As Catholics, we believe in the power of prayer. We pray when we're happy, we pray when we're sad or worried – and we pray when we're feeling the gamut of emotions in between.
We pray because we know it works and because we want a deeper relationship with God. But there is another benefit to praying, as well: it is also good for our physiological health.
A study from the University of Pavia in Italy found that balance between our various body rhythms – heart rate, blood pressure and blood flow to the brain – is an indicator of good physical health. As part of his research, Dr. Luciano Bernardi tracked the conditions that lead to a temporary disorganization of these body rhythms – and then examined the ways the body then recovers its "equilibrium."
Since his subjects lived in Lombardy, a very Catholic region, he had them recite the rosary in order to attain this balance. The result? The smooth, harmonious pattern of praying the rosary resulted in a perfect synchronization of the biological functions being studied.
This is good news for the faithful. When we're stressed and our body rhythms are out of whack, we can centre ourselves spiritually and from a physical perspective, too – through prayer.
As we strive to pray more this Lent, let's keep in mind the words of St. John Paul II, who said: "The rosary is my favourite prayer. A marvellous prayer! Marvellous in its simplicity and its depth. In the prayer, we repeat many times the words that the Virgin Mary heard from the Archangel, and from her kinswoman, Elizabeth."
We can all find greater balance this Lenten season, spiritually and physically, through prayer.
Below is a post from The Archivist's Pencil, the blog of the Archives of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Toronto.
Marriage Sunday will be celebrated on Sunday, Feb. 11 across the Archdiocese of Toronto. Learn more.
Frank and Mary Rajtek are clearly happy and grateful for six decades of marriage.
This year, Mr. and Mrs. Rajtek, parishioners of All Saints Parish in Etobicoke, celebrate their 60th wedding Anniversary. They will be honoured in a special Mass, to be celebrated by Bishop Robert Kasun on Feb. 11 at Blessed Trinity Parish.
The Office of Formation for Discipleship at the Archdiocese of Toronto had the chance to interview with the Rajteks recently. The conversation was free-wheeling. Everything from Frank’s career as an engineer at the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) and working late nights, to travels with the kids, providing for the family and seeking opportunities to grow as a couple all came alive in the discussion -- as well as providing insights into their their faith journey.
Frank spoke about the sacrifices he made, working late hours, to make sure the family’s needs were met. Mary, on the other hand, spoke about the difficulties she sometimes faced in not seeing her husband due to work.
Mary recounted how she came to rely on God and grow in her faith throughout her years of marriage to Frank.
VIDEO: More snippets from Frank and Mary’s interview
“I think I really got to know God in nursing – through patients and seeing them suffering as well as getting better,” said Mary. “Their witness strengthened me in the vocation of marriage that I was living out.”
One thing that both Frank and Mary were quick to point out is the sense of gratitude they have for their grandchildrens' commitment to the faith. They recounted how their three grandchildren are all altar servers at Blessed Sacrament Parish in Toronto.
“We’re so proud of them,” Frank said. “We make sure to tell them that when we see them. They’re continuing on the legacy of making faith a central part of their lives, which we did ourselves all those years ago.”
When they look back on 60 years of marriage, Mary says she wouldn't change a thing about her decision to enter the Sacrament of Marriage with Frank.
“I can honestly say that not once over these years that I would have done differently in terms of marrying Frank,” Mary said. “I knew this was right and I know that this is where I wanted to be at this stage in my life. And now here I am.”
Sr. Rosemary Fry, CSJ, is the vocation director for the Sisters of St. Joseph of Toronto. Below, she shares reflections on the upcoming World Day of Prayer for Consecrated Life.
In 1997, Pope St. John Paul II instituted a day of prayer for women and men in consecrated life. This celebration is attached to the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord on February 2. The Archdiocese of Toronto is hosting a special Mass to celebrate this World Day of Prayer for Consecrated Life on Jan. 28, in anticipation of this.
As I attend that Mass with the other religious, this is what I will celebrate in great awe and gratitude.
On a very warm day in July 1963, I promised before my Religious Congregation, the Sisters of St. Joseph of Toronto, and the Universal Church, to live out my Christian Baptismal commitment as a consecrated religious. Formally, this meant professing the three vows of poverty, chastity and obedience and promising to live a life of prayer and ministry in community with other Sisters. How little I knew about what this would mean in the years ahead!
As a teenager, I had been drawn to Jesus in the Gospels and decided that I wanted to live my life with him and for him. As I nursed and worked with others in Canada and Haiti, my realization and awe grew as I recognized that in meeting and caring for others I was meeting and caring for this Christ and, as St. Teresa of Avila tells us, I was allowing this Christ to use my hands and feet to minister in His world.
