Easter: A Season of New Life

Br. Michael Perras, ofm

St. Francis of Assisi in his “Praises of God” prayed, “You are our hope, You are our faith, You are our charity, You are all our sweetness, You are our eternal life.” These beautiful lines of prayer speak to the depths of this Easter Season. St. Francis trusted in new life and knew God was the source of this new life. It is why as his life was ending, he was able to prayer, “Praise to you my God for Sister Death.” He trusted in the promise of the Resurrection. He was able to surrender into “My God and My All” who was his hope, faith, charity, sweetness and eternal life. This is the anchor of Easter, our Savior Jesus died entrusting his all into God and God raised him from the dead so we may know the fullness of eternal life. St. Francis trusted in this promise. Do we? As we face the challenges of life, the setbacks, the little deaths, the brokenness and the letting go, do we trust our Risen Lord is with us as our hope, faith, love and life?

Mary Magdalene had to, so did Thomas, John, Peter and the Emmaus disciples. In the Easter weeks ahead, we will hear of the early church community which formed after the Resurrection. They too needed to trust the Risen Lord was present with them in the stories they shared and in the blessing and breaking of bread. The first believers are encouragement for us today. The chaos of their world is still the chaos we see in our world; we must be attentive to the Risen Lord in our midst in the simplest of ways.

As the Easter weeks unfold, we hear Jesus described as the Good Shepherd, and the True Vine. Images we can appreciate during this springtime. Images which remind us to pay attention to how the Risen Jesus is woven into the ordinary of our lives. The Risen Lord guides us as his flock. He desires nothing more than for us be a community gathered around the gift of his Risen Life. We are also to grow and produce fruit which shows the world we believe what we profess in our baptismal promises which we have just renewed.

Later in the Easter Season we will be reminded of how Jesus showed us God’s love and how he has asked us to show this love for one another. Christ chose us and if he chose us then the way we show who he is and his love in our lives matters. How in this Easter Season can we be concrete expressions of his love? How can we offer the hope of Easter to someone? In what ways can we encourage new life in our relationships and community?

Weeks from now at the end of the Easter Season, we will hear the beautiful promise of Jesus being with us until the end of the ages and the gift of his Spirit to us. The gift of his Spirit activates in us praise and entrusts us as heralds of his hope, faith, charity, sweetness and new life. Let us be these heralds this Easter Season!

Alleluia! Christ is Risen! Easter Peace!

Photo credit: Suzanne D. Williams

Awe: The Gift of Easter

By Br. Michael Perras, ofm

Awe is described as a feeling of reverence and respect mixed with wonder. Does this not describe the Resurrection with the encounter of the empty tomb, meeting the Risen Lord and being sent on mission to tell the Good News? Awe fills us at many moments of our life. It need not be fleeting rather it can be a constant gift which reminds us we are people of Resurrection each day.

                Being able to appreciate springtime sunrises often fills me with awe. Seeing a crocus spring up after the winter does as well. So does hearing my name called in a distinctive way. Creation and relationships have ways of gently calling us to be filled with awe. Do we allow ourselves to be touched by awe? Have we moved into “survival mode” or a dull routine where the celebration of Easter has become just another Sunday in the calendar year? This Easter Day is the launching of the 50-day season, an invitation to let awe be a gift to move past survival and routine. It may begin with something as simple as our name being called or in the way we call another’s name.

        We hear our name called thousands of times over our lifetime, when we hear it for the first time in a new way we are filled with awe. The first time I heard my name combined with Uncle or with Friar made me pay attention and take note. I was filled with awe. When Jesus called Mary Magdalene on Easter morn, she heard her name in new way and in hearing it she was awe-filled but also called and sent. She was by name sent as the Apostle to the apostles to announce to them, “Christ is Risen… I have seen him!” We too are called and sent, not only in this Easter Season but all the days of our life. How does our daily living reflect the Resurrection? How do we call others by their name? Do we leave them feeling regret or awe?

