Monday, March 28, 2011

Doggie in the window

Jim Pickett died. Not that I’d ever known his full name. He was just Jim, the cheerful, portly, octogenarian WWII veteran who attended daily Mass and rosary at our parish. There’s a bunch of us who stay after Mass to pray the rosary together, and, as with daily Mass-goers in parishes, we see each other every weekday, pray together, smile and nod at one another, make commentary about the weather or some parish gossip tidbit, and emerge into the daylight to carry on with our days. We are bonded in a special way, but often know little or nothing about each other – not even our full names. I do know there were three Jims … and now there are two.

But Jim Pickett was one who did love to chat, and thank goodness he did; he had a fascinating lifetime to share. He was too young to join the Canadian forces during World War II, so he slipped across the border and somehow managed to join the US army at the age of 15. He fought with American troops in the Philippines, and it was there he met his Filippino wife and brought her home to Canada. In the last few years she had been suffering Alzheimers, and Jim had been tenderly caring for her night and day.

He had another special friend – his Heinz 57 mutt who loved to travel with him. I got to know Jim’s dog fairly well (known only to me as “Jim’s dog”); he and I were on barking/hello terms each morning. I’d arrive my usual two-minutes late for daily Mass, careen into the parking space next to Jim’s pickup, and scramble out of my car to be met with the morning bark from inside the truck. I’d smile and wave hello as I scurried across the parking lot, tugging my missal out of my purse.

But it was a different story after Mass. If I left the church before Jim, I’d reach my car and wave/say hi, but there was never a friendly answering bark, not even an acknowledgement of my presence. Jim’s dog would be in the driver’s seat, his face pressed to the window, big brown soulful eyes riveted on the church door, waiting for his master to emerge. Nothing could take Jim’s dog’s eyes off that door. He knew Mass was over, for he had seen people walking across the parking lot going to their cars, and he knew his beloved master Jim would come striding out any moment. As I noted this devoted loyalty morning after morning, I realized there was a valuable lesson to be taken from this relationship between man and his dog: Would that we could be so attentive to our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ, that absolutely nothing could take our eyes off Him.

I grieve for Jim’s wife and family, and I grieve for faithful “Jim’s dog” who surely must be suffering as well. May eternal light shine upon Jim, and all the faithful departed.

Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage. Yes, wait for the Lord. (Psalm 27:14)

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Don't it always seem to go ...

They bulldozed the ninth green at Lake Simcoe Golf Club. In fact, they’ve bulldozed the entire 18 holes.

My heart is panting on the floor.

You may be thinking, “Yeah … so? … like, get a life, lady!”

Now, how can I make this relevant? For the non-golfing reader, what shall I liken this to?

Well … for the tennis fan: They tore down Wembley.

For the baseball fan: They demolished Yankee Stadium (oops, they already did that, so if you are a fan, you know the pain).

For the American football fan: The NFL adopted Canadian football rules.

For the TV fan: They replaced your 60” 3D flatscreen TV with a 12-inch black-and-white portable (with bent rabbit ears).

For diehard CSI fans (pun intended): Series cancelled; after 400+ episodes they ran out ideas for gory corpses

For the opera lover: They closed The Met.

For the bargain shopper: Your beloved local Value Village/Good Will/Sally Ann closed.

For moms of small children: An evil fairy came and spirited away all your DVD episodes of Blue’s Clues, Franklin the Turtle, Baby Einstein, Veggie Tales, Sesame Street, Bob the Builder, Sponge Bob Square Pants, and Thomas and Friends.

For Seniors: Your doctor, your dentist, and your hair stylist all retired in the same month.

Does that help?

In the what-is-this-in-the-light-of-eternity? grand scheme of things, these events matter very little, and are eventually absorbed into our lives, but, wowsers, they are mightily disturbing when they occur.

I have actively played or participated in just about every mainstream sport available: tennis, badminton, racquetball, baseball, football, volleyball, basketball, ping pong (is that a sport?), skiing, waterskiing, high jump, relay, long jump, and a near-fatal attempt at scuba diving. And, surely this is why my joints have been whining for decades; the wear and tear they experienced before the age of 30 was enough to accommodate three bodies. I’ve enjoyed every sport, but the one that remains dear to my heart is golf. And it is so with many golfers. There is just something about the sport – the most frustrating, rewarding ... and spiritual game invented.

Spiritual, you say? Yes. Really. And I am not alone. Books have been written on the spirituality of golf. And no, it’s not blasphemous to suggest this. This game, despite its frequent club-hurling temptations, is primarily about a three-hour walk in magnificent, serene, God-imbued settings, surrounded by the immensely calming effects of emerald green grass, natural forests, streams, and ponds. It is to become so utterly involved in this convoluted game of organized warfare with a dimpled ball, a club, and a hole, that, at the end, the golfer feels as if he has had a weeklong vacation. Surely this is the point of true recreation, ideally referred to as re-creation. All  fears, worries, and anxieties vanish as an experienced golfer steps on the first tee and disappears into this beautiful magical orderly world.

