It’s a never-ending cycle of games

This is not a rant against organized sports. My kids have been involved in sports for many years, mostly because of my husband. Basketball, ringette, hockey, baseball, volleyball — you name it, they’ve played it. 

We’ve travelled far and often to take our kids to games and tournaments. We’ve met hundreds of players, parents and coaches and shared with them the satisfaction of playing hard and the thrill of victory. There have been many good times.

But it’s often been a struggle to balance sports and family life. We’ve just barely finished baseball season and now hockey is upon us. Thank goodness my husband and I agree that, as a family, we should never miss our holy obligation of Sunday Mass in the name of a game. Even on tournament weekends, we always find a church and never miss Sunday Mass.

Still, as someone who didn’t grow up with sports, I have been known to lose my cool when sports trumps family life. I even spoke to a priest about it, not that I got much sympathy. He warned me to be careful about succumbing to the spirit of division and suggested I embrace sports as a family event instead of bickering over it.  He must have grown up with organized sports!

So over the years I have heeded that advice and supported my family’s obsession with sports. I’ll never be an expert but I like to think I’m a keen observer. I know that most athletes and coaches are uninterested in the observations of a Catholic woman whose formative years revolved around the church and not an arena or baseball diamond. But I’m going to share some observations anyway.

It seems to me that many Catholic parents don’t make sure their children attend Mass as religiously as they get their children to games. And why do some boys wear their Sunday best to an arena and not to church? I can’t believe the number of times I’ve seen boys wearing white shirts and ties to minor hockey games, but not to church on Easter or Christmas. It makes no sense to me.

I also wonder why Catholic athletes and coaches obey the rules and regulations governing sports but balk at the rules and regulations of the Catholic Church. Also, I’m appalled by the spending on superfluous extras by many sports teams. Do kids really need two jerseys, track suits, customized hockey bags, leather winter jackets, spring jackets, pants, hats, hoodies, drinking canisters and various other team paraphernalia that display the team logo? I wish team organizers would consider how many more kids could benefit from team sports if fees were reduced by eliminating these extras.

Then there’s the schedules. There were years when one of our kids had a game on Thanksgiving, Ash Wednesday, Easter Sunday, a family birthday and during the Christmas week. Of course, Sunday is always fair game for the schedule makers. These games often interfered with our holy obligations and relations with our extended family. On the secular celebration of Halloween, however, one league cancelled all the games so the kids could go trick or treating.

Another concern is that a generation of kids has grown up winning participation trophies. What does that teach them? Shouldn’t a trophy be something you earn? If we’re going to spend so much time at sports, we should be teaching kids that, in addition to fair play, they need to learn about winning and losing because life is like that.

If I had my way, there’d also be classroom sessions for Catholic parents and players to learn how sports can enrich family life and be used to grow in virtue. Yes, it would be a tough sell, but I’d love to see sessions on what various popes and Catholic thinkers have said about the value of sports and about its place in culture.

I’d open with what St. Ignatius of Antioch said in the first century: “Exercise self discipline, for you are God’s athlete; the prize is immortality and eternal life.” Much better for young athletes to be pondering that than to be discussing Don Cherry’s latest rant from Coach’s Corner.

Finally, as another hockey season begins, I’ve heard the lament of many wives about being neglected after the first puck is dropped. So say a prayer for us and, dads, it doesn’t hurt now and again to surprise us with a dozen roses or take us dancing or out to the theatre.

A priest, in the spirit of John Paul II, brought me out of the wilderness

More than a decade ago a Catholic friend gave me a copy of the then recently published Catechism of the Catholic Church. I read it and was impressed by the depth and eloquence of its proclamation of the Catholic faith. This was the faith I affirmed, but which I considered that my own Anglican Church no longer did.    

In 2004, I moved with my wife Norah from London to St. Thomas, Ont. In the spring of 2005, as Pope John Paul II lay dying, I first came to Holy Angels Church to pray for him. He died on Saturday, April 2, 2005, and there was an afternoon Mass that day so I came. The grief among the congregation was palpable. But to my astonishment, the priest carried on as though nothing had happened. Only when he came to the prayers of the faithful did he mention the Holy Father had just died, therefore we would skip the usual intercession for the Pope.

