Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas, Happy Chanukah and Eid Mubarak. No Happy Holidays, please

The news recently contained reports of a poll showing that Canadians overwhelmingly (73%) prefer the greeting 'Merry Christmas' over 'Happy Holidays.' Canadians endorsed the notion that Merry Christmas conveys the "original meaning and purpose of the holiday" in this country.

On Dec 24 the Toronto Star devoted its Insight section primarily to discussions of the Christmas feast. It also ran an Editorial which concluded: "For a supposed war, it's been a remarkably unsuccessful campaign..... But Christmas - the season of giving and sharing - is still wonderfully inescapable. The anti-Christmas movement, if it even exists, has failed miserably over the past two millennia, and for good reason. Life and hope in the midst of darkness are eternal and for everyone. That's what we prepare to celebrate as the light ever so gradually returns to the world."

As if that weren't enough, the Letters to the Editor were simply wonderful. One from a teacher in the Toronto public school board, who is tired of the pressure to avoid any words referring to the religious aspects of Christmas. One from a Jew who 'detests' the phrase Happy Holidays, and whose faith is strong enough "that it does not need to be affirmed by diminishing the traditions of others." One from a Muslim who notes he would dislike it very much if anyone said Happy Holidays to him instead of Eid Mubarak. He concludes, "I would like to wish all my Christian brothers and sisters a warm and very Merry Christmas."

I don't know about you, but this made my Christmas. I have sent the following letter to the Star:

Thank you to the Star for the Insight section on December 24. So wonderful to see Christmas surviving the attempts to turn ‘Merry Christmas’ into ‘Happy Holidays’. A big shout out to letter writers Joanne Clarke, Tayyab Pirzadan Jason Shron and others, for their energetic support of Christmas including when that support comes from a Muslim and a Jew. I have noticed for several years that the opposition to Christmas actually does not come from Muslims and Jews but rather from people who simply don’t like the religious foundation of Christmas. What the discussion has done for me is to increase my respect for Chanukah and Eid. Eid has passed and Chanukah ends on Dec 28. A belated Eid Mubarak and a Happy Chanukah to our Muslim and Jewish brothers and sisters, respectively. Thank you for the great respect you have shown for Christmas.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Foster parenting

I have been involved in consulting work with Children's Aid Societies all my professional life. I have assessed children who needed to be in the Care of the Society, and I have assessed children while they were in Care. I have seen up close the effects of neglect and abuse. I have also been privileged to see the effects of foster parenting, and to be involved in training and coaching of foster parents. To see children blossom when they become safe, when they learn to trust that they matter and will be taken care, is one of life's great experiences. It is that for the foster parents as well, I think, even though it can be tough going at times. Children do not give away their hearts readily when those hearts have not been cared for as they needed to be.

Recently the Kingston Children's Aid Society launched a recruitment drive for foster parents, and they added a unique twist. They made a targeted approach to the faith communities in Kingston. This strikes me as a very smart thing to do. Being a church-goer absolutely does not by itself give you the skills to be a foster parent, but it does hopefully say something about the softness and the openness you would bring to this very important role. Add in the training and the potential for success looks very good.

As you can see, I support the campaign.

A meeting with faith community representatives was held on October 13, and there was sharing of experiences as well as generation of ideas how to get the word out to parishioners/ members of congregations. If you live in the Kingston area and wish to be part of this, let me know and I will put you in touch with the appropriate staff.

Whether you live in Kingston or anywhere else, the need for foster parents is significant. What about you? Want to make a difference in a child's life? This is an up-close way to do it. You would get screened, you go through training, and you get paid for the work. Call your local Children's Aid Society to check it out. In Kingston it is 613-542-7351.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Banishing (the) Christmas (concert)!!

Can you believe the move by Cambridge Public School in Embrum Ontario "to push the (Christmas) concert to February and make it more inclusive, so some students who do not celebrate Christmas would not be left out of the concert"? (CBC News) And the Upper Canada District School Board apparently supports that.

