Dorothy Pilarski

Dorothy Pilarski

Writer, speaker and consultant, Pilarski’s new book, Motherhood Matters: Inspirational Stories, Letters, Quotes & Prayers for Catholic Moms, is now available from

Motherhood Matters is a straight-talking guide for Catholic mothers trying to cope in today's hectic world. Pilarski tackles a breath-taking range of topics: working moms, child-rearing, faith, marriage, attending Mass, public morality, holiday celebrations, education, friendship and such important Catholic themes as faith, hope and charity.

Dorothy Pilarski can be reached at

Like most Canadians, the thought of travelling to the Caribbean during the dead cold of winter has always had magical appeal. That appeal has been reinforced by two teenagers who have done a pretty good job over the years of reminding me that almost “everyone we know” had taken one of those all-inclusive trips to the sun.

Emptying the house I grew up in, after the passing of my mom, has been one of the most difficult, rewarding, surprising, touching and inspiring times of my life. It was so fitting that this emptying culminated in November, the month that starts with us remembering those who have died and ends on the eve of Advent.

A heavenly joy filled my heart during a Mass last month at Toronto’s Holy Angels Church. My family had arranged our schedules to be there as Fr. Peter Gioppato, the pastor, celebrated 50 years in religious life.

My eldest child, my daughter, graduated with honours from high school this year and is about to head off to university. By the grace of God, her Catholic faith remains intact. In looking back at her school years, I can honestly say that raising a daughter in this culture is among the most difficult tasks I have ever undertaken.

My sister was going on a journey and needed me at her side. I told myself I didn’t have the time, the resources or energy to go with her, but she was persistent and loving and had a look in her eyes that pulled me in.

I sometimes think God is trying to get my attention in the strangest places. For instance, I’ve sensed his presence a number of times while in line at a check-out counter.

Giving and receiving are part of Christmas, but don’t forget the spiritual gifts

A doctor’s appointment brings me to the scene of the crime

The moment I saw the address of the medical building, I felt uneasy. I had an appointment with a new doctor and I feared his office was in the same building my husband and I had prayed in front of during 40 Days for Life.

I had stood outside the building and its abortion clinic, but never gone inside. I didn’t want that to change.

Approaching the building the morning of my appointment, I realized that, yes, it was the same one. This time, no one was praying out front, no one was holding pro-life signs. Everything in me wanted to turn around and leave. The thought of entering the very building where babies were being killed — even if I was there to receive medical care — filled me with a spiritual dread I couldn’t bear.

I was also filled with a profound sense of responsibility. What was I doing to protect the babies and their mothers? What should I be doing?

I had to remind myself I was there for my own medical reasons. Yet part of me was rebelling. I wondered: “Why Our Lord, why did you bring me here today?”

When I pulled on the door handle to enter the building, a group of women whisked by, rushing to the elevator. I could hear the last few words of their conversation: “This is where they get rid of the baby.”

I was overcome. I didn’t know how to respond. Should I say something? Should I follow them? They quickly disappeared into the elevator. I went to the building directory and scanned the list of tenants. Two listings jumped out: one for a birth control and sexual health office, and the other for a women’s health clinic. I wondered if I should go to those clinics and say or do something.

Was God calling me to become more involved in the pro-life movement? I carried that thought with me as I approached my doctor’s office. I thought to myself: I could never work in this building. How could anyone come to work day after day knowing babies were dying in the building while they worked?

I was disturbed further after reaching my doctor’s office. A large, bizarre painting was hanging in the waiting room. It mocked Leonardo da Vinci’s masterpiece of the Last Supper. In the place of Jesus was Marilyn Munroe. Instead of apostles, the table was populated with celebrities such as Elvis Presley, Laurel and Hardy, Marlon Brando, Clarke Gable and Fred Astaire. There was even a monster, Frankenstein. I was stunned.

I stared at the painting, dumbfounded. Finally I told the receptionist that, as a practising Catholic, I was very offended by it. She muttered something under her breath about the different reactions of people to the painting. It turned out my doctor was out of the country, so I left, silently.

