Creating Nativity likened to chess match

Creating a sculpture is like playing a game of chess, said sculptor Tim Schmalz of his expanding clay Nativity scene. 

"Your opponent does one move and that will determine your move," said Schmalz. "And with doing a multi-figured sculptural scene like this, I have to react with the central piece… I have to monitor what person plays what role within this drama."

Schmalz worked on his sculpture of baby Jesus, Mary and Joseph at the sixth annual Friends of the Crèche International Convention in November and is currently working on adding the three wise men, shepherds, an angel and animals to the scene. He hopes to have the sculpture completed by Christmas.

This week's movie reviews - Sherlock Holmes, Mission Impossible

It's a big weekend at the movies, check out reviews of two of the most notable releases from a jam-packed festive season.

Andrea Rebello’s art gives meaning to prayer

TORONTO - For Andrea Rebello, singing sacred hymns is a way to express her love for God.

“(Singing) is an expression of how I like to pray,” said Rebello, cantor and music director at St. Clement Church. “Through the arts, we can really communicate our prayer and love of God, and our faith and devotion.”

Rebello has been doing plenty of praying lately, as she has just recorded a CD, Venite Adoremus, with some of those songs on the playlist at a Christmas concert she was to perform Dec. 17 at St. Clement Church. A portion of the proceeds will be donated to the parish.

Deacon pens prayer through poetry

TORONTO - For Toronto Deacon Anthony Pignataro, penning poems is merely a form of prayer and service to others.

Writing poetry is “another way of serving others as you disseminate the work and share it,” he said.

Drawing from his ministry as a deacon and 20 years of “inspirational walks through his garden,” Pignataro has just published his first book of poetry, personal essays and meditations, From Under a Linden Tree, published by Sarum House.

Artists lend their talents to help Aid to Women

TORONTO - Singers, dancers, musicians and artists lent their talents to raise about $4,000 to support the pro-life charity Aid to Women at a Dec. 8 fundraiser at the El Mocambo nightclub.

The event was held on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception.

“The owner of El Mocambo is a Marian devotee and he loves Mary and so he loves to donate his club on Marian feast days to causes that understand those feast days,” said Elena Repka, event organizer and vice-president of Aid to Women’s volunteer board of directors. She asked that the club owner not be named to respect his privacy.

This week's movie reviews - New Year's Eve, The Sitter

The Sitter

The Sitter

Felony child endangerment presented as "life lessons" constitutes the theme, such as it is, of "The Sitter" (Fox).

Director David Gordon Green and screenwriters Brian Gatewood and Alessandro Tanaka run the gamut of degradation, tossing in some racism for good measure.

A five-person journey to find the spirit of Christmas

This Christmas season, the stories of five diverse people and their journey to the Holy Land to discover the season’s true meaning is airing on CTS’s Journey to Christmas.

The goal of the four-part documentary series was to discover if there was more to Christmas than is typically experienced in North America, said producer Karen Pascal.

“We’re so caught up in the commercialism and the busyness and the gift-giving and I think the true meaning of Christmas has become something really distant,” said Pascal.

Exhibit explores universal themes of religion

GATINEAU - A new exhibit at the Canadian Museum of Civilization manages to explore the diversity of religious belief without falling prey to moral relativism.

God(s): A User’s Guide also conveys through artifacts from a wide range of faiths and multi-media presentations the amazing diversity of religious expression.

The exhibit, which opened Dec. 2 and will run until Sept. 3, 2012, invites people to contemplate the ultimate questions about meaning that underlie all religious faiths, such as the existence of God, the creation of the universe and life after death.

Third World ethical challenges for the First World

When I began work as a health care ethicist more than 20 years ago, the discipline was focussed on two main issues: respecting the rights of individual patients, particularly through the practice of informed consent, and working through issues posed by the growth in medical technology. Artificial organs, gene-altering therapies, conceiving children in Petri dishes sounded like the stuff of science fiction. But they were real and ethicists grappled with questions of limits, of preserving human dignity, of trying to understand what death meant when a body could be kept warm and breathing almost indefinitely. This was medical ethics in the first, or developed, world.

