de l’activité sexuelle pré maritale si leurs parents étaient avec eux aux moments clé de la journée : au réveil, au retour de l’école, aux repas et au coucher.

Dans son dernier livre, le sociologue canadien Reginald Bibby mentionne une recherche affirmant qu’environ 70 % des jeunes canadiens (dont 77 % de jeunes québécois) veulent un foyer « comme celui où j’ai grandi » (The Emerging Millennials, Lethbridge, AB : Project Books, 2009, 141-161).

Nous y découvrons que la plupart des adolescents canadiens rêvent encore de l’amour, du mariage et de la famille traditionnels. « À la fin, ils veulent le vieux rêve : un mariage, un engagement à long terme, la fidélité, les enfants, la famille, même si ce n’est pas ce que la plupart vivent » (p. 161).

Ainsi, le rôle des parents pour aider leurs enfants à faire des choix sains et une sainte transition, ajoutent les chrétiens, de l’enfance à l’âge adulte ne peut pas être sous-estimé.

Le stress additionnel imposé aux familles où les deux parents travaillent de longues heures, ou dans les foyers où un parent seul porte le soutien financier et émotionnel d’un ou plusieurs enfants illustre l’importance de la fête de la Sainte Famille au temps de Noël.

Il y a plusieurs années, j’ai reçu la reproduction d’une icône de la Sainte Famille. Elle dépeint une scène de l’évangile lu cette année au dimanche de la Sainte Famille : Marie, Joseph et de leur enfant-adolescent Jésus, revenant de Jérusalem après que ses parents l’ont retrouvé au Temple.

L’image sacrée représente Joseph portant le saint enfant de 12 ans sur ses épaules. Que l’adolescent Jésus soit porté sur les épaules de Joseph indique le rôle de son père adoptif, faire entrer Jésus dans l’âge adulte. Elle souligne le rôle irremplaçable du père de famille pour aider ses enfants à devenir adultes.

Dans cette représentation iconographique, Jésus regarde vers Marie, qui lui tend un rouleau sur lequel sont écrits les premiers mots d’Isaïe 61,1, « l’Esprit du Seigneur est sur moi parce qu’il m’a consacré par l’onction ». Ceci indique le rôle maternel de Marie, soit de partager avec Jésus la volonté de Dieu sur lui.

La réponse de Marie à l’Annonciation – « Je suis la servante du Seigneur; qu’il me soit fait selon ta parole » – a fait de son obéissance à Dieu la priorité de sa vie. Malgré tout, elle ne pourra pas échapper aux luttes pour mettre de l’ordre dans les événements apportés par la providence de Dieu dans sa vie et celle de son fils remarquable.

Saint Luc nous dit que Marie « conservait toutes ces choses en son cœur » – c'est-à-dire l’anxiété partagée par Joseph et elle pendant les jours où ils cherchaient leur fils perdu, les paroles énigmatiques que Jésus leur a dites, « Ne le saviez-vous pas? C’est chez mon Père que je dois être ». Et surtout, ce qui s’est passé après : Jésus « est descendu avec eux pour rentrer à Nazareth, et il leur était soumis ».

Rare est la famille, même aujourd’hui, qui ne s’identifie pas à la confusion et au choc éprouvés par les parents de Jésus en entendant ses paroles qui creusent une profonde brèche entre la piété filiale qu’il leur doit et l’attrait puissant qu’il ressent pour une vocation plus élevée.

Dans cette histoire, nous découvrons aussi la piété de la famille de Jésus qui, à chaque année pour la Pâque, accomplissait le pèlerinage long et ardu vers Jérusalem.

Les dispositions religieuses des enfants, nous disent les catéchistes, sont profondément influencées par le niveau de dévotion de leurs parents. Malheureusement, le bon travail accompli par les catéchistes pour ouvrir les jeunes à la foi s’effondre lorsque les parents sont incapables, ou refusent de partager avec leurs enfants l’eucharistie dominicale.

