There’s something about the name Mary

Fewer baby girls are gifted with Our Lady’s name nowadays

Earlier this month, Today’s Parent published its annual list of most popular baby names in Canada and I scanned, as I usually do, to see where my two children’s names are located.

Overhaul overdue

The United Nations reports there are 10.5 million refugees in the world. These are homeless, often stateless, mostly impoverished people displaced for many reasons, but frequently due to war and persecution.

Leadership based on character, Collins tells business leaders

Strong leadership is founded on character but can be undermined by ego, Cardinal Thomas Collins told a room full of Toronto business leaders.

Faithful charity

Engaging in charity is central to the mission of the Church or, as Pope Benedict says, “an indispensable expression of her very being.” For 2,000 years, charity has been such an obvious aspect of Christian identity that it was never expressly established in Canon Law as a duty of the bishops. There was no need. It was simply acknowledged by all as being a fundamental teaching of Christ and therefore essential to the practise of the faith.

That changed on Dec. 1 when the Pope issued an apostolic letter to formalize regulations to govern the Church’s charitable activities. He did this, he said, because there was a need to fill a lacuna, the gap between what was being enthusiastically practised but without a legislated framework.

His document will be warmly received by generous Catholics who’ve expressed concern about their donations sometimes going, directly or indirectly, to causes that conflict with Church teaching. In Canada, the most public of these cases involve a small number of agencies affiliated with Development and Peace. Even today, D&P continues to hear occasional suggestions that, despite tighter controls, some of its money finds its way to groups that support abortion.

Benedict’s welcomed decree is a succinct reflection on the essential nature of charity and its integral place in the Church. It’s a call for charities to exemplify Christian life, for the laity to engage in charitable activity and for bishops to provide firm leadership and strict oversight.

Most striking, though, is the Pope’s unequivocal edict that Catholic charities always act in accordance with Church doctrine.

Without exception, they “are required to follow Catholic principles in their activity and they may not accept commitments which could in any way affect the observance of those principles,” he said. He has also prohibited these charities from accepting financial support from groups that contravene Church teaching.

Additionally, dioceses and parishes are instructed to prohibit publicity for charitable organizations that contravene Church teaching. The Pope makes it the duty of bishops in particular but also pastors to “ensure that they (charities) are managed in conformity with the demands of the Church’s teaching and the intentions of the faithful.”

These are welcomed words. When Catholics support a Catholic charity they have every right to expect their money is supporting causes that align with their faith. For many years, everyone assumed that was the case. Several recent incidents, however, suggest that has not always been so.

The Pope has now decreed that being faithful is more than merely expected of Catholic charities. It is mandatory. These charities are obligated to strictly adhere to Church doctrine and bishops are formally required to ensure that charities comply.

It’s all about ensuring that Catholic charities are, in every respect, truly Catholic.

Where’s the consistency?

A one-month suspension given to a Montreal radio host who allowed, or perhaps tacitly encouraged, anti-Semitic commentary on his phone-in show has provoked considerable debate as to whether the punishment is in proportion to the breach of ethics.

Jacques Fabi has been on the air for 35 years and is described as “king of the night” at his midnight to 5:30 a.m. phone-in show on 98.5 FM. On Nov. 22, a caller identifying herself as Maria launched into a hate-filled rant against Jews and Israel, even including some praise for the Holocaust. Of concern is not just that the caller got through the station’s normal screening procedures, but also that she was not stopped immediately by Fabi, who instead added a few comments of his own, including that despite freedom of expression, “it is very difficult to make any negative comments about Jews.”

He allowed the conversation to go on for some time and at the end politely thanked the contributor for her call. In his subsequent apology, portions of which were printed in the National Post, Fabi said he would never endorse the caller’s “anti-Semitic comments” nor trivialize the Holocaust.

“For 35 years I have hosted a nighttime call-in segment and it is not the first time that a listener has tried to use it as a vehicle for communicating unacceptable messages,” he said. “I have always reacted quickly in order to avert these situations. Unfortunately, I did not last week.”

For some people, the apology should have been enough, but for others the suspension, as well as the censure of his peers, is appropriate. I agree with the suspension, since it underlines the importance of responsibility on the part of those who control the use of broadcasting outlets. This is not the “wild west” of the Internet, where technically it is almost impossible to regulate web sites operated by the hateful and the twisted. The fact that people are free to hold opinions doesn’t mean that a radio station is obliged to provide a platform for them.

With that said, it would be nice to see some consistency in standards. Just a few weeks before the Montreal incident, John Tory’s suppertime drive-home show onToronto’s NewsTalk 1010 included, during panel conversation, a joke by panelist Gail Vaz-Oxlade about the Pope and masturbation. I know of at least a dozen e-mails being sent to the station about the remark. Many were unanswered. Of those that were, the brief apology was of the “just a joke” and “no offence intended” variety.