The deeper realization of this union with Jesus led me to enter more deeply into the Trinitarian life of the Father, Son and Spirit and the immeasurable love between them. Our world and the Universe itself is created and held in being by this Divine Trinitarian love and we are caught up in it, in a way we can barely grasp or understand.
Now, each day, as I continue to live this life I was invited to so many years ago, I return to an article in our Constitutions which clearly expresses my experience and the joy I feel beyond any of the ups and downs of my daily life:
Our life is a response in faith nurtured by prayer which invites us ever more deeply into the mystery of the Triune God: The all-inclusive love of the Father, the self-emptying love of Jesus, and the generous love of the Holy Spirit. We cultivate a contemplative awareness which unifies our life of prayer and action by finding God dwelling within us and present in all things.
The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity runs from Jan. 18-25. For those of us who may not know a lot about it, here are five facts about this key week in the life of the Church that reminds us of Jesus' prayer "that they may be one so that the world may believe (John 17:21)."
1. Father Paul Wattson and Mother Lurana White, co-founders of the Society of the Atonement, celebrated the first Week of Prayer for Christian Unity in 1908.
2. The celebration began as the "Church Unity Octave" (an eight-day period of prayer) and evolved into annual worldwide observance among Christians.
Pictured above, the logo for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.
3. Jan. 18-25 spans the days between the feasts of Saints Peter and Paul.
4. Since 1966, the Faith and Order Commission of the World Council of Churches and the Vatican Secretariat (now Council) for Promoting Christian Unity began collaborating on a common international text for worldwide usage.
5. The theme for 2018 is: "Your Right Hand, O Lord, Glorious in Power (Exodus 15:6)." To help us unpack the meaning of this, this year's resources were prepared by the churches of the Caribbean.
For more information about the origins of this week, please visit www.atonementfriars.org/2018-week-of-prayer-for-christian-unity/.
As we begin the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, what does this year's theme mean to you on your spiritual journey?
The Catholic Register newspaper celebrated 125 years of publication on January 5. Below is an editorial that ran recently, reflecting on the paper's mission to readers and continuing commitment to its founding principles.
On Jan. 5, 1893, founding editor Fr. John Teefy introduced the debut issue of The Catholic Register to Canada's growing Catholic community with these words: "We are a Catholic journal — Catholic first, last and always.
This shapes our life and orders all our thought. From this standpoint we survey events, upon this ground we discuss questions, and to this fact we owe our being, our usefulness and our importance."
Schoolchildren read The Catholic Register in an undated file photo.
The world has changed profoundly since then, but as true today as it was 125 years ago is The Register's steadfast allegiance to those founding principles. Fr. Teefy's words have guided this newspaper relentlessly through more than 12-plus decades of the most life-altering technological and social change in the history of mankind. And his words still define us today as The Register, Canada's oldest and most-read Catholic publication, celebrates its 125th anniversary.In 1893, when Canada was barely a quarter century old and before Saskatchewan and Alberta had even joined Confederation, Toronto Archbishop John Walsh saw an urgent need for a Catholic newspaper in mainly Protestant English Canada. Writing in the first issue, he declared the newspaper's mission was to promote Catholic interests, vindicate the religious, educational and civil rights of Catholics, and to defend the Church against "the falsehoods and calumnies of which she is to frequently the object." He probably would be dismayed to see The Register is still required to advocate for the Church on not only these issues, but many other social and moral matters that Walsh never could have foreseen. We take that duty seriously.
Pope Francis recently echoed Walsh when he praised the value and effectiveness of Catholic media and made a case for its continued existence and vitality. A world that is faith deficient is often sullied by news that is sensationalized, distorted or even manufactured. Catholic newspapers, said the Pope, should adamantly reject those trends and provide reporting that is faithful, precise, thoughtful and charitable, always avoiding the temptation to stir up "media dust storms." Amen to that.Couples often renew wedding vows on a special anniversary. The Catholic Register proposes to do likewise as we mark 125 years of service.So to our readers we pledge the following: to do our best to provide quality journalism that is faithful to the Magisterium, respectful of Church leaders, loud in defence of Catholic rights, committed to the principles of truth, accuracy and fairness, unwavering in defence of the vulnerable, inclined to be charitable but ready when provoked to be tenaciously combative.Above all, as when the first Catholic Register rolled off the press in 1893, we will be a Catholic journal — Catholic first, last and always.
