Family history fills this Christmas tree

{mosimage}In magazines and on TV, the Christmas trees are tall, symmetrical and tastefully decorated using just the right amount of restraint. Sets of ornaments are evenly distributed and garland perfectly draped. Oftentimes there’s a colour scheme — blue and white or red and gold, for example — with impeccably co-ordinated trimmings.

In contrast, our family Christmas tree (always a real one, and so intrinsically imperfect), contains an eclectic mix of embellishments accumulated over many years. All of them, though, have meaning, and so rather than one more holiday task to be completed, decorating the tree is a welcome walk down memory lane.

    Herod's shadow is still with us

    {mosimage}The Christmas season is the prime film-launch time of the year. There are the award nominations to consider as well as the simple commercial fact that this is the time when families go to movies in droves. So, brace yourselves for the onslaught of the sublime and the absurd, the elegantly crafted and the insipid, the insightful and the hopelessly banal. 

    Alas, the numbers of genuinely accomplished works of art are few, the formula-driven installments of previous successes omnipresent, and the range of offerings shamelessly constrained by myopic distributors.

      Maybe it's time we pay more attention

      {mosimage}John Peter Humphrey is a Canadian to be reckoned with. And much of the world did so on Dec. 10 of this year. The Vatican hosted a day-long meditation and celebration on Humphrey’s most famous writing, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights celebrating its 60th anniversary this month. But any contemplation of the declaration just makes clear that old saying, “ideas have consequences.”

      Humphrey, a native of New Brunswick and a Christian, was born in 1905. A lawyer, jurist and legal scholar, in 1946 Humphrey became the first director of the Human Rights Division of the just created United Nations. After consultations with his boss, Eleanor Roosevelt, he drafted the Universal Declaration.

        Christmas tree beauty goes beyond looks

        {mosimage}As I write, Gayla Peevey sings “I want a Hippopotamus for Christmas.” Soon the McAvoy family will embark on our annual Christmas tree hunt. I am already psyching myself up. 

        When our children were small, finding a Christmas tree was simple. Jennifer and I would bundle one, two and then three little ones in snow suits and pack them into a sled. We would pull the sled six or nine metres into a tree farmer’s field, spot a tree more or less in proportion, cut it down and take about a dozen pictures. With smiling faces we would return home, put the tree in the stand, invite family and friends to add a bit of tinsel and a few ornaments, and we would be happy. 

          Make a loved one's stay in care enjoyable

          {mosimage}Many people find visiting someone in a nursing home an uncomfortable experience, at least initially. They don’t know what to expect or what to say and do.

          If you are planning to call on a friend or relative in long-term care over the next few weeks, follow these suggestions to help ensure positive interactions.

            A regrettable conflict, again

            {mosimage}Once more Congo is burning and the world is watching. After five years of civil war (1998-2003) in which more than five million people were killed and another million dislocated, the war-weary people of Congo are facing the prospect of another preventable war.

            The Congo conflict is the longest and most devastating conflict in Africa. It is also central to resolving the horrors in Darfur because these conflicts have led to the weaponization of this African sub-region and the surrounding countries extending to Sudan and Chad. The vast and ungoverned territories in this area provide the route for the transportation of all kinds of weapons to the African hot spots in Uganda, Somalia, Congo and Sudan. They are also fertile grounds for very angry and disinherited Africans who are tools for burgeoning terrorist cells and rogue groups and militias.

              Virtues demand the highest of us

              {mosimage}In the Oct. 18 Register appears a picture of some high school students holding up giant letters spelling out DIVERSITY. Now “diversity” is one of those weasel words, so beloved of multiculturalists, that frequently conceal animus towards religion generally, and hostility to Catholicism in particular. 

              The accompanying article, by Sheila Dabu, raised concern about a $2-million Ontario Education Ministry initiative called “Character Development.” There is reason for concern.

                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.