Nous devons réaliser que, comme pour Jésus, Marie et Joseph, notre tâche est de grandir « en sagesse et en grâce sous le regard de Dieu et des hommes » au long de notre cheminement de foi, à la fois en guidant et en étant guidés par nos enfants.

--Nouvelle Informateur Catholique, 27 décembre 2009


An American study showed the crucial role parents have in helping their children escape harmful, even destructive, experiences as they grow up.

Children were found to be less likely to experiment with alcohol, drugs, or premarital sexual activity if their parents were with them at key points in the day: when they awoke, on their return from school, at meal and bed times.

In his latest book, the Canadian sociologist Reginald Bibby points to research showing that some 70% of Canada’s youth (including 77% of Quebec youth) want “a home like the one I grew up in” (The Emerging Millennials, Lethbridge, AB: Project Books, 2009, 141-161).

Most Canadian adolescents, we learn still dream traditionally about love, marriage and family. “In the end, they want the old dream: a wedding, life-long commitment, fidelity, kids, a family, even though that is not what they are mostly experiencing in their lives” (p. 161).

Thus, the role of parents in assisting their children in making a healthy and, Christians maintain, a holy, transition from childhood to adulthood cannot be underestimated.

The added stress placed on families in which both parents work long hours or in households where a single parent has to shoulder alone the financial and emotional support of one or more children shows the importance of the feast of the Holy Family during the Christmas season.

Some years ago, I received a copy of an icon of the Holy Family (cf. above). It depicts a scene from the gospel reading for this year’s Holy Family Sunday, the return of Mary, Joseph and the adolescent child Jesus from Jerusalem after His parents had found Him in the Temple.

The sacred painting represents Joseph as carrying the 12-year old Holy Child on his shoulders. That the adolescent Jesus is carried on Joseph's shoulder indicates that it was the task of His foster-father to introduce Jesus to adulthood. It points to the irreplaceable role played by the father of a family in helping his children become adults.

In this iconic representation, Jesus looks to Mary, who is handing Him a scroll on which are written the opening words of Isaiah 61:1, “the Spirit of the Lord is upon me because He has anointed me”. This indicates Mary's maternal function of sharing with Jesus God's will in His regard.

Mary's reply at the Annunciation—“Here am I the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word”—had made obedience to God's will her priority in life. Even so, she would not escape having to struggle to sort out the events God's providence would bring into her life and that of her remarkable Son.

Saint Luke tells us that Mary “treasured all these things in her heart”—what had happened to Jesus: the anxiety she and Joseph had shared as for days they sought their lost boy; the puzzling words He had said to them, “Did you not know that I must be in My Father's house”. And most of all that afterwards Jesus “went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them”.

It is a rare family even today that cannot identify with the confusion and shock of Jesus' parents at His words which placed a deep gap between the devotion He owed them in filial piety and the powerful attraction He felt towards a higher vocation.

From the story, we learn also of the piety that drew Jesus' family to make the long and arduous pilgrimage every year to Jerusalem for the Passover.

Children's religious dispositions, we know from catechists, are profoundly shaped by the level of devotion shown by their parents. Regrettably the good work done by catechists in opening youngsters to the faith often founders when parents are unable or unwilling to go with their children to share in the Sunday Eucharist.

We must realize that, like Jesus, Mary and Joseph our task is to increase “in wisdom and in years and in divine and human favour” during our journey in faith, both guiding, and being guided by, our children.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

St. Stephen, the Deacon and Protomartyr - Visitors of the Season

St. Stephen, the first martyr (if we don't count the Holy Innocents on December 28) is one of several patrons of our permanent deacons (with St. Vincent [January 22], St. Ephrem [June 9] and St. Lawrence [August 10]) is also the patron of bricklayers and of Hungary.

