He is my home.

 

Thanks for journeying with us this past year! These past 9 months have flown by. There has been so much grace and fruit in our work as first year CCO missionaries, praise be to God, and that would not have been possible without all of your prayers and support. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

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A little update: Julia finished her VINE year with CCO Halifax. Her next adventure will be pursuing a Masters in Biotechnology and Ethics at the JPII Institute in Washington, DC come August! Bioethics has always been her passion and I am so excited for her dreams to come into fruition! I cannot think of a better place for her to go. I finished my VINE year with CCO Saskatoon. I’m excited to share that I will be continuing to work for CCO for the next couple of years. This fall, I am pleased to be moving to Calgary, as a part of the new expansion team at Mount Royal University.

As much as I am looking forward to MRU, I have bittersweet feelings with leaving Saskatchewan. CCO Saskatoon, thank you for allowing me to witness such zeal for the Lord, such earnest desires for Jesus and such joy for community, fellowship and friendship. I thoroughly enjoyed my time in your beautifully sun-setted, though frigid, province.

Please keep us in your prayers as we go through many transitions: moving back home, preparing for what’s next with our careers, dreams and desires, as we aspire to seek and live His Will before ours.

It can be a bit daunting to go through change. I know so many friends and students graduating, travelling, moving back home for the summer, starting a new job, moving to a new city, etc. It can be challenging! I found myself surprisingly sad on my first night back in Vancouver. I felt a little funny, as if I didn’t know where home was anymore. Was it in Saskatoon, was it Vancouver, was it where I grew up, or would it be Calgary? My heart was a little restless. Yet the next morning, I went to Mass and found immense peace being in the presence of the Lord. Being with Jesus was exactly where I needed to be. Being with Him, I find my sense of purpose, my passion, my drive to go on. He reminds me to believe and choose the facts over my feelings: to know He is faithful and good over my feelings of undesirability, loneliness and restlessness.

He has shown me that morning, and little did I realize, in the months and years past, that He has always been my home. Give your heart to Him and you will never be homesick (unless you count the longings for Heaven I experience ever so often). But He is as much with us now, as He will be with us in eternal life.

Home is always where the heart is, isn’t it? Let Him be your home, and know that wherever you are, in whatever stage in your life, wherever you may be in the world, know that He is always with you.

God bless!
Carissa

(If you would like to continue to hear about my missionary work with CCO, send me an email, drop me a line at carissa.benavides@cco.ca. : )

“He doesn’t ask for perfection.”

post by Adriana Viale, one of CCO’s newest hires for 2014  

My name is Adriana and I am not perfect.

The more experience I get at failing, the more I have come to realize that it cannot be that way. God knows that we are not perfect because He created us, and He created us human. The cool thing is that in our imperfection, He still calls us and wants us just the way we are. He calls us by name and asks us to give Him everything we have, including our sinful hearts and human qualities. He welcomes us into His family in Baptism. He knew we would fall but He loves us so much that He gave us Reconciliation to draw us back to Him. He knows that we are weak and prone to fall into temptation so He gives us His physical self through the body of His Son, Jesus Christ, in the Eucharist.

This past year, I have become very aware of my failures and all the ways I constantly let God down. As I was applying to work for CCO, I found myself second-guessing my ability to be a good missionary. I have failed people, I have hurt the ones I love, I have hurt God and wandered off the path that God leads me to multiple times. Why would God want to use ME out of all people to reach out to those around me? I am not the most charitable person in the world, I don’t have the strongest prayer life and I struggle with my self-worth.

I brought all this to Spiritual Direction and Father listened quietly as I told him all the ways that I was inadequate to be a missionary and teach confirmation class. I was in no state to spread the Gospel when I was struggling so much and felt so broken. He looked at me and told me that I was exactly what God needed to reach out to those around me. I was taken by surprise. I had expected him to agree with me and tell me that I needed to fix myself. But no, he told me about the importance of being real in our faith. It is good to be aware of how we struggle, but we also need to remember that despite our failures, God is calling us.

Being real in our faith is not pretending to be perfect, but being aware that my strength and peace lies in the Lord, and that struggles and sufferings are inevitable but I can get through it all because of Him.

One of the greatest examples of how God calls us to follow Him despite our imperfections is St. Peter. I’m talking about the Peter whom Jesus gave the keys of heaven to, the first Pope and the leader of the Church on earth. He also happens to be the same man who denied Jesus three times, and even though he was walking on water, became so caught up with the storm raging around him that he began to sink. A man who was very much a sinner, yet became one of the greatest saints of all time. We can all relate to Peter. We all fall short, yet God looks at us and asks us to allow Him to be at the center of our lives and follow Him. He doesn’t ask for perfection, but commitment and complete trust in His plan. We may be weak, but He becomes our strength; we may be small but in Him we can do the impossible.

Now as I look at my missionary call I have come to really understand what “God doesn’t call the equipped; He equips the called” means. The journey ahead of me is not necessarily clear and I know it will not be without it’s ups and downs, but no longer do I fear failure, because God will be there to help me through it all. I have given Him my “Yes”, and may His will be done.

