I think I have always been fascinated with the concept of journey. Growing up on the prairies of southern Saskatchewan I was intrigued by books that talked about journeys, and with a pretty vivid imagination would find places around town to transform into amazing destinations. I would load some snacks and some pencils and paper into a small backpack and off I would go - to the top of the school fire escape, or down to the tiny creek in town and onto an abandoned tree house platform.
As one matures one realizes more deeply that the value of the journey itself usually outweighs arriving at the destination.
At Kenora Catholic we are probably about to intentionally continue one of our most important journeys in a long while - the journey of hope and reconciliation - living as joyful disciples. We have checked the maps, we have looked at the weather, and we know now is the time. Now is the time to create the space to honestly look at the history of Indian Residential Schools and create a space for reconciliation to continue. This journey is being connected to our annual journey through the season of Lent.
The season of Lent, is, by nature, penitential. There are two seasons of the church year that are penitential - Advent and Lent. Both are decorated with the colour purple, a colour chosen to designate both the royalty of Christ and the human need for penance and reconciliation.
Why isn’t the church more creative about its seasons? Like seriously, the same seasons every year? Can’t we do better than that? Well, actually, we can’t. Ritual provides us with the repetition and invitation to go deeper, to immerse in the action and so to be pondering each time more deeply God’s incredible gifts of life and love. The ashes we experience each year on Ash Wednesday pull us more deeply into the life and death of Christ. They push us to remember that God is God and we are not. They nudge us to accept the complex gifts of life and death, and to seek once again to choose life and love. If we could, so to speak, get our human condition "under control' we would not need to keep seeking forgiveness for the unloving choices we make in relation to all of creation. The use of plastic water bottles alone gives us at least another 20 years of Lent!
Let me clear up the big wondering of the first day of Lent for you. Yes, it is Ash Wednesday. Yes, it involves the placing of ashes in the shape of a cross on our foreheads. No, this is not to let everybody at the grocery store know that the Catholics and Christians are up to something again.
Remember this: the ashes are connected to the palms from Palm Sunday. In fact, they are the palms from Palm Sunday! The dried up palms used to mark Jesus’ somewhat triumphant entry into Jerusalem, directly on his way to both death and resurrection, are burnt to remind us that death is ours, will be ours too. We are invited to consider what we need to die to in our lives in order that the new life of hope and peace and joy might permeate all of our existence. We are marked with ashes as a wake up call: here we are, again...still making unloving choices, and still needing forgiveness, but maybe this year we will get a little closer to being more loving, a little closer to being compassionately human.
At Kenora Catholic this year we are taking this opportunity of Lent to honestly own and seek reconciliation for the reality of Indian Residential Schools. No, we didn’t make the choice to create them, we didn’t make the choice to try to take away all that was important to our First Nations and Metis Brothers and Sisters.
The reality is this: every day that goes by that we do not create more space for the spirituality and language and culture of our First Nation and Metis brothers and sisters we are helping to sustain the weight of those schools in their lives. It took generations to create as much damage as those schools did and it will take generations to journey forward for the dignity of their identity to be fully reclaimed and celebrated. When they lose, we lose. We lose their rich spirituality, the power of their ritual and dance, and the beauty of their identity. We lose the richness they bring to our schools and our world, and I for one do not want to miss out on any of it.
So we journey. We journey knowing that nothing can separate us, as St. Paul says, from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below - indeed nothing in creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Let’s go. May we be blessed with the courage we need to renew our hope and love in healing!
In the ice fog of our -38 degree morning, I find myself spending time with my author soul mate, Parker Palmer. Palmer is my author soulmate as he affirms and disturbs me often in the same sentence. He pushes me to a deeper understanding of myself and my world. This morning I am attracted to his reflections about his vocation - how he has had many jobs, but his vocation to teach and learn has been threaded through all of them.