Catholic journalist Philip Kosloski reflecting on the life of St. Francis of Assisi said, “A life lived authentically rooted in the Gospel has more power than any king or earthly ruler and will endure for all eternity.” This is at the core of our Easter awe and living. It is at the core of our name being called by the Risen Christ. This is not just for St. Francis and the countless saints we honor, it is for us, today, here, and now in 2024. We, the saints of today, the People of the Resurrection for our time and space are called and sent. May our lives be a witness of the gospel and lead others to know awe truly is a gift still accessible to us even today. We do this when we embrace how reverence, respect and wonder aren’t obscure gifts rather they are daily gifts because of the Resurrection of Jesus. We are claimed in baptism, we are called to live the gospel authentically (which means always learning and growing from it) for we are witnesses of the Resurrection. Let us be willing to be filled with awe and then fill our part of the world with awe, it will make a difference just like the Resurrection does each day.

Alleluia! Christ is Risen! Easter Blessings!

Photo Credits: Dominik Scythe and Ashlee Marie

High Stakes Humanity: Holy Week Perspectives

Lenten Reflections with Br. Michael Perras, ofm

As we journey into this Holy Week let us be attentive to the tensions and movements of the heart of not only those who lived with Jesus but also our own and those who live with us. Holy Week is time to consider the perspectives of high stakes humanity.

​The shouts of “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord” bring us into this week. We add our voices of praise for we know the rich blessings of Christ. Do we live from a place of blessing and gratitude?

​In the gospels for each day of Holy Week we see and hear many different characters. We begin with Pilate and the tension he carries. He feels torn and, in the end, lets pride lead the way. When tensions arise in our life or community do we hold firm in our blinded ways or are we willing to listen to truths we have not considered?

​We again encounter Martha, Mary, and Lazarus. They offer a space for Jesus to gather with those dear to him. During this time Mary anoints the feet of Jesus. When we see actions for the good of others which challenge our norm do we get uncomfortable and defensive, or do we take note and let our heart be transformed?

​Peter also plays a key role in the unfolding of the week, as does Judas. One denies and the other betrays. We too know the pain these actions cause in our lives. Denial cuts to the heart and betrayal leaves one feeling abandoned. How do we not let moments of denial and betrayal destroy our living in Christ? How do we rise above?

​As we enter the Triduum we are invited to table with Jesus and his disciples. At this table not only are we gifted the life-giving bread and living cup, we are also shown what it means to be of true service and to lay down one’s life for another. Who do we need to be gathered at table with during the season ahead? Who do we need to thank for their acts of service? No matter where we are in the journey of life are we willing to lay down our life for another through sacrifices and service?

​As we come to Good Friday, we again hear the cries of “Crucify him!” The angry jeers of the crowd. We cannot remain here; we must move to the foot of the cross. Here we see the deep care of Jesus as he gifts John to his mother and his mother to John. The early church will know it is anchored. We too must note the actions of Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus. Their care for Jesus calls us to be care givers for the Body of Christ. How can we do this in these holy days and in the season ahead?

​We then we enter the silence of Holy Saturday. A perspective which we often ignore. How can we incorporate even a moment of holy silence into our daily living?

​Holy Week is indeed high stakes. Let us enter earnestly, paying attention to the movements of the week and the movements of our heart.

We glory in your cross, O Christ for it is the way to life.

Photo Credit: K. Mitch Hodge

Renewal: The Essence of Lent

Lenten Reflections with Br. Michael Perras, ofm

Week 5

Throughout the season of Lent we have heard scripture which speaks of renewal and being anchored in Christ. As we begin this Fifth Week of Lent the scriptures for Sunday are an invitation for our hearts to be made new as we journey towards the great Easter Feast.

The prophet Jeremiah (31.31-34) ascribes to God, “I will be their God and they shall be my people… from the least of them to the greatest.” These beautiful words speak of the deep covenant bond God has with us. Each day this covenant is renewed and refreshed. This covenant is sealed with the love of Jesus Christ poured out for us and each day we must embrace it as a way of living out God’s law of love.

