Friday, December 21, 2012

Rediscover Catholicism - Marginalia

Dear Theophilus,

I’ve recently finished reading Rediscover Catholicism by Matthew Kelly, and was completely floored by what I read between its covers. I bought the book from my parish who had ordered the book in bulk through the Dynamic Catholic Book Program. Essentially, Dynamic Catholic aims to get Catholic books into the hands of Catholics to help bolster their knowledge and understanding of the Catholic faith. If your parish isn’t already involved in the program, I strongly encourage you to approach your pastor about becoming involved in this program.

Usually, once I’ve read a book I’ve particularly enjoyed, I write about it here in the hopes of sharing what I’ve learned with you. What I’ve found with Rediscover Catholicism is that there is so much presented so well, I could never dream of doing it justice. Instead, I would like to share with you my marginalia of Matthew Kelly’s book.

I have the bad habit of marking up books as I read them; underlining what I find to be strikingly profound and jotting my own notes in the margins – marginalia. This is even easier when using my e-reader – though I find it also slows me down a bit. Although I didn’t have a pen handy every time I picked up Rediscover Catholicism (hence the big jump between quotes), below are a few of the ideas I highlighted or jotted down as I made my way through Kelly’s Spiritual Guide to Living with Passion & Purpose:

Matthew Kelly’s words are in bold type.

My own thoughts are in italics.

There is a genius in Catholicism, if we will just take the time and make the effort to humbly explore it. (p. 18)

…we confuse pleasure with happiness. (p. 37)
            And what is true happiness but resting in God – returning to the idea of St. Augustine that our hearts are restless until they rest in God.

           Discipline is the key to discipleship. (p. 40)

Freedom is the strength of character and the self-possession to do what is good, true, noble, and right. (p. 40)

One of the greatest tragedies of modern Catholicism is that as Catholics we are no longer considered a spiritual people. (p. 141)

“As a result many of his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him.” (John 6:66) (p. 188)
            I just found it interesting that turning away from Christ was accompanied by the number 666.
God rested on the seventh day because he foresaw our need for rest. (p. 222)

It (the Mass) isn’t designed to help him (God); it’s designed to help us. (p. 222)

(With regards to the Saints) Many are surprised, even scandalized, that God would use people with such monumental vices and shortcomings to reach out to humanity and give us hope for the future. (pp. 234-235)
If these people could do the will of God – then He can work through me as well – so long as I let Him.

The ultimate temptation is to read the Bible and see ourselves only in Jesus. (p. 235)

Uncertainty is a spiritual gift designed to help us grow. (p. 237)

God asks questions to educate. (p. 238)

The only diet most of us need is discipline. But we don’t want discipline. … We want someone to tell us, “You can be healthy and happy without discipline.” (p. 242)
In the extremes of the modern world, many see a call to discipline/discipleship as a call to asceticism – however, it is not so. As Michael Coren says – people would rather have a grandfatherly figure in God as opposed to God the Father.

The Church’s message stands so counter to that of the present culture because the Church is driven by this incredible vision for the human person. (p. 243)

Imagine a culture in which law-makers were less concerned with special interests and more concerned with creating a society that encourage and actively helped people to become the-best-version-of-themselves. (p. 243)

The notion of freedom proclaimed by the modern world is anti-discipline, But true freedom cannot be separated from discipline. (p. 245)

The demons of our modern age are in some cases subtler that the demons of Jesus’ time. (p. 249)

Our faith seeks to integrate the relationship between body and soul. (p. 253)

Fasting is radically countercultural, but so is Christianity. (p. 255)

Prayer doesn’t change God; prayer changes us. (p. 274)

One of the most incredible things about our Catholic faith is the vastness of our spiritual universe. (p. 276)

The primary concern of a Catholic leader must be a dedication to the spiritual life. (p. 307)

Jesus’ whole method of leadership focused on turning the hierarchy upside down. (p. 308)
Christ put the needs of the community before the rights of the individual. His was a leadership of servitude.

As I write these thoughts, dear Theophilus, I can’t help but see them as a bit disjointed out of context of the book’s whole. The alternative, however, would be to write out the entire book here, along with my thoughts. However, I hope this list of marginalia whets your appetite to read Rediscover Catholicism.

Similarly, I will often tweet as I read in the hopes that others will also meditate on these catch phrases as I do throughout the day. If you’re so inclined you can follow my thoughts as @fishermansshoes.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Being a Disciplined Disciple

Dear Theophilus,

Ask most elite athletes what got them to the pinnacle of their sport, many will tell you that it was hard work and perseverance. In short – discipline.

It takes a certain kind of discipline for young men and women to rise early or stay late to practice. I’m sure that even the most dedicated athlete doesn’t really enjoy a long and gruelling run in a cold winter rain, but a disciplined athlete runs just the same. You can see the fruits of such discipline in their results.

Ask any armchair athlete or weekend warrior why they never made it to the big time and their answers will be wide and varied – politics, wrong place – wrong time, injury, etc. Once you’ve filtered through all their excuses, I’m sure you’ll find that it came down to a lack of discipline in training for their chosen sport – that they gave up in the face of adversity.

Our spiritual lives are very much like our physical lives, and call for the same kind of discipline if we want to get the most out of them. When we find our spiritual lives slipping into the same rut as the athleticism of the armchair athlete or weekend warrior, it is tempting to trot out similar excuses – blaming God for turning away and distancing Himself from us. What we should be doing, on the other hand, is asking ourselves if we are approaching our relationship with God with the discipline that it deserves. Do we take the time to train our spiritual muscles to perform at their optimal peak? Are we as disciplined in our prayer life as we are in other areas of our lives?

