This week in the lectionary (mass readings) we are nearing the end of a four week read through of chapter 6 of John’s Gospel about Jesus as the bread of life. It has always been one of my favourite parts of the three year cycle of readings and a chance to reflect on the Eucharist. However, the beauty of Scripture is that it doesn’t always speak to us in the same way. This year I find myself caught by a few verses near the end. Read more: Scripture Reflection: “Lord, to whom shall we go?” (John 6:66-69) | McGill Christians Blog
By Alison Morin
I go to a woman’s prayer group every two weeks and I learned something interesting from one of the women there. She said “You need some Pauls, some Barnabas and some Timothys in your life.” I asked “What does that mean?” and she said “It means you need people in your life like Paul who know the faith better than you and can mentor you. You need some Barnabases in your life, people who are in the same place in their faith as you are and they support you in your faith journey and provide fellowship for you.
By Terrel Joseph
When I introduce the topic of ‘evangelization’ to students through my work as the Catholic Campus Minister at McGill, I often get puzzled or even frightened responses. But I like to remind students that the most meaningful opportunities for evangelization come from existing friendships. In other words, evangelization is as simple as (1) being a friend of Jesus, (2) making a friend, and (3) introducing your friend to Jesus. Read more: Evangelization in Five Easy Steps | McGill Christians Blog
By Vanessa Chan
While a transformation simply signifies a drastic change, a transfiguration gives it direction – towards greatness, grandeur, majesty. Here, Jesus’ change in appearance gives us a glimpse of not only who He truly is, but also what we have a share in as children of God. By becoming man, Christ reconciled humanity to God, and opened to us the opportunity to be transfigured.
By Anita Sivabalan
It was around this time last year that I graduated from McGill University. I remember standing on the steps of the Arts Building- a landmark that many graduates enjoy taking pictures in front of- and reflecting about my four years there. I learned a lot during my studies, which I knew I would carry forward into my Master’s program the following September. I also thought about the life-long friendships that I made and everything I learned about myself and life from them. And then, I remembered the Newman Centre.
This post was originally published on the McGill Christians Blog.
By Josh Abrego
I graduated from McGill University with my Master’s degree in Voice Performance from the Schulich School of Music in the summer of 2012. During my time at McGill I had the incredible blessing of living at the Newman Centre for 3 years. It was during this wonderful period when I learned more about my faith and values than at any other time before. I met inspiring Catholics, generous and intelligent colleagues and some of the best friends I have ever made. As a young adult in university, the Catholic community I was surrounded by was paramount in molding the relationship I have with God as well as the desire for self-improvement and growth. I am not perfect by any means, but I know that I will always strive to steer my life in the direction of the Church, Jesus and God.
I have an unorthodox career; I am an opera singer. This career entails years of study which, in all honesty, never end. We are very much like professional athletes in that our lives are very self-focused. We are constantly taking care of our bodies, learning how to handle ourselves better and fortifying our mental acuity and focus. Any professional athlete will tell you that this can lead to a very self-absorbed lifestyle and unfortunately can create conceit, selfishness and an unhealthy pride. This is one of the reasons why it’s essential to have God in the center of your life. Life is hard no matter what your profession is; life is especially hard if you have a career that requires travelling and not seeing family and loved ones. With God at the center of your life, your path, decisions and values are made clear. With God at the center of your life, you realize that your career must be in service to Him and in service to your family. Having a relationship with God gives us the immense gift of having humility with ambition. To elaborate, with God we can be humble enough to realize the gifts and privileges He has bestowed on us, yet we also have the drive to use them to their fullest extent and nourish them. This has always brought me peace when I was worried that my choice to be a stage performer in a supposedly snobby and ‘elitist’ genre was wrong or misguided. With the relationship I started to nourish during my time at McGill, I see that I can always keep God as the center of my life regardless of my career path.
We live in a world where so much of our imposed worth is judged by material wealth and status. Having our life built on a foundation based on a relationship with God frees us from the shackles of a consumerist mentality; our culture dictates that we’re expected to make money so we can spend money and buy things we’re told we need. With God, we’re free to make choices that are considered radical to our global culture. If we want to choose a life where we give away all our money and material possessions and devote ourselves to a simple life serving others, we are welcomed with complete joy and love by God. This does not mean that if we choose to work with the established system, make money and buy a nice home to live in then we are automatically doing something wrong. It means we can still live in a traditional manner and yet go against the norm by making the drive and focus of our lives to become closer to God rather than to attain material wealth.
