Rewarding courage

The values Canadians most cherish include democracy, peace, equality and freedom. So if the purpose of awarding Diamond Jubilee Medals is to honour significant contributions to Canada, then Linda Gibbons and Mary Wagner have every right to wear their medals proudly.

The pro-life crusaders are among 60,000 Canadians being honoured under a program to mark the 60th anniversary of Queen Elizabeth’s reign. Their names were submitted by Saskatchewan MP Maurice Vellacott and approved by the Chancellery of Honours in the Governor General’s office. As Governor General David Johnston said last February in announcing the program, nominees were sought who “have dedicated themselves to the well-being of family, community and country.”

By that definition, Wagner and Gibbons are worthy winners. Canada currently lacks both an abortion law of any kind and a mainstream political party willing to discuss drafting one even though polls show that most Canadians support some type of legislation. Gibbons and Wagner, despite court orders and injunctions against them, and despite much public vilification, have been relentless in their peaceful, prayerful protest against what Pope Benedict has called a crime against society.

For this, both women have been repeatedly jailed. Gibbons has spent almost 10 of the past 20 years behind bars for maintaining her sidewalk vigils. Wagner has spent less time imprisoned but is currently jailed for trespassing after taking her cause inside a private clinic.

The two women are serial dissenters and, due to their criminal convictions for what amounts to civil disobedience, their inclusion on the honours list was widely criticized. The objections, mainly from those intent on silencing pro-life voices, ignore the long and important history of civil disobedience and peaceful protest in Canada. Equality rights for racial and religious minorities, women and the disabled all have roots in peaceful protest.

Gibbons and Wagner are pro-life crusaders first but they are also unwitting defenders of the fundamental Canadian rights of lawful assembly, peaceful protest and religious freedom. For that, they have been repeatedly imprisoned when their courage and resilience should warrant gratitude from not only pro-life advocates but from all Canadians.

When someone like Gibbons asserts a democratic right to pray and protest peacefully for the unborn, and then is arrested for it, all of society should be indignant. Canadians are guaranteed the freedom of conscience and religion, and freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. When one person confronts authority to peaceably express those rights, regardless of their particular cause, they’re advancing a fundamental right important to all Canadians.

Bravely, Gibbons and Wagner have been doing exactly that for years, and that’s why they’ve earned a Diamond Jubilee Medal.

The downside of technology

Too often it can enslave us and strip away parts of our humanity

The three front-page stories in a national newspaper the other day really caught my eye. One was about technology giant Apple Inc.’s impressive financials, the second was about a conference in Montreal on how technology makes life better, and the third was about a massive study of Canadian workers that found we’re overworked and getting more sad all the time.

There seemed to be a thread tying these stories together. Every day we’re bombarded about the virtues of technology, but we rarely take time to think about some of the downsides. For example, we’ve been told for decades that technology makes us more productive and frees us up for more leisure time. Not so, according to the 2012 National Study on Balancing Work and Caregiving in Canada, in which 25,000 workers were surveyed. We’re working longer hours (the vast majority of people are now working more than 45 hours per week) and technology tethers us to the boss and clients on evenings and weekends, once the sole domain of family time.

As I was thinking about technology’s impact, an interesting e-mail dropped in my box. The subject line was “Einstein was right.” Perhaps you’ve received it too, or seen it race around the social media circuits?

It is pictures of young people, each with his or her smartphone in hand, in restaurants and museums, on the beach and in cars. All the pictures show the young folks glued to their screens and ignoring nearby friends.

The caption after the pictures is a supposed quote from Albert Einstein: “I fear the day when technology overlaps with our humanity. The world will only have a generation of idiots.” I say “supposed quote” because I searched long and hard and couldn’t come up with that exact quote.

The closest I could find from the great scientist was: “It has become appallingly obvious that our technology has exceeded our humanity.” Whether the originator of the e-mail took liberty or not with Einstein’s words, you get my point: technology is not pure panacea.

