Thursday, November 30, 2006

How Civilized are We?


During the first week of Advent, I attended the mission being held at our chapel. A mission is short series of talks (in this case three evenings) usually held by a visitor to the church, designed to inspire or catechise those present.

The visiting priest spoke on "Journeying" over the course of his three talks. I was able to attend only the 2nd talk, which was on Peter, the apostle.

The talk was very good. The point was that God loved Peter. Indeed, He started his Church on Peter. If we read scripture, we see that Peter had some rather noteable weaknesses or sins.

As we know we are all sinners, it should be very comforting to us to know that God loves us even when we sin. Without sin and reconciliation, we would not be able to experience God's forgiveness and mercy.

Many people grow closer to God when they are struggling against sin in their lives.

The talk swung a bit into the realm of impetuousness. Peter acted quickly and cut off the ear of a soldier.

Someone brought up the genocide in Rwanda...countrymen rising up against each other and killing many of them.

We speculated that many can act in very sinful ways when they find themselves under some sort of pressure.

Something occurred to me very strongly at this point.

We spent several weeks last year in Bosnia. This country is in central Europe, yet just a few years ago, its people were killing each other. Neighbour was rising up against neighbour. Where we were wasn't even a war zone!

I don't think we realize just how close any one of us is to participating in an atrocity of this sort. The veneer of civilization is very thin. If we scratch it just a bit, anywhere, we find human nature can be very cruel.

In the Balkans, many were killed or displaced due to religious differences. In Bosnia, Serbian Orthodox rose up against Catholics and Muslims. In what is now Croatia, Catholics rose up against the Orthodox.

This area is one of the oldest bastions of Christianity in the world! Yet the peaceful message of Christianity was dismissed so quickly and by so many when the opportunity arose.

In Rwanda, one ethnic group rose up against another, resulting in many deaths.

One common link here is that both of these areas had been ruled by another party. In the Balkans, it was Tito's regime that kept the lid on age old tensions. In Rwanda, the Belgians had colonized and used one group of natives to rule the other, resulting in rivalry.

Once the 'foreign' rule was gone, suppressed tensions rose quickly.

I did not care to take it up with the assembled group, but I remembered the "FLQ Crisis" in Canada in 1970. I"m not sure if it applies in quite the same way, but I'll speculate.

In 1970, the FLQ (Federation de Liberation de Quebec), a terrorist group, kidnapped and killed James Cross. They were trying to somehow gain Quebec's "freedom" from the rest of Canada.

The Prime Minister at the time, Pierre Trudeau, acted decisively and imposed the War Measures Act, which meant that the entire country was plunged into a situation where civil rights were restricted as they might be in a time of war.

I was a small child at the time, and living almost entirely across the country from where the action was, but I remember feeling afraid. My father, a member of the RCMP, Canada's national police force, was gone from home (battle readiness I suppose). I remember commenting to my mother some time later that they news kept talking about this situation long after the crisis subsided. She, correctly, told me that we would be talking about it for years to come.

In Quebec, the Church and the provincial government had made a sort of arrangement which, according to citizens of the province many years later, worked toward giving more advantages to the English citizens of the province than to the Francophone majority.

After the death of Premier Duplessis, this arrangement fell apart. The FLQ arose apparently to shake off the yoke imposed by either English Canada, or by the Catholic Church.

Soon, a separatist government surfaced in Quebec. The practice of Catholicism plummeted.

A couple of years ago, I was talking with my mother on the phone. She lives in the West. We are in Ontario. She made a comment about the 'big French families'. I had to break the news to her that those families were rare now. She was shocked. In fact, the birth rate in Quebec is lower than the already low rate for the rest of Canada. Large families have traditionally been synonymous with the practice of Catholicism.

Quebec no longer has Catholic schools. According to a Quebecois chaplain I knew, everyone in Quebec was baptised, but any formation after that was unusual. Baptism is as much a cultural practice there as it is in the rest of the country. Any connection to the Catholic faith is incidental.

I guess my point in all this is to caution against the Church becoming associated with any ruling party. I believe that the Church should speak out strongly against its members who participate in evil practices, in order to avoid the appearance of collusion on the part of the Church.

