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.

Salt+Light is alive!

And still going strong after 10 years

I have been writing about a lot of anniversaries this year — 1,700 years since Constantine’s victory at the Milvian bridge, 500 years since the completion of the Sistine Chapel ceiling, 50 years since the opening of the Second Vatican Council. In the secular calendar, we have had the diamond jubilee of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth and the 30th anniversary of the patriation of the constitution, including the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

In the light of all that, 10 years may not seem like very much — though I did write about my own 10th anniversary of priestly ordination this past summer. Another anniversary comes this week. Ten years for Salt + Light Television, and it is an occasion worth celebrating.

Fr. Thomas Rosica, director of World Youth Day 2002 in Toronto, founded Salt + Light TV in the months after WYD, with the generous support of the Gagliano family. The name Salt + Light came from the theme of the WYD itself, taken from the Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus tells His disciples that they are to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world.

This week Salt + Light marks 10 years since its establishment, even though it did not begin broadcasting until June 2003. The major celebratory event was the Dec. 5 Christmas concert with The Priests, but we had something of an anticipated celebration in Kingston when Fr. Rosica and Sebastian Gomes visited our archdiocese Dec. 2. They offered two presentations — one in Sebastian’s home parish in Perth, Ont., and the other at our cathedral — on the new evangelization, reporting on their experience at the recent synod on the new evangelization in Rome.

Fr. Rosica served among the synod officials, briefing the English-speaking journalists. Gomes is one of the network’s dynamic young journalists who, along with his colleague Cheridan Sanders, covered the synod. Their report stressed two points. First, that the new evangelization is not to teach people about Jesus, but to help people encounter Jesus. Second, that faithful Catholics themselves have to be converted anew and feel a new enthusiasm for their faith. Without this new enthusiasm, we won’t desire to share our faith with others.

Salt + Light, a powerful initiative for the new evangelization in Canada, is entering its second decade launching a new program that attempts to do just that. Hosted by Gomes and Sanders, The Church Alive takes its title from Pope Benedict XVI’s inaugural homily, wherein he proclaimed that the “Church is young, the Church is alive.” It was not exactly the “be not afraid” of Blessed John Paul II’s inaugural homily, but it speaks of Benedict’s priority for the new evangelization. The Church is alive in Jesus Christ to be sure, but needs to become more lively, precisely in those places where the Church is in critical condition.

The Church Alive is described as “fast-paced,” meaning that its pilot episode covers the year of faith, the Second Vatican Council and Blessed John XXIII in the first four-and-a-half minutes. It’s aimed at making young Catholics excited about their faith and equipping them to share it with their contemporaries. This is not your grandmother’s religious TV. Gomes on the documents of Vatican II: “These are absolutely huge.”

Huge, indeed. Imagine what that would make Ephesus or Trent. Enormous.

Gomes and Sanders are just the latest innovation from Salt + Light in presenting the faith. Gomes reveals something of the Salt + Light secret when he says that the staff at Salt + Light is not permitted to say that something can’t be done, or that we have never done it that way before.

The new evangelization requires, by definition, new methods. And so not having done something that way before is often an advantage. At 10 years, Salt + Light is no longer new, but it is still doing new things and is very much part of the new evangelization in Canada.
Having led the reform of the Newman Centre at the University of Toronto in the 1990s, World Youth Day in 2002 and now Salt + Light for 10 years, Fr. Rosica is becoming — if one might put it this way — a young elder of the new evangelization. The continuing good news about Salt + Light is that there are a great many young evangelists following behind him. Salt + Light — ad multos annos!

Modernism: it’s all about me, myself and I

And it’s amazing that no one questions this

Coronation anthems and Christian culture

As the days grow colder and the nights longer, George Frideric Handel returns to the choir loft and the concert hall, to say nothing of the shopping mall. The naturalized British composer’s Messiah is sung by amateurs and professionals alike in these weeks. All of which is rather curious, for the celebrated “Hallelujah Chorus,” in salute of which both princes and peasants rise to their feet, is part of a vast biblical libretto — stretching from Isaiah to Revelation — and takes its place after the Ascension. So the chorus properly belongs more to Easter than Christmas, but Christmas is where it has stuck in our cultural imagination.

Handel though, especially this year, could be considered a fitting adornment for Christ the King. In 1727, Handel was commissioned by King George II to compose anthems for his coronation. Handel composed four anthems for the occasion. So magnificently did he fulfil this royal patronage that his music is now perpetually associated with the coronation of British monarchs.