As the relic of St. Francis Xavier travels across Canada, it is accompanied by D'Arcy Murphy, a University of Ottawa student and a missionary with Catholic Christian Outreach, a university student movement dedicated to evangelization. Below, D'Arcy shares insights on what it's been like to be the official guardian for the 465-year-old right forearm of one the greatest missionaries of all time.
1. As the "arm guard" of the relic of St. Francis Xavier, what does your role involve and what does your daily schedule look like?
My primary responsibility is for the relic itself, including carrying the case it is kept in, packing and unpacking the relic, keeping the Plexiglas case clean and standing on guard during veneration. On the plane rides, the relic is always beside me. As for our daily schedule, it's always different. The only things we can expect other than events on university campuses and in churches are long days, lots of travel and the unexpected!
2. You've taken a semester off from school to accompany the relic. What motivated you to do this?
This really is once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. To travel to so many places in one month, [the tour includes 15 Canadian cities in 30 days] but also to see all of the graces that come of it will be amazing. Through prayer, it was very clear that saying yes to this was more than just saying yes to something cool – I really felt called to partake in this mission when I was asked. I am saying yes to God and trusting that it is part of His plan for my welfare and future with hope! (Jeremiah 29:11)
D'Arcy Murphy, right, is seated beside the relic of St. Francis Xavier. Behind him is André Regnier, founder of Catholic Christian Outreach. They are part of the team accompanying the saint's right forearm across the country.
3. What has your experience been flying with the relic – and what has been the reaction of your fellow passengers?
The tour team sits with the regular passengers, with the relic in the seat beside me. Even as I respond to these questions, I'm sitting beside the relic on our flight to St. John's. Many people have been quite curious. The airport staff and flight attendants have been most intrigued. While they do have the occasional package taking seat like the relic, they never see one treated with the same care and reverence and definitely not one that flies so frequently. Our flight attendant today sat beside André Regnier (CCO founder and a member of the tour team) for quite a while and asked so many questions – she said she wanted to come see the relic when it is in Montréal.
4. How do you describe travelling with the relic in layman's terms to those without an understanding of it?
The analogy that seems to be the most relevant for my friends is explaining that my role is like the keeper of the Stanley Cup. While this relic is way more important than the Stanley Cup, the practicality of how it is transported and cared for (white gloves and all) is pretty similar.
5. Can you tell us about the mission of the relic tour?
Bringing the relic of St Francis Xavier to Canada is actually about Christ and making Him known to our country, rather than just being about the saint. The relic provides a physical encounter with a man who lived a life of great virtue. He can be an example for all of us seeking to grow closer to the Lord. There are also three things we are anticipating for pilgrims venerating this relic: conversion to a Christ-centred life; healings; and increased zeal to evangelize.
6. Did you do any research on SFX and relics to prepare for the trip? If so, did anything you learned surprise you?
While I already knew the basic story of St Francis Xavier – he was a great missionary saint who travelled through Asia baptizing thousands and even witnessing God heal and raise people from the dead through his own intercession – it was how he got there that stuck out to me. I did not realize he had a conversion in university after being evangelized by another student (St. Ignatius of Loyola). This is really cool because university is where I encountered the Lord in a deeper way and where I seek to evangelize my peers who do not yet have the joy that comes from a Christ-centred life.
7. Before this experience, did you have any connection to relics – and had you ever seen any in the past? If so, which ones?
I've had a number of opportunities to venerate relics, most notably at the Mercy Centre in Krakow during World Youth Day 2016. Relics of St. John Paul II, St. Faustina, St. Maximilian Kolbe, as well as the body of Bl. Pier Giorgio Frasatti at another site in Krakow, were all on display for veneration. Venerating those relics was an inspiring and moving. Seeing saints makes me want to become one too!
8. What impact do you think this experience will have on you?
Aside from a lot of physical stamina, I have witnessed the moving experiences individuals have when venerating the relic. One moment from yesterday in particular was when a homeless man came forward to venerate the relic. It was a beautiful moment and a great reminder of Christ's love for all people, especially the poor, when his weathered hand reached out to touch the relic. Sainthood truly is for everyone - it's our universal call. That was a pretty cool moment.
The relic will be visiting the Archdiocese of Toronto from January 12 to 14. For a full list of tour dates, please visit www.cco.ca/relic.
Happy New Year! As Pope Francis celebrated Mass on New Year's Day – the Solemnity of the Mother of God – his homily was chock full of inspiration on how to lead a faith-filled 2018. Below are three highlights to help incorporate God into your daily life.
