Friday, November 29, 2013

You don't eat meat?

Dear Theophilus,

A few weeks ago I was honoured to attend an event being held for a good friend’s brother. With my friend being of Italian heritage, there was quite a spread set out when it was time to eat: lasagne, alfredo pasta, veal, sausage, rapini, Caesar salad, and on the table went. Unfortunately for me, it was Friday, but I still quietly loaded up on the vegetarian options. As I got to the end of the table, an older gentleman asked me, “What, no veal? No sausage?” To which I simply answered, “Hey, it’s Friday.” After he had swallowed his amazement, my new found friend replied, “Yeah? I try to do that too.” That was all that was needed to be said, and then we went our separate ways.

I know the Catholic Church no longer obliges the faithful to fast and abstain from meat on Fridays. In fact, the only obligatory days of fasting and abstinence are Ash Wednesday and Good Friday (cf Youcat #345, CCC #2042-2043). In Canada, the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops teaches that although Fridays are still considered a day of abstinence, if one performs a particular act of charity, penance or piety outside of their normal behaviour, this can replace the act of abstinence.

Still, I try to follow the old rule of abstaining from meat on Friday. It may seem archaic, but I see it as doing my part in keeping God’s covenant. Despite all of my sins and shortcomings, I know God still loves me, and He forgives me through the sacrament of reconciliation. So really, is going a day without meat too much to ask on my end?

Much like Eleazar, who refused to even pretend to eat swine’s flesh to save his own life (cf 2 Macc 6:18-31), I too could probably fake it. Use my morning prayers as a sign of piety, or drop $5 in the poor box so I can have wings with my Friday beer. But I’ll know, and more importantly God will know that I’m just looking for a loophole in his Covenant law.

Although it may be awkward at times, I’ll continue try to be like Eleazar, trying to keep up my end of the Covenant. However, as a seafood lover, the difficulty won’t be in the abstaining from meat, but rather in the explaining why.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Strengthening Our Faith to Strengthen Our Children's

Dear Theophilus,

Kids say and ask the darndest things. That’s why we need to be ready for them when they have deep, penetrating questions about the faith. Because, if we’re not ready to answer them with the Truth, then they’ll go looking for answers in all the wrong places: the internet, television or the school yard.

I realized how important this is earlier this week when my 9 year-old son popped a big one from the backseat: “How do we know God exists?” Forgetting that he’s only 9 and not my high school religion class, I started into a discourse on St. Thomas Aquinas’ Five Proofs. When we pulled into the driveway all he could muster was a feeble, “My head hurts.” Even though I was ready for his question, I had forgotten how to answer it so he could understand. 

Although it’s important as a parent to be ready to answer our children’s questions about the faith, it’s even more important for Catholic Educators. 

A couple of weeks ago I was in the midst of preparing a workshop for Catholic high school teachers when I came across the following quote: 

However else the responsibilities of Catholic Educators are defined, the legitimate expectation of professional colleagues, of parents, of the church community and of the school board is that they say something about God. Msgr. Dennis Murphy (The Catholic Register, Aug 21-28, 2005).  

At the end of the day, this is the crux of Catholic education. This is the reason why parents send their kids to Catholic schools. This is our vocation as Catholic educators. I remember thinking this the first time I read this quote so many years ago, and was reminded that it remains pertinent even today. 

But are we ready to say something about God?

It has been my experience that many Catholic educators, especially those outside of the Religion Department, will shy away from the subject of God and His teachings through the Catholic Church. This is usually due to a feeling of insecurity in their ability to answer the big questions our students ask. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

The first step is getting Catholic educators the tools they need to comfortably teach Catholic doctrine. This could be done simply by getting a copy of the Youcat into the hands of every Catholic educator. They don’t need to read it from front to back. It can even collect dust on their classroom bookshelf. However, it will be there for them to blow the dust off when a student asks a tough question on what the Catholic Church really teaches about homosexuality, going to Mass on Sunday, or is Jesus really present in the Eucharist. I know that, for myself, the Youcat is my go-to resource when students ask questions I’m not comfortable answering on my own. 

Like with most things, the more we have, the more we want. I find that it’s the same with our knowledge of the faith. The question then is, where do we go next to deepen our knowledge of Catholicism?

Of course there’s a wealth of resources on the internet; way more than I could possibly list here without missing a quality Catholic resource. Some of my favourites include this online searchable catechism, Catholic Answers, Word on Fire, and the source of Catholic sources: The Vatican. If you’re more inclined to surf over to Youtube, two channels that I go to on a regular basis are Fr. Robert Barron and PatrickSullivan. 

Our Catholicism is also a communal faith. A faith where we are called together to witness to our faith to each other. Nothing strengthens our Catholic faith quite like being in a large group of Catholics all witnessing their faith together. Fortunately, there are a number of Catholic conferences where our faith can be fed. My favourite semi-annual conference in Toronto is put on by Catholic Chapter House, where I’ve heard such renowned Catholic speakers as Dr. Scott Hahn, Dr. Peter Kreeft and EWTN’s Marcus Grodi. Another conference I want to get to one day is the Defendingthe Faith conference in Steubenville, Ohio, which features these names amongst a who’s who of Catholic speakers. 

Of course there is a smattering of conferences for Catholic educators out there, but they seem to be few and far between. Although conferences geared toward the laity as a whole help us sustain our Catholic faith, it would be nice to have some more targeted to the needs of Catholic educators. There’s an internet survey for Catholic educators here to find out what they would like to see in Catholic Professional Development – please share it with the Catholic educators you know. Also, if you know of any conferences for Catholic educators (or for the laity in general), please share the details in the comment box below. 

Working together we can help one another strengthen our faith and enrich our knowledge of the Truth and beauty that is Catholicism. With the right resources, we can grow our confidence in our ability to answer our kids’ questions. We will be ready to say something about God.