If we are spiritual weekend warriors, going to Mass on Sunday but not working out spiritually in prayer through the rest of the week, then we can expect our relationship with God will seem lacking, even when we present ourselves before the Lord on Sunday.

We need to have good discipline to be good disciples.

With all of the distractions or world throws our way, it can be difficult to have a fruitful prayer life. That is precisely why our prayer life needs to be disciplined. Don’t fret, however, if by the end of the first week of your new spiritual efforts that you are not a candidate for sainthood. Remember that elite athletes call on hard work and perseverance to get results – prayer life is no different. When starting out on your spiritual journey, you need to be aware that there will be times when prayer comes easily to you, but there will also be times when prayer is difficult – it’s probably in the most difficult times that your prayer will bear the greatest fruit. Discipline will help your discipleship.

Like a marathon that can’t be run without proper training, a strong prayer life is built up little by little. There needs to be a solid foundation to support your spiritual edifice. Starting small with your prayer life (5-10 contemplative minutes a day, a decade of the Rosary, or simply remembering to say grace before meals) will allow you to build discipline in your prayer life without getting frustrated. As you become spiritually disciplined in small matters, you will feel confident in extending your prayer life – you will hunger for it.

In a world where we are told we can be who we want, can have what we want and can do what we want, it can be difficult to remain disciplined; period. If we remain disciplined in our prayer lives, however, we will be led to happiness beyond our worldly imagination.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Listening in Silence

Dear Theophilus,

The Advent season calls us to stop and take the time to reflect on the Saviour’s coming at Christmas. Finding a moment or two of silence in December to contemplate on this great mystery seems to be almost mission impossible. With the constant bombardment of holiday music (not always Christmas music) over store sound systems, the continual shill of television commercials telling us what we need to find under the tree on Christmas morning, along with the incessant chatter of children hyped up on Christmas treats and the promise of all their little dreams being fulfilled – it really is a wonder that we are able to keep our thoughts straight – let alone our sanity intact. On top of all the seasonal noise is the constant hum that the modern world gives us via our smart phones, iPods, the internet, cable TV, satellite radio … the list of distractions seems endless. But to truly appreciate the Advent season and our relationship with God, we need to seek out silence, because it is only in silence that we can truly listen to the word of God speaking in our hearts.

So often we say that we can’t hear God in our lives, but do we know where to listen for Him? Are we allowing God to speak to us in the way He wants to be heard? How do we know how God wants to speak to us? When we turn to the Bible, we can easily see that God speaks to us in the simplicity of silence.

When God spoke to Abram (and later as Abraham), calling him to leave his home for the Promised Land or to sacrifice his son, Abraham was usually alone or with only his son (cf.: Gen 12 and Gen 22). Whenever God wanted to speak with Moses, Moses would leave the Israelite camp to climb, alone and in silence, up Mount Sinai (cf.: Ex 19). When the Lord called to Samuel, he was lying quietly in the Temple (cf.:1 Sam 3).

The same kind of examples can also be found throughout the New Testament as well. When the angel of the Lord told Zechariah that Elizabeth was expecting a son, it was in the silence of the Holy of Holies, and when Zechariah wouldn’t believe the angel, he was struck mute until John the Baptist was born. (cf.: Lk 1:5-20). Whenever Jesus wanted to talk to his heavenly Father, he always sought him out in silence solitude, whether it was the 40 days in the desert to start his ministry (cf.: Mt 4); when the crowds followed him after his miracles, he would withdraw to deserted places to pray. (Lk 5:16); and on his final earthly evening, in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus left his disciples to go a few paces further to pray in silence. (cf.: Mt. 26:36-46, Lk 22:39-46). Even the final book of the Bible, the Revelation to St. John, was revealed when the evangelist found himself secluded on the Island of Patmos. (Rev 1:9)

How can we find silence amongst all of the distractions that our busy world throws at us? Silence isn’t to be found in today’s world, rather we need to create it. It should come as no coincidence then, that discipline and disciple are derived from the same root word. We need to discipline ourselves to be able to create more silence in our lives.

In his book Rediscover Catholicism, Matthew Kelly challenges us to spend at least 10 minutes a day in silent conversation with God. Ideally, he tells us, we should try to do this in a church – preferably our own parish. As churches are designed for contemplative prayer and Eucharistic adoration, they will provide the optimal surroundings for a silent 10 minutes with the Lord. Personally, I started following Kelly’s advice this week, spending 10 silent minutes in the school chapel before the start of the day. Although I find it hard to settle my mind, I find it reassuring to put my troubles before God, asking his guidance in how to best make my way through the coming day.

Matthew Kelly realizes that spending 10 minutes in a silent church every day isn’t always possible. We need to carve this silence out at other times and in other places. Some suggestions might be to try waking up 10 minutes earlier to sit quietly in your favourite chair, leaving your mp3 at home when you go for your daily run or take 10 minutes of silent contemplation at your desk before heading to the staff room for lunch.

Like I said, I’ve been finding it hard to get my mind to settle these first few days, but I’m also finding that my focus is getting better. It’s funny, but it’s the concerns that my mind wanders to that I find I need to place before the Lord, and by the end of the 10 minutes, I find I’ve got a plan on how to deal with them that not only solves my trivial problems, but also allows me to live God’s will. When you find you mind wandering, offer these distractions to God, allowing Him to guide your actions to do His will.