Being involved in a community of Christians whom are the same age as oneself is very nourishing to our relationship with God. We can learn how to truly love God and ourselves. We show God the greatest love by helping those in need; the more we give to those with less, the closer we are with God. A young Christian community gives us opportunities to carry out these activities as well as resources to learn more about our faith, values and relationship with God. Without the community I had at the Newman Centre, I would not be anywhere near as happy or at peace with God as I am now. There’s still room for improvement however, so Christian community is so important even beyond life at university.
This post was originally published on the McGill Christians Blog.
By Terrel Joseph
Last week, I got a facebook message from a student asking me this question: How do I keep my faith alive while I’m away from Montreal for the summer? In attempting to respond to this students question I ended up writing a 4 page article by accident. Oops! I guess I got a bit carried away….
Nevertheless, I know this is a question on the minds of lots of McGill Christians so I figured I would share this with everyone. As a campus minister at McGill this is a question I get from students every summer. A lot of students experience spiritual highs during the school year through their participation in groups like the NCSS, or Challenge, or MCF, or P2C, or ISM, or I22 or a variety of local churches…But then when they go home for the summer, and change their environment and routine, the fire of faith can start to fade. The spiritual high from a year in one (or several) of these communities may give way to a sort of spiritual desert while away. But even though this is a super common experience, the good news (no pun intended!) is that there is something we can do about it.
The biggest difference between Christians whose faith stays alive and dynamic over the summer and those whose faith grows cold is not because the former are more gifted spiritually nor because they just got lucky. The difference between those whose faith life stays strong over the summer and those whose faith grows cold is that the former continue to intentionally practice their faith and the latter do not. It’s as simple and as deeply challenging as that!
When I first started getting involved in my faith in my 20’s I would regularly go through periods of spiritual highs followed by spiritual deserts, and the summer was often a desert time. But as one of my favourite speaker Matthew Kelly likes to say: “Your life changes when your habits change, it’s not freak luck and God doesn’t have any favourites.” And my faith life really did change when my habits changed. I learned over time how to smoothen out the “zig zag” of my up and down spiritual life primarily by intentionally practicing some of the basic elements of Christian spiritual growth and changing my habits so I would do these things regularly. And the more I did this, the more my faith life was not depended on a particular community, or living in a particular city, or hanging out with particular friends. Through intentionally practicing the basics of spiritual growth, I was able to make my faith depend on the Christ and His Church. So allow me to remind you of some of the basics. Most are universal to all Christians, but since I’m Roman Catholic in figured I would dispense with political correctness and include some of the basics that are also more particular to my own tradition. Even if you aren’t familiar with these, I hope you’ll find them interesting and find something in my personal experience that helps you in yours.
In the spiritual life, I often advise students that the best defence against spiritual deserts is a good offence. Instead of trying to avoid shrinking, a better strategy is to try to grow. So here are what I consider to be the basic elements of growth in the spiritual life: prayer, communal worship, the bible, the sacraments, community, service, and witness. If you don’t have time to read this whole article, just focus your efforts on these things as best as you understand them and your faith life will stand a much better chance of growing over the summer rather then fading. For the longer version, keep reading!
The first and most fundamental of these basic elements of spiritual growth is prayer. An important ingredient in a healthy spirituality for any Christian is to set aside time to pray everyday. I think all practicing Christians on campus say they want to pray every day but many of us, and myself included, often fall short. And during the school year while we are all together, even though we might forget our personal prayer time we still end up praying fairly regularly in a group setting. But when school is done and we are back home, sometimes our prayer lives can go dry if we haven’t already developed the habit of personal prayer. In my personal prayer time I like to follow the A.C.T.S. formula for prayer. A.C.T.S. stands for: Adoration, Contrition, Thanksgiving, and Supplication. Adoration means to adore and worship God, contrition means to acknowledge my sins, thanksgiving means to identity the parts of my life that I am thankful for, and supplication means to ask God for things to make my life better and help me grow in holiness. The spiritual high that we all experience more often during the school year primarily comes from closeness to our Lord and cooperation with the Holy Spirit. Talking to God regularly is an important part of developing our relationship with Him and consequently is an essential part of a healthy spiritual diet.
