Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of October 3, 2005
God speaks, this priest listens
Companions of the Cross founder finds himself running to keep up with the Lord
By DEBORAH GYAPONG
"I didn't know that God wanted to run the Church."
- Fr. Bob Bedard
Ordained in 1955, he returned to Ottawa to take an appointment as assistant at Assumption Church in a tough part of town where he ran ministry programs for everyone under 21.
After three years, Ottawa Archbishop Marie-Joseph Lemieux asked him to teach at a new Catholic high school for boys intended to help develop vocations for the priesthood.
With trepidation, Bedard agreed to try out the teaching at St. Pius X.
Bedard became frustrated because the school was not turning out future seminarians or many active, fervent Catholics either.
He says the students were attentive and polite, but left school, shedding their faith like a sweater.
He and the other priests used to agonize over this, but nothing they tried worked, even though the school had grown from 35 students to almost 800.
Around this time, Bedard began meeting people who said God had turned their lives around through the charismatic renewal.
In the summer of 1974, Bedard decided to find out what it was about.
At his old Assumption Parish, he found the chairs arranged in concentric circles with the leaders in the centre, singing "peppy songs like Jingle Bells, not terribly profound music."
He sang along, but when the music stopped, everyone began talking at once. He leaned over to listen to the people near him and discovered they were all praying. He recalls thinking, "That's a curious way of praying. Surely they could get together on this."
When people started waving their hands straight up in the air in so-called charismatic fashion, he froze. He wanted to get out, but he was "stone paralyzed."
"Something I wasn't going to do was put my hands up in the air. Catholics don't do that!"
When the people there began to pray for intentions, he felt a little more comfortable. Though some of the intentions seemed "so small, so picayune, too small to bother God" about.
He recalls that a woman prayed about renting her spare room. "Why couldn't she put an ad in the paper like everyone else?"
After he left, he thought "these people are crazy, the Canadian society of ding-dongs."
Eventually, he returned, determined to find out what was bringing about the changes in people he knew as solid and credible.
"I don't care if they go up through the roof. You can roll on the floor, crawl around. I'm here, I'm watching and I'm listening."
In January, he signed up for a Holy Spirit seminar. There he lined up with others for prayer to receive at least one of the nine gifts of the Spirit enumerated in 1 Corinthians 12.
Bedard, feeling like he wasn't ready for any of those gifts, asked for a gift of prayer, because he couldn't pray.
He had become "sort of ticked off at God" because nothing seemed to work in leading his students to deeper faith.
After the prayer, he felt disappointed because nothing dramatic happened. Instead, Bedard had a good night's sleep and awoke the next morning with a desire to pray he had never experienced before.
He grabbed a beat-up copy of the New Testament and found he was able to understand it in a new way.
"What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and suffer the loss of his own immortal soul?"
He picked up the Breviary, and while doing the daily office "the words started to jump off the page to me as if somebody was passing a magnifying glass over them."
After praying for an hour and a half with no distractions, Bedard realized that what was changing peoples' lives in the charismatic renewal had nothing to do with what the people were doing, and everything to do with what God was doing.
"I didn't know that God wanted to run the Church. I thought priests were to do it."
He started to evangelize at St. Pius X. He began to see 18-year-olds "transformed right before my eyes.
"One boy told me, 'When I got on my knees and opened my heart to the Lord, it was like waking up from being asleep for 17 years.' "
At the school, he encouraged the students to form prayer groups, and Bedard started having his first experiences praying for the sick.
One of his first healings involved a girl who hadn't slept in five weeks. He prayed for her and she came back the next morning and told him she'd slept that night.
A skeptical student came in with a terrible toothache. "I prayed for him and the toothache went away automatically. Boom. Gone.
"I prayed for many things. I would pray for teeth and my batting average was incredible. What is this teeth thing? This is God's sense of humour. I was going to be a dentist before I became a priest."
Meanwhile, Archbishop Lemieux had been transferred to Rome, and Archbishop Aurele Plourde asked him if he would become pastor of St. Mary's Church in Ottawa.
When in 1984, he agreed to go to St. Mary's, he'd been told he could throw a snowball to the back during Mass and not hit anyone.
Feeling discouraged and panicked as he conducted Mass for 35 to 40 parishioners in a church that could hold 500 or more, Bedard began to pray.
Over the next several days, the word "permission" kept coming to him.
He began to realize that God was saying, "I want your permission to do what I want to do in this place. I don't want you and any of your fancy plans or blueprints. Let me have my way in this place."
Permission also needed to come from the parishioners.
"If you get their permission, I'll move," God seemed to be saying.
"A year and a half later, the church was so crowded you couldn't get in."
Bedard said it took a while to get used to how God speaks, but he believes he can be heard by those who "relentlessly seek him."
As he urged people to give their lives to the Lord, he would observe how God would move in, and do the work, changing them.
While at St. Mary's, he began to meet with four seminarians who were feeling discouraged in their studies at St. Paul University.
"They've become like my sons."
- Fr. Bob Bedard
In 1975, that prayer group in his living room developed into the community of priests known as Companions of the Cross.
Plourde eventually granted the group status as an association of clerics.
When Archbishop Marcel Gervais succeeded Plourde in 1990, he was just as supportive, "maybe more."
"Without these two men, we'd be nowhere."
The community now includes 60 priests.
"They come to the door cap in hand, then have gone to the cathedral floor, flat on their faces and been ordained to the priesthood. It's been a very emotional experience. They've become like my sons."
The order is growing, more people inquiring every day, Bedard says.
When Ottawa couldn't accommodate all the priests, the Companions expanded into Toronto, where they run a chaplaincy at York University, to Halifax where they pastor four parishes and run a chaplaincy at Dalhousie University, and to Houston, Texas, where they pastor a renewal centre that can hold 3,000 people.
Companions pastor three churches in Ottawa.
"I used to say, Lord, why can't you do something in the Church? We're desperate! Now I want him to lay off. Can you kindly slow down? I can't keep up with what you're doing!"
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