Leaders like Merton embody the struggle into holiness

{mosimage}This Dec. 10 marks the 40th anniversary of the death of the celebrated monk-poet Thomas Merton (1915-1968).

By the time of his death, Merton, born in Prades, France, a citizen of the United States and a monk for 27 years in the Trappist Abbey of Our Lady of Gethsemani in Kentucky, had an international following of enviable proportions, a publication record of staggering range and an influence by no means limited to the Catholic world. Merton was, and remains, a phenomenon, an utterly engaging figure, controversial, iconic, the paradigmatic monk for our century.

Sober reflections on a night of change

{mosimage}It was just after 10:15 p.m. on Nov. 4 when I began walking with my wife and brother-in-law along Michigan Avenue toward Grant Park in downtown Chicago. For much of the evening, we had been at the Hyatt Regency waiting for U.S. election results to come in. We passed the time watching members of the media position themselves for a possible interview with Sen. Barack Obama, who was reportedly in a suite with his family waiting for a concession phone call from Sen. John McCain.

When we left the hotel, which was shortly after Sen. McCain had begun his concession speech, only the staked-out reporters, who missed their scoop, seemed to be unhappy by the news that Sen. Obama had been declared the next president of the United States and that he was already on his way to Grant Park to address a jubilant crowd of some 250,000 people.

Faith shines through disaster

{mosimage}They came in flashbacks — snapshots of memories from an unexpected tragedy. Before I went to the Middle East to pursue an internship there, I was told that Jordan was the safest country in the region. It was, until three years ago when Jordan had it’s own 9/11.

Just before 9 p.m. on Nov. 9, 2005, triple suicide bombings rocked Amman, Jordan’s capital, including a wedding party at the Radisson SAS hotel. The attacks were blamed on al Qaeda and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a Jordanian national who became a top al Qaeda leader based in Iraq. About 57 people were killed and 100 injured in those attacks.

Guillaume Couture: my Canadian hero

{mosimage}When I set out to in search of my roots, one person reached across 10 generations to touch me deeply. This is what prompted me to find out more about Guillaume Couture, a man of faith, courage, a friend of Canadian martyrs Isaac Jogues and René Goupil and one of my great grandfathers.  

On Sept. 26,  the morning Mass was offered in remembrance of Fr. Jean de Brébeuf, Fr. Isaac Jogues and their Jesuit companions. Guillaume Couture was one of the companions.  

Gratitude is a lifestyle choice

{mosimage}“Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” I Thessalonians 5:18

Thanksgiving has come and gone once again, but I’m still in a thankful frame of mind, for a couple of reasons. First, my American friends and relatives are gearing up for their Thanksgiving celebration this month. Second, I like the warm, fuzzy feelings of gratitude and its by-product, generosity, that Thanksgiving inspires, and I’ve been contemplating how to perpetuate them.

A tale of two elections

{mosimage}If there is such a thing as election envy, and the degree of fascination Canadians have with Sen. Barack Obama suggests there may be an element of wistfulness if not outright envy, the difference between this fall’s Canadian election and the U.S. presidential race would surely provoke it.  

It’s not just that the stakes are higher; being prime minister is a somewhat less exalted and demanding role than U.S. president. It is as if the response to higher stakes seems to be an elevated discourse, an appreciation that politicians shouldn’t just be about tactical considerations but should also be concerned with fundamental values. It also encompasses a notion that political decisions might actually touch on issues of who we are as well as what we might do this fiscal quarter.

We are all exiles

{mosimage}The appearance of a new Ron Hansen novel is always the occasion for careful scrutiny and delicious pleasure. He is the finest contemporary Catholic fiction writer in the United States, in my view (sorry Anne Rice), and his latest — Exiles — is one of his finest.

The author of several novels of inventive power and historical elasticity (Hitler’s Niece, Mariette in Ecstasy and The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford), Hansen delights in mixing historical fact with possibility, religious feeling with erotic need, saintly endeavour with the cold winds of reason.

Blinded by science

{mosimage}The cheapest shot against scientists, who rail loudly and at length against religious believers, is that they are scientific fundamentalists. It’s a cheap shot simply because science is supposed to be open, inquiring, rational and devoted to truth wherever it is to be found.

So when scientists set out to act like fundamentalists and do so in the manner of the Inquisition, the first reaction has to be disbelief. The second has to be a sober look at the growing phenomenon of scientific fundamentalism.

Is personal virtue required in democracy?

{mosimage}The primary function of the state is to ensure justice for all. This noble idea resonates nicely through the particularities of the fair wage, anti-discrimination policies, affordable housing, universal health care and social justice.

Justice, however, is a virtue. Moreover, it is, in its essence, not bureaucratic, but personal. Politicians, nonetheless, who love to talk about justice, rarely understand this. In general, they assume that justice is imposed on people by a liberal government, forgetting, somehow, that a society is nothing without its constitutive people. If there are no virtuous people, there is no social justice.

A very special family vacation

They say you can’t go back and revisit the past, but that’s exactly what we did last month. My family went back to the Muskoka resort where we first vacationed decades ago.

My parents had stumbled across the place after years of vacationing at housekeeping cottages. It cost more, but it was a real treat not to have to pack groceries, bedding and towels for six, along with each family member’s personal items, and try to cram them all into the car. And how wonderful it was to have someone else preparing, serving and cleaning up after meals and organizing activities. It was truly a time of relaxation and fun.

Catholic schools have made great contributions

{mosimage}It is both predictable and tiresome. And it is never, to my mind at least, entirely honest. What I am talking about is the political hot potato that is publicly funded Catholic education in the province of Ontario and the pseudo-debate that revolves around it.

In his Aug. 11 column, Jim Coyle of The Toronto Star spoke of the courage of NDP leader-wannabe Michael Prue’s invitation to the membership to enter into “a grand dialogue” regarding the economic effectiveness and justice of a policy/convention/tradition that continues to fund a separate Catholic school system. Why are we surprised? Especially, given the often furious and polemical debates surrounding the last provincial election and John Tory’s advocacy of “faith schools.”