Human beings are weak, as was Peter. We can get caught up in emotions and practices that are evil very easily when we do not have strong leadership...and sometimes even WITH strong leadership. We need strong leadership from our Church to help us preserve the veneer of civility when so much around us may be drawing us into places we should not go.

God Bless

Friday, November 24, 2006

A life of consequence

Wow. November is nearly done and soon we will re-enter the season of Advent. Time seems to be flying so fast this year!

Last weekend, my husband, two daughters and little son attended a local hockey game. We haven't been to one in several years, so it was a treat!

My youngest daughter, who has a sense of style that is all her own, was decked out in a pink jacket and very fuzzy pink mittens. She did look rather sharp.

As we were waiting in line to have our hands stamped, we passed a man with Down's Syndrome. Where we live, this is not at all unusual as there are good facilities for assisted living in this area.

What was unusual was that he quickly whipped his arm around my daughter's shoulders, said something about the colour pink, and gave her a kiss on the cheek! She was rather tickled.

As I passed behind her, this fellow gave me a light punch on the arm and told me my daughter was special. I told him I agreed and said he was special, too. He told me he knew that!

As we watched the game, we noticed this fellow and a friend of his, also with Down's Syndrome, enjoying the game thoroughly and dancing to the music played when the game halted for some reason. I realized I remembered this pair from games several years back. Their joy in life was so clear.

I have always been familiar with people living with Down's Syndrome. My mother's step-sister, who is about 8 years older than I am has Down's. I have always been familiar with it. It does not bother me in the least.

My aunt has lived nearly her whole life with my grandmother. In recent years, she has taken residence with a sister, while my grandmother resides in a seniors' home. She is now in her 90s and wisely considered that my aunt should learn to live with someone else before her own death.

As people with Down's go, I gather my aunt is very highly functioning. She taught herself parts of several languages, drew quite well, played music, had a sense of humour (which could be rather harsh on those who displeased her in some way!)and learned to cook simply by observing her mother who did not think her capable of doing the task.

My younger children do not know my aunt, as they have lived their entire lives 1000 miles away from her, but when my older children were small, my aunt was very attentive to them.

She has been such a blessing to my grandmother. She has given many people pause with her witty observations coming from an obviously 'challenged' body.

As she is now, I think, over 50 years of age, she has reached a good age for someone with her disability. Her health is good though, and she doesn't have the common ailments of others with her characteristics. If she is like her female forbears, she will live a long time yet.

I find it so amazing that some would not have allowed her to be born.

When my grandmother gave birth to her, she chose my aunts names so that her initials were 'JEM'...a jewel.

A friend of mine has a young daughter with Down's. My friend was not of advanced age when she had this child, so it was unexpected. Not knowing that Down's children often are lacking the reflex to nurse, my friend happily breastfed her, giving her the very best thing the baby would need.

My friend attempted to network with other parents of such children, but was very upset to see that these other families stopped having children after they gave birth to their 'jem'. My friend believes strongly that all children are a gift from God. She has gone on to be very gifted and now has three children younger than her jem of a daughter!

I think we really do not know what we do when we start practicing the sort of eugenics that would not allow these, or other children with challenges, to have life.

God help us!

Thursday, November 16, 2006


Happy Thursday

I think I have experienced a miracle this week.

As I've mentioned before, I am involved in liturgy preparation at my parish.

Lately, we've had a 'personnel change', for lack of a better term, at the parish. Along with this, and not too surprisingly, some changes occurred in liturgical practice.

Unfortunately, these were changes that brought us further away from liturgical norms, rather than closer...and closer is where we've been heading for the past 5 years or so.

This is distressing to those of us who are interested in good liturgical practice (which I will readily admit is not the majority of the congregation...but the Church has never been a democracy. My feeling is that the congregation should at least know what good liturgy IS...before they decide whether they like it or not!)

I had a disheartening occurrance, when a priest I looked forward to working with, and who is very interested in good liturgy, got moved away.

My liturgy team had some good people, but not all were willing to be educated about 'best practices', and of course these did not come already trained!

I faced my first meeting flying 'solo' with great trepidation. So, I started a Novena.

A Novena is a prayer, or set of prayers, usually said over the course of nine days. At times these may be said over a multiple of nine days, or done over nine hours (called a power novena). The word 'novena' comes from the Latin word for nine. It is based on the Apostles praying for nine days in the Upper Room.

