Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of January 24, 2000
WCR Letters to the Editor
Firth touched student's life
Re: The late, great Father Firth (WCR, Jan, 10)
In 1977, as a young, impressionable 18-year-old Edmon-tonian, I enrolled as a pre-med student at the University of Alberta.
My mother would say to me, "I always get the impression that university is a godless sort of place. Do you ever go to Mass at St. Joseph's College?"
I assured her I didn't; after all, I was annoyed enough being "forced" to go to Mass every Sunday at our local Catholic parish, Annunciation, in the west end. Like many young people, I contemplated leaving the Church and embarking on a career of studies, sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll.
Four months later, by Christmas 1977, I was forced to drop out of the pre-med program and switch out of science into arts because I failed a course for the first time in my life, conditionally passed another and found myself in danger of flunking out of university.
I contemplated suicide after my Christmas exams because I thought it was the end of the world. At the time I had little or no faith. I would never be a doctor like my father.
My Irish mother kept encouraging me to attend daily Mass at St. Joe's but I rebelled and refused to do so, like any good Augustine son.
By the spring or fall of 1978, I started attending Mass at St. Joe's despite myself and I befriended several friendly priests - Fathers de Valk, Pendergast, Inglis and Firth.
Who was this funny little priest who always took time to talk to students in the lounge (it wasn't cool to talk to priests but you might just talk to Father Firth), said Mass reverently and made himself available, especially in the 1990s for Confession before Mass? And why was the parking lot such a big deal to him?
I soon found out this was Father Frank Firth, a veritable walking encyclopedia of Catholic knowledge who loved to talk about the early Church like it was still alive (I guess it is - in the communion of saints) and to whom it was fascinating to listen.
After my first year of studies, I decided to attend Mass everyday during Lent. Then I thought, "If I can attend Mass everyday during Lent, why not everyday throughout the year? And why did my parents attend Mass everyday? Why does this funny little priest say Mass everyday, at high noon or 4:30 p.m.
That funny little priest, Father Firth, took me several times downstairs to his office for Confession over the years, urged me to amend my life and took the time to patiently explain Church teaching and expected behaviour to me.
I listened more than he perhaps realized. To him, God was always "the good God." What would make a priest like him leave Toronto the Good to be with us out in the sticks in Alberta? It didn't make sense, but the wisdom of the years now makes me appreciate all he did for us.
Father Firth attended our annual Mother's Day Marches for Life; you could count on him and Father de Valk always being there.
And I have to say in all honesty that a major reason I kept my Catholic faith to this day, albeit imperfectly, is because of the Masses, prayers and personal example of late, great priests like Firth and Pendergast. They will both be sorely missed, as far as I am concerned.
2000 is a year of grace
"Why should you be admitted to the new millennium?"
This was the question posed to the dozen people gathered at a forum a few days before the much-hyped arrival of the year 2000.
"Well," I thought, "what have I accomplished that would make me a person eligible to pass through the portals from this millennium to the next?"
I considered some of my accomplishments over the years-as a wife, a mother, a teacher, a student. I recalled degrees and honours I've received, articles I've written. But did these really qualify me for entrance into the new millennium?
I pondered over my increasing awareness of the development of the inner life written about by the great heroes of the faith, and how I've resolved to follow in their footsteps to become a more loving, listening, caring person. And I knew that I had a long journey to go before I'd truly feel ready to pass through those portals.
Then it occurred to me: Jan. 1, 2000 isn't really the beginning of the new millennium, according to many scholars. They point out that when Pope Gregory changed the calendar, he numbered the years from 1 BC to 1 AD without a year zero in between.
Therefore, our calendar is based on a millennium that is numbered from year 1 to 1000, not 0 to 999, etc. Thus, the new millennium actually begins on Jan. 1, 2001.
And that's when the happy thought came to me: I have one more year to get my life in order - a year of grace! Perhaps I can work hard this year to think about and to become the kind of person God would want me to be as I enter the next millennium.
So that's what I told the rest of the group when my turn came to tell why I should be allowed to pass through the gates.
Since then, I've continued to think about this year of grace in the light of Pope John Paul's designation of this as the holy year of the great jubilee. Perhaps this is what he has in mind for all of us. We have an opportunity to "get it right" as God's people, through reconciliation between God and us and between individuals, churches and nations.