The Willingness to be Willing.

testimony by Denae Pellerin, 2nd yr Arts and Science student at the University of Saskatchewan.

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(Denae, far right, with Mary, Julia and Kara from the Uof S at the RiseUp NYE banquet.

Before Rise Up, I was very hungry to feel God’s presence. Last year I could sit in Mass or the Library and know that Jesus was beside me. I could feel His love and encouragement. But since the month of May I had been going through a time of obedience: I had not encountered the feeling that God was near to me, nor that He loved me. I had to trust scripture, my previous experiences and choose to follow and worship God because despite my current feelings: I knew He was my Lord and was good.

In October, through prayer, I began to get the idea that God was calling me to take the next step in my faith. I realized that previous challenges in my faith were conquered and had become a natural part of my life. I could either stay there and become lukewarm or complacent, or I could dig deeper, be challenged and go through another time of growth. However, I had no understanding as to what God was calling me to or how I would take this next step. Thus, because I was being called to a greater faith: my time of obedience was getting harder and I was feeling dryer and more distant from my faith. It was hard to pray and the lies of the Devil began to make their way into my heart: causing me to question the love and goodness of my Father and Lord.

Going into Rise Up I felt as though the conference would be a good refresher but I doubted that it would shake me in a radical way. I already believed and knew in the Gospel message. I felt as if there was little the speakers would have to offer me that would entirely transform my perception of Jesus.

On the first night of Rise Up, Angele Regnier, co-foundress of CCO, challenged us to have great expectations for the conference.

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I immediately thought to myself, “Yes God, I am hungry for you but I understand if you don’t intend on encountering me here. So Lord, move in the lives of others.” Almost as if she read my thoughts, Angele proceeded to say, “Having Great Expectations means expecting God to move in others lives and in your own.” I felt a tension between the idea of being encouraged that God wants to move in my life this conference but then immediately scared that He wouldn’t. So I didn’t want to put that seemingly false expectation up and be left disappointed. My heart was torn and I was afraid of my God.

Throughout the course of the conference I was continually reminded of the love that Christ has for me. Through the speakers I was brought in awe of His humility and great love for His children. But my heart was still hard because I kept my wall up and did not acknowledge the tensions and fears that were going on in my soul. I again sat in my fear and did not ask for help. Through hindsight I can see what God was doing in my heart the night of adoration; however, at the time I did not recognize His presence. Through adoration fears were brought up and I began to see what God was asking me to do in my faith: sacrifice my life for Him entirely, and this made me afraid. I had counted the cost and was not sure whether I was willing to follow. I know that living my life for Jesus means giving up the things of the world. I was fearful that I would have to give up nice clothes, good foods, family and friends. I was afraid that I would have to abandon everything I know and follow Christ to something that would not be fulfilling. I was scared about going to a foreign country. I was scared that I might be called to be a nun. I was scared of the mockery people would make of me for following Christ. I realized that giving myself up for Christ was not going to be easy. Because living a life for Christ is not easy. It is a struggle. And ultimately I was not sure if was willing to do that. I prayed for the willingness to be willing. I asked God to help me abandon my will for His.

The next night Angele spoke again on Great Expectations and told us that we would be writing a letter to Pope Francis telling him that we are willing to live our lives for Christ entirely: we are willing to go wherever Christ wants us to go. We are willing to say whatever Christ wants us to say. We are willing to do whatever Christ wants us to do. Well signing a letter to Pope Francis sounded awesome but I knew I could not sign that letter. I was too afraid. I knew that that it is a HUGE commitment. I knew that deep in my heart I was not willing to sacrifice everything. After sitting in my fear for a while I suddenly felt the Holy Spirit tell me to go find someone to pray for me. I found a CCO missionary and throughout the course of prayer the lies of the Devil and my fears were entirely revealed. But most importantly God encountered me in that fear and through the ushering of the Holy Spirit I felt God’s love, freedom and peace overcome my heart and it brought me to healing and a new place: a place where I was ready to fully make that commitment.Through the experience at Rise Up I became convinced that no matter what Christ calls me to: I will not do it alone. He will be there and give me the strength to get through. Furthermore, it is foundational for paving the next step of faith God is leading me into. Through that deep personal encounter with Christ’s grace I have been able to discover my weaknesses and begin a healing process. Christ has erased those fears by showing me His immense power.

The love of Christ is more powerful than anything else and by following Christ I will find a life of joy, purpose and deep unconditional love.

The battle to live my life for Christ has not ended through that one pivotal moment; however, I do now know that power of my Lord’s love and know that with Him by my side I am willing to go wherever He wants me to go. I am willing to say anything He wants me to say. I am willing to do whatever He wants me to do.

(Denae is partaking in CCO’s summer mission project IMPACT!2014 Victoria. Read more here: https://cco.ca/missions/missionaries/denae-pellerin/?scroll=main-content)

No Turning Back

“Adoration. Rise Up 2013. Ottawa. What an experience!”

*For those who are unfamiliar, Eucharistic Adoration is a time of worship and prayer where people honour and ‘adore’ Christ, who is present in the Eucharist. Cristina Bolzon attended CCO’s Annual Rise Up Conference for the first time, and wanted to share her experiences!