If you have teenage kids, you’ve seen them tap away not hearing a word of what you’ve said. When I was a teenager, I wasn’t the greatest listener either, but today’s teens take it to a whole new level. And it’s not just teenagers. Almost all of us pay way too much attention to our handheld devices, sometimes even in church.

Social media (ie. online relationships through Facebook, Twitter and others) have restructured human relationships. What once was the dynamic experience of having a real-life conversation became selecting from a bunch of dropdown boxes to describe ourselves and our likes. As we become digital, our interactions are dumbed down so that they play nice with technology. We don’t even have to articulate why something makes us happy any more, we just click “Like.”

Things are changing so fast with smartphones and computers for the purpose to entertain us that it gives me an eerie feeling we’re losing some of our humanity as we reach to connect online instead of connecting one-on-one or in real-life communities. Will this lead to a less caring society? I hope not.

But as Christians, we need to think about these things because the teachings of Jesus are about our relationships — with family, friends, strangers, even enemies and, of course, our relationship with God. One need only re-read the beautiful Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:1-12) to understand this.

I realize Pope Benedict has urged Catholics, particularly younger ones, to embrace the digital world and the Vatican has even given its approval to an iPhone app that can help us with Confession.

But the Pope also said: “It is important always to remember that virtual contact cannot and must not take the place of direct human contact with people at every level of our lives.”

At that technology conference in Montreal, according to the Globe and Mail, an entrepreneur from Kenya talked about a game he had developed in which players protect trees from illegal loggers.

This, apparently, has helped to change people’s views of the practice in the real world. And that’s a good use of technology; first by helping the environment and second by offering hope and opportunity to bright minds in parts of the world not as wealthy and privileged as we in North America.

But technology can enslave us and strip away parts of our humanity, if we let it. We should remember that the next time we’re sending the boss an update on a Sunday while our family is nearby.

Phil Fontaine lets politics get in the way of the truth

Native leader loses track of the facts at St. Kateri’s canonization

The making of saints is a joyous affair, with a gracious spirit abounding toward all, and a determined effort to ignore any discordant notes. I recall, for example, at the beatification Mass for Cardinal John Henry Newman my surprise at seeing Bishop Remi De Roo, the retired bishop of Victoria, sitting not a few paces away from Pope Benedict XVI. Bishop De Roo had been keeping a determinedly low profile since leaving his diocese plagued by financial scandal, so it was a surprise to see him at all.

Yet there he was, ebullient at Newman’s beatification, taking the great cardinal as inspiration for his own theological vision. The Holy Father, for his part, was inspired enough by Newman that he departed from his usual practice and conducted the beatification himself. Between Benedict XVI and Bishop De Roo there is a vast difference as to the proper interpretation of the Second Vatican Council and other theological matters, and the former would be astonished that the latter would claim Newman for his positions. But it was a beatification, the saints belong to the whole Church, and so the gracious thing to do was not to notice the incongruity of it all.

It is inevitable that new saints are used for partisan purposes by various factions in the Church. Sometimes the Holy See attempts to forestall the attempt to use the saints in this fashion, as for example when Pope John XXIII and Pope Pius IX were beatified on the same day, or when Pope John Paul II and Pope Pius XII were declared venerable on the same day.

The canonization of Kateri Tekakwitha on Oct. 21 was characterized — wittingly or not — in such factional terms by Phil Fontaine, former national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, who was present in Rome for the canonization. Fontaine had been in Rome in 2009, accompanied by Canadian bishops, to receive an apology for the treatment of native children in residential schools. So he speaks with some authority on relations between native peoples and the Catholic Church. But what he said in Rome cannot go unremarked.

“(The canonization) makes it possible, very much possible, to bring our community — the First Nations — very much closer with the Catholic Church. There was rupture for too long,” he told Catholic News Service.