Thus it was an inspired decision by the Melos Choir and Chamber Orchestra of Kingston to perform the coronation anthems at St. George’s Anglican Cathedral in celebration of the diamond jubilee of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. St. George’s just being a short walk down Johnson Street from our own Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, it was easy enough to attend the Sunday afternoon concert before returning to offer the evening Mass. For good measure, I took along the students who sing at Newman House for an afternoon of Christian culture.

Handel’s coronation anthems are settings of biblical passages which, when employed for coronations, make manifest that kingship in this world is to be patterned on the kingship of Christ. The aspiration of kings should be — literally — the listening heart of Solomon, that he might govern the people wisely.

King Solomon is the focal point of the most famous of Handel’s anthems, “Zadok the Priest.” The text is an adaptation of I Kings 1:38-40: “Zadok the Priest and Nathan the Prophet anointed Solomon King; and all the people rejoiced, rejoiced and said: ‘God save the King! Long live the King! God save the King! May the King live forever. Amen. Alleluia!’ ”

That biblical text has been used in every coronation of English (and later British) monarchs since that of King Edgar in 973 at Bath. Handel’s setting, after its spectacular debut in 1727, has been repeated at every coronation, including that of Queen Elizabeth 60 years ago. Indeed, after King George II died, composer William Boyce was commissioned to produce new settings for the coronation in 1761 of King George III. Boyce accepted, but declined to provide a new setting for “Zadok,” arguing that Handel’s setting could not be improved upon. He was right.

The Melos musicians did a splendid job of performing the anthems, and the setting of the Anglican cathedral was a reminder that these anthems are properly prayers for a gracious and noble sovereign, even as the royal anthem of “God Save the Queen” is a simple prayer.

The coronation anthems — in addition to “Zadok,” they include “My heart is inditing,” “Let Thy hand be strengthened” and “The King shall rejoice” — constitute a corpus of Christian culture. They are liturgy which soars, combining splendid sacred music with the word of God. As music does at its best, they mark something of the majesty of a moment and bring it easily to mind upon hearing just a few bars. As “Adeste fidelis” or “O Holy Night” immediately bring to mind Midnight Mass, the coronation anthems, even if performed at the concert hall instead of a cathedral, bring to mind not only the pomp and pageantry, but also the sacral character of Christian kingship.

As a liturgical genre, the anthem is an Anglican speciality, combining the textual brevity of a Roman antiphon with the power of a great hymn. The coronation anthems are a fine introduction to anthems for Catholics who may be unfamiliar with them.

A final treat from the diamond jubilee sacred music concert was the singing of the royal anthem — and not just the first verse of “God Save the Queen.” Here’s the Canadian verse for our Queen: “Our loved Dominion bless with peace and happiness/ From shore to shore/ Let our Queen’s realms all be united, loyal and free/ True to themselves and thee/ Forevermore.”

Listen to Handel’s Messiah this December to be sure; but even before Advent begins, in this week of Christ the King, listen to the coronation anthems, from the composer of Christian kingship.

Can Christianity survive in its birthplace?

It is very difficult to make sense of the latest violence in the Middle East. And as we embark on another Advent season, it makes one wonder about the long-term viability of Christian communities in the Church’s birthplace in the Middle East, whether Palestine, Israel, Syria, Iraq or elsewhere in the region.

A child’s search for Baby Jesus

Every year as Advent approaches, my memory goes to a moment our priest asked my six-year-old son if he would carry the Baby Jesus up the aisle on Christmas Eve.

I could tell how honoured he was to have been asked but also, in a character trait forming for life, how much he was fretting about the task he’d just accepted. He was silent for most of the trip home, finally asking somberly: “Do we have a Baby Jesus at home? What am I going to bring instead if we can’t find Him?”

I reassured him the church would provide the Baby Jesus, though I really wanted to tell him he had already brought Christ anew to the Church by his willingness to serve and bring whatever gift he could to God.

The explanation would have gone over his head, naturally, but the moment never fails to open my eyes a little wider each year to the meaning of Matthew 18:3: “Verily, I say unto you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of Heaven.”

I must admit that particular piece of Scripture is one of many that took years to sink into my understanding. Don’t we admonish our children to stop being childish? Aren’t children supposed to become adults, not vice-versa? And what does it mean to be “like children” anyway? Sketchy table manners? Missing front teeth? Only coming up to the waist of most of the rest of the world?
The easy thing would be to blame Catholicism for my inability to grasp such perplexing verses. Doesn’t accepted wisdom tell us Catholics simply don’t know how to read the Bible? Yet in a recent Convivium magazine interview Paul Henderson, the country’s greatest goal scoring evangelical Christian, told me that he, too, is often flummoxed by Scripture.

