Dorothy Pilarski: For mothers, their time belongs to the family

Surrendering to Motherhood, Loosing Your Mind, Finding your Soul by Iris KrasnowSonia Commisso is one of the most remarkable mothers I know. The first time I saw her she was with her young family in the first row at St. Patrick’s Church in Mississauga, Ont. Immediately, I was drawn to her. She prayed devoutly but, more than that, she radiated joy. I wanted to introduce myself, to learn more about her, but something held me back.

A short while later I read her story in the Toronto Star. I was stunned. Only then did I introduce myself. Her story of mother’s love and sacrifice had to be shared, so I invited her to join a Catholic mother’s group that meets regularly at my house.

Sonia’s husband has multiple sclerosis. Her son has a learning disability and seizure disorder. Her daughter Jesse passed away in 2001. She was 2 1/2 years old. Her other daughter Alessia, who uses a walker and wheelchair, has been diagnosed with the same disease that Jesse succumbed to. She recently celebrated her first Holy Communion.

When Sonia arrived, our mother’s group started as usual, with prayer. Then Sonia spoke to us about her life. She is her family’s sole caregiver. Despite the family’s obvious trials, her voice was without bitterness. It was a voice of optimism, fortitude, understanding and, above all, a voice of love. A mother’s love.

Where others might be angry, Sonia was cheerful. She was gracious, not resentful; embracing, not withdrawn. But above all she was faithful, trusting without question God’s providence. Her story touched each of us in a different way. But we were all humbled — and inspired.

Mother’s Day is a time to acknowledge our mom’s for all they do for us, but for me it is also a day of reflection. I became a mother in the middle of a thriving career — and embarked on a spiritual quest that was like none other I’d ever experienced. I sensed God calling me to radical change, a change I was unsure how to embrace. What type of mother would I be? I thought and prayed about it. I wanted to know what makes a good mother and who was God calling me to become now that I was a mother.

My search led me to a book titled Surrendering to Motherhood, Losing Your Mind, Finding your Soul by Iris Krasnow. Krasnow, a prominent journalist and a professor of journalism, brilliantly described the often frenetic experience of balancing a career with motherhood. Her book touched the deepest recesses of my heart and, although she is Jewish, we seemed to be undergoing the same profound experience. We both felt a divine call to the vocation of motherhood.  

That book helped me realize I needed to turn to my Catholic faith to discern this exciting chapter of my life. I poured through, and was inspired by, hundreds of practical spiritual resources available to Catholics. But I think my real saving grace in this spiritual adventure has been my mother’s group. It has been a blessing and grace to journey with other mothers who love God, the Church and are prayerfully doing their best to fulfill the divine vocation of being a wife and mother.

Based on the meetings of our group, Salt + Light Television produced a television series called Mothering, Full of Grace. It abounds with inspirational stories from mothers who live out their vocation of motherhood counter culturally. We’ve laughed, we’ve cried, we’ve prayed, we’ve learned and together we’ve changed.  The 13-episode series still airs on Salt + Light and is available on DVD.

At our next mother’s group meeting, we will discuss one of the most serious challenges confronting busy mothers today — the lack of time.

I was touched by Blessed Mother Teresa’s words: “I think the world today is upside down. Everybody seems to be in such a terrible rush, anxious for greater development and greater riches and so on. There is much suffering because there is so very little love in homes and in family life. We have no time for our children, we have no time for each other; there is no time to enjoy each other. In the home begins the disruption of the peace of the world.”

Moms like Sonia already live these words. Her time belongs to her family. She is the embodiment of the divine vocation we call motherhood. Selfless, courageous, faithful and, above all, loving, she has shown us what it means to be a mother in a way that TV programs and books can only begin to describe.

(Pilarski, a professional speaker and consultant, can be reached at www.dorothypilarski.com.)

Marisa Casagrande: I will believe in the truth of Fr. Joe

There was not a dry eye at Mass as Fr. Joe LeClair delivered his public apology at Ottawa’s Blessed Sacrament Church. This, following an article in the Ottawa Citizen that disclosed the most personal of Fr. LeClair’s financial records, described the lax financial control measures at Blessed Sacrament and insinuated that parish funds had been used to support his gambling habit. The picture was dire, the tone accusatory.

