Advent 2022: Sounds of the Season

– Br. Michael, ofm                 

When I was a child, my bedroom was at the top of the stairs which lead up from the kitchen. For years I woke up to mom and dad in the kitchen getting ready for the day and the radio playing songs (still on the same station to this day). I can’t recall if any of the songs I heard lofting up the stairs to my room had an impact on me, yet what they always felt like was an invitation to leave the womb of my room and join the day.

 

Each day we are surrounded by sounds and noise. Some we tune out, others when upon hearing them we quiet down to listen up and still others happen without much attention from us. Advent is an opportunity to pay attention. What sounds and songs are speaking to us? Which ones have become just noise? Which ones are inviting us to leave our surroundings to encounter our God in the unexpected during this short, holy and busy season?

 

Whether this season is a mad rush or has plenty of space to be, songs will loft into our space and invite us to pay attention. Carols play above us in grocery stores and shopping centres, we find radio stations to match our moods, and our playlists will bring us comfort and joy. The invitation of songs this season is to let the words speak to our heart the messages of hope, peace, joy and love. These become the foundation for the year ahead not just in the moments of the season, when these words are most on our mind.

 

Music has long been a gift for me, although I do not play an instrument, music gets under my skin and into my bones, awakening my soul. I have found music wraps itself around my heart and calls me to pay attention, or in Advent terms to “Keep Awake.” Christmas Carols bring me great delight and yet over the past few years I have found Advent Hymns have reclaimed their place in this season. Instead of rushing to carols for the whole month of December I often find myself lingering with Advent Hymns. Whether that is humming O Come, O Come, Emmanuel, or listening to People Look East or singing Listen, My People, I am invited into the waiting of this season and I find my heart eagerly looking forward to the coming celebrations.

 

Jeanne Hunt has written a beautiful Advent Prayer, which in part prays: In night’s quiet, when we have time and silence to think, the songs of this season come drifting into our minds. In the quiet they are welcomed, and our spirits somehow delight in this sweet Advent time.

 

May our spirits delight in this season with hymns and carols and sounds as we journey the road to Bethlehem. Throughout this season I will recommend some Advent Hymns (and a maybe a few Christmas Carols too!) for reflection. May they loft into your space, into your mind and and invite you to join the day meeting God in the unexpected.

 

For your listening and heart reflection as we journey in this First Week of Advent:

 

The King Shall Come – Trevor Thomson

A beautifully haunting reflection on the twofold nature of Christ coming among us in Bethlehem and Christ coming again.

 

What are you longing for?

Where are you noticing light as winter settles in?

 

Blessed Be the Lord – The Dameans

This folk tune is scripted from the Canticle of Zechariah. The words of praise Zechariah gave when John (the Baptist) was born, the precursor of Christ.

 

What promises keep you grounded?

How is hope defined in your life?

 

As we step into this Advent Season,

may are ears attune to the message of hope,

and may the sounds and songs of the season guide us on the way

as our God comes to us in unexpected ways.

Amen.

 

Advent Blessings!

 

 

 

 

Photo Credit: Rod Flores

Remembered in the Kingdom

– Br. Michael, ofm                 

Jesus remember me

when I am your kingdom focused and when I am not,

when I radiate your goodness and when I do not,

when I love well and when I can not.

 

Jesus remember me

when I cry out in anguish,

when I declare in joy,

when I whisper in concern.

 

Jesus remember me

when I am your hands and feet and when I am not,

when I see with your eyes and when I do not,

when I hear with your ears and when I can not.

 

Jesus remember me

when I raise my eyes to heaven,

when I lower my eyes in shame,

when I close my ears in fear.

 

Jesus remember me

when I am a reflection of you and when I am not,

when I shepherd in your ways and when I do not,

when I break bread with others and when I can not.

 

Jesus remember me

in your kingly ways of love,

in your gentle shepherd ways of compassion,

in your resurrected cross of life.

 

Jesus remember me when you come into your kingdom.

 

Your kingdom come…

now in this moment and the next,

tomorrow and then again,

into my heart each day.

 

Your kingdom come…

in the way I live,

in the words I speak,

in the worth I carry.

 

Your kingdom come…

with true justice for all,

with the respect and dignity you showed,

with freedom in the letting go.

 

Your kingdom come…

during the dark and trying times,

when all seems right around me,

as suffering and anguish try to consume.

 

Your kingdom come…

in pains and hardships,

in quiet and rest,

in wonder and awe.

 

Your kingdom come…

for it is life-giving,

into my heart now,

and it is already here,

your kingdom come,

your kingdom here.

Amen.

