Living in the moment

For someone who is neither doctor nor priest, there is something spectacularly meditative about encountering death face-to-face four times in one year.

A year ago this month, my wife’s mother died after a long affliction.

In August, my colleague Michael Van Pelt’s 15-year-old son, Kenton, drowned at the family cottage in one of those tragedies that makes life feel as if all Earth has dropped into a hell of particularly inexplicable, random cruelty.

Halfway through November, my father-in-law died quickly after a diagnosis of cancer, still grieving his beloved wife’s death.

On Dec. 29, our good family friend and fellow anti-euthanasia campaigner, Dr. André Bourque, was killed by an aneurism as he shovelled Christmas snow.

With all four deaths, I was among those God favoured to stand before the deceased in prayer, and look into faces that had, mere countable hours before, smiled, laughed, talked, worried, wondered, scowled, sung and otherwise engaged in all the amazing expressions of human life.

In Kenton Van Pelt, I saw the fine strong face of a handsome young man senselessly suspended at mid-point in the arc from adolescence to adulthood. I’d enjoyed a family meal with him a week previously, and marvelled at the signs of maturing Christian character emerging from him. His death so young made a mockery of our culture’s arbitrary categories of age. It reminded me that, in the essentials, we all share one age: the marvel of the single moment we are living right now.

In Dr. André Bourque, I looked into a face miraculously imbued and embedded with kindness. It was the face of a devoutly Catholic doctor who gave his all for the care of his patients and who, when he felt those patients threatened by the encroaching evil of legalized euthanasia and assisted suicide, worked tirelessly to rally grassroots Quebecers and his medical colleagues alike to stop the scourge. Not lost in the passage from life to death was his ever-present air of calm and wisdom and determination to do what is right. Sometimes, the grand gesture, yes. More often, the small touch, the encouraging word, the gracious answer, the good laugh that were all signs of Christ’s presence in everything Dr. Bourque did.

For my mother-in-law, a devotional light returned to her features after almost a decade of ravaging, darkening dementia. I will go to my own death convinced that light was the same as the one that shone when my wife asked, moments before death, if her mother wanted her long-deceased friend, Soeur Alice, to come and take her home. At the sound of the nun’s name, my mother-in-law sat up, drew her last few breaths, looked toward a corner of the ceiling and lay down with a small smile on her lips. Her light gave the lie to the pernicious belief that we ever need a euthanizing needle in the arm to die with dignity.

Perhaps because I was present at the very fragment of an instant separating his life from his death, it is my father-in-law’s passing that I encounter most often and concretely these days. It is his face I see most vividly when I ponder the cluster of deaths that marked 2012.

My wife and I were at his bedside, in the little house where he lived for 50 years, when his ragged breathing warned us he was slipping away. When he breathed, stopped, then snatched a final few gasps of air, we were holding his hand, saying silent prayers, listening with our whole being to the sound of life arising and departing.

Looking deeply into the face I had known and loved for 30 years, I felt a dizzying sense of him receding toward the beginning of his life. My father-in-law was not a tall man, though he was powerful in chest, shoulders and arms. Lying lifeless, he became first a younger man, then a little boy, then the infant who lay at his mother’s breast 80-plus years ago.

The feeling was, I’m inclined to think, God reminding me of the folly of putting all my faith in the fruits of humanly created time. It was His call to meditate on the necessity of turning my face, again and again, toward Christ as He bends from eternity into the history that is my life.

Moments are where we live. His grace in each and every one of those moments has conquered death for once and for all.

(Stockland is the Director of the Cardus Centre for Cultural Renewal in Montreal.)

 

Desmond Tutu and hell

Victor Chan is the Dalai Lama’s man in Vancouver, arranging the Buddhist monk’s visits to that city. In a new book, The Wisdom of Compassion, Chan documents those visits, especially an encounter between the Dalai Lama and South Africa’s Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu in Vancouver in 2004.

I haven’t read the book, but the reporting of that meeting gives us an illuminating example of how the mainstream media covers religion. The headlines on stories about the book contained this eye-catcher: “God is not a Christian, says Tutu.” An excerpt appeared online at The Huffington Post and created quite a buzz.