If you stick with it, I think that, like me, you will be pleasantly surprised to find how 10 minutes a day of listening to God in the silence, what H whispers to you can bring hours of peace to your life.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The Real Meaning of Advent

Dear Theophilus,

As Advent approaches Catholics the world over are called to make preparations for Christmas. Like the world over, those preparations usually involve making plans to travel, creating menus and shopping for grandiose meals, and, most importantly it seems, heading to the mall with lists if gifts for under the tree. With Christmas music playing over store sound system since mid-November, I’ll be Christmased out long before I make it to the vigil Mass on Christmas Eve.

Sometimes I find I need to take a moment away from the Christmas chaos to stop, pause and reflect on what Advent is all about to make sure I’ve got my priorities straight. I had one of those moments recently when I came across Jonathan McGovern’s blog, Scattered Thoughts of a Roam’in Catholic. In his post Where is the line??? he comments on the commercial pandemonium that is Black Friday and how North American society has strayed from the spiritual preparation that Advent is meant to be.

Like Jonathan’s blog did for me, we need to be reminded as a society as to Advent’s purpose. Yes, it is a time to prepare ourselves for Christmas, but this needs to be done in a spiritual way, not the materialistic, commercial way that some how takes over our lives come December. To be able to achieve this spiritual preparation, we need to remember what Christmas is all about – the birth of Jesus, the coming of Christ the Messiah, the Word becoming flesh and walking among us. If this is the case, shouldn’t the thought that occupies our minds during Advent be to ask ourselves why God sent his only Son to walk among His creation and not what to get the aunt we only see once a year.

To answer the question ‘Why did God become the Word incarnate?’ we need look no further than the first public announcement of Christ’s ministry on earth by his cousin, St. John the Baptist. Upon seeing Jesus for the first time the voice calling out in the wilderness pronounced:

Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! (Jn 1:29)

The Youcat expands on this by stating:

Why did God become man in Jesus?

In Jesus Christ, God reconciled the world to himself and redeemed mankind from the imprisonment of sin. “God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son” (Jn 3:1`6). In Jesus, God took on our mortal human flesh, shared our earthly lot, our sufferings, and our death, and became one like us in all things but sin. (YC 76; ref. CCC 456-460)

Amidst all of the Christmas joy, this is a very sobering fact. The baby Jesus is born because we are sinners. The cute infant in the manger in Bethlehem has been conceived to die on Calvary for our sins. As sombre as it may seem, this is, however, something you can rejoice in – the forgiveness of sins is at hand through God’s saving grace.

As we go about the hustle and bustle of preparing materially for Christmas, we need to take the time to prepare spiritually for what it is meant to be. We need to take time out from preparing meals to prepare our hearts for God’s saving forgiveness become incarnate in the Christ child. We need to tune out the noise of the world around us and tune into the silence needed to examine our conscience to make sure we are ready to welcome Christ anew into the world.

And when we become despondent that we are alone in the world with our spiritual preparations, know that our gentle witness will send a ripple through society, calling all hearts to prepare for the coming of Christ.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Behold the God that Loves You

Dear Theophilus,

My wife, son and I spent the weekend in London (Ontario) recently with my wife’s family to celebrate her niece’s first birthday. With the 3-hour drive through rush-hour traffic on Friday evening, the 3-hour return on Sunday afternoon and all the festivities and preparations in between, it was a very tiring weekend – but it was a happy tire.

One of the many highlights from the full weekend was Sunday morning Mass at Mary Immaculate parish. I always look forward to going to Mass at Mary Immaculate because it is the parish where we got married. Joyful warmth always comes over me when I remember looking up at the large crucifix behind the altar and I think of how Christ was, and still is, looking down in benediction on our marriage.

Fr. John Comiskey added to the joyful spirit stoking in my heart that particular Sunday with his homily. I was pleasantly surprised that Fr. Comiskey wanted to talk a little bit of the theology of the Eucharist in his homily, more specifically the words said by the priest just before the distribution of the Eucharist to the congregation:

Behold the Lamb of God. Behold he who takes away the sins of the world. Blessed are those called to the supper of the Lamb.

Father began his homily by sharing the scriptural sources of The Supper of the Lamb in the Book of Revelations:

Then one of the elders said to me, “Do not weep. See, the Lion of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.” Then I saw between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders a lamb standing as if it had been slaughtered, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out to all the earth. He went and took the scroll from the right hand of the one who was seated on the throne. When he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell before the lamb, (Rev 5:5-8)

When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slaughtered for the word of God and the testimony they had given; (Rev 6:9)

And the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.” And he said to me, “These are the true words of God.” (Rev 19:9)

Fr. Comiskey then went on to explain that the Book of Revelations isn’t exactly what the modern media would have us to take it as – an apocalyptic vision of the end of the world. An interpretation I myself once fell into in a feeble attempt to write pop-fiction murder-mystery novel. In hindsight, perhaps it’s a good thing I was never able to find a publisher. Instead, much like Dr. Scott Hahn in his book titled The Lamb’s Supper, Fr. Comiskey reminded us that the Book of Revelations was written at a time when the nascent Christian Church was under extreme persecution by the Roman Empire, and that the imagery in the Book of Revelation was used to give hope to Christians suffering from this state sponsored persecution. Taken in this context we can see the supper of the Lamb as the Eucharist, Christ’s Passover meal, marrying himself to his church and conquering the evil of the world’s sin through Christ’s broken body on the cross.
Throughout the homily I was cheering inwardly. This is the kind of knowledge that Catholic’s need as they are mocked in the world for their devotion to their faith. This is the kind of knowledge that sets my heart on fire each time I approach the Eucharist that brings tears to my eyes, sets a fire in my heart and physically draws me towards the Tabernacle.