A golfer can replay entire games in his head as he listens to a boring predictable homily (did I just write that?). Golfers gleefully regale each other with stories of shot-making on difficult holes: “You don’t mean the sixth hole at The Highland Links of Glen Osprey Heatherwood Brae Rolling Ridge? The hole that narrows to a valley just before the deep ball-eating chasm in front of the massive rolling green that drops off at the back? And you were on the green in two! Oh man!” I mean, you are actually there when shots are eagerly described, as much as if the storyteller provided a video replay. Can one do that in basketball: “Well, it was halfway through the second half, and I dribbled the ball six times, went around Johnson, shot the ball at the net, and it went in.” Or volleyball: “It was my turn to serve in the first game. I hit the ball, firing it low over the net, landed it on the back line, and we scored a point.” Yawn-sers.

And now they are bulldozing my beloved Lake Simcoe Golf Course to put in a subdivision. The hills and valleys and trees have disappeared as myriad giant yellow machines have gobbled up, flattened, and smoothed that gorgeous green competitor which captured every fibre of my being over 15 years. I cannot describe the gut blow I feel every time I drive by and torture myself by picking out the last remaining vestiges of landmarks: two of the long line of magnificent beech trees that lined the left side of the 10th hole; the clump of cedars at the 18th.

I have lived a chunk of my life there, wrapped up in the challenge and the beauty of this game, rejoicing in verdant green surroundings and the rich sweet smells of freshly mown grass and fallen pine needles. In how many sports can one breathe in the scent and grandeur of God? I give profound thanks to Him every time I enjoy this immense privilege.

Lake Simcoe is where I shot my magical 78 on a hot steamy August day in 2004 – an out-of-body round where every putt drained in, every chip cozied up to the pin, and tee shots split the fairways … never ever to happen again. I have secret intimacy of every square yard of this course. I have fought with the apples on the fourth and the eighth, cursed the pin that stole my near hole-in-one on the sixth, thrashed through the bushes of the 11th, soaked my feet in the boggy areas of the 13th, and known the precise outline of the giant maple that was my target on the seventh. How many times on the par five ninth did I rue (code word for swear at) the nasty downslope which spoiled many a second shot and a chance at a par? And now it is no more. How can that be? How can such beauty and sweet connective union between man and God’s glorious nature be gone?

They paved Paradise and put up a parking lot.

Well, I suppose there is one small consolation: There will always be boring predictable homilies, and whenever that happens, I can once more walk my paradise as if she were still with us in all her green glory.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

On Shaky Ground ...

Oh dear - feeling quite cranky today. Please forgive my rant-lite but ... just who thought up this shaking hands thing at Mass anyhow? I have to confess I struggle with this from time to time. Now, don't get me wrong; I'm not anti-social, I love the communal aspect of the Mass, and enjoy a good greeting as much as the next gal, but am I the only Catholic concerned about germs here? Over the years the Centre for Disease Control in Atlanta has repeatedly issued warnings that a primary transmission of cold and flu germs originates, not in the dreaded sneeze or cough as previously thought, but through hand contact.

I don't know how many times I have sat in front of or behind people who have hacked, sneezed, dripped and schnuffled their way through Mass, and when the Kiss of Peace arrives, I find their damp hands outstretched to greet me. What do we do? We are to be gracious and friendly so we shake hands with a grimaced smile. They believe you are uttering, "Peace be with you my friend," when what you've really muttered was, "Please, why aren't you home in bed?"

One winter, over a two-week period, the whole right side of the daily Mass crew was slowly wiped out when one diligent faithful attendee kept coming to Mass with a dreadful drippy cold. During the Our Father were our thoughts piously attending to the words Jesus taught us? No, we were cringing in anticipation of having to shake hands with the cold-monger. After a week of gratuitous germ-sharing, he finally took to his bed. (Alright, I do admit to having attended Mass maybe once with a very very slight cold ----- okay, okay -- yes, I have gone with a terrible full blown cold and been the actual cold-monger fellow parishioners were dreading. I mean, haven’t we all?).

But this time, when I felt the parish cold coming on, I determined I simply would not shake hands, so at the Kiss of Peace, I stuffed my hands in my pockets, turned around to the couple behind me and murmured quietly, "Peace be with you; sorry, I would shake hands but I have a bad cold coming on."

They smiled confusedly and said, "Pardon?"

"I have a cold; I don't want to spread my germs."

"You have worms?"

I held up my hands and said, "No, no, I don't have worms. I just don't want to give you my cold. See, I'm all germy."

They grabbed my hands and pumped them enthusiastically, "Germany? We didn't know you were German. Our son was stationed in Baden-Baden for six years. Is that anywhere near your home town? You know, he thought you German people were the nicest he's met in the whole world."

I smiled wanly and turned to be met by the now healed cold-monger who snatched a hand from my pocket and wrung it excitedly, gushing, "Peace, peace, it's so grand to be back now that I've got that cold beat." I offered him a sickly grin and murmured as he made his way back to his pew, "Not for long." He waved cheerily and mouthed back, "Yes, I am feeling strong."