Desmond Tutu, a man of admirable courage, was indispensable to the dismantling of apartheid in South Africa and the subsequent truth and reconciliation commission. Yet as a theological thinker, Archbishop Tutu is rather unimaginative and predictable. On any controverted question, he reliably takes the position adopted by the fashionable view of the secular liberal consensus. So when he declared in 2004 to the Dalai Lama that “God is not a Christian” it was perhaps newsworthy given that he is a Christian clergyman, but it was not new. In fact, it is not even that remarkable, for God is not a disciple of Jesus Christ, which is what a Christian is. If Archbishop Tutu was to say that Jesus Christ is not God, or that He did not reveal who God is to us, that would be something different, for it would mean that Archbishop Tutu is not a Christian.

The archbishop did say something remarkable in that encounter, but it was not what was highlighted in media reports.

“The glory about God is that God is a mystery,” Tutu said. “God is actually quite incredible in many ways. But God allows us to misunderstand her but also to understand her.”

This too was given wide play, noting that the reference to God as “she” produced wild applause in the audience.

“I’ve frequently said I’m glad I’m not God,” Tutu continued. “But I’m also glad God is God. He can watch us speak, spread hatred, in His name. Apartheid was for a long time justified by the church. We do the same when we say all those awful things we say about gays and lesbians. We speak on behalf of a God of love. The God that I worship is an omnipotent God. He is also incredibly, totally impotent. The God that I worship is almighty, and also incredibly weak.

“He can sit there and watch me make a wrong choice,” Tutu continued. “But the glory of God is actually mind-blowing. He can sit and not intervene because He has such an incredible, incredible reverence for my autonomy. He is prepared to let me go to hell. Freely. Rather than compel me to go to heaven. He weeps when He sees us do the things that we do to one another. But He does not send lightning bolts to destroy the ungodly. And that is fantastic. God says, ‘I can’t force you. I beg you, please for your own sake, make the right choice. I beg you.’ ”

When Tutu speaks about God not being Christian, or God being “she” or about how Christians are beastly to gays and lesbians, it is trumpeted as extraordinary and courageous, even though it is neither, as witness the laudations in the hall.

What is remarkable though is that Tutu speaks about God’s respect for our freedom to the point of making Himself weak. Some may think it bold to say that God is “impotent.” From St. Paul onwards the Church has preached Christ crucified. That God makes Himself “impotent” before our freedom was commonplace in the preaching of the Fathers of the Church.

The news in the excerpt is that the impeccably liberal Desmond Tutu believes in hell. Hell means that God respects our freedom to the extent of honouring the consequences of our choices; a cosmos without hell is also without freedom. It is likely that Tutu’s comments about hell were not met with rapturous applause, which is a good sign, because the preacher who always gets rapturous applause is not a preacher at all, but a panderer.

The mainstream media prides itself on being bold in challenging orthodoxies, both sacred and profane.

The Huffington Post thought it was doing just that in highlighting the apparent Christian heterodoxy of a great liberal hero, Archbishop Tutu. But he was just echoing the secular liberal orthodoxy. The actual news was that, whatever his views on gender and sexual orientation, Tutu was perfectly orthodox on the reality, and necessity, of hell in his conversation with the Dalai Lama.

The headline should have been: “Tutu reminds the Dalai Lama about hell.”

(Fr. de Souza is the editor-in-chief of Convivium, a Canadian magazine of faith in our common life: www.cardus.ca/convivium.)

 

Catholics Come Home sparks debate, interest

Among the most ambitious media outreach programs in recent years involving religion is Catholics Come Home (CCH), an independent, U.S.-based, non-profit Catholic apostolate. Founded in the late 1990s, it creates media messages to invite lapsed Catholics back to church and to inspire and educate others, including non-Catholics, in religious knowledge in keeping with the magisterium.

After 33 American campaigns, CCH has begun its first Canadian outreach, in the dioceses of Vancouver and Victoria. While the campaign is bigger than TV advertising — parish welcoming committees, special events and other outreach initiatives are also important — the media component tends to attract the most attention.

Such was the case in The Globe and Mail on Jan. 3. In a column titled “Does Catholics Come Home campaign have a prayer?”, Gary Mason gave his assessment of the “controversial” program, complete with lots of detail about his own lapse from Catholicism and his view of what the Catholics Come Home program is likely, or unlikely, to achieve.

Citing Archbishop Michael Miller’s estimate that a quarter million Catholics in the archdiocese are no longer practising their faith, Mason rather cynically estimated that if the campaign enticed even 10 per cent of them back, “that’s nearly 25,000 new(ish) parishioners and a far heavier collection plate. And you’d certainly have to think that declining revenue is playing some sort of role in this membership drive.”