“The canonization makes it possible to share our daughter with the universal Church,” he continued. “If you link the two events (the 2009 visit and the canonization), it is all about imparting reconciliation. It is an opportunity for us to say, ‘We accept your apology, we forgive, and so now let us begin taking the important steps of healing and reconciliation.’ ”

Healing and reconciliation need to be rooted in truth, and what Fontaine said is not rooted in the truth of Kateri’s life. Kateri’s choice to be baptized and practise her Catholic faith meant that her own people persecuted her, so much so that she left her native village in present-day upstate New York and moved to the Christian mission near Montreal, where she died at age 24.
As to whether she belongs to her native tribe or the universal Church, the answer is that she belongs to both. But if she was forced to choose, it is clear that Kateri would have chosen her faith. In fact, that is what she did at considerable cost.

More objectionable is Fontaine’s treatment of the canonization as a sort of super-apology, as if the Church gave native Canadians a saint to compensate them for their suffering. That would make Kateri an instrument of factional jockeying rather than a model of holiness. Moreover, it neglects the fact that in the complex history of the Church and native peoples, Kateri is an example of native persecution of Christians, not the other way around.

“St. Kateri was persecuted for the faith she held so tenaciously,” Prime Minister Stephen Harper said in his statement. The prime minister did not mention who persecuted her. Good manners today mean that we don’t mention the aboriginal peoples who made martyrs — sometimes brutally so — of Christians, but an objection must be made when Kateri is advanced as an occasion of “accepting” an apology from the Church. The truth of history is exactly the opposite.

Fontaine was a discordant voice in his remarks to Catholic News Service. Most voices — aboriginal and otherwise — did not see this as the latest installment of an ongoing conflict between natives and the Church, but a blessing for both. It was, and St. Kateri may well obtain from God the gift of reconciliation for the First Nations peoples, but reconciliation requires first that the truth be told.

No need to dilute what little is left of our ‘separate’ school system

At what point did what used to be known as the “separate” school system become so flexible and indifferent to its creedal distinctions that one of its high schools would dedicate and outfit space for use as a Muslim prayer room?

Even people who aren’t particularly sympathetic — or are even antagonistic — to the Roman Catholic Church must be wondering about that after Ana Paula Fernandes, the principal of Mother Teresa Catholic Secondary School in London, Ont., announced the re-designation of an office in that school for just such a use. There are perhaps two dozen (obviously) non-Catholic students enrolled there.

Why identify a school as specifically Catholic and then carve out a space for the religious observances of people who practise another religion?

Well, according to Fernandes, you do that “to ensure that all our students feel welcome, that they feel that they belong,” she told the London Free Press.

But those two dozen students don’t want to “belong” to a Catholic school. They’re Muslims. They or their parents obviously want them to “attend” a Catholic school, probably because of the perception that, of Ontario’s two educational systems, the Catholic curriculum (in spite of government-mandated watering down of its distinct Catholicity) has significantly more rigour than the public one.

But when you “belong” to something in any meaningful sense, you commit to it. It shapes you and you are bound to it by duty and obligations. The two dozen Muslim students do not want to “belong” to any sort of Catholic institution in that way, as made clear by their request for a separate prayer room.

One wonders what Fernandes’ response will be in the probably not-too-distant future when a couple of dozen budding Wiccans or atheists or hedonists request their own sanctuary for their religious or anti-religious observances? Surely she wouldn’t feel justified to accommodate one group and not extend the same gesture (and a few thousand dollars’ worth of broadloom and paint and wiring to effect a room overhaul) to another? That would be discrimination, and that minority group might feel they didn’t “belong” in a Catholic school.

By a decidedly peculiar arrangement in Ontario, students of any or no religious affiliation are welcome to attend a public or Catholic school. With few exceptions (I’m thinking here of the Toronto school that scandalously accommodates gender-segregated Muslim prayers in their cafeteria on Fridays) schools in the public system make no allowances for the religious proclivities — whatever they be — of their students. As a school system that is open to all, that is unquestionably the fairest and most sensible way to manage things.