Novenas are usually directed to one member of the Trinity, or the Blessed Mother, or to a particular member of the Heavenly Host, ie. A Saint.

I made my novena, in this case, to the Holy Spirit. I made up the prayers myself, although there are several ready-made novenas to the HS. My novena, as it turned out, would end on the day of my meeting.

Well, the Sunday before the meeting, one of the team members told me she didn't really want to be doing what she was doing. This surprised me a bit, but I said we'd find someone else then. On Monday, a friend came over to visit and in the course of chatting, expressed interest in the ministry newly without a leader. Hmmm. She didn't know anything about the situation. I asked her if she'd like to lead it. She said she would.

This effectively gives me a team which is VERY interested in liturgy and willing to learn. Our 'bosses' have not changed, but I think as a unified voice for the Church's teaching, my team might be strong and effective.

So, on the last day of the Novena, Tuesday, I went into the meeting confident. The other members accepted the new person. They all know her and most have worked with her before, quite successfully. This meeting, as it turned out, was also without a rep from the chaplains, who all happened to be at a conference. So we had a chance to talk and get some things in the open. It was a great meeting.

Things looked brighter than they have since our priest left. News from his new location tells us that he is greatly needed there. God knows what he's up to!

I would like to mention that other novenas I've prayed have brought rather dramatic results. I've prayed to St. Joseph, patron of husbands and fathers. I say a novena beginning or ending on the ordination dates of priest friends I have. This is addressed to St. John (Jean) Vianney, the patron saint of confessors (priests).

I do this to support the ministry of these priests. I've discovered that many priests have their ordination dates in May!

I have said a novena to this saint on my own behalf and have suddenly become aware of areas of sin in my life. He is, after all, the patron saint of confessors, which is who we confess our sins to!

This is a rather old-fashioned devotion in the eyes of some, but I recommend taking a look at it.

God Bless


Wednesday, November 08, 2006



Yesterday, I taught a baptism preparation class. Not a new thing for me.

My 'method' is to give a short course in Catholic parenting. Most of the couples I see are not regular churchgoers. Many are not sacramentally married.

Yesterday afternoon, I was washing the dishes in the kitchen. At my feet, I saw a shred of an advertizer my 2yo had destroyed.

There was an ad for clothing. I saw the last part of the word "sacrifice" on the paper. I had to think for a minute what the word sacrifice had to do with sweaters. I realized it must have been an ad exhorting the reader that they didn't have to sacrifice quality for price, or something like that.

I initially thought that this was a mis-use of the word. But given how the word is often used today, it's not such a bad usage.

But we've wandered away from the original meaning of the word.

In my talk to the young parents, I emphasize to them that their children are part of God's plan to get them into heaven. Children cause parents to see outside themselves. As I thought of this yesterday, I realized I could say that parents make 'sacrifices' for their children. Beautiful tie-in...

The word sacrifice comes from two latin words. the 'fice' part comes from the latin word 'to make'. The 'sacri' part comes from the latin word for 'holy'.

Sacrifice means to make holy. Wow! So it makes sense that parents make 'sacrifices' for their children. What they are giving up is being made holy, just as the parent is being made holy by doing the giving!

We Catholics also use the word sacrifice when we talk of the "Holy Sacrifice of the Mass".

Modernists (a friend calls them the liberazzi)don't like this word, as it calls up images of the crucifixion of Christ which aren't pretty. The Mass is called a meal, by these people.

Certainly, the Mass is, in part, the sharing of the meal: the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus, as He commanded in the Gospel of John. But the Mass is also celebrating the sacrifice Jesus made for us, to enable us to go to Heaven. At Mass, the meal is made holy, and indeed WE are being made holy.

I wonder just how we got to the meaning of simply "giving up" for the word sacrifice.

May we all, in some way, share in Christ's sacrifice today!

God Bless.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Saints and Souls

Hello again!

This past week saw the Church celebrate two very important dates on its calendar: All Saints' Day and All Souls' Day.

All Saints', the original reason for Halloween which was once called All Hallows (Saints') Eve, is the day in which the Saints, known and unknown are celebrated. That includes all those who are still working out their salvation...the Church Militant...which would be you and me.

We are all called to perfection in Christ. We are called to be holy. In other words, we are called to be saints!