“There is so much more!” I wanted to add to Fr. Comiskey’s homily. I wanted to share what I’ve learned from reading Dr. Hahn, Fr. Barron and especially Dr. Brant Pitre’s Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist that has helped me heighten my love for the Eucharist. Although all of this is too deep and complex to unpack in a single blog post, there are still a couple of things I wanted to add.

Firstly, in citing St. Jerome’s Dialogue with a Jew, Dr. Pitre recounts how, in the time of Christ, the sacrificial lamb that was too be eaten at the Jewish Passover meal, the Passover meal which Jesus ate himself, was roasted on a cruciform spit. So when Christ referred to himself as the Paschal Lamb while instituting the Eucharist, he was referring to the way he was going to die.

Both Dr. Pitre and Dr. Hahn explain and show how the Gospels of the New Testament are the fulfillment of the Old Testament. In linking the Eucharist to the Old Testament both make reference to the Bread of the Presence or the Bread of the Face. The Bread of the Presence of the Bread of the Face (both referring to God’s presence or God’s face) was the Old Testament sacrifice of the priest Melchizedek. The Bread of the Presence, in the form of Manna, was central to Old Testament Jewish worship, being kept in the Ark of the Covenant alongside the tablets of the 10 Commandments and the Rod of Aaron – it was that important to the Ancient Jews.

Although I’m amazed by this Old Testament link to Christ’s Passover, the supper of the Lamb, it’s what would happen with the Bread of the Presence at the time of Christ that completely floors me. In his Dialogue with a Jew St. Jerome recounts how, during the celebration of the Passover in Jerusalem, the temple priests would bring the Bread of the Presence out of the Holy of Holies to present it to the Jewish faithful. Holding the Bread of the Presence aloft for the crowds to see, the priest would proclaim: “Behold the God who loves you.”

Now, every Sunday, when the priest holds aloft the Eucharist and proclaims:

Behold the Lamb of God. Behold he who comes to take away the sins of the world.

I also hear:

Behold the God who loves you.

and, although I am not worthy that he should enter under my roof; blessed am I to have been called to the supper of the Lamb.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

In Search of the Sacred

Dear Theophilus,

“Is nothing sacred anymore?”

I seem to be hearing this question a lot more these days. The funny thing is that it usually has to do with the secular world.

No hockey this year! Is nothing sacred anymore?
Texting at the dinner table! Is nothing sacred anymore?
The mall is closed for a holiday! Is nothing sacred anymore?

I find it interesting, though, that none of these are truly sacred in the real sense of the word.

As Catholics we are lucky to come into weekly contact with the sacred through the Eucharist. But even with this it can, at times, seem difficult to find the sacred in the Mass.

Last week at my parish celebration of our patron saint, St. Leo the Great, I was fortunate enough to rediscover a sense of the sacred in the Eucharistic liturgy. With a Knights of Columbus honour guard, incense and holy water sprinkling, the congregation was wholly engaged for the sacredness of the Eucharist to come.

This isn’t to say that the usual celebration of the Eucharist without these elements is any less sacred than when they are present. We cannot, and should not, sustain such a high level of expectation when we meet Christ in the Eucharist. We need to recall that Christ’s own Passover meal was a simple affair. As Catholics we are called to understand that there is nothing more sacred in our faith than the Eucharist (CCC #1324). When it comes to the sacred in the Eucharistic liturgy the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM) states:

It is, therefore, of the greatest importance that the celebration of the Mass or the Lord’s Supper be so ordered that the sacred ministers and the faithful taking part in it, according to the state proper to each, may draw from it more abundantly those fruits, to obtain which, Christ the Lord instituted the  Eucharistic Sacrifice of his Body and Blood and entrusted it as the memorial of his Passion and Resurrection to the Church, his beloved Bride. (GIRM #17)

This is a logical progression from Vatican II’s Sacrosanctum Concilium:

Nevertheless the liturgy is the summit toward which the activity of the Church is directed; at the same time it is the font from which all her power flows. For the aim and object of apostolic works is that all who are made sons of God by faith and baptism should come together to praise God in the midst of His Church, to take part in the sacrifice, and to eat the Lord's supper. (Sacrosanctum Concilium #10)

All of this pondering on the sacred in the liturgy of the Eucharist reminded me of an article I read a few years ago in Adoremus Bulletin. I had been looking for a quote for a staff meeting reflection when I stumbled upon the following from Alvin Kimel Jr.:

The re-enchantment’ of the Catholic Liturgy”, declares Father Aidan Nichols, “is the single most urgent ecclesial need of our time”. I like the use of the word enchant to describe the Divine Liturgy of the Church.

I still vividly remember my first visit in June 1975 to St. Paul’s Church, K Street, in Washington, DC. I had just finished college. Earlier that year I had become a believing Christian. Upon returning to Washington, an old high school friend invited me to join him one Sunday at St. Paul’s. Solemn High Mass, with a visiting African bishop to administer Confirmation; solemn procession, with two thurifers; chanting, crossings, bowings, genuflections, incense -- all of this was completely new for me.

My only prior experience with the Lord’s Supper was as an addendum to the Methodist preaching service, with cubes of bread and shot-glasses of grape juice. Here was something utterly different. I was taken up into a sacred world. On that day I discovered the Eucharistic Christ. I was enchanted.
I found it possible to believe the Eucharistic promises of Christ because of the enchanting beauty and power of the Divine Liturgy that I experienced that first summer at St. Paul’s. I was enchanted into faith. I experienced the glories of heaven and thus came to know the truth of the Eucharist. I will always believe that the consecrated elements are truly the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. And it is the liturgy that has sustained and generated my faith for the past thirty years.