My goodness. Let's cancel lunch so that the kids who don't like to eat at that time of day won't feel - wait for it - left out. Let's cancel recess for the developmental kids who have difficulty socializing. Absurd and absurd and absurd.

Meanwhile over in Quebec a really bright Federal civil servant issues an order to "banish tinsel, trees and holiday wreaths from front-line Service Canada offices across Quebec..." (Globe and Mail) That order was reversed after it was "ridiculed on Twitter, derided on open-line shows, and criticized by the very religious minorities whose sensibilities the government was ostensibly trying to protect."

As always, if you scratch a bit below the surface you will find that Muslims and Jews respect Christmas. They find it funny that Christians would fold over so easily. They do not expect Christians to do that as a matter of respect, they only want to be able to honour their own holidays and have Christians respect those. Interesting. We have a long history of just that in Canada. Events have for many years been rerouted around Jewish holidays, for instance. Rightly, no-one has asked them to forgo the celebrations or to move them. We can build on that, let's do it.

It says here that another force is behind all this. Not religious minorities, not even misguided politically correct folks. Rather, former Christians and current Church-bashers who have come to despise the role that religion but especially Christian religion plays in the public life of Canada. A great opportunity for them to push their agenda and hide behind 'sensitivity' to minorities. That form of sensitivity is increasingly seen as palpable nonsense. Get honest you folks. Religious minorities will talk to the larger community about accommodating all our religious celebrations without stopping any of them. So quit pushing the anti-religious agenda. We want religious freedom, we can achieve it, our country was built on that premise. And our country will remain strong as we continue to build on it.

Banishing (the) Christmas (Concert)!!

Can you believe the pathetic - I use the term advisedly - pathetic move

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The old new translation of the Mass

The Toronto Star has been following the introduction of the new translation, and on Nov 29, 2011, ran an editorial about it. It was mostly respectful, though they were a bit bemused by it all. One thing caught my eye, the notion that people over 60 would probably take to it 'like a duck to water'. The assumption appears to be that if you are older, you will be familiar with it and like it. They forget that what we older folks had was Latin in the actual Mass. Anyway, I sent the following letter to the Editor:

"The revised wording of the Catholic Mass is certainly getting mixed reviews, as you pointed out. But what made you think that we in the 60-plus range would take to it ‘like ducks to water’? We are old enough to appreciate the ‘dynamic equivalence’ principle that was used after Vatican II in the 1960’s, to give us a language that sounded at all like the one we use everyday. The new translation is not new. It is essentially the one that ran side by side with the Latin in our old prayer books. It was there so we would know what the Latin was saying. But it was clunky then and it is clunky now.

Faithfulness to the ‘original Latin’ is the principle that has now moved us backward, and so a great opportunity has been missed to fine tune the post-Vatican II translation and make the liturgy even more warm and inviting. By the way, the original language of the Mass was not Latin but Greek. The Latin itself is a third-century translation (Catholic Encyclopedia). It would seem that those who led the charge on this change are not the 60-plus group but rather those who always thought Vatican II was wrong in moving from the Latin, and who have lived long enough to take it back a bit. That said, we’ll be ok, because the Mass remains a beautiful prayer in any language."

We will get used to it at some level, and yes the Mass remains beautiful. My own sentiment is that they went in the wrong direction here. Just saying.

Monday, October 24, 2011

From the real orchard again: retreat time

Day 1 - The car pulls in to the property, in the dark and the rain. No matter, the atmosphere of this place is unmistakable. I am sure even the car knows it. Quiet. The trees again acting as the welcoming committee. Up the long drive, stop in front of Loyola House, unload, then park for a week. The 40-day retreat known as the Spiritual Exercises has been underway for two weeks and so this is already sacred space. Many other people like me come and go, in shorter retreats of a week or less.

