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.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Eucharistic Adoration

Dear Theophilus,

A few days ago my family and I attended Eucharistic adoration at our parish church. Outside of Holy Thursday, this was the first time any of us had participated in adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. When we left, we wondered what had taken us so long to get there.

Regarding Eucharistic adoration, the Youcat tells us:

Because God is truly present in the consecrated species of bread and wine, we must preserve the sacred gifts with the greatest reverence and worship our Lord and Redeemer in the Most Blessed Sacrament. (#218 – CCC#1378-1381, 1418)

During our half-hour of Eucharistic adoration, we came to realize just how special time with our Lord can really be.

Although adoration has been available before the Wednesday evening Mass at our parish for some time now, we hadn’t attended for one reason or another – usually a lack of time. Over the summer, however, I had begun to feel a burning need to spend time in adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. Between my summer readings and some grave family illnesses (my father had a stroke in August), I felt compelled to leave my problems before the Lord, as well as to give Him glory in thanksgiving.

So, after dinner last Wednesday we made our way to church to spend some time in adoration. We didn’t intend to stay the full hour, knowing our 8-year-old son would need some physical stimulation after his second day of school; we set a goal of 15 minutes of adoration. Pulling into the church parking lot my son announced, “We’re going to be here for half an hour.” I didn’t say anything, but I doubted him in my mind.

We walked into the silent church, genuflected, knelt and prayed. Aside from our son, my wife and I were the youngest people in the Church, though that wasn’t difficult as we were only about half a dozen. I laid all my worried before the Lord, asking for guidance and courage. After a while I looked over to my son and was surprised to see him still in quiet prayer, once he began to fidget, though, I knew it was time to get him out.

When we got in the car I looked at the clock and realized Michael was right, we had been there for half an hour. My wife said it felt more like 30-seconds than 30-minutes. How quickly time flies with the Lord.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Defining Love


Dear Theophilus,

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the second reading from the 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time (August 26th):

Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ.

Wives, be subject to your husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its saviour. As the church is subject to Christ, so let wives also be subject in everything to their husbands.

Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that he might present the church to himself in splendour, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. Even so husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no man ever hates his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is a profound one, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church; (Eph 5:21-32)

I remember this being a suggested reading for our wedding, but, like many young couples, we couldn’t get past the Wives, be subject to your husbands. Quite frankly, I wouldn’t want to be subject to anyone else either. Part of the problem was that we didn’t read further to get to the Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her. If anything, the majority of this reading can be taken on the surface to be about the husband sacrificing himself for his wife, just as Christ did for the church.

With the wisdom of hindsight I see another part of the problem we had with this reading was that, in our youth, we didn’t properly understand the true meaning of love.

Christ defines love as: No greater love has one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. (Jn 15:13)

This is further defined in the Catholic Catechism as: “To love is to will the good of another.” All other affections have their source in this first movement of the human hear toward the good. Only the good can be loved. Passions “are evil if love is evil and good if it is good.” (1766)

Unfortunately, modern society has equated love with lust. Not only lust in a sexual nature (though this is quite evident in how love is portrayed in popular culture) but also in the love/lust of material things. How often do we proclaim to love something when what we are really saying is: “Wouldn’t I be a better person and my life more complete if I had this object in my possession?”

We have turned love into an ego-centric emotion. Even when it comes to our relationships with others we profess to love, love is confused with lust and becomes a selfish emotion. How many people will tell someone “I love you!” with the express (or perhaps unconscious) intention of having that person satisfy some personal need (either sexually or for their personal image). That is far from wanting the good of the other. It is not love as Christ intended. It is lust.

To truly understand what love is, we need to separate our understanding of love from our lustful instincts. Love isn’t just a word uttered but an outward action of putting another’s needs before our own. We can like an object, even lust after it if it is for the greater glory of God, but to love an object according to the definition of the Catholic Church is impossible.

Loving someone isn’t easy either. Willing the good of the other above our own good can run against our natural instinct for survival. Once again, to understand love we need to return to Christ’s words:

No greater love has one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. (Jn 15:13)

And if this is the true meaning of love, then a husband most definitely needs to be subject to his wife.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Thoughts on the Year Ahead in my Catholic Classroom

Classroom in catholic school in Argentina Stock Photo - 2629500

Dear Theophilus,

Although I like to take time on Labour Day weekend to look back at the blessings that summer vacation has brought: a new puppy to our family, Michael’s week at Totus Tuus, and the many hours spent together as a family; I also like to use the week and days leading up to a new school year to reflect on the possibilities that lie ahead to set myself a goal as a Catholic teacher.

This year I would like to make the Catholic Education in my classroom just that, more Catholic.

I came to this decision for a number of reasons and from a number of different angles.

Firstly, Pope Benedict has declared this to be the Year of Faith for the Catholic Church starting in October 2012. I can’t think of a better way to celebrate the Year of Faith than by deepening my own faith and helping others to deepen their own. Of course this is a part of my job description as a Catholic Educator, but a lot of times faith takes a backseat to curriculum in my classroom.

Secondly, one of the instructors from my summer course on religious education directly challenged us to put into words how our Catholic classrooms are different from the classrooms of the public school across the street. When it comes right down to defending Catholic education, he told us, this would be the question posed in court – how are Catholic schools (and their classrooms) different. Many of my colleagues would begin to talk of Gospel values and social justice, but I fear that our public counterparts would be able to make the same claims under citizenship and moral ethics. In my History and Geography classroom I want to teach Catholicism from its core so my students can articulate what Catholic teachings are founded on and where Catholic teachings can take us to make a better society for everyone.

Thirdly, I had the wonderful opportunity this past summer to meet with Cardinal Archbishop Collins of Toronto. His Eminence was so gracious in his demeanour and so passionate about Catholic education that I couldn’t help but be moved by the same passion to infuse my Catholic classroom with faith.

Finally, publicly funded Catholic education in Ontario seems to be under attack more now than ever before. With our provincial government braying for cutbacks to public education expenses, one of the first items on many cost-effective lists is the amalgamation of Catholic school boards with their public (secular) counterparts. Yes, duplicity does seem unnecessarily expensive on the surface, but at what cost to the moral fabric of society by removing Catholic teaching out of the public forum (here it seems as though I return to my second argument – we need to show how Catholic education is not only different, but beneficial). This will be all the more important in Ontario Catholic schools this year as Gay-Straight Alliances promise to make their appearance in our schools and Catholic teaching will come under direct media scrutiny.

What do I propose to do?

I know I cannot change the system, nor my style, overnight and that baby steps are needed. I hope to make signs of our Catholic faith more visible in my classroom. I’m also re-inventing some of my assignments to reflect Catholic social teachings, their history and their guiding principles. For example, when we study the development of the social movement in Canada (workers’ rights, women’s suffrage, etc.) or the unequal distribution of global wealth, I want to challenge my students to find what the Catholic Church teaches on these subjects through papal encyclicals. I also intend on becoming more involved in the chaplaincy program at school with the goal of helping increase a sense of the sacred for my students – taking Catholicism beyond simple social justice.

Will I be a roaring success in changing the tone of Catholic education? I hope so, but I doubt it. I know that there will be times when I succeed, but there will also be times when I fail in the knowledge and courage needed to carry out God’s calling as a Catholic teacher. It’s for those times when I falter that I ask you to pray for me and the students entrusted to my care.