His comment about vocation has me pondering the imminent departure of Phyllis Eikre, for today we stand on the eve of an ending...a change in directorship, a change in the captain of our fishing boat. Parker says that “I’m a teacher and a learner, a vocation I’ve pursued through thick and thin in every era of my life.” (On the Brink of Everything, p.85). That echoes for me my experience of Phyllis particularly as I have watched her listen to what probably amounts to 100’s of presentations at board meetings. I have noted the interest and joy on her face especially when students are speaking. I think at times she has missed the hands on learning opportunities - technology innovations, experiential learning events and so on that administrative demands prevented her from doing herself. Out of a “classroom” now for many years, as a teacher she was always ready to help clarify or make sense of, at the board level, the situations that weren’t adding up for me or to provide a perspective different from my own to expand my own understanding of next steps.
She served her vocation as a servant leader - something for all of us to emulate. My heart surfaced for me a new personal definition or path to sainthood. At least it is my current wondering about it. I wonder if sainthood really is about creating a context for others to serve and love and share their gifts deeply, versus the personal perfection we sometimes link to it. The service is essentially focused on the vocation of the other. Phyllis trusted me to serve and gave me the space to live my vocation in our community. It really doesn’t matter what we do at KCDSB, if in the service of learning, what matters is how we do it. That is the heart of living one’s vocation. Palmer also reminds us that vocation is about meaning making, it is about an active process that takes the time to ponder, pull apart, and live deeply the grace-filled moments that we are daily immersed in. When we make meaning it enables us to live and serve authentically. If we are indeed living our vocation, versus just doing a job, we will see the meaning in our daily choices and commitments.
Phyllis may your retirement gift you with an ever open heart to ponder deeply all the moments of living your vocation, that those moments may continue to guide you and bring you closer to the heart and mind of Christ as you continue to teach and learn in new ways.
May we all be challenged as we bid you adieu to authentically live out our own vocations so that the dynamic energy of love may bring hope and light and even “heat” to our -38 C world! May Derek, our new director, be blessed with wisdom and joy as he begins his voyage here at KCDSB!
The seasons of Advent and Christmas are now once again behind us. We are back in Ordinary Time for about 8 weeks until we begin Lent on Ash Wednesday ( March 6th, 2019).
The reality is, most of our life is ordinary. Ordinary is rooted in the word ordinal, which means to count. We spend a lot of our time counting - we count hours. We sleep, wake, go to work or school or retirement life, we participate in some regular activities, then we eat, sleep, and awake on another new day. We count days until weekends or time off or trips. We count steps with our wrist devices. We count calories, and sports stats, and bank accounts - we spend a lot of time counting. We count our weeks through the church year, naming some as ordinary and some as special.
Are the moments in ordinary time really ordinary? Are they simply something we endure to get to those weekends or special moments? Or are they actually the moments that make the other moments richer? There is a marked difference between putting in time to get to the “special” times or actually living all the moments.We celebrated the retirement of our Director this past week, and the celebration was special, and it was made that way because Phyllis lived all the moments of her career to the best of her ability. The ordinary living lead to the extraordinary celebration.
I feel tired when I think about living each moment fully. Yet, when I step back and ponder that reality there is also energy in that concept. I can name times when I felt truly present to what was going on around me - listening to music, paying attention to the colours and sounds of nature around me, participating in an honest and real conversation. Even in those moments when someone (including me) was hurting, there was a sense of energy, purpose, fullness amidst the pain and sadness. What is most important is not the moment or the activity itself, but the choice of love that lives within it. My niece just had twin boys, and she already has three children, and my body could physically feel the fatigue that she would be experiencing in the next few months. Their lives will appear to be quite ordinary, yet I know I will soon see markers of their growth on social media. The fatigue won’t be posted, but their growth will be. I also know that those ordinary moments of feeding them and changing them and burping them are what make those growth markers possible - and I know she will do it all with love. It is the ordinary that roots the extraordinary.
Without the ordinary, perhaps there would be no extra-ordinary. Without participating in the regular life of church there is less excitement about the feasts and seasons as one is less connected, less knowledgeable of what is going on. Without participating in a friend’s life all year round their birthday may offer you less to celebrate as you haven’t been there for the regular moments of that year, or shall we say in the regular story of their lives. Without serving others in the ordinary ways that we do - sharing words of support, serving meals, supporting colleagues, there may be less awareness of the impact of when we ourselves are served in extraordinary ways.