The next basic element of spiritual growth is communal worship: a.k.a. going to church on Sunday. I personally always make a point of going to Mass every Sunday, and approaching each Sunday Mass with the question, “Lord, show me one way in this Mass that I can become a better version of myself this week”. Growing in holiness translated into layman’s terms means striving to become the best version of myself. Sunday worship is a great place to pray for this grace, and showing up with a specific plan in mind has helped motivate me to pay attention to readings, homilies, prayers, music, etc, and stay actively engaged in the liturgy. Communal worship time is another important ingredient in a healthy spiritual diet. So don’t forget to go to church on Sunday during the summer, even if you are travelling or away from your regular church community.
Another basic element of spiritual growth is to read the Bible every day. The written Word of God is powerful, alive, and dynamic. Reading the Bible regularly is a great way to grow in our relationship with God. If you are unfamiliar with the Bible, and not sure where or how to start reading it, a great place to start would be to read one of the four gospels. My personal favourite is Mark, but John is a close second. The best way to read scripture though is not necessarily to read everything in one shot like a novel. A better approach would be to read a little bit everyday and to take note of the words or phrases that standout and catch your attention. This is one of the ways that the Holy Spirit speaks to us. The way I usually organize myself to read the bible is by reading the daily Mass readings everyday. These provide me with short readings from both the Old Testament and the Gospels, with a psalm sandwiched in the middle. A very healthy scripture sandwich indeed! On Sundays there is usually a second reading from the New Testament, often one of the letters of the apostles. The Catholic Mass readings follow a schedule that goes through practically the whole bible every three years so I figured if I stick to reading the assigned scripture passages everyday I should do all right! (You can find the lectionary readings online, use the calendar to the right to find the day’s readings). Staying closely connected to the bible helped me stay connected to Christ during many long summers and can definitely help you too!
The next basic elements of spiritual growth are the Sacraments, or specifically the Eucharist and Confession. Speaking as a Roman Catholic Christian I consider these to be essential parts of a healthy spiritual diet (quite literally in the case of the Eucharist!). Something that has always helped my in my spiritual life is to spend some quality time in Eucharistic Adoration. For those of you who are not aware, Catholics believe that Jesus becomes really, truly, and substantially present in the bread and wine consecrated by priests at Mass. Eucharistic Adoration is when the consecrated bread (aka the Body of Christ) is put in a special display so that we can worship and adore Jesus physically present in this unique way. One of the best descriptions of adoration I`ve ever heard was from a poor French farmer named St Charles Borromeo back in the 19 century. Charles used to visit the chapel of the famous Curé D’Ars, St Jean Vianney, every day and spend several hours a day in adoration. When Jean asked Charles what he does for all that time in adoration Charles responded, “I just look at Him and He looks at me”. While receiving the Eucharist in Holy Communion is reserved for people in full communion with the Catholic Church, Eucharistic Adoration is open to everyone. I encourage every Christian, whether Catholic or Eastern Orthodox or Protestant to approach Eucharistic Adoration with an open mind.
I also recommend frequenting the Sacrament of Confession during the summer. We all sin and fall short in our relationship with Christ and the Church all the time and the Sacrament of Confession is a very practical and every effective way of keeping us accountable to the Gospel we are trying to live, and helping us avoid getting discouraged when we fall into sin and drift from the faith. I would recommend that Catholics and Orthodox serious about keeping their faith alive during the summer go to confession at least once a month. I’ve personally made a habit of going during the first week of every month. Nothings unburdens my hearts quite like confessing, and confessing has really helped me to avoid becoming spiritually luke-warm. And whether you are Protestant or Catholic or Eastern Orthodox, it is always a healthy spiritual practice to examine your conscious regularly, and ask God for forgiveness in prayer. If you have Christian friends who you trust it is also helpful psychologically to confess your sins to another person. Back in the first couple centuries of Christianity, confession was always done publicly to the entire Christian community, so this is way less embarrassing in comparison!