The Fifth Sunday of Lent is also known as Solidarity Sunday. It is a reminder of the covenant we share with all of God’s people from the least to the greatest. To be in solidarity with each other is to see all as valued members of the covenant. As Christ came to serve, we too are called to follow him by serving him through service to the poorest of the poor and those who do not know they are valued members of the covenant. This speaks of renewal. When we encounter the poor, the sick, or the hurting are our hearts created anew or are they hardened? Do we embrace the essence of Lent as an opportunity not only for our renewal but also for the renewal of the church and all people?

This is not a lofty goal set aside for the Pope and theologians, it is the core of who we are as Christians. Each one of us gives witness to Christ and is a messenger of renewal. It is in this witnessing we can then understand the grain of wheat falling into the earth and dying to bear much fruit (John 12.24). If we consider the seed renewed in the way it gives its all to bear fruit, we are encouraged in the renewal of this season. If we fail to see the seed as renewed through it’s giving, we end up feeling cut off, caught up in our stuff and lacking the trust needed for covenant, growth, and renewal.

In this Fifth Week of Lent let us note the moments of renewal and how we have lived in solidarity with each other this Lent. In prayer let us ask for awareness of where we need to be renewed in our living and in our efforts for solidarity. The days of Lent draw short, the Season of New Life is on the horizon, let us be drawn into the heart of Christ. Let us trust renewal is happening as our hearts are made new even in the smallest of ways. Let us trust our God is with us, for he sent his Son who is our “source of eternal salvation” (Hebrews 5.9).

Renew us O God, for we are your people.

Photo Credit: Kai Pilger

Love: The Depth of God’s Heart

Lenten Reflections with Br. Michael Perras, ofm – Week 4

Love is an action word which is used loosely and also has a lot of power. When used loosely it does not carry strength in it’s meaning, for example: “I love chocolate chip cookies.” However, when love carries power, it sounds more like, “Until my dying breath I will love you” and these words are followed through with actions which show the power of this love.

The Fourth Sunday of Lent is known as Rejoicing Sunday because we are over the half point in our Lenten journey. We may be rejoicing because our Lenten practices are going well or we may be rejoicing because soon it will be Easter and our feeble attempts of Lenten disciplines can fade away until next year. Regardless of where we are this Rejoicing Fourth Sunday of Lent the depth of love is at the forefront of the scriptures.

In the story from Chronicles even in the unraveling of the people and their unfaithfulness, God meets them with compassion to stir their hearts. Even when they do not respond God remains faithful to the power of love. Where have we encountered the love of God in our life? When we feel like life is unraveling do we trust the love of God is meeting us, strengthen us, restoring us?

“For God so loved the world he gave his only Son” is one of the most quoted pieces of scripture. It’s nice to quote, but it must be more than a tag line in our Christian experience. Like Nicodemus we have a choice when we hear these powerful words. We can raise our eyes to see the promise of eternal life through the cross and resurrection or simply leave it as nice story told once a year. We can believe we are saved through the gift of Christ with us or not. We can trust his light is infused in us and enables us to serve others or we can ignore the light. It is good to ask ourselves: Why do I believe? Where has the light of Christ been made present to me? Where have I encountered the depth of God’s heart? What are my reasons (or the cause) for rejoicing this week of Lent?

We are “made alive, raised up with Christ and gifted with eternal life” (Ephesians 2.4-10), these alone are gifts to rejoice in. The challenge is to consider where in our living and in the lives of others do we see these gifts. St. Francis of Assisi once said, “where there is love (charity) and wisdom, there is neither fear nor ignorance.” Let us lean into power of love for from it comes the wisdom to live well, to preach the gospel with our lives and to rejoice in the depth of the love of God which is always for us.

By your Love, O God, you have gifted us Eternal Life. 

Photo Credit: Anna Kolosyuk

The Cross: An Invitation To Begin Again

Lenten Reflections with Br. Michael Perras, ofm

Have you ever had one of those Lents which felt like you were stuck in traffic in a construction zone? Start. Stop. Start. Stop. Move a bit forward. No movement. If so, you are not alone! I know for myself and a few others this Lent has felt this way. It’s not because of a lack of a plan or resources. Sometimes those plans get sidelined, other times they get railroaded. The Third Sunday of Lent is a good time to refocus. St. Francis of Assisi is known for saying, “Let us begin again for up to now we have done very little.” He made this statement near the end of his life. If he could say it then surely we can use it as an invitation to step into this Third Week of Lent.