After Mass the woman who'd sat behind me sidled up and whispered confidentially, "I have just the remedy for those troublesome worms."

Let's face it. It is a lose-lose situation. If we shake hands (especially during the flu and cold season) we risk transmitting or receiving germs; yet, if we avoid it, we are regarded as a liturgical leper or an intransigent Catholic traditionalist.

And then there’s the matter of the liturgical gyrations involved in an actual Kiss of Peace, where we find ourselves engaging in the Reverse Triple-twist, Double-Salchow Swivel so as to shake hands with everyone near us. From a God’s-eye point of view it must be His weekly smile. I’ve calculated that if we are in the middle of a crowded pew section on a Sunday morning, we are obligated to shake at least eight hands. And, of course, every other person is obligated to shake eight hands as well (except, of course, if we find ourselves at the end of the pew, or in the first or last pew, in which case we must shake five, that is, unless the priest, deacon or ministers of hospitality come down the aisles, thereby creating the unknown variable).

Co-ordinating this weekly ecclesiastical ballet is another thing indeed. We’ve all been there. We turn to greet the person on our right to discover they have turned to meet the person on their right, so we turn to our left and find they have turned to the person on their left. Beginning to feel like social outcasts, we turn to the people behind us to learn they have turned to the people behind them! And so it goes. Then there are the occasions we find ourselves between two beloved family members or two friends. Who to turn to first? My always diplomatic son has solved the problem neatly. He crosses his arms and extends hands to family members to the right and left of him.

But, really now, must we go through these germy weekly calisthenics? Could someone please put us out of our misery and permit us instead to smile and nod grandly at one another.

And while I am on a roll here, how about those eager priests who go walkabout during the Kiss of Peace and shake hands with the first two people in just about every pew - all this after having washed their hands before Mass and touched them up at the Lavabo. Or those good-hearted extraordinary ministers who come up from the congregation at Communion time, receive the ciborium from the priest and commence distributing Holy Communion without at least a token effort to cleanse their pinkies. These are probably the same scrupulous people who carry large vats of moist Handywipies in their cars.

As for priests who have deleted ritual hand-washing from their Mass, don't get me started...

Monday, November 24, 2008

Detachment & Me ---- Hahahahaha!

Rituals. We all have them. Daily ones. Weekly ones. Unpleasant ones. Eagerly anticipated ones. They shape our personal lives; they are part of the very core of our private lives.

Thursday mornings offer the opportunity for one of my more pleasant rituals: my weekly solo trip to Timmy’s Donut Emporium. I attend 8:30 Mass, followed by the rosary with the dozen or so of the dear old daily Mass cronies. It is complete by 9:15 and I stay for quiet prayer until 9:30. Then it is off to the nearby Timmy’s where I habitually order my double-double decaf (in the necessary china mug) and a sesame seed bagel, not toasted, with a side order of peanut butter. Carefully arranging my breakfast on the table, I extract three serviettes from the metal holder, tear my bagel into four pieces, spread my peanut butter on them, and eagerly turn to my 30-minute read of the Thursday morning book.

For the last year the Thursday morning book has been Ralph Martin’s, Fulfillment of All Desire, a wonderful work which my daughter and I refer to as FOAD (she too is ploughing through it at the same snail’s pace). FOAD is a summary of the wisdom of the Doctors of the Church. In his introduction, Ralph freely admits he, like many Catholics, had always felt an obligation to read the works of the Doctors of the Church (St. Bernard of Clairvaux, St. Augustine, St. Therese of Lisieux, St. Catherine of Siena, St. John of the Cross, St. Teresa of Avila, St. Francis of Assisi et al) but found himself repeatedly bogged down in their heady detailed sharing of the advanced spiritual life. But, one day he awoke and found himself filled with a zeal, not only to read them, but with the grace to absorb them. Aware of the great gift he had been given by God, he felt called to put together a summary of their key messages. And, with the publication of FOAD, we are the blessed recipients of the graces offered to him.

FOAD is tough. It’s a sweaty spiritual workout. It’s going to the gym and hitting all the equipment ... well, not like I have ever done anything like that. I suppose for a golfer like me, it would be like playing 18 holes on a mountain-goat course when the temperature is 30. At the end you are a ragged happy puddle. Happy - especially if you have logged the odd par along the way.

At the most I can absorb no more than five to seven pages of FOAD at a sitting. This stuff is substantial meat, deeply caloric: a medium-rare marbled rib-eye spilling off your plate. It fills the mind as the dulled teeth of semi-dormant spiritual brain cells grind their way through God-imbued fibres of saintly wisdom.