Not a word to assuage the shared grief of the congregation. We were dismissed, orphaned and bereaved out into the night.

I was not then a Catholic. But I considered John Paul ll the brightest light in the dark times through which I had lived, and on that day I expected more. “Never again will I enter this church,” I muttered on my way out the door. But, as often happens, God had other plans.

This brings me to November 2005. I had not been attending any church when suddenly the conviction overwhelmed me that I could not celebrate Christmas if I did not worship somewhere during Advent. So, on the first Sunday of Advent, I trudged along to Holy Angels, rather expecting to be disillusioned again, to be perfectly frank.

To my surprise, there was a new priest. He was Polish and it soon became evident that he had been shaped by John Paul the Great. To my even greater surprise, the new priest’s homily was directed straight at me.

Fr. Adam Gabriel’s topic was “Come out of the wilderness.” I recall that he said something like this: “People experience many kinds of wilderness. There may be someone here who is in a church wilderness, someone who cannot find a church to belong to, or perhaps who has found the church but it is the church to which he cannot belong. To that person Jesus says this morning: ‘Come out of the wilderness.’ ”

The next day, without calling in advance and without an appointment, and never having met the priest, I knocked on the rectory door and told Fr. Gabriel that I was that person in the wilderness. He listened to my story and told me about the RCIA program. I told him we had tried the RCIA program in a London parish and it had been a disillusioning experience. He said that he regretted that he could not give private instruction, because Holy Angels is a large and busy parish and he was the only priest and there was simply no time.

Then, noticing I had brought my copy of the catechism, he asked if I had read it. I said that I had. Then he said: “Okay. If you are serious enough to have read the catechism, I’ll make the time to give you instruction.” And so, over the next year, he did. On July 2, 2006, at the altar of Holy Angels, I was received into the full communion of the Roman Catholic Church. Norah was received at Easter one year later.

I told that story at a recent farewell party not to draw attention to myself, but to illustrate my own immense debt to a priest who later became my friend. For seven years Holy Angels was the recipient of prevenient grace. Fr. Gabriel was our priest, our shepherd, our pastor, our confessor and our friend. He did everything with energy, infectious enthusiasm and dedication.Words do not adequately convey the sense of gratitude, commingled with loss, we felt when he moved to St. Teresa’s in Etobicoke, Ont.

“Not to be served but to serve.” How often we heard him say that. But he didn’t just say it — he lived it!

He brought me out of the wilderness and for that I will be forever grateful.

A summer of pain opened up a new world to me

Being dependent on others is spiritually difficult. That’s just one of the lessons I’ve learned during my summer of suffering.

It started in late spring when I experienced debilitating back spasms. I was prescribed a muscle relaxant that induced a violent physical reaction, causing my family to call 911 and sending me to hospital for 12 days. I was virtually immobilized for well over a month and discovered what it’s like to surrender a busy work agenda and summer holiday plans.

Throughout a hot summer, I was almost totally dependent on family and friends. All of my life I’ve worked hard to be in control. But I had to learn how it felt to have little control over your life.

Over the years I’ve read many books about saints who said suffering is a gift. But between rounds of morphine, medical appointments, medical tests and excruciating pain, this gift has been hard to accept. Still, I’m trying. And there has been some joy among the pain.

One night, I was crying out with despair. My teenaged son looked me in the eye and said: “Mom, offer it up! Do you know how many people you can help with this? Offer it up! That’s what you always tell me. Offer it up as a sacrifice.” 

As a mother of two teenagers my heart soared to heaven and back again. It was the same when my daughter brought me my favourite candy bar, Coffee Crisp, after school just to cheer me up.