The very familiar Exodus text of the Ten Commandments gives us some encouragement to begin again as it reminds us to look at our relationships. Who am I in relationship with? How is my relationship with God? Which relationships need healing and forgiveness? How is my relationship with creation and sabbath time? The Ten Commandments are not punishments to live by rather they are our guideposts which can lead us into the depth of relationship. They help us to hear the Lord’s words of everlasting life (Psalm 19) spoken into this season and into our living; inviting us to begin again.

The Season of Lent obviously draws our attention to the Cross, with its “message of the foolishness of the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1.18). St. Francis spent many of his days caught up with his attention on the foolishness of the Cross and Passion of Christ. We may not be able to spend our whole day caught up reflecting on the Cross like St. Francis, but we can begin again each day to contemplate its wisdom and strength. It may be as simple as signing ourselves with the cross as we get out of bed, or considering each street intersection we go through in a day as a reminder of the cross. It may be as we go for a walk and notice branches in a tree or strewn on the ground or take note of the streaks in the sky calling us to praise God for gift of the Cross.

The cross branded onto us in Baptism and Confirmation is not just a one-time moment. It is a being claimed in Christ which is to then live in the Paschal Mystery. The temple of our body is signed with Christ not to be destroyed by the ways of death and destruction of the world, rather to be transformed into the likeness of who we truly are as children of God. May we be consumed this week with courage, goodness and zeal for this Lenten journey whether it is already going well or as we begin again.

By your Cross and Resurrection, Lord Jesus, you have set us free.

Photo Credit: Eberhard Grossgasteiger

Beloved: God For Us

Lenten Reflections with Br. Michael Perras, ofm

St. Francis of Assisi composed a beautiful prayer entitled: The Praises of God. In this pray he prays: “You are love, charity; You are wisdom, You are humility… You are our hope… You are beauty, You are our eternal life.” These select lines from his prayer come from his heart as he heaps praises onto God. It is as if he can’t contain himself and must tell God all these great things God is for him.

This Second Week of Lent begins with powerful scriptures which invite us to also heap our praises onto God. With Abraham we can heap praise for the gift of courage, strength and trust. Where in our life has God been offering these gifts? With the Psalmist we can give praise for faith and life-giving places. How has our faith been steadied or challenged during this Lent? With St. Paul we join in praise for the gift of the Incarnation and the Cross for they are reminders our God is for us. We can ask ourselves the same question St. Paul did to the Romans, “Who can separate us from the love of Christ?” With Peter, James and John we can give praise for vision, transformation and hope. How are we being transformed by love and hope and given new vision this Lent?

The Transfiguration of Jesus has long been one of my favorite gospel stories. It isn’t about the dazzling clothes, it isn’t about Elijah and Moses appearing, it’s not even about this utopia of being on the mountain. It is always about the voice of God, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” These few words are not only praiseworthy, but they are also balm, encouragement and speak of the depth of “him (Christ) who loved us.” I can almost imagine St. Francis pouring out his praises to God as he considered the Transfiguration because his prayer speaks the words the disciples couldn’t find. I too give praise to God because this gospel reminds us the words of Jesus are truly what we need to listen too. In them we find answers to our questions, fears, and doubts. I also give praise to God because Jesus being beloved is then transferred to us as the children of God. Jesus is our sibling, so if he is beloved so are each of us. Each of us beloved because we are claimed by our God who is for us! As Lent Week Two unfolds spend time pondering the gift of being beloved and transformed by the love of God and give praise to our God being for us.

Lord God Living and True Guide our Lenten Steps This Week.