In fairness, the article also included some thoughtful insights on why church attendance is down, and not only (or even principally) in the Catholic Church, including lack of interest, lack of time, a perception that the Church needs to get with the times, teachings on sexuality that many do not accept or find difficult, and the sex abuse scandal. Of course many people raised in the mainstream Protestant churches have also stopped attending. The only difference I’ve ever noticed is that most of them continue to identify themselves loosely with the tradition in which they were raised.

I’ve visited the Catholics Come Home web site and viewed the TV spots, which discuss charitable and educational works, sacramental life and community life. I think the only people who would regard the package as controversial are those who regard the Church itself as controversial. Evangelization is part of what Christianity is about. While there will always be legitimate questions about one outreach program or another, there’s no getting around the fact that attempting to share the Good News is a good and necessary thing, provided it’s done with respect and courtesy.

The CCH cites American evidence to demonstrate the need for outreach, but the data is comparable to Canada. No more than a quarter of adult Catholics attend Mass weekly. The number of Americans identifying themselves as “unaffiliated” with a religious tradition continues to increase dramatically, and now makes up more than 15 per cent of the population.

Despite the growth of the Internet and social media, television continues to consume a huge proportion of our entertainment time, with the average Canadian household tuning in for 24 to 26 hours a week. Even though youth spend more time glued to their iPads or computer screens, they are often using them to watch television shows.

CCH founder Tom Peterson is kinder than many people about media coverage of the program, and religion in general. According to the B.C. Catholic, he says that despite some negative reporting, most of the media realize the good work of the Church in the world.

“We can’t take the credit, but we can thank the Holy Spirit, for starting hospitals and universities, and for being the largest charitable organization on the planet.”

He added that he enjoyed talking with the Canadian media about the Vancouver initiative when he was visiting in October, stating that Canadian journalists showed respect and kindness even when asking tough questions. Local coverage of the CCH program included criticisms, but has been generally well-balanced.

Advertising on television or elsewhere is only a tool. The content of any ad is unlikely to sway people who have already been well and truly “turned off” by an institution or product. For the sizeable group who have drifted away from Church for no particular reason, however, this type of program may be effective in re-igniting interest.

The CCH claims their program results in attendance bumps of 10 to 18 per cent. Whether these gains are sustainable is more difficult to document. But the initial surge of interest sparked by the CCH program is important and shouldn’t be discounted.

(McGarry is Executive Director of the Catholic Civil Rights League of Canada.)

 

Glimpsing holiness through the joy of sport

AVE MARIA, FLORIDA - Notre Dame football brings together religion and sports in a particularly pleasing way, and for this football chaplain to be on hand in Miami for the college football national championship — Notre Dame vs. Alabama — was a blessing most pleasing indeed. It was a more conflicted blessing after the opening kickoff, from which point Alabama administered a severe beating to Notre Dame en route to its third national championship in four years.

A presidential holiday season

This New Year opened with a distinctly presidential flavour. First, I saw the two hit movies about U.S. presidents Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt. (Both I highly recommend, especially Lincoln.) Second, I received two fascinating books: The Jefferson Bible by Thomas Jefferson and The Words Lincoln Lived By from Lincoln historian Gene Griessman.

Oh Christmas tree!

I am not a convert. Yet. But I confess to having taken meaningful steps away from my ancient iron-clad convictions.

The steps are, in fact, inevitable since they lead me from my dark, cramped basement office past the living room where my wife has set up, decorated and illuminated a beautiful Christmas tree. There I’ve said it. We have a beautiful Christmas tree in our house.

Not long ago — I’m talking, oh, last week — it would have been easier for Oliver Cromwell to beg the Pope’s blessing at Midnight Mass than for me to bring the words “beautiful,” “Christmas tree” and “our house” within a light year of each other.

I grew up loving Christmas. And loathing Christmas trees. Always hated them. Never could abide the wretched things. When I was about five, I got smacked across the face by an evil branch on some odious Yuletide sapling my father was bringing home. When I was about 25, I suffered agonizing frostbite on my ears one brutal December night in Edmonton after being forced outside to buy a ridiculous lump of pine.

Going bareheaded was my defiance of the whole reprehensible ritual of tree shopping. It was tactical defiance. My plan was to make it essential that we grab the first tannenbaum at hand, no matter how scrawny or mangled, and vamoose before my head froze. The glowing white circles of pain on both my ears gave proof how well that scheme worked.

