Thursday, December 22, 2011

Happy Hanukkah

Dear Theophilus,

I know it’s a couple of days late, but I wanted to wish you a Happy Hanukkah. Growing up, I had always thought that Hanukkah was the Jewish answer to Christmas, however, an article at American Catholic Blog (read it here) taught me that there is so much more to the Festival of Lights that is of importance to us as Catholics today.

Firstly, although as Catholics we are not called to celebrate Jewish feasts, we should get to know them if not simply for the reason that Christ was Jewish and these feasts would have played an important role in his own life. Since Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of scripture, understanding Jewish Festivals will help us understand our own Christianity. As St. Paul tells us in his letter to the Colossians:

Therefore do not let anyone condemn you in matters of food and drink or of observing festivals, new moons or Sabbaths. These are only a shadow of what is to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. (Col. 2:16-17)

The tradition of Hanukkah itself is instituted in scripture in the First Book of Maccabees when the Temple was cleansed and rededicated after the Maccabeen revolt:

Then they offered incense on the altar and lit the lamps on the lampstand and these gave light to the temple. So they celebrated the dedication of the altar for eight days, and joyfully offered burnt offerings; they offered a sacrifice of well-being and a thanksgiving offering. Then Judas and his brothers and all the assembly of Israel determined that every year at that season the days of dedication of the altar shall be observed with joy and gladness for eight days. (1 Macc. 4:50,56,59)

To understand the relevance of this Jewish festival for us as Catholics today, we need to understand the context of the temple rededication after the Maccabeen revolt. The Maccabees were a group of orthodox Jews who took on the Hellenised establishment. They wanted to see a return to spiritual tradition and a more pure form of Jewish practices to please Yahweh.

What does this mean to us? All we need to do is take a look around us this Advent season. As the coming of our Lord in Saviour in human form fast approaches, Christ’s birth is symbolized more by a man in dressed in red than a babe wrapped in swaddling clothes. Instead of bring gifts to the Christ Child, we spend endless hours making up wish-lists to give to others, ensuring our every desire is satisfied.

Although a Holocaust survivor recently ensured me that Hanukkah has become just as commercial as Christmas, we should take a lesson from the Maccabees, who foreshadowed the Light of Christ in rededicating the Temple (which Christ embodied himself), and return to a purer celebration of the spirit of Christmas.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha

Dear Theophilus,

This past Sunday Pope Benedict XVI signed the documents that will lead to the canonization of Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha. Although we have become quite used to saints being recognized during the pontificates of both Benedict XVI and Blessed John Paul II, this one is quite special, as Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha will become the first Aboriginal Canadian saint.

You can read about this announcement on the National Post’s religion blog Holy Post, as well as more about Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha here.

With the canonization last year of St. Brother André de Montréal and the now promised canonization of Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha, there has been an increased sense of the sacred among Canadian Catholics. Along with this new found sacredness, there is a sense of pride that Canadians have added to the life of the Catholic Church in a special way we usually think of as reserved for Europeans.

In this Advent season, as we wait in joyful hope for the coming of the baby Jesus, let us use this announcement to focus our hearts on the Word that dwells among us.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Rome Sweet Home

Dear Theophilus,

I’m currently reading Scott and Kimberly Hahn’s conversion story Rome Sweet Home. The further I get into their journey to the Catholic faith, the more I begin to realize that this is a book that all Catholics need to read. Unlike many theological works, the Hahn’s story is accessible to all readers and offers an excellent insight into what Catholics believe and why, as well as their relationship with their Protestant brethren.

There are a few things that surprise me in Scott and Kimberly story. First and foremost is the hate Fundamentalist Protestants have for the Catholic Church, much of which, according to Scott’s testimony, is unfounded. Personally, I have never come across the passionate hatred Fundamentalist Christians have for the Catholic Church, so I find it hard to understand why it exists, but exist it does. Because Scott Hahn was once one of those Fundamentalists, his story of conversion is a compelling glimpse at how to debunk their arguments.

The Hahn’s perspective on the Protestant-Catholic debate is also a unique one, as both hold Masters Degrees in theology from Protestant universities, while Scott also holds a doctorate from a Catholic institution. As they take the reader on a voyage through their conversion, they show how Catholic doctrine is based firmly on the scriptural foundations that Protestants hold so dear. This journey helps us cradle-Catholics to understand a faith that we have simply come to know as true through living our lives.