Photo Credit: Mayur Gala

Covenant: Good News Bearers

Lenten Reflections with Br. Michael Perras, OFM

The beautiful story of the promise made to Noah launches us into the first full week of Lent. It is good to be reminded our God has made a promise to us and we are held in a covenant with God. During this first week of Lent we are invited to pay attention to the promises we make and who we are in covenant with in our daily living. To be in a covenant calls us to relationship, not just a transaction. As a Franciscan Friar I live my life in a covenant with my fellow Friars and with the church, those who are married are in a covenant with their spouse, and all of us are in a covenant with each other and creation. If we consider the covenants we are currently in during this first week of Lent by the time we arrive at the Easter Vigil the readings from the Old Testament and the Resurrection of Jesus make perfect sense. For God’s covenant with us is about relationship, continually calling us into God’s love and to ensure this love is made known in the world. In other words, to be Good News Bearers. This is at the core of the gospel for the First Sunday of Lent.

The gospel story about Jesus in the wilderness and being tempted often leads only to focusing on what tempts us. When we pay closer attention to the gospel (Mark 1.12-15 – read it again!) we see the temptation of Jesus is simply noted as a passing statement. What stands out is the length of time (40 days), who surrounded him (wild beasts and Angels) and what Jesus did following this time (proclaimed Good News). During this first week of Lent let us investigate our life and consider: How I am intentionally spending these 40 days? What wild beasts do I need to face this Lent? Who are the Angels who are guiding me? How will I journey during this Lenten pilgrimage as a Good News Bearer?

As our hearts are transformed, as we pray, fast and give alms, as we take note of the covenant we hold with each other and with God we come to see how our lives speak of the kingdom of God. Every covenant has times in which they need to be evaluated, in which forgiveness must be sought and repentance must be made. Lent is the perfect opportunity to renewal our promises to be covenant people and bearers of the Good News. Our baptismal promises demand this of us.

Peace and Goodness in Week One of the Lenten Journey.

Photo Credit:  Jorge Fernandez-Salas

Ambassadors: Marked for Lent

By Michael Perras, OFM

Br. Michael Perras, OFM is a member of the Franciscan Community. He is currently ministering at Mount St. Francis Retreat Centre in Cochrane, Alberta. We look forward to sharing this series of reflections with you in the coming weeks.

This year marks the 800th anniversary of Saint Francis of Assisi being branded with the wounds of Christ. Several months after celebrating Christmas at Greccio in 1223 Francis received the stigmata (the five wounds of Christ) while praying at La Verna (a secluded place) in 1224. We may never receive the stigmata; however, each of us are branded with Christ in baptism. This coming season of Lent is a reminder of our baptism and how we live out our baptismal mission and duty as ambassadors of Christ. Saint Francis of Assisi was caught up in both the incarnation and passion of Christ. His attention to these frameworks of the life of Christ are an invitation for our Lenten mission. We must consider again how we birth Christ in our actions and how we meet Christ in the wounds of our lives and of the world. Our baptism is activated in the ways we carry out this mission and encounter the promise of the resurrected new life of Easter in our life, church and community.

On Ash Wednesday we will be marked with the cross reminding us of the fragility of our life (another point St. Francis knew well). We will also be reminded through scripture we are ambassadors (2 Corinthians 5:20—6:2). What do ambassadors do? They give witness to their mission. We will also be reminded our Lenten mission is to pray, to fast and to give alms (Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18) in purposeful ways. These are guideposts for the 40-day mission and each year we are reminded to refresh our mission.  How can we do this in a meaningful way this Lent? It will look different for each of us, but by the duty of our baptism there are no excuses to not act as ambassadors on our mission. Make a plan! Do one thing well! It will be worth it, and it will make a difference for the Lenten journey and beyond. Don’t let the season slip by unnoticed.

The time is now!

Peace for the Lenten Journey.

Photo credit: Annika Gordon

A Lifetime of Listening: Reflection on Final Vows by Sarah Rudolph, IBVM

We would like to congratulate ATW member Sarah Rudolph, IBVM, who professed her Final Vows with the Loretto Sisters on December 9, 2023. Below is a reflection that Sarah wrote for the Vocations Canada Newsletter.

On December 9, 2023, I will make my final profession of vows in the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Loretto Sisters), a journey that has been more than nine years in the making. Nine years of initial formation, over two years of discernment prior to entering, and a lifetime of listening to God’s call and growing in my ability to discern and respond.