Settle in, and reflect on what I want from this retreat. Before I get too far into that, though, I open my journal notebook and write the date: October 15, 2011. I note that in the journal, Oct. 15, 2011 is the day after Oct. 21, 2010! It strikes me that the years actually feel that way at times. Only a page away. A whole year. A lot has happened. I have been involved in a great many activities, and I think how I do not feel worthy of this ministry thing - and yet the Lord has given me the gifts and support I need to do it. It is his work, and I am grateful.

Day 2 - I tell my director of the experience last night, and he leads me into a reflection on gratitude. He gives me Week IV of the Exercises to pray with. I have never had this to pray with on retreat. It has always been the material of the first weeks of the Exercises, the ones that ground us, re-orient us, to our relationship with Jesus, making the ‘election’ to follow him, to surrender to him. Week IV is gratitude. The notion is that in reflecting on what God has done for me, I turn to the relationship between God and me, and commit to giving back. This is way more than ‘thank you.’ It is a commitment to a way of living, a way of seeing life. It only makes sense, since gratitude to someone with whom you are in love does not just stand there. It moves, it embraces, it seeks to please, it .... well, it loves, with great affection. With God this means doing things differently now. Mostly it means staying in the relationship, because we are actually not all that good at doing things differently. We - I, anyhow - keep falling back on what is important to me only. The process will never end in our lifetime. We call it conversion, and it is a work in progress. What has changed for me is that I used to despair of not getting rid of things in my life. Now I see better to trust the relationship with God and what God will continue to do for me.

Day 3 - rain has let up, and I can walk the land. This is a 650-acre farm that used to have animals on it, but is now used for fruit and vegetable growing. There is a sense that, like the trees on the driveway, the hills sit here and remain both quiet and beautiful in their reflection of God’s creative power. And I marvel and am grateful. I suppose they are no different than any other hills, but in this context and in this quiet, they are able to proclaim in a manner that is something akin to giving a homily. They speak of God.

Day 6 - the week has been about gratitude, commitment, and prayer. New form of prayer for me - stillness. No words. God’s presence. Invite God in. A gifted week, surprises from the Lord as always. What helps make it so authentic is that what happens is so often by surprise. Never goes as I planned it. And so, home tomorrow, taking gently the experience of God’s presence in me. Anchored in that, and hopefully passing on the fruits of it.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Of wagging fingers and the personality of God

You will know from a couple of months ago that I have been waging a small battle with unnamed forces who would cast our God in the image of the Old Testament angry vengeful figure who wreaks havoc on citizens, on Kings and Queens, and on whole nations for their sinfulness.

To be sure that Old Testament language is powerful and compelling. It occurs over and over. We heard it when we (well, the slightly older generation, anyhow) were growing up, and we saw it in our art. Wow, was he - or she, no, always he - ever mad! Fire in the eyes. Lightning bolts in the hands. Meant to scare the bejabers out of us. And it did. And many people today love that stuff. Anger and fear, what great motivators, I guess.

Except they could not be more wrong when it comes to the God of Israel, the God of Jesus, the God of Peter, the God of the death and Resurrection. Are you ready? God loves Paul Bernardo. God loves Clifford Olsen. God loves, are you ready again? Adolf H.

"God is love, and the one who abides in love abides in God." (1 John 4:16)

There is the point. The one who does NOT abide in love - love for God, love for God's people - is in for such devastation, self-induced devastation especially in the form of loneliness, isolation, alienation, that we cry out for images to express it. The Old Testament image was of the angry warrior God. Served its purpose in a warrior culture. Needs to be brought into better perspective, a perspective given us by the Good News. Oh yes Jesus talks about people being thrown out into the darkness, imagery his contemporaries would have understood, but he told the parable of the Prodigal Son too. Fr. Eric Jensen says that all the parables of Jesus need to be seen through the lens of that one. And if you read that parable you see that it is the elder son who represents the angry personality, not the father.