A compelling read, Rome Sweet Home expresses the joy Catholics feel in the Eucharist and the other dimensions of their faith in words that many of us have trouble finding. Not only does this story give Catholics the answers to the penetrating questions Protestants have learned to ask to throw doubt on dogma, it also helps heighten the Catholic experience of the Mass, the rosary and other doctrinal practices.

Rome Sweet Home is a must read for Catholics on the journey of deepening their faith.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Fulton Sheen was Right

Dear Theophilus,

In trying to keep up to date with what’s going on in the world, I usually click to the websites of major daily newspapers. I’m often tempted to see what other interwebs have to say about a particular article, so after reading I’ll scroll down to the comments section. Sometimes I find these comments comical, and at other times I find them infuriating.

Recently, many of these articles have been focused on Catholic beliefs as they pertain to issues our society is currently facing: abortion, euthanasia or homosexuality. Reading the comments posted by other readers, I’ve come to realise how right Fulton Sheen was when he said:

“There are not a hundred people in America who hate the Catholic Church. There are millions of people who hate what they wrongly believe to be the Catholic Church — which is, of course, quite a different thing.” (Foreword to Radio Replies Vol. 1, (1938) page ix)

It’s quite sad that most of the people taking issue with Catholic teachings can’t even tell you exactly what it is the Catholic Church teaches. In some ways it isn’t their fault, as the article will only allude to Catholic doctrine without actually stating what that doctrine is. Still, they find it is their place to attack a Catholic position that they know nothing about.

If these people really wanted to know what the Catholic Church teaches on these contentious issues, I think they would be surprised, not only with Catholic doctrine, but also with the ease with which they could find it. Any Catholic teaching can be found in under a minute, first by searching out an online searchable catechism (the Knights of Columbus catechism is my favourite) and then by searching the actual subject. The best part of the catechism is that it will also give scripture references to support Catholic teaching.

Do I bother to try to correct the misconceptions I come across. Regretfully: no. Frankly, there are too many of them, and I wonder if any comment I could make would do nothing more than create a knee-jerk reaction on their part. I think it’s probably best that they practice the free will God gave them to search out the Truth on their own.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Advent Renewal of Faith and Works

Dear Theophilus,

Advent is a wonderful time of renewal. As the great feast of Christmas approaches, many people who have lost their way are moved to return to the Church. Captivated by the pageantry and mystery of the Word Incarnate they find their faith restored.

To our Protestant brethren who preach the philosophy of sole fide, this restored faith alone is enough to attain the Lord’s promised salvation. To support their errant doctrine, Protestants will inevitably turn to biblical sources:

But my just one shall live by faith ... (Heb. 10:38)


But without faith it is impossible to please him (God) ... (Heb. 11:6)

It is interesting that these quotes are taken in isolation from the rest of St. Paul’s letter to the Hebrews. The idea that St. Paul is trying to convey through his epistle is that faith is needed if one wants to approach God.

Much like the often quoted “Man shall not live by bread alone…” (Mt. 4:4), he cannot be saved by faith alone. The Lord tells us, and the Catholic Church teaches, that both faith and good works are the true path to salvation. As St. Paul tells us in his First Letter to the Corinthians:

And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. (1 Cor. 13:2)

As wonderful as the great faith renewal of Advent is, we need to couple it with good deeds if we really want to make ourselves worth of coming face to face with the Word Incarnate in the infant Jesus. It is not simply enough to start attending Mass regularly this Advent and Christmas season (although it’s a great start), this renewed faith must move us to the good works God calls us to do. It could be as small as holding the door for somebody or a small donation to the poor box. Over time you will find that both your faith and Christian good works growing in importance in your life.

This Advent season, how will you renew your faith and good works?

Monday, December 12, 2011

Advent Joy

Dear Theophilus,

This third week of Advent we lit a pink candle to remind us of the joyful hope we have for the coming of Jesus Christ. But do we really understand the joy we will experience when we come face to face with our Lord Incarnate?

To even begin to glimpse the joy God offers through salvation we need to recognize the moments of pure joy we experience here on earth. Although material possessions can make our lives more comfortable, those moments of pure joy in knowing the rightness of God’s plan are fleeting. Personally, I can think of only 3 moments when I have experienced joy.