A passage that upset him for a long time, he said, is the wedding feast at Cana when Our Lord comes across as a provocatively disrespectful son to Mary, speaking to her in a way that would prompt many parents — well, me, anyway — to say with full on-high authority: “Don’t you speak to me in that snippy voice, young mister.”

As Henderson puts it so well: “You can get the same problem with Scripture as you do with e-mail. You can’t see the facial expression or hear the tone of voice so it’s easy to have misunderstandings.”

Or, as in my case with Matthew, have no easy time understanding at all.

Perhaps the biggest roadblock comes from approaching meaning with preconception rather than openness. When Christ calls us to “become like children” don’t our minds immediately flit to images of innocence? Of happiness?

In a delightful recollection of long-ago childhood Christmas in Saskatchewan, however, Convivium writer Alan Hustak reminds us that being like children — being children — is not synonymous with a trouble-free, easy-peasy existence.

At the tender age of four, Hustak found himself wrestling with the age-old conundrum of giving to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s. To be more precise: of keeping to himself a silver dollar even though that meant disobeying his grandfather by refusing to put the coin on the collection plate held by an enormous ceramic angel during Midnight Mass.

Most adults would bet on the angel in such showdown, but that doesn’t mean children always do. The essential Catholic writer Flannery O’Connor tells of a game she invented as a child that she called Sock the Angel. She locked herself in a room, closed her eyes and swung her fists wildly around in hopes of connecting with the jaw of the angel on her shoulder.

Fittingly, it was also O’Connor who said: “Anybody who has survived his childhood has enough information about life to last him the rest of his days.”

Don’t we, as Christian children, know the crucial importance of a Baby Jesus even if we’re unclear on exactly where to find Him?

Don’t we just need someone to give us the Word, and we will bear Him as best and as proudly as we possibly can?

Viva the fight for Christian liberty!

Viva Cristo Rey! Long live Christ the King!

That was the defiant cry of the Cristeros, and the Feast of Christ the King is a fitting time to remember a dark period in history. Never heard of the Cristero rebellion? Most have not, including in Mexico. It is a story we should know.

In the 1920s, the Mexican government of Plutarco Calles waged war on the Catholic Church. Not metaphorically, but literally, with laws that proscribed worship, restricted the conduct of the clergy, interfered in the governance of the Church and trampled upon religious liberty — all of it enforced by the armed power of the state. It was totalitarianism just across the Rio Grande.

The Cristeros were faithful Catholics who rose up — both in armed rebellion and by other means — to defend their faith and their religious freedom. They proudly proclaimed they were fighting for Christ the King and the Virgin of Guadalupe.

The Cristero war lasted from 1926 to 1929. Thousands of Mexicans suffered violent persecution for the faith — priests hanged in their churches, religious shot down by firing squad in the town squares, faithful men and women jailed, tortured and killed in hatred for the faith.

After this shameful period of Mexican history concluded, official Mexico decreed that it would not speak of its shame. Consequently, few people are even aware that a fierce religious persecution took place less than a hundred years ago in North America.

All this is remedied by a film every Catholic must watch, For Greater Glory, which tells the story in a magnificent way, comparable in acting and production to any major Hollywood film. Released in theatres in the United States in the spring, it did not have theatrical release in Canada. The DVD went on sale in the United States on Sept. 11, and will be released in Canada on Dec. 18.

Last week I wrote about the feminine soul and recommended as a Christmas gift a book — My Sisters, The Saints — that gives a compelling account of a distinctly contemporary path of Catholic feminine discipleship. This week, might I suggest this movie, martial in content, which highlights a complementary masculine path to holiness — and all the more compelling for those manly virtues are demonstrated heroically by a 14- year-old boy.

Blessed José Luis Sanchez joins the Cristeros after witnessing the martyrdom of his parish priest. This teenage martyr was beatified in 2005, and the cinematic portrayal of his heroic life is profoundly moving. Even more impressive, the heroism of the boy moves the mercenary general, hired to lead the Cristeros, to genuine conversion.