Some have proclaimed that, since the world is in such a state of wickedness, surely God is about to destroy it after removing his people. But the Scriptures tell us that "God so loved the world," and that he does not want any to perish.
Wouldn't it be just like our God to give us a "year of grace" to turn our world into a place of peace and joy - a place where, indeed, his kingdom has come and his will is done?
Mary Anna Harbeck
Church not place for casting stones
This letter is in response to the letter written by Gerard Liston in the Dec. 27 WCR.
Mr. Liston believes that the Christian community remains silent about the issue of abortion; that "once-in-a-while, a priest mentions from the pulpit that abortion is wrong."
First of all, Christians know what God expects of them. Have we not all learned the 10 Commandments at a young age?
A person who has an abortion knows what they've done is wrong. Fortunately, God loves us enough to forgive us our sins, even those who commit the most heinous. Don't start casting stones, lest you've never sinned yourself. Can anyone say that?
Church is a place where Christians meet to share in God's word. The Church's role is to educate but also to forgive and to welcome people back.
How would you feel if God already forgave you your sins, then your priest reminded you how bad you were every time you went to Church?
Who would come to Church if they knew they would be berated each and every time?
I agree that the Church and Christian community need to be more vocal about abortion, but more so outside the Church. The secular people who have turned against God are the ones the Church needs to reach, not the individuals who beg for forgiveness.
See priests' workload issues in light of Scripture
More thoughts on a priest's workload. I'm not minimizing the issue, but I believe the answer lies in the Scripture.
In Acts 6:4, the apostles wanted to give their full attention to prayer and preaching. St. Paul also urged Timothy "to preach the message, to insist upon proclaiming it, . . . to keep control in all circumstances, to endure suffering, to do the work of a preacher of the Good News, and perform duty as a servant of God (2 Timothy 4).
Yesterday, I attended the first of a series of sung vespers at the basilica where Archbishop Thomas Collins personally presided. This is a good example of how a priest can lead his flock to pray. In my view, the clergy should do more of that.
This is precisely the same instruction given in chapter two of 1999 document by Congregation for the Clergy in the Vatican which describes the role of pastor as:
We need to know first how much time each priest is spending on the above. Then we'll have a better idea if any time (I doubt very much) can be spared to do extra administrative duties, or to take upgrading courses (like preaching skills, counselling, etc.).
- Sacramentalist (Eucharist, Confession, Baptism, Marriage . . .).
- Evangelist/preacher (especially in homily).
- Leader in prayer and visits and service.
- Role model in life to respect Jesus.
Key event missed in historical summary
The article "1,000 years of Catholic history" in the Dec. 27 WCR, is missing one gigantic event. You, the reader, were created and born.
You are unique. There has never been a person like you and there will never be. You are loved and cherished by God.
So enormous is God's love for you that he treats you as if you were the only person that exists. He has given you a mission to accomplish, greater or lesser in the eyes of man, which no other person can accomplish.
It is his divine will that you should have this mission. He has taken you out of the world which is the enemy of God and planted you in his Church. A free gift which cannot be earned.
He has given you help through the sacraments and the anointing your body has received. He has joined your sufferings to his which he chose for the redemption of the world. As St. Paul said (Colossians 1:24) "Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of his body, which is the Church."
He asks only one thing in return. That you make the greatest effort to love him, that you love your neighbour in him, and that you love him in your neighbour.
Love and permit yourself to be loved. The mother of Divine Love through the recitation of the rosary will help you.
Sister witnessed to God's goodness
It was with a heavy, yet happy heart that I heard the news of Sister Paul Marie's passing away (WCR, Jan. 10). Her life clearly followed John Wesley's rule to:
Her goodness deeply touched my life and so, sadly, I will miss her.
- Do all the good you can.
- By all the means you can.
- In all the places you can.
- At all the times you can.
- To all the people you can.
- As long as ever you can.
Her goodness touched many people's lives and so happily I am certain that she is with God - "Who is Goodness!" I can hear her cheerfully explain.
May her life and this rule be a model for our Great Jubilee of the Year 2000 and the millennium.