The first was my wedding day. Standing at the altar, as I watch my soon-to-be wife walking down the aisle I was overcome by an intense tranquility. Amid all of the craziness a wedding day brings, at that precise moment I felt just how right our marriage is. Our union is what God had meant to be.

I didn’t experience that feeling of rightness again for another 8 years, until I held my adoptive son for the very first time. We had been praying for a long time to have a family, and had finally listened to God’s call to adoption. When my wife put our son into my arms, I once again experienced the pure joy of knowing that this was what God saw was right in the world.

My final experience of joy happens from time to time as I read scripture at Mass. It doesn’t happen every time, but there are moments when I feel the Holy Spirit take over and I become no more than a hollow reed through which God proclaims his Word. As I listen to the Word proclaimed by my own voice, there is a deep sense that this is a part of God’s divine plan.

Having had these experiences, then, I’ve come to know joy not as a result of material satisfaction, but rather in an understanding of God’s plan; a rightness in the world. If these moments of joy can be so moving, then how powerful and intense will be the joyful experience when I meet the Word Incarnate in Christ Jesus? It’s this looking forward that is the joyful hope of Advent.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Judge and be Judged

Dear Theophilus,

I’ve had a hard time lately not being judgemental. Time and again I find myself needing to check my spiritual ego and arrogance when it comes to the piety of others. Whether it’s tourists’ behaviour at a pilgrimage site, the way fellow parishioners dress on Sundays or the entitlement non-practicing Catholics feel towards the sacraments; I often bite my tongue and try to lead by example rather than cause a commotion by calling their actions into question.

Each time this happens, two Gospel quotes come to mind:

Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For with the judgement you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. (Mt. 7:1-2)


Jesus said to them, “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” … When they heard it, they went away… and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. Jesus said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, sir.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again.” (Jn. 8:7, 9-11)

Because we are human, and therefore sinners, we need to remember that it is not our place to judge others; only God alone can do that. This does not excuse earthly sin, nor should we condone sin because we cannot judge other. As Jesus did in the story of the adulterer that was brought before him, we are called to forgive the sinner while still abhorring the sin.

Our calling, therefore, is not to play the role of judge, but rather to help ourselves and others to avoid judgement. The line between the two is fine, and the path of righteousness we are called to walk is a precarious one; as we too will be held accountable for our sins on the last day.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Salvation Entitlement

Dear Theophilus,

Reading Scott Hahn's Reasons to Believe, I recently came across a sentence that struck me as oddly summing up contemporary western society:

"Many people today think that salvation is something that God owes us."

For generations we've told our children that they can be whatever they want, achieve whatever they want and have whatever they want; so long as they work hard for it. This has been the case, until recently; those who have worked hard have reaped the benefits of their efforts. In fact, we've worked so hard and done so well, there is little more for us to achieve in this world. With our material needs being more than satisfied, it has been my experience as an educator, that the youth of today (and to some extent their parents) that the world owes them their creature comforts and luxuries.

According to Scott Hahn, this sense of entitlement has flowed over into our spiritual life.

Although God wants nothing more than our salvation, He wants us to want our salvation as much as He does. "For he wishes to give eternal life to all those who seek salvation by patience in well-doing." (Rom 2:6-7)

In fact, there is no guarantee that God will grant us his salvation; He may in fact deny it unless we profess the Kingdom of God to the world:

So every one who acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven; but whoever denies me before me, I will also deny before my Father who is in heaven. (Mt. 10:32-33)

Like any thing in life, we cannot take the Lord's salvation for granted. The same way a parent wants to give their child an allowance, they want their child to work for it so that it will be that much more appreciated. The money will always be there, just like the parent's love; and the child will learn not to take either for granted. So it is with God. His love and salvation will always be offered to us; but by working for it, His saving touch will be all the more sweeter.