This week's movie reviews - Arthur Christmas, Hugo, The Muppets & Twilight

With Thanksgiving in the U.S., there are lots of big releases this weekend. If you need help deciding what to see, we've got reviews of Arthur Christmas, Hugo, The Muppets and the latest movie in the The Twilight Saga: "Breaking Dawn - Part 1".

Vatican newspaper says Shakespeare was secret Catholic

VATICAN CITY - There is "little doubt" that William Shakespeare was a Catholic who was forced to hide his faith in Protestant England while leaving hints about his faith throughout his vast body of work, said an opinion piece in the Vatican newspaper.

Taking a cue from renewed speculation about Shakespeare's true identity sparked by the film "Anonymous," L'Osservatore Romano wrote, "There may be questions regarding his identity, but not his religious faith."

Artist Tim Schmalz’s Nativity sculpture spreads joy of Christmas

TORONTO - As sculptor Tim Schmalz works on his Nativity sculpture, he compares it to a Christmas carol — one of the songs of absolute happiness.

“Throughout this process, what happened was the figures became more joyous, the designs became more lyrical… And it wasn’t ‘Silent Night.’ It was definitely one of loud celebration as far as the representation is concerned,” said Schmalz.

The view from here on Dorothy Pilarski's Motherhood Matters

Editor’s note: Dorothy Pilarski’s Motherhood Matters: Inspirational Stories, Letters, Quotes & Prayers for Catholic Moms is sure to make you think about modern-day mothering.

To wit, The Catholic Register has enlisted two reviewers to give us their take on the recently released book.

The book is available to order from our site or by calling (416) 934-3410.

Author forces mothers to take a look at their lives

By Elena Maria Vidal, Catholic Register Special

In Motherhood Matters, Dorothy Pilarski writes with profundity and wit about matters practical and divine. Full of anecdotes and humour, this book makes us take an honest look at the lives of women today and enourages us to focus on what matters most.

Has “liberation” truly led to greater happiness for women? Are children to be viewed as commodities to be acquired just as we acquire a house or car? Or should children be seen as gifts from God given to our stewardship?

Pilarski makes it clear that until we resolve our confusion about such basic questions then peace of heart will elude us.

“We will find happiness in living out God’s purpose for our lives, not our own,” she writes. “The culture of the early 21st century makes it easy to follow mistaken paths. The media bombards us with the temptation to fulfill ourselves, to find ourselves, to meet our own needs. It is a message of selfishness. And it is spread constantly. Magazines, television, radio, films, books and the Internet promote images of the ‘ideal’ career, body, fashion, home, car, vacation, husband and parenting.

“These ‘ideals’ are often reinforced by friends and family. Influenced by these ‘ideals,’ many of us make important life decisions without first considering our relationship with Jesus Christ and our Catholic faith . . .  As Catholic mothers, we are called to dig deep into our hearts and pray that we are actually co-operating with God’s grace . . . Our children are gifts from our Creator who has entrusted the souls of our children to us.”

Motherhood Matters is comprised of dozens of small essays, which makes it easy for busy people to read. Yet it is never disjointed. One paragraph flows seamlessly into another.

Pilarski substantiates her beliefs about women and motherhood, about divorce, illegitimacy, diseases and the many trials of modern life by using not only her own faith beliefs but by employing statistics from several recent studies. The statistics uphold her piety, showing that when we depart from God and His law there is a price to be paid by us, our children and all society.

Pilarski laments that many women are forced to delay childbearing in order to make money. Even when children are born, women must often forgo nurturing their children and creating a home in order to be part of the workforce.

It becomes obvious in Motherhood Matters that modern culture places less value on motherhood than past generations. Motherhood is depicted as a calling of convenience. Is that fair to women? No, and it is definitely not fair to children.

Women today hear repeatedly that their value to society requires that they be breadwinners like men. Other than that, women are often judged by their sexuality.

Can things ever be made right? Motherhood Matters explores many simple and practical ways women can reclaim their feminine vocation. It examines several obvious truths about women and motherhood, which Pilarski illustrates with short stories from her personal experience.