Testimony written by Cristina Bolzon

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First Year Graphic Design Student at York University’s YSDN Program

I had always heard stories about how great adoration is and its life changing capabilities, and so I built up high expectations for my first time in adoration. It was back in September at a university retreat. I kept telling myself, “I want to feel something, I want to be moved, I want to cry!” Yes, crying would be epic. I wanted to reignite my faith so that I could be more passionate about it, and make a greater dedication to God. I was nervous however, because I did not know  exactly what one was supposed to do during adoration, so I talked to some other students about it. The obvious answer was to pray, and many of the retreat’s talks focused on prayer: having a conversation with God. “Ok”, I thought to myself, “that’s easy enough.” Then I was told that everyone expresses themselves differently during adoration; some people close their eyes and sit in silence, some sing to themselves, some dance, and some even lie on the floor in front of the altar! That last part threw me off—I told myself, “if there is one thing I will not be doing during adoration, it is that.”

And so, when adoration started at the retreat, I tried to pray to Jesus, talking to Him about my life and the struggles I had with my faith; but no matter how hard I tried, I could not convince myself that the Eucharist was truly Jesus up on that altar during adoration. And deep at the back of my mind, I kept hoping for that special feeling to bubble within me. But nothing came.  I walked away from adoration feeling more confused then ever, and let down. I did not understand what I was missing or what more I could have done. However, reflecting back now, the problem was I did not really know what my faith—my religion— was all about. Thus, I did not understand that it is about an encounter with Jesus, instead of a “feeling”. These were the things Rise Up helped me discover.

Based on that experience, I was again afraid for the adoration to come during Rise Up. What if the same thing were to happen? I feared that I did not have a strong enough connection with God to be able to encounter and experience Him personally during adoration, and so I was worried that I would not know how to act, but boy was I wrong! Okay, maybe I was right, adoration started off a bit uneasy for me. Once the Eucharist was exposed on the altar, I did not know how to begin praying to Jesus. However, I reminded myself that this year’s Rise Up conference was focused on encountering God, saying yes to Jesus, and allowing Him to renew my life. And so, on my knees, that is what I began to pray for: for me to open my heart to Jesus and let Him in so that He could work wonders through me. I continued to talk to Jesus and ask Him to help me not be afraid and say that simple yes to Him, but also to mean it.

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As I was praying, my sister put her arm around me, and let me tell you, experiencing adoration with a sibling by your side is by far the most amazing and comforting thing ever. So when she first put her arm around me I smiled. It was kind of her to do, and having her hold me tight brought warmth to my body—literally—because I was freezing (I was kneeling below an air-conditioning vent). Next thing I knew, as she held me and we sang together, and as I stared upon the altar at Jesus, a wave of heat came over me because I realized what was actually happening in that very moment. My yes to Jesus had been heard, and it was the Holy Spirit that was working through my sister to comfort me. I smiled, and was filled with joy, and felt like I was about to burst into tears…but I did not. I just grinned, and suddenly began to feel shivers again. It was awesome. But it gets better.

We both continued to sing and pray, kneeling before the Lord, but after a while I sat down and took a deep breath preparing myself for what was to come. I began to pray to Jesus for courage, for at the beginning of adoration, we were told that there were three kneelers at the front of the room—right in front of Jesus—with a special prayer attached to them for anyone who felt a special calling to Jesus, but did not know how to pray to him, or for anyone who was experiencing adoration for the first time and did not know how to react to all that was happing around them. As soon as I heard this, I had a deep desire to go and kneel at the front, right before Jesus and pray that prayer, but I had many doubts and fears. I was afraid to walk down the aisle, past all those sitting and lying down, afraid of all the eyes I thought would be watching my every move, afraid of praying at the very front before everyone in the room, and most importantly, before Jesus himself. I kept telling myself, “I need to be up there. I have to be up there. Jesus is calling me.” But I was too afraid. I continued to ask Jesus that He wipe away my fears, but I did not move an inch from my seat. I was torn inside.

Then, suddenly, the Holy Spirit worked though another individual, so that I may encounter Christ further. The girl seated beside me noticed that I kept glancing down the aisle to see if there was a clear path to walk down, for I was especially afraid of tripping on my way up. And so she turned to me and asked me exactly what I had been waiting to hear: “Do you want to go up there with me?” A huge smile appeared on my face and without a second of thought, or doubt, I excitedly said: “yeahhhh!” We got up in an instant and made our way down the aisle, past all those worshipping, and stopped before the altar. There was only one empty bench left at the front and again, I was hesitant to walk over and kneel, but she kindly nudged me to go first. Making sure no one else was headed to claim it, I happily bounced on over to the bench and knelt down.

“There was no turning back.”

At first I became anxious because I was focused on my posture and was worried about all the eyes that might have been staring at me; but there was no turning back at that point. I had made it that far, and needed to finish what I had started. Taking a deep breath, I kept my head bowed down. I think I was embarrassed to look straight at the face of Jesus. So I began with a greeting, asking for strength, and then began to pray the prayer taped to the armrest of the kneeler, which invited the Lord to be at the centre of my life. I said it slowly, breaking it down, one sentence at a time. And I read it out loud, repeating and stressing the words that stood out to me. After going through it several times, I was ready to repeat it aloud again, this time looking up, directly to the Lord. And so I did. I suddenly forgot about all of my previous anxieties and all those behind me and just focused on Jesus and his love for me.

