Peter Stockland: Church caught up in good news — for once

Fr. Thomas Dowd has been named as a new auxiliary bishop of MontrealMONTREAL - The Catholic Church was featured on the front page of my daily newspaper recently. Predictably, the page also overflowed with talk of corruption, scandal and child abuse.

This time, however, the sordidness was not another predictable media rehash of all that ails Catholicism. In fact, it involved something else entirely.

The story about the Church was — you might want to sit down for this — actually a very good news article about the naming of Fr. Thomas Dowd as a new auxiliary bishop of Montreal. Sure, there were the boilerplate paragraphs about the global sexual abuse scandal — I think all reporters’ computers are programmed to plug in such references by default — but the story on Dowd actually treated his appointment as a real event.

It was seen as eminently newsworthy that he is (a) an ecclesiastical stripling of 40 and (b) fully conversant in, and a ready practitioner of, social media such as blogging, Twitter, Facebook and so on.

    Dorothy Pilarski: Some dos, don’ts when you enter the House of God

    Dorothy PilarskiOne day at Sunday Mass a well-meaning dad arrived with a large plastic bag from a popular store. It contained a big, new toy for his young son. Something to entertain him during Mass. I can still see the bag’s big, green logo appearing from behind the kneeler, interrupting prayers.

    Being a brand new toy, it was in plastic packaging that was torn open in the middle of Mass. What a racket! Several people nearby, including me, were mortified.   

    I had to fight all my motherly instincts to lean over and give the man a scolding. What I really wanted to do was tug him out of the church by his ears and ask him: “What are you teaching your child? Do you want to teach him that no matter what is happening around him he is entitled to have fun?”

    I often attend performances of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra at Massey Hall. I am inspired by the pages at the back of the program that detail standards of behaviour for symphony-goers. Sections under several categories define the expected etiquette and courtesy to be extended to others at the symphony. For example, it says latecomers and anyone leaving the hall will be admitted at a suitable interval. It asks patrons to refrain from wearing perfumes or colognes and forbids cameras and cellphones.

      C. Gwendolyn Landolt: Judges should enforce, not interpret, law

      Two Supreme Court of Canada judges have announced they will step down at the end of AugustThe announcement by two of the judges on the Supreme Court of Canada of their proposed retirement provides the opportunity to reflect on the role of judges in Canada. This is especially important since judges have assumed a powerful and influential role under the Charter.  The latter allows judges using the broad and vague words to rule on the merits of legislation, creating new laws and social policies.  

      The vivid reality is that these Charter decisions are highly contingent on socio-political choices which the courts have been able to determine by applying, for example, the broad words of Section 7 of the Charter, (“Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of the person”) and Section 15 (the Equality provision). These words mean whatever the judges want them to mean. That is, the broad words of the Charter have enabled the judges to promote their own, private, political attitudes and preferences, claiming it is for constitutional reasons.

      Unfortunately, judges are ill positioned to make public policy decisions because they have limited access to social data and depend on the biased arguments of the litigants and unreliable information in the media. Isolated from society, judges are not exposed to differing perspectives, as occurs in Parliament, since there is no public debate. In short, judges may not be cognizant of all the relevant facts.

        Robert Brehl: Kate and Wills should feel at home in PEI

        The upcoming royal tour by Prince William and his new bride Kate is sure to be an exciting spectacle for Canadians, monarchists and non-monarchists alike. This young and vibrant couple has energized the increasingly stodgy royal family, and Canadians are eager to get an up-close glimpse.

        Our family will be in Prince Edward Island when the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge arrive there July 3. My wife and 12-year-old daughter have already mapped out their “stalking route” to see the royals.

        I predict the royal couple will find the tiny island, which is half Catholic, to be the most unique place on their tour. Nothing against Ottawa, Montreal and Calgary, but they’re cities — all with at least five times more people than the entire population of PEI. Urban areas are nothing new to this royal couple.

        But PEI is different, even a little quirky. And that’s what we love about the place and why we bought a cottage there. Take honesty, for instance. Two years ago, PEI honesty made international headlines after a gust of wind knocked a $10,300 bag of cash out of the hand of a rental property owner on his way to the bank. Cars stopped. People jumped out of Charlottetown restaurants and stores. Everyone scurried to the street to collect the money. But no one pocketed a thing. Every last dollar was returned to the fellow. How’s that for honesty?

          Remembering a father and the lessons he left behind

          Ivan RebroffMy father died suddenly in 1983 while vacationing in Poland, so I was startled — and inspired — recently when he visited me.