Another basic strategy for spiritual growth is to get connected to a faith community. Archbishop Tony Mancini of Halifax, Nova Scotia once said that “Our faith in Jesus Christ is personal, but it is not be private”. What usually keeps people on-fire during the school year is being around other young Christians actively trying to do the same thing. It is very important during the summer to try to find or create Christian community to motivate you and keep you accountable. Examples include, getting involved in committees at your local church or joining or starting a prayer group that meets weekly. I personally am very involved in my parish especially during the summer when Newman is quiet, and I have been a part of a men’s prayer group for five years now. Both of these communities have really helped me in my efforts to grow and sustain my relationship with Jesus.
Another basic element of spiritual growth is service and witness. When we serve the poor and the needy we are practicing the corporal and spiritual works of mercy described by Jesus in Mt 25: “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me!” To truly love Jesus, means to also love those whom Jesus loves, because any care or compassion we show to them we also show to Him. This is also a very simple idea but loving strangers and enemies is easier said then done! If you like a challenge (and love Jesus!) then I suggest getting more involved in serving and praying for those less fortunate people living on the peripheries of our society. When we start looking for them, we usually find out that they are a lot closer to home then we thought! Without the demands of school, we might have more time to find a special summer service project, or we might already be going on a mission trip during the summer. Make this an opportunity to grow closer to God! You may also find yourself among different people during the summer, like family and high school friends. Consider this a new opportunity to evangelize and share the joy of the Gospel!
So this is how I keep my faith not only alive in the summer, but thriving, and I encourage you to practice your faith this summer using these basic elements of spiritual growth knowing that practice makes perfect!
Peace be with you! And God Bless!
This post was originally published on the McGill Christians Blog.
By Desiree D’Souza
The term religious young person has almost become an oxymoron. Surely one can’t be young, intelligent, fun, and dare I say liberal, and still believe in God? Or at least that’s what it seems like outside of my Christian circles. When I tell people I’m Catholic, they usually assume that it’s more of a cultural remnant, something I was forced to identify with when I was younger and still feel the need to associate with today. I guess that’s the only way they can make sense of why I’m out dancing on a Saturday night instead of praying the rosary ten times and actively protesting the secularization of the state. I feel like people only have one idea of what a “religious person” is, and that is militant, aggressive and in their eyes, a little strange. However, sometimes among my Christian friends it’s not much better. The rest of the world, especially the social scene outside our group, can be made out to seem like a degenerate zone full of loose morals and a lack of conscience. Why would anyone want to hang out in those places? What does “beach day everyday” even mean? (full disclosure- I LOVE beach day) I have struggled with fitting in with these different groups of people and dealing with these negative stereotypes.
I only started to identify with my faith about halfway through university, after returning from World Youth Day in Brazil. Although I was excited about this new journey of faith in my life, I found that I wasn’t being genuine, and this was hard for me. I’d play down my religious side when I was around some friends and then play down the more social side of myself around people from church. As someone who is aggressively extroverted, I didn’t want to be an outsider, but I also didn’t like how I wasn’t truly being myself around anyone.
My saving grace came in the form of people, who like me, believed in God and wanted to learn more about our faith, but were also extremely socially compatible. These people helped me realize that I should stop trying so hard to fit in, and that it was okay, and perfectly normal, to like both of these aspects of life. Being religious is not incompatible with being social. They also gave me the courage to be my authentic self around others. I began to feel comfortable sharing my beliefs with people outside of Church, and also felt comfortable asking questions about parts of my faith that I struggled with, or disagreeing with something without feeling like I was no longer welcome at Church. Being myself also helped me relate to so many people, and I got to know people I previously wouldn’t have thought I’d get along with. I saw my friend circle grow and my relationships with people go from 0-100 on the friendship scale in a matter of weeks. I felt truly happy, appreciated, and loved, and can confidently say that these past few years have been the best of my life, because I’ve been completely myself.
I recently graduated from McGill and I’ll be leaving Montreal at the end of the summer. Although I am excited for my next adventure, I’ll be sad to leave this beautiful city, but most importantly my group of friends, both religious and secular. I’ve already said my goodbyes to a few of them, and it’s been nothing short of heartbreaking. When you find people who completely understand you, it’s hard to accept that your whole life and social circles now have to change. I’m afraid that my balance will tip and that either my social side or religious side will get played down when meeting new people and starting this next step of my life. However thanks to my friends, my prayers, and this amazing fruitful year, I have the courage for that not to happen. I know I can be completely and fully myself, a witness of my faith to others, and a social butterfly, and still fit in with both groups.