You can read the entire article here.

Keeping all of this in mind, I’ll ask you the same question I asked my colleagues 7 years ago: “Where do you find a sense of the sacred in practicing your Catholic faith?”

Monday, November 5, 2012

The Power of Prayer

Dear Theophilus,

I can’t count the times that I’ve heard the questions: “Why do bad things happen to good people?” or “How can a loving God allow evil to happen in the world?” I’ve always enjoyed answering these questions with another question: “Why does a blind man look in the mirror?” I find, however, that trying to explain my question to raised eyebrows can take more effort than my little chuckle is worth.

I should have known that I’d have better luck finding an answer to all three questions in scripture. When I had the opportunity to think about it this weekend, I was amazed at how self-evident the answer is:

As he walked along he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.” (Jn 9:1-3)

What got me to thinking about this was a visit to Sick Kids hospital in Toronto with my son this past weekend. We were there to visit friends whose son had recently lost his right foot in a tragic accident. These are God fearing people, very involved in parish life, and would give you the shirt off their back if you needed it (I’ve seen them do it, though perhaps not literally). When news of the accident spread through the parish there was shock and sadness. Then people began to pray.

In our family we didn’t pray for a miraculous healing. Although that would be nice, we know not to question the will of God. Instead, we prayed that God would allow the Holy Spirit to descend upon our friends, giving them the strength and courage to see themselves through this crisis. Whether it was during our individual morning prayers, as an addition to our mealtime prayers, or silently in bed before falling asleep at night; we prayed for my son’s friend and his parents.

Arriving at the hospital Saturday afternoon, like most people in that situation, I was left searching for what to say to the young boy and his parents. Nothing ever seems right in those circumstances. As the boys wheeled and walked ahead of us down the hall, hangin’ out as only 8 year-old boys can, I turned to the mom and said, “You look good.” to which she answered in a soft Irish lilt: “If it wasn’t for everybody’s prayers, I don’t know where I would find the courage to get through this.”

As we continued chatting through the visit, talking about looking after the boys, the animals on their farm, or parish events, every time the conversation meandered back to the reason why we were there she would voice how her courage was buoyed by everyone’s prayers.

It wasn’t until the subway ride home that it hit me; that’s exactly what we had been praying for: strength and courage for the family to get through this tragedy. Our prayers were being answered. Knowing this, my heart burned stronger in prayer later that night.

So, returning to my opening questions: “Why did God allow such a horrific thing happen to such good people?” I doubt it was to punish them for their sins, but rather so that this blind man (and hopefully others) could see God’s works revealed in the answering of our prayers.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Re-understanding Vatican II

Dear Theophilus,

Recently I sat with a small group of colleagues trying to figure out how to best serve the needs of the rest of the staff at our catholic high school for our upcoming Faith Awareness Day. My other colleagues kept talking about how there is an undercurrent of aggravation with the Catholic Church amongst the staff; and although I tend to keep a low profile, I had heard the rumblings and wasn’t surprised. At one point, a colleague at the table said, “I thought Vatican II was supposed to open a window from the Church to the world. Now it seems as if the window is being shut.” With hindsight, I wish I had has the courage and wisdom to ask who he thought might be shutting the window.

I add wisdom to the courage needed to answer such questions, because up until a couple of weeks ago, like most Catholics of my generation, I knew basically nothing about Vatican II. Sure, I could tell you that it was in the early 60’s (but not the exact date), and that it had been called by John XXIII, who died during the council and that it had been seen to its fulfillment by his successor, Paul VI. After the vernacular becoming the language of the liturgy, I would have been hard pressed to name any of the documents issued by Vatican II (I would have guessed at Gaudiem et Spes and Lumen Gentium – and I would have counted myself lucky).

As a part of my Year of Faith Resolutions, I’ve decided to take on getting to know the Vatican II documents better. Even if I just manage to read through them once, I would hope that it would leave me with a better understanding of them than if I had not read them at all. To this end, I picked up Vatican II – The Essential Texts with introductions from His Holiness Benedict XVI and James Carroll. I’ve only just gotten out of the introductions to begin Sacrosanctum Concilium, and I based on the introductions alone, the book has already paid for itself.

Where James Carroll gives the reader a historical look at the Second Vatican Council, Benedict XVI delves more philosophically into the council documents. The Holy Father’s introduction comes first, however, I would have preferred to have read Carroll’s historical treatment first to give me a context of Vatican II so that I could better understand Benedict XVI’s interpretation of the council texts. Not only does Carroll put the notion of Vatican II into its historical context with the backdrop of the Holocaust and Hiroshima, he also sheds historical light onto where the documents got their catalysts.

As I noted, Benedict XVI’s introduction to the Vatican II texts is much more philosophical, a way to make the documents of half a century ago relevant today. Time and again, throughout his introduction, the Holy Father alludes to, or outright tells us, that Vatican II had no intentions of changing Church doctrine, but rather the way in which Church doctrine is taught in order to make it more comprehensible to the modern world: “… the Council wishes ‘to transmit the doctrine, pure and integral, without any attenuation or distortion.’” Unfortunately, it seems that many people, especially Catholics trying to reconcile their faith to the pressures of the modern world, have understood Vatican II to mean quite the opposite – that doctrine must be changed so we can comfortably remain within the visible traditions of the Church.