Monday, December 5, 2011

An Advent People

Dear Theophilus,

Listening to St. Mark's Gospel this past Sunday, I realized just how much Easter imagery there is in the Advent and Nativity stories. The Gospel story was one I know well, that of St. John the Baptist and his ministry leading up to the baptism of our Lord. The lines that really caught my attention were these:

"And he preached, saying, 'After me comes he who is mightier than I, the thong of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie.'" (Mark 1:7)

There was nothing new here. I had heard these words of the Baptist a hundred times over. Of course when some of his contemporaries saw him as the long awaited Messiah, John knew to point them towards Jesus; the one who is mightier than all of the prophets, God himself incarnate.

What struck me was the Easter parallel that came to mind. Although St. John the Baptist, and none of us for that matter, would ever dream of being worthy to untie the Lord's sandals, during the Last Supper he humbled himself to wash the feet of his disciples - the master becoming the servant. It's little wonder then, that when St. Peter realized what was happening, that Christ was cleansing him of his sins, he asked Jesus to not only wash his feet, but his head and body as well.

If our Saviour can stoop so low as to serve us by washing our feet; what servitude of our Lord and of each other are we called to? And do we answer?

Friday, December 2, 2011

The Conundrum of Catholic Education

Dear Theophilus,

I recently asked my catholic high school religion class a question that I already knew the answer to. I asked for a show of hands of how many students did not meet their dominical obligation. Once I explained that dominical obligation meant going to Mass on Sunday, 16 of 20 hands went up to say they didn’t go to Mass regularly. After 16 years of teaching in publicly funded catholic schools, I wasn’t surprised; just saddened.

The problem that I’ve noticed over the years is that parents see the publicly funded catholic school system as a way of getting their kids to church without having to take an hour out of their precious weekend. In essence, our catholic schools have become the Catholic Church for the majority of Catholics. Keeping this in mind, Msgr. Denis Murphy has correctly written that catholic educators are expected to talk about God on a daily basis.

As sad as this situation is, it is not the conundrum facing catholic educators of good conscience. The catch 22 of catholic educators is that we are expected to provide the sacraments, especially the Holy Eucharist at school mass, to students who are no longer in communion with the Catholic Church. By bringing these children who are not practising their faith (often by no fault of their own) to the Eucharist, we are asking them to commit a far graver sin than the one they are already committing.

What can be done to avoid this conundrum?

Many archdioceses have taken sacramental formation out of the schools, making it once again the responsibility of the parish. It’s funny, in a sad sort of way, the number of parents who complain to the school that they didn’t know that First Communion catechism classes were coming up; yet these classes have been announced for months from the pulpit. This ensures that children who attend mass regularly will be better informed about sacrament preparation. Some pastors have also been known not to say a school Mass, preferring to have Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament instead.

In the end, it is the parents’ responsibility to form their children in good faith habits. This is the promise they made at the child’s baptism. The catholic school system (public or private) is an important piece to that formation, but it should be in a supportive role of both church and home. Faced with such numbers of non-Mass attendance, however, it is the responsibility of the catholic educator to seize any teaching moment to help steer these children back into communion with the Church.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The New Translation of the Roman Missal

Dear Theophilus,

This coming Sunday, the First Sunday of Advent, will mark a momentous change in the Mass for the English-speaking world. The English translation of the Roman Missal is changing, and along with it, many of the responses and prayers that most English-speaking Catholics have grown up with.

Change is difficult to deal with at the best of times, even if we are well prepared, and it will probably take a while for the new wording of the Roman Missal to sink in. Some of my fellow Catholics are so disconcerted, I’ve heard them referring to the change as Vatican III or as a reactionary move from a conservative Pope Benedict XVI. I’ve found the following short video from Life Teen to be really good in helping explain the why’s and wherefore’s of the new translation.

If you are looking for a more in-depth commentary on the new translation of the Roman Missal, Fr. Robert Barron offers some excellent insight.

A notion that I find best suits the reason for the new translation is that of its linguistic register – the language we use to dialogue with Christ the King through the Mass. A great example of linguistic register that I’ve come across is that of Shakespeare. If you take Shakespeare out of the original Elizabethan English and put it into contemporary language, although the meaning remains the same, the whole feel or spirit of his work is lost. Imagine Juliet’s pining of “Romeo, O Romeo! Wherefore art thou, Romeo?” being read as “Hey Romeo! Where are ya?” Both ask the same question, but the language of one evokes so much more emotion that the other.

I know that I’ll be one of many stumbling over my words this Sunday, but I also look forward to the heightened prayerfulness that the new translation of the Roman Missal promises.