So, if you are a young religious person feeling like you’re selling part of yourself short to fit in, whether that is toning down your faith or pretending you’ve never been to Korova, know that you CAN truly be yourself. The people that matter will accept you, respect you, and love you, probably even more than before, because they are finally getting to know the real you. God made you as you are, and that is a beautiful, worthy person deserving of love. Never forget that, and keep smiling.
This post was originally published on the McGill Christians Blog.
By: Ajoy Paul
August 28th, 2014 changed my life.
I was born on November 5th, 1996 along the coast of the Indian Ocean in the Indian state of Kerala. India is a secular country, and the nation houses a population of 1.2 billion people with about eighty percent Hindu, thirteen percent Muslim, and the rest of the percentage being divided among Christians, Sikhs, Jains, Buddhists and other minority religions. With only 2.1% of India’s population being Christian, it is a very vulnerable group to the various religious extremists trying to wipe out religious minorities. It was into this demographic into which I was born.
When you are a minority in anything, you not only try to survive, but you strive to thrive. The Christian community in India is one of the most vibrant communities in the country, with prestigious schools, world-class health care facilities, various charity works, and political leaders coming from the community across the country. All these people, establishments, and deeds are rooted in one person – Christ. It is Christ who protects us, Christ who helps us, and Christ who leads us. Most of us experience the love and presence of Christ from a young age through the rigorous Catechism classes that strengthen our faith. It was these classes, and the nunnery that I studied in, that helped me reinforce my faith. When my family decided to move to Canada in 2002, I came to Toronto already strong in my faith.
In Toronto, I attended publicly-funded Catholic schools. The Catholic school system further strengthened my faith, this time not only in mind- but through actions. By the time I graduated grade twelve, the Catholic school system provided me opportunities to live out the Gospel and experience the “Joy of the Gospel” in myself and in those I helped. It was with all this religious foundation that I went into the night of August 28th, 2014.
August 28th, 2014 was the first day of Science frosh, the orientation week for first year science students. It is the first day of “freedom” for many students. Freedom from parental supervision, and the freedom of living by yourself for the first time. For numerous students this first taste of “freedom” provokes them to do many inappropriate and harmful things.
So here I was stuffed in an apartment with one hundred other kids on the night of August 28th, and in every direction I look there is something that I see which the Catholic Church deems sinful. The scenes around me provoke in me various questions about my faith. Up until that point all my questions about faith were superficial, but after that night I began asking myself serious questions about my faith- not questions to undermine my faith, but questions to strengthen it.
Why does God let people do sinful actions? Why does God make bad thing happen to good people? Why does God not interfere in our daily actions like he did with the Israelites in the Old Testament?
I searched, and I searched, but to no avail- and it was when I was about to give up that the path to my answers came in the way of a phone call. The call was from a young girl named Katie who said she was the Vice President Outreach for the Newman Catholic Student Society. She said she got my number from a sheet I signed a while back looking for a Catholic chapel on campus. She invited me to a talk they were having that afternoon at the Newman Center, and I decided to go out to the event.
The event was a fantastic talk about “Religion in Academia,” but the people at the event is what made it extraordinary. The community at the Newman Centre was so warm and welcoming that I fell in love with the Centre right away. I began going to the Center many times a week. Through my various interactions with the people there, and the various faith based activities that we did, all of the questions that I came up with on August 28th were answered. The Newman Centre was a God sent message to me. It strengthened my faith so much, I was able to run and win the position of Vice President Outreach for the Newman Catholic Student Society- the position that was the path to my answers.
Being a Christian on a secular campus is difficult, and you may come across moments like I did in which you start to question your faith. But never make those questions harm your faith, but instead make them questions that strengthen your faith. God Bless!
Today’s blog post comes from Katja, who is well known around Newman, but also involved in the Montreal Catholic Challenge Movement.
Caterina di Giacomo di Benincasa was born on 25 March 1347. She refused to live the life imagined for her by her parents by turning away from the tradition of marrying her sister’s widowed husband. She showed her resistance by fasting vigorously; an act of piety that she would continue throughout her life.
