On October 3rd, Pope Francis released the third encyclical of his pontificate. Its title means “All brothers and sisters”. It is about fraternity and social friendship and calls us to embrace the path of universal fraternity in the midst of our broken world. We, Xaviere sisters, deeply resonate with the Pope’s vision. Encounter, dialogue, fraternity, care, hospitality, charity, reconciliation, mercy: all these key words from the encyclical find an echo in our charism and in our Constitutions.
Nathalie interviewed Prof. Rafael Luciani from Boston College on the main topics covered by the encyclical:
Rafael Luciani, a Venezuelan lay theologian, is currently Professor of Theology at Boston College School of Theology and Ministry. He is also an expert theologian for CELAM (Latin American Episcopal Conference) and CLAR (Conference of Religious of Latin America), and is a specialist of the thought and theology of Pope Francis. He has published “Pope Francis and the Theology of the People”, Orbis Books NY (2017).
The Eucharist is the center and the link to unite all members of Christ at the same table close to the Father. For me the Host is always glorious. It is the sacrament of Joy… May I carry and radiate Christ, may I be “christophore” with all my life!
As Xaviere sisters we usually take part to the Mass every day. During all those last weeks we have lived the absence of sacrament in solidarity with all the Christians that were like us deprived of communal celebration at church. Reflecting on this stay-at-home experience, even if we were able to follow mass online, we perceive even more how much Christianity is the religion of the Incarnation. That is why the Liturgy is an act that requires the presence of the bodies. After a long lockdown we feel a lack and a desire to meet again as soon as possible in our churches to celebrate the Eucharist together.
The Eucharist according to the Second Vatican Council is the act of an assembly, an action of the People of God. Through communion with the Body of Christ, the assembly becomes itself “Body of Christ”. The Eucharist is not a solitary act of the priest-sacerdos according to the pre-Vatican II model of worship. That is why online celebrations raise real theological questions even though they may have a pastoral and spiritual sense in helping many Christians, especially the most isolated, to pray and live the communal dimension inherent in our faith.
In and through this form of lack due to the absence of Eucharists celebrated in their usual form, we have experienced differently and strongly the presence of Christ who makes the Church. God did not abandon us. He made himself present to us in many ways, his grace is not limited to the sacraments. God’s grace is already fully given to us through our baptism and is continuously given to us day after day according to this important principle to keep in mind: “God always gives us the grace of what He calls us to live”. It is up to us to discern the spiritual means we need to get through this uncertain and challenging situation, to live and strengthen our faith day after day. Under the guidance of the Holy Spirit we can discern and implement ways of praying, serving and celebrating where we are. Many online and other proposals are offered to us to support us in these difficult times.
We are not helpless in our Christian life, we can contemplate God in all things, discover Him in all aspects of our daily life, receive Him through the Book of the Word, through the Book of Creation, through every encounter, and especially in the service of our brothers and sisters, especially the poorest.
We can remember that if we usually participate in the Eucharist it is so that our whole life becomes Eucharist. That is to say, a union with Christ who takes us into his movement of self-offering to the Father to lead us to surrender. In this time of pandemic that calls us to solidarity, to the gift of oneself all the way to love and serve others, more than ever we can ask for and receive the grace to live this movement of thanksgiving and offering day after day. We can meditate on and deepen what is the Eucharistic dimension of our lives: the call to remain in this trinitarian movement of “receiving everything and giving everything”, in this communion that is stronger than the visible encounter. Through the baptism that inserts us into the ecclesial community, despite the distance, we can experience these strong bonds created by Christ.
Gabrielle spent 10 years in Toronto. During the 2011 Victoria Day weekend, she took her final vows in Toronto. Nine years later, now a missionary in Paris, she shares with us how she is still experiencing a lasting and joyful energy from that day.