The events of that morning got me thinking about how hostile the world still is to Christ and to Church teachings. I realized that, as a Catholic, I would often bear the brunt of that hostility. The words, “We must be in the world, but not of the world” reverberated in my soul. I thanked God for the grace to see, hear and know the truth in a world so often overwhelmed by destructive messages. And as a parent, I reflected on the Declaration on Christian Education from Vatican II.

“Since parents have conferred life on their children, they have a most solemn obligation to educate their offspring,” it reads. “Hence, parents must be acknowledged as the first and foremost educators of their children. Their role as educators is so decisive that scarcely anything can compensate for their failure in it. For it devolves on parents to create a family atmosphere so animated with love and reverence for God and men that a well-rounded personal social development will be fostered among the children. Hence, the family is the first school of those virtues that every society needs.”

Those are powerful words and they remind me that it is my parental duty to evangelize the Catholic faith within my family but also beyond.

During prayer, my mind often returns to the morning appointment at that dreadful medical building, and I plead to Him: “Show me Lord, show me what you want me to do.”

(Writer, speaker and consultant, Pilarski’s book, Motherhood Matters: Inspirational Stories, Letters, Quotes & Prayers for Catholic Moms, is available by calling 416-934-3410.)

I was taken aback in early October when I went to a local drug store to pick up some medication and was confronted with rows and rows of Halloween merchandise. Even with trick-or-treating just around the corner, the costumes, candies and other accessories seemed so out of place in a drug store. Then again, I’ve seen the stuff in hardware stores, too. It seems to be everywhere.

Halloween has become big business. The Retail Council of Canada says “Halloween is one of the most anticipated days of the year for Canadian children.” During October, it’s estimated that nearly $600 million worth of goodies and snack-food items will be sold. A recent statement from the National Retail Federation stated that a record 170 million Americans will celebrate Halloween this year and they’ll spend $8 billion on decorations, costumes and candy. That includes 25 million people who will dress their pets in a costume.

As a businesswoman with a marketing background, I understand the business opportunity of Halloween. It’s hard to knock retailers for trying to make a buck from the holiday. But as a Catholic mother I have long wrestled with the spiritual fallout of society’s increasing infatuation with this day.

Should we be dressing up our daughters and sons as monsters, witches, devils and skeletons? When we celebrate Halloween this way, do we risk glorifying violence and evil? Are we sending the wrong message, a non-Catholic message, when we give so much attention and spend so much money on a holiday with pagan origins? Surely, that money could be better used to feed the poor or support our local churches.

I’ve sometimes wondered if I should pull down my blinds, lock my door and ignore Halloween altogether. Or maybe we should just dress our children in wholesome costumes, give them proper warning and reluctantly let them join in the fun.

I used to run a saints club in a local Catholic elementary school. The purpose was to teach children about the lives of saints and encourage them towards saintly virtues. It was mostly rewarding but the end of October was always a troubling time.

It was sad to see the attention given to the secular celebration of Halloween, the costumes, the parties, the snacks, while absolutely nothing was done to mark the Catholic feasts of All Saints Day (Nov. 1) and All Souls Day (Nov. 2). It struck me as odd that a Catholic school would mark a festival with pagan roots and then the next two days virtually ignore important feasts on the Church calendar. (Actually, it was rare to hear teachers mention the liturgical calendar or any feast days.)

I’m not suggesting that Halloween be banned in Catholic homes and schools. I’m not opposed to children having fun. But there are several ways educators can use the season of Halloween to teach the Catholic faith to children. Here are some examples:

o Make All Saints Day a school event and ask students to dress up as saints. Offer prizes for those who do. Rather than receiving treats, this could be a day about giving.

o Have students do a short presentation on a saint of their choosing.

o Teach the Irish folktale of Jack O’Lantern and the Catholic origins behind the custom of burning a candle in a carved pumpkin on Halloween.

o Take students to a Catholic cemetery and pray the rosary for the deceased.

o Study the history and evolution of Halloween but with a focus on it being of secondary importance to the two days that follow it.

o In high schools, use Halloween to discuss Catholic teaching on the occult and why the catechism rejects such things as magic, sorcery, horoscopes, clairvoyance and astrology.