"God is love....." The thing is, God holds us to our word if we turn away from him. No need for lightning bolts. We bring the devastation on ourselves. It is built in. But the love is not, repeat not, withdrawn. It is waiting in exactly the same way it was waiting for the prodigal son. But it will never be imposed.

So here is where I find an article in the Toronto Star on October 3, 2011, interesting. Rabbi Dow Marmur quotes writer David Brooks as saying that today's people are "more than ever led to believe that the free-floating individual is the essential moral unit." Great observation. Rabbi Marmur goes on to say " "We find it very difficult to see reality other than through the lens of our personal needs and aspirations. We want clergy to applaud, not castigate us. We distance ourselves from traditional religion when we perceive it to wag accusing fingers at us......... Morality was once revealed, inherited and shared, but now it's thought of as something that emerges in the privacy of your own heart. "

Beautifully put. What catches my imagination here is that this is today's 'violence' if you will, at the hands of God. Nobody will listen - nor should they - if you tell them that God burned down their house as punishment for their sins. But they should take notice of the wagging finger. It is the finger of the parent punching the air to make a point. It is the finger of the teacher raising the voice to get our attention. It is the wagging finger of - no, not punishment, anger or retribution. It is the wagging finger of someone who loves you so much that they want to get your attention and say, hey it's over here! I have Good News for you!

Monday, September 12, 2011

Hopeful signs in a cynical world

It has been an event filled summer, with the surgery mentioned earlier, and a little traveling. Hope everyone had a chance to rest and get re-energized going into the new year of school and work.

A couple of things struck me in this brief pause. Here they are.

Two areas get my attention the most as I relate to the world around me: the attacks on the Church and the attacks on the family. Related to the attacks is the plain deterioration in the numbers of people participating in either.

I hear people say that it is really important to just be a good person. Religion is not necessary for that. And so they stay away. I hear people attack the moral teachings of the Church, and support the attacks by referring to the scandals in the Church.

Similarly, the family unit is seen as a 'conservative' value now. People who truly live in the modern world are emancipated from constraints of marriage structure, and so just move in together. Heart-breaking it is to see children you know who have grown up in practicing Catholic/ Christian families so easily throwing over those values. What goes with them of course is stability for children in a family unit. Yes, some partnerships are stable. But the cultural ethos has shifted. It says here that the pragmatic, entitlement-based values that emerge, are in fact destructive for our society.

I don't think we need go around wearing black over all this. Indeed we need to be hopeful people if we believe and trust the Good News of Christ.

It surely helps to see signs of the hopefulness.

Over the summer, my faith was given a shot in the arm on August 15. You may know that this day is still a holy day of obligation in the US, since it is the feast of the Assumption of Our Lady. Well this year August 15 fell on a Monday. It had been made clear that Monday was not a day of obligation, because the Solemnity of the feast was celebrated at the Sunday liturgy. Wouldn't you take the day off on Monday? Well there we were at the noon Mass on our vacation in Guardian Angels Cathedral, on Monday August 15. I looked around, and said to my wife, 'Get a load of this!' The place was full! Thank you thank you to those people. I walked out of there very refreshed and renewed just on the participation I witnessed. Practice of the faith is alive and well.

Back home, we went to one of those great feast dinners at the Portuguese parish hall. We were there early enough to see the families streaming in from the parking lot. Dinner is served by parishioners, and we see people working who used to be little girls and boys at these events. Now they are contributing. Teenagers and older! While we are eating dinner, the next generation of little kids is on the dance floor - before the music has even begun. Then the music starts, and adults have to be patient - because the little kids are still there! As things settle in, you see little boys learning to dance by being carried in the arms of their mothers. Little girls dance in a group, they have it down already, and they can't stop moving!