 

Photo Credit: Isaac Quesada

Inspired

– Br. Michael, ofm

Maybe it is because I am in a season of farewells or maybe it is because we have begun the final descent of the year, but those who inspire me have been on my mind as of late. I’m always amazed at the people who intersect with my living. Those who provide me with an insight, a new way, an encounter with the divine or a breath of fresh air. God must delight in these moments when we realize how another has led us to a deeper truth of not only ourselves but also of God’s deep and intimate love.

In the past four months I have stood at the graves of both my Grandmothers as we buried them and prayed at the grave of a childhood neighbour. Three remarkable women who impacted my life greatly, not just with their faith but also with the way they embraced the journey which was theirs to walk. Each one unique with each one being a light for my path. The way they lived was an encounter with our living God; I always felt seen, heard and loved. I heard stories of days gone by and hopes they continued to live with and navigate. Their eyes were fixed not on themselves but on those who shared the journey with them. These three women inspired me and will continue to do so as I carry on with my own walk.

I have also been considering others who have inspired me. Some for a season of my life – like a creative babysitter or the mom of a high school friend or a few former teachers. I consider those who are newer to my life walk such as colleagues, friends, friars and retreatants who have introduced me to new ways in seeing the beauty of God, the daily divine encounters and to what my living means when reflected from the encounter with another. I consider those who are with me for a life time; my closest friends who are from diverse backgrounds and lived experiences and how each awakens me to God’s voice. I consider those who have companioned me on my spiritual journey; who through their relationship with God have encouraged me to see the gifts born of own relationship with God. I consider those who have raised me – my parents, relatives, even my siblings; as they gave me shelter and a place to grow, dream, stretch, “freak out” and become who I am. These mentioned few and several others have inspired me and when I stop to think about it inspiration comes to hope. Jesus said, “by your endurance you will gain your souls” (Luke 21.19). I read this as encouragement and motivation, for endurance and hope are indeed the fruits and strengths of inspiration. Endurance is laced with hope and in this we live and move and have our being as children of God. Inspiration comes in many forms with many people. Where are you noticing it? How is God nudging you to pay attention to what and who is inspiring you? Let us be attentive this week and let us be inspired again.

 

 

 

 

Photo Credit: Jacob Campbell

 

 

 

Advent at the Mount

Weekend Advent Retreat – 

“Advent Hope: Life Worth Living” 

December 2 – 4                       $215 

with Friar Joshua and Friar Michael

 

Our world continues to be bombarded with messages faster and louder.

How many speak of hope? How many speak of the gift of life?

 

Advent gives us a chance to recalibrate and align our living

in hope and life-giving ways.

 

Register with Linda and Russ Nicol    403-932-1804 lindamnicol50@gmail.com

 

 

Advent Twilight Retreat

– “An Evening with St. Nicholas”

Tuesday, December 6                                 $30 each        $15 youth ages 12-17

Registration at 6:00 pm      Supper at 6:30 pm

 

Enjoy a hearty homecooked meal followed by a guided reflection,

time for quiet and moments of shared prayer.

Consider attending as a family (ages 12+)

Consider gifting this Twilight Retreat to a friend or family member. 

Register at – 403-932-2012 or mtfrancis@shaw.ca

 

 

 

Advent Day Away – “Pregnant with the Divine”

Wednesday, December 7               $30

Registration 8:40 am

The day begins with homemade muffins, includes a reflection,

time for quiet, Eucharist, a home-cooked noon meal,

prayer prompts and closing ritual.

Consider gifting this Day Retreat to a friend or family member. 

Register at – 403-932-2012 or mtfrancis@shaw.ca

 

 

Advent – Winter Stillness Retreat

Friday, December 9 –  Sunday, December 11                $215

 

A quiet weekend, the perfect gift in a busy season. Come and rest.

Delicious meals to nourish your body,

liturgical prayer to nourish your heart,

quiet and nature to nourish your soul.

No scheduled presentations. Prayer and reflection resources available.

Arrival after 4 pm. Orientation and supper at 6 pm.

Register at – 403-932-2012 or mtfrancis@shaw.ca

 

 

 

 

The Joy of Greccio: 

A St. Francis Christmas Pageant

Sunday, December 11

 

St. Francis of Assisi began the popular tradition of re-enacting the Christmas story in Greccio, Italy. Mount St. Francis has held the Greccio Christmas pageant since 2006. We are excited to welcome you back for this in person outdoor pageant.

 

          2:15 pm – 5:00 pm – Snacks and Hot Chocolate 

          Pageant at 4:15 pm 

 

Accepting non-perishable food  

and cash donations for the Cochrane Food Bank.