1. Set aside a moment of silence each day to be with God. This will help us to "keep our freedom from being corroded by the banality of consumerism, the blare of commercials, the stream of empty words and overpowering waves of empty chatter and loud shouting."
2. Leave behind life's useless baggage and rediscover what really matters. "If we want to go forward, we need to turn back: to begin anew from the crib, from the Mother who holds God in her arms. Devotion to Mary is not spiritual etiquette; it is a requirement of the Christian life."
3. Give everything over to God. "Hopes and worries, light and darkness: all these things dwelt in the heart of Mary. What did she do? She pondered them, that is to say she dwelt on them, with God, in her heart. She held nothing back; she locked nothing within out of self-pity of resentment…We keep things when we hand them over: by not letting our lives become prey to fear, distress or superstition, by not closing our hearts or trying to forget, but by turning everything into a dialogue with God."
To read the full text of the Pope's New Year's address, please visit http://bit.ly/PopesHomilyNewYears2018.
By now, you know that the Fourth Sunday of Advent is on December 24, also known as Christmas Eve. As Catholics, that means we are going to be going to Mass twice, once for the Fourth Sunday of Advent and once for Christmas. But the question is why, why do we have to go to Mass twice? Why can't one Mass just count for both?
The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops has said that Sundays, Christmas, and the Feast of Mary, the Holy Mother of God (January 1) are Holy Days of Obligation. That means they are days where all Catholics in Canada are obliged to go to Mass.
When it comes to our obligation to attend Mass, it means that the Fourth Sunday of Advent fulfills the Sunday obligation, and Christmas fulfills the Christmas obligation (Vigil Masses also fulfill the obligation for the day, so a vigil Mass on December 23 would fulfill the obligation for the Fourth Sunday of Advent, and a Mass after 4 p.m. on Christmas Eve would fulfill the obligation for Christmas).
We often talk about Mass as an obligation, as something we "have" to do. While it is true, we are obliged to go to Mass, we should also want to go to Mass. Pope Francis in his catechesis on the Eucharist reminds us that Mass "is the loving encounter with God through his Word and the Body and Blood of Jesus. It is an encounter with the Lord" (November 15, 2017). We spend all of Advent waiting and longing for the coming of Jesus that sometimes we can forget that he is already with us in the Mass. "In the end," Pope Francis says, "we go to Mass not to give something to God, but to receive from him the grace and strength…to be witness of his goodness and love before the world." (December 13, 2017)
It is an unusual occurrence that the Fourth Sunday of Advent and Christmas fall like this, but it gives us a wonderful time to perhaps enter more deeply than we otherwise would, into the mystery of Christ's very presence in our life, in the world and in the Eucharist. Jesus is not just some hoped for saviour, he is truly present.
So yes, we get to go to Mass twice in two days, but isn't that what Christmas is all about, the welcoming Christ with eager and open hearts?
Rebecca Spellacy is the Associate Director of Liturgy for the Office of Formation for Discipleship in the Archdiocese of Toronto.
The following post has been contributed by Arthur Peters, Executive Director of ShareLife and the Development Office of the Archdiocese of Toronto.
It seems quite simple. We go to church on Sunday morning (and/or during the week) at our local parish or, if we are out of our community, at another parish. If our church needs to be renovated, we raise the funds to do so, or if a church needs to be built we will conduct a campaign to raise funds, and the archdiocese will loan an amount to the parish to complete the construction of the church.
But what if it wasn't like that? What would it be like if we were building a church and we faced threats to have it bulldozed, or even set on fire to before it is completed?
Over the past few days I have visited the Diocese of Galle and Kurenegala in Sri Lanka, where Catholics are the minority population. (In Galle, there are only 8,000 Catholics out of a population of 2.4 million people.) There, I met Father Michael Rajendran, pastor of St. Sebastian’s parish, which serves 20 families within the community and another 50 from neighbouring towns who attend Mass. His church, while close to 70 years old, has been a parish for only four years, having served as a mission before this. When the mission was turned into a parish, the church building was reduced in size to accommodate a small rectory for the pastor.
A mission or substation is a location away from the parish where Mass is celebrated. Sometimes it may be a building, but it can also be a cottage or even a place under a tree, depending on the area. Many parishes have substations and priests will travel to these areas to celebrate Mass.
At St. Sebastian’s, it was determined that the church building needed to be expanded. Here is where things became a challenge. To expand the church, approval was needed from the largely non-Catholic government. In many places in Galle, the church does not own the land, but is given permission to use the land by the government. In the case of St. Sebastian’s, the land is owned by the government and leased to a multi-national, who uses the land for agricultural purposes. (Tea, palm oil and cinnamon are crops in the area.) It is important that the multi-national partner be on-side with the church; the government needs to approve, as well.