And I can just imagine the many conversations which have ensued. The debate might be about the merits of the Church, the priesthood, the number of priests being called out for wrongdoings.

There was a time when I too would have reacted to this story in such a way. For many years I had left the Church, believing it to be an outdated institution, way too top heavy to attract its future and imploding by its incessant focus on rules and ceremony. And then I attended Blessed Sacrament. The church was full — of young people, of music, full of good energy, or dare I say Spirit. And there was Fr. Joe and his gift of bringing the Gospel to life, of making it relevant to us today.

I had witnessed these things before. But this didn’t seal the deal for me. For me, it was the depths of Fr. Joe’s humanity and his humility that stood out. He was not only a priest, he was human, just as I. Struggling, just as I. And at times hopeful and joyful, just as I. This was not just one way. He was not all knowing and all perfect. He was being honest about who he was.

Charles Lewis: A religious voice is — frighteningly so — second-class in society

We are living in a society with a secular set point. Any issue that is raised can only be considered if it is within a secular context. Anything that might smell of coming from a religious point of view is not welcome and even feared.

Such issues as embryonic stem-cell research, the large number of abortions taking place in Canada or the rampant use of pornography in society is expected to be discussed in non-religious terms — even if religion has something to say of value for the broader good.

This was made clear to me in an unusual way not long ago. I was writing about the debate on euthanasia. I happened to interview a woman, a physician and professor, who gave some very rational and secular reasons for opposing euthanasia.

An anti-euthanasia activist was furious at me for speaking to her. He said I had undermined his cause because the woman also happened to be a nun and her objection to euthanasia would just confirm to the society at large that this was another case of religious people trying to impose their values on secular society.

The next generation of Catholic artists face some great challenges

Mags won the Wellesley Idol competition at the age of 15.It is with sadness that I am announcing this to be my last column for The Catholic Register. It has been a tremendous 14 years and I am humbled to have had this opportunity. I am also happy to finish with the privilege of introducing a new generation of young Catholic artists. I pray that they can follow in the footsteps of Matt Maher by breaking through into the general Christian market and perhaps even the secular market.

First, there is Mags (magsthesinger.com), who is my daughter. After winning the Wellesley Idol competition at the age of 15 as well as being a finalist in the Faith FM shining star singing competition, she recently released a jazz Christmas jazz album,Dreaming of Christmas.  

Kathleen Dunn (kathleendunn.ca) has released two albums, the most recent His Saving Love.  Among her accomplishments are ministering for 13,000 at the National March for Life on Parliament Hill.

Canada is paying the cost of inaction on poverty

Faith communities are on the front lines of service to the poor, right across Canada. Most of the volunteers at soup kitchens, drop-ins and other street-level programs are members of communities of various faiths. And these services are (unfortunately) needed more and more.

As only one example, in Ottawa’s Sandy Hill neighbourhood, the St. Joe’s Supper Table experienced an 18-per-cent increase in people needing to be fed in 2009, up to 130 guests per evening. It got worse the next year: between August 2009 and August 2010, demand grew another 26 per cent. St. Joe’s recorded its highest-ever number of guests, 191, on Sept. 14, 2010. That was an incredible load for a facility that can only seat  24 people at a time.

Estimates of Canadians living in poverty ranged up to 4.3 million during the height of the recent recession. Almost one in 10 Canadian children live below the poverty line. People of faith are becoming increasingly aware that such high levels of poverty are far beyond piecemeal or charitable solutions. So they are starting to speak out, demanding change. The most senior leaders from Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu and other faiths gathered in Ottawa in early March to urge federal politicians to respond to this growing crisis by taking concrete action. Bishop François Lapierre of St. Hyacinthe represented the Catholic bishops.

Singing Bernadette's beautiful song

Bernadette Soubirous was a French peasant girl who went out with friends to gather firewood for her family one February morning in 1858. Bernadette lived in Lourdes in stunning poverty. She was a terrible student and there was nothing about her or her family that was the least bit notable.