And the thought occurs, ohmigosh, this is all about family! They have problems like everyone else, I have no doubt about that. But what these kids are getting is a template for what support is all about. What being loved is all about. I trust that the stability will maintain for them - and may that community never lose it. It is not only good for them, but I need it. I need to see it and be strengthened in hope that what is dismissed as so yesterday, is in fact life-saving and life-giving. Thank you thank you, Portuguese community.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Shouldice happenings!

It is a total mystery to me how you develop a hernia in your 60s. But you might, and I did.

I have known for years about the world-class reputation for hernia repair, of the Shouldice Hospital. I just never saw myself being in the position to test that reputation. There I was, though, on a Monday morning in May, attending the walk-in consultation clinic that they hold on a daily basis. The doctor confirmed that I had a hernia. However he said: "You have two."

I was admitted on July 17 and had my first surgery on July 18, the second on July 20. They do them under local anaesthetic, thus making the recovery a more rapid process, and making the second surgery possible in a short time. The interesting thing about being in a facility like this, is that the other 80 or so people are all there for the same purpose and so in a sense you know everyone before you even get there. Hernias appear to be a male phenomenon, primarily. There were only three female patients at the beginning of my week, and seven or eight at the end of the week.

One feels quite proud to have a facility like this in Canada, a feeling that is enhanced by the presence of Americans who make up approximately 1/3 of the patient population. Many people come to the Shouldice to have repairs done to earlier hernia surgery that has ultimately failed. The Shouldice success rate is close to 100%.

There were a lot of laughs and a good sense of camaraderie throughout the seven days of my stay. But what really caught my attention was how in a short time like this, the Lord kept revealing himself through other people. A casual remark about one's work, or a conversation about values all of a sudden leads to a sharing of faith experiences. I met a man who works in spiritual direction as I do. I met another who did not seem to have any particular faith, but who was very interested in Catholicism. Yet another was a daily Mass goer who works with the St. Vincent de Paul Society. The conversations I had with these and other individuals kept me anchored in awareness that the Lord was present and that I could safely hand over to him any anxiety I might have about the procedures I was undergoing. Meanwhile, my wife was discovering that her Bed and Breakfast hostess was getting ready to go to Mass at St. Joseph's Morrow Park. That is where my wife went to school. The ensuing conversations were similarly faith sharing experiences for her. We were both amazed at the ways the Lord finds to reassure us.

A final note about the local anaesthetic. You are given sedation prior to the surgery, and it turns out that in my case, I was even more dopey than my usual standard, later! My wife told me that she would show me the e-mails I sent her later on the day of my surgery, after she returned to the Bed and Breakfast. She said that her years of being an elementary school teacher came in handy as she read them. Here are a couple of examples. See if you can decipher them.

Bit rough. It hurts. I will do it again whenb you are. Only weentt down the hall. Ykes.

Just going to stand up for shtroll. The standing is the head part get a good sleep. Worst is over. And thank you.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

How do you like it served? Medium-scare, or warm and inviting?

I recently heard of a person giving a talk at an elementary school, and scaring the kids with stories of the devil and hell, etc.

In our day and age, you do not hear much of this kind of thing. Catechetics has moved to a more invitational, love-based approach to teachings about God and our relationship with God. Some people feel that this approach misses the mark. Today's kids not only do not know about sin, they say, they also do not know about their faith - meaning things like the four cardinal virtues, the three theological virtues, the seven deadly sins, and so on. The theory is that armed with such knowledge, we will be in better position to have a properly informed conscience, make better moral judgements, and so on. Throw in the terrors of hell, and you theoretically bump up the motivation to live a good life.

By contrast, the invitational approach says that Jesus brings Good News of salvation. Jesus above all wants people to know him, more than know about him. Jesus castigated the Pharisees over and over in the Gospel because they knew everything there was to know about the law and the traditions of Israel, yet were morally and spiritually bankrupt. Love one another as I have loved you, Jesus told his followers. Do not be like the Pharisees.