Last Thursday it was the chapter on Detachment. This was especially meaty, and I sighed contentedly as I munched my way through my bagel and the wisdom of the saints: "Everything that exists is a gift from God. Yet oftentimes we look to the things and creatures created by God for a satisfaction and fulfillment that only God can provide. When the soul wraps itself around the things and the people of this world, looking for a satisfaction and fulfillment that only God can give, it produces a distortion in itself. Many spiritual writers call the process of unwinding this possessive, self-centred, clinging, and disordered seeking of things and persons - detachment."

As if on cue, the weekly FOAD squirm commenced: Possessive? Who me? Self-centred? Clinging to what I want and when I want? Disordered seeking of things? Never. I gazed out the window and began to chuckle. Yeah, right - who am I kidding? Ralph and the Crew are talkin’ about me again. They’re always talking about me - on my case like kids on a pile of Smarties. I steeled myself and ploughed on:

Ralph: "Christian detachment is an important part of the process by which we enter into a realm of great freedom and joy." Not bad; not bad - joy’s easy to take.

Bernard: "Show me a soul who in work and leisure alike endeavors to keep God before his eyes, and walks humbly with the Lord his God, who desires that his will may be one with the will of God, and who has been given the grace to do these things." Me, me, pick me, Bernie! I want that! I really do.

Ralph expanding on Paul: "When we give time, attention, effort and affection to amassing and keeping the things of this world that we should give to God himself, we have become idolaters. We have certainly produced in ourselves a self-centered life, a dullness of spirit ..." Oh, oh ...

Francis: "You are truly avaricious if you longingly, ardently, anxiously desire to possess goods that you do not have ... If you find your heart very desolated and afflicted at the loss of property, believe me, you love it too much. The strongest proof of love for a lost object is suffering over its loss."
But, but ... I needed that I-Pod so I could listen to spiritual talks; I didn’t ardently, anxiously desire to possess it ... honestly! Alright - well, maybe just a teensy bit. Okay, okay, I outright drooled over it on for months - I’m just a materialistic slug. And yes, yes, dang it, I covet the darn thing ... I’m the full measure avaricious slug, hissing a mini-fit if I cannot find it.

Ralph: "The wealth that we have does not belong to us, but has been given to us by the Lord, in trust, to be utilized under His rule ... we must come to see reverses of fortune as opportunities to demonstrate true detachment and grow in humility and holiness."

Catherine: "Christians, in taking up the Cross of Christ, can taste something of the joy of heaven in this life; so too, those who choose to follow their sinful desires take up the devil’s cross and taste the pledge of hell even in this life. Unless they reform they go through life weakened in all sorts of ways ... "

I closed the book. Once again, Ralph and the gang had laid me waste. They’d made their weekly Thursday morning point. I shut my eyes, sighed, and admitted interiorly I was so not detached from "things and creatures". Even though I fancy I’m advancing, I know I’m, "the soul [that] wraps itself around the things and the people of this world, looking for a satisfaction and fulfillment that only God can give."

Detachment. I know I have an attachment to things and creatures, but, more so, I know I have an inordinate attachment to seeing the world unfold as I think it should. I believe it is more commonly known as always wanting to have things my way; hence the nickname given me by my mother when I was seven: Miss Bossy Boots --- and the Damoclean Sword of Bossy Boots has hung over my head ever since.

But grace is grace and does its work sometimes in spite of us. Despite the temptation to listen to my interior deny, deny, deny (the same heartfelt rally cry of insurance claim departments), I could feel the wisdom of these saints burrowing deeply into my conscience. As I drained the last of my coffee, I sensed my spine was stiffening. Were parts of the old me being buried? I set my jaw and muttered, "Bring on that detachment; I’m so ready." I stood up and strode out of Timmy’s - confident I was a new woman: an attachment wimp had entered Timmy's at 9:35, and a detached Popeye had popped rippling muscles by 10:30. Thanks be to Ralph and Crew --- and, of course, God, the Holy Spirit.

I got in my car and wheeled onto the freeway. Yes, I thought excitedly, I’m the new Detacho-Gal. Cool and collected. Nothing will shake me; nothing will fizz me. My mantra will be, "What is this in the light of eternity?" As I zipped happily along, I glanced in the rear view mirror. A tractor trailer was tailgating me, sitting three millimetres off my back bumper. The old me would think of ways to collect the telephone number from the side of his truck and call in his rudeness to tractor-trailer headquarters; instead, I smiled magnanimously in the mirror and murmured graciously, "My dear, dear truck driver, I am detached. I forgive you." A massive black BMW SUV with tinted windows cut me off on the off ramp ... ahh, but, I was a new woman, I was deeeeeee----tached! I waved cheerily, thinking, "Oh, poor dear - she’s probably taking her sainted sickly mother to the hospital."