I lifted my head to the Lord, and boy is he beautiful. So warm, inviting and bright! All the lights were shining down upon him, as he gleamed a dreamy golden hue. I smiled and got shaky, but in a good way. I began to recite the prayer bit by bit again, out loud, to the Lord. It was truly amazing. After that, I continued to pray aloud, gazing at the Lord right before my very eyes and then bowing my head back down. To be honest, I do not even remember half of the things we talked about, but it was awesome. I was ready to say goodbye and return to my seat, when the individual kneeling on the middle bench beside me suddenly caught my eye. I could see he had his head buried in his hands, and seconds later, he began to wail and cry. Knowing me, my immediate reaction would have been to laugh, but I didn’t. Instead, I smiled and began to pray for him because his reaction to encountering Jesus, front and centre, was so moving! I could only imagine what thoughts were stirring in his mind, and I thanked God that although I did not cry (which is a lot more dramatic) when I encountered him, at least I was still able to do just that: encounter and experience him in a deep and personal way, for as I kneeled before the altar, I knew Jesus was before me and I felt so at peace.

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After that, I was ready to return to my seat. I looked to Jesus one more time, thanked him for all that he had blessed me with in that moment and then ventured back to my seat, feeling amazing. I had done it! And I had encountered Christ! But the story still gets better!

I returned to my seat and my sister put her arm around me again, asking how it went. But I was not ready to talk, I kept my eyes on Jesus, who now seemed so far away, longing to go back to the kneeler in front of the altar! Then, my sister said something to me that she has told me countless times before, but has never impacted me as much as it did in that exact moment. She said, “I was praying for you.” After hearing that, I was fine at first, but once I slowly understood what those words actually meant, tears began to roll down my cheeks. I started to cry! I realized how powerful prayer is and how wonderful it feels to know that someone genuinely cares for you and keeps you in their intentions. Maybe it was her prayers that pushed my anxieties and doubts away while I was kneeling at the front! At that point, I was so at peace. I continued to sing, reflect and pray, and soon the girl that walked me to the front had returned back to her seat beside me. I looked over at her and thanked her for her help. She was the extra push I needed to journey to the front so that I could truly encounter Christ, and I felt so calm and confident following beside her. She smiled at me and—almost too good to be true— repeated exactly what my sister said to me: “I was praying for you.” Again, uncontrollably, I began to cry, and so did she! It was beautiful. This time, my eyes swelled with tears because hearing yet another person tell me they were praying for me reminded me that I am so loved and cared for, not only by Jesus but those around me! It was very touching. And I guess God had even answered my prayer of the past because he moved me to cry, something I had always secretly wished for! After that point, I shifted the focus off myself and began to pray for others, with the hope that one day they too can experience God’s love for them.

Adoration that night is something I will never forget. And it was all I had ever hoped for. I truly believe I encountered Christ that night and know for a fact that I personally witnessed the Holy Spirit work through three people! But the best part of it all were the lyrics from a song that we sung at the end of adoration,

I have decided to follow Jesus! There is no turning back, no turning back

And it is true, after all of that, there is definitely no turning back! I have made a commitment to Jesus and will live it out each and every day. Since being back to classes, my resolution was to visit the chapel on campus every day, and to begin with prayer every morning. I have been following through with that commitment, and am glad that is what I choose to do, for it has helped me to connect with Jesus in a more personal way, and focus my life and daily actions around him. I have also—through the grace of the Holy Spirit—finally said yes to leading a Discovery Faith Study. Before, I feared I was too young to lead one and was afraid of not knowing all the answers to a question if I was challenged. However, I have learned that I have nothing to fear for God never gives us more than we can handle, and age doesn’t determine a good leader, experience does, and so the sooner I start the better!

 “Father, I believe that you know me and love me. I have not always chosen to love you, and have broken my relationship with you through my sins. Thank you for sending your son Jesus who proved your love for me on the cross. Lord Jesus, I open the door of my heart and invite you to be at the centre of my life—to be my Saviour and my Lord. Direct me by your Holy Spirit and help me to live the Gospel with my whole life. Amen.” 

– Prayer of the Heart

What I know now

post by Carissa, CCO Missionary at the U of S

What I know now:

I’ve been living in Saskatoon for around 3 and a half months now. What a journey it has been! We have finally wrapped up our faith studies and events for the semester. I will be heading to Vancouver for Christmas today for two weeks, then off to Ottawa for our annual RiseUp conference. It will be an exciting next three weeks!

Because this week has been a little bit more relaxing, I have really been able to ponder, contemplate and look back on all that the Lord has done these past months. Here are some things I’ve learned along the way:

1. Stop worrying. Trust Him.

We have all struggled at one point or another with trusting God. Let’s face it. We will probably continue to fail at it, too. So I am here to just say something you have probably already heard but have not heard enough: keep. trusting. Him.

