Fr. Raymond J. de Souza

Fr. Raymond J. de Souza

Fr. Raymond J. de Souza is the pastor of Sacred Heart of Mary parish on Wolfe Island, and chaplain at Newman House at Kingston, Ont.’s Queen’s University.
Just in time for Christmas, The Globe and Mail ran a five-part series on the “future of faith” in Canada. In its unflagging service to the nation, the Globe customarily marks the Christmas season with depressing religion stories. This year’s contribution was rather more ambitious than most, and worth a read.
What time is midnight Mass? It’s the season for that question, and the answer is not predictable.

Over more than a generation, we Catholics have fumbled away one of our most distinctive customs. Indeed, the Christmas Mass schedule has become something rather different than what the Church intends, and what our tradition refined over centuries.
Faithful readers will know that much energy has been expended these past years on combating the “new atheists” — militant, aggressive and very trendy. Atheism is of course not new, and even the new atheists not altogether new.

Thirty years ago, John Lennon was murdered, shot outside his Manhattan apartment on Dec. 8, 1980. The anniversary of Lennon’s death brings an annual discussion of his significance, and due to his widow’s prodigious efforts, various commemorations of the slain singer. This year there were more than usual. Invariably these involve a sentimental playing of “Imagine,” Lennon’s anthem.
What does the law have to do with love? Are they not antithetical? To follow the law is to be under a burden, to be compelled, to be constrained. To love, on the other hand, is to embrace the capacity to choose, to be creative, to be liberated.
At the recent consistory of cardinals, Pope Benedict XVI spoke to his red-robed brethren about the “logic of the Cross” which should animate their leadership in the Church.

A consistory of cardinals emphasizes the unity of the Church around Peter and the universality of the Church spread throughout the world; it also highlights some truly heroic pastors. Yet, just as weeds grow up amidst the wheat, there is also an off-putting dimension. It prompts some of the princes of the Church to act more like princes than churchmen. It is, for some, a moment of clerical ambition confirmed. The occasion can take on the aspect of being admitted to an elite club rather than undertaking anew the apostolic mission of preaching the Gospel. At its worst, the cardinalatial nomination crowns a career of bureaucratic longevity rather than evangelical service.
About a dozen years ago I was at a dinner party in the home of people I had not previously met. When our hostess discovered that I was a seminarian, she shrieked with perverse delight, announcing to all, “Wait until my husband hears about that!”
At the heart of every culture is its cult. Cult includes what is worshipped, what is placed at the centre of communal life, what is deemed worthy of the greatest exertions of talent and treasure.

That cult is concretely expressed in buildings — what is built and how. A culture which puts up churches cheek by jowl, small country chapels and magnificent urban cathedrals, expresses itself in one way. A culture which builds enormous shopping malls, sports facilities and entertainment complexes expresses itself in another.
May we now speak of the Muslims who want to kill us?

Isn’t that way out of line? Surely Islam is a religion of peace, from which we have a lot to learn?

Let’s then dispense with the disclaimers: Christians and Muslims have often lived together in peace. Only a minority of Muslims are homicidal fanatics. Terrorism is a corruption of Islam. Fine.
Do Catholics have an Israel problem? The recent Middle East synod of bishops ended last weekend with a bitter exchange with Israeli authorities, who accused the synod of singling out Israel for critical treatment, and of making a serious theological error regarding the covenant with the Jews.

Respected Vatican journalist John Allen wrote that acrimony was expected between the region’s Arab bishops and Israel, but that it took so long to surface was the surprise. Arab hostility to Israel is intense and commonplace — it is routine to hear Israel blamed exclusively for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and also for all manner of problems that stretch anywhere from Algeria to Afghanistan. Catholics in the region, almost entirely Arab, are not immune from this anti-Israeli hostility. Indeed, because Catholics are a tiny minority in an otherwise Islamic Arab world, they are often tempted to demonstrate their Arab bona fides by vocally demonstrating that they are not friends of Israel. A synod of bishops held in the Middle East itself would have had a constant anti-Israeli refrain. But held in Rome, the Vatican, which prizes good relations with Jews, restrained for the most part the anti-Israeli rhetoric.
Two Sundays ago, on Oct. 10, Pope Benedict XVI opened the special Synod of Bishops for the Middle East. The synod participants joined the Holy Father for a solemn Mass to begin two weeks of discussions about the situation of Christians in the Middle East — a small minority that is getting smaller in many places.