Keeping this misunderstanding that Vatican II was designed to change doctrine and not the modicum of teaching, it was very refreshing, from an orthodox point of view, to listen to the homily given on October 26, 2012 by Cardinal Collins, Archbishop of Toronto, to about 1,000 catholic educators. I imagine that his Eminence ruffled a few feathers when he stated: “I’ve been told that up to 85% of Catholics today do not agree with many of the Church’s social teachings. Pause. And I tell them, yes, that is true. But it doesn’t make it right or wise. It is easy to go along with the flow as it is presented in the mainstream media. However, sometimes we need to go against the flow. It might not be easy, but it is right and wise.”

This is our challenge as Catholics in a very anti-catholic world. We are challenged to go against the flow because it is right and wise – but not necessarily easy. And when our opponents throw the window of Vatican II in our faces, we need to have the courage and wisdom to ask them who is closing the window before opening the door to light and truth and inviting them to enter.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Dr. Scott Hahn in Toronto

Dear Theophilus,

This past Saturday I was lucky enough, along with my wife and a group of friends, to spend the day listening to 3 separate lectures by Dr. Scott Hahn. The event, The New Evangelization: Equipping Yourself to Engage the Culture was put on by David Gilbert of Catholic ChapterHouse. The day also featured Damian Goddard as the Master of Ceremonies, along with Kathleen Dunn as a musical guest.

The day began with the more than 1,000 attendees reciting the Rosary. It’s hard enough to get that many people to sit silent and attentive, to have that many people praying the Rosary together was simply powerful. The last time I had my spine tingle with that many people lifting their hearts up to the Lord in unison was attending High Mass in front of the cathedral in Fatima as thousands waved goodbye to Our Lady with white handkerchiefs. With it starting out this way, I knew the day was going to be special.

We were then treated to the music of Kathleen Dunn. Although contemporary Christian music really isn’t to my taste, Kathleen’s music was just the thing to add to the prayerful setting. On top of it all, anyone who can make such an acoustically unfriendly setting as the Canadian Christian College in Toronto sound that good, must have talent. You can listen for yourself by visiting Kathleen’s website.

Then it was the moment I had been anticipating since I had heard of Dr. Hahn’s visit last July.

Dr. Hahn’s first session was called The Lamb’s Supper after his book of the same title. The talk he gave, however, was more of a blend between The Lamb’s Supper and Rome Sweet Home, something a friend who has heard both talks through Lighthouse Ministry cd’s confirmed for me. Although I had read both of Dr. Hahn’s books, what he did on Saturday was make them come alive. Between his intonation and facial expression, Dr. Hahn opened up his works on a whole new level. Since his recognition of the Mass in the Book of Revelations was key to his own conversion story, the two go naturally together. In his talk, Dr. Hahn is able to reveal how both Sacred Scripture and Sacred Liturgy are intertwined, each dependant on the other and each giving life to the other.

During the lunch break Dr. Hahn was gracious enough to meet with everyone who wanted to meet with him, shake his hand, have their books signed and their photo taken. Those who weren’t lining up to meet Dr. Hahn were all excitedly buzzing about the morning’s talk. Even though most of us knew what we were coming to hear, it was like we had all uncovered a hidden gem at the same time. In many ways we had – the hidden gem was the fire of faith being rekindled in our hearts.

The afternoon started with Dr. Hahn tackling the subject of The Bible, The Eucharist and The New Evangelization. Here Dr. Hahn delved deeper into the mystery of Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross and its institution in the Last Supper. Dr. Hahn traced the roots of the Eucharist in the Old Testament and showed us how we need to understand the Eucharist in its entirety, from the Passover meal of the Last Supper, through the sacrifice on the Cross, through the fulfilling grace of the Resurrection. As Dr. Hahn put it, if you look only at the Cross, you see nothing but a bloody and violent Roman execution, but once you put it into the context of the Passover meal and see its fulfillment in the Resurrection, then you can begin to truly grasp the significance of what Christ did for us.

After another brief performance by Kathleen Dunn and a quick break, Dr. Hahn returned to the stage for his final talk of the day, Why Scripture Matters. This theme continued along much the same lines as the earlier two, taking an even deeper look into the role of Sacred Scripture in our Catholic faith. Dr. Hahn began this session by telling the story of crossing paths with an old high school acquaintance who, upon learning that Dr. Hahn had converted to Catholicism, offered the same challenge that he himself used to bandy about: Where is the Mass in the Bible? Dr. Hahn’s answer was to show that the Eucharist permeates through the entire Bible, from Old Testament through the New – although there was nowhere near enough time to delve completely into this question, Dr. Hahn left the audience with the conviction that the New Testament exists because of the Eucharist and that the Eucharist can exist because of the New Testament. A symbiotic relationship very similar to the one discussed above regarding Sacred Scripture and Sacred Liturgy.

Here I have to make a confession. Throughout this blog my fingers have continually wanted to type Dr. Haha instead of Dr. Hahn, but in many ways, this could be a very apt name for Dr. Hahn. His sense of humour and ability to laugh at himself kept his talks flowing with a certain panache, transforming what could be a somewhat dry subject and turning it into an entertaining and thought provoking day. My head is still spinning from everything I learned, but here are a few of my favourite Dr. Scott Hahn sayings (paraphrased, of course):

Turn down Pride and you’ll find Mercy.

I need to remember I am merely the donkey that carries Christ.

All those who reject God are nothing but Ashes. (Quoting Peter Kreeft)

Another amazing aspect of the day was the amount of people I knew or knew of in the room. There were friends I had once worked with, friends who had moved out of our parish and other parishioners I didn’t know were going to be there. My wife and I had fun at lunch comparing notes on who we had bumped into in the line for the elevator to the washrooms. One major highlight in this regard was meeting up with fellow blogger and pro-life advocate, Joe Sales. If you haven’t read his blog Being Joseph Michael before, I suggest you do (as well as following him on Twitter).
With Joe Sales

The day drew to a close with the announcement that Catholic Chapter House will be bringing Peter Kreeft to Toronto on May 25, 2013. We’re already making plans in my parish to organize a group. We can’t wait to go back.