Each year a special energy surges within me as we approach the date of May 21. How could I explain it? Something in the air… a secret joy within… the memory of love received and given and shared… we are in the Easter season and everything comes together again : water reminds me of my baptism, the flame of the Easter candle reminds me of the light that is Christ in our hearts, the celebration of the risen Christ makes me ponder that all things are restored in Christ. In the Easter season, in this “coming together of all things”, I celebrated my final vows as a xaviere sister on May 21, 2011. The celebration took place in Toronto, in our parish at the time, St Pius X church on Bloor Street West. I remember the sheer joy of sharing this moment with my parents and my sister, with family and friends who had flown in from France, with my Xaviere sisters who had come from France, from Montreal, from Toronto; friends, parishioners, children from the St Pius X confirmation program I had taught, coworkers, religious men and women from Toronto and Guelph and Montreal, Loretto sisters, Anglican sisters from the sisterhood of Saint John the Divine, Anglican father from the Oratory of the Good Shepherd, Jesuits, Dominican friars, fathers of the sacred heart, sisters of Our Lady’s Missionaries… The choir was led by Brian…
How is it that this moment was so light while so deep? So simple while bringing such a diverse group of people from different places and life styles? What is this energy that flows through the years and sustains me still? Everything coming together… the hope of a world restored in Christ, the joy of dedicating my life to this hope, to live my life in the offering of Christ… there lies the sustaining energy.
What’s in a date? May 21, 2011 fell during the Victoria Day long weekend… so each Victoria day weekend reminds me of the day I took my final vows. May 21, 2011 was just before the 4th Sunday of Easter, when we hear of the Good Shepherd in the gospel of John. Each 4th Sunday of Easter is therefore a special day to me also. And, will I say it? I am led to recognize that every day is special : the energy is given every single day, if I just let it.
The homily that was given by Philip Shano sj can be found here. The joy of the celebration of the vows is also reflected here, in the Fall 2011 editorial from the “open-liner”, the Toronto women religious newsletter.
In these times of Covid-19, as fear and uncertainty are all over us and in us too, the news of the Risen Lord strike as a fresh reminder that life is stronger than death and darkness!
On Easter Sunday, four of us attended a Zoom-broadcasted mass with Romero House, our neighbour community organization welcoming refugee families in Toronto. It was a prayerful service, connecting the intensity of Good Friday with the hope, faith and light of the dawn of the Resurrection. The Praise Song for the Pandemic by Christine Valters concluded our prayer and we would like to share it with you:
One morning in October, my eyes were caught in the subway by an advertisement for an exhibition on Nelson Mandela: “The exhibition for everyone who refuses to see the world in black and white”. Seeing his face in the midst of the advertisements was a relief for me. We decided to go with the community and we did so just a few days before the closing, early January.
There were lots of posters, videos, pictures, texts in three languages: Xhosa, English and French. The exhibition depicted the journey of Mandela from violence to non-violence. His cell in Robben Island where he stayed during 18 years was also reproduced in its real dimensions. The atmosphere was special: gravity, silence, peace, with softened light.
Reading some letters of Mandela, experiencing the narrowness of his cell, the context of violence and poverty, the climate of fear was quite an experience. I was moved by his determination to be liberated along with all his companions, to take the opportunity in jail to train, to learn from each other, to learn the Afrikaners’ language.
Canada is one of the first countries that Mandela visited just after his liberation in 1990. I learnt a lot about the links between Canada and South Africa and the role that some politicians played in the liberation of Nelson Mandela through the boycott of the products in the 1970s.
As Canada was supporting Mandela´s struggle, some First Nations in Canada started to speak up about their situation, so unjust as well. Since 2007, the government of Canada has made excuses to the First Nations and was inspired to start a commission of Truth and Reconciliation as South Africa did.
This exhibition gave me a shot to be more aware of injustice where I live and to continue to be part of the movement of reconciliation, which is the only durable way to live together.
Toronto’s diversity is well known. People coming from all continents call the city home and the variety of cultures, languages and food is impressive. The city is also widespread and there is a lot to explore ! On one of our latest excursions, we visited the Aga Khan museumlocated in the North York area. Recently opened in 2014, its purpose is to present Islamic art and objects with the perspective of fostering a dialogue between cultures and religions.