Five minutes later I strolled into No Frills, the second leg of my Thursday morning ritual. Head high, gaze serene, I surveyed the harried grim grocery shoppers with a loving look tinged with a soupcon of pity. Alas, poor shoppers, not to have had the benefit of the wisdom of Ralph and the Crew. What? All out of the advertised Sunlight detergent? Not a problem. I was detached. And the only remaining Grade AAA Sirloin Tip Roast advertized at $3.19 kg. is 22 kg large and could feed a small country? Why, it’s nothing, nothing at all. I am detached. I’ll just wait for the next sale. All out of my favorite yogurt? No problemo! I am Detacho-Gal. And, only one tin of Finicky Feline Ocean Stinkfish cat food left (the only food Francis the Fat will eat)? That’s okay - I’ll cheerfully fight traffic and drop into Zehrs on the way home. Weaving my way through aisles I bestowed a pleasant calm countenance on all whom I passed.

When the last article had been deposited into my shopping cart I triumphantly turned the corner — only to run into a sea of parked carts. Every check-out had at least five filled-to-the-brim carts waiting and there was only a handful of checkout clerks on duty. Instantly I could feel the old fret-froth bubble up ... but — I reminded myself — I am detached. I am detached. I am detached-tached-tached! I forced the bubbling tizzy down my gullet and whipped out my cell to text my dh. Several minutes later I finished and looked up - four filled carts in front of me. But I had it under control; I was, after all, detached.

Ten minutes passed and there were three carts in front of me and three behind me when a No Frill check-out gal miraculously appeared, tapped the cart in front of me and sang out, "I’ll take from this cart back - come to Check-out #5!" Ah, yes, I murmured to myself, the fruits of detachment are rewarded! The lady in front of me slowly and carefully maneuvered her cart leftward to #5. I backed up to let her through, then laboriously turned my heavy cart around to follow her. By the time I got it swung round and aimed toward Check-out 5, the line behind me had filled in behind the lady formerly in front of me, everyone standing with their backs to me --- as if I were invisible. I had no choice except to move to the end.

Ah, but I was detached. Right? Wrong. Can we say interior apoplectic fit? Can one actually implode in a supermarket? All resolve, all serenity, and magnanimous brotherly love vanished as quickly as those bargain Grade AAA roasts from the store display cooler. I’d blown it. Detacho-Gal had lasted a whole 55 minutes.

I spent the next 15 minutes engaging in the interior warfare. Should I say something? Should I shut up? Should I mutter under my breath just loud enough to let others know I was fussed? Should I employ an exaggerated "what gives!" shrug. I tried my detachment mantras. Nothing. The Winnie-the-Poohvian balloon thundercloud remained parked over my head.

Eventually I managed to get myself out of the store intact. No implosion. No muttering. No confrontation. But I was mad. Mad, mad, mad! They had been rude. And I was madder still at how quickly I had crumbled. I had been tested and found to be a miserably pathetic specimen of detachment.

As I drove to work, I asked myself: did I pass any portion of the test? Well, yes - I guess. I did manage to keep my lips sealed - and to all outward appearances I possibly looked calm, albeit a bit surly. But it was the old man in me that had popped up again - wanting things to go my way - all the time - and having an interior tantrum when it didn’t.

I was comforted several days later when I read a passage from Mere Christianity by that dear font of Christian wisdom, C.S. [Jack] Lewis:

"This Helper [God] who will, in the long run, be satisfied with nothing less than absolute perfection, will also be delighted with the first feeble, stumbling effort you make tomorrow to do the simplest duty. As a great Christian writer (George MacDonald) pointed out, every father is pleased at the baby’s first attempt to walk: no father would be satisfied with anything less than a firm, free manly walk in a grown-up son. In the same way, he said, ‘God is easy to please, but hard to satisfy.’ " Thanks, Jack.

And thanks be to Him --- every day is a brand new day - and a fresh start - in God-land.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

The Gravity of the Situation

Recently someone showed me a snapshot of myself taken at a family gathering. I glanced at it, glanced again, then snatched the picture from her and began scratching at the print with my fingernail. There seemed to be some kind of blobby spooge located just beneath my chin. To my astonishment, the picking and scratching didn’t remove anything. The offending spooge beneath my chin was ... another chin! Was I starting to look old?

To tell you the truth, this business of aging hasn’t ever cost me a moment’s sleep. I’m from the Alfred E. Neuman, "What me worry" generation. Let’s face it - we’re born, we grow older, and, if we co-operate with God’s grace we will grow in wisdom and holiness. Then, please God, we slip the surly bonds of earth to enter into our real lives (after the necessary purgatorial picking and scratching at the remaining spooge on our souls).

I’d always felt aging was a beautiful natural process, a part of God’s wise plan, so we’d best embrace this process with a bit of grace and dignity. That is, until the matter of the saggy chin. Why had I not noticed it before? I examined myself in the mirror and couldn’t find any evidence of extra chinnage, but, then again, our mirror check-ups are usually tucked-in, straightened-up, perky little poses. I concluded the best way to deal with this was to sneak up on myself and glance in the mirror when I least expected it. Lo and behold, there it was in all its droopy glory - the chin that no longer had the will to resist gravity. And adding to this angst, my daughter reminds me I’m shrinking. I laugh and blame gravity, but, I suppose in the end gravity does have the last laugh. It slowly creeps up on us until it makes it final claim, sucking us right into the earth, $5000. coffin and all. Ah, it might snatch my saggy corpus but I defy gravity to claim my soul.