Public funding of Catholic schools up to Grade 10 was part of the British North America Act. In 1984, then retiring Premier Bill Davis — much to the surprise of just about everybody — extended full funding to the end of high school. Considering the changing patterns of immigration and secularization then in play, it was a highly unpopular move. A more credible case could’ve been made for withdrawing public funding from the Catholic system altogether or finding some method to allow parents to designate their tax dollars to the school system of their choice.

Realigning anything as complex as the educational structure of an entire province would be a hugely disruptive process so the hesitation to tackle that job is understandable. But the current system is patently unfair and any modifications or exceptions we make to the system in the name of fairness and inclusivity only dilute the distinct Catholic character of Catholic schools. That distinctiveness — that recognition that Catholics have different educational requirements than the rest of the population — was the raison d’être for creating a separate system in the first place.

While it might appear that Catholics are making out like bandits here and getting everything their way, there is swelling displeasure within the ranks of the faithful that true Catholic identity is being lost in our schools as the province — which is, after all, paying the bills — demands modifications that chip away at the integrity or contradict Catholic teaching. Home schooling — once the preserve of evangelicals disaffected by the secularization underway in public schools (such as the banning of prayer) — is now catching on with more and more Catholic parents who, sadly, are coming to feel the very same way about the Catholic system.

Halloween can be a Catholic teaching moment

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.

Catholic Montreal lives

Within 20 minutes of my house are shrines to Canada’s two newest saints. To the south, visible across the St. Lawrence, is the spire and façade of St. Francis of Xavier Mission in Kahnawake, the simple little church that honours St. Kateri Tekakwitha. Heading in the opposite direction for a few minutes brings into view the unmistakable dome of St. Joseph’s Oratory, the imposing shrine to St. Brother André Bessette.

Both, of course, have been elevated to sainthood in the past two years — St. Kateri on Oct. 21; St. Brother André in October, 2010. I wish I could say this fresh and welcome bursting forth of sanctity has had an immediate beneficial effect on the city of Montreal, or even my neighbourhood. That might be hoping for too much too soon. Perhaps the power of the communion of saints obliges dutiful patience at least equivalent to that required for the process of sainthood itself.

What has been notable is the attention paid to both canonizations in a city that normally prides itself on its smirking, cynical secularism and its contempt for all things related to the Church. With Brother André’s elevation, particularly, there was a genuine buzz that was amplified by official civic and media interest. The interest in St. Kateri, the Lily of the Mohawks, was more muted. Her church, after all, is on the city’s south shore across the rickety Mercier Bridge, not in fashionable Outremont.

Still, significant attention was paid in quarters that might have been otherwise expected to ignore it. It was, if nothing else, an opportunity to flay the Church yet again for its sins against the aboriginal population. There was also the irresistible attraction of working in pop culture references to Leonard Cohen’s 1966 novel Beautiful Losers, in which Kateri is the object of a character’s obsession.

The enduring appeal of at least local saints, even if only as a morbid fascination with the Church’s purported eccentricities, confounds the authorized Quebec attitude toward Catholicism and, indeed, Christianity itself.

For generations now, Quebecers have been taught to regard their historic, foundational faith as if it were grandmother’s corpse in a rocking chair in the attic: if we ignore it eventually the smell will go away. But what ho! It turns out there is plenty of life in the old girl yet.

Recognition of that life would unquestionably have a salutary effect not just on the future of the Church as an institution, not to mention the souls of the faithful yet-to-come, but also on Quebec’s connection to, and understanding of, its past. Research being done by a young scholar I know provides a sense of how clouded that understanding is, and the larger cultural damage that is the result.

The researcher has become fascinated by the role of religious women, particularly the Ursuline nuns, in the development of early New France. While popular depiction smothers the landscape of that era with Jesuits in black robes, he is discovering how much even cloistered women religious were able to contribute to the establishment of the settlement and, more importantly, to peaceful interaction with indigenous peoples.

His research is in the early stages yet so he is shy about attention, but the evidence is starting to show that the first Ursuline teaching and nursing sisters were a focal point for the exchange of knowledge in arts such as weaving and basket making as well as in botany and chemistry. He has found a treasure trove of personal letters and official reports revealing that pivotal role. It has turned up not in Montreal or Quebec City, where one might expect to find it, but in archives in Paris and other French cities.