Frankly, I would now rather go shoe shopping with a three-legged woman than endure the torments of touring the local Christmas tree lot. Indeed, the two adventures bear a remarkable resemblance. In both, everything must be circled, touched, inspected, hoisted and balanced, sized, deemed worthy and then suddenly and inexplicably unworthy, several times before grudging approval and final settlement are reached. For a dead strip of leather. Or a dead stretch of tree.

My wife, you’ll have guessed, buys our trees. That’s because she insists we have a tree. I go along — as long as I don’t have to have anything whatever to do with the thing itself.
I have never, Cromwell-like, tried to ban Christmas trees from our house just because someone else might enjoy them. I am not a Christmas tree dog in the manger. On the contrary, I once got a tiding of great joy from a Christmas tree when one of our three cats took a flying leap, put what looked like a professional wrestling hold on the angel at the top, and rode the whole collapsing mass down to the living room floor below. I still give that kitten extra supper just to say thanks for a job well done.

My opposition to Christmas trees is, in fact, rooted in cold logic. What, I have always asked, is the point of dragging a tree into the house just because it’s December? Do we carve up slabs of lawn and slap them down on the kitchen floor because it’s April? Do we pile autumnal leaves over the flat-screen HDTV because it’s September? No. We do not. We leave outside what belongs outside. Right?

Yes. Except this year my wife lost her mother in January, her father in mid-November. Early in December, she brought home a box of decorations that had been on virtually every tree put up in her family’s house for the past 50 Christmases. Suddenly, the quintessential Santa that I would have scorned as emblematic of Christmas commercialization became a symbol of childhood magic and memory. Suddenly, the glittery guitar, violin and harp that I would once have derided as tchotchkes are all that is left of the music my father-in-law filled the house with each Christmas. The bright red and yellow glass balls for the tree branches went from baubles of banality to fragile reminders of loving hands that will lift and place them no more.

“The great light, of which the Christmas tree is a sign and a reminder, not only hasn’t dimmed with the passing of centuries and millennia, but continues to shine on us and enlighten each person who comes into this world, especially when we go through moments of uncertainty and difficulty,” Pope Benedict said last week at the lighting ceremony in St. Peter’s Square.

Beautiful words that are, I confess, entirely made manifest by our beautiful tree. I am not yet a convert, Holy Father. But give me a few more steps.

A special gift on Gaudete Sunday

Clothes may make the man, but vestments don’t make the priest. The Mass is holy whether the priest is wearing beautiful vestments or something akin to a picnic blanket. That being said, liturgical vesture does matter; it doesn’t make the priest or the Mass, but it can make both the priest and the offering of the Mass more worthy of the right worship of God.

We have emerged from a long period in which the norm in many Canadian parishes ranged from merely adequate to hideous. Happily though, in recent years one rarely sees the detritus of the 1970s, chasubles made out of rough fabrics and felt and apparently decorated by small children with poor motor skills. The same renewed care for the liturgy that resulted in the vastly improved new translation of the Mass is also manifest in priests choosing vestments that are elegant and evocative of Catholic devotions. Vestments ought to inspire the faithful to lift their vision toward divine things, not to avert their eyes altogether. It may even be that a priest more suitably adorned for the Mass might inspire the faithful to dress more elegantly too.

I think about vestments in a particular way on Gaudete Sunday, when the liturgical colour is rose, not the usual Advent violet. I am blessed to have more vestments than priests usually do. Some were made by my own mother, and others were made or purchased abroad, where vestments can be had at a fraction of the prevailing prices in Canada. Many of them have stories — made for my first Mass, for my sister’s religious vows, bought for an anniversary or at a particular holy shrine — but my Gaudete Sunday rose chasuble has the best story of all.

In 2002, I was studying in Rome and Msgr. Charles Elmer, a long-time faculty member and spiritual father at the Pontifical North American College, had his 50th anniversary of priestly ordination that Dec. 20. The College celebration was set for Gaudete Sunday, and I asked Msgr. Elmer, both a friend and mentor, if there was anything he wanted. The old priest, who lived very simply, said he would like to offer his anniversary Mass in the same kind of Roman chasuble that he wore at his ordination in 1952 at St. John Lateran in Rome. The College did not have a rose-coloured Roman chasuble, so to honour a priest greatly beloved and admired, I bought Msgr. Elmer a new one, simple but elegant, from Gammarelli, the Roman ecclesiastical haberdasher. He was touched and happy.