Earlier this summer, I was struggling to support-raise my salary. In the final weeks to go before my deadline, in that time uncertainty and worry, I was really telling Him, “God, actually, I DON’T trust you enough. I don’t believe you will provide. I doubt your plan and call for me. I want to be in control.” How selfish. Thankfully, despite my stubbornness and doubt, He still loves me. In that same time, I was humbled and received this passage in prayer:

“Yes, I have spoken, I will accomplish it; I have planned it, and I will do it.”

{Isaiah 46:11b}

Pretty powerful. The 11 days that followed, He did provide and give me the funds I needed in order to work for CCO.

What God was really telling me was, “Trust me. I have called you, and I will provide for you. I am working in ways you can’t see.” He has shown so much of this provision throughout my time here. Times when I needed tangible things like a bed or money for groceries, He provided. Times when I sought comfort and affirmation, He reminded me of my identity in Him, as a beloved daughter. Times when I doubted my call, He has shown me and placed people in my life who reaffirmed it. So TRUST Him. Trust that even when you can’t see Him working, He IS. Trust that sometimes He doesn’t show you the fruits of your labour because He wants you to keep His gaze on Him and to keep you humble. Trust that He has prepared the way for you. Trust. Keep trusting.

2. Don’t you judge a book by it’s cover. And by book, I mean Saskatoon. And by book, I also mean people.

I did not want to be in Saskatoon when I found out my placement months ago. Being the city girl that I was, I assumed the prairies would be boring. But today, YES I AM EATING MY WORDS because Saskatoon, you are a beautiful, rich and loving novel. I am only a couple of chapters in, but I don’t want to stop reading you! I don’t want to stop getting to know you. You have given me small joys in my walks by river, in the beauty of the prairie sunsets, in hipster-feels-like-home Broadway Avenue and in the peacefulness of the snow.

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Before I left Vancouver, a supporter of mine said to me, “Saskatoon is cold but the people will keep you warm.” Such a true statement. I have been blessed and surprised by the people I have met here. They subtlety remind me that relationships take time. That I never want to use someone as a means to an end, that I never want to use someone for my need for belonging, for my pleasure or my gain, and fail to take the time in getting to know them, and loving them for who they are.

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God is always asking us to open our hearts and love the way He does. Mother Teresa once said, “If you judge someone, you have no time to love them.” I am very good at judging and closing my heart off to people if I feel they are not worth my time. Yet when I am closed off to people or places, I am closed off to LOVE. Living in a world of instant gratification, a ‘fast-food’ nation, I find myself swayed with desiring the quick and easy ways, be it for coffee, things or relationships. But I am reminded that my best relationships, my best journeys have taken time, have taken the slow and steady route. That if I don’t give people or places a chance, I don’t give them a chance to win me over. (Did I just hint that Saskatoon is winning me over? I don’t know if I meant that…)

3. The greatest adventure in life is doing the will of God.
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When many of us dream of adventure, we think of places we want to see, of things we want to do. But most of the time, the greatest adventures come from the unpredictability. From the moments when you get so much joy from the unexpected things, like learning where your potatoes come from (the ground, and not the grocery store, Carissa. Awkward…). Is it not the greatest adventure when you can’t predict it, when you don’t plan it? How adventurous. The greatest adventures are found not in doing more, but rather, in appreciating what has not been appreciated enough and doing what has not been done enough. Like walking instead of driving. Like playing board games. Like the taste of a well-steeped tea. Like driving down a country road in Northern Saskatchewan, spontaneously getting out of the car, turning off your lights and engine, and looking UP at the most incredible night sky in silence and peace, an underrated beauty. To feel peace and a stillness in our fast-paced world: how rare. To be filled with the sense of wonder and awe you only felt when you were a child- how beautiful. What a gift.

I know these things are not part of my job description but it’s as if the Lord wanted to show and teach me things beyond my work in CCO. We are never far from these gifts and adventures when we are doing what He has asked us to do. In fact, He grants us more than we can imagine- God is always exceeding my expectations.

I don’t know where you are in your journey, but remember to appreciate the “getting to know you stage” and to know that He will grant you the greatest desires and joys of your heart. Just trust Him.

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CCO Halifax’s End of Semester Celebration!

This year, CCO Halifax welcomed 3 new campus missionaries and MANY new faces! The end of the semester is a perfect opportunity for us to celebrate the many good things God has done in the lives of our students, and to get excited about what’s coming up next term!