I’m not suggesting that a sick joke about a public figure is on the same level as vile anti-Semitism, but for some people the “joking remark” about the Pope was almost as offensive, and it was at a time of day when many more people were likely to hear it.

Over the years, the Catholic Civil Rights League has protested dozens of incidents of anti-Catholic content on radio and television, including a Jesus look-alike contest at Eastertime and a Christmas special that portrayed the Virgin Mary as, shall we say, a party girl. While there have been a few apologies from individual stations, I’m not aware of a single case where the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council has upheld a complaint about anti- Catholic content, especially if there was any sort of humourous context involved. That is why, for many believers, the dial often goes to the “off” position.

The Montreal episode is a reminder that action from the station is as important as action by the listener.

***

In response to the annual barrage of Christmas and “holiday” advertising, the American Family Association is compiling its “Naughty or Nice List” for 2012. It singles out major North American retailers that avoid using or ban the term Christmas in their advertising, as well as identifying those that still use it.

I understand the reasoning behind this but still I wonder about the fairness of singling out retailers for something that is widespread and to which we all contribute by accepting the “bigger every year” commercialization of Christmas. While we’re free to “report” stores that are reluctant to use “Christmas” in advertising and in-store greetings, I have always found the simpler solution is to wish a Merry Christmas to those we buy from, but also to happily accept any and all greetings in the spirit in which they’re intended.

Salt+Light is alive!

And still going strong after 10 years

I have been writing about a lot of anniversaries this year — 1,700 years since Constantine’s victory at the Milvian bridge, 500 years since the completion of the Sistine Chapel ceiling, 50 years since the opening of the Second Vatican Council. In the secular calendar, we have had the diamond jubilee of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth and the 30th anniversary of the patriation of the constitution, including the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

In the light of all that, 10 years may not seem like very much — though I did write about my own 10th anniversary of priestly ordination this past summer. Another anniversary comes this week. Ten years for Salt + Light Television, and it is an occasion worth celebrating.

Fr. Thomas Rosica, director of World Youth Day 2002 in Toronto, founded Salt + Light TV in the months after WYD, with the generous support of the Gagliano family. The name Salt + Light came from the theme of the WYD itself, taken from the Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus tells His disciples that they are to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world.

This week Salt + Light marks 10 years since its establishment, even though it did not begin broadcasting until June 2003. The major celebratory event was the Dec. 5 Christmas concert with The Priests, but we had something of an anticipated celebration in Kingston when Fr. Rosica and Sebastian Gomes visited our archdiocese Dec. 2. They offered two presentations — one in Sebastian’s home parish in Perth, Ont., and the other at our cathedral — on the new evangelization, reporting on their experience at the recent synod on the new evangelization in Rome.

Fr. Rosica served among the synod officials, briefing the English-speaking journalists. Gomes is one of the network’s dynamic young journalists who, along with his colleague Cheridan Sanders, covered the synod. Their report stressed two points. First, that the new evangelization is not to teach people about Jesus, but to help people encounter Jesus. Second, that faithful Catholics themselves have to be converted anew and feel a new enthusiasm for their faith. Without this new enthusiasm, we won’t desire to share our faith with others.

Salt + Light, a powerful initiative for the new evangelization in Canada, is entering its second decade launching a new program that attempts to do just that. Hosted by Gomes and Sanders, The Church Alive takes its title from Pope Benedict XVI’s inaugural homily, wherein he proclaimed that the “Church is young, the Church is alive.” It was not exactly the “be not afraid” of Blessed John Paul II’s inaugural homily, but it speaks of Benedict’s priority for the new evangelization. The Church is alive in Jesus Christ to be sure, but needs to become more lively, precisely in those places where the Church is in critical condition.

The Church Alive is described as “fast-paced,” meaning that its pilot episode covers the year of faith, the Second Vatican Council and Blessed John XXIII in the first four-and-a-half minutes. It’s aimed at making young Catholics excited about their faith and equipping them to share it with their contemporaries. This is not your grandmother’s religious TV. Gomes on the documents of Vatican II: “These are absolutely huge.”

Huge, indeed. Imagine what that would make Ephesus or Trent. Enormous.

Gomes and Sanders are just the latest innovation from Salt + Light in presenting the faith. Gomes reveals something of the Salt + Light secret when he says that the staff at Salt + Light is not permitted to say that something can’t be done, or that we have never done it that way before.

The new evangelization requires, by definition, new methods. And so not having done something that way before is often an advantage. At 10 years, Salt + Light is no longer new, but it is still doing new things and is very much part of the new evangelization in Canada.
Having led the reform of the Newman Centre at the University of Toronto in the 1990s, World Youth Day in 2002 and now Salt + Light for 10 years, Fr. Rosica is becoming — if one might put it this way — a young elder of the new evangelization. The continuing good news about Salt + Light is that there are a great many young evangelists following behind him. Salt + Light — ad multos annos!