The general’s story is one of a great military man who no longer has a great cause to give his life to, and who does not share the tradition of faith with his own wife and the Mexican people. The general learns from the boy the heart of manly virtue, which is to embrace with great courage a noble cause, a cause greater than one’s own achievement.

Upon enacting the laws prohibiting worship, President Calles told the French ambassador to Mexico that “without Mass and the sacraments the Mexican people will soon lose their faith.” He was right about the consequences of being denied the sacraments, but he was wrong in thinking that the Mexican people would not fight for their faith, fight for the sacraments and fight for the Mass.

All of this is suitable to bring to mind on the Feast of Christ the King. Aware of the attacks on Jesus and His Church around the world — both the Russian and Mexican revolutions of 1917 turned viciously against religion — Pope Pius XI declared in December 1925 a new feast, the Feast of Christ the King. The Holy Father reminded the world that the kingship of Christ was not subject to the ambitions of tyrants.

“The annual and universal celebration of the feast of the Kingship of Christ will draw attention to the evils which anticlericalism has brought upon society in drawing men away from Christ, and will also do much to remedy them,” wrote Pius XI in his 1925 encyclical, Quas Primas. “While nations insult the beloved name of our Redeemer by suppressing all mention of it in their conferences and parliaments, we must all the more loudly proclaim His kingly dignity and power, all the more universally affirm His rights. The way has been happily and providentially prepared for the celebration of this feast ever since the end of the last century. … The kingship and empire of Christ have been recognized in the pious custom, practised by many families, of dedicating themselves to the Sacred Heart of Jesus; not only families have performed this act of dedication, but nations, too, and kingdoms. In fact, the whole of the human race was at the insistence of Pope Leo XIII, in the Holy Year 1900, consecrated to the Divine Heart.”

I saw the film in Michigan on the Feast of the Sacred Heart last June. I cannot recommend highly enough planning to obtain and see this film now, with Christ the King upon us.

Viva Cristo Rey!

The refreshing sound of silence

A month-long retreat opens eyes to importance of sanctifying the mind

How hard do you think it would be to give up all media for an entire month — no cellphone, no Internet, no reading, no radio or TV, no media at all except for a daily newspaper?

Surprisingly, not that hard.

In October, I made the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, an intense, month-long retreat during which I was encouraged not only to be silent but to “fast” from all electronic and digital media. That may seem daunting, but being offline and silent for a whole month is a lot easier than it sounds. (Really!) The change of pace and the silence refreshed me, and the joy of focusing exclusively on the most important relationship in my life is still bubbling inside me.

The hundreds of e-mail messages waiting for me when I got back highlighted how much I engage digitally. Whether I go online for ministry, education, connection with friends and family or enjoyment, the digital experience is important to me. The steady flow of infotainment can empower us, forge connections between us that transcend geography, inspire us, remind us of important things, broaden our perspectives and stimulate our thinking and imagination. But it can also distract us, direct our minds and hearts in unhealthy or negative ways, depress us, confuse us and entice us to focus on the instant gratification that many advertisements and entertainments promise. We all try to filter out what is trivial or annoying but our filters need a higher standard, one to help us focus our use of apps and social media to serve the real of our lives.

The founder of my community, media apostle Blessed James Alberione, used a phrase that seems particularly apt for those who seek to follow Christ in a digital world: “sanctification of the mind.” Sanctifying our mind, or loving God with our mind, is part of the greatest commandment: to love God with all our hearts, souls, minds and strength (Mark 12:30). Since our thoughts determine our choices, sanctifying our mind is essential for living a full life in Christ, as well as preparing for the vision of God in eternity. What we think about most often becomes what we care about most. According to Alberione, sanctifying our mind means paying attention to our thoughts and what we are feeding our minds with — our conversations, our reading and viewing.

To sanctify our minds, Alberione offers this practical advice: 1) examine our thoughts in light of God’s Word, allowing God’s Word to direct our thoughts and to shape us on the deepest level, and 2) fill our minds with the Scriptures and with good reading and viewing that will help us to develop a Christian mentality — a way of thinking that is transformed by faith. Faith opens up our puny human perspective so we can glimpse, even if briefly, God’s point of view. Many saints, including Ignatius of Loyola, Augustine and Teresa of Avila, were greatly influenced by reading Scripture or the lives of the saints.

Does sanctifying our mind mean we can only visit faith-driven Internet sites or only read Catholic newspapers? Not at all. But it is important to: evaluate what we feed our minds with; choose content that will nurture our faith; and balance what we take in and how much time we spend online.