I have become particularly grateful for the sacrament of marriage and the gift of family. Who else besides my husband and children would help me do all the things I’ve been physically unable to do myself? Early in my ordeal, I laughed when my husband remarked: “How in the world have you made dinner every night for all these years? I’ve made dinner for three days in a row and I am already running out of ideas?”

After a recent appointment with an orthopedic surgeon, feeling a bit confident about using my new walker, I thought I’d try to run an errand. With my husband out front and me wobbling behind, I made my way through the mall to update my driver’s license. It was overwhelming to see people moving so quickly while I shuffled along in my walker. Everyone seemed in such a hurry. 
I ended up stepping on something that tweaked my back and pinched a nerve. I screamed. I was standing in my walker, in the mall, screaming in pain.

When I found a chair, a little old lady, probably in her mid-80s, wearing a pink blouse, with silver hair, all sorts of delightful jewelry and just the right amount of makeup, sat right down beside me. My eyes were closed and tearing up, and I was praying under my breath. She put her hand on top of mine and gently said: “God will help you through this!”

Her face was angelic. She said a few things to encourage me. Before long we were both in tears, talking about our love for Him. Her name was Iva. I will never forget that precious moment when a stranger, a sister in Christ, reached out to ease my suffering. It made me think of all the times I ignored people because I was in a hurry.

After some rest, I wheeled to a mall exit while my husband got the car. Another woman approached me. She told me about the time a few years ago that she was rear-ended by a drunk driver. She understood pain and she consoled me.
Moments later I noticed a man walking stiffly with a grocery cart. I asked him, “Do you have a back injury?”
“Oh no, I had a stroke a few years ago,” he replied.
 That night I prayed the chaplet and the rosary, praying for my family, my new friends at the mall and all people who are suffering, sick or lonely.

My injury, the ordeal in the walker, the entire summer of pain, has opened up a new world.
There have been bittersweet moments of joy amidst the pain. I thank God for each and every one of them.

Maybe it’s time that we turn the whole conversation to Jesus


Every so often a conversation resonates with far greater power upon reflection than when it occurred. A friend recently visited me at home. We spoke about how the Catholic Church, and to a large extent Christianity, is presented to society. She expressed frustration that the Church is usually discussed in relation to “pelvic issues” — birth control, abortion and homosexuality. And those topics have become the breadth and width of Catholic teaching, at least to those who only follow religion in the media.

The discussion has to return to a focus on Jesus, she said. The Church gets attacked, she noted, but Jesus never gets attacked. She suggested that maybe the answer to every question should always come back to Jesus.

Her comments make sense even when not discussing faith. There is probably no individual who has had more influence on the world than Jesus. Yes, there have been great people who have moved the world in immeasurable ways, even in modern times, but Jesus represents 2,000 years of adoration and fascination.

Does anyone not know the name Jesus? Even the most ardent atheist would respect what Jesus had to say and how He acted. Even those who do not believe He was the Son of God or that He was in any way divine, would not likely dismiss His message.

In the Beatitudes, Jesus spoke about love of the poor, those who mourn and the merciful. He spoke about a love of neighbour and that our neighbour is everyone, not just members of our own class or race or even religion. He spoke about breaking the cycle of violence by turning the other cheek. And He said laying down one’s life for a friend was the epitome of love — something He actually did.

He left stories that nearly everyone knows but no longer attach to the author. Try to find a flaw in the story of the good samaritan. It is impossible. Likewise, the story of the prodigal son is perfect. Even if you resent the miserable child who blew the father’s fortune on booze and hookers, the story raises up a deep well of emotion. And everyone can relate to the older son, the good son, who stayed home and did what was right.

Moreover, Jesus said to repent and to change our ways because they were corroding our hearts with those things which do not make us happy.

Read this in Matthew: “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on Earth where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there will be your heart also.”

How true this would ring to the most ardent secularist being crushed under mountains of debt or to all those trying to fill empty spaces in their lives with goods rather than God.

Matthew also spoke about forgiveness. It is why a woman who has had an abortion will find love and understanding in the Church rather than scorn and banishment — despite what those outside the Church think.