Originally from Calgary, I was living in Ottawa when I first began to discern a call to religious life. Although the seed was planted when I was about 25 years old, it took me until I was 32 before I was able to actively commit to discernment and respond to the call. At the time I was working in the federal public service as a policy analyst on files related to children’s rights, youth engagement, and maternal and child health. With a background in international relations, it was a career that I deeply enjoyed. I found the issues meaningful and important, and I loved the policy work. And yet, I found myself yearning for something more that I couldn’t quite grasp in my day-to-day life. I was an active member of my local parish for several years and felt a longing to somehow integrate more deeply the religious/ spiritual with what I was pursuing as a career and to give my life in service to God.

When I encountered the Loretto Sisters through their website, the pieces seemed to fall into place. I was attracted to the international dimension of the Institute – our network of Sisters working across the world for peace and justice in myriad ways – and as I learned more about our founder, Mary Ward, and about Ignatian spirituality, I found my spiritual home as well. It seemed to be a place where I could be my full self and continue to grow into the woman God has created me to be.

Despite feeling at home, it was a risky decision to request to enter, and a risky response for the Congregation to say yes to welcoming me. The reality is that the Congregation in Canada is moving towards completion. We now have only five sisters under the age of 75. When I entered in 2014, we were over 70 sisters; now we are fewer than 40. Of course, when I entered in 2014, I was naïve and didn’t have a sense of what this might mean. Over nine years, I have learned much about what this reality means and have grown to accept a new vision for religious life. Some of my earlier dreams have been broken and new dreams are growing in their place.
One implication of this reality is that I have grown in my understanding of belonging to an international Institute. This has been fostered over the many international experiences I have been gifted with during my formation. I spent the canonical year of my novitiate in Manila, Philippines in an international formation community of Sisters from Australia, India, and Vietnam. In my second year of novitiate, I spent three months in New York City completing an immersion program at our NGO at the United Nations, where I was exposed to the incredible work of our global Institute responding to the needs of the most vulnerable and how we, as women of faith, can influence global policy. My UN experience was a great treasure to me. It allowed me to directly use the policy skills of my professional background from a faith-based perspective. Throughout my three months at the UN, I felt aflame with God’s love for the world.

In 2019, I was blessed to attend the Mary Ward Summer School in York, UK, a regularly offered program for Sisters and our friends and Colleagues, to deepen our understanding of our founder’s life and spiritual foundation. We studied her letters and other historical documents and visited places of significance to her life in Yorkshire. And just last year, I provided communications support at our General Congregation in Manresa, Spain. Not only was it profoundly inspiring and enlivening to be present in a place so sacred to Ignatius of Loyola, but I met and made connections with dozens of Sisters, deepening my appreciation for the international dimension of the Institute. And most recently, I spent the month of September in our Eastern Africa province preparing for final vows with three other Sisters preparing for vows. It was a delight to experience the Eastern Africa province, which is growing and expanding, and to witness the commitment to our charism and mission lived in a different cultural setting. It took me beyond the confines of what I know in Canada and made me realize that other futures are possible.

This global web of connection is reflected in my local experience of religious life. As I reflect on making lifetime commitment as a religious, I find hope in this larger network. Not only as a member of a global Institute, but as a member of a ‘community of communities’. I have been blessed with friendships with other men and women religious from across Canada through our participation in the annual Around the Well retreats. The retreat is a space where we can come together to share the reality of our lives as religious in a changing world and amid changing demographics. We learn about each other’s charism and are enriched by our diverse expressions of spirituality and mission. We also dream about living, one day, in community together, and engaging in joint ministry. For me, the religious life of the future will be a living out in concrete ways the deep interconnectedness of humanity and creation through shared community life and ministry, and mutual commitment to the evangelical counsels. This offers me great hope.

Formation that fosters these interconnections is essential. As individuals we find a home in our respective Congregations with their charism, mission, and spiritual expression, but together, we as religious, live vibrantly and more fully our shared charism of religious life. I live in the present and look to the future with joy, knowing that I am part of an interconnected group of men and women religious striving to live lives of generous love in service to God and to God’s people.

Sarah Rudolph, IBVM (centre, in blue) is pictured with other members of the Around the Well Group at the reception for her Final Vows on December 9, 2023.