What’s fascinating is not just that the French archival material has gone untouched for so long, but why it has been ignored. Quebec academics, he says, don’t like to go outside Quebec to research their own history. And if it involves the Church? Well, they’d rather tiptoe past the door to the attic than enter and find out how grandmother’s doing in her rocking chair. Why not? It’s what they’ve been taught to do for generations. Yet if all history is ultimately local, as a wise man once said, what happens to a people when the very institutions that shaped its locale are declared verboten?

All we can do then is pray that the saints in the neighborhood will preserve us.

A saint for today

It took 128 years from the launch of her sainthood cause for Kateri Tekakwitha to be canonized. That’s a long wait even by Church standards. But when Pope Benedict proclaimed St. Kateri on Oct. 21, the timing seemed perfect.

Kateri’s life of virtue and holiness was lived more than 400 years ago, but perhaps there has never been an era when her story was more relevant — or more important. In many respects the 17th-century heroine is ideally suited for these times.

Orphaned, disfigured by smallpox, ostracized for her beliefs, Kateri committed her life to works of charity and to Christ. Despite facing constant hostility, her faith was steadfast.

As we begin the Year of Faith, Catholics are being called to become proud and joyful disciples who give public witness to faith. In an era when Western culture is widely cynical about religion, Catholics are asked to re-connect with Church teaching and re-embrace Catholic values. They’re asked to confront an increasingly secular world with courage and conviction, to promote Catholic truths and to resist the secular forces of conformity.

Just as St. Kateri did.

“May her example help us to live where we are, loving Jesus without denying who we are,” Pope Benedict said at the canonization ceremony.

In particular, Kateri, who died at age 24, can be a model for Catholic youth. Young people need
a counter influence to offset a pervasive media culture that constantly dismisses traditional morality in favour of hedonism and materialism. Kateri’s life demonstrated the virtue of living a life guided by prayer, sacrifice and charity.

She also showed that it’s not how you look, but how you live that’s important. Society today places perverse value on personal appearance. Looking good is a multi-billion-dollar industry that targets teens and young adults with an often-harmful message. Kateri’s story is a counter message that professes that true beauty is emitted from the heart, not reflected in a mirror.

Her face scarred and her eyesight damaged at an early age by small pox, Kateri stands as a symbol of strength and comfort for anyone persecuted or bullied because they are different. That message is important at a time when technology is making bullying easier than ever and when teen depression and suicide are rising. Kateri faced her tormentors. She refused to abandon her beliefs but instead answered a call to chastity and embraced Christ, even though it made her an object of scorn in her village.

As Quebec Archbishop Gerald Lacroix said, Kateri is an excellent role model for young people of how to live a “simple life, faithful to the Lord, in the midst of hostility.”

Kateri lived her faith proudly and proclaimed it joyfully. It’s a message worth spreading.

Oct. 22 vs. Oct. 16

The days are quite significant in our Church’s history

As the present grows more distant from the past, what actually happened becomes confused with what people think happened. Even pious priests fall victim to the temptation. Take, for example, Fr. C. John McCloskey III. He wrote this recently about the election of Blessed John Paul II:

“In 1978, when I was preparing for the priesthood in Rome, I had the privilege of being present in St. Peter’s Square when the newly chosen Pope John Paul II came out on the balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica and addressed the crowd by quoting Our Lord’s words ‘Ne Timeas’ (Do not be afraid). I, along with the rest of the throng present, somehow sensed that the world was going to be different under this man who came ‘from a far country,’ as he put it.”

But it seems McCloskey’s memory is playing tricks on him.

First, when Karol Wojtyla appeared on the balcony just after his election on Oct. 16, 1978, he did not speak in Latin. In fact, what was remarkable about the balcony appearance was the new Pope’s decision to speak to the crowd in Italian, rather than restrict himself to the traditional Latin blessing alone. The speech was memorable in part because the pope asked the Romans to correct him if he made a mistake in “your … no, our” Italian language.