Here’s what some students had to share:
“My experience of faith prior to university was pretty involved: I was part of my church’s weekly youth group and knew many things about my faith and relationship with God. I heard of CCO when I was in high school and I was really looking forward to being a part of the community because I wanted a way to hold onto my faith in university. Since filling out a survey and taking a faith study this semester, it really opened up my eyes to seeing how God is present in EVERY area of my life – specifically through the Holy Spirit!”
– Alexis, First year science student at Saint Mary’s University

“My faith was much more passive when I came to university. I saw prayers and Mass as just rituals that had no meaning to them. I felt I was just going through some sort of drill. I never thought about God outside of church. I actually met CCO last year when I filled out a survey, but I never gave it much thought. Strangely, this past September I was walking down South Street and saw a poster for the Catholic BBQ (It’s really odd because I normally never walk down that street!) For some reason, I felt the need to go to the BBQ (probably just for the free food haha), and that was where I met a bunch of new people. I always thought observant Catholics were something like a cult, but when I saw such a wide variety of people there, it made me realize that maybe faith isn’t just for crazy people. It made me want to come to JAM. Since my involvement this past semester, I came to see God as a more personal loving God rather than as a king up there who sees us as servants. I learnt that God is a personal God, and that I can have a relationship with Him.”
– Kean, Second year Psychology student at Dalhousie

It’s hopefully no secret that at the core of everything CCO does is evangelization: as a community we are motivated by the desire to see other people come to encounter the fullness of the Catholic faith and to experience the joy and newness of a relationship with Christ!

Pope Francis says: “an evangelizing community is filled with joy; it knows how to rejoice always. It celebrates every small victory, every step forward in the work of evangelization.”

So here’s a fun look at our past semester together! If you’re coming to Rise Up in Ottawa this New Year’s, you’ll definitely be seeing some of these faces! Altogether, we have 20 students coming from Dalhousie and Saint Mary’s University, as well as many other students from universities in the greater Halifax area – close to 40 in total! We will be seeing you at Rise Up!

Take a Look!

Hello from Hali! For this next update, I want to share my best photos from the past month and a half with you!

I love taking pictures, and I post albums of my adventures on Facebook (which you’re welcome to view!) Here are some of the highlights of the things I’ve seen and the people I’ve been with!

The following pics are from the 80s themed party we threw in celebration of CCO’s Foundation Day – October 18th, 1988! The celebration was a success as we had over 50 students attend in wicked costumes, dancing to 80s hits, and taking fun photos in a makeshift Photo Booth!  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHere are some shots of the sweet Catholic T-Shirts we ordered for CCO Halifax. The Pope Francis quote is one of our all-time favorites, and something we want students on campus to read and know about God and the Catholic Church! You can read more about what students here think of wearing the t-shirts in this recent article published in The Catholic Register! It was written by a Catholic journalism student studying here at Dalhousie!

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Every early November, CCO hosts a banquet for all the supporters of our missionaries called ‘Meet the Movement.’ It is an opportunity to honour those in the local Halifax area who are long-term financial supporters of CCO missionaries, as well as invite new people interested in hearing about the movement. The evening included a catered dinner at Dal, an address from Brett Powell (VP of CCO), and 3 students sharing their testimony of their discovery of God through CCO. Over 300 people were in attendance from the area! Here are some photos of students representing us that evening:

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Another special event during November included a guest lecture given by renowned philosophy professor from Boston College in the States – Dr. Peter Kreeft! Peter Kreeft is a celebrity within the Catholic world – author of over 67 books, articles, and lectures that help lead people to Christ. His talk was entitled: Is Jesus for Everyone? The New Evangelization in a Post-Modern World. Here’s a pic of all the CCO students that attended:

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Now for some wild landscape shots. The first are from sundown at Peggy’s Cove here in Halifax:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOne weekend in November I took a trip to Wolfville with friends from Acadia University, an hour outside of Halifax, to visit this beautiful beach during low tide:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnd another weekend, also road tripped to Antigonish to visit friends at St Francis Xavier University, where we woke up to see the sunrise over Cape George:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe drove a couple more hours to visit the scenic and world-famous Cabot Trail in Cape Breton!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnd couldn’t resist dipping our feet in the ice-cold ocean, in the middle of November!

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1451420_10152002348705081_1628103602_nVoila! Those are some of my adventures thus far! It has indeed been A LOT of fun, and I am tremendously blessed to be able to experience the East Coast in this way! I love sharing the Beauty I experience through nature, hopefully you were refreshed by what you saw.

“For from the greatness and the beauty of created things their original author, by analogy, is seen.”

– Wisdom 13: 5

25 Years of Proclaiming Jesus

We know our updates have been few and far between, but here is another reflection! October 18th marks the anniversary of CCO’s foundation – and this year is our silver jubilee! The following is from Carissa:

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Last Friday, CCO celebrated its 25th anniversary: 25 years of proclaiming Jesus, clearly and simply, in the hope that His Love would impel us to share our faith. Given that CCO started at the University of Saskatchewan, it was only fitting that the President’s Leadership Cabinet (PLC) flew all the way from Ottawa to celebrate the anniversary in Saskatoon. We had an incredible dinner and program at the Sheraton Cavalier downtown, with over 300 people in attendance. The night was full of beautiful speeches and testimonies from alumni and supporters who were involved with the movement from the very beginning. It was amazing to see the history of CCO unfold before my very eyes: to see how God has worked from 1988 to the present. It was especially surreal for me as I was sitting with many current undergraduate students from University of Saskatchewan, a sign that CCO is still continuously bringing back students to the fullness of the faith.

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I wonder if Andre and Angele knew back then of the influence and impact that CCO would have across Canada. They may have had ‘great expectations’ for it, but I doubt they really understood or even dreamed of how many lives would come back to Christ because of their simple “yes”. Our yes’s are a powerful thing- and I don’t think we realize they are. But essentially, it is all God asks of us. He needs our yes in order for Him to work in our lives.