At long last, her parents allowed her to join the “Mantellate”, the local association of Dominican tertiaries. She chose to live an active and prayerful life outside a convent’s walls following the model of the Dominicans. She discovered a passion for politics, and did not let the fact that she was a woman impede her involvement in political matters throughout Europe. She learned to write after relying on secretaries to compose her letters for years, and is now seen as one of the higher ranked mystics and spiritual writers in the church’s history.
Although this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to her accomplishments and exceptional life, the monumental impact she had in Europe can be reflected with the declarations of not one, but three Popes. In his decree of 13 April 1866, Pope Pius IX declared Catherine of Siena to be a co-patroness of Rome. On 18 June 1939 Pope Pius XII named her a joint Patron Saint of Italy along with Saint Francis of Assisi. On 1 October 1999, Pope John Paul II made her one of Europe’s patron saints, along with Edith Stein and Bridget of Sweden. She is also the patroness of the historically Catholic American woman’s fraternity, Theta Phi Alpha.
One of the most notorious quotes from St. Catherine of Siena is: “Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire.” What a daunting idea, is it not? How are we to know who God meant us to be? Are we not all on our journey towards Christ, being told to just Trust in God?
Although this may be true, the general idea of being who God meant you to be is no foreign concept. It may be daunting but the general message is this: Become the Best Version of Yourself. This is precisely what all saints have done; they have become the best version of themselves, thus becoming who God meant them to be. We are all called to be saints, so we are all called to become the best versions of ourselves.
Anyone who has heard of Matthew Kelly has most likely heard this phrase before. God doesn’t want you to become a second-rate version of anyone. You have been created for a purpose, and to be the best YOU you can be.
In the Western world today, we are constantly being bombarded with who we should be. We are told what we should want, how our lives should look like, and what values we should have. This attitude of cramming people into one cookie-cutter shape of life’s ideals, isn’t what God wants for us (I’m pretty sure). The way secular society is telling everyone to be (superficially) happy has no lasting happiness; it’s all about immediate gratification. Money, huge houses, expensive cars… does that really matter at the end of the day? Do you feel fulfilled with these ideas in mind? Fitting yourself into someone else’s idea of happiness is not necessarily the way to find your own.
How do you become the best YOU?
What brings you fulfillment? I’m talking about feeling whole, balanced and joyful. Personally, it’s through helping others that I feel connected with God, other people, and myself. I’m blessed enough to have found a career avenue that allows me to help others; Social Work. Though I’m still a student, it excites me to work towards the end goal of having the opportunity to help others help themselves. This wasn’t always the case however. I began my academic career studying science. For me, this was not how I was meant to live my life. I didn’t have joy, I didn’t feel fulfilled and it all felt like I was doing something someone else wanted me to do. I couldn’t have Set the World on Fire by becoming what my parents thought I should become.
God has a plan for you, and that plan is for you to truly become the best version of yourself that you can possibly be. Matthew Kelly presents his readers with 4 basic avenues to give attention to in order to have more clarity on who the best version of yourself is.
- Emotional (attention and time given to important relationships)
- Physical (exercise, proper eating habits)
- Intellectual (academic, indulging in books)
- Spiritual (taking time to get re-acquainted with God)
When those 4 areas of life are getting the attention they deserve, it’s inevitable that one will feel more alive and joyful. The secret to living your life with purpose isn’t much of a secret at all. By doing what we know brings us deep, internal joy and makes us feel balanced and connected, we can then live our lives everyday with passion. This is how we become the best version of ourselves.
Setting the world on fire doesn’t necessarily need to be a worldwide movement. Authentic joy breeds more joy in the lives of people you touch. Naturally, as with anything worthwhile, it takes some time to figure out what you’re supposed to do. We’re spoiled for choice when it comes to life-paths, so it’s all too common to be confused. However, if you live your life trying your very best to be the best version of yourself, you may find your life changing as you give more attention to the things in your life which you value most.
Of course, above all else, the place to start is through prayer. Sit with God, and ask Him for guidance. It is with Him that you can truly Set the World On Fire.
Catherine of Siena. (n.d.). Retrieved April 29, 2015, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Catherine_of_Siena
Kelly, M. (2004). The rhythm of life: Living every day with passion and purpose. New York: Fireside Books.