What we know of Stephen is found in chapters six and seven of the Acts of the Apostles. From this account, we learn what kind of man he was:

At that time, as the number of disciples continued to grow, the Hellenist (Greek-speaking) Christians complained about the Hebrew-speaking Christians, saying that their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution. So the Twelve called together the community of the disciples and said, “It is not right for us to neglect the word of God to serve at table. Brothers, select from among you seven reputable men, filled with the Spirit and wisdom, whom we shall appoint to this task, whereas we shall devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” The proposal was acceptable to the whole community, so they chose Stephen, a man filled with faith and the Holy Spirit.... (Acts 6:1-5)

Acts says that Stephen was a man filled with grace and power, who worked great wonders among the people. Certain Jews, members of the Synagogue of Roman Freedmen, debated with Stephen but proved no match for the wisdom and spirit with which he spoke. They persuaded others to make the charge of blasphemy against him, which led to his being seized and taken before the Sanhedrin.

In his speech, Stephen recalled God’s guidance through Israel’s history, as well as Israel’s idolatry and disobedience. He then claimed that his persecutors were showing this same spirit. “[Y]ou always oppose the holy Spirit; you are just like your ancestors” (Acts 7:51b).

His speech brought anger from the crowd. “But [Stephen], filled with the holy Spirit, looked up intently to heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God, and he said, ‘Behold, I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God....’ They threw him out of the city, and began to stone him....As they were stoning Stephen, he called out, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit....Lord, do not hold this sin against them’” (Acts 7:55-56, 58a, 59, 60b).

Stephen died as Jesus did: falsely accused, brought to unjust condemnation because he spoke the truth fearlessly. He died with his eyes trustfully fixed on God, and with a prayer of forgiveness on his lips.

In Luke's gospel, Jesus entrusted his Spirit into the Father's hands; in Acts, Stephen gave his spirit to the Lord Jesus, whose Spirit is given to disciples at their arraignment, according to His promise (Luke 12:11-12).

A “happy” death is one that finds us in the same spirit, whether our dying is as quiet as Joseph’s or as violent as Stephen’s: dying with courage, total trust and forgiving love.


...the season is wonderful for being received and for receiving visitors, among them bishops, priests of the Cathedral and Residence, the Sisters of Sainte-Marie de Namur our neighbours on Parent Avenue, the seminarians on home visits and those contemplating the priesthood through the Quo Vadis? program directed by Fr. Tim McCauley, director of vocations and his advisors. Herewith some recent photos:

Being received by the retired priests' community...

Mgr Joseph-Aurele Plourde and Mgr Jacques Landriault flank me...

Retired priests at the John Paul II Residence...

...welcoming religious women


Mgr Donald Theriault, Archbishop Peter Sutton, O.M.I.

Mgr Roger Ebacher, Mgr Gilles Cazabon, o.m.i.

...the priests of the house and Cathedral Basilica parish

...seminarians and those discerning a call to priesthood

Blessed Christmastide to one and all!

Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas! Joyeux Noël ! Joy and sorrow mingle at this Holy Season...


Among those serving at the high altar with His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI at St. Peter's Vatican Basilica for the Midnight Christmas Mass last evening was a young Canadian Jesuit, John Meehan seen wearing the dalmatic in the photo.

Originally from Antigonish, NS, John is a professionally-trained historian who has been doing research at various archives in Rome for the past semester.

His parents joined him for Christmas in the Eternal City and he was thrilled to have been chosen to be one of four deacons assisting at the papal liturgy. I will have the honour of presiding at John's [and his colleague Teofilo Ugaban 's] priestly ordination in Toronto on June 5 next.


While rejoicing in Christmas, I was saddened to learn of the death on Christmas Eve of my dear friend Father Basil Carew (at right in photo below), priest of the Archdiocese of Halifax. Father Bas had suffered from ALS (Lou Gehrig's Disease) for the last several years. I was able to be in touch with him by email a few weeks ago (he was unable to speak in recent months) and was delighted when he was able to send a few sentences in reply to my missive.

An avid liturgist, skilled counsellor and sparkling personality, Fr. Bas often referred with delight to the 1978 fall semester we lived together at St. Andrew's Glebe in Eastern Passage when both of us were teaching at Atlantic School of Theology.

Father Bas was predeceased on Easter Day by our good friend George Leach, S.J., pictured at left in the photograph taken at a ceremony held in recent years at Saint Mary's University on the occasion of their both being recognized for their athletic prowess at SMU in the 1950s.