While the Church has never and will never say that any person is in Hell, they do, from time to time, declare that a certain person is in Heaven. These are the Canonized saints whose names may be used in the canon of the Mass. In truth, anyone who makes it to heaven is a saint, whether canonized or not. There are countless saints known only to God.

All Souls' Day is the day in which we remember and pray for the dead. Some of those dead will have gone to Heaven. Some will still be having the rough edges worked off in Purgatory. For those in Purgatory, we offer prayer which we hope will shorten their stay there. Those prayers may also shorten OUR stay there!

One need never fear praying for a person who may actually be in Hell. A person in Hell will not be helped by prayer. Their destiny is already set. Any prayers directed that way will be used to help someone who still has hope of Heaven.

Our churches often have a Book of the Dead available for the month of November so people can write in it the names of their deceased loved ones. These dead are remembered at Masses throughout November.

I will not get into a discussion here on "Last Things" which are our destinies of Heaven or Hell. Nor will I enter into an apology of Purgatory. Many have gone before me who have done a fine job of that. Maybe I'll tackle it another day.

Happy Sunday!

Saturday, November 04, 2006

I'm back...

Yesterday, I finally had a chance to present my Catholic books to the local Catholic teachers. I have been trying for four years to become a vendor. Others have been trying to help, but I finally got in this year. I am thankful.

It was an interesting day. I got to see, in passing at least, most of the teachers, educational assistants, principals and other employees of the Catholic school board.

There is an area within the board boundaries which is known for its "conservative" approach to the Catholic faith. Some people would just say that these people are faithful to the teaching of the Magisterium of the Roman Church. I suspect this to be true. I could almost tell who these people were by their dress. I could also tell by some of their book choices!

I noticed, of course, that many of the teachers did not come near my table, and I was the only book vendor. Some teachers would likely be near retirement and would feel no need to add to their collections. But I wonder at some of the young teachers...

As it turned out, the line up for lunch wound right in front of my table. Some spent the time they were 'captive' browsing. Some had actually done the 'Judas Shuffle', a phrase which I believe Scott Hahn coined to describe people who left Mass immediately after receiving Holy Communion, instead of waiting for Mass to end. By leaving early, these people beat the line up for lunch. But they missed the end of the "Lamb's Supper", the Eucharist. Hmmm.

I also heard comments as people browsed the books. Some looked at the books on morality with a sneer, or they picked up a book, glanced at it and tossed it down dismissively. This seemed to be particularly evident with the "Love and Life" books by Colleen Kelly-Mast. I only heard one group of teachers all day which considered buying any of the morality or Theology of the Body related books. Of course these books would be at odds with the prevailing societal attitudes on the subject. It would also be a very different approach to the subject than is given in the books published by the Canadian College of Catholic Bishops, who have given us wonderful documents like the notorious "Winnipeg Statement"

It would, sadly, also be at odds with the lifestyles many of these people have. A few years ago when I worked in several schools as an emergency supply teacher, I was quite appalled at some of the conversations that took place in the staff rooms. Teachers were pregnant out of wedlock, or co-habiting without benefit of marriage. I wonder how it is that these teachers can pass on the life-giving Truth our faith holds, when they don't know it themselves.

There were some bright lights though. One teacher, who has known our older children, congratulated me for considering homeschooling our youngest one from the very beginning of his schooling. He also seemed glad to hear that our middle daughter was at home...and this man teaches at the Catholic High School! His own children are homeschooled.

The most involved book conversation I had all day was with a woman who was looking for some sort of devotional herself. We spoke about the varied writing styles of JP II and Pope Benedict XVI. She bought a book which some would consider rather heavy, but which contained some writings of Sts. Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross, St. Francis de Sales and Thomas a Kempis. Another teacher dashed up to me later in the afternoon and asked me, completely out of the blue, when Mary's birthday was! I think I was settling an argument.

By the way, the birthdate of the Blessed Virgin is on September 8, given that the Feast of the Immaculate Conception is on December 8.

I am very glad to have had the opportunity to be at this event, which is held annually. I look forward to next year, when I will bring a bigger float, some different books, and, hopefully, a credit card system that works.

I also hope that perhaps something I sell will help someone to take a second look at Church teachings he or she finds difficult to live by.

God Bless!