I admit I had an inordinate fear of death until a number of years ago when I reluctantly became involved in starting up a funeral choir. Since then, I've had the privilege to sing at hundreds of funerals. Not only did choir members become more comfortable with death, we experienced the wonderful blessings of this ministry. In the process we saw and heard much. We sang at funerals where, sadly, we outnumbered the mourners; and, on more occasions than one would expect, we were the only ones who knew the Mass responses. And, blessedly, we sang at joyful celebrations of a long life lived for God, where family members didn’t grieve as much as give thanks for the special blessing of having known their beloved.

As for the funeral homilies, over the years I witnessed a shift in tone. Where once the grieving were reminded of their own mortality in sermons crafted to encourage the listeners to greater faith, I’ve seen doctrinal shifts which are troubling. In some parishes, at many funerals, those assembled are being told outright their loved one is already in heaven, and they are not to grieve too much, for one day they will all be re-united in heaven.

While our faith does speak of a firm hope of heaven for the faithful, Church teaching reminds us that nothing imperfect can enter heaven, and who of us, if we died tomorrow, has attained the necessary level of wholehearted freewill surrender to God? Surely not I. There’s too much of me I’m still hanging onto. We call that lack of surrender, sin, and there’s no room for sin in the Beatific Vision. After all, haven't we had enough of that in one lifetime? Who wants a heaven where we’re still bouncing our sins off each other as we shed our wormy selves? Hence, the Catholic purgatory; yet, it is rare to hear the "p" word in funeral homilies. Certainly, we all wish that every one who died went straight to heaven, but formed Catholics know that’s not so. I expect even Mother Teresa may have needed a teensy brush-up in areas of her life where she still retained some blindness.

Few seem to be troubled by these homilies. They suggest it is just the priest’s way of comforting the family. But if we examine Catholic family dynamics today, we realize many families have members who live outside faith. And some - hey, even ourselves - may be in serious sin that we used to label "mortal". And now there are funeral homilists out there who are telling us authoritatively we may carry on as usual and we'll all be joining join the deceased in heaven on the day of our deaths. Houston, we have a problem --- a problem that can leave pewdwellers shaken and confused:

"There ya go, Thelma, did you hear him - we're all goin' to heaven."

"Shhhh, Burt, Father's still giving the homily."

"But, didn't you hear him? We're on our way."

"According to him, it would seem so."

"Cheat on your taxes, cheat on your wife, abuse your kids ..."

"Please, Burt."

"Mass murderers, garden variety killers, abortionists, pornographers, thieves, corporate rip-off artists, greedy dictators and their flunkies leaving their citizens in abject poverty - they're all in!"

"Shhh ... people will hear you."

"Well, isn't that what he implied?"

"Obviously that's what Fr. Harricy seems to believe. Please, hon, can we talk about this later?"



"Burt, it's almost time for Communion."

"But Thel, I can't stop thinking about it. He told us everyone is going to heaven. What if someone didn't want to go to heaven? What if they didn't believe in God? What if they hated God and worshipped other things - you know, the devil, the Dow Jones Index, their fleet of cars, their online porn sites?"

"Can we talk about this later?"

"No, Thel, this is serious. Really, what if someone absolutely hated the idea of God and church and faith. If Fr. Harricy says everyone goes to heaven, would they be forced into heaven? Listen, you know the faith better than I do. Would they be forced into heaven?"

"No, hon, they wouldn't be forced into heaven."


"Because God gave us free will."


"Free will. It means we can choose Him or not choose Him. He seeks us out. He knocks on the doors of our hearts. We can choose to open them and invite Him in - or we can choose to bolt the door."

"But ..."

"Hon, hell quite simply is the absence of God. If we choose to deny Him, then He will not force Himself upon us. That's the great gift of free will. What kind of God would He be if He forced Himself upon us - forced us to love Him?"

"I don't know; maybe we should talk about this more at home."

"Sounds like a plan."

I felt such concern, I wrote a bishop. He kindly wrote back, stating, "I of course do not intend to sit on judgement as to how many people would be in serious sin at a funeral and would leave believing they will attain heaven no matter what their situation or relationship with God, but to state we are assured of heaven is obviously not the teaching of the Church."

The answer? As always -- prayer -- and, the short charitable note to the local bishop is needed whenever we run across instances of problematic funeral homilies. If he doesn't know about it, how can he correct? If he does know, and does not correct, at least we have responded to our duty. That's all we can do.

As for me, I’ve grown rather fond of my saggy baggy chin. It’s just one more landmark to remind me I’m inching closer to death, the door from the rehearsal that is life on earth to stepping on the real life stage of eternity - evereverland. I pray I shall stay the course for, as they say, the rewards are "out of this world".

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Pro-lifers in the voting booths

Yet another election and once again we have Jim Hughes of the Campaign Life Coalition trotting out his voting season mantra: "Vote for the man or woman always, not the party."