There is a wisdom in the church liturgical year that blends ordinary time with special feasts and seasons. We need an infusion of special, of glitter to polish the ordinary into the important. The goal somehow is to see the whole year as gift, as unique and critical to one’s faith journey. Let’s keep counting, let’s keep up our ordinary living - it is what sometimes gives pattern to our existence yet offers us glimpses into the specialness of now.
It is intriguing to me at times to see what might be defined as “school/education” terms used in what is a church document ( Renewing the Promise by the Ontario Bishops). In this document it says that “The Christ-centred mission of each school, by its very nature, contains a call to service in the greater community….students and staff help to promote engagement with the local and global community through their many acts of charity and by their witness to social justice and environmental stewardship.” (p. 10)
From an educational perspective, we often use the words “engage” or “engagement” to describe a choice to participate in something. For example, we might say students seemed engaged with the math activity, or the read a-loud engaged them in the exploration of a particular theme. The engagement is often linked to a sense that those involved “learned something”.
In the Renewing the Promise document the “engage” phrase is used in relationship to the community inviting its members to engage with the world and make it a more Gospel like place. The document connects hope and engagement together in the context of community. I wonder if it was a deliberate choice to place engagement first, followed by hope. Is it perhaps that our most direct path to hope is through serving others?
Have you ever had those days when there doesn’t seem to be enough time or energy to get what needs to be done, done? And then someone shows up, needs help, and you make the choice to let go of your “list” and focus on their needs instead? What is always amazing to me is that I still usually get done what needs to get done, and I usually feel better about myself after I do! We all have service commitments that sometimes seem too taxing or tiring and yet when we go our day changes. For me, Meals on Wheels at 4:30 p.m. sometimes feels way more than my energy can handle and yet when I go my whole evening is better!
We do reach out in a lot of service at KCDSB. We gather toys and food for Miracle Marathon, we do food drives for the food bank, we make cards for the Meals on Wheels trays. My simple wondering is this: are we ENGAGED as we do it? Do we know the why we do what we do? Do we engage head, heart, and hands? It is usually easier for us to just “do” without pushing ourselves, our students, our children to step back and say why? What motivates us to do this - Gospel, social justice teachings - and basic community responsibilities? And why do we need to do this in the first place? Why does poverty exist? Why are there homeless on our street?
The phrase “instils hope” makes me wonder what hope is that we can plant it in others. Hope isn’t about being naive, or about pretending that everything will be fine. Hope is accepting the reality while being realistic about that reality. Hope is deeper than optimism - optimism can be finite in the sense that we might be optimistic about obtaining a new job but when we don’t we are deeply disappointed. Hope is about doing our best to get the job, but knowing that if we aren’t successful in that attempt that another door will open for us. For us as God’s people, hope, faith, and love work together as change agents. We serve in love, we believe through our faith in God’s ongoing relationship with us, and and we live in hope that all will be well despite the challenges of life.
So… we are a community that works together - that engages together - to love as Jesus loves, and through that engagement we are instilled with hope and able to offer hope to others.
The Gr. 7 student from one of the elementary schools I taught at saw me in the chaplain’s office at St. Thomas Aquinas High School and came in to say hello. A Gr. 6 student I taught 6 years ago showed up at school with some home made scones that she knew I liked and gave them to my husband to give to me. The kindergarten students often run up to me at the playground fence to say hello. A teacher stops to share with me how much they are enjoying teaching my son, who offers them laughter on a regular basis. The lunch ladies at one of the schools happily greet me and give me an update about life as they wait for the bell to ring. A custodian shoveling the walk at the school near by yells out to me a warm good morning when I arrive at work. As the ministers gather before mass at the parish I am greeted and easily included in the conversation.
Each time any of the above happen I am moved to gratitude. I am moved to celebrate how the power of relationships transforms me and energizes me for mission.
The disciples on the road to Emmaus after Jesus had died were not feeling too happy about things. They were so down they didn’t recognize Jesus walking with them when he caught up to them on the road. Or perhaps Jesus had been so transformed through the resurrection that they didn’t recognize him. Yet, once he started to break bread and celebrate what we now call Eucharist with them and the other disciples they "saw" Jesus and were energized by his presence.Their memory of Jesus was intimately connected to the power of the connections they felt thorugh the breaking of break together. The power of relationships has the ability to sustain a community in mission. It has the ability to sustain a community to love, support, and care for one another and to serve the needs of others.