Monday, November 21, 2011

The Catholicism Project

Dear Theophilus,

I was recently a part of a team that was entrusted with the task of preparing the faith formation day for the staff of a catholic high school. Knowing that many of my colleagues lack an understanding of what our Catholic faith really is all about, I pushed hard to have Fr. Robert Barron’s new DVD series, The Catholicism Project, included as part of the day.

Here is the trailer:

I was both excited and frightened when I pressed play on the first section of this monumental 10 part series called Amazed and Afraid. In this 50 minute presentation, Fr. Barron delves into the foundation of the Catholic faith: the Word become incarnate in the form of Jesus Christ. I was afraid of the reaction such a strong presentation would create amongst some very liberal minded catholic educators. To my pleasant surprise, there was applause at the end of the movie.

In fact, many people came forward wanting to know more about the series, if the school had a copy, and where they could purchase their own (you can buy it here). A number of people even commented that this was the kind of catechism that they were looking for; not only teaching them the basis of our faith, but in doing it in such a wonderfully dynamic way.

If you haven’t already seen The Catholicism Project, make plans to do so. If your parish isn’t planning on showing it, the series is currently airing on EWTN and Salt + Light.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Defending the Faith

Dear Theophilus,

I’ve come to realize that this whole exercise is as much about deepening my own faith as it is in defending the faith against those who attack it from both inside and outside the Church. It was only during my reading this morning that I came to understand how intertwined these two ideas are. Reading Reasons to Believe by Scott Hahn, I came across this quote from the First Letter of Saint Peter:

Always be prepared to make a defence to any one who calls you to account for the hope that is in you, yet do it with gentleness and reverence (I Pet 3:15).

Hahn goes on to explain that the best way to defend our apostolic faith is with sound logic based on faith and reason. We need to avoid the temptation to give quick, curt answers to our attackers; well thought out, logical and eloquent replies will not only earn their respect, but will also plant the seeds of Truth in the fertile soil of their minds.

How do we best prepare ourselves, then? By becoming more knowledgeable of the reasons behind why we do what we do.

When challenged with the question of why I believe what I do as a Catholic and I’m not 100% sure of the answer, the first thing I do is turn to the Catechism. Too cumbersome to carry around, I rely mainly on online searchable catechisms, my favourite provided by the Knights of Columbus. I like using the Catechism because of the concise language, as well as the references to scripture and papal encyclicals that are provided in support.

To build up my knowledge of the faith, I rely on the group of theologians called apologists. When I first came across the term apologist, I thought it meant that we had to apologize for being Catholic. I soon learned that it was the term given to Church thinkers who make it their business to defend the faith based on logic and reasoning. Some of my favourite apologists to date include Fulton Sheen and Karl Keating, who has an excellent web site in Catholic Answers. At present I am only beginning to get to know Scott Hahn.

In the end, being an apologist and defending the faith is not an easy path to take. In his most recent article in the Catholic Register, Michael Coren tells us that if we are not being attacked for standing up for what we believe as Catholics, then we must be doing something wrong. You can read the article here.

By professing the Truth, you will not make others comfortable; no one likes to realize that they are wrong. But by deepening your faith and building a strong foundation of reason, you will always be prepared to defend Catholic teachings with both gentleness and reverence.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Assisted Suicide in Canada

Dear Theophilus,

Almost 20 years after upholding the sanctity of life to its natural conclusion by denying Sue Rodriguez the right to assisted suicide, the Canadian judicial system is once again being asked to give humans divine power over life and death.

Landmark Case Renews Debate on Right to Die (Petti Fong, The Toronto Star, Nov. 13, 2011)

VANCOUVER—The legal and moral arguments over Canada’s assisted suicide laws will be front and centre in B.C. Supreme Court on Monday as lawyers launch a challenge on behalf of a terminally ill woman.

They will seek again, as Sue Rodriguez did almost 20 years ago in a case that went to the Supreme Court of Canada, to argue against laws that make it a criminal offence to help seriously ill people end their lives.

The Rodriguez application to receive assisted suicide was rejected by Canada’s highest court in 1993 by a 5-4 decision. A year later, Rodriguez decided to take her own life with the help of an anonymous physician.