Second, John Paul did not say “be not afraid” on the balcony. That was the key line from the homily at the inaugural Mass in St. Peter’s Square several days later.

Third, the late Holy Father never said “ne timeas,” which is Latin. The homily was delivered in Italian. And what he said in Italian was “non abbiate paura” — second person plural — which would be “nolite timere” (second person plural) in Latin, not “ne timeas” (second person singular).

What’s the big deal? Why quibble over details? It’s not really about Fr. McCloskey. He is a well-known commentator, but sadly typical of many people who confuse Oct. 16 and Oct. 22. How many times have you heard that John Paul’s first pontifical words were “be not afraid”? Hardly. After the election of Oct. 16, he addressed the college of cardinals (Oct. 19), the diplomatic corps (Oct. 20) and then held a press conference (Oct. 21). “Be not afraid” was on Oct. 22.

It matters to get that history straight now that John Paul is beatified. The Church has assigned him Oct. 22 as his feast day, not the day of his death. A similar thing was done for Blessed John XXIII, who was assigned Oct. 11, the day of the opening of the Second Vatican Council and his famous address, Gaudet Mater Ecclesia — Mother Church Rejoices! Oct. 22 was chosen for Blessed John Paul precisely because of the “be not afraid” homily delivered that historic Roman day. Moreover, that homily is part of the divine office for the feast, excerpted in the Office of Readings. Get the history confused and the point of the feast day is lost.

It’s especially important in the month of the October, where the Church gives us an embarrassment of riches in terms of feasts. The month begins with two of the most popular saints in all Christian history, Therese of Lisieux (Oct. 1) and Francis of Assisi (Oct. 4), with the Guardian Angels in between (Oct. 2). Our Lady of the Rosary (Oct. 7) follows soon after, with the evangelist Luke (Oct. 18) and the apostles Simon and Jude (Oct. 28) also celebrated.
Then there is the curious case of Teresa of Avila, who died during the night between Oct. 4 and Oct. 15. It was a most unusual night, because in 1582 the calendar was adjusted by Gregory XIII, removing 10 days from it. Her feast day is observed Oct. 15.

With three recent blesseds, the Church departed from her usual practice of assigning the death anniversary as the feast day. Cardinal Newman (Oct. 9) was assigned the day of his conversion to Catholicism, and John XXIII (Oct. 11) and John Paul II (Oct. 22) were given significant days of their pontificates.

The liturgical calendar illustrates how holiness is rooted in history. That’s why it matters to get Oct. 22 right, when those history-shaping and life-changing words rang out:

“Brothers and sisters, do not be afraid to welcome Christ and accept His power. Help the Pope and all those who wish to serve Christ and with Christ’s power to serve the human person and the whole of mankind. Do not be afraid. Open, I say open wide the doors for Christ. To His saving power open the boundaries of states, economic and political systems, the vast fields of culture, civilization and development. Do not be afraid. Christ knows ‘that which is in man’. He alone knows it.”

Thanksgiving is a second Mother’s Day for me

Thanksgiving is always special because it is the day my parents were married many years ago and I take time to feel thankful for them, though they are both long departed. And this Thanksgiving weekend was extra special because we celebrated the 80th birthday of my wife’s mother.

Though my own mother and my wife’s mother met only once, I have always felt a bond between them. They were raised very differently (one in the city, the other in the country) and they married men with polar opposite personalities. But the two women were similar in many ways; namely, they always put others first.

My mom was a saint and my dad a character. It may not have been a marriage made in heaven, but it was certainly a love story lived on Earth that I am sure continues in heaven.

In many ways, my parents were so different. She was a worker bee who wanted to get the job done (whatever the job), behind the scenes, away from the limelight. He was a free-spirit who loved the attention and often put a job around the house off until tomorrow. But he loved his wife beyond anything; even more than the racetrack, golf course or poker table. She died way too young at age 56. Her death was 15 years before his at age 73. Though he had some good years after her, he really was never the same on his own.