We did not count on the objection of the College’s then liturgical director, a younger priest. Whether he objected to using something the College did not own, or whether he objected to the Roman vestment, or whether he took perverse delight in asserting his authority against a priest more senior than he, I do not know, but he told Msgr. Elmer that because the dozens of concelebrants could not all wear rose, the rose chasuble could not be worn. He was wrong on liturgical grounds, and it was wrong to deny the modest request of a venerable priest. (When a few years later he suffered the acute embarrassment of being dismissed in mid-semester, I thought it well-deserved, though I regretted it was for other behaviour, and not for how he had treated Msgr. Elmer.)

In any case, Msgr. Elmer, a D-Day veteran, handled the situation with humility and grace. He declined to do what I advised, which was to show up in the sacristy clad as he wished and dare anyone to tell him otherwise. Instead, he took me aside, thanked me for the gift and said that he would do that if I insisted, as I had bought him the gift he had desired. But his own preference would be to obey the whims of the liturgical director. I was disappointed for him, and angry too. I was quite eager for a fight. Msgr. Elmer taught me that one goes to Mass not eager for a fight but ready to receive a gift. And so he gave me one.

“Raymond, I am an old man now and not many years are left. You are just newly ordained. I am grateful for your gift, but now do me another kindness and receive this gift back from me to you, from an old priest to a young one,” Msgr. Elmer told me. “You will have many Sundays to wear it, I will have few.”

Msgr. Elmer actually had eight more Gaudete Sundays; he died in September 2011. This year would have been his 60th anniversary. I received back the gift I had given, and every Gaudete Sunday I wear it, remembering a great priest who knew how to rejoice in the Lord always.

Living the Christmas mystery with The Hobbit

Making Jesus the centre of Christmas is an important and worthy endeavour, if also a challenge in our increasingly secular culture.

Putting Christ back into Christmas evokes St. Paul’s reminder of what it means to live as a follower of Christ. “Put on Christ,” he encourages us in his Letter to the Romans (Rom. 13:14).

The ways that we seek to focus on Jesus’ birth this Christmas can help us develop some spiritual practices to make Christ the centre of our everyday lives.

One of my guides this Advent has been Bilbo Baggins, the unlikely and humble hero of The Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkien. (I re-read this childhood favourite so that I could fully appreciate the film, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Adventure, currently playing in theatres.) Despite the lack of an overt Christmas theme, Bilbo’s adventures can offer some insight for our spiritual journey.

Christmas celebrations are full of great art — or at least imitations of great art. (We have all had occasion to shudder at an off-key rendition of our favourite Christmas hymn.) Great art — whether visual, literary, musical, cinematic or narrative — reminds us of our true human nature, as God created us. When a work of art expresses the best of what it means to be human, this goodness can be a starting point for dialogue with our secular culture. It can also become a doorway to spiritual awareness for the believer and non-believer.

Engaging with a great work of art becomes an adventure of the kind that Bilbo Baggins goes on. The newness of his experiences makes the little hobbit keenly sensitive to the beauties and dangers around him. His dwarf companions seek to regain lost treasure, but Bilbo goes on the journey for entirely different reasons. Ultimately, he is transformed — by the beauties he experiences, the goodness he witnesses in others, the dangers he faces and the choices he makes.

We can choose to engage our secular culture with a similar sensitivity: both to the seeds of the Gospel it contains and to its innate dangers. Especially at Christmas when the artistic expression is often clearly Christian, we can highlight the best of these expressions of faith. Instead of just listening to the radio, we can play a mix of religious hymns, letting their awe and wonder flood our hearts. We can look more closely at the masterpieces on our Christmas cards, even using them in our prayers as a way to meditate on the amazing mystery of the Incarnation.

Throughout the year, we can become like the magi, seeking Christ in the secular corners of our culture.

Gift-giving in a consumer culture easily becomes an exercise in impressing others, a way to “prove” our love by how much money we spend, or a way to “use” one another — gift-giving in the hopes of getting something back. Consumerism falsely fulfills our insecurities through the acquiring of more and more material things.

In The Hobbit, the dwarves’ attitudes toward the dazzling treasure are quite consumeristic. Bilbo is the one who sees the gold for what it is: useful only up to a certain point. His brushes with gold help him to see with a spiritual vision and to choose friendship over treasure, honesty over deception, justice over greed.

As Bilbo clearly saw, material things are gifts to be used and shared. We can strive to make our Christmas gifts more authentic expressions of love, more personal and meaningful: a homemade gift card for going out for ice cream together; a hand-crafted item; a favourite spiritual book. This personal approach shifts our focus from the gift to our relationship with the person receiving the gift. Gift-giving then takes its proper place as a celebration of God’s abundant love for us.