The current challenge originated when Lee Carter and her husband filed a suit earlier this year. They are joined by Gloria Taylor, 63, who has late-stage ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease, an incurable illness that gradually weakens and degenerates muscles to the point of paralysis.

Taylor is one of five plaintiffs in the case, which also includes family physician Dr. William Shoichet, the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, Carter and her husband Hollis Johnson.

Because the courts had rejected Rodriguez’s claim, she was technically committing a crime by killing herself with help from a physician. Under Canadian laws, it is illegal to counsel, aid or abet a person to commit suicide. If convicted, the offence could result in a maximum prison sentence of up to 14 years.

Read the entire article here.

The plaintiffs and those of the numerous people supporting assisted suicide on the Toronto Star’s use the argument that people deserve the right to die with dignity. The point that these people are missing is that the dignity is not in the choosing when and how to die, but rather in how one approaches death. Granted, ALS and other diseases are horribly painful, but so too was the Crucifixion. Stripped and nailed to a tree, Christ did not die with physical dignity, but the stoicism with which he met the death he knew was coming surpasses the dignity any human can hope to have as we pass from one life to the next.

Dignity aside, why should we, as Catholics, stand up against assisted suicide?

To answer this question, we need to return to the greatest commandments that Christ gave us: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” (Mt 22:37) and “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” (Mt 22:39). The act of suicide, assisted or otherwise, goes against both of these commandments.

Suicide goes against our most basic human instinct, that of survival. All life comes from our loving Creator God. It is a spiteful act to throw this precious gift back in His face through suicide. Suicide is a complete rejection of His love.

By asking some one to assist you in suicide, you are then acting against the commandment to love your neighbour, as you are asking that person to put themselves into a state of mortal sin. Aiding some one with suicide puts the physician in direct contravention of the 6th commandment: “Thou shall not kill.” (Ex 20:13)

The arguments against assisted suicide can go much deeper ethically than space permits here. Once permission has been granted to consciously end human life with reason, that same reasoning can and will then be extended to the disabled and elderly. Fighting for a culture of life may be unpopular in a society of the individual, but without life we could not be the individuals that God calls us to be.

Friday, November 11, 2011


Dear Theophilus,

Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down
his life for a friend. (John 15:13)

Today, around the world, we gather to remember those who
laid down the greatest gift from God so that others could revel in the joys of
life. As I do every year during that moment of silence not only do I say a
prayer of thanks for those who made the ultimate sacrifice, I ask myself if I
could do the same. A very difficult question, indeed.

Watching the Remembrance Day ceremony from the national
cenotaph in Ottawa at home with a sick 7 year-old, I was moved by the crowds
cheering our war veterans and the deep understanding of sacrifice my son
showed. There was one simple gesture by a dignitary, however, that caught my
eye. As the representative of the Parliament of Canada laid a wreath at the
tomb of the Unknown Soldier, he paused and made the sign of the Cross. A
courageous act in a defiantly politically correct society.

It has been my experience that Catholics often feel the need
to apologize for their demonstrations of faith. We either furtively make the
sign of the Cross with a flick of fingers under their chin, or remove Christian
artwork when non-religious friends and relatives come for dinner. Really, we
should act to the contrary, taking courage from others and not be afraid to
show our Catholic faith to world.

With so many people lamenting the loss of morals in
our society, showing that we are not afraid to live a faith-based life is the
first, albeit small, step towards building a better society. The kind of
society that the many young men and women we remember today died for.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Christ's Salvation is for All Humanity

Dear Theophilus,

During rush-hour traffic last night I was stuck behind a car with a bumper sticker proclaiming: “CSI – Christ Saves Individuals”. My first thought was to applaud this brave individual for proclaiming their Christianity to the world. As traffic inched forward, I began to realize how wrong the statement “Christ Saves Individuals” is. Didn’t Christ come to save all of humanity?

The more I meditated on this question the more I knew that Christ had come to save all of humanity from our sins. He even told us as much at the institution of the Lord’s Supper:

Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it all of you; for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. (Matthew 26:27-28; cf. Mark 14:23-24)

The idea that when Christ says “all of you” and “for many” he is referring to all of humanity is supported by St. Paul when he writes to Timothy, telling him that God our Saviour “desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” (1 Tim 2:4)

What can we make then of the “CSI – Christ Saves Individuals” bumper sticker? Christ came to offer salvation to all humanity and it is up to us as individuals to accept his salvation. In other words, although Christ does save the individuals who chose salvation, he does not select certain individuals for salvation.