In the parable of the Prodigal Son, the elder son knew and kept the rules. The one thing he did not know was the only thing he really needed to know - he did not know his father. Neither did the younger son, initially. He sure does now. The elder son when last seen was still outside, mad and bitter.

There never will be an end to the debate, I suppose. I 'learned my faith' from the Baltimore Catechism, and many people of my generation would say that is the kind of forum in which our faith should be learned.

I have news for them. People of our generation learned our faith by going to Mass with our parents. By saying the Rosary at night. By going to wakes of people you might not have even known - and by taking food to the family of the deceased person. We learned to live the virtues, we learned to live our spirituality. We were brought to the point where our relationship with Jesus could take hold and become truly ours. That got lost in the discussions about what kind of catechism, we were or are using.

In the end, the invitational approach is not what has failed our children. Parents have failed our children. We are not going to Mass ourselves, and over and over what we see in parishes is the kids in effect bringing their parents to Church when it comes to sacramental preparation and sacramental participation.

As for our relationship with God, the invitational approach is the one. It certainly is what people hear at our parish, St. Paul the Apostle - all the way from the gathering area to the sanctuary to the ambo (pulpit). People come back because they love it. People participate because they sense the holy, not because they are frightened to death.

I scanned a picture out of the local newspaper recently. It is a springtime image of a mother duck swimming with her ducklings right behind her. Those ducklings simply 'know' they are safe. They will never need lectures on what they are supposed to do. They simply know who they ARE - to their mother. What do you think would happen if she started to chase them all over the pond or the field or the barnyard? They would scatter, that's what.

Our Church has chased its young, and they have scattered. Some of us older folks fall prey to the temptation to keep right on doing that - chasing. We are convinced they need to hear everything we want to tell them. Probably they do. But children will come to fear God after they love God - because they will never want to hurt their relationship with him.

Nobody every came to love another by being told scary stories about them.

We parents need to think this through. For our own practice of the faith. For the model we provide our children. And for what we will say about the catechetical program in our schools.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

A Plaintive Question

I was recently facilitating a little group that was dealing with a variety of topics in and around the Catholic faith. A person had a question about the sexual abuse scandal in the Church. At first I thought the question might be of the angry, attacking variety. But it wasn't. It was a plea, in a way. Please tell me if things are different. Will sexual abuse cases be handled differently now and in the future, or is the same old, same old, attitude of cover-up still around?

I sensed the emotional tone of the question. My answer included first-hand information to the effect that priests in our Archdiocese, and I am sure everywhere else certainly in North America, have been told in person at meetings that they have a legal obligation to report child abuse of any kind, to the Children's Aid Society. They do not call anyone for permission or authorization to do so. The Church has underscored and endorsed this obligation.

I added that in the same spirit, I at least suspect that the days of moving known abusers around, no matter what the motivation (eg, prevent public scandal, avoid embarrassment, etc, etc), are hopefully over. I believe they are.

Yesterday, I read an article in the National Catholic Reporter that adds to my hope. My hope not only that there is a process in place to handle 'cases', but more importantly in the long run, addressing the systemic issues. Being open to look at the question 'who have we become, that allowed this to take place?'

The article was written by Tom Roberts and is dated Apr 22, 2011. Mr Roberts is reporting on a conference he attended at Marquette University Law School, titled “Harm, Hope, and Healing: International Dialogue on the Clergy Sex Abuse Scandal.” Here are some excerpts:

Not much new surfaced in terms of content. The difference in this conference -- indeed, the something new -- could be seen in two elements: Bishops and priests were speaking in a way that one rarely hears them talk about sex abuse; and in their prepared remarks, many of the clerics dared to look at themselves and what we call, for lack of a term that accommodates more nuance, clerical culture..........

Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin, Ireland, whose speech -- by now widely circulated -- was the plain-spoken antidote to the worst of the clerical culture’s equivocations about the crisis.