In his later years, he once told me the best thing I could give my children was to love their mother above all else. I said, “Dad, of course, I do.” With an unfamiliar serious look on his face, he said, “Always put her first. Your love of her reflects to them.”

On Thanksgiving, as I thought about my parents, I couldn’t help but think that he got to have more fun than she did. In some ways, he was a product of the times and a swashbuckling journalist in the 1950s and ’60s.

There was a story when he was in Manhattan at a party at a swanky nightclub and he danced with Liz Taylor. The next morning, he called home to tell mom about the evening but she was scrubbing floors so my oldest brother had the conversation with him on the phone. He was about eight years old and he relayed the story to mom and then looked at her on her hands and knees scrubbing the kitchen floor, and said, “Mom, you’re just like Cinderella and daddy was at the ball.”

In our family, given who our father was, teasing was a sport. Once, when I was upset over being teased, mom consoled me by saying it is okay to be teased because it means that person isn’t teasing someone else. A very Christian attitude that, unfortunately, I sometimes forget. Long ago, at Sunday dinner mom was getting teased by several of her seven children and she exasperatedly said: “How come women at the CWL, or at the beauty salon or our friends in the bowling league all like me but you guys treat me like this?”

I was about 10 years old and I blurted out: “Mom, they just don’t know you like we do!” They say there is a grain of truth in any joke, but she knew there was no truth in that one and she smiled. Later, I heard her tell that story on more than one occasion.

This brings me back to this past Thanksgiving weekend. It started with a birthday dinner for my wife’s mother with her children, grandchildren and her brothers and their wives at the table. Then the next night she took 10 of her family to the production of War Horse and also paid for the dinner at a fancy restaurant. We tried to pay but she just shook her head and said: “This is my birthday present to myself. I am paying.”

She has done things like this regularly for the 30 years I’ve known her and it is just another example of how she puts others first, just like my mom did. And it’s one of the reasons I have never, ever referred to her as my “mother-in-law” because of the negative connotations associated with that phrase. She is my second mother, period. And how many people are lucky enough to have two fantastic mothers in one lifetime? That’s why Thanksgiving is a second Mother’s Day for me.

The best of both worlds

What is our favourite TV show? Do we allow our children to read and watch The Hunger Games? What style of clothing do we choose? How much time do we spend online, and how do we spend it?

Every day, we are influenced by a culture that was rooted in Christianity but is now shaped by a radical secularism and a need for instant gratification. How are we as Catholics called to live in a culture that has not only forgotten its evangelical roots but often denigrates or even opposes them?

St. Kateri Tekakwitha offers valuable insights into this question by her intense commitment to Jesus Christ at a time when native cultures were confronted and often oppressed by European cultures.

Born of an Algonquin mother and Mohawk father, Kateri courageously bridged the gap between her own First Nations cultures and French Catholicism, embracing the best of both. Even her name highlights this characteristic: “Kateri” is a Mohawk version of the French “Catherine.” In embracing both her native heritage and Christianity, Kateri discovered and lived fully her deepest identity, expressing it in her total commitment to the Person of Christ.

Kateri’s intense love for Christ inspired her to follow Him wholeheartedly, both in prayer and in works of charity. But her ardour stirred up the animosity of many in her home village. Initially petty, the hostility escalated into real persecution — from children taunting her and throwing rocks, to her family refusing to allow her to eat on Sundays when she took extra time to pray, to death threats.

Instead of scaring her into a compromise, Kateri’s Mohawk upbringing inclined her to regard bravery in suffering as a sign of spiritual strength. She didn’t just accept suffering as part of life, but embraced it, wanting to share in the Cross of Christ for the sake of her people. Only after repeated death threats did Kateri reluctantly decide to flee to where she could live her faith freely.