If we consistently view content that promotes values contrary to the Gospel (and it’s hard not to do that today), it’s important that we spend time reinforcing Jesus’ teaching in our lives. Negative influences can be both blatant and subtle. For example, I’ve enjoyed some currently popular post-apocalyptic, dystopian stories because of their social commentary on dangerous tendencies in our society today. But a steady diet of dystopian narratives makes me overly pessimistic about the future, forgetting that God is always with us, no matter what.

Giving voice to our faith online, perhaps by responding to or avoiding digital media that is contrary to the Gospel, or by engaging respectfully in matters of faith, is another way to be digital followers of Christ.

Most of us aren’t called to live “in retreat” from the digital world. Instead, we are to be salt that flavours it with faith, hope and love. Developing a Christian mentality by sanctifying our minds is critical for us to be both whole and holy people in today’s pluralistic and secular digital world.

The feminine soul brings a distinct beauty to the faith

The feminine soul, created in love and for love, can be a lovely thing to encounter. One of the joys of my life these past 10 years has been the spiritual direction of young women on campus. The soul of a young woman, searching for her own mission and vocation in life, and for a foundation upon which to build her life, has a certain aptitude for discovering the Lord’s love and offering a response to it.

Working with the young women at Newman House on Queen’s University campus is to come to love the feminine soul, which brings a certain beauty to the life of a Catholic chaplaincy. The world looks upon young women rather superficially, noting the physical attractiveness which accompanies youth, but the feminine soul has a beauty from within that contributes something to the loveliness of the faith.

Colleen Carroll Campbell is a lovely soul who has had something of a difficult road in discovering the love of God and the loveliness of faith. In her case, she is typical of young Catholic women, in their university years and afterward. The ambient culture doubts whether love is truly possible and whether the feminine heart can find an enduring answer to its deepest desires. Campbell’s book My Sisters The Saints tells the story of her soul and does so in a distinctively feminine way. Those who observe the praiseworthy custom of giving books as gifts should buy not one but several copies of Campbell’s book and give them to the Catholic women they know.

Campbell’s spiritual memoir opens with a familiar campus scene. A night of partying has left her surprisingly empty. A Catholic girl not terribly serious about her faith — observant but not fervent — she has discovered that campus life, ranging from the superficial to the debauched, has left her wanting something more. It is the story of St. Augustine told once more — the mind searching for enduring truth, the heart searching for deeper meaning, the soul searching for fulfilment.

“Better to be labelled shallow, stuck-up, drunk or debauched — anything but devout,” writes Campbell about the campus scene in telling words. She became reluctantly devout, which began a surprising adventure in faith.

What follows after graduation is an astonishing series of events in which Campbell confronts almost all of the issues that Catholic women confront. She faces the challenge of reconciling her professional aspirations with the decision to marry; the challenge of caring for a father suffering dementia; the challenge of dealing with infertility in the light of the moral law; and the challenge of combining a deeper prayer life with the demands of successful career as a professional writer, author and television commentator.

Campbell’s memoir stands out because she finds, at various times in her life, profound guidance in great women saints. Teresa of Avila in moving from superficiality to spirituality; Therese of Lisieux on dealing with her father’s descent into second childhood; Faustina on trusting in God when making career and family decisions; Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein) on motherhood when suffering from infertility; Mother Teresa on darkness and suffering in the face of her father’s death; and the Blessed Virgin Mary as the model disciple. Sisters in Christ are speaking to each other across the centuries, and Campbell draws inspiration and illumination from the women who went before her. Not only a testament to the power of holy women to draw others close to the Lord Jesus, Campbell’s pilgrimage is one that brings alive the reality of the communion of the saints. It is a Catholic story as ancient as the Gospel and as new as the headlines.

This book will resonate deeply with Catholic women, but men should not be dissuaded from reading it. Men who wish to understand the feminine soul but are not spiritual directors will learn something of how grace works in the lives of their mothers, sisters, wives, daughters and friends. For priests, it will assist them in the care of souls and give them a source of encouragement to offer young women who are seeking to be faithful disciples. Such contemporary testimonies are essential, for the transmission of the faith and the formation of Catholic culture has been from time immemorial something more accomplished by women than men.

