A tale of two funerals

Enough has been written about the Jack Layton funeral, but indulgent readers may permit me to add a final thought to what I have written elsewhere. Not so much about how Mr. Layton chose to organize his final parting, but rather to note the contrast between two funerals.

A few days after Jack Layton was feted at Roy Thomson Hall, the funeral Mass for Cardinal Aloysius Ambrozic was offered at St. Michael’s Cathedral. The difference was like black and white.

In the concert hall, Rev. Brent Hawkes and others went on at great length about carrying forth Mr. Layton’s vision of an “inclusive” social movement. And the massed ranks of the proudly progressive stood and applauded lustily, all the while patting themselves on the back for their broad-mindedness — which is anatomically hard to do at the same time, but the spirit of the occasion demanded it.

‘Low-rent absurdity’ case shows our frightening times

MONTREAL - Paula Celani will be in a Montreal courtroom Nov. 1 fighting a fine for attending an illegal Roman Catholic Mass.

Canadians of all religious faiths — and even those who care only about protecting Charter freedoms — should cross their fingers that she wins.

Celani actually showed up to fight the case this week. Alas, three public sector “witnesses” expected to testify against her were no shows so the matter was delayed until the day after Halloween.

Faith, reason and fundamentalism

Last week was all about 9/11. This week should be about 9/12.

Five years ago, on the day after the fifth anniversary of the terrorist attacks, Pope Benedict XVI gave his famous — or infamous in some quarters — Regensburg address. He spoke frankly about the role of faith and reason, the question of violence in religion and the challenges facing both Islam and Christianity. The subsequent eruption of violence in the Islamic world to protest the Pope’s suggestion that there might be a problem in the Islamic world punctuated the urgency of the questions engaged.

In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, presidents, prime ministers and princes visited mosques, hosted Ramadan fast-breaking dinners and loudly proclaimed that Islam is a religion of peace. All well and good, but fraternal goodwill and Christian charity is not a replacement for dealing forthrightly with the theological justification advanced for such violence. Bad theology is answered not by breaking bread together. It is answered by good theology. On 9/12 five years ago, Benedict did what he does best, namely, highlight the theological issues at stake, the most pressing of which was the status of violence in Islamic theology.

Travelling in an age of lost reverence

ROME - Given the perpetual chaos of the Eternal City, visitors might be surprised to learn of the strict regulations governing the tourist mecca known as the Spanish Steps.

According to a sign, it is forbidden under Article 14 Regolamento P.U. to “shout, squall and sing” anywhere on the elegant 18th century outdoor stairs linking the Piazza di Spagna and the Church of Trinita dei Monti.

It seems a case, however, where ignorance of the law is no abuse. I have never, in numerous visits to the area over the years, witnessed anyone shouting or singing. As for squalling, not even the drafters of Article 14 Regolamento P.U. could have imagined a greater lack of it.

What tourists who visit the Spanish Steps do is what they seem to do everywhere else they go: have themselves photographed, self-conscious and impatient, in front of the site of their latest inattention.

In Fr. Judge, Jesus was there

The picture hangs in my home. At first glance it is easy to overlook him. He is slumped down, being lifted out of the rubble in a chair. The men carrying him dominate the scene, their uniforms covered in soot and plaster and ash. They are straining. He is dead.

The photograph of Fr. Mychal Judge being carried out of the World Trade Centre is one of the most enduring images from 9/11, a day when even the most vivid imagination was unequal to the unfolding reality. A Franciscan priest, chaplain of the Fire Department of New York, Fr. Mychal rushed to the World Trade Centre after it had been hit.

He was tending to the wounded in the lobby, blessing, comforting, administering the sacraments. In the photograph his right hand is hanging limp, as though exhausted from the blessing, the comforting, the anointing. When the neighbouring tower collapsed debris struck Fr. Mychal. They carried him out and laid him in St. Peter’s Church, just around the corner from the World Trade Centre. A photographer caught the moment, and it appeared immediately everywhere. Just as immediately it was recognized as a religious image. This was the deposition from the cross in Manhattan.

Financial reality and the media hordes

A few months ago, my colleague Fr. Raymond de Souza began a column about fashion trends in wedding dresses by recalling the old adage “fools rush in where angels fear to tread.” Perhaps a similar caution is in order in this case.

My formal training in math ended sometime in the ninth grade, and my investment experience could be printed on the back of a business card. Nevertheless, the peaks and valleys in global markets in the past few years have made more than one person wonder if the media have played any role in how fast stock values have changed and how quickly people reacted, possibly setting up a self-fulfilling prophecy.

In early August both the Dow Jones and the TSX dropped more than 500 points in a single day, wiping out almost all the much-awaited gains of 2011. The media response would have been difficult to ignore for anyone near a television or computer screen at the time; all the news networks and cable stations filled instantly with talking heads, many of them belonging to the same analysts who had tried to explain the even-worse disaster of 2008. Since there was no quick fix then, it’s unlikely there will be one now, but people continue to look for one, or at least look for a simple explanation for why this is happening.

May three faithful shepherds enter into peace with the heavenly Master

Death comes for the archbishop, as the novel puts it. Death came for three of them this summer in Canada. Three retired metropolitan archbishops died in the space of a few weeks — my own archbishop emeritus in Kingston, Francis Spence, in late July, followed a few weeks later by Austin-Emile Burke of Halifax, and then just last week Cardinal Aloysius Ambrozic of Toronto.