Upon arriving at Sault St. Louis, the Christian native village in present day Kahnawake, Kateri’s fervour in prayer and generous kindness quickly made her a spiritual leader. She loved to pray in the Jesuit chapel, arriving first for Mass early in the morning, but she also prayed in the outdoor “chapel” she created by carving a cross into a tree trunk. Even the austere penances she practised were an expression of her love for Christ.

Kateri’s intense love for Jesus led her to embrace the counter-cultural call to virginity. Marriage was such an important value in her native culture that both in her home village and in the Christian village, Kateri faced innumerable pressures to marry. (Even her Jesuit mentors did not initially encourage her.) Her inexplicable fidelity to virginal chastity can only be explained by a call from God.

As her understanding of Christian life matured, Kateri’s desire for chastity flowered into a vow of virginity. Kateri is the first native woman of North America known to make this vow. Virginity was her vocation, her “way of love” in the world, and only in becoming a Catholic could Kateri discover and live the fullness of her vocation.

Immersed in her own culture, but not enslaved by it, Kateri’s reception of Christ’s saving love enabled her to develop her deepest identity. Affirming her First Nations heritage kept her rooted in her own culture, but also helped her follow a personal call and make the courageous choices for Baptism and consecrated virginity.

St. Kateri is a remarkable model for how we can engage in our culture today. She showed us how to claim our own heritage, embracing the values that strengthen our deepest identity and foster our commitment to Christ; how to discerningly engage with culture, aware that our unique identity is shaped by culture and also by God; and how to view every people and culture with the eyes of Christ, discovering common human values and the seeds of the Gospel even in the midst of conflict.

St. Kateri Tekakwitha, saint of the New Evangelization, pray for us!

Won’t be silenced

“Defending the voiceless is our mission.” Cardinal Thomas Collins, addressing a packed house at the annual Cardinal’s dinner on Oct. 11, couldn’t have been more blunt in delivering that pro-life message to the Ontario government. Catholic schools largely exist to impart the teachings and moral values of the Church. On the issue of life, Church teaching is unequivocal, just as the cardinal’s position is immovable.

His comments came a day after Education Minister Laurel Broten made the outlandish claim that being pro-life was tantamount to misogyny and therefore pro-life activities were unwelcome in Catholic schools because, she suggested, advocating misogyny contravenes Bill-13, the province’s new anti-bullying law.

“Taking away a woman’s right to choose could arguably be considered one of the most misogynistic actions that one could take,” she said.

Catholic educators have every right to bristle at the minister’s rhetoric. She apparently believes that when Catholic teachers use the catechism to profess that life begins at conception and abortion is immoral, they are teaching Catholic youth to hate women. The suggestion is ludicrous and reflects the very intolerance that prompted the minister’s own anti-bullying laws. A minister serious about confronting misogyny would investigate the rise in Canada of sex-selection abortion that targets females. Catholic education is not the problem.

Catholic students are taught to respect life and love all. Catholic teachers are hardly women haters — they’re mostly women! To label them misogynists is as absurd as accusing ministers who send their kids to Catholic schools of being anti-Catholic.

The cardinal’s other point was to underline again that Catholic education rights are enshrined in Canada’s Constitution and are protected in the provincial Education Act. The soon-to-be-retired premier or his education minister have no authority to make Catholic schools less Catholic by coercing them to abandon a core mission. Also, parents have a constitutionally protected right to send their children to publicly funded, faith-filled school environments that promote Catholic morals and values.

“Both the Constitution and the Education Act make it clear that the Catholic identity of the school must be respected,” Collins said. “It is our mission to speak up for all those who suffer, and especially for those who are voiceless.”

After using Bill-13 to force Catholic schools to accept gay-straight clubs, Broten now seems poised to use the bill to trample other religious freedom rights. That is very troubling. Will a pretext be devised to muzzle Church teachings on, say, divorce, same-sex marriage, contraception, chastity and fidelity? The bill was sold as a means to subdue bullies, not crush Catholic education.

Broten repeatedly says she supports Catholic education. But it’s becoming increasingly unclear if she even knows what that is.