Motherhood Matters entertains, yet it is impossible to read without taking a hard look at oneself. Throughout the book we are enjoined to turn to prayer as the key to finding the path we are called to follow as women and mothers. We are encouraged to watch and pray, especially when we have teenagers.

“Remaining grounded in a fervent prayer life and being aware of the dangerous messages that exist in the media can better equip parents to understand the challenges that vulnerable teenage girls wrestle with,” Pilarski writes. “Awareness leads to conversations we might have never had. But be prepared. I guarantee that those conversations will challenge you, yet I cannot imagine a life without them.”

The choice that lies before each of us is between a life of authentic love and one of  fleeting material gratifications. No one can make the choice for us. Reading a book like Motherhood Matters makes it easier to choose a life of love, a life which foreshadows the eternity of endless happiness and fulfilment.

(Vidal is the author of three historical novels: Trianon, Madame Royale and The Night’s Dark Shade. You can visit her website at

Pilarski makes her case, but it is not for all

By Eleonore Fournier-Tombs, Catholic Register Special

For Western young women, motherhood is not necessarily a fait accompli. It is often a source of public debate, private questioning, discussion and concern. For women in their 20s and 30s, the possibility of one day being a mother is a source of joy, fear, excitement or indifference. Some women want six children and some women want none. Some women can’t decide and many wonder if they can handle it.

As Dorothy Pilarski writes in Motherhood Matters, being a mother can, no doubt, be a meaningful part of a woman’s life — one that is difficult without a strong support network and a solid faith. With today’s social and material pressures, many juggle several full-time commitments and feel exhausted and unappreciated.

But Pilarski doesn’t stop at these generally uncontroversial claims. Her advice is personal and specific. To the modern young Catholic, her point of view can seem contentious and even harsh.

Pilarski is a well-known Canadian Catholic personality who maintains two blogs, “Gutsy Catholic Mom” and “Catholic Talks by Dorothy.” She also regularly writes for The Catholic Register and has, among many writing and television projects, co-developed a series on Salt+Light Television. She is a mother of two and projects a happy family life.

This collection of essays describes meaningful moments and turning points in her life. She uses personal anecdotes to explain specific advice for mothers, building up to a 45-item list on setting spiritual goals.

While the level of detail with which she discusses her own life is interesting and insightful, the assertiveness with which she makes claims about how Catholic women should approach motherhood might be disconcerting. She argues, for example, that Mary would not have asked another person to raise her Son. By that she means that although women should be encouraged to pursue an exciting career before childbirth, they should take several years off to raise their children. She is critical of women who only take one year off after giving birth. But what about those who can’t afford to take time off or who want to start working again soon after their child is born?

Modern women, and their spouses, take many different approaches to parenting. Some couples decide that the wife should pursue her career while the husband stays at home with the children, other families have extended networks that allow for a warm, loving community even while both parents are working.

Just like men, women often struggle to strike a balance between their work, relationships, spirituality and physicality. Striking this balance is a daily commitment, unique to each person. Motherhood may be a fulfilling and meaningful life path, but it is not the only one, nor is there only one way to engage on it.

Pilarski criticizes feminist women, claiming that a woman should instead be feminine. But feminism — the recognition of the need for political, economic and social equality of the sexes — and femininity — a characteristic that is unique to women — can go hand in hand. Women can be both unique and equal by choosing their own path. And perhaps, unlike Pilarski, they may choose to celebrate Halloween, go back to work or take up yoga when their children are in school.

On the other hand, Pilarski describes raising her children in the Catholic faith with such warmth that it is difficult not to be inspired. Living in joy rather than in fear, and creating an environment in which children can explore and express their spirituality are pillars of the loving home. Her tone in these passages is reminiscent of Jean Vanier’s, who said: “We are not called by God to do extraordinary things, but to do ordinary things with extraordinary love.”  

In this sense, motherhood, career or any combination of the two is a vocation that a woman feels called to, and that, when chosen, allows for the full expression of faith and compassion. In order to be a role model for those around her, a woman needs to trust in her conscience and intuition. It is then, in partnership with her spouse, that she can create a joyful atmosphere in which children can enter, if she feels so called to do so.

(Fournier-Tombs is a freelance writer in New York.)