And once again Catholic pro-lifers find ourselves on opposite sides of the tennis court serving, lobbing and slamming strong opinions back at each other on this topic.

Jim would have us voting for darlin' old Mathilda Higginbottom from the Old Cronies for Life party in a riding where she'll be lucky to garner 0.00125% of the vote -- and then find ourselves watching a pro-abort, pro-euthanasia, pro-stem-cell-research, anti-born-alive-act dude or dudette from the NDP, Liberal, or Green party claim the seat and potentially be in a position to enact legislation that reflects a skewed moral compass.

While I greatly appreciate the tenacious dedicated work of Jim Hughes, I have strongly disagreed with him over the years on his voting credo. My views are not as much rooted in my experience in Canadian politics and the pro-life movement as they are in Catholic church teaching on proportionate reasons, and the written opinions of Fr. Frank Pavone of Priests for Life.

Here is what Fr. Pavone writes concerning pro-lifers and the upcoming US elections:

A vote is not a philosophical statement. It is a transfer of power. It is a pragmatic act to preserve, as much as possible under the circumstances, the common good, and to limit the evils that threaten it.

And in the pragmatic matter of elections, what matters is not how closely a candidate measures up to my preferences and convictions. Instead, it’s a question of who can and will actually get elected. It does little good if the person I felt most comfortable supporting doesn’t get to actually govern and implement those positions I like so much.

The vote can be used just as much to keep someone out of office as to put someone in.

If we fail to use that tool, however, and as a result the person who gets elected is far worse and does far more damage than the other person we did not like, then we still share responsibility for the damage that will be done.

[When] the general election season arrives ... we may find that we don’t like any of the names on the ballot. At that point, we have to shift our thinking and focus on “better” rather than “best.” The reality usually is that one of several unsatisfactory candidates will in fact be elected. So we use our vote to create the better outcome and to limit the damage. That’s the shift that some fail to make.

Mr. Hughes and others at the otherwise valuable Lifesite News insist that the Conservative party is a disappointment, for it had not been pro-life in action while it held a minority, and still will not promise to address pro-life issues if a majority is gained. The CLC crew is right. The Tories have been a disappointment on social conservative issues.

I sense that Mr. Hughes and others feel that those of us who oppose his dictum, "Vote for the man or woman always, not the party", are naive dreamers, expecting the unexpected from the Tories. The fact is that many of us who oppose Mr. Hughes stance are not necessarily fans of the Conservative party as much as we are foes of the Liberals, the NDP, and the Bloc. These three parties actively promoting left-leaning agendas which fly in the face of Catholic teaching are the greater evil, and we have a duty to vigorously prevent them from coming to power. One has only to look at the Liberal agenda in the last years of Liberal government to know the anti-moral, anti-life paths they planned for Canadian citizens.

While a Conservative minority or majority may or may not be the ideal (we still have not seen them three years into a majority), at least we would not have a Dion or Ignatieff or Rae or Layton in power actively imposing shortsighted immoral, anti-life legislation on us.

In 2008 posting updates of how federal candidates stand on life issues, the CLC lists the NDP as a party with a pro-abortion platform. At the same time the CLC insists we must vote for a pro-life candidate. It means if there is a riding where all the candidates are pro-abortion, yet the NDP candidate lists him/herself as pro-life, then we are obligated to vote for that candidate. Absurd. And it flies in the face of Fr. Pavone's advice: "So we use our vote to create the better outcome and to limit the damage."

In his short essay, "And what I have failed to do", Fr. Pavone talks of seasons. In these seasons, we can and should build up pro-lifery, but in the meantime we have a dire responsibility to prevent greater evils from swallowing our God-given rights.

Since 1970 there have been three to five million abortions in Canada. That is about 10% of our population. In the US the number is staggering - over 50 million abortions during the same time period. Prior to the US election, dozens of bishops are standing tall in their ambos proclaiming boldly and urgently - enough is enough!

In Canada, we Catholic pro-lifers have a mandate right now to stop the Liberals, NDP, and the Greens by voting Conservative, the only party with the chance to [at the least] prevent implementation of the three Canadian left-wing party agendas which actively promote abortion, euthanasia, embryonic stem-cell research and who refuse to support the Unborn Victims of Violence Bill. It may mean some of us will have to hold our noses to vote in some instances, but this happen to be where we are right now in the long slow tedious battle for the rights of the unborn, and the rights of all Canadians from womb to tomb.

Monday, August 25, 2008

La Difference

Who are these people who announce periodically in yet "another important psychological breakthrough" there is no difference between the sexes? Did they grow up under a rock? Do they not have mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, cousins, schoolmates, girlfriends, boyfriends, spouses, children? Most people have at least two of the above, more than ample example to demonstrate the serious differences between the genders.