 

 

 

 

 

Sainthood: We Are Light

                  Br. Michael, ofm

Last week I had a conversation with a bright young man with a deep soul. When asked about what he wants in life, he was quick to reply, “To be a saint, that’s all I have ever wanted to be.” This statement comes from a paying attention to the journey, going to the depth of the heart, being able to sit in the silence and also wrestling with God. His statement is not about canonization, rather it is about the orientation of his life. He desires to keep Christ his center and to live his life well from that central narrative no matter where his life leads him.

 

We are each called to sainthood. To live our lives from the place of holiness, worth and goodness which called us into life and has woven these gifts into our very DNA. Our call to sainthood is a mark of our baptism; a being branded with Christ. Yes, the gifts of holiness, worth and goodness are obvious in the markings of baptism but it is in our living these out which becomes an expression of this deep God truth. It means we have to be vulnerable, trusting and open. It calls us to surrender, into relationship, and to pause and be. It always calls beyond ourselves to see how we are part of a community.

 

It is here in community we are reminded of our sainthood. No matter our vocation, age or location our sainthood is constantly unfolding. Others notice it in us. They call forth our gifts and abilities. They acknowledge our goodness and worth and speak to our holiness. We in turn are called to do the same for others. This is the great gift of the body of Christ, for we are God’s children now (aka saints) and what we will be has not yet been revealed (1 John 3.2). The invitation to claim who we are now and to continually grow in Christ is a beautiful one. There is no time like this moment to claim your worthy gift of sainthood, humbly sharing who you are with the world around you. Saints are vessels of light and our world indeed needs more light. Let yours shine knowing Christ is its source.

Photo Credit: Dewang Gupta

 

 

 

 

Reminders from the Journey

                  Br. Michael, ofm

This past week we had two events in our Franciscan life which caused me to pause and ponder. As one journeys in this way of life, there are moments which awaken within you not only memories but also encouragement in one’s vocation. Both of the events this past week have been invitation and awareness.

The first of the two events was the First Profession of Vows of our two novices. It is only because of a timing issue which allowed for this important moment to take place here. Typically, our novices are in Ireland for this moment in their Franciscan life. As someone who has lived this vowed life for seven years, to witness this simple but powerful commitment reminded me again of my own “yes” and resolution to live our vows in the context of today’s society. As I heard our novices make their vows while placing their hands into the hands of our Provincial, my heart was agreeing again to live out these same promises. It was again an invitation to trust in God’s will and love at work in my life. It was an awareness of the support and growth we find in fraternal community. It was a fire enflamed for the core of who we are as Franciscans to live the gospel, to embody it a bit more and to witness it again and again. The moment of Vows is a moment of surrender. To be reminded of this again was gift and in some heart anchoring way strengthen my own yes made a few years ago.

The second event was a Memorial Mass and interment of cremated remains of one of our Friars, Anthony. A Friar who had lived this way of life for nearly 75 years. A Friar who came from humble beginnings near to where my story begins. A Friar who had lived the gospel in a variety of locations, always meeting people and offering them a sense of God with us. As we honored him and celebrated his eternal reward, I was taken by the reality check of life. We may live to be into our mid-nineties or we may not, we may have a humble beginning or not, we may have a varied life or not. Regardless of any of this, God is at work in us and for us. It again requires trust and surrender. Just like Friar Anthony continually trusted God was present with him in his mission as a Friar. Just like Friar Anthony surrendered not only his lived life but also his final breaths into the love and mercy of God, each of us must do the same; Friar or not.

During his homily at the Memorial Mass, our Provincial read a portion of a letter which Friar Anthony had left. Friar Anthony concluded his letter, “I have come to love and appreciate St. Francis and St. Clare, and I hope that I have made them known better through my talks and homilies.” This struck me, for this is what I hope I am doing with my vocation as a Friar and my current ministry. For in loving and appreciating St. Francis and St. Clare I am loving Christ and making him known to others. St. Francis and St. Clare, Friar Anthony and our two newly professed Friars each carry a light in them; a divine spark. By encountering this again this week I am reminded of my own light and divine spark which I carry with me into what is mine to do. I hope in doing this I encourage others to pay attention to their divine spark, the light which they carry and how God is at work in their life.

It is good to be reminded time and again of the gifts of our journey and of the “yes” we say. It is in these moments we see our faithful God, are met with the gifts and challenges of relationships and are encouraged to continue to shine like the stars.

