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.

                    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.