At Kenora Catholic, relationships are central to who we are. It is central in our response to the Bishops of Ontario’s challenge to Renewing the Promise of Catholic education. We all teach differently, with different styles and ways of engaging our students in learning. We serve in our schools in different roles, and in those roles we serve in ways that are unique to our gifts and ways of being. However we serve, we do so rooted in the power of relationships to not only sustain but to transform.
How are you building relationships in your role as parent or KCDSB staff? How does the building of relationships challenge you and sustain you?
The Ontario Conference of Catholic Bishops has recently gifted Ontario Catholic education with a new pastoral letter titled Renewing the Promise. The letter is a product of broad consultation with participation from every Catholic school board ( including parish and family voice) in Ontario.
The scriptural framework for the document is the Emmaus story from Luke chapter 24. You know the one - it is three days after Jesus’ death and two of the disciples are making their way to Emmaus to join others there and they are kind of sad and glum as Jesus’ death has hit them hard. Jesus shows up and starts chatting with them. They, who have spent probably a few years with him, don’t recognize him in his resurrected state until he celebrates Eucharist with them. It has felt odd to me that those so close to him didn’t recognize him - was he that transformed? Or was their heaviness of heart blinding them? The good news in all of this is that though we too may get blinded with grief, frustration, sadness, and even anger we can move past that especially with the support of someone walking with us to help us see again the good news surrounding us.
Our Catholic schools in Ontario stand on the shoulders of so many passionate and gifted leaders. Our presence is still needed - the Good News still needs to be proclaimed and recognized as our students, families, and communities daily navigate challenges and sometimes forget to see what is right in the world. As the intro to the document says ( p. 3) “ those who worked tirelessly to establish Catholic education in Ontario nearly two hundred years ago could not have imagined our current context...the pressures of a culture that does not celebrate life the way we do; the omnipresence of social media; a culture that distrusts religion and religious insight; the serious ethical challenges of our time; and the social and economic pressures on families, parishes and school communities.”
We will recognize the risen Lord in our midst if we push ourselves to really see the goodness that surrounds us!
Living in a nursing home for 5 days is an enlightening experience that I would recommend to all.
We are living longer as cohorts then ever before and we have not as a society figured out how to support those who do so. Memory loss and/or physical restrictions limit some people to long-term care homes for years.
Living in such a home for an extended length of time as a well person has taught me several things.
First, it doesn't matter that someone can't remember that you were there 10 minutes after you leave. What matters is that in the 10 minutes you were there, someone was with them. Some joy, some human warmth, a tiny drop into the puddle of love but a ripple nonetheless.
Second, life there is not complicated. Move to the dining hall, back to room, move to an activity, back to room, and so on. Folding towels, bingo, wheelchair horseshoes...but that only happens if there is someone there to make it happen. Imagine your world, and often years of it, reduced to that level of activity totally dependent on someone else to get from one moment to the next. The value of interdependence and support as family and community for each other needs to start long before then. It needs to be nurtured in our hearts to help and care not just in times of critical need but all the time - no one should be seen as a burden, or feel themselves as a burden. The natural order of aging needs to feel normal and natural, not like one has shifted from being a giver to a taker.
Third, we can do more than we do. A 45-minute impromptu sing-along transforms the day. Spending 20 minutes colouring a page together feeds our human dignity. A few people a few times a day hanging out with residents has an incredible impact.
Fourth, it is a honour and a priviledge to serve and be with people who enriched your life and helped you to be who you are now. A former music teacher who plays the piano on the table top. A former farmer who happily recounts his farming days. Perhaps they didn't personally enrich your life but they enriched someone else's. And yours will be enriched through the sheer grace of their presence.
At Kenora Catholic we are trying to share love and joy in our local nursing homes and their outreach activities. Easter eggs with notes and chocolate head out to Meals on Wheels from our elementary students. Birthday cards are decorated for clients. Our high school students support activities at Pinecrest and enjoy the simple pleasure of being with our older generation.
What are you doing to support this generation of our community? Can you be present with them in some way or support someone who is?