They were all in their 80s, and had served long years as bishops —Archbishop Spence for 44 years, Archbishop Burke for 43 and Cardinal Ambrozic for 35. Their episcopal service began at a difficult time, in the years after the Vatican Council, inaugurated with so much hope, but quickly inundated by the tsunami of secularism that submerged the culture and washed over the Church. Their years were not full of great triumphs for the Gospel, for there were few of those to be had. Instead, their task was, as I wrote about Archbishop Spence upon his death, the “long fidelity.” They lived long enough to see that the Lord would begin to restore the years that the locust hath eaten.

Archbishops Spence and Burke were ordained just in time for the worldwide rejection of Pope Paul VI’s teaching on marital love in Humanae Vitae. They would have been surprised then to know they would one day see enthusiasm in parishes and in campus chaplaincies for the Theology of the Body. They were new bishops when the Canadian bishops published their Winnipeg Statement of 1968, deciding to take a pass on the unpopular teaching of Humanae Vitae on chastity and contraception. As retired bishops, they saw their brothers publish Liberating Potential, a pastoral letter for the 40th anniversary of Humanae Vitae, which defended and celebrated Paul VI’s wisdom in teaching the ancient faith.

Parental leverage in our Catholic schools is but a dream

In an address to young university professors during his World Youth Day visit to Spain, Pope Benedict XVI warned against the cult of technicalism engulfing education.

“At times, one has the idea that the mission of a university professor nowadays is exclusively that of forming competent and efficient professionals capable of satisfying the demand for labour at any given time,” the Holy Father said.

“One also hears it said that the only thing that matters at the present moment is pure technical ability.”

Pope Benedict reminded his listeners that a university is not merely a repository of utilitarian proficiency but a home for those seeking  “the truth proper to the human person.”

“We know that when mere utility and pure pragmatism become the principal criteria, much is lost and the results can be tragic,” he said.

How will Poland honour its most noble son?

KRAKOW, Poland - The local Church here takes great pride in her saints and in the 20th century no city produced more important ones. Fr. Maximilian Kolbe studied here and died at Auschwitz, part of the archdiocese of Krakow. Sr. Faustina Kowalska’s convent was here, and the Divine Mercy devotion began here. The summer of 2011 has added Blessed John Paul II to the honour roll, and every single parish, shrine and souvenir stand is bedecked with images celebrating Krakow’s most noble son.

At the great Divine Mercy shrine here — the enormous basilica consecrated by Blessed John Paul himself in 2002 — the current archbishop of Krakow and John Paul’s lifetime secretary, Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, is building an enormous spiritual, cultural and intellectual centre called the Pope John Paul II “Be Not Afraid” Centre. It is a massive undertaking and will serve as the largest monument to the Polish pope in his native land.

For a Canadian visitor to Krakow, it is impressive to see the love the city has for her former bishop. And it is clear that Cardinal Dziwisz understands his mission to be that of securing the legacy of the great man that he served in life, and continues to serve in death.

The light of Providence shines through Auschwitz’s inglorious past

AUSCHWITZ, Poland - It was 70 years ago this Sunday, Aug. 14, 1941, that St. Maximilian Kolbe was martyred here.

It was nine years ago that I was here last, on a pilgrimage just before my priestly ordination. I wanted to come and pray at the death block of Auschwitz, to kneel at the threshold of the bunker where Maximilian Kolbe died. I came again this year, to the horror of this hell on Earth, made into the antechamber of heaven by the man — a writer and publisher who sent millions of words into print — whose most famous words were: “I am a Catholic priest.”

Is it possible to be a pilgrim in Auschwitz? In 1998, in preparation for the great jubilee, the pontifical council for migrants would suggest exactly that: “Among these (pilgrimage) cities should also be included those places desecrated by people’s sin and later on, almost out of an instinct of reparation, consecrated by pilgrimages. Let us think for instance of Auschwitz, emblematic place of torture of the Jewish people in Europe, the Shoah....”

What does the Catholic pilgrim say in this place, emblematic of the six million Jews who died in the Shoah, three million of whom were Polish — half of all the six million Poles who died in the Second World War? In this place of great evil, is it possible to speak of Jesus Christ?

With the passing of Cardinal Swiatek, a glorious time in Church history closes

Cardinal Kazimierz Swiatek died on July 21, bringing to a close one of the most noble chapters in the history of the Church. He was 96 when he died, having been ordained a bishop at 76 by his eventual successor in Belarus. Made a cardinal at age 80, he served as archbishop of Minsk until he was 91. His was one of the heroic lives of our age.

I encountered the great cardinal only once, in Wroclaw, Poland, during the 1997 international Eucharistic Congress, and then at a distance. As part of the congress, dozens of bishops administered the sacrament of Confirmation to thousands of young people in an enormous Mass at the local arena. With such a large crowd it was a somewhat noisy affair, but there was total silence when Cardinal Swiatek addressed the newly confirmed at the end of the Mass. He spoke in Polish, but even without understanding a word I could see that his story was enormously powerful, with teenage eyes widening, and many filling with tears. He was telling them what it meant to be a Christian witness, to fight for the Church, to remain faithful. Imprisoned in the Soviet gulag for nine years, he did brutal labour by day and whatever clandestine priestly work he could by night, including offering the Holy Mass secretly, using a matchbox as a ciborium.