His questions ranged to what might have been going on in seminaries that abetted a culture that accommodated abusers. He wants a priesthood reformed with candidates who display a high level of maturity regarding not only human sexuality “but in overall mature behavior and relationships.”

He is concerned by young priests who seem more interested in achieving “some form of personal security or status” than with service and by the signs “of renewed clericalism” among new priests. At a time when many think enhancing Catholic identity means a greater separation between clergy and laity, Martin wants his seminarians to be educated with laypeople “so that they can establish mature relationships with men and women and do not develop any sense of their priesthood giving them a special social position.” ...............

A panel of six priests of the Milwaukee archdiocese spoke movingly of personal conversions, of moving from betrayal to new understanding, from disbelief of early reports of the scandal to a new awareness of the need for truth. “We must speak the truth, I must speak the truth, and not close our eyes to the truths that are all around us,” said Fr. Howard G. Haase. “We must not pretend we don’t know and convince ourselves that if we wait long enough it will all go away.”

I sign my letters and emails with the tag, "Remember, we are in the hope business." Perhaps that assertion is being vindicated here, and meaningful change is underway at many levels. The entire Church community will be the beneficiary, and the Good News of Jesus will continue to lead us.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Some Lenten thoughts

I was reading a book on Ignatian spirituality recently – St. Ignatius Loyola being the founder of the Jesuits. The discussion that stuck with me was the one dealing with our creature comforts. I have always found this fascinating in Ignatius. He was a big proponent of the virtue of ‘indifference.’ By this he means neither seeking nor avoiding, neither wishing nor refusing, anything in life that is not evil in itself. The list includes health, wealth, and even long life. As I recall, the author of the book was talking about reviewing our modern life, and the great range of comforts Ignatius could not even imagine. He asked the question, what is it that you really need, on your own personal list? What could you do without?

The question puts a new perspective on giving things up for Lent. It could be that we approach Lent not as doing a self-punishment, but rather as practicing what indifference really feels like. I am far from indifferent to everything I possess, including Ignatius’ original list. I know I feel rather strongly about most things I have, from my ability to think, to my car, to my lifestyle. I do realize that as good as they all might be, they have a way of confining me. Giving something up for Lent will help me practice freeing myself up for God. That is all that Ignatius wanted, this was the whole point. It was not about the things, it was about our disposition towards them. We are hanging on more tightly than we realize. Lent gives us a chance to test that a bit. And as I see it, it does not have to be a really big thing, it only needs to happen.

I also came across a saying of Mother Teresa that I do not recall hearing before. It follows nicely on the above. Here is what Mother Teresa said:

The fruit of silence is prayer,
The fruit of prayer is faith,
The fruit of faith is love,
The fruit of love is service,
The fruit of service is peace.

Join those thoughts to a little practice of ‘indifference’, and you arrive at what Ignatius was striving for, too. Increase in faith, increase in love, increase in actually doing things for others, increase in peace. That is a remarkable promise. Start it off as Mother Teresa suggests – with a little silence.
Have a good Lent. Be ready, really ready, for the triumph of the Cross and Resurrection of Jesus.

Monday, February 21, 2011

A Good Story

Someone recently loaned me the book 'Christ the Lord - The Road to Cana', by Ann Rice. It is one of those stories of Biblical times, in which the author starts with the scripture account, then imagines what happened between events and between the lines. All of that becomes the material for the novel.

The story is not densely packed, and that is both its strength and its weakness. It is easy to follow. And you meet a very human Jesus as he becomes aware of who he is, and what the Father is asking him to do. His tender affection for young Avigail, whom everyone expected he would marry, is touching, and reassures the reader that he truly did have all those emotions. His response to his mother at the wedding feast, when she manipulated him into performing his first miracle, is humorous in a divine kind of way!