Water is life. Without water we die.
Water is at the heart of the Easter season - water is life to us just like God and Jesus’ love are life to us. Without water, we die. Without love, we lose hope and our hearts die a little.
In Matthew’s description of the resurrection, it says that there was a violent earthquake - then there was an angel who was as bright as lightning. We know there was another earthquake in Matthew’s Gospel - when Jesus died.
Jesus came to show us how much God loves us and how much we need to love. That is the hard part for us - it is lovely to know and trust in God’s love for us, that there is someone who loves us and believes in us no matter what we do. The part we don’t like is our call to love. Some people didn’t like that about Jesus - they didn’t want to hear about serving the poor, or forgiving people who hurt them, and yech, washing feet! They didn’t like it, and they didn’t like what Jesus was teaching and they had him crucified. Crash, thunder, earthquake - Matthew wants us to get that when Jesus died it truly was an earth-shattering moment.
And so we find ourselves at the resurrection - and another earthquake. It is just as earth-shattering that love can’t be beaten! Love wins - and Jesus’ resurrection says to the world, you can’t kill love, love will rise again and again.
Have you ever spilled a glass of water and watched how far the water can spread? Sometimes you have to chase it so it doesn’t get too far. So let’s think for a few seconds - we get sprinkled with water to remind each other of life in relationship with God. If we “spread” that water, that life, that love, imagine how far we can spread love if each of us is like a love puddle! Spilling our water of love!
When we spread love we see love. For example, as I drove to work this morning I was feeling tired and sad because someone in my family is sick right now. And I had seen people sleeping on the street in downtown, and I felt sad for them. But then I came over the hill and wow - God was yelling to me “ I love you” with the most beautiful sunrise! Then one of my sisters texted and told me to have a great day, and I heard God say I love you again! Get busy loving!
So, this Easter season let’s spill our water, and create some giant puddles of love!
Time. Is it time? How many of us remember or are actively experiencing children asking us if it is time? Time for something special, or time that we promised to spend with them?
Time. Never enough or when you are waiting, too much.
Time. There is a pace and a rhythm to our lives that can confine us at one point or free us in the next.
Time. Spring”time” is officially here on March 20th. Time for warmer breezes, budding trees, birds returning. We made it through another winter "time".
Time. We are at week five of Lent. March 26th is Palm Sunday, the beginning of Holy Week.
Time. Alone time. Together time. Nature time. Book time. Movie time. Family time. Friend time.
Time. What is it time for? What do you need to be doing with your time? There is still time to fast. There is still time to pray. There is still time to serve others. There is always time for those three practices if we choose.
Time. Gift. Blessing. Possibility. Loss. Hope. What is it time for in your life?
Make a choice. Be grateful with your time. Be supportive with your time. Be kind with your time. Be authentic with your time.
Last week we celebrated the week of prayer for Christian unity here in Kenora, together with Christians from the whole world. St. Thomas Aquinas High School led the prayer on Monday, Ecole Ste. Marguerite Bourgeoys led the prayer on Wednesday, and on Thursday several classes journeyed to celebrate with Pastor Gord Day-Janz at First Baptist.
Our Catholic schools are unique - we are the only publicly funded faith-based schools in town. If families want faith and spirituality to be a part of their child's learning, we are the schools to choose.
Our Catholic schools are also unique in that the population is not all Catholic. Christians from many different denominations attend our schools - Baptist, Anglican, Lutheran, Bible Churches, and so on along with our Metis and Anishinabe brothers and sisters.
To me, that is one of the realities I treasure about our schools. All are welcome, all are part of our "body" as we seek to bring the goodness of God to others.
I used to think that it was so sad that we Christians worshipped in so many different ways and in different communities on Sundays. Now I am seeing that there is also a beauty in that as each community has its own way of bringing Christ's light to the world. Some churches are excellent at serving the poor, others do creative worship, others serve teenagers in awesome ways.Together we more fully serve, together we more fully represent the body of Christ.
What is important is that from whatever window we are looking at each other through that we are looking at each other with deep respect. There are many gifts in the body of Christ, but ultimately they are given to serve.
May we be blessed to be generous with that service!