Throughout the year, we can continue to shift from our consumeristic, “gotta-have-it” attitude to a deepening perspective of gratitude. We can seek to share what we have received, giving of ourselves with greater love.

Christmas Mass is where we celebrate the ultimate gift: God’s coming to us. This coming of God is a mystery and a grace to be celebrated year-round with a humble and brave “hobbit-like” heart that views the spiritual life as a quest for a more abundant life. Every Mass — not just Christmas — becomes an invitation for us to cherish the coming of our God, to welcome Him, and to respond to His coming with love.

St. Joseph, a small but great man of history

At his Angelus address on Dec. 9, Pope Benedict commented upon the Sunday Gospel, in which St. Luke carefully lists the various rulers, sacred and profane, when St. John the Baptist began his preaching.

There’s something about the name Mary

Fewer baby girls are gifted with Our Lady’s name nowadays

Earlier this month, Today’s Parent published its annual list of most popular baby names in Canada and I scanned, as I usually do, to see where my two children’s names are located.

Where’s the consistency?

A one-month suspension given to a Montreal radio host who allowed, or perhaps tacitly encouraged, anti-Semitic commentary on his phone-in show has provoked considerable debate as to whether the punishment is in proportion to the breach of ethics.

Jacques Fabi has been on the air for 35 years and is described as “king of the night” at his midnight to 5:30 a.m. phone-in show on 98.5 FM. On Nov. 22, a caller identifying herself as Maria launched into a hate-filled rant against Jews and Israel, even including some praise for the Holocaust. Of concern is not just that the caller got through the station’s normal screening procedures, but also that she was not stopped immediately by Fabi, who instead added a few comments of his own, including that despite freedom of expression, “it is very difficult to make any negative comments about Jews.”

He allowed the conversation to go on for some time and at the end politely thanked the contributor for her call. In his subsequent apology, portions of which were printed in the National Post, Fabi said he would never endorse the caller’s “anti-Semitic comments” nor trivialize the Holocaust.

“For 35 years I have hosted a nighttime call-in segment and it is not the first time that a listener has tried to use it as a vehicle for communicating unacceptable messages,” he said. “I have always reacted quickly in order to avert these situations. Unfortunately, I did not last week.”

For some people, the apology should have been enough, but for others the suspension, as well as the censure of his peers, is appropriate. I agree with the suspension, since it underlines the importance of responsibility on the part of those who control the use of broadcasting outlets. This is not the “wild west” of the Internet, where technically it is almost impossible to regulate web sites operated by the hateful and the twisted. The fact that people are free to hold opinions doesn’t mean that a radio station is obliged to provide a platform for them.

With that said, it would be nice to see some consistency in standards. Just a few weeks before the Montreal incident, John Tory’s suppertime drive-home show onToronto’s NewsTalk 1010 included, during panel conversation, a joke by panelist Gail Vaz-Oxlade about the Pope and masturbation. I know of at least a dozen e-mails being sent to the station about the remark. Many were unanswered. Of those that were, the brief apology was of the “just a joke” and “no offence intended” variety.

I’m not suggesting that a sick joke about a public figure is on the same level as vile anti-Semitism, but for some people the “joking remark” about the Pope was almost as offensive, and it was at a time of day when many more people were likely to hear it.

Over the years, the Catholic Civil Rights League has protested dozens of incidents of anti-Catholic content on radio and television, including a Jesus look-alike contest at Eastertime and a Christmas special that portrayed the Virgin Mary as, shall we say, a party girl. While there have been a few apologies from individual stations, I’m not aware of a single case where the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council has upheld a complaint about anti- Catholic content, especially if there was any sort of humourous context involved. That is why, for many believers, the dial often goes to the “off” position.

The Montreal episode is a reminder that action from the station is as important as action by the listener.

***

In response to the annual barrage of Christmas and “holiday” advertising, the American Family Association is compiling its “Naughty or Nice List” for 2012. It singles out major North American retailers that avoid using or ban the term Christmas in their advertising, as well as identifying those that still use it.

I understand the reasoning behind this but still I wonder about the fairness of singling out retailers for something that is widespread and to which we all contribute by accepting the “bigger every year” commercialization of Christmas. While we’re free to “report” stores that are reluctant to use “Christmas” in advertising and in-store greetings, I have always found the simpler solution is to wish a Merry Christmas to those we buy from, but also to happily accept any and all greetings in the spirit in which they’re intended.