But the scene that was especially well done is that of Jesus' confrontation with Satan in the desert. It is not the temptations delivered in three terse sentences, but a long discussion, a battle of wits. Satan makes a good case about the plight the Jewish people have been in for centuries, about how they will continue to be swallowed up by their enemies, and about how they are looking for a deliverer. Then the temptation: "Not the simplest victory is accomplished unless I'm part of it. ...... Worship me and I will show you what is mine. I will give you the victory of which your prophets sang."

The sales job is very very good!

Jesus answer is wonderful: "You're the Prince of the Lie. And this is the lie: that you and the Lord God are equal, locked in combat with one another. That has never been so."

This is not scripture, to be sure. But as, for example, with the novel "The Shack", the author makes a contribution nonetheless. We are given a frame of reference for our own imaginings - and we most surely do have them. For me, that temptation scene shows Jesus, weak with hunger in the desert, engaging in a mighty battle. He is not the wooden figure who issues three super human responses. I relate to that because my battles are often mighty also, and I frequently lose. This story both affirms what I already believe about Jesus' power, and at the same time reassures me that the response asked of us in temptation is not a stretch that is beyond us. We do not have to despair, no matter how bad things get.

Postscript: note to Mary. Thank you for your message! Would love to continue with the dialogue, even meet at St. Paul's if you are in this area.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

A shout out to the Sisters!

It has happened to me before, so I should know by now. You simply cannot outdo women religious in hospitality and generosity. My most recent encounter with that kind of gift-giving was time I spent over a period of three days, talking to the Religious Hospitalers of St. Joseph here in Kingston.

That community is discerning, as are many religious communities, how their mission and their charism are going to be lived in a world of decreasing numbers and aging members.

I thought I was to do the giving, but instead I came away so humbled by what they gave me. The sung blessing over me and my wife before we left, will stay with me always. The cheerfulness, the laughter, the camaraderie were reminders of the beauty of community life, even in the face of uncertainty. They were also reminders that ministry never ends, never takes a rest. I felt ministered to, and I go away feeling a bit more intentional about doing the same to others. The opportunities to be Christ to other people are not limited to formal structures or to liturgical celebrations. They are everywhere. In that sense, something I said to the group seems even more compelling now: the mission and the charism of this community may evolve in their manifestation, but they will never be outdated. The world desperately needs what the members have to offer. Every moment of the day. Thanks, Sisters! We will try to live up to your wonderful example.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Best wishes for a wonderful 2011!

It started out great and then took a sudden turn. A beautiful and quiet dinner on New Years was followed by a chest cold that has put a damper on things. Now to add to the frustration, Windows has somehow made my emails disappear on one computer. Everything has to go up from here, right?

Christmas was wonderful, and the church part of it was unique, with the Saturday – Sunday back-to-back feasts of Christmas and Holy Family, then a week later New Years (Feast of Mary Mother of God) and Epiphany. In Canada, all four days were Holy Days of obligation. Hats off to the pastors who celebrated all the Masses involved! By my count we had 16 Masses at St. Paul’s on the two weekends. It was a privilege to preach on the Sundays, with Father taking the Christmas and Mary Mother of God feasts.

I go into the New Year with the theme of Epiphany running around in my head. I was struck this year by the notion that the Magi – whoever they were – went back to their own country and told about what they had seen. Why did they go in the first, place I wonder? They were probably from Persia, we are told, a journey of 1000 or more miles. They were also not of the Jewish faith. No matter: they saw a young child, and were faced with the question, what do you make of this? What do you say about it? Whatever their answer was, they apparently took that away with them. We are faced with the same question, what do you say about this? And I think we have the same challenge to tell about it in the land we inhabit. The birth of the newborn Messiah cannot be known if we do not make it known. I want to do that better in this year.

I have a prayer by Cardinal Newman that ends this way: Let me preach You without preaching, not by words, but by my example, by the catching force, the sympathetic influence of what I do, the evident fullness of the love my heart bears for You.

The prayer is to live the life, not just say the words. I ask that grace for all of us.