When plans were presented by the previous pastor to expand the building, there was stiff opposition from extremists and the pastor was driven out of the parish. Father Michael came to the parish this year. Working with the local government, he has managed to get the deed for the land where the church is and is now planning to build a new rectory, as well as to expand the church. He still faces opposition, but has his plans approved and feels comfortable to proceed.
After four years, St. Sebastian's Parish received a deed to their land and permission to build a new rectory and expand the sanctuary.
In the schools, while the government requires religion to be taught, it is mostly the Buddhist religion and not the Catholic faith. To provide formation for children, the Holy Childhood Society is involved in parishes. There are local Sunday school programs that work with them, as well. Our support from the Mission Co-operative program in Toronto helps to provide faith formation for the youth of the parish when there are no Catholic teachers in the schools. We do this by training leaders (teachers) to provide formation in the Catholic faith.
The Diocese of Kurunegala operates three orphanages where children from broken families are cared for. Food, education, boarding and counselling are provided.
I met with the Bishop Raymond Wickramsinghe, the Bishop of Galle. He explained that Buddhism and Hinduism have been rooted in Sri Lanka for over 2,500 years. He mentioned that most of his parishes are subsidized by the diocese. He relies on the support of some benefactors as well as mission appeals to help evangelize in Galle. On the day I met with him, His Excellency had been out in the community most of the morning meeting with parishioners and non-Catholics in the community where there had been flooding recently, sometimes giving them money for food. His Excellency explained that when there is a need, the church does not ask the religion of a person when determining need. They bring “Kingdom values” into the community.
The next day I visited the Diocese of Kurunegala, where a shrine is being built to St. Joseph Vaz, the first Saint from Sri Lanka. In the late 1600s, he travelled from India to Sri Lanka, disguising himself as a labourer, to evangelize the Catholic faith. After the Dutch took over the island from the Portuguese, the Catholic faith was expelled from the island and there were no priests for a century. Father Vaz brought the Eucharist and sacraments back to the island. By the time of his death in 1711, he had managed to rebuild the church in Sri Lanka. He was canonized in 2015 by Pope Francis.
Father Sagara Perera welcomed me as he told me about his diocese. While the Archdiocese of Colombo has a strong Catholic presence, other dioceses do not and, as such, must work with the government, which is largely non-Christian. He told me of one substation that is being built; after construction started, the church building was burned down. While the parish community is now re-building, they now face threats of it being bulldozed.
The government took over the Catholic schools in the 1960s and declared how much percentage of each faith could attend the schools. Thus, while a school has a name like Holy Angels, the large majority of students are non-Catholic due to the government requirements.
Thalassemia is medical condition that is very prevalent in this diocese. This blood disorder, which causes low red blood cells, affects a large number of children in the area. Children come for treatments at the hospital and then require a special needle to give themselves transfusions at home. The government supplies the medicine for this but not the syringes needed to administer the medication. This is one of the ways the Mission Co-operative program of the Archdiocese of Toronto is making a difference. With our support, they provide these needles to families who are unable to afford them.
We then visited three orphanages that are run by the diocese. Many of the children are living with their grandparents, who are poor and cannot afford to provide for their education. Our support through the Mission Co-operative program is helping bring Gospel values to these children in the formative stages of their lives.
We also provide support for a home for unwed mothers, who are helped regardless of religion. Finally, we visited the Juniorate, a minor seminary, where young men are in formation before entering the seminary.
I met with Bishop Perera later in the day. He expressed his gratitude and appreciation to the parishioners of the Archdiocese of Toronto for their support of the parishes of his diocese.
Here, Arthur meets with Most Rev. Harold Perera, Bishop of the Diocese of Kurunegala in Sri Lanka.
In my visit to Sri Lanka, I saw firsthand how our support is making a difference. In Ontario we are fortunate to have Catholic schools and the freedom to practice our religion. Many places in the world don’t have these rights, so we should never take them for granted at any time. The next time you are in a parish, imagine if you're told the church will be destroyed simply because people don't want you there. Or, try to fathom being told your child needs to have medical attention at home, but the government won't provide the syringes needed to do so.
When we hold our Mission Co-operative collections in the summer months, we are doing more than providing funds – we are bringing the hand of Christ to the greater world. Over the past few days I have seen this first hand. This served as a reminder of the generosity of our parishioners in the Archdiocese of Toronto!
Now, off to India…