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This painting of the Nativity, with Christ Crucified present, illustrates how the joy and sorrow of the Paschal Mystery are present at every stage of the Incarnation

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas Eve/Veille de Noël: Message de l'Archevêque/Archbishop's Christmas Message

To the right of this page there is a link to a video with my Christmas video letter to family and friends, which may interest readers of this blog.

The letter below is a message such as I send out to the faithful of the Archdiocese for Christmas, Lent, Easter, other special occasions. It is in French and English and touches on Christmas in the Year of the Priest.

Ici bas, on trouve un message que, typiquement, j’envois aux fidèles de l’archidiocèse pour Noël, Carême, Paques, et autres occasions importantes. Elle touche sur notre célébration de Noël en cette Année du Prêtre.

A droite se trouve, en anglais, un message vidéo pour ma famille et mes amis, qui pourrait intéresser aussi les lecteurs de ce blog. Un message plus court en français se trouve sur la page d’accueil du site web diocésain (


Chers frères et sœurs dans le Christ,

Au moment de célébrer la naissance de Jésus, nous nous souvenons qu’en juin dernier le Pape Benoît XVI a proclamé une Année des Prêtres qui prendra fin à la fête du Sacré-Cœur de Jésus 2010 (11 juin).

Noël nous rappelle qu’en prenant notre humanité, Dieu poursuivait son plan de salut. Et lorsqu’il a quitté ce monde pour retourner au Père, le Christ a voulu que les prêtres poursuivent sa mission de salut dans l’Église. Le paradoxe divin est que Dieu choisit des êtres humains, faibles et fragiles, pour continuer aujourd’hui la mission de Jésus dans le monde.

L’épître aux Hébreux nous rappelle que dans le Christ « nous n’avons pas, en effet, de grand prêtre incapable de compatir à nos faiblesses; il a été éprouvé en tous points à notre ressemblance, mais sans pécher. »

En continuant, l’auteur décrit le prêtre humain comme « établi en faveur des hommes pour leurs rapports avec Dieu. Il est capable d’avoir de la compréhension pour ceux qui ne savent pas et s’égarent, car il est, lui aussi, atteint de tous côtés par la faiblesse et, à cause d’elle, il doit offrir pour lui-même aussi bien que pour le peuple, des sacrifices pour les péchés » (Hébreux, 4, 15-5, 3).

Ces dernières années, nous sommes devenus très conscients de la faiblesse et du péché des prêtres. Cela peut nous faire hésiter à avoir recours à leur ministère. Quelle perte, alors, pour nous et pour eux!

Au lieu de vous écarter, j’invite tous les fidèles de l’Archidiocèse à accueillir le sens de Noël et à célébrer l’Année des Prêtres par une confession individuelle en 2010, et à porter déjà dans votre prière le prêtre qui vous signifiera le pardon de Dieu.

Pour certains, ça sera la première célébration du sacrement de réconciliation depuis plusieurs années, peut-être même des décennies. Si vous avez besoin d’assistance, le prêtre que vous irez voir sera très heureux de vous aider.

Nous sommes convaincus que les effets d’une expérience sacramentelle de la paix de Dieu, dans le confessionnal ou la salle de réconciliation, peut apporter des bénédictions au pénitent comme au prêtre.

L’évènement de la naissance de Jésus illustre très nettement, c’est que « Dieu a tant aimé le monde qu’il a donné son Fils, son unique, pour que tout homme qui croit en lui ne périsse pas, mais ait la vie éternelle » (Jean 3, 16). Cette vérité devient réalité dans l’absolution du prêtre donnée par le Christ à travers son frêle représentant humain : elle efface nos péchés.

Il est impossible qu'entendre les confessions et accorder le pardon du Seigneur ne touche pas le cœur du prêtre et lui rappelle sans cesse son désir, au moment de son ordination, de vivre comme agent de la miséricorde de Dieu.

À Bethléem, il y a des siècles, les anges ont annoncé aux bergers la nouvelle qu’un sauveur – celui qui devait enlever leurs péchés et les réconcilier avec Dieu – se trouvait dans un nouveau-né couché dans une mangeoire.

