[Editor’s Note: This article is part of a regular “Fuel Up Friday” e-mail series in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Saskatoon – to subscribe, contact diocesan Director of Ministry Services Marilyn Jackson at firstname.lastname@example.org]
By Myron Rogal, Coordinator of Justice and Peace, Roman Catholic Diocese of Saskatoon
My wife would tell you I can be a tad idealistic, especially in the Advent/Christmas season; I love everything about these seasons and want to experience it all!
The theme of this Advent season has, in many ways, been an exercise in the virtue of detachment. Going through some health challenges going into the Advent season has caused me to miss some traditions, festivals, and events. This experience has necessitated the question: why am I so attached to these experiences?
This weekend, the Church celebrates Gaudete (Joy) Sunday, a time in our liturgical year to pause and know that our life is driven by a thrust of living in the joyful reality that God is near. I’ve found in my own life that when I lay my own expectations aside, I am surprisingly rarely disappointed and, furthermore, become increasingly aware of God’s presence even in sometimes painful and scary moments. In fact, setbacks can often later be revealed as blessings. Advent is a season of detachment.
In Advent of 2021, at the beginning of what has now become the greatest homelessness challenge in the province’s history, Bishop Mark Hagemoen invited some pastors, and I invited some community groups to come together to see what could be done. A healthy process ensued, where agencies emerged from their silos and parishes recommitted to their mandate of serving the poor.
One offering brought forward by two Saskatoon parishes was to explore utilizing their respective halls as warm-up sites for those with nowhere else to go. Giving shelter to the poor seems like a simple task, but it is not, because the poor, like anyone else, deserve quality ministry; they deserve the best and delivering the best takes careful planning and care. Opening an empty building on a cold night without due diligence will quickly serve no one well.
My life experiences have taught me to operate with due diligence, monitor risk, and look at challenges from the vantage point of all stakeholders in order to implement effective solutions. In the winter of 2022, God quickly brought together many pieces to make this happen. There are many stories to be told here, but to share one, as I prayed at a Memorial Mass for Pope Benedict XVI’s intercession asking for funding, I was greeted following Mass with news that donors had emerged to dedicate the needed funds! Then, as both sites approached their opening dates, a major setback revealed that God had other plans.
This year, on Dec. 4, 2023, St. Mary Parish in Saskatoon opened its hall as an overnight warm-up site in a manner that has already provided more blessings than “my plans” last year would have provided. It is in times of certainty that we are called to seek Christ where we may not want to because our plans and perceptions may change.
In the lives of some of the great saints and spiritual writers, we see a pattern of seeking Christ in places that are both hidden and familiar.
St. Thomas Aquinas wrote that: “If the highest aim of a captain were to preserve his ship, he would keep it in port forever.” Aquinas himself developed the great philosophical tradition of the Church by sailing outside of the port and discovering truth in the writings of pagan Aristotle, who unknowingly reflected Christ.
Others such as St. Ambrose, Servant of God Dorothy Day, and Thomas à Kempis challenge us to set aside our attachments and seek Christ above all else.
Detachment changes our approach from telling God where we want to see Him, to allowing God to reveal Himself to us. How often in the Gospels does Christ challenge those who seek to follow him to put aside their attachments, possessions, or ideas? The entire New Testament is comprised of these encounters. Detachment means mission, it means growth, and it is the task of every disciple.
There is a risk in detachment and at the same time a freedom in knowing that our ways are not God’s ways. Christ’s calling is indeed one that causes us to an idealism, but this idealism belongs to God, and we are the one’s that need to adapt. In this coming Sunday’s Readings, we are warned: “Do not quench the Spirit.”
Lord, we pray that we might decrease so that you might increase.