One year I asked kids in our saints club to do a project on a saint. On the day the project was due, All Saints Day, our club had 25 bristol-board projects that covered an entire wall of the school. There were projects on Padre Pio, St. Bernadette, St. Anthony and St. John Bosco, to name just a few.

The project prompted other students to start asking questions. What does levitate mean? What is incorruptible? Do I really have a Guardian Angel? The entire experience was an absolute joy.

Along the hallway that morning the focus shifted from ghouls and goblins to the great saints of the Church. It was a reminder that Halloween costumes come and go but the saints are with us always.

It’s a never-ending cycle of games

This is not a rant against organized sports. My kids have been involved in sports for many years, mostly because of my husband. Basketball, ringette, hockey, baseball, volleyball — you name it, they’ve played it. 

We’ve travelled far and often to take our kids to games and tournaments. We’ve met hundreds of players, parents and coaches and shared with them the satisfaction of playing hard and the thrill of victory. There have been many good times.

But it’s often been a struggle to balance sports and family life. We’ve just barely finished baseball season and now hockey is upon us. Thank goodness my husband and I agree that, as a family, we should never miss our holy obligation of Sunday Mass in the name of a game. Even on tournament weekends, we always find a church and never miss Sunday Mass.

Still, as someone who didn’t grow up with sports, I have been known to lose my cool when sports trumps family life. I even spoke to a priest about it, not that I got much sympathy. He warned me to be careful about succumbing to the spirit of division and suggested I embrace sports as a family event instead of bickering over it.  He must have grown up with organized sports!

So over the years I have heeded that advice and supported my family’s obsession with sports. I’ll never be an expert but I like to think I’m a keen observer. I know that most athletes and coaches are uninterested in the observations of a Catholic woman whose formative years revolved around the church and not an arena or baseball diamond. But I’m going to share some observations anyway.

It seems to me that many Catholic parents don’t make sure their children attend Mass as religiously as they get their children to games. And why do some boys wear their Sunday best to an arena and not to church? I can’t believe the number of times I’ve seen boys wearing white shirts and ties to minor hockey games, but not to church on Easter or Christmas. It makes no sense to me.

I also wonder why Catholic athletes and coaches obey the rules and regulations governing sports but balk at the rules and regulations of the Catholic Church. Also, I’m appalled by the spending on superfluous extras by many sports teams. Do kids really need two jerseys, track suits, customized hockey bags, leather winter jackets, spring jackets, pants, hats, hoodies, drinking canisters and various other team paraphernalia that display the team logo? I wish team organizers would consider how many more kids could benefit from team sports if fees were reduced by eliminating these extras.

Then there’s the schedules. There were years when one of our kids had a game on Thanksgiving, Ash Wednesday, Easter Sunday, a family birthday and during the Christmas week. Of course, Sunday is always fair game for the schedule makers. These games often interfered with our holy obligations and relations with our extended family. On the secular celebration of Halloween, however, one league cancelled all the games so the kids could go trick or treating.

Another concern is that a generation of kids has grown up winning participation trophies. What does that teach them? Shouldn’t a trophy be something you earn? If we’re going to spend so much time at sports, we should be teaching kids that, in addition to fair play, they need to learn about winning and losing because life is like that.

If I had my way, there’d also be classroom sessions for Catholic parents and players to learn how sports can enrich family life and be used to grow in virtue. Yes, it would be a tough sell, but I’d love to see sessions on what various popes and Catholic thinkers have said about the value of sports and about its place in culture.

I’d open with what St. Ignatius of Antioch said in the first century: “Exercise self discipline, for you are God’s athlete; the prize is immortality and eternal life.” Much better for young athletes to be pondering that than to be discussing Don Cherry’s latest rant from Coach’s Corner.

Finally, as another hockey season begins, I’ve heard the lament of many wives about being neglected after the first puck is dropped. So say a prayer for us and, dads, it doesn’t hurt now and again to surprise us with a dozen roses or take us dancing or out to the theatre.

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