I felt quite inspired by the beauty of the building and the exhibitions, the serene atmosphere and the sense of openness and respect that pervades the museum. I was enthusiastic to see that the theme of upcoming artistic performances for winter and spring 2020 is called Listening to each other. In the Program, the head of Performing Arts states:
Today, listening can seem like a lost art. It is both a collaborative and creative act, inviting us to see the world through someone else’s eyes. Done well, it is an act of empathy in which our ears, eyes and minds, witness another person’s individual expression”.
The museum’ s project and its open invitation to view diversity as an opportunity to enrich our ideas and worldviews are compelling and energizing. I received them as a gift, as an oasis of peace, a path of hope, in stark contrast with the deafening noise of the compounded political and religious tensions that fills our screens daily. Celebrating the genius of the human mind and the quests of our common humanity through art and culture is a sound and inspiring antidote to the divisive forces at play around us.
Over the week-end, some of us spent a time of silence and prayer at the Anglican Sisterhood of St John the Divine in the North of Toronto. We give thanks for this time of spiritual revitalization, especially through the liturgy. On Sunday, we celebrated “Candlemas” marking the Feast of the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple, and Jesus being received by Simeon who recognised him as “the light of all nations”. On this day, we also celebrate the gift of consecrated life in the Catholic Church.
We were moved by the ritual at the end of mass as we were holding candles around the baptismal font and remembered our baptism. The prayer we said when extinguishing our tapers brought to a close the Christmas season and turned our hearts already towards the celebration of the Lord’s Passion and Easter.
“God our creator, here we bring to an end our celebration of the Savior’s birth. Help us, in whom he has been born, to live his life that has no end. Here we have offered the Church’s sacrifice of praise. Help us, who have received the bread of life, to be thankful for your gift. Here we have rejoiced with faithful Simeon and Anna. Help us, who have found the Lord in his temple, to trust in your eternal promises. Here we have greeted the Light of the world. Help us, who now extinguish these candles, never to forsake the light of Christ.
All extinguish their tapers.
Here we now stand near the place of baptism. Help us, who are marked with the cross, to share the Lord’s death and resurrection. Here we turn from Christ’s birth to his passion. Help us, for whom Lent is near, to enter deeply into the Easter mystery. Here we bless one another in your name. Help us, who now go in peace, to shine with your light in the world. Thanks be to God! Amen“
Marie-Noëlle proposed a 30-minute prayer after mass on Mondays at our parish (St Joan of Arc).
“Let us ask the Lord to show us three blessings that we received this day. After 10 minutes of silent prayer, we will pass a candle and each of us will have the opportunity to share with the group one of these blessings”
Mid-December Claire and Laurence had their birthdays two days apart, and it was a milestone birthday for Claire. So you’ve got to celebrate! On the D-Day, a surprise was organized after work: gathering at mass at St Stephen’s chapel, Indian restaurant and a great musical, Bend it Like Beckham. We thought there was a good analogy with the call to religious life and the way some of our families reacted when they learned about our decision to join the Xaviere Sisters! The Indian danses and the songs were a delight. What a great gift that life… and sisterhood!
The Sing-Along Messiah with the Tafelmusik choir and orchestra at the Roy Thompson Hall on December 21st was a thrill! The words and the melodies stayed with us during the whole Christmas time: “Comfort ye my people…” “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light…” “Rejoice! Rejoice! Rejoice greatly!”
Good-Bye, Father Dan!
On Sunday, December 22nd, we said good-bye to our parish pastor, a Franciscan Father of the Atonement, who is sent to a new ministry after 12 years as pastor of St Joan of Arc. Being sent is part of religious life and we do believe in the fruitfulness of it, even if it is always sad to say good-bye…
We then welcomed some of our sisters coming to celebrate Christmas in Toronto… Thanks be to God for allowing us to prepare his coming through the ordinary and the extraordinary events of our lives!