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.

Make God an integral part of your new year

For years I travelled extensively to deliver seminars on how to develop the skills and habits to be successful at life and work. One of those skills was goal setting.

Visualizing, setting and implementing goals can be an amazing experience. It became a passion and I loved teaching others how to set and achieve their goals. For years, I set personal goals, sometimes weekly, daily or even hourly, and always yearly.

I still don’t care what atheists think of my faith

Earlier this month, I wrote a story for my paper’s religion blog, Holy Post, about the non-stop debates between atheists and the religious. I called it: “Dear Atheists: most of us don’t care what you think.” I have been a journalist for close to three decades but nothing I have ever written came close to the kind of negative reaction that piece garnered.

We must defend our faith in the public square

Recently I was speaking as part of a panel at a conference about how the media covers religion, and specifically the Catholic Church. It was sponsored by the archdiocese of Toronto so the audience was made up of mainly Roman Catholic university students.

During the question-and-answer period, three students mentioned how poorly equipped they felt to defend their faith in the public square, though they did not express it quite that way.

Religion vs. agnostic know-nothings

Not long ago I was invited, along with half a dozen other men, to debate the proposition: “Resolved: That agnosticism is the only honest religious position.”

It was an old-fashioned evening — shades of the 1860 debate between Bishop Wilberforce and Thomas Huxley when Huxley said he would rather be descended from an ape than from a bishop (alas, an often sympathetic position) — but it was enjoyable all the same. Afterwards, one participant remarked: “I didn’t know people met to discuss serious questions.”

Each participant got five minutes to state his position without interruption. When all had finished, everyone could intervene freely to probe or comment upon what others had said. Then followed a free-for-all discussion. The format worked well. After precisely two hours, we shut off debate, had a cup of tea, and departed into the night.

I contended that the proposition that agnosticism is the only honest religious position, while useful to provoke discussion, suffered three basic flaws: it is an oxymoron; it is contrary to human experience and therefore likely to be false; and  it is a placebo for the spiritually timid.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines agnosticism as the belief that nothing beyond material phenomena can possibly be known.

Given that definition, the proposition is an oxymoron. It refutes itself. If nothing about religion can reliably be known, then it cannot be known whether anything about religion can reliably be known. If it is impossible to decide the truth or falsity of religious claims, then it is impossible to decide whether agnosticism is a preferable religious claim to even the narrowest or most fanatical religious prejudice.

Thank God for Catholic education

I was raised in a devout Polish Catholic family but did not attend Catholic schools. As an immigrant family, we went to the school that was closest to home for some very practical reasons.  So I am a product of the public school system.

As a young child, I desperately wanted to attend Catholic school. I had a deep conviction in my heart that I belonged there. I clearly remember  pleading to get my way but I couldn’t convince my immigrant parents. They had more fundamental matters to deal with.

Online world can be a very unfriendly place

For five years I fought my daughter tooth and nail over Facebook.

She is an incredibly persistent, articulate, well-grounded teenager who used every negotiation tool in the book. I countered with all of my middle-age wisdom, determination and business savvy. Not only was I critical of Facebook, I was determined to keep technology to a minimum in my household.