It can be so easy to get discouraged from not seeing the fruits of our yes’s. But how wonderful it is that we don’t get to see these fruits! For we know God is keeping our hearts humble and within Him. A colleague shared with me that, “God sometimes refrains from showing us the fruits of our labour in order to keep us holy, humble and keep our gaze on Him”. The moment we take our gaze off of Him, we find that our pride, our fears, and our insecurities seep in and take over. How true is this with Peter walking on water, only sinking when he lost sight of Jesus? Sometimes, Jesus is just asking us to say yes to a small or big thing; we might not even know how small or big. But these yes’s are like little seeds of faith we hope to plant through our actions. Sometimes, we may even be privileged to see these seeds of faith flower and bloom in a person’s life. But the fact of the matter is that we just need to trust in Him. We need to trust that He is creating and stirring a new work in each person who is open to Him.

May we be encouraged to continue giving Him what we can: our yes. A yes can be to lead a faith study, a yes to start a series of faith studies that can lead to a movement, a yes as simple and powerful as our Mother Mary’s. Don’t underestimate the power of a yes, and trust that He will take care of that yes.

 … You must never doubt that you are really an apostle, if you love, and only because you love. Jesus can hide it from you in order to increase the merit of your faith, but never doubt it. Thank Him everyday for the souls which you save, without knowing it by your acts of love…Know how to unite yourself with the miracles He works in you continually, even when you do not realize and are not aware of it.

– Father Jean C.J. d’Elbee, I Believe in Love

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A Day in the Life

So the main reason we (Carissa and I) created this blog was to let our friends, family, and supporters back home know what we were up to as CCO Missionaries! I know we haven’t posted much in that regard, so this is me doing that.

Expectations Versus Reality

My biggest challenge in being here is things not being like I thought they would be. One of those classic “expectations does not reflect reality” situations, and learning to adjust and cope with what IS has been difficult. It’s especially challenging because I like things to be “right” and good, and perfect… and when they aren’t, it’s incredibly frustrating! But this has been good, because it has forced me to really question myself and question God; testing my trust in Him and His plan! It has forced me to take my frustrations to prayer and to my teammates, and above all to receive from God not what I think I need or what I think is best, but actually what IS best – in His eyes.

When I look back on my prayer journal for the past 3 weeks, I see all of my frustrations, but at the same time, a Scripture passage from that day’s readings that perfectly spoke to what I was wrestling with. And reflecting on the past month that I’ve been here, I can’t help but think how GOOD God has been to me, through the people I have met and become friends with, the team I have been blessed to work with, and the city I get to call home!

Fall Retreat

This difference in my expectations and reality has most recently been true through my experience at our Fall Retreat. CCO hosts an annual Fall Retreat in September for university students aged 18-25, and in Halifax it is held at a beautiful  site called Bayside Camp, set in cabins on this gorgeous lake.

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Over 80 students attended the Retreat from many different universities in the area: Dalhousie, Saint Mary’s, St FX, UPEI, Acadia, Mount St Vincent, St John, as well as groups of young adults from different communities. The purpose of the retreat was to provide an opportunity for students to make a conscious decision to begin a relationship with God.

On Saturday evening of the retreat, we had a time of Adoration before Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament – and it was here where students could act on their decision to let Christ into their lives. Rather then merely a feeling or emotional experience, students were invited to come to the altar to sign their name and date on a large sheet of paper, and make their commitment known to God by putting it in writing before Him.  For the briefest of moments the thought crossed my mind: “What if no one is ready or willing yet to say yes to God?”

But soon it happened – in the most UNEXPECTED ways and the most unexpected people.  Never have I been to a more incredible Adoration than this tiny one at Bayside Camp at the Halifax Fall Retreat – so small, so unassuming, and so unexpected. The invitation to make a decision to enter into a relationship with God was direct and explicit. There was no ambiguity as to what it meant or why a relationship needed to be chosen.  All that was left was for students to freely make that choice, which can be done at any point in our lives. So on September 28th, 2013, I witnessed so many young people around me signing their names down, telling Jesus that they were ready and willing, and wanting to begin a relationship with Him! I saw guys and girls – some with tears streaming down their faces – courageously and joyfully telling God that they wanted Him in their lives! Each time another person went up to the altar, those who had previously signed their names  remained up there, consoling and congratulating and rejoicing with them at the start of their relationship with Christ! I had NO idea that our time of Adoration would be abounding with that much love! To SEE it was insane. I had so much excitement and joy inside of me that I didn’t know what to do with myself – crying, laughing, you name it.

As I looked back and forth between the Eucharist and the faces of those who were making a decision for Christ, there was an instant where I knew that Christ was asking me how I could have ever doubted Him – doubted that His invitation to be at the centre of our lives would remain unanswered.  I didn’t even know I was doubting Him, but after that thought I realized the disposition of my heart for the past while had been one of skepticism and discouragement rather than hope and expectation.

