Wednesday, September 21, 2016

In Defence of God's Holy Name

Dear Theophilous,

Waiting for a wayward student on the school bus a few years back, my colleague and I did a roll call to figure out who was missing. The bus was quiet, and about three-quarters of the way through the list there was no response to the name called. In the pregnant pause that followed, from somewhere in the back, came a loud, “Je*** Ch****! She’s always late.” To which I couldn’t help but immediately reply, “I’d rather you drop a holy f***, than what you just said if you’re going to swear at all!” Needless the dead silence that followed told me that I had gotten my point across.

You shall not invoke the name of the Lord, your God, in vain. Ex 20:7

Our Lord has a name that is so holy; it needs to be handled with caution. His name is so powerful, if not used properly; it can be dangerous for the one speaking it. The very mention of God’s name should give pause for reflection. The sound of the Lord’s name demands veneration. It is a name so sacred, He knows that we can’t even hear if from His own lips – when Moses asked God’s name in the burning bush, the answer was an enigmatic:

I am who I am. Ex 3:14

Some how, some where along the line, we seem to have lost this sense of the sacred. In western society in 2016, it’s not at all uncommon to hear a pejorative Je*** Ch****! or OM(F)G! at the drop of a hat, and nobody bats an eye.

Don’t get me wrong. There are still some circles where the name of God is still sacred; unmentionable. My experience is that this is among the more orthodox Jewish communities, many of who will still write G*d or Y*w*h to communicate His name without writing it. I think we have a thing or two to learn from this treatment of God’s name.

So how do we combat this de-sanctification of our Lord’s holy name? How do we change a world that seems bent on infuriating God? The same way it disintegrated… One soul at a time.

At the name of Jesus every knee should bend, of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. Phil 2:10-11

“As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bend before me, and every tongue shall give praise to God.” Rom 14:11

On thing that I’ve started doing, in the hopes of at least making people aware of their words, is to change these pejorative utterances of our Lord’s name into a prayer with a simple: Blessed be His name forever! and then bow my head.

I’m not sure how much of an effect this is having, but I’m sure it’s unnerving a few people. My next step – when I get up the courage, will to begin genuflecting at the sound of the Lord’s name. I can just imagine the fun some in my extended family will have with this – but hopefully my perseverance will eventually pay off.

Monday, September 5, 2016

New 'Catholic' School Year's Resolutions

Dear Theophilous,

Labour Day has a sense of foreboding in our home. In a household of 2 teachers and 1 student, it marks the end of carefree summer routines and lax bedtimes, while heralding a return to routine and the incessant 5:30am blare of the alarm clock. The world is not ending, however, and in many ways we’re looking forward to a return to a more structured life, as well as all of the other fun activities that we enjoy that take a summer hiatus.

This holiday Monday always offers us the two-fold opportunity to look back wistfully upon the summer months, while also looking toward the promise of a new school year.

At the first staff meeting of the year, the ubiquitous question, “How was your summer?” seems to make it’s way around the table. It’s fun to hear of everyone’s adventures and to see their smiling faces. Looking back over the past couple of months, it brings a smile to my face to think of how any suffering brought much good in the long run, as well as the warm memories of family time and celebrating sacramental milestones. We truly are blessed.

But what of the year ahead?

In the same way that January 1st calls for New Year’s resolutions, so does September 1st (or at least the Tuesday after Labour Day) call for New School Year’s resolutions. It’s a typical First Day of School activity that many teachers use – write down your goals for the year and seal them in an envelope to revisit them again later in the year.

What about teachers? What about our own goals for the New School Year? Do we take the time to pray on what we want to accomplish in the coming year?

This is a kind of prayerful meditation that I do the last week of every August, though not necessarily something I do publicly (I did write about it Labour Day 4 years ago here). In the hopes of keeping myself somewhat accountable, I thought to post my 3 New Catholic School Year resolutions here. Please pray for me, and please lift me up when I falter.


Teaching in a Catholic high school, we are singularly blessed to have the Blessed Sacrament of the Eucharist in our school chapel. Although I make it a point of stopping in and spending some time in Adoration to begin each day (read my thoughts here), each year I start out with the best of intentions to introduce my students to this practice on a weekly basis. Unfortunately, some how curriculum and scheduling have a habit of taking over, and after we skip one week, it’s way too easy to slide out of practice.

Once again, this year I intend to bring my students weekly to Adoration. Past practice tells me that they long to be there – not a Friday goes by that the kids are not asking me if we are going down to the chapel. When I ask them why they like going to Adoration, a few will shame-facedly admit that they like the free-pass from class; a few others say they like hearing the daily Gospel; a few more mention the unformulated prayers I make speak to what they are going through (I always make sure to thank God for the coming week-end).

When I ask the students what they find to be the hardest part of Eucharistic Adoration – the almost unanimous answer is the silence. In a world dominated by cell phones and the internet, they have a hard time turning off. When I ask the students what they like best about Eucharistic Adoration – the almost unanimous answer is also the silence. Although they may not like being forced to switch off, once they do, the students come to realize how much their soul is thirsting for this solitude.

The Truth

This is probably the hardest part of being a Catholic teacher – sharing the Truth that is Jesus Christ as taught by the Catholic Church. It’s not exactly popular in the world today. Luckily, I have had some great mentors over the years, and fantastic support from my school administration. Still in the current social and political climate, I know the Truth will not always be welcome news – please pray that I have the courage and wisdom to see it through.

Evangelical Witness

I’m a bit of an introvert by nature; large group conversations and social situations tend to make me uneasy. Standing up and making a statement isn’t really my style (nor is it always needed – quiet witness is most often the best). This is why I am so rarely in the staff room – I just feel overwhelmed.

That said, when having a quiet lunch over a theological discussion with a couple of friends, we noted that we cannot evangelize if we are in hiding. Just imagine if the Apostles had stayed in the upper room after Pentecost – there would be no Church to speak of. How can I be a witness to the faith if I do not put myself in situations where I can be witnessed?

This will probably be the most difficult of my New Catholic School Year’s resolutions, but hopefully one that will produce the most fruit. I will try to get over my fears and into the staff room more often; not to get on a soapbox and pontificate, but rather to be a quiet witness to the faith – and yes, having those difficult conversations if they do arise.

As we start this new school year, please pray for all who work in education, the future is in their hands. In a special way, pray for all who work in Catholic education, in some ways the future of the faith is in their hands.