          I was in the car, driving to church, and plagued this particular day with all kinds of doubts about the wisdom of making a commitment to attend daily Mass. As a mother, wife and entrepreneur, there are so many other things that needed doing. There were business calls to return, emails to answer, articles to write, a dinner to plan, and Facebook friends and new followers on Twitter to attend to. Not to mention housework and grocery shopping.

          I struggled with the thought: How did I become this way? Is attending daily Mass really necessary? God, can you send me a sign? I’m not usually so conflicted. Although I seldom listen to the car radio, at that moment I turned it on and was jolted by a long-forgotten but still familiar voice. It was a Russian folk singer, but not just any singer. It was my dad’s favourite singer from so many years ago.

            Charles Lewis: The pro-life debate through posters

            The first time I saw someone carrying a poster of an aborted fetus I was driving by a hospital in Toronto. I was stopped in traffic so had a chance to look over at the demonstrators but, at first glance, had no idea exactly what the images were.

            Then it hit me. The colour red was the clue. It did not actually look like a fetus or anything human. It was more like the remains of a butcher shop. I shuddered and drove on.

            For the past few months in Calgary, a group called Canadian Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform has been conducting rolling demonstrations in front of high schools using images of aborted fetuses. They have adopted the tactic of using shocking images as a way to convince people, particularly young people, that abortion is wrong.

            “Our philosophy is if someone is old enough to have an abortion, they’re old enough to see the aftermath of an abortion,” said Stephanie Gray, the executive director of the group.

              Glenn CJ Byer, SLD: Finding the missal’s beauty in the text

              An image from the Last Supper in the new edition of the Roman Missal, which will go into use on November 27. (Photo courtesy of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops)“There is nothing more beautiful than to be surprised by the Gospel, by the encounter with Christ.”

              These words of Pope Benedict XVI have been a driving force behind our efforts as the  Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops completes its new edition of the Roman Missal. A column by Fr. Raymond J. de Souza  in the June 5 issue of The Catholic Register urged the creation of a missal that is “beautiful” and includes full-colour images. As the new missal nears completion, I want to assure Canadian Catholics that I have been truly moved by the beauty of the printer’s craft, by the attention to every detail in font and colour selections, by inspired page designs, by the talents of proofreaders, and by a concern for readability and avoiding odd page turns. Bishops have been involved in every stage of this process, ensuring that the new missal will reflect the preferences of clergy from across the country  and of the CCCB.

              But all of this pales in comparison to the encounter with the Gospel. There is nothing more beautiful than the contents of the antiphons and prayers. The instructions we received from the Vatican made it clear: illustrative art in the missal needs to be in service of the liturgy. The words of Jesus at the Last Supper, the quotes from the Psalms and the allusions to the Scriptures: these are the stars of the book, not an abundance of colour plates.

                Neil MacCarthy: Heritage designations can bind church’s hands

                The next time you’re faced with an overwhelming home renovation, consider this: collectively, the Catholic, Anglican and United Churches own 3,000 buildings in the province that require a combined $30 million to operate annually. Another $30 million is spent on maintaining “historic properties.” That’s a lot of shingles.

                Before there were town halls or schools, arenas or the local Tim Horton’s, parishes were the spiritual and community hubs of society, bringing people together to strengthen the neighbourhood. Over the years though, the role of the parish as community centre has changed, and so have the neighbourhoods they serve.

                While many historic churches continue to thrive, others, sadly, are facing significant challenges, with little or no funds to maintain their facilities, often due to dwindling congregations. While desirable, maintaining all of these churches is just not feasible.   

                A “heritage designation” from various municipal governments has been applied to about 12 per cent of the 3,000 churches in Ontario.

                Designated churches require permission from their municipality to change in any way the parts of the building that are considered culturally significant, often including pews, windows, altars and other parts of the building used for worship. So if the bishops, priests and laity agree it makes sense to renovate or (as a last resort) demolish a church that is no longer viable, they don’t have a legal right to implement that option.

                  Peter Stockdale: Only in Canada do we challenge the self-evident truth

                  Canada’s Supreme Court has been asked to adjudicate whether religious freedom means the freedom to actually say something is really true that you believe to be really true.

                  It’s true. We’re that far gone. We’re that far down the path toward a state of total social incoherence. We are at the point where it takes the top jurists in the land, and a small army of lawyers, to decide whether what is staring us in the face is also right in front of our noses.

                  The case in question is Catholic parents in Quebec who objected to the provincial education ministry imposing a mandatory ethics and religion program on all schools, public and private.

                  At the surface level, the program is dishwater comparative religion. People who go to synagogue believe this. People who go to Catholic Mass believe that. People who go to mosque believe something else again. We’d like to teach the world to sing in neutral harmony.

                    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

                      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.