She was also sickly, suffering all her life from debilitating asthma. That ailment prevented her from carrying on with her friends to gather firewood that February day. So she waited by a grotto.

Most know what happened next. She saw a beautiful woman, with roses on her feet. No one else had ever seen this vision but over the following weeks crowds came to see Bernadette as she knelt in front of the grotto. It was the transformation in Bernadette’s face that transfixed the crowd. For reasons not explained by the intellect, those who gathered knew they were witnessing something extraordinary.

Finding a balance between sacred and secular

Those who follow the public voice of Pope Benedict XVI will know that secularism and its negative influence on religion has moved front and centre in his vocabulary. The fact is that when the Pope speaks the Catholic world does listen, but of course not all obey.

As a result of Benedict’s attention to secularism, many Catholics and other Christians, not to mention the inter-religious world, have become more keenly aware of the negative presence and influence of secularism within our communities and our family life. We do not have a full and complete treatise of secularism by the present pontiff. We can expect, however, that Benedict will use every opportunity to be a voice of opposition to secularists.

Perhaps one of his most scathing criticisms is his view that secularism is a modern-day heresy. Secularism contends that government, society and other entities should exist separately from religion and/or religious beliefs. Clearly, such was not always the case in the past. For several generations in Quebec, for example, religion clearly sought to override secular society. As a result of the backlash to that imbalance, Quebec today is struggling to maintain its religious identity and the imbalance now favours the secularists.

Help your kids to be a little ray of sunshine in a dark world

I often think of Lent as a spiritual boot camp, a 40-day period to make a deliberate daily attempt to get closer to God by eliminating the distractions that are a barrier to forming a better relationship with Him.

As a mother, Lent is also a time when, in addition to rededicating my own spirituality, I do my utmost to get the entire family to put their spiritual lives on the front burner.

So this year the family began Ash Wednesday at 8 a.m. Mass. We ended the evening with a family rosary. In between I had a 10-minute conversation with my teenagers at the kitchen table while my husband was out of town on business.

The exceptional criminality of Linda Gibbons

I have never met Linda Gibbons. I’m not sure I’d want to. After all, this 63-year-old grandmother must be a very dangerous person. She has spent almost all of the last 20 years locked up in jail.

Gibbons’ story began in 1994 when the NDP formed the Ontario Government and then Attorney-General Marion Boyd obtained a court injunction to prevent anyone from offering up a public protest within a 60-foot “bubble zone” around abortion clinics.  

Gibbons believes abortion is tantamount to murder. You do not have to share her view to recognize the moral imperative it creates. So Gibbons stands on the sidewalk outside abortion clinics and prays silently. Sometimes she goes further; sometimes she goes so far as to hold up a sign that says: “Why, Mom, when I have so much love to give?”

Plunging necklines, lingerie parties and the new family restaurant

Before becoming a mother, I never realized the job description included letter writing, but over the years I have written many of them — to teachers, principals, directors, priests and camp counsellors.

Most recently I wrote a letter to the president of SIR Corp., a Canadian company that operates 46 restaurants in Canada. Their brands include Jack Astor’s, Alice Fazooli’s, Canyon Creek, Reds, Far Niente, Four, Petite For and Loose Moose. Judging from their online financial statements, they are doing well.

My letter concerned a troubling dining experience at Jack Astor’s. I was there with family to celebrate a new publishing contract. I have been a good customer — dining there since the day it has opened.

Only the narrow-minded, bigoted claim religion is evil

Since I began writing about religion almost four years ago I’ve noticed that anything written by myself or anyone else that suggests some good coming out of faith is generally mocked as covering up a great evil.

The usual argument is that anything good that comes out of religion is more of an accident than any essential by-product of the faith itself.

Christopher Hitchens summed up this idea perfectly when he was in Toronto a few months ago to debate Tony Blair on the value of religion. Mr. Blair pointed out that religious groups do all sorts of great charitable work, especially in the developing world. Mr. Hitchens said any good works done in the name of God should be viewed as penance for the preponderance of evil committed by religious groups today and throughout history. Mr. Blair might as well have been banging his head against a cement wall.