So as to educate these (s)experts who obviously have not shared living space with siblings of the opposite gender, or had the privilege of raising boys and girls who are of the same species, I am prepared to offer definitive scientific instruction on "la difference" (as in "vive"). Voici:

Take one portable tape player whose batteries need changing. A man will instantly locate the back panel, slide it open with his thumbnail, neatly flip out the old batteries, snap in four new ones without looking, and in one motion replace the back panel. Twenty seconds....tops.

Now, a woman who can simultaneously prepare an elaborate meal for six, while refereeing a fight over whose turn it is to set the table, and politely fend off unsolicited dinnertime calls from Krazy Karl’s Karpetcleaning Kompany, will need to examine this same portable tape player for at least twenty seconds just to locate the back panel ever neatly camouflaged as a speaker grill clone. Then - she has learned from past experience - she must carefully place the machine between her knees, press two thumbs on alleged sliding panel and push with all her might. Nothing will happen. Gamely, she will try again ... and again, her face growing red with exertion. When, of course, it still won't budge, she will spend the next ten minutes rummaging through bathroom cabinets for a nail file, which she'll then wedgy under the ridge beneath the raised black plastic arrow. She'll twist fiercely, and with a groan and a snap the panel will explode from the machine amidst bits of black plastic which will cascade about her. Sweeping away the offending shards, she'll use the same nail file to dislodge the batteries, and must, in the end, shake the machine to remove the last battery.

Of course, in the exasperation of the procedure, she'll not have had occasion to note which battery came from where, and will crawl about looking for the back panel which skittered across the floor in the explosion. Locating it in the cat’s bowl, she'll look with dismay upon the raised, stamped battery map on its back, an array worthy of the WWII Crypto-cipher Hall of Fame. Ever versatile, she'll click the tape player PLAY button, and load new batteries in a variety of patterns, continuing until she hears life from the speakers. Since there are no ridges left on which to slide the remains of the back panel, she'll deftly lay it in place and secure it with duct tape. Voila. Twenty minutes...tops.

I mean, really, what more proof is needed than that? Yet, despite this very scientific conclusive evidence about these obvious God-created differences between men and women, I know there are some Catholics out there who still believe it is just a matter of time before the Vatican announces a female priesthood - obviously people still not clear on the concept. Quite simply, it is God’s done deal. The pope can no more declare a female priesthood tomorrow, than he can declare pregnancy for men the day after that. It is not his to proclaim, for God has indicated in His history with us that these matters are His.

Now, having read much of what the Church has to say on this matter - and, indeed, the matter has been declared closed, I found that talks on Old Testament sacrifice by Dr. Scott Hahn led me to a deeper understanding: In His perfection, and in complete freedom, God ordained from the beginning that the priesthood be male, whether the early formal priesthoods of Melchizedek, Aaron, and the Levites, or the recorded Old Testament sacrifices made by the fathers of families.

The most solemn of these sacrifices in Jewish tradition is the Passover. God commanded Moses to instruct the Hebrew men to take one-year-old unblemished male lambs, slaughter them, and sprinkle the blood on the wooden lintels of their doors. Then the lambs were to be roasted and entirely consumed by family groupings. If they did this faithfully and completely, they would be spared the destroying Passover angel. Now, they couldn’t choose to modify God’s command by selecting rams, female lambs, or just fry up a few lamb kebobs with mint sauce. If they made these modifications, they would have awakened to find their firstborn sons dead. It was only the perfect sacrifice of that unblemished male lamb that spared them.

Of course, we know Jesus is the new Passover Lamb. Early in the gospel of John it is recorded that John the Baptist saw Jesus coming toward him and stated, "Look, there is the lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world." Jesus is the Lamb of God who was sacrificed for us, His blood sprinkled on the wood of the cross, His body which we consume. God-with-us was male, and at the Last Supper He chose to confer priesthood on male apostles.

Perhaps, some say, it was cultural? No, Jesus consistently defied cultural conventions in His ministry. The link is clear: the male lamb was the sacrificial Passover offering offered by males, and, in the New Covenant, Christ, the Lamb of God was sacrificed once and for all for our sins. He leaves behind a priesthood: men who, at the Consecration of the Mass stand in persona Christi, in the person of Christ, the male Lamb who was victim and priest.

Surely if Jesus had meant the priesthood to be conferred on women He would have conferred it on His Mother: the one who declared herself blessed by all generations; the one who was the new Ark of the Covenant, bearing God-with-us in her womb; the one who was taken body and soul into heaven as Enoch and Elijah were; the one whom Jesus indicated is the Mother of us all. But He who was the fulfillment of the law of the Old Testament and defied the laws of his culture chose not to. He pointed to a different purpose for this woman -- and all women.

God so cherishes the female, He has conferred on her a different gift: the gift of biological lifebearing - a lifebearing denied to men. He seeks to spare her from the dramatic violence and death - real and conceptual - associated with blood sacrificial offerings. That spiritual lifebearing of sin atonement has been reserved from the earliest days to men.

Amen to that, sisters. And, isn’t it about time we ‘fessed up: give birth, hold and feed with our very own bodies that precious life in your arms, and know we just may have the better part of the deal.

Enough said.