If you racked up the bill, you pay it

Perhaps thankfully, my propensity for racking up unmanageable debt emerged early in life. It started via the Capitol Record Club, which I rashly joined at the age of 14.

Modernism: it’s all about me, myself and I

And it’s amazing that no one questions this

Coronation anthems and Christian culture

As the days grow colder and the nights longer, George Frideric Handel returns to the choir loft and the concert hall, to say nothing of the shopping mall. The naturalized British composer’s Messiah is sung by amateurs and professionals alike in these weeks. All of which is rather curious, for the celebrated “Hallelujah Chorus,” in salute of which both princes and peasants rise to their feet, is part of a vast biblical libretto — stretching from Isaiah to Revelation — and takes its place after the Ascension. So the chorus properly belongs more to Easter than Christmas, but Christmas is where it has stuck in our cultural imagination.

Handel though, especially this year, could be considered a fitting adornment for Christ the King. In 1727, Handel was commissioned by King George II to compose anthems for his coronation. Handel composed four anthems for the occasion. So magnificently did he fulfil this royal patronage that his music is now perpetually associated with the coronation of British monarchs.

Thus it was an inspired decision by the Melos Choir and Chamber Orchestra of Kingston to perform the coronation anthems at St. George’s Anglican Cathedral in celebration of the diamond jubilee of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. St. George’s just being a short walk down Johnson Street from our own Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, it was easy enough to attend the Sunday afternoon concert before returning to offer the evening Mass. For good measure, I took along the students who sing at Newman House for an afternoon of Christian culture.

Handel’s coronation anthems are settings of biblical passages which, when employed for coronations, make manifest that kingship in this world is to be patterned on the kingship of Christ. The aspiration of kings should be — literally — the listening heart of Solomon, that he might govern the people wisely.

King Solomon is the focal point of the most famous of Handel’s anthems, “Zadok the Priest.” The text is an adaptation of I Kings 1:38-40: “Zadok the Priest and Nathan the Prophet anointed Solomon King; and all the people rejoiced, rejoiced and said: ‘God save the King! Long live the King! God save the King! May the King live forever. Amen. Alleluia!’ ”

That biblical text has been used in every coronation of English (and later British) monarchs since that of King Edgar in 973 at Bath. Handel’s setting, after its spectacular debut in 1727, has been repeated at every coronation, including that of Queen Elizabeth 60 years ago. Indeed, after King George II died, composer William Boyce was commissioned to produce new settings for the coronation in 1761 of King George III. Boyce accepted, but declined to provide a new setting for “Zadok,” arguing that Handel’s setting could not be improved upon. He was right.

The Melos musicians did a splendid job of performing the anthems, and the setting of the Anglican cathedral was a reminder that these anthems are properly prayers for a gracious and noble sovereign, even as the royal anthem of “God Save the Queen” is a simple prayer.

The coronation anthems — in addition to “Zadok,” they include “My heart is inditing,” “Let Thy hand be strengthened” and “The King shall rejoice” — constitute a corpus of Christian culture. They are liturgy which soars, combining splendid sacred music with the word of God. As music does at its best, they mark something of the majesty of a moment and bring it easily to mind upon hearing just a few bars. As “Adeste fidelis” or “O Holy Night” immediately bring to mind Midnight Mass, the coronation anthems, even if performed at the concert hall instead of a cathedral, bring to mind not only the pomp and pageantry, but also the sacral character of Christian kingship.

As a liturgical genre, the anthem is an Anglican speciality, combining the textual brevity of a Roman antiphon with the power of a great hymn. The coronation anthems are a fine introduction to anthems for Catholics who may be unfamiliar with them.

A final treat from the diamond jubilee sacred music concert was the singing of the royal anthem — and not just the first verse of “God Save the Queen.” Here’s the Canadian verse for our Queen: “Our loved Dominion bless with peace and happiness/ From shore to shore/ Let our Queen’s realms all be united, loyal and free/ True to themselves and thee/ Forevermore.”

Listen to Handel’s Messiah this December to be sure; but even before Advent begins, in this week of Christ the King, listen to the coronation anthems, from the composer of Christian kingship.

Keys to peace

As this editorial is being written, the guns are silent in Israel and Gaza. But for how long? Hours, days, weeks? Maybe months, at best?

Can Christianity survive in its birthplace?

It is very difficult to make sense of the latest violence in the Middle East. And as we embark on another Advent season, it makes one wonder about the long-term viability of Christian communities in the Church’s birthplace in the Middle East, whether Palestine, Israel, Syria, Iraq or elsewhere in the region.