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I can’t believe I ever doubted Christ would act – of course He would. Over that weekend, I witnessed students making a decision for God, saw in writing that they knew what they were choosing, and heard them express it through our group sharing and conversations afterward.  As people were signing their decisions, I reflected on Pope Benedict’s words about opening wide the doors to Christ:

If we let Christ into our lives, we lose nothing, nothing, absolutely nothing of what makes life free, beautiful and great. No! Only in this friendship are the doors of life open wide. Only is this friendship is the great potential of human existence truly revealed …. do not be afraid of Christ! He takes nothing away and he gives you everything. When we give ourselves to him, we receive a hundredfold in return. Yes, open, open wide the doors to Christ – and you will find true life.

In opening wide the doors to Christ, we will find true life. Life is beautiful. It is GOOD to be alive.  Thank you, Jesus, for this weekend!

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This was what I had written in my prayer journal the morning of that Saturday before Adoration:

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  And why wouldn’t we be?

Why Being a University Student is the Best

As a CCO Missionary, I have a specific call to reach out to university students – young adults aged 18-25 (mainly). 

I think this is one of the most precious callings – precious in the sense of just how much of an impact can be made on someone at that age, and how much of an impact THEY can make in turn on the world. To work with this age group is one of the main reasons I wanted to dedicate a year of my life. Let me explain.

University Students

The future leaders of this country will come through every class of university students. By being on a university campus, we have the opportunity of DIRECT ACCESS to those future leaders! Guided and led by the Holy Spirit, we have the power to influence the next generation – young people who will go on to become our society’s future doctors, nurses, teachers, lawyers, businessmen, and most important of all, future parents. 

Think about how young you are when entering university: for most of us, it’s 18. 18 years old. We are so young – fresh out of the cliques of high school, and so ready to meet new people, begin new experiences, join new clubs, and discover what’s “out there” in the world. University is a time of really branching out of your comfort zone, sitting in lecture halls of 600+ other students, learning ridiculous concepts in chemistry, calculus, literature, theatre, history, gender studies – you name it. Young adults go nuts in university. I know you’ve seen this.

So what’s so special about this age group? 

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These students are going to (eventually) grow up… and even if we never grow up, we will be adults one day, who will most likely get married and then have children. The significance of marriage and the family is unbelievably undermined in our society today. But the difference in family life among those who genuinely practise their Catholic faith and those who do not is immense  – and it leaves an enormous dent in our society. Let these words of our newest Pope sink in:

“The family [is] the foundation of coexistence and a remedy against social fragmentation.” [1]

What was that? The family is the FOUNDATION of our coexistence as a species, and a remedy against social fragmentation. WOW!

But now think of this in the context of our Catholic faith – “How precious is the family as the privileged place for transmitting the faith!” Why do you think our Canadian society needs to be re-evangelized? Why am I doing this work on our university campuses? Because children are growing up not knowing the faith from their parents- not being taught it in their homes, not being taken to church as kids, not even being baptized. Parents are the primary evangelists. The family is THE first classroom for the faith, for everything. But even those of us who are raised as practising Catholics, we still don’t know Jesus personally, from our experiences in Catholic schools or parishes … but that’s another story.  Hear again the Pope’s words:

“Not only would I say that the family is important for the evangelization of the new world. The family is important, and it is necessary for the survival of humanity. Without the family, the cultural survival of the human race would be at risk. The family, whether we like it or not, is the foundation.

Can we all just take a moment to shake our heads in disbelief – imagine if everyone realized this?!!! 

“It is very important to reaffirm the family, which remains the essential cell of society and the Church.”

I think that the best way to reaffirm the family, as we ought to do, is through young people. Through young people who, 99% of them, WILL BE future parents. Our future families. And this would also strengthen our CURRENT families, the cells of society, if young people realize the importance of their brothers and sisters and parents. And grandparents! “How important grandparents are for family life, for passing on the human and religious heritage which is so essential for each and every society! How important it is to have intergenerational exchanges and dialogues, especially within the context of the family.”

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Young people are to be seen as leading characters in the renewal of the world. Young people “are the face of the Church’s future.” The Pope writes that women, especially, “play a fundamental role in passing on the faith” and “are a daily source of strength in a society that carries this faith forward and renews it.”

As a university student, you have SUCH a great opportunity. I wish I was 21 and in school forever, because YOU CAN REACH OUT TO SO MANY PEOPLE. You have such ACCESS to people’s lives through friendships – your classmates, co-workers, club members, teammates, roommates, rez friends, lab partners, group members, the connections are limitless. With this opportunity, you actually have a tremendous responsibility, to be good stewards of the relationships you have with people. To point them to Christ. You are the aroma of Christ!

I want to help build up students so that when they graduate, they can go out into the world, workplace, parish, family, and continue to spread the faith – to be missionary

I want to challenge you to more depth – to Catholicism in all of its glory. I want you, too, to be committed to the renewal of the world. 

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Ready to begin?

If you’re oh-so-lucky to be in university, then check out these opportunities to be a part of changing the world:

Rise Up: CCO’s Annual National Conference

 &

 CCO’s Summer 2014 Missions

[1] All Pope Francis quotes on the family found here