 

 

 

Photo Credit: Susan Campbell

Beginning Now

                  Br. Michael, ofm

I think there is an illusion that once someone joins a religious community their life is set for them with a steady pattern of the same day in and day out. Let me tell you that is furthest thing from the truth. For sure there are patterns and routines which are a part of every religious community as there are with every family. For the Franciscan community I belong to, everyday patterns of community prayer, weekly Eucharist, monthly and yearly retreats are some of our steady patterns. However, in between these anchors a lot shapes each day in the unfolding of our charism and life as religious.

When I joined the Friars, I may have had an illusion of how I thought our life would be and how it would unfold. At the beginning of something new I believe we set expectations and goals to keep ourselves focused and aware of our intention to enter into this newness. At times it might be a way of convincing the brain it can handle the changes. At other times it maybe a way to reassure ourselves in our calling. As I began my life with the Friars, I soon discovered the patterns of the community and also realized I needed to set some of my own patterns to be part of this community in healthy ways and to also maintain and foster my relationship with Christ. My personal prayer life leads me into our community prayer life. Time spent in quiet allows for me to be present to others. Serving others and taking on daily tasks within our fraternity fosters the bonds of our shared life. No matter if one is in a religious community or not, healthy patterns are key parts of our living and provide structure. I don’t see this as a dull routine rather as ways to be attentive, to seek Christ before me and to be reminded of my call to serve.

After sharing my reflections last week, a dear friend of mine sent a response which included the following, ““We always begin again.”  It is true in the end we really only have the One who created us.” How true! As soon as I read this, I thought of St. Francis, who near his death, said to his brothers, “Let us begin again for up to now we have done very little.” All he had was that moment and his God, nothing else. His invitation to his brothers was to be attentive to the now and to all you will have in the end which is God.

This is the gift of beginning again which is daily invitation. In beginning again, we encounter God afresh and experience the fullness of life. We trust our healthy patterns of the everyday and every thing in between them are leading us to the One who created us and loves us.  The wisdom of St. Francis always came from the awareness of the every day and encountering God in the moments. If he could near death, ask his brothers to begin again, in other words to recalibrate to Christ again, how can I not each day of my life in the patterns and the unexpected? It is an invitation to trust and surrender. It is an opportunity to examen my living. It is honouring the healthy patterns which guide my living and not turning them into rigid rules. It is the gift to be in the moment of now. It is knowing if all I have now or at the end of this life, is the One who created me then I am richly blessed. So it is always worth beginning now or even again.

 

Photo Credit: Jon Tyson

 

Heart Space at Thanksgiving

                  Br. Michael, ofm

Ten years ago, on Thanksgiving weekend, I told my parents I was considering joining the Franciscans. I statement which I don’t believe I would fully understand and I’m not sure if I do even now. As I shared with my parents about my encounters with the Friars and how I thought I was being called to this way of life, it was the start of a discernment process. I was filtering the questions of my heart, but also the questions from those whom I was allowing into the process at the time. It was a lot to try and understand or even process. I knew I didn’t have answers or clarity in the moment, yet my heart was not burdened it became a place of trust and openness.

 

This Thanksgiving as I consider the Thanksgiving of a decade ago and all the changes, opportunities, prayers, gratitude and challenges which have been, I look to my heart again. I’m trying to pay attention to it in new ways or renewed ways. Is it still trusting – not in myself, not even in my community of Friars? Rather is it trusting in the spirit of St. Francis which is to ask; is it trusting in our co-journeying God? Is my heart open to the ways to which God is stirring it again? Am I open to the continual working of the Holy Spirit in my daily living?

 

So often we can get caught up in the “glamour” of newness or the projected images which come in a time of transition that we forget to pay attention to our heart. Our heart is the bank of trust and guide to our openness. I know I have had to work past this “glamour” several times over the past decade and go beyond the surface of emotions, of support and even of my prayer to stop and listen, to pause, and to let the “still small voice” speak up and strengthen me. As I continue on in the Franciscan life, I come to appreciate more and more how St. Francis struggled with being both contemplative and active. I appreciate how he took time to be in creation and be away from the demands so to clear his head and tune again his heart to the melody of love which Christ always sings. I too must do some heart tuning. I appreciate how St. Francis continued to trust and surrender into God, even if life around him seemed so uncertain or the fraternity was not grasping the vision he had for living. I too must continue to trust and surrender my living into God. The invitation is always to the “still small voice”, which is always of deep love.

 

As we celebrate Thanksgiving and walk into the autumn weeks which build upon it; I know I must continue to make heart time. This is not always easy, just as it was not necessarily easy to tell my parents about becoming a Friar, however every time I return to my heart trust and openness meet me there and I can make steps forward. No matter where you are in your life journey, no matter how you spent Thanksgiving weekend, I encourage you to pay attention to your heart and give thanks for the journey it has guided you on and how it is the place which will encourage your next steps. Gratitude is not just for a season it is a lifetime perspective, and the heart is the vessel for this daily living.