One example from Campbell’s book makes that point. She writes of learning the Memorare prayer — Remember O most gracious Virgin Mary — as a school girl and it became her favourite. It too is my favourite, and the one that most often comes to mind spontaneously. It is perhaps the most Catholic of all prayers, turning all matters over to the Mother of God in confidence that no child of Mary is ever left unaided. I love the prayer too because I remember my own mother teaching it to me. Every time I pray the Memorare I am thus inserted in a conversation between my own mother and the Blessed Mother. The whole history of the Church is shaped by the conversation between the mothers of every time and the Mother of God — a distinctively feminine conversation. Campbell’s book allows us to listen into that conversation, and it is lovely to do so.

Here’s to ‘Corry’ and the many good priests

Fr. Raymond Corriveau was one of the best

This week marks the second anniversary of the passing of one of the finest priests — make that people — I have had the good fortune to know, Fr. Raymond Corriveau.

Some readers may have known “Corry” through his work with the Redemptorists, but many readers probably don’t know the name. And that’s a shame. Not necessarily for Corry’s sake because he was remarkably humble for someone with such remarkable talent. But it’s a shame for the sake of the priesthood and the Church that he and others like him aren’t better known.

We hear all too often about the bad priests who have done notorious things, especially when it comes to child abuse. We hear the tasteless jokes about priests. We hear about the Church hierarchy’s ham-fisted handlings of past scandals. We hear all the bad stuff and it affects us all.

But we don’t necessarily hear about the really good priests — and there are many — who are quietly going about their business, doing good things day after day, and living up to the teachings of Jesus. Here is Corry’s story, or more rightly, a tiny slice of a life that was lived well with positive impact on so many.

Corry was born in 1936 near Woodstock, Ont., where he grew up until leaving to study to become a Redemptorist priest. He was ordained in 1962 and quickly made his mark for helping the poor and disenfranchised when he and two others started a pastoral ministry in a poor area of Montreal.

In the 1970s, he was appointed the Redemptorists’ “Novice Master” or mentor for young men interested in becoming priests. My brother, Michael, was one of Corry’s charges and they continued a close friendship, with the student counting on the teacher’s wisdom and guidance until Corry’s last day. It was in the 1970s that Corryentered our family’s lives on a regular basis, usually on a weekend afternoon for a drink with my father, an inevitable debate about some weighty matter, and dinnerwith us.

Two things stick out about Corry: his incredibly sharp mind with a depth of knowledge that seemed bottomless and his smiling eyes that could light up a room.

On the first matter, the good-natured debates with dad (who was no intellectual slouch himself) were both entertaining and educational for teenage ears and eyes. On the latter, Corry had this flawless ability to make everyone around him feel special. Later, in the 1980s when my mother was sick and the chemotherapy was zapping her energy, I can remember Corry dropping by the house and mom would literally light up and one could feel her rejuvenated energy, if only for that afternoon.

For such a smart person, it was natural that Corry’s career would thrust forward and move him up the ranks, eventually to lead the Redemptorists in Canada. But it was his pastoral caring at various parishes — from St. Patrick’s in Toronto and St. Alphonsus in Peterborough to St. Teresa’s in St. John’s and Holy Redeemer in Sudbury — that touched so many lives.

Corry had that ability to make you feel good, even if you didn’t really feel good. It was a wonderful gift which he freely gave.

Years later, when he was sick, I went to visit him at the Redemptorist headquarters in Toronto. I had not seen him for a long time. We sipped tea and sat and talked for well over an hour. I remember the length of time because my teenage son was waiting in the car playing an electronic game.

When I returned to the car, my son looked at me and said: “What’s so funny, dad? Why are you smiling?”

“I didn’t realize I was smiling,” I said. “I can’t explain it, but every time I see Corry, he makes me feel good, he lifts my spirits.”

Some months later, and only days before his death, I visited him in hospital with my brother. His eyes weren’t as smiling, but his mind was still incredibly sharp which surprised me because brain cancer was killing him.

At one point, a third priest entered the room and a deep theological discussion began. For me, they might as well have been talking in Aramaic because the topic was so over my head, but for Corry it was no problem to follow along and add insight to the discussion.

A few times, he would break away from the talk and pray, urging God to take him because he was ready. His faith was so deep; he was so dignified in his submission to God’s will. I can only hope I have a modicum as much when my time comes.

Telling Corry’s story in no way erases past crimes by other priests. I cannot even imagine the pain their victims live with each and every day. These “preying priests” will be punished on Earth and beyond. But telling Corry’s story, I hope, shows that the priesthood as a whole should not be painted with one brush and mocked with tasteless jokes. There are many other “Corrys” out there right now doing good deeds; true praying priests who deserve our support.