How can we accept this offer of salvation? By living lives of faith and grace, as well as partaking in the sacraments the Lord offers us through His Church; especially the Eucharist offered on the altar every Sunday.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Of Pilgrims and Tourists

Dear Theophilus,

This past summer my family and I spent a part of our holidays in Montréal. Ever since I can remember, a trip to Montréal has always included a trip to St. Joseph’s Oratory to pray at the tomb of St. Brother André. My first visit was at the age of 10, then again as a teenager and my last visit to the Oratory was as a newlywed. I was very excited this last visit to introduce my 7 year-old son to the prayerful ambiance of the Oratory crypt and the tiny chapel on the city mountainside.

Everything about the Oratory is as I remember it, and I delighted in watching my son move from one section to the next; eyes wide in spiritual amazement. I knew what I was watching was the same spiritual awakening that I had experienced on my first fist many years ago. Asking questions with youthful enthusiasm, he couldn’t learn enough about the diminutive doorman that became St. Brother André.

The magic was shattered when we entered the Oratory crypt to pray at the saint’s tomb. I understand that the Oratory is also a tourist attraction in Montréal, and that guided tours and souvenirs provide a large part of the Oratory’s income. I’m also grateful that you can approach the tomb to pray while physically communing with St. Brother André. What I wasn’t prepared for were the two worlds of pilgrimage and tourism to come crashing together.

As I entered the crypt to pray at the tomb I was shocked to see 2 gentlemen not only leaning against the saint’s tomb as they listened to their tour guide, but one of them had perched his take-out coffee cup on top of the tomb so as to cross his arms. Not knowing what to do, I lead my family through the crypt walkway, planning to light a prayer candle and to return later. Five minutes later, the tour group was still in crypt and the coffee cup hadn’t moved from the top of the tomb.

I was really at a conundrum as to what to do. I didn’t want to create a scene in front of neither St. Brother André nor my son, who had had such an amazing pilgrimage to that point. Following my conscience, I reached into my pocket for my rosary, knelt at the saint’s tomb and began to pray. My wife and son followed suit. It was difficult to concentrate at first, but as the rhythm of my prayers took over, I was able to thank St. Brother André for the spark of faith he had ignited in my son’s heart.

When we stood, the tour group had gone, but it broke my heart to wonder how many other wonderfully spiritual sites around the world are suffering from the line being blurred between pilgrims and tourists.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Heeding the Call - Updated

Dear Theophilus,

I had mentioned that I had hesitated a long time before starting this blog. Although I gained the courage to start through prayer and meditation, the catalyst to start came with my coming across three different quotes that urged me in the same direction.

To put them in chronological order:

“When the Church does not speak, others will speak instead.” Blessed Cardinal Newman – Loss and Gain (1848).

“Today, the Catholic story is being told in the media, but it’s being told by the wrong people in the wrong way.” Fr. Robert Barron – Catholicism (2011).

“Identify new ways of evangelization with missionary audacity” Benedict XVI’s address to the Council of European Bishops Conferences (Oct. 2011)

Reading the first two quotes, I was ready to let those more in the know, closer to the Church, closer to Rome, tell the story. Surely whatever I have to add to the telling of the Catholicism story would be negligible in comparison to these great thinkers. Then I heard of Benedict’s call for “new ways of evangelization with missionary audacity.” What intrigued me the most was the Bishops Conference’s interpretation of these new ways of evangelization to include new technology such as the internet. I began to believe that I could add to the discussion, that I have something to tell in this wondrous story.

Are we all called to evangelize – to tell the story of Christ through the Catholic Church? The answer is an emphatic “Yes!” Are we all called to do it in the same way? “No,” to each their own special way of spreading the Good News. But we need to remember that if we do not speak for the Church, who will? And will they get the story right?

**Post Scriptum**

Dear Theophilus,

A friend asked me to clarify for you exactly who are the wrong people telling our Catholic story, as well as who are the right people to tell it. I hope that this helps you to better understand.

