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.