 

 

 

Photo Credit: Priscilla Du Preez

A Letter to St. Francis

                  Br. Michael, ofm

October 4, 2022

 

Dear Brother Francis,

 

As we come to this annual celebration of your life, I am again reminded of how you have called me to an awareness in living for today. You were not perfect. Although history has tried to paint you as perfection, when one spends time with your story one sees your humanity and appreciates the journey. You were very human with a range of emotions and dreams. This gives me hope for my continued journey and my discernment which is a part of the journey. You had a sense of both the contemplative and of mission. I am encouraged by these qualities as both speak to me and call me to life in ways unique to me but also in fraternity. Your patterns of pause, pray and presence seem to continually factor into the patterns I try to have shape my life.

 

This year as I mark my mid-forties, I am now older than you when you died. This has given me some perspective as I consider what is mine to do in this second half of life. You in your life had journeyed from illusions of knighthood to a complete surrender of your life to God. You continued to work through the trauma of life and in embracing the journey you attracted followers. This following of men and then women to a specific way of life took hold continuing still today. I know that I am not called to form a new religious community, I am however aware of your way of life rooted in Christ as a source for living, freedom and hope. It gives me pause to reflect. Every day provides an opportunity to align my day and living in the way of Christ. Every day the gospel gives me hints of how to better step into lived realities and how to carry the good news to people. Every day I pay attention to the details of life which speak of the grandeur of God and how I am a part of this magnificent creation. As I ponder at this midpoint of another decade and consider your life, your words, “up to now we have done very little, let us begin again” echo again and again in my ears.

 

These words of yours resonate with me for they are invitation to continue to hope and dream. They are an invitation to reflect on what is mine to do and how I to live out this charism you left for us decade after decade, generation after generation, century after century. My dreams are a long list, some of them realistic, some of them lingering from stories of you or moments you created in your life time and some are pure illusions of my daydreams. Yet, I am learning my dreams are about surrendering into God again and again instead of “forcing” what I think is mine to do. I must rather pay attention to my relationship with God and how this invites me to dream beyond the limitations I create for myself. As I continue to surrender, I then see how this creates space to dream again and to realize hope is about an encounter with a person. The same person who you had an encounter with – Jesus the Christ.

 

Surrendering is never an easy step but it is always an opportunity to trust in God and to listen. To clear my head of all the unnecessary “worldly stuff” to pay attention to the heart, the soul – the space where God meets me. This again leads me to the hope of the person of Jesus Christ. His life, which so encapsulated you, was rooted in love poured into him through God, which he in turn poured out this hope through his Spirit. You were so caught up in this triune relationship of love as it impacted your heart time and again. It shifted your view to hope and in turn to dream because you were open to this Divine Love living, moving and being in you.

 

As I ponder on this and what is mine to do at this time; in this time, I could be left overwhelmed or stunted by pressure. I choose rather to come back to the man of hope – Jesus. I pay attention to how you interacted with his gospel and allowed it to shape you. This is what is mine to do for this time and place. I must continue to allow the gospel to be the shaping pattern of my life so I can truly be a vessel carrying Christ forward in deed and in word being welcoming and hope-filled.

 

As we again this year mark your life and ponder your openness to God at work in your life, I look to you as my brother. I am beginning to pay attention more to you and your little moments and the few details we have of your life. I find they serve as a reminder of true hope and dreams. They are means for me to pay attention to how Christ is at work in my life. They are a means for me to do what is mine to do each day and in doing so I am present to the gospel at work here and now, not then and not tomorrow. And this is what it means to begin again.

 

Francis, my brother, your life does not simply fascinate me, it speaks to my heart and again calls me to pay attention to my living. My life is in union with the One who is Hope, the One who sent him and the One who breathes through each one of us today. I pray for an attentive and open heart so to step into each day knowing I too carry the dignity of my humanity and the invitation to divinity which intersects my life.

 

To you my brother, with gratitude for your legacy and how God is at work in all of this still today… much peace.

 

Your little brother,

 

Michael

Blessing of Pets

October 2

MOUNT SAINT FRANCIS RETREAT CENTRE

41160 Retreat Road

Pets of all religious backgrounds and their owners are welcome!

St. Francis gave special consideration to all of God’s creatures, calling them sisters and brothers.

Come and visit the grounds and Retreat Centre 2:30 – 4:00 PM.

Blessing Ritual at 3:00 PM

The blessing will take place on West side of Retreat Centre near the Statue of Saint Francis.

 

Pets must be leashed or in a crate.