Thank you Catholic Chapter House for making this possible and for rekindling the fire of faith in so many hearts.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Year of Faith Resolutions

Dear Theophilus,

With much anticipation, but with seemingly little fanfare, tomorrow, October 11, 2012 will mark the beginning of the Year of Faith. Pope Benedict XVI declared the Year of Faith (Oct. 11, 2012 through Nov. 24, 2013) with his Apostolic Letter Porta Fidei a year ago. In his letter, Pope Benedict XVI calls on Catholics “To rediscover the content of the Faith that is professed, celebrated, lived and prayed, and to reflect on the act of faith, (as) a task that every believer must make his own, especially in the course of this Year.” (Porta Fideai, 9)

The Year of Faith was called to coincide with two important anniversaries in the Roman Catholic Church. Firstly, it is the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council. Secondly, October 11, 2012 marks the 20th anniversary of the publication of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Two events that have left a profound impact on the shape of the Catholic Church as we know it today. With this in mind, in Porta Fidei Pope Benedict XVI challenges believers to get to know the documents of Vatican II and the Catechism better as “They need to be read correctly, to be widely known and taken to heart as important and normative texts of the Magisterium, within the Church’s Tradition…” (Porta Fidei, 5)

Throughout Porta Fidei, His Holiness calls on the Year of Faith to be a time of renewal, rediscovery and a strengthening of faith:

“The renewal of the Church is also achieved through the witness offered by the lives of believers: …” (Porta Fidei, 6)

“The Year of Faith, from this perspective, is a summons to an authentic and renewed conversion to the Lord, the one Saviour of the World.” (Porta Fidei, 6)

“We want this Year to arouse in every believer the aspiration to profess the faith in fullness and with renewed conviction, with confidence and hope,.” (Porta Fidei, 9)

“The Year of Faith will also be a good opportunity to intensify the witness of charity.” (Porta Fidei, 14)

Like every New Year, this Year of Faith offers a sense of renewal and hope for the year to come. In much the same way as I approach the last week of December every year, I’d like to try to chart out a spiritual Plan of Faith for the Year of Faith ahead. A sort of list of Year of Faith Resolutions, if you will.

My Year of Faith Resolutions include:

Becoming a more Catholic teacher, making a conscious effort to include faithful teachings and doctrines in my history and geography classes;

Increasing my own knowledge and understanding of Catholic doctrines through personal reading, attending lectures and furthering my studies;

Getting to know the documents of Vatican II and the Catechism in greater depth;

Attending Eucharistic Adoration at least once a month;

Intensifying my prayer life;


Inviting others to deepen their understanding of our shared Catholic faith by offering them a safe environment to explore their faith journey.

I know this list seems pretty hefty, if not daunting at best, but there is an entire Year of Faith laid out before us. If I keep in mind that I don’t need to accomplish them by October 18th, then I think I can make it. Pray for me, and I know with the help of your prayers, I can. In the same way, I encourage you to share your own Year of Faith Resolutions, this way we can pray for each other as we rediscover, renew and strengthen our faith.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Growing my Passion for the Eucharist by Growing in Understanding

Dear Theophilus,


Lately I’ve noticed that a lot of my reading has been on the theme of the Eucharist. Coming to this realization this weekend is quite appropriate, seeing that it is the Canadian Thanksgiving weekend, and Eucharist means just that: Thanksgiving.

What I’ve also noticed is that with my growing understanding of the Eucharist, my love for Christ’s great Pascal sacrifice has also grown exponentially. As Cardinal George of Chicago points out so poignantly in his forward to Fr. Mitch Pacwa’s The Year of Faith: A Bible Study Guide for Catholics: “ But without a relationship to Christ, doctrine is just ideas and morality is only rules.” And we find this relationship with Christ through the Eucharist at the Mass each and every Sunday.

I recently had a conversation with the chaplain at the high school where I teach about my growing understanding of the Eucharist and how it has created a burning love in my heart to meet Christ in the Eucharist. I fessed up that, although I always believed the Eucharist to be the body, blood and divinity of our Lord, in hindsight it seemed almost like paying lip service to this most essential of Catholic beliefs. It was by really getting to know the Eucharist through my reading and attending workshops on the Eucharist that I came to actually know the Eucharist to be the body, blood and divinity of the Lord.

How did I get here? It wasn’t overnight. And I wanted to share some of my favourite titles that have led me to a passion for the Eucharist that I have read over the past couple of years. You’ll probably recognize some of the authors, as I’ve mentioned most of them here before:

Life of Christ by Fulton J. Sheen
Eucharist by Fr. Robert Barron
Supper of the Lamb by Dr. Scott Hahn
Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist by Dr. Brant Pitre
The Didache by the Twelve Apostles

If you truly want to experience the Eucharist in a bold way that will set your heart on fire, I urge you to deepen your understanding of Christ’s gift to us. The more you know about the Eucharist, the more you will yearn for the life it gives.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Why I Can't Change the Church... nor would I

Dear Theophilus,

During a course on sacred scripture this summer, the course instructor started the class with a very interesting ice-breaker activity. “If you were Pope,” he asked, “what is the one thing you would change in the Catholic Church today?” The majority of answers were of either the gay marriage or women priests variety. When it came to my turn, I mumbled something about a return to a greater understanding of the sacred in the liturgy.