I realize there is a problem in all this. Nuanced thinking is a lost art. How can something be labelled a serious sin and yet be forgiven? It does not seem to make sense. Doesn’t it have to be one or the other?. To which Jesus would say: not quite.

Maybe my friend is right. Maybe pelvic politics is obscuring the abundant beauty of our faith. Maybe it is time to take a break from talking about gay-straight alliances and birth control and remind people what moves us to work at shelters, help the poor, sponsor refugees and hold the highest respect for life.

After our talk, this is what my friend wrote to me. I am thinking of framing it:

“In any case, I wish you the best as you journey more deeply into your Catholic faith. As time passes, I hope you come to see, as many Catholics do, that we try our best, often fail, but remain steadfast in our faith that God is a merciful God, and that Jesus and His mother Mary are much closer than all the noise our current world allows us to sense. We are unwavering in our belief that Jesus is Eucharist and that we are called to praise and worship before Him together at Mass.”

Wily McGuinty’s Orwellian law scorns Church over Bill 13


What makes Premier Dalton McGuinty’s treatment of Toronto Archbishop (and Cardinal) Thomas Collins over the gay-straight alliances particularly distressing is that the Church asked for so little and wound up with nothing. To go down fighting in defence of core teachings of the Church would be one thing, but to get a dismissive backhand from the premier when the Church had already accommodated almost every item of Bill-13 and when all that was left is nomenclature, well, that is truly humiliating.

Of course, Cardinal Collins was betrayed by many of his putative allies. OECTA, the Catholic teachers’ union, made it clear that they sided with McGuinty and not with the Church from which they derive their raison d’etre. Quislings too, publicly or privately, were many Catholic school trustees. With allies like these, how could anyone confidently go into battle?

Universities no longer offer girls that ‘something else’


My husband and I come from different backgrounds and we often have lively discussions. But one time I blurted out something that left us both stunned.

We were attending the Ontario University Fair at the Metro Convention Centre in downtown Toronto. Along with thousands of others, we came to speak with representatives from Ontario’s 21 universities. We have two kids in high school and, like most kids, they have multiple options after graduation. At the fair, students trudged from one booth to another seeking an answer to the question all young people face at some point: “What do I want to do when I grow up?”

Vatican bashing in full force over U.S. nuns’ report


Many of you by now have heard about the Vatican’s doctrinal investigation into the words and actions of American nuns. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), the main protector of right Catholic thinking, released an official document a few weeks ago outlining several concerns.

The CDF is generally worried about the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR), which represents about 80 per cent of America’s nuns, because of what the Vatican sees as a move away from orthodoxy into a more freewheeling Catholicism, a blend of American independence and secular thinking mixed with some right belief. In other words, the nuns are Catholic but not Catholic enough.

The CDF said the nuns’ leaders, not necessarily the rank-and-file women on the ground, have drifted into “radical feminism” and speakers at leadership events have expounded “moving beyond the Church and even beyond Jesus.”

The investigation did not pop out of thin air. It was launched in 2008 but apparently the Vatican telegraphed its concerns to the LCWR as early as 2001.

American mainstream media has played this as the bullies from the Vatican picking on the nuns. In three stories on the issue by The New York Times, America’s paper of record, not once does anyone appear to defend the CDF.

On June 1 one of these stories led with the following:

“The American nuns who were harshly condemned by the Vatican in April as failing to uphold Catholic doctrine finally responded on Friday in their own strong terms, saying the Vatican’s assessment was based on ‘unsubstantiated accusations’ and a ‘flawed process,’ and has caused scandal, pain and polarization in the Roman Catholic Church.”

Another story had this as its second paragraph:

“The bus tour (the sisters are undertaking) is a response to a blistering critique of American nuns released in April by the Vatican’s doctrinal office, which included the accusation that the nuns are outspoken on issues of social justice, but silent on other issues the Church considers crucial: abortion and gay marriage.”

