Friday, July 11, 2014

Being a Donkey for Christ

Dear Theophilus,

A little over a year ago, when I was still teaching the World Religions course at my high school, I invited Asha Frost, a childhood friend to come and speak to my class about Native Canadian spirituality. Asha is a homeopath who has also studied Ojibwa spiritual and healing traditions, not only as a part of her practice, but also as a part of her own heritage.

Among many items, Asha bought in her medicine pouch and explained the meaning and significance behind each item, as well as its purpose in Ojibwa spirituality. After answering many questions, Asha led us through a smudging ceremony and a guided meditation, which proved to have some interesting results.

The guided meditation that Asha took us through involved getting in touch with our inner animal spirit. In a similar way to how a Catholic guided meditation will help us calm our souls and lead us to Christ, Asha took us on a calming journey through the forest to meet an animal spirit that was waiting there for each individual. Not everyone in the room met up with their animal spirit, those that did shared that they had met up with deer, wolves and even a black panther. Of course there was the expected snickering when I shared with the class that I had met up with a donkey (the snickering was probably egged on by the fact that I played to my 16 year-old crowd by using the synonym for donkey that also describes my posterior).

I didn’t think much more of my spiritual meeting with the donkey as Asha finished her presentation and answered the kids’ questions, but I have pondered its meaning off and on over the past months. Wanting to dig a bit deeper, I did a little research, and was surprised by what I found out.

The donkey is considered to be among the most gentle and humble of all the animal spirits. An attachment to the donkey spirit signifies a spirit of servitude and wanting to help others. I also learned that of all the animal spirits in Native Canadian spirituality, the donkey is the one that is linked to Christ.

When I thought about it, this made perfect sense. Christ himself taught us that if we want to be great in the ways of God, we need to humble ourselves in servitude to others - that is why after he washed the Apostles’ feet at the Last Supper Christ said, “I have set you an example, that you should also do as I have done for you. Very truly I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are the messengers greater than the one who sent them.” (John 13:15-16)

Something else about the link between Christ and the donkey absolutely floored me. Through my research I learned that all donkeys have a very particular marking on their shoulders. On their grey hair, donkeys have a dark brown line that runs along their neck and spine, while another dark brown line runs across their shoulders, forming a cross on its shoulders. It’s little wonder that the teenager at the local petting-zoo looked at me funny out of the corner of his eye as I excitedly pointed this out to my wife.

The cross on the donkey’s shoulders is just in front of where one would sit if they were riding this humble and docile beast. It would have been this cross that Mary would have looked at during the long ride from Nazareth to Bethlehem, as well as Christ as he rode triumphantly into Jerusalem; reminding both of them both of his merciful mission for humanity.

The more I meditate on my meeting with the donkey, the more I realize I want to be like him. Not only do I need to strive to be more Christ like, humble and servile; but I want to be like the donkey, carrying Christ to the world.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Why Read Catholic?

Dear Theophilus,

A long, hectic and somewhat adventurous school year now over, I can now turn my attention back to one of my joys in life – the written word. Through the school year, I often find the physical, intellectual and emotional demands of teaching so overwhelming that I rarely have either the time or energy to read, let alone put a few coherent thoughts together for this blog; this past year even more so due to the demands of a new position and a new curriculum to teach.
All of this said, at the beginning of every summer I look forward to diving into the pile of books that have been sitting on my bedside table (sometimes for months) as a part of my summer morning routine. This got me to thinking about the content of this year’s particular stack of books, and how they made their way onto my reading list. I essentially asked myself why I read what I read, which lead me to ponder the deeper question: Why read Catholic?
Why read Catholic, indeed? With the vast number of titles available at Chapters/Indigo, Amazon or Barnes and Noble, why should one go out of their way to read Catholic titles on Catholic subjects? I think the answer is quite simple: the best way to get to know one’s faith is to defend it, and the best way to defend one’s faith is to get to know it – I find the best way to do this, and to have the reference on hand when needed to defend the faith, is to read Catholic.

Much like the daunting task of trying to choose a title when you walk into a mega-bookstore, knowing where to start your Catholic reading journey can seem overwhelming at first as well. The best piece of advice here would be to ask around, talk to someone you know (friend, pastor, catechist, spiritual director) for some authors and titles they think you might enjoy. Think about what you would like to learn from your reading: Church teaching or prayer life. Some of my favourite authors on these subjects include: Scott Hahn, Fr. Robert Barron, Karl Keating and Fr. Mitch Pacwa.

With the vast selection of s authors, styles and subjects, keeping your reading list on track will also require some effort. In a conversation I had with friend PatrickSullivan recently I went down the list of titles I had read over the past few months or that I intend to read this summer; the list ranged from St. John Paul’s Theology of the Body to The Bad Catholic’s Guide to Good Living (which is more theologically sound than the title lets on). Patrick used terms such as eclectic and diverse to describe my reading list, I personally prefer the word scattered.

Patrick likened the process of reading Catholic to building a house, you need to build a sturdy foundation first, and then move upwards. What I`ve been doing is placing a brick here, and another there in a very disjointed fashion, with nothing to link one to the other. To get the most out of reading Catholic, you need to have a plan, a blueprint for your house. Once I get through the eclectic list on my bedside table (which should be around Christmas) I`ll sit down with Patrick and draw up my blueprint.

Finally, finding the Catholic titles you want can also prove to be a bit challenging. When standing bug-eyed in the religion section of the mega-bookstore it`s next to impossible to know which authors/titles are Catholic, and in a smaller bookstore they may not even be there at all. For this reason, I find knowing a good on-line Catholic book seller is essential; my favourite being Catholic Chapter House.

Sunday evenings at our house are known as wine and theology time, where I sit down with whichever book I’m currently reading and a glass (or two) of red wine. Now that the summer months are here, I encourage you, dear Theophilus, to also slow down, pour yourself a glass of your favourite libation, and read Catholic.