The wrong people Fr. Barron writes about and that are implied by Cardinal Newman's question are non-Catholics - most notably in the American media. It is the responsability, and duty, of Catholics (lay and clerical alike, who make up 'The Church') to learn, practice and preach their faith, thus modelling and telling the Catholic story.

There is no mistake to infer that the narrative is to be told by a chosen people. The mistake is mine in not stating more clearly that Fr. Barron and Cardinal Newman refer to the Church in its entirety, and that we should all be standing up to explain what exactly it means to be Catholic.

Monday, November 7, 2011

The Similarities of Fr. Barron and Cardinal Newman

Dear Theophilus,

As this blog develops, you will probably notice that much of what I have to write about are the books that I’m currently reading to deepen my knowledge and faith of our Lord. By putting my thoughts down in writing, I hope to meditate more on scripture and the wise thoughts of others.

Two books that I have read recently are Fr. Robert Barron’s Catholicism (based on the script from his recently released 10 part dvd series with the same name), and a selection of Sayings from the works of Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman. Although Cardinal Newman began his Catholic ministry 164 years ago, and his Catholic writing dates between 1845 and 1885, I was surprised to find a number of similarities between Blessed Newman and Fr. Barron’s book which was published this fall.

I imagine that I will return a number of times to both writers, but I wanted to write about their thoughts on Hell, as this past Sunday’s Gospel reading (Mt. 25:1-13) echoes what both men have to say.

In his Parochial and Plain Sermons, Blessed Cardinal Newman states “Heaven would be hell to an irreligious man.” In Catholicism Fr. Barron writes that “Hell burns with the fire of God’s Love.” It’s not what both men say that jumped out at me right away, but rather the similarities in how both men explained their versions of hell. Both Cardinal Newman and Fr. Barron describe hell as an inability on unpreparedness on a human’s part to be exposed to and accepting of God’s love. Fr. Barron likens the searing pain on an unreceptive soul to being like the pain one feels leaving a darkened movie theatre into a bright summer afternoon, eyes unaccustomed to the bright light. Cardinal Newman describes the plight of an irreligious man in Heaven as being much like that of somebody who is at a party where they have absolutely nothing in common with the other guests, wishing they had prepared themselves to be able to relate to their companions.

Reading this, one couldn’t be blamed for falling into the heresy of Universalism – the notion that everybody makes it to Heaven whether they have led good or evil lives, and that some are better suited to accept God’s love than others. We need to remember, however, that Jesus tells us about the chasm that separates Heaven from hell in the parable of the rich man and the beggar Lazarus (Lk 16:19-31). When we go back to Cardinal Newman’s writing we see that he said that “Heaven would be like hell to an irreligious man” and not that it is. Also, Fr. Barron tells us that “Hell burns with the fire of God’s love” but does not incorporate hell into Heaven.

How does this relate to this week’s Gospel, the parable of the Wise and Foolish Bridesmaids (or the 10 Virgins) (Mt. 25:1-13)? It is the sense of preparedness that is needed to be ready for the coming of God’s kingdom. The Gospel fittingly ends with the line: “for you know neither the day nor the hour,” a reminder to us that we must be continually preparing our hearts to accept God’s love. And what is hell, if not the absence of God’s love from our eternal lives. If we do not prepare ourselves accordingly, we will be like the bridesmaids without oil, left in the dark, shut out from the warmth of God’s love. When we do find our way into God’s presence, will we be burned by the radiance of His love or destined to the awkwardness of having noting in common with those we meet in eternal life?

Friday, November 4, 2011

Beginning the Journey

Dear Theophilus,

I’ve been thinking of writing this blog for a long time now. I’ve hesitated mainly because I’m afraid of how it will be perceived. Will I be seen as being full of myself, or will the critics be too harsh? I guess that only time will tell on both accounts.

After months of prayer, I’ve finally decided to take the plunge and start writing. In doing so, I hope that by haring my perception of Apostolic teachings that I will be able to bring others closer to the truth. Another, more selfish reason for starting this blog, is that I want to use it as a tool to deepen my own faith. There are people out there who’s knowledge and understanding of God is deeper than I could ever dream of, and who’s ability to teach the faith is sharper than my own.

Thank you for joining me on this journey, and hopefully we can grow together in the truth of Christ.