Les bergers ont été tellement remués par leur rencontre avec le Christ Enfant qu’ils l’ont raconté à tous ceux qu’ils croisaient. Ceux-ci furent émerveillés et dans l’admiration lorsqu’ils entendirent « ce que leur disaient les bergers » (Luc 2, 18).

Que notre rencontre avec la douceur de l’amour du Christ qui pardonne dans le sacrement de réconciliation nous aide à tendre la main vers ceux et celles qui cherchent la paix avec Dieu.

Le Saint-Père proclamera bientôt le Curé d’Ars, saint Jean-Marie Vianney, patron universel des prêtres, diocésains ou religieux. Ce faisant, le Pape a l’intention de souligner comment le ministère d’entendre les confessions renouvelle l’Église. Qu’il en soit ainsi pour notre Église d’Ottawa!

Ma prière, et celle de mes frères prêtres, est que la paix et la joie de Noël soient vôtres en cette sainte saison et pendant toute l’Année nouvelle.

Joyeux Noël!

Bien vôtre dans le Christ,

+Terrence Prendergast, s.j.
Archevêque d’Ottawa




Dear brothers and sisters in Christ:

As we celebrate the birth of Jesus, we note that Pope Benedict XVI has designated a special Year of the Priest lasting from this past June until the Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus (June 11) 2010.

Christmas reminds us, then, of God’s saving plan in becoming human. And that, on leaving this world to return to the Father, Christ wanted priests to carry on his saving mission in the Church. The divine paradox is that God wishes weak and fragile human beings to continue Jesus’ mission in the world today.

The Epistle to the Hebrews says that in Jesus “we have not a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sinning.”

When the author goes on to speak of the human priest he describes him as one “appointed to act on behalf of men in relation to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. He can deal gently with the ignorant and wayward, since he himself is beset with weakness. Because of this he is bound to offer sacrifice for his own sins as well as for those of the people” (Hebrews 4:15-5:3).

Recently we have become all too aware of weakness and sin in the priesthood. And that could cause us to hesitate to call on their ministry. What a loss that would be for us and for them!

Instead of drawing back, I invite all the faithful of the Archdiocese to grasp the meaning of Christmas and celebrating the Year of the Priest by making a personal confession in 2010, and to begin to pray now for the priest who will communicate to you God’s pardon.

For some this may mean the first celebration of the sacrament of reconciliation in years, perhaps decades. If you need help, the priest you approach will be only too glad to assist you.

However, the effects of a sacramental experience of God’s peace in the confessional or reconciliation room can, we believe, bring blessings to both penitent and priest.

What the Christmas story illustrates so vividly, that “God loved the world so much that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him may not perish but may have eternal life” (John 3:16) becomes real in the priest’s absolution—the wiping away—of our sins given by Christ through his frail human representative.

Hearing confessions and granting the Lord’s forgiveness cannot but touch the heart of the priest and remind him constantly of his desire at his ordination to live as a communicator of God’s mercy.

In Bethlehem centuries ago angels announced to shepherds the news that a saviour—one who would take away their sins and reconcile them to God—could be found in a newborn baby lying in a manger.

The shepherds were so moved by their encounter with the Christ Child that they told everyone they met of what they had experienced. This stirred up wonder and awe in them as they heard “what the shepherds told them” about this Child (Luke 2:18).

May our encounter with the gentleness of the forgiving love of Christ in the Sacrament of Reconciliation help us reach out to those who desire to find peace with God.

The Holy Father will soon proclaim the Curé d’Ars, St. John Marie Vianney, as the universal patron of priests, both diocesan and religious. In doing so, the pope intends to underline how the ministry of hearing confessions renews the Church. May it be so for us in the Church of Ottawa!

My prayer and that of my brother priests is that the peace and joy of Christmas may be yours at this holy season and throughout the New Year.

Merry Christmas!

Sincerely yours in Christ,

+Terrence Prendergast, S.J.
Archbishop of Ottawa