“Harshly condemned,” “blistering” and “accusations” may seem like mere words, but they are in fact editorializing as to what the Vatican was doing to the nuns. Any non-Catholic reader, or any reader for that matter, gets the impression that the CDF has parked naval destroyers along the U.S. coast  as part of a full-fledged action against defenseless sisters. That rings especially true when the stories have absolutely no balance.

The nuns do have a case. Some of the language used in the CDF document is hard to understand. I am not sure what a “radical feminist” is and complaints about certain speakers attending LCWR events seem picky. The nuns are often the ones on the frontline dealing with the most difficult cases in society, and so to improvise on what the Church teaches may not be an act of a rebel but of someone finding a pastoral solution in a situation demanding immediate action.

But anyone who has any loyalty to the Church has to believe that the Vatican does not act on a whim. God knows no one has ever accused Rome of acting too quickly. That which may seem petty or even vindictive to The New York Times has a more profound meaning for those who do not make decisions by popularity polls or to satisfy current trends.

The Vatican must obtain a certain order, demands certain obedience, because that is how the Church has survived and thrived for 2,000 years. Those demands may rankle the ears of those outside the Church, but frankly that should not be the concern of Rome.

But there is more here that should concern Catholics, especially Catholics who have bought into the storyline that the Church leadership is made of ogres and should simply leave the sisters alone.

A part of me believes that what we are seeing is just more anti-Catholicism at the expense of the sisters. The very idea that journalists are jumping to the nuns’ defence probably has more to do with a chance to bash the Church rather than aid the good sisters.

When this fight has passed and is long forgotten many of those same people who today love the nuns will continue to find ways to attack the Catholic Church — and perhaps the nuns themselves on an occasion when they are no longer media darlings.

(Lewis writes about religion for the National Post and he is the editor of the paper’s religion site, Holy Post.)

Showing your love will make a huge difference on a child


Wherever he goes — to work, back home, on a business trip — Mark Shriver carries in his briefcase a remnant of the greatest inheritance he received from his dad, the late Sargent Shriver.

After his dad died last year, Mark Shriver was researching and reflecting on what made his dad A Good Man, which became the title of a book written in his honour, which came out just in time for Father’s Day. In addition to the public record of his dad’s accomplishments and words, found in news articles and in the text of his speeches, Mark Shriver retained something much more precious — copies of notes that his dad had slipped under his door nearly every day as he was growing up.

Anglican churches have turned to post-modernism


For 500 years the Anglican Church has made an indelible contribution to Christianity. Particularly in liturgy and music, Anglicans have offered up the best that human inspiration and expression could achieve. So it is sad to watch the worldwide Anglican Communion drift further into schism.

Dr. Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, has announced his retirement at the end of 2012. The position of the Archbishop of Canterbury in the Anglican tradition is not comparable to the Pope in the Catholic Church; nevertheless the Archbishop remains primus inter pares, first among equals, in the Anglican hierarchy. 

Pathetic student protests should target the education system


In springtime, wrote Alfred Tennyson, “…a young man’s thoughts lightly turn to love.” But this spring the thoughts of young Quebecois have turned not to love but to revolution. And for what cause? Sit down before I tell you — tuition fees.

Never mind that tuition fees are already lower in Quebec than anywhere else in North America. Never mind that if Premier Jean Charest gets his way and bumps them up a bit, they will still remain the lowest in North America. Such considerations have not deterred the wannabe Trotskyites, the occupiers and their anarchist friends, who at night have taken over some downtown Montreal blocks — smashing windows, upturning cars and hurling rocks at police. On May 1 the police made more than 95 arrests. On May 4 the protesters tried for them a “new” tactic that actually comes from the Canadian Doukhabor playbook back in the 1960s — nudity.

Evangelization starts at home


My seven-year-old recently made his First Communion. He is one of two children to take this life-changing spiritual step in our rural Nova Scotia parish. That’s right, one of only two.

I’m sure there are other children in our countryside community who should have joined them, but for many reasons those children did not prepare for the sacrament. Most don’t even attend Mass, even though their parents did so as children.