With hindsight, I think I would answer that question a lot differently if I were asked it today. I would answer it with a string of questions:

Do you attend Mass regularly?

If the answer is yes , then I would follow it up with this next question (if ever the reply were negative, then I would just jump to my final question):

Do you recite the Apostles’ Creed with the rest of the Congregation?

Then, do you believe with the conviction of your whole heart that what you are saying is true?

I would then get into the nitty-gritty:

So then, you believe in ‘One holy catholic and apostolic Church’?

Taking this sentence of the Creed apart, I would then want to discuss the nature of apostolic succession; that Christ entrusted the earthly Church to St. Peter (Mt 16:18), as well as the notion that the Holy Spirit would be sent to guide the Apostles and their successors until Christ’s return (1 Cor 11:2, 2 Thess 2:15, Acts 1:21-26, and 1 Tim 1:6, 4:14 and 5:22). Even more importantly, I would want to bring to light the notion of the definition of catholic (which you can read about here).

Coming to an understanding that Catholicism permeates Creation in its entirety, I would then feel compelled to ask:

So then, do you believe in ‘God the Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth’?

I’d ask this because, if you feel the Catholic Church can (and ergo should) be changed, then you must also then be calling into question the Creator, He who put the earthly Church into place. If you cannot believe in His Church, then how can you also claim to believe in a God that is Almighty?

The final question I would ask this person to reflect upon would be this:

If you cannot believe in ‘One holy catholic and apostolic Church’, since you feel it needs to be fundamentally changed; then how can you, in good conscience, teach in a catholic school or provide professional development for catholic teachers?

As for myself, when it comes to the doctrines of the Catholic Church – I wouldn’t change a thing.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Rejoicing in God's Forgiving Grace

Dear Theophilus,

Lately I’ve been trying to read the Church’s proscribed readings of the day before the hectic whirlwind of the school day begins. Long before the students arrive, I sit quietly at my desk and read from the Entrance Antiphon through the Gospel. Meditating on the readings, I’m amazed at how everyday something jumps out at me as important to my life.

Yesterday (September 20th) it was Luke’s Gospel (Lk 7:36-50) that caught my attention. It’s a story that most Catholics know well – that of the woman sinner who, while Jesus was dining at the home of a Pharisee, bathed Christ’s feet with her tears and then dried them with her hair before anointing them with costly ointment. What really stood out for me was not what the woman was doing, but rather Christ’s response to the Pharisee who questioned Christ on allowing himself to be touched by a sinner:

A certain creditor had two debtors; one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he cancelled the debts for both of them. Now which of them will love him more?

Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little. (Lk 7:41-42, 47)

Immediately I felt the burning need in my heart to go to confession.

I am a sinner. I know I am a sinner. I also know that my sins offend the Lord greatly.

I liken confession to taking a shower after a long hard day of working in the garden. Watching the dirt wash away and the clean feeling afterwards soothes in a way that is beyond words. So is confession for my soul.

Over the years the Lord has shown me great forgiveness. In turn, I must show Him great love.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Trying to be The Catholic Next Door

Dear Theophilus,

My family and I, we’re the Catholics next door. The whole neighbourhood knows it. We’re the ones who teach in the catholic school system. We’re the ones who get dressed up to go to Mass on Sunday (called church by most of the neighbours). We’re the ones involved in church activities on days other than Sunday. And finally, I’m the one with the worry-beads (Rosary) when I’m out walking the family dog (who just happens to be Anglican because that is where the blessing of the animals is held in our small town).

We like to think we’re pretty normal, but we know that by today’s worldly standards some people see us as a little off-kilter. I always felt a little self-conscious walking the dog in a shirt and tie on Sunday mornings before we leave for Mass or felt people in restaurants were looking at us funny as we made the Sign of the Cross to say grace before meals. That was until I read The Catholics Next Door by Greg and Jennifer Willits.

The Catholics Next Door is the title of both the Willits’ book and their daily radio show on Sirius Satellite Radio (weekdays at 1pm on channel 129).What this husband and wife team does in their book and radio program is share their struggles to live their faith as best they can in today’s society. What is most compelling for the reader (and listener) is that most catholic couples can relate, in some way, to their trials and tribulations.

When Jennifer tells of balling herself up into the foetal position and repeatedly reciting the Hail Mary as a reaction to the normal rambunctiousness of her young boys, I see myself heading to the park, Rosary in one hand, dog leash in the other, to escape a noisy house after a long day at school. We need to rely on our faith to settle our minds and souls when things seem to be spiralling out of control.

When Greg tackles the dreaded topic of abstinence (at least dreaded from a male perspective), he doesn’t shy away from its difficulties, but he does highlight the amazing way it can enhance the love between a married couple. Greg points out how after abstaining for a certain period, rediscovering physical, conjugal love, is like re-discovering the passion for each other that you shared on your wedding night. Greg also explains how abstinence in marriage helps grow our love for our spouse as a whole person, running counter to the images constantly portrayed in popular media.

Finally, both Jennifer and Greg discuss how important it is for a husband and wife to put their marriage first, even before some of their children’s needs. Yes, children are an important part of the family, but they are not the only part. Without husband and wife, there can be no mother and father, and without a mother and father the sacredness of family begins to disintegrate.

Throughout The Catholics Next Door Greg and Jennifer are forthright in recognizing that they don’t have all the answers. That they are far from perfect. That they struggle and stumble, just like everybody else. This is comforting for those of us that are also trying to live out our faith knowing that we are not perfect.

With the courage of strength in numbers, we